30 April 2016

Clinton will attack gun owners from her "very first day" in office

The NRA-ILA has to-be-expected comments about Hillary:
Hillary Clinton to Attack Gun Owners Her
In what has become as reliable as clockwork, with the passing of another week comes another Hillary Clinton attack on gun owners. This time, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination explained to supporters her intent to make an assault on gun rights and NRA one of her top priorities. A video of her comments has been distributed by Breitbart.com.
Rico says she's no friend of gub owners... (For a lot of reasons, let's hope they do not elect her...)

Maps that'll make you rethink the world

The Washington Post has an article by Ana Swanson about some interesting maps:
We don’t often question the typical world map that hangs on the walls of classrooms, a patchwork of yellow, pink and green that separates the world into more than two hundred nations. But Parag Khanna, a global strategist, says that this map is, essentially, obsolete. Khanna, the author of the new book Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization, argues that the arc of global history is undeniably bending toward integration. Instead of the boundaries that separate sovereign nations, the lines that we should put on our maps are the high-speed railways, broadband cables, and shipping routes that connect us, he says. Instead of focusing on nation-states, we should focus on the dozens of mega-cities that house most of the world’s people and economic growth.
I spoke with Khanna about several of the incredible maps from his book, which he uses to illustrate some proposals for our future world that might, at first glance, seem pretty far out, like dividing the United States into seven economic mega-regions, or politically integrating North America. But, with the world rapidly changing and urbanizing, these proposals might be the best way to confront a radically different future.
Swanson: One of the most impressive maps in your book is the map of the world’s mega-cities (above). You say that, by 2030, more than seventy percent of people will live in cities, and that these cities matter a lot more than the countries that they’re in. What does this map tell us?

Khanna: This is the most accurate map that’s ever been made of where people are and the economic value of what they do. Our team took the entire world’s population and plotted it by density, and they superimposed the largest urban archipelagos, the mega-cities, with those ovals to show the value of those cities vis-à-vis the national economy. The map tells us that the world economy is much more structured according to the gravity of these forty or fifty megacities than the world’s two hundred sovereign nations. In almost all countries, cities have all the economic mass and most of the population, and people are moving to cities by the hundreds of millions.
The example of Johannesburg and Pretoria, the capital cluster of South Africa, is revealing. It represents something like thirty to forty percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and South Africa is a very large country, with more than fifty million people. So much of the population is there, and the country’s connectivity depends on that city, because that’s where all the multinational corporations are headquartered. It’s the same logic in Lagos; there is practically no Nigeria without Lagos. It applies to Sao Paulo in Brazil, Jakarta in Indonesia, Moscow in Russia, Istanbul in Turkey, and every single dot and oval you see on the map.
The good news for America is we have so many major cities that we have a distributed economy. Other countries are not so lucky. Russia is bigger than America, but it has one city that drives the whole country.
Swanson: The map from your book that’s probably received the most attention is the United States broken down into seven economic mega-regions (above), all of which are driven by urban centers. You say that a high-speed railway could connect these cities, creating a United City-States of America. Why do you think we need to reorganize this way? 
Khanna: These seven colorful patches are the natural topography and economic geography of the United States. It separates the US into areas that focus on farming, automobile manufacturing, technology, finance, tourism, national parks, etc. Each of those regions has an urban anchor that serves as a financial and business center, a population center and a transportation hub. That’s what those white patches are. Then we need the black lines, which are the high-speed rail networks and freight railways connecting these regions to each other.
We need to rethink the political and functional geography in the United States. It’s kind of ridiculous that we use two-hundred-year-old logic to govern the economics and functional reality of day-to-day life in our country. Of course, we do it for votes, having fifty states is great if you’re running around in a primary. But it doesn’t help you make America a more viable or competitive economy.
All of the feedback I’ve gotten about this map has demonstrated that there is so much frustration with the layers and layers of bureaucracy, for the police and the education system and the government, in large and small states. All we do is duplicate bureaucracy, when we should be regionalizing our coordination of economic affairs. Of course, there are a bunch of birthers who have been like, ‘Who the hell is this technocrat guy who doesn’t live in America, is he even American, does he have the right to do this?’ But I do see the enormous groundswell in support of these ideas.

Swanson: But this reorganization is so dramatic. Could we even do this? 
Khanna: We have the ability to do this. I hate to make the punch line something that’s so banal, which is “It’s all Congress'’ fault,” but it’s all Congress’ fault. All Congress has to do is to make sure that instead of district- and state-level pork-barrel project spending, projects have some kind of cross-border dimensions, so that American citizens, whatever state they live in, can be better connected to the big cities. If you do that, the laws of economics will take over, and people will more freely engage in commerce.A map like this would enable Americans to flow more freely around the country. That is the difference between America and the European Union. We are a United States; you don’t need to go through a border check to cross state lines, yet we’re not taking advantage of that freedom of mobility across this incredible geography. 
Swanson: Right now, the political conversation in the United States and elsewhere seems to be more focused on the rejection of free trade and of immigrants, and uncertainties about the future of transnational projects like the Eurozone. How does that jibe with your overall theory that the world is becoming far more connected and integrated? 
Khanna: We have to distinguish between what some people in politics are saying, and what the reality is. We can’t treat the fact that Donald Trump has an idea about a wall, or that Bernie Sanders is against certain trade agreements, as reality. Almost every syllable that you hear in the populist discourse is wrong.In the real world right now, we have more trade, more immigration, more cross-border investment than at any point in history. We are massively expanding global flows in goods, services, finance, people, data. You name it, it’s going up.
If you look at the United States and Mexico, most of the world views Mexico as a very hot emerging market. That’s true of American companies: the American financial industry is buying into pipelines and power grids, and American automobile manufacturers are relocating. And they’re doing so not just because of cheap labor, but because Mexico has preferential trade agreements with other Latin American countries, which means if you manufacture there you can generate more sales in a fast-growing region.
When an American car manufacturer relocates some production to Mexico, yes, some jobs are moved. However, the car manufacturer is able to stay solvent, because it saves costs and builds more cars, and built into the agreement is a requirement that North American suppliers are preferred for that automobile plant. The number of people employed in auto part supply making in the US— high-tech air bag makers, anti-lock braking sensor developers, and reflective lights developers— is also in the hundreds of thousands, and those companies benefit. Those are the sort of new high-end manufacturing jobs that ultimately matter if you want American workers to move up the value chain within advanced manufacturing. They can be expensive suppliers to the lower-wage car manufacturers in Mexico.
Our inability to do that is our fault. You hear Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump scapegoating globalization. It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. America has been the creator and driver of globalization over the last two dozen years. Yes, it is now a more level playing field, and we are not always the winners, but that is the fault of politics and bad policy. In 2004, a pillar of John Edwards' presidential campaign was worker retraining programs for new industries. Twelve years later, where is that program? Just because we didn’t create it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The Germans did it, the Swiss did it, the Koreans do it. Other countries don’t blame globalization, they manage it, they take advantage of it. I think we failed to do that, and that’s what explains Trump and Sanders.
Swanson: Speaking of these connections between the US and Mexico, one of your maps (above) shows how North America is increasingly integrated. I know you mention in your book that the US-Mexico border is the most frequently traversed border in the world, and the American-Canadian border is also extremely busy. Why is North America so integrated? 
Khanna: One of the titles I’ve given the map is ‘Think geology, not nationality.’ America is now suddenly the largest oil producer in the world. The American energy revolution is the most significant geopolitical event since the end of the Cold War, and it’s a major shift in the world’s tug of war. Ten years ago, we were all talking about how the United States and China were going to fight resource wars for Middle Eastern oil and minerals in Africa. Now, thanks to this incredible seismic revolution, we’re selling oil to China instead.The reason this relates to North America is because, if you think about strategy in the geological terms, you realize that if the US, Canada, and Mexico unite their energy, water, agriculture, and labor resources, you create a continental empire that is more powerful than America is. I’ve not even mentioned the Arctic, which of course Canada controls half of, which is becoming a very strategic geography as the Arctic ice melts. Canada is going to potentially be the world’s largest food producer in twenty years as a result of climate change. Then there’s water. The southwestern United States is now in a perennial drought, and yet at the same time, perversely, is the site of the fastest growing population in the United States. So hydrological engineering may need to take place between Canada and the United States.
The way you build this continental superpower is connecting North America together. The more pathways and routes you have for supply to meet demand, the more resilient your system. So that’s why that map should be taken extraordinarily seriously. It is not just a pretty picture, it is literally what American grand strategy should be in the 21st century. 
Swanson: You mentioned the issue of climate change and food production. One of the most fascinating maps in the book shows (above) how global considerations might change if the world becomes four degrees Celsius warmer. Much of the United States becomes uninhabitable desert, while cities and food-growing zones shift to Canada. 
Khanna: There is a map by the New Scientist, a very respected British journal. They made this forecast of where global food production would be relocated to if the world rises four degrees Celsius above the 1990 baseline, the one the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change uses. Where today the world’s largest food producers are the United States, Brazil, China, India, Australia, and so forth, it could be that, thirty years from now or less, the world’s largest food producers are Canada and Russia.This is ironic for a host of brutal reasons. First, these are two of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Do you know what the world population is north of 66 degrees latitude, near the Arctic Circle? It’s less than the population of Manhattan. For this book, I went up to the northernmost tippy-top of Norway to look at the Arctic supply chain. Not only are temperatures rising there, but populations are growing, new towns are developing, ports and shipping industries are thriving, in these super cold places. And I met these old people who actually remember when things were a lot colder, because it’s not as cold as it used to be, though for me it was still damn cold.
The year 2050 or 2100 seems like light-years away. But if we agree that climate change is not getting reversed or slowed down by our current efforts, you have to take seriously the idea that the world’s existing political boundaries and restricting the movement of people don’t make a lot of sense. Canada isn’t going to be just for the Canadians, and what we today call Russia isn’t just going to be for the rapidly diminishing Russian population.
Swanson: You also have a map (above) that looks at The New Arctic Geography. This isn’t a view of the world that a lot of people are used to looking at, but something they will need to get more used to over the next decades. What is the importance of this region and these shipping lanes? 
Khanna: They play a very significant role in geopolitics. The world has four significant maritime choke points, three of which are geopolitically sensitive: the Suez Canal, the Strait of Hormuz, and the Strait of Malacca. We have feared for a hundred years that there could be an act of terrorism or war that would block one of these choke points and disrupt global trade and energy flows.But Arctic shipping is a faster and better system. Tragic as climate change is, it opens up these new passageways to Europe, to North America, into the Hudson Bay. So the way into the heart of North America may eventually be these Arctic shipping routes.
Swanson:  Let me ask you about your map (above) of Eurasia’s new Silk Roads, which shows some of the projects being built by the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. You also describe competitive connectivity as the next arms race. Compared with the United States, is China really winning the battle for connectivity? 
Khanna: There is no final winner in this competitive connectivity, and it’s not zero sum. We’re all benefiting in some way from this build-out of infrastructure that has been neglected for decades. This map of the new Silk Roads shows the railways, pipelines and so forth that are going to be built by the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and other organizations across much of Eurasia. Right now, Europe’s trade with China is almost the same as Europe’s trade with America. Just imagine how big that economic bloc will be when all of those trade corridors are complete, and you have seamless transportation between Europe and Asia.America definitely took the wrong approach, which was to try to block the creation of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Meanwhile our closest allies— Britain, Germany, the European countries— signed on as the bank’s charter members. The Obama administration basically pretended like this was a zero-sum tug of war over allies, but they didn’t realize that America’s military alliance system is not the only way of understanding global public goods. We think of security as the most paramount global public good, and America is the leading provider of that good. But what China has shown is that infrastructure is an equally important public good. Hundreds of countries desperately need and want infrastructure, and China is the world’s leading provider of that.
In the book, I have so many examples of why we should let China go ahead and build all of these things, but we should be competing for the lucrative value-added deals. We don’t have millions of American construction workers to export to Africa. But when those countries finally start to use their connectivity to build factories that are making useful things, we should be the ones financing the deals and selling the technologies. China builds up the world, and we get to benefit from the growth of those markets.
Rico says, like it or not, the world will look very different in fifty years...

The song in Rico's head

It's Hotel California, by the Eagles:

Why we should take Elon Musk’s 2018 Mars shot seriously

Time has an article by Jeffrey Kluger about going to Mars in two years:

NASA has some exciting news: a crewed landing on Mars is less than twenty years away. But NASA also has some less exciting news: a crewed landing on Mars has been less than twenty years away for the last fifty years.
That’s the problem when a government agency is in charge of your space program: you can go only as far as the people in Congress and the person in the Oval Office let you go, which hasn’t been very far since the last Apollo astronaut left the Moon.
For that reason and more, you should pay attention to the 27 April 2016 announcement from Elon Musk, the founder and CEO of SpaceX, that he intends to launch his first unmanned Mars mission in just two years and will beat NASA’s goal of putting astronauts on the surface in the 2030s by up to a decade.
Musk’s plan, which he announced in (what else?) a tweet from SpaceX, was straightforward:
Out of the gate, that was promising. A Dragon, specifically a Red Dragon, is just the kind of versatile ship you want for a Mars journey. The Dragon is the cargo vehicle that has made numerous uncrewed supply runs to the International Space Station, and will begin carrying astronauts as early as next year. Picture an Apollo spacecraft, but big enough to seat seven people instead of just three.
Red Dragon is an in-development variation that lands on legs, under the power of engines, rather in the ocean under a parachute. The engines, which have performed well in early tests, are liquid-fueled and throttle-able, which means you can step on the gas or ease back as needed, the kind of flexibility required for a soft landing on Mars.
SpaceX has historically worked at a brisk clip, and it’s not unrealistic to believe that the engines could be ready in time for a 2018 launch. That still leaves the landing legs to develop and test, but the company has already proven itself adept at that kind of technology, having twice used legs and foot pads to bring the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket safely home after a launch.
The real challenge for SpaceX is less the spacecraft than the rocket that will be used to get it off the ground in the first place. The company uses a modular system for its boosters: the first Falcon rocket had a single engine. The Falcon 9, as its name suggests, uses nine of them, and is what the company has used for its space station missions. A deeper-space mission would require a bigger rocket (the so-called Falcon Heavy), which will use three clusters of the same nine rockets on its first stage.
That simple math means twenty-seven engines, and twenty-seven is an awful lot of ordnance to strap onto the bottom of a single booster. In one way it’s an improvement over the Apollo program’s Saturn V, which had just five far more powerful engines, since a flameout in even one of them would have been a mission-breaker. Lose one out of 27, however, and you can probably make it into space with barely a hitch in your step.
The risks of a twenty-seven-engine system, however, may exceed that one benefit. For starters, there’s the complexity; the greater the number of engines you’ve got, the greater the number of variables and parts that can go south on you. Worse is the problem of vibration. Identical engines firing with identical thrust can set up a sort of violent harmonic, with the whole of their matching frequencies being greater than the sum of their parts. In other words, the rocket could shake itself to pieces.
The solution is to introduce some disharmony into the system, to design some of the engines to sing sharp or flat or otherwise off-key. That’s bad in a choir but very, very good in a rocket. For now, no Falcon Heavy has made it onto the pad, much less into space, and the rocket is behind its originally announced schedule. Musk promises to rectify that with a test launch this year, which means that, again, while a 2018 Mars mission is not remotely a sure thing, it’s not remotely crazy either.
Musk would make a number of uncrewed Mars landings, launching one every twenty-six months, to match the time Mars and Earth move into closest alignment, before attempting to send astronauts. NASA, which is continuing with its own crewed exploration plans on a slower track, has more than a little skin in the Red Dragon plan. In 2014, the space agency signed what is informally referred to as a “no exchange of funds” agreement with a number of companies, including SpaceX, in which the various partners swap assets for various projects. For a Red Dragon launch, that would mean NASA providing the launch pad and tracking and communication capabilities and SpaceX providing room on board for scientific and engineering payloads, and sharing all data about the approach and landing experience.
The bigger, sexier question is whether all of this can really lead to boots on Mars in as little as a decade. Musk himself admitted one of the challenges, in a tweet that followed his Mars announcement, conceding that, no matter how good the Red Dragon is, its habitable volume is only about the same as an SUV, making it fine for Earth orbital or lunar missions, but way too small for a Mars trip. For that, you’d also need an attached habitation module, similar to the school-bus sized segments that make up the space station.
And that’s not remotely all: you still need another habitat on the surface of Mars, and a liftoff system to get you back off Mars, and proper shielding to protect astronauts from deep space radiation en route, to say nothing of planning for the physical and mental toll a two-and-a-half-year round trip journey would take on the crew. Those too are reasons a mission to Mars has always been 20 years away. Musk, like every other space planner before him, must overcome them all.
Still, the betting here is: he just misses the 2018 unmanned deadline, hits it in 2020, and has a better than even-money chance of getting astronauts on Mars in the early 2030s, beating NASA, but not by much. Those are reliable predictions, unless they’re not.

Rico says let's hope he pulls it off...

Clinton versus Fiorina on women's issues

Time has an article by Jessie Van Amburg about the differences between Hillary and Carly:

On Wednesday, former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina (photo, right) joined Ted Cruz’ campaign as his running mate. The real race is on, with some speculation that Fiorina was brought onto the ticket as a “woman card” to rival Hillary Clinton as she continues to lead the Democratic race. Fiorina has deliberately set herself up against Clinton in the past, saying at a past Republican debate that Clinton “will do anything to gain and hang on to power” and making comments about Clinton’s marriage. A Republican strategist told Time in 2015 that Fiorina would be a strong candidate because of her ability to take on Clinton: “The most effective way to criticize a woman is to have another woman do it.”
We have history in the making, as these two women vie for the top two jobs in the nation. The United States has never had a female president or vice president, and women hold only twenty percent of seats in the Senate and eighteen percent in the House.

How Clinton and Fiorina compare on various women’s issues:
Reproductive rights:
Clinton is pro-abortion rights and a supporter of Planned Parenthood although, in a town hall in March of 2016, she said she supports some regulations on later-term abortions. In a Democratic debate in April of 2016, she said that the right to choose “goes to the heart of who we are as women, our rights, our autonomy, our ability to make our own decisions.”
Fiorina has said she’s anti-abortion. While on the campaign trail in 2015, Fiorina supported defunding Planned Parenthood, citing controversial footage of alleged abortion practices. She attributes her anti-abortion stance to her experience earlier in life accompanying a friend to a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Equal pay:
Clinton has long been an advocate for equal pay, calling it “an economic growth issue”. She wants to create more incentives for states to encourage employers to adopt equal-pay policies. As a Senator, she was a cosponsor of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Fiorina also believes in equal pay, saying that it has been a serious issue for women. To address this, she believes that employers should dismantle the “seniority system”, which rewards employees for time served, not merit. She said, in April of 2015: “We don’t need increased regulation to address this issue; we need flexibility for employers. … This structure systematically disadvantages women and must be reformed.”
When Lena Dunham asked Clinton “Are you a feminist?” in her inaugural Lenny Letter, the candidate responded: “Yes. Absolutely. I’m always a little bit puzzled when any woman, of whatever age but particularly a young woman, says something like: ‘Well, I believe in equal rights, but I’m not a feminist.’ Well, a feminist is by definition someone who believes in equal rights!”
Fiorina gave a speech on feminism in July of 2015 in which she said: “Today, only a quarter of women identify with the term feminist. Liberal ideas aren’t the answer. Their version of feminism isn’t working. It is time for a new definition. A feminist is a woman who lives the life she chooses. We will have arrived when every woman can decide for herself how to best find and use her God-given gifts. A woman may choose to have five children and home-school them. She may choose to become a CEO or run for President.”
Child care and family leave:
Clinton supports paid family leave for twelve weeks, and proposes that the wealthy should be taxed to pay for it. She also wants to invest in and expand existing programs to allow for universal preschool and child care for those who need it. “Funding for these opportunities has not kept up with changing times and rising demand,” she said in 2015.
Fiorina says that she supports paid family leave, but does not believe that it should be a government mandate. “I don’t think it’s the role of government to dictate to the private sector how to manage their businesses,” she said to CNN.
Rico says he's not voting for them; not because they're women, but because he doesn't like the politics of either... (And Rico doesn't know anybody who's really pro-abortion, but sometimes it's the least ugly solution...)

One woman’s Holocaust secrets

Time has an article by Jeffrey Kluger about a new and powerful film:

One of the worst parts of the horror that was the Holocaust is that its echoes never cease to reverberate. You can blow up the gas chambers, you can burn down the camps, but that’s all, and that’s not enough. You can’t ever restore the eleven million lives that were lost. Just as painful for many survivors is the loss of the familial history that was annihilated along with the victims.
The great scattering of displaced people that followed the war years meant that parents lost track of children; wives lost track of husbands; siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents not only didn’t know which of their family members had died, but also which later ones had even been born. Survivors became free electrons, too often bonded to nothing, related to no one.
That’s why part of the work of Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance organization, is to help survivors and descendants reconstruct their genealogy. It’s the reason too that the new documentary, Aida’s Secrets, which follows the story of one family that was blown apart by the Holocaust, is so powerful.
Directed by Alon Schwarz and co-directed by his brother Shaul (who is also the director of Time’s Year in Space series), the film is in some ways a very small tale about some very ordinary people. There is Izak Szewelewicz, a 68-year-old gardener, now living in Israel; his brother Shep, 67, who was visually impaired from birth and blind most of his life (nearly all of which he has lived in Winnipeg, Canada); their mother Aida, ninety, who lives in a Quebec nursing home; and their father, Grisza, who died in 2008. The father was Jewish, the mother was not, both were born in Poland and both found themselves in the Bergen-Belsen displaced person’s camp after the war, where Izak and Shep were born. Aida gave the boys up when they were still babies.
The film’s inciting moment, a deeply moving one, occurs early on, when the brothers meet again, in the seventh decade of their lives. Each had known only vaguely of the other’s existence before the filmmakers brought them together. But the sweet and simple reunion is actually neither of those things, not entirely anyway. Shep and Izak may only be half-brothers; Aida and Grisza might never have been married; Grisza, we learn, was something of a scoundrel, a serial womanizer who fattened his purse in the black market that took hold in the displacement camp. And Aida, who never fully explains why she surrendered her two sons, may have had a third one.
Much of the thrill of the film involves the basic gumshoe work of genealogical research, which is helped by Yad Vashem and the genealogy group MyHeritage. Blotched and yellowed photographs are examined, onion-skin documents peeled apart and studied, and trails of both human migration and human motive are followed until they lead either to a solution or a cul de sac. At the center is Aida, who knows enough not to say too much.
She answers the questions she chooses to answer and ducks the others with a simple “I don’t remember, I don’t remember.” Maybe she’s telling the truth; she is ninety, after all. But forgetting an emigration date is one thing, forgetting whether she had two sons or three is something else. Either way, the look on her very expressive face says a lot: Aida is a woman with too many poker tells to be a good liar.
The most painful irony of the war is that the people trapped in the slaughter pen that was Europe too often emerged feeling shame for doing what they needed to do to survive. The perpetrators, the men in the dock at Nuremberg, the others who found refuge from justice overseas, remained defiant at worst and disingenuous at best, professing ignorance of the high crimes they helped perpetrate or helplessness to have done anything about them anyway. Meanwhile the victims who suffered at their hands spent a lifetime worrying that they hadn’t done so nobly enough. It is a burden Aida clearly carries.
Aida’s Secrets ends gratifyingly enough. Shep and Izak, strangers for nearly all of their lives, appear set to spend the rest of them as deeply-bonded brothers. The paper trail indeed locates a third brother, living in Canada. But it’s a big country and nearly forty million people call it home, and just which of them traces his line to a small woman with a complicated past is not clear. The movie will have its Canadian premiere at the Hot Docs Film Festival in Toronto on 3 May 2016,  and both Shep and Izak will be there. They are hoping that the currents of family and history, moving as they sometimes do, their brother will hear of the screening and present himself there as well.
“Meeting him would bring everything together,” says Shep. “I love him, and it would be really beautiful to hold the hand of another blood relative that I didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with.”
The Holocaust, seventy years gone, is still not the stuff of history, not fully anyway. Some of that will change as the last of the survivors die, even if the ragged holes that the killing left in the tapestries of families can never be mended. But our species has not remotely lost the capacity to commit that kind of atrocity again. Following just one thread in the human weave that was snapped the last time is a reminder of the cost of descending into the same madness again.
Rico says persons are good; people are crazy...

The Large Hadron Collider meets a weasel

Slate has an article by Rachel E. Gross about an expensive varmint:

The Large Hadron Collider (photo) in Geneva, Switzerland is humanity's most powerful scientific instrument. It cost seven billion dollars to build, comprises a seventeen-mile track wherein protons are smashed together at near-light speeds, and will soon be used to probe the elusive Higgs boson particle in an effort to help us better understand the physical nature of our universe. A weasel is a tiny, inquisitive-looking mammal that often weighs less than a pound. Yet, on Thursday night, the weasel triumphed over the Large Hadron Collider.
In a David-versus-Goliath-esque feat, the devious creature gnawed through a power cable, electrocuted itself, and managed to temporarily take the collider down with it, reports NPR. The collider should be up and running again by mid-May.
Do weasels hate scientific inquiry? It would appear so. These killing machines would even kill machines to make their point known, it seems. This unprovoked suicide attack was clearly a warning to all humans of the dire consequences that await them should they continue down this precarious path of interrogating the universe's mysteries.
Worse, weasels may be part of a larger alliance of animals banded together against technology, the scope of which we cannot yet fathom. “There have been previous incidents, including one in 2009, when a bird is believed to dropped a baguette onto critical electrical systems", according to NPR. The bird’s whereabouts are currently unknown.
A motive has not been ascertained in this latest attack, but it’s suspected that weasel-kind may be retaliating after years of having their species unfairly employed as synonym for a distrustful scoundrel. In that case, watch out: the rat bastards may be next.
Rico says he knows a lot of rat bastards who should be electrocuted...

History for the day: 1945: Adolf Hitler commits suicide

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Mark Seymour

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From: "HISTORY | This Day In History" <tdih@emails.history.com>
Date: April 30, 2016 at 6:03:05 AM EDT
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Subject: 1945: Adolf Hitler commits suicide

This day in History
Adolf Hitler commits suicide
On this day in 1945, holed up in a bunker under his headquarters in Berlin, Adolf Hitler commits suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule and shooting himself in the head. Soon after, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allied forces, ending Hitler's dreams of a "1,000-year" Reich. Since at... read more »
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George Washington gives first presidential inaugural address »
Tennis star Monica Seles stabbed »
Vietnam War
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Adolf Hitler commits suicide in his underground bunker »
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A legal brief in Klingon

Rico says Sheldon would be so proud:


Sent from my iPhone

Mark Seymour

Politics makes for strange urinal-fellows

Rico's friend Tex forwards this comment by James Woods:

Bigotry is in the eye of the beholder

Rico's friend Kelley forwards this about the recent "is that a girl?" tizzy:

29 April 2016

Equality can be tough

Yahoo has an article from The Associated Press by Richard Lardner about equality:

Women would be required to register for the military draft under a House committee's bill that comes just months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units.
A divided Armed Services Committee backed the provision in a sweeping defense policy bill that the full House will consider next month, touching off a provocative debate about the role of women in the military. The panel also turned aside a measure, backed by Democrats, to punish the Citadel military college in South Carolina for flying the Confederate flag.
The United States has not had a military draft since 1973, during the Vietnam War, but all men must register with Selective Service within thirty days of turning eighteen. Military leaders maintain that the all-volunteer force is working, and the nation is not returning to the draft.
The 32-30 vote came with a twist: the proposal's author didn't back it. Representative Duncan Hunter ( photo), a former Marine who served three combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, does not support drafting women into combat and opposes opening infantry and special operations positions to women. Hunter, a Republican from California, said he offered the measure during the committee's consideration of the policy bill to prompt a discussion about how the Pentagon's decision in December of 2015 to rescind gender restrictions on military service failed to consider whether the exclusion on drafting women also should be lifted.
That's a call for Congress, not the executive branch, Hunter said. "I think we should make this decision," he said. "It's the families that we represent who are affected by this."
At times, Hunter evoked graphic images of combat in an apparent attempt to convince colleagues that drafting women would lead to them being sent directly into harm's way.
"A draft is there to put bodies on the front lines to take the hill," Hunter said. "The draft is there to get more people to rip the enemies' throats out and kill them."
But if Hunter was trying to sway people against his amendment, his plan did not work.
Representative Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California, said she supported Hunter's measure. "I actually think, if we want equality in this country, if we want women to be treated precisely like men are treated and that they should not be discriminated against, we should be willing to support universal conscription," she said.
Representative Martha McSally, a Republican from Arizona and a retired Air Force fighter pilot, said draftees are not exclusively sent to the front lines. There are plenty of other useful, noncombat positions for them to fill, she said.
Reporters pressed White House spokesman Josh Earnest on whether President Barack Obama would hesitate to sign legislation expanding the draft because it would mean his daughters would be required to register. Earnest declined to comment, citing lawsuits that have been filed against the Selective Service System over the exclusion.
If an eighteen-year-old man does not register with the Selective Service, he could lose his eligibility for student financial aid, job training, and government jobs. Immigrant men could lose their eligibility for citizenship. According to the latest annual report, nearly eighty percent of eighteen-year-olds registered on time during the 2015 fiscal year ending on 30 September 2015, and the registration rate for all men aged 20 to 25 was nearly a hundred percent.
Hunter's amendment was part of a defense policy bill that authorizes defense spending for the budget year that begins 1 October 2016. The committee passed the legislation by a 60-2 vote.
The overall bill cuts eighteen billion dollars from the wartime operations account to pay for weapons and troops the Pentagon didn't request, a money-shifting strategy Defense Secretary Ash Carter condemned on Wednesday as a "road to nowhere" that undermines American troops and emboldens America's enemies.
Representative Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, the committee's chairman, defended the plan, and said the billions of dollars shifted out of the wartime fund would be restored in a supplemental budget submitted to Congress early next year by Obama's successor. He's argued the committee's approach is essential to halting an erosion of combat readiness that has grown worse on Obama's watch.
On another thorny policy issue, Representative Adam Smith of Washington, the committee's senior Democrat, offered an amendment that would have barred the Defense Department from financially supporting the ROTC program at any institution that flies the Confederate battle flag. The Citadel is the only school that fits the profile. The college is in South Carolina Representative John Clyburn's district. He's not on the committee, but he backed Smith's measure in a statement, calling the Confederate flag a symbol of hate, racial oppression, and resistance to the rule of law.
Republicans said the college's Board of Visitors has voted to remove the flag, but South Carolina state law prohibits the Citadel from doing so. "This failure to take down the Confederate battle flag is an extremely disappointing statement of principles," Smith said. "They should have voted to take it down instead of dodging the issue."
Rico says that, if you want to be equal, you gotta take it all... (And if you want money, you'll take down that stupid flag and admit the Civil War is long over.)

Pink dolphins? Who knew?

The BBC has an article by Lesley Evans Ogden about some unusual river dolphins:

Reputation: Botos, or Amazon river dolphins are pink, quiet, solitary, blind mythical mammals. They stalk the rainforest at night in the guise of exotic and attractive men, who seduce and then impregnate innocent local women. Or, at least, so says one popular myth about the Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis), known locally as the boto. The legend of their nocturnal human transformation "has been used to cover up adultery and sexual misconduct", says Gabriel Melo Alves dos Santos, a doctoral student at Brazil's Federal University of Para.
Reality: They are real, not mythical, but they are the subject of interesting myths. Some are pink. Others are grey. They are anything but quiet. In some regions they are very sociable, and not just amongst themselves. Controversy swirls around how many species there are, and how many of these unusual animals remain.
The scientific view of the dolphin is a little more mundane, but not without its own mysteries. The truth is that the boto, one of the few remaining freshwater dolphin species on Earth, is still something of an enigma.
We do not know how many there are in the wild or how many species they fall within. We do not even know for sure why this strange dolphin is often a delicate shade of pink.
Not all botos are pink. "Coloration varies," says Vanessa Mintzer, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Florida at Gainesville. "Typically, younger animals are grey, and they get pinker as they age. Usually the adult males are the pinkest."
Pink is surely a way to match the particulate red mud that occurs in some of the rivers following heavy rains
One recent hypothesis suggests the pinkness develops because botos fight a lot, and it is their scar tissue that is pink. There is certainly a lot of aggression between the dolphins, especially the males, which are about fifty percent heavier than females.
"Almost the entire body surface of adult males is often covered with multiple overlapping tooth-rake marks," writes Anthony Martin of the University of Dundee and Vera da Silva of the National Research Institute of the Amazon in Brazil.
Mammal coloration expert Tim Caro of the University of California at Davis offers an alternative explanation. "Pink is surely a way to match the particulate red mud that occurs in some of the rivers following heavy rains," he says. Some individuals, he adds, have grey backs and pink undersides. Such countershading, dark on top and light underneath, is common in dolphins, whales, and porpoises. It is thought to be a way to hide from predators.
Scientists are still arguing about how many species or subspecies of boto there are. Some argue for the existence of a southern species in Bolivia, distinct from botos in more northerly Amazonian reaches.
In 2014, Tomas Hrbek at the Federal University of Amazonas at Manaus and colleagues presented evidence for a third species in Brazil's Araguaia River basin. The Marine Mammal Society is not yet convinced of this proposed new species.
Also an enigma is exactly how many botos there are in the Amazon's rivers. The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists them as "data deficient", but says they may be at risk in some parts of their range. One challenge to visually counting the numbers of these dolphins is that their riverine waters are often murky with silt.
Botos do not exactly go out of their way to make scientific counts easy, either. Typically, "they just put the tip of their head out of the water", says Alves dos Santos.
Even when seen at the water's surface, they lack the prominent dorsal fin used to photo-identify individuals in other dolphin species. Botos have a subtle ridge on their back, so it is still possible to "fingerprint" individuals using the unique pigmentation patterns, nicks, curves and wounds on its skin. But it is tricky.
Their shy, elusive behavior and the amount of time they spend underwater means that even the tally of dolphins counted from the same boat, with some observers at the front and others at the back, does not always match.
Paradoxically, though, some botos go out of their way to make themselves incredibly easy to spot. This can be seen at a market in the town of Mocajuba in Para State, Brazil. There, botos play with local children taking a break from helping their family with sales at the market. The water is clear, and Alves dos Santos has seen the dolphin behavior in detail. One of the fascinating things about this behavior, he says, is the lack of aggression shown by the dolphins. "If they wanted to they could rip those children apart because they are pretty big and they have pretty strong jaws," he says.
But the botos do nothing of the sort. The children stroke and play with the dolphins almost every morning. Locals report that this interaction has been happening for thirty years.At the market, botos are always in groups, never alone. That is unusual, says Alves  dos Santos' research advisor Laura May-Collado at the University of Vermont. "Many scientists have assumed these animals are solitary," she says, the only groups being a mother and young.
Alves dos Santos has discovered that some individuals come to the market repeatedly, year after year. Is that to take advantage of an unusual situation, humans feeding them scraps from the market, or are they in stable groups because they are close relatives? He hopes to find an answer by exploring the dolphins' family tree.
Attracting dolphins with fish to take tiny tissue samples for his DNA family tree analysis, "you see how intelligent they are", says Alves dos Santos. The dolphins are often assumed to be blind because their eyes are small. But they are not; instead, they are curious, and "they look into your eyes".
Although botos are difficult to visually count, there may be another way to work out how many individuals remain in the wild: recording their vocalizations.
Once thought to be a quiet species, botos turn out to be anything but. Rather like bat clicks, the clicks that make up the bulk of boto communications are inaudible to humans. Slowed down by about ninety percent, the clicks sound like popcorn popping in a microwave.
Marie Trone of Florida's Valencia College, along with two retired acousticians from the US Navy and two researchers at the University of Toulon in France, is studying individual differences in boto sounds.
Clicks have been successfully used to distinguish between individual bats. Trone hopes to do the same for botos. If the researchers can distinguish between the sounds of individuals, they might provide a useful tool for counting how many of these hard-to-see animals there really are. So far, their method shows promise.
As fish eaters, botos sometimes have a challenging relationship with human fishers. In parts of the Peruvian and Brazilian Amazon, botos are killed for use as catfish bait. Though this fishing method has been officially banned, the practice continues.
Sneaky fishermen have made up fictional names like douradinha for the boto-baited Zamurito catfish they sell. This practice has been revealed by DNA evidence at six markets in Manaus in the Brazilian Amazon.
Even when botos are not caught for use as fish bait, they are sometimes intentionally killed as perceived competitors for fish, or killed accidentally in fishing nets and boat strikes. The hope is that research into these secretive river dwellers will improve our understanding of their ecology, and perhaps improve their uneasy relationship with locals, who see them as competition for fish.
It is less clear whether that research can also dispel the myth that botos steal more than just fish. "A lot of unwanted pregnancies in the Amazon are blamed on the boto," says Mintzer.
Rico says he'll never see them, but it's nice to know they're out there, and providing excuses for unwanted pregnancies...

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