29 November 2016

The five-second rule Is bullshit

Esquire has a debunking article by Sarah Rense:

The CDC reports that cross-contamination by surfaces is the sixth leading cause of food-borne illness. And yet we eat food off the floor; especially if that food has been on the floor for less than five seconds. Which, as it turns out, is a bullshit number, and one that just got disproved by researchers at Rutgers University.
Over two years, the team tested a whole lot of elements to get a whole lot of measurements— nearly three thousand to be exact— and concluded that, no matter how briefly food touches a surface, it still picks up bacteria "instantaneously". However, what you drop where and how long it stays there matters. According to The New York Times, the study showed the longer food was left on the floor, the more gunk it picked up. It also found that watery food like watermelon sucked up the most bacteria, and carpet transferred less bacteria than tile or stainless steel, while wood varied.

Rico says that's too bad, as he's been known to eat stuff (as have you, admit it) that was on the floor a lot longer than five seconds...

Trump’s attack on our freedom to dissent

From Slate, an article by Mark Joseph Stern about dissent:

Donald Trump’s horrifying post-election Twitter spree continued apace when the president-elect declared that flag-burning should be outlawed in the United States, possibly in response to reports that college students protesting his victory burned an American flag: 
Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag; if they do, there must be consequences. perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!
First, the obvious: the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that flag-burning is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment. In 1989 and 1990, the court struck down both state and Federal flag desecration bans as unconstitutional censorship. It is “a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment”, the court explained, that “the government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Flag-burning is a quintessential form of dissent, a forceful protest against the United States itself. Such political expression lies at the heart of the First Amendment. “We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration,” the court wrote in 1989’s Texas v. Johnson, “for, in doing so, we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.”
Second, the less obvious: the involuntary loss of citizenship for engaging in dissent would constitute an outrageous violation of the Constitution’s most critical guarantees. Free speech issues aside, revocation of a flag-burner’s citizenship without his consent would violate both the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment as well as the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, which bars punitive expatriation.
Trump appears to believe that the government can revoke a dissenter’s citizenship and, along with it, a panoply of constitutional rights, including the right to vote, because her speech is exceptionally noxious. This specious conception of citizenship as a privilege to be stripped of dissidents reflects Trump’s authoritarian impulse to control the thoughts of the citizenry by chilling and punishing dissent. Indeed, Trump even believes that citizens who fail to comply with the patriotic orthodoxy should be thrown in prison, a classic method of authoritarian indoctrination.
Third, the bizarre: Trump has repeatedly praised Justice Antonin Scalia’s legacy and insisted that he plans to appoint a justice in his mold. Yet Scalia was perhaps the court’s fiercest defender of the rights of flag-burners. He provided the fifth vote in Texas v. Johnson, the five to four ruling invalidating flag desecration bans, and dominated oral arguments in the case. From his perch on the bench, Scalia deftly revealed the contradiction at the heart of Texas’ argument: the Texas government asserted that it banned flag desecration not as a means of censorship, but to preserve its status as a national symbol; Scalia pointed out that its status as a national symbol is precisely why its desecration is such a powerful, and protected, form of expression.
One final point: Trump’s tweet presents an important test for Republicans. In response to Democrats’ efforts to overturn Citizens United and restore campaign finance reform, many Republicans alleged that the Democratic Party wished to “repeal the First Amendment”. Now the GOP’s leader, the president-elect of the United States, has promoted a policy that would directly violate the First, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments. His proposal involves, quite literally, throwing dissenters in prison, nullifying their right to vote, and potentially expelling them from the country. All for expressing themselves in a manner Trump dislikes.
This unconstitutional crackdown on free speech has no place in American political discourse. Yet so far, only Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime defender of flag-burning rights, has criticized Trump’s tweet with appropriate vigor. The silence or tepid ambivalence of other Republican leaders should alarm us all. These men and women would do well to remember the Supreme Court’s admonition against mandatory displays of patriotism which is, unfortunately, more relevant today than it has been for decades. As Justice Robert Jackson wrote in defending Jehovah’s Witnesses’ right to not salute the flag: “Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.”
Rico says so much for the First Amendment... (And Rico doesn't know about you, but he's already tired of Trump's smirk, and also says that, while it may be a little premature to bring it up, there is an interesting list of people who tried to solve this very problem...)

Will Trump wipe out the recent opening to Cuba?

From Slate: an article by Joshua Keating about Trump and Cuba:

Donald Trump’s initial response to the death of longtime Cuban leader Fidel Castro was a factually correct but not-quite-presidential tweet: 
Fidel Castro is dead!
After taking some time to digest this news, Trump followed up with a pledge to get a “better deal” from Cuba than the Obama administration had:
If Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people, and the US as a whole, I will terminate deal.
The thing about Obama’s “deal” with Cuba is that there actually is no deal. There’s an ongoing diplomatic process involving talks on dozens of issues and a number of changes to regulations and diplomatic policy. So where does our president-elect stand on all of those? Even by Trump standards, he’s all over the map on Cuba.
During the GOP primary last year, Trump told the Daily Caller that although he thought he could have gotten a better deal from the Castro regime, the Obama administration’s diplomatic opening to Cuba was “fine” and that, referring to the longtime US embargo, “fifty years is enough”. This echoed the language used by opponents of the embargo on Cuba, in place for more than five decades, and put Trump at odds with opponents like the Cuban-American Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, all pro-embargo hardliners. Perhaps this was because, as Newsweek reported, one of Trump’s companies may actually have done business in Cuba in the 1990s, despite the embargo.
But in the last months of his campaign, Trump seemed to have a conversion on the road to Little Havana, telling a Miami rally in September that he would reverse all of Obama’s Cuba moves “unless the Castro regime meets our demands. Not my demands. Our demands.”
Campaign talk is cheap of course, but even before Castro’s death, Vice President–elect Mike Pence vowed that Trump would follow through on his pledge to reverse Obama’s executive orders on Cuba. Some Cuba-watchers I talked to also pointed to the naming of hardline anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone to Trump’s economic transition team as evidence that the next president may have meant what he said (the last time, anyway).
Like many of Obama’s diplomatic achievements, the opening to Cuba that began in December of 2014 was accomplished through executive orders, without the approval of Congress. (The embargo itself will remain in place until Congress acts to lift it.) So Trump is correct when he says that he can “terminate” it all. There’s precedent for this: Jimmy Carter lifted most of the travel ban in 1977, a move that was reversed in 1982 with Ronald Reagan in office. If Trump wants to, he could put Cuba back on the state sponsors of terrorism list, reimpose the restrictions on travel and commerce in Cuba that were eased under Obama, and once again shutter the American embassy in Havana that was reopened with much fanfare in August 2015.
As with the Iran nuclear agreement, Trump has suggested that, rather than completely blowing up the diplomatic process set in motion by Obama, he can simply negotiate better terms. Incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said over the weekend that “repression, open markets, freedom of religion, political prisoners— these things need to change in order to have open and free relationships.” But getting better terms from Raul Castro’s government isn’t going to be that easy. “They may return to the negotiating table, but they’re not going to grant major concessions to the United States,” says Jaime Suchlicki, director of the  Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami. “The next year is going to be the year of remembering Fidel Castro, the glory of Fidel, the victory of Fidel. So nothing is going to change. Beyond that, maybe something small and something very gradual.”
While Fidel remained an active and influential presence in Cuban politics, he ceded power to his brother in 2008, and his death is unlikely to lead to any immediate political changes in Cuba. Cuba is likely to continue the very slow economic liberalization and even slower political opening that has been taking place under Raul. The younger Castro brother is leaving the presidency in 2018, and there’s little evidence to suggest that he or his successors are open to major political transformation.
But Trump’s initial skepticism was correct: fifty years of isolation did little to weaken the Castro regime’s hold over the island or increase political freedoms for Cubans. If he does return the US to the more hostile posture toward Cuba it had prior to Obama, the goals outlined by Priebus would be even harder to achieve. “There’s been a fairly public debate about whether or not Obama’s policy is sincere,” says William LeoGrande, a professor at American University and expert on the US-Cuba relationship. Cuba’s recent political and economic openings are very limited and tenuous to begin with but could quickly be reversed if tensions with the US return to their previous level. “They will close down some of the political space that’s opened up in the last couple of years, they’ll get tougher on dissidents and start sending them back to prison, they’ll start using nationalist appeals to rally support for the regime, and they’ll go back to blaming the economy on the United States,” says LeoGrande.
Trump’s moves could also have wider diplomatic implications for the US, particularly in Latin America, where there’s significant public support for the Castros and the embargo (which is almost universally opposed internationally) has long been a source of tension. Ecuador’s left-wing President Rafael Correa suggested in October that, if Trump were elected, like George W. Bush before him, that would lead to the election of more left-wing governments in the region. Trump is already mistrusted and disliked there because of his immigration rhetoric, notes Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, adding that “if Trump acts on his Cuba rhetoric, I think it’s going to create a lot of strong reactions and anti-Yanqui feeling, and not just on the left.”
Trump may not care that much about any of that, but there’s still reason to be believe he might not actually follow through on his threat to re-sanction Cuba. “Only a cold warrior would do that— someone with deep ideological convictions against the Cuban regime,” notes Shifter. And Trump’s fondness for dictators such as Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad doesn’t suggest human rights are going to be a major priority of his foreign policy. Also, if we assume, as evidence so far suggests, that Trump intends to use US foreign policy to advance his own business interests, then locking down Cuba makes little sense. “He’s a hotelier and a golf course developer. And that’s prime real estate,” says Chris Sabatini, a lecturer at Columbia University and editor of the website Latin America Goes Global. A rollback would also be opposed by American companies, from JetBlue to MasterCard, already doing business in Cuba under the new rules.
It also wouldn’t be that much of a political winner. Trump did win Cuban-Americans in Florida, but by a lower margin than Mitt Romney, and the trend lines suggest this constituency is no longer a reliable Republican stronghold. A majority of Americans, including Cuban-Americans, supported Obama’s moves on Cuba, and the staunchest defenders of the embargo in Washington, such as Rubio and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, aren’t exactly die-hard Trumpians.
Most likely, Trump’s sudden focus on Cuba is driven by the news cycle, and the issue won’t ultimately be high on his agenda. Trump seems unlikely to help bolster Obama’s legacy by continuing the opening, as Hillary Clinton might have done, but it would also be surprising if he made facing down Raul Castro a major priority.

Rico says he better not, the fuck, at least until Rico can afford to take the fiancée...

Apple’s next iPhone

From Time, an article by Lisa Eadicicco about the next iPhone:

The iPhone 7 just debuted in September of 2016, but the rumors are already circulating about what Apple fans should expect from next year’s model. The successor to the iPhone 7, which may be called the iPhone 7s or iPhone 8, could be a more noticeable departure from the current iPhone’s design. Next year’s release will also mark ten years since the original iPhone launched in 2007. 
Here’s a look at what’s been reported about Apple’s next iPhone so far: 
Better screen technology
Apple may use an OLED (organic light emitting diode) screen for its next iPhone instead of an LCD display, according to reports from The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. These types of screens offer better contrast than LCD displays, and are often brighter. The blacks in OLED screens are also deeper than those of LCD displays, making colors pop more prominently.
Apple already uses OLED display technology for the Apple Watch, while other tech giants, like Samsung, have been using variants of OLED screens in their smartphones for years. It’s unclear whether or not all new iPhone models will feature an OLED screen or if Apple will reserve them for its high-end variant, as a report from Nikkei Asian Review indicates.
Apple made several new product announcements recently, most notably a new MacBook Pro laptop with a touchscreen strip above the keyboard. 
A curved screen
Certain iPhone models may feature a screen that’s curved on both sides, similar to Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge, according to Nikkei Asian Review. This rounded model will likely be more expensive than the standard edition, and may be 5.5-inches or larger, says the report. If Apple indeed decides to give its next iPhone a curved screen, it will likely use an OLED display, as those types of screens are more flexible than their LCD counterparts. 
Three models to choose from
The introduction of a curved iPhone could mean that Apple plans to offer its next smartphone in three variants instead of two. Apple may release 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhones with flat screens and then an additional model with a rounded display, according to Nikkei Asian Review.
A new design with no home button
Apple hasn’t significantly redesigned its iPhone since it unveiled the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus in 2014; that could change in 2017. The company reportedly plans to overhaul the next iPhone with a new design that includes an edge-to-edge glass screen and no home button, according to The Wall Street Journal. The Touch ID fingerprint sensor, meanwhile, would be built directly into the iPhone’s screen.
These changes would let Apple get rid of the borders around the iPhone’s display, potentially allowing it to make the phone’s screen larger without having to increase the size of the overall device. Further changes could include a glass back similar to that of the iPhone 4 and 4s rather than the aluminum design of Apple’s more recent iPhones, says a note from KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. 
Wireless charging
Future iPhone owners may not have to plug their phones into a power cord to charge it. Apple is said to be testing wireless charging technology that could appear in iPhones as soon as 2017, according to reports from Bloomberg and Nikkei Asian Review. Wireless charging has existed in certain Android smartphones for years, but Apple could be exploring a method that makes it possible to power iPhones from a distance, Bloomberg reports. It’s unclear how close that technology is to a commercial release, however. 
Rico says maybe he'll wait and skip a generation...

The F Word

From Guernica, an article by Eliza Kostelanetz Schrader, who has published fiction and nonfiction in Hanging Loose, Blunderbuss, XOJane, and De Correspondent, and is at work on her first novel, The Blue Wig, about a young queer working with developmentally disabled adults in San Francisco, California; she teaches writing at the Pratt Institute and the Parsons School of Design; an earlier version of this essay was published in De Correspondent in Dutch, about redefining "family":

When my partner, Natasha, and I decided to have children, the natural choice for a donor was our college friend Michael. The three of us were in the same women’s and gender-studies senior seminar; he and I were queer activists together in college; the two of them had been coworkers at a local cafe, where he helped convince Natasha that it would be a good idea to date his housemate (me). He was exactly the type of man who would understand that we were asking for his sperm and not his fatherhood. The night we asked him was warm, late-summer Brooklyn muggy. Michael was visiting us from San Francisco. I said something about how we didn’t want to put pressure on him to answer in the moment, but we loved him very much and hoped he would consider giving us his sperm. As I spoke, Michael’s smile seemed to extend through his entire body. He told us he had goose bumps (I think I saw them on his arms), and he said “Sure, I’ll think about it, but yes.”
We discussed a lot of details that night, and more in the subsequent months— he would have no financial responsibility for our future offspring; he could be as involved or uninvolved as he wanted to be, perhaps as an “uncle” or something similar. We never had to explain to Michael that he wouldn’t be our child’s “father”, that this wasn’t a role we wanted or needed from him. Besides, we joked, he had recently adopted a kitten and she would demand all the paternal and maternal energy he could muster. The trouble has been explaining this all to our friends, family, and acquaintances as we search for the words to describe who exactly he will be in our family.
Natasha and I would be the sole parents. We all agreed that the term “donor” sounded too clinical. Michael was already a part of our queer family and would be important to our baby whether or not he gave us his genetic material. Queer family can refer to the chosen family one has after a childhood, adolescence, or longer spent ill-at-ease in one’s body, in the world, being an outsider because of how one looks or acts or what one cares about. It’s feeling at home in other people; it’s becoming yourself through community. Maggie Nelson, in her fresh and poetic take on queer family in The Argonauts, argues that “queer family making” is an “umbrella category under which baby making might be a subset, rather than the other way around.” It’s why Michael isn’t just the “donor” and why the current words and norms wouldn’t suffice. So Natasha coined “benefactor”. Benefactor made us laugh; it playfully equated providing sperm with financial provision, but, more importantly, unlike the one-time donation implied by “donor”, a benefactor could be a continual source of support. It wasn’t perfect, but it seemed to encompass a bit more of the queer family making we were embarking on.
Kara and Kristina, two queer friends of mine with a ten-month-old child, agree that we are lacking in terminology to describe our families. Even though they used the word “donor”, they felt frustrated with the term from the beginning because, they said, “he is so much more than a donor”. In regards to the F word, which would seem to displace Kristina as the non-birth parent and set up a heteronormative paradigm in a family that neither warrants nor wants it, they liked to “get out in front of it” by explaining how they got pregnant and how their family would work. Not only are they eager to avoid hurtful remarks, but also they are both invested in being upfront about their family as a way to “normalize alternative family structures.” However, after they established their parent-ness in the months following the birth, they both felt they could “ease up on the clinging to boundaries” around language and now don’t care as much about how others refer to their donor or, eventually, how their child will refer to him. “Daddy,” Kara tells me, “wouldn’t mean that he is an actual parent,” but rather would be a “term of endearment.” When I ask how they would feel about “father” being used, Kristina is quick to clarify, albeit while laughing, that “that would be going too far”. The F word, in all its officialness, still has the power to cut in a way that “daddy” doesn’t. It signals that while there may be a version of a family at play (in this case, two mothers and a child) a real family is out there, and that of course includes a father.
Hearing people refer to Michael as the “father” is a punch to the gut. It feels like the heterosexual world infringing on my family. Why must my child have a father, simply because our donor is known? What’s wrong with just having two mothers, even though I might feel more like a dad on some days? Calling someone else the “father” or the “dad” would seem to supplant me, not only as the non-birth mother but also in terms of my masculinity. Why would Michael, with his short shorts and lingerie tops (his style is one of the many things I love about him), automatically trump me for the patriarchal title of the family? And why would we want to involve patriarchal terms, and thereby norms, in our family, anyway?
It’s crucial that non-normative families are de-stigmatized (while retaining our beautiful queerness) precisely because of our potential to alter the meaning of family for queers and non-queers alike. There are families comprised of single mothers, single fathers, two fathers, grandparents, stepparents, families that are communally led, and all kinds of other compositions. The conjoined labels of father and mother can offer solace in the normal (even if it’s just an illusion), and a single-parent father, mother, or other aggregation of terms appears to be less legitimate. In terms of my gender and nonbiological parent status, my being a “mother” also resists the traditional idea of what “mother” means. As a masculine woman with a child— something I never saw on television or read about growing up— I am a different type of parent to my child, one who expands a cookie-cutter definition of what a “mother” is. And to be a parent without a biological connection to her child pushes up against and enlarges the very idea of what family is, challenging the erroneous, age-old notion that biology breeds the strongest form of kin. Everyone stands to gain from questioning and transforming the rigidness of what it means to be real family.
Perhaps, someday— when it’s come to represent something else, other than the rightful place at the head of the table or the missing puzzle piece that might supply normalcy to my family— the word “father” won’t feel like an erasure to the non-gestational partner. But for now, it does. It’s not that I don’t understand that “father” is the default term for the male person who contributes sperm to the project of a child, because, of course, I do. Most people have fathers, whether or not they are in their lives. It’s a term that varies in its cultural, political, and personal meaning, but it’s also a touchstone, a common reference point to which many people can relate. And what’s wrong with being or having a father? Absolutely nothing. I love my father. I consider myself a daddy’s girl. Yet I resent how ubiquitously instilled it is, and the resulting limitations for the family Natasha and I are creating.
A few weeks before Natasha gave birth, Michael visited us in Brooklyn and the three of us carved out an hour in the middle of a Wednesday to talk to a therapist about our project of family making. As a lifelong lover of and believer in therapy, the visit had been my idea, but Michael and Natasha were happy participants. With Natasha very pregnant and me urging her to put her feet up, we discussed, among other things related to the three-person relationship we were founding, how it might feel for our child to want to refer to Michael as her father or dad. I was the person hardest hit by this hypothetical. Michael said something about his willingness to talk to our child about the limitations of language. Natasha seemed surprisingly unperturbed by the scenario, although I suppose she’s always been stoic, and tends to be more flexible than me in myriad ways. Our therapist advised us to consider how unpredictable children and child-rearing can be, and to be open to our child’s needs. He wasn’t arguing that we do something that makes us uncomfortable, but simply acknowledging that it’s impossible to plan out everything ahead of time when children are involved.
Of course this made sense. I guess I’d assumed our child would follow our lead in the language we use for our family, but I’m only starting to realize the reality of parenting, which is to say that I can’t control much in the world, including how our child will react to the norms foisted upon her (or him, or whatever gender identification our child decides is most fitting). However, I can try to raise her to be comfortable existing in difference, something I’ve had to work hard for myself. I can tell her that “uncle”, “donor”, and “benefactor” are the words we have for Michael for now, even if they aren’t enough. But then I can also listen to what she says, open to the idea that she might come up with a name for him herself, even if I’ll hope it isn’t the F word.
Rico says some families are more f-d than others, but they'll still need males for sperm...

Asteroids are not the only threat from space

From the BBC, an article by Philip Ball about incoming objects:

We are here by the skin of our teeth. Evolution could well have turned out differently, and the fact that it did not may well be down to freak events. Life on Earth has faced a string of accidents, weird situations and outright catastrophes, from sudden ice ages to collisions with asteroids, and it is how life responded to these contingencies that ultimately led to us.
If that is so, we can only understand the story of life by taking the broadest possible view. Organisms are shaped by their environments, and those environments are shaped in turn by huge geological forces like volcanoes and ice sheets, and by the shifting climate.
But we should cast the net even wider. What if these great forces were influenced by even greater forces from the wider Universe? Might cosmic events in our Solar System and even our galaxy have also played roles? Do we literally have to thank our stars that we are here?
The most well-known example of an evolutionary shift caused by astronomical events is the hypothesis that the dinosaurs were driven to extinction by a gigantic meteorite impact nearly seventy million years ago. This was proposed in 1980 by physicist Luis Alvarez, his geologist son Walter, and their coworkers.
The researchers discovered that sedimentary rocks, laid down all over the world at the time of the extinction, contain large amounts of a rare element called iridium. The team suggested that the iridium might have come from the dusty debris of a meteorite that smashed into the Earth. Iridium is more abundant in asteroids, the most likely source of such a meteorite, than it is on Earth.
Quite how such an impact might have killed off the dinosaurs remains a matter of debate, but there are many possibilities. The energy released could have triggered global wildfires. The researchers estimated that, to deliver the required amount of iridium, the meteorite would have to be about six miles across. The impact of such a monster would have released millions of times more energy than a hydrogen bomb. What's more, the dust and debris thrown up into the air by the blast could have blocked sunlight and sent temperatures plunging for several years after.
In 1991 the impact hypothesis got a boost when scientists found an impact crater more than a hundred miles wide at Chicxulub on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula; its geological age coincided precisely with the extinction.
How much the impact drove the dinosaurs' demise is not clear; there is evidence that they were already on the wane. Still, there is good reason to expect that such a dramatic event would leave some mark on evolutionary history. The discovery helped to prompt concerns about potentially devastating meteorite impacts today. Besides, a meteorite impact is not the only explanation for the extinctions 66 million years ago.
Tokuhiro Nimura is a researcher at the Japan Spaceguard Association, which was formed to monitor near-Earth objects that might strike the planet. In March of 2016, Nimura and his coworkers suggested that the extinctions, global cooling, and iridium layer might have been caused by the solar system passing through a molecular cloud: one of the great clouds of gas and dust in space from which stars form. As dust accumulated in the atmosphere, it would have formed a haze that reflected sunlight and cooled the planet.
The basic idea goes back to a 1975 suggestion by British astronomer William McCrea. He thought that, if Earth passed through an interstellar "dust lane", it could cause an ice age. At the time, astronomers Mitchell Begelman and Martin Rees pointed out that such dust might instead affect the way particles streaming from the Sun impinge on Earth’s atmosphere and expose the planet to high doses of radiation, causing extinctions as well as climate changes.
Nimura has now resurrected McCrea's idea, arguing that the Chicxulub impact does not seem to have been catastrophic enough to account for the extinctions at the end of the Cretaceous. However, for now, this is mostly speculation. "The idea strikes me as highly interesting and plausible, but as yet undeveloped and without clear supporting evidence," says astronomer Martin Beech of Campion College at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan in Canada.
The event 66 million years ago is just one of several known "mass extinctions", in which many species worldwide seem to have died out suddenly.
The biggest was at the end of the Permian period a quarter billion years ago, when no less than 96% of all life on Earth seems to have died out. All life today is descended from the surviving four percent, so it is easy to see that evolutionary history would have been very different if this extinction had not happened. When species die off, those that survive get opportunities to expand and diversify that they would not otherwise have had.
Palaeontologists have long debated what causes these mass extinctions. It is possible that, just like smaller-scale population crashes, they could be an inherent part of the way ecosystems work. Because all life is interdependent, a small shift in one population might occasionally create a domino effect that sends shockwaves through the entire system. But it is more likely that at least some mass extinctions are caused by influences outside the living world.
One such mass extinction occurred at the end of the Triassic period. About half of all species on Earth disappeared. The event might have been triggered by increases in volcanic activity, perhaps producing changes in climate, but it might also have been caused by a meteorite impact. Such catastrophic collisions might not be the result of sheer chance, of stray asteroids or comets blundering into Earth. Instead, cosmic circumstances could systematically cause such objects to come close to our world.
The most well-known of these ideas is that our Sun has a dim companion star, which is so far away that it has never been observed directly. This star, dubbed Nemesis, or the Death Star, might periodically pull lumps of icy rock from the fringes of the Solar System and send them careening through our neighborhood.
This idea was proposed in 1984 by two teams of astronomers: Daniel Whitmire and Albert Jackson and Marc Davis, Richard Muller, and Piet Hut. They were all prompted by the apparent discovery earlier that year that mass extinctions have happened at regular intervals, about 26 million years apart, over the past half billion years.
The idea is that the gravitational pull of Nemesis, circling the Sun in an orbit about two light years away, would disturb the Oort cloud: a host of icy objects that lie beyond the orbit of Pluto at distances of about 0.8 to 3 light years, and which are only loosely bound by the Sun's gravity. The Oort cloud is the source of "long-period" comets, which return to the inner Solar System every few hundred years or more.
Nemesis would be a tiny star: perhaps a red dwarf, or even a brown dwarf not much bigger than a giant planet like Jupiter. So it is not altogether surprising that it has never been spotted. It would be hard to see at such a distance, even with the most powerful telescopes. But that is not the only problem with the Nemesis theory.
In a study published in 2010, astrophysicist Adrian Melott of the University of Kansas and palaeontologist Richard Bambach of the Smithsonian Institution re-examined the fossil record using the latest data. They confirmed that mass extinctions recur every 27 million years. However, they say this pattern is actually too regular to fit with the Nemesis idea. Such a distant dwarf star would inevitably be disturbed by other nearby stars, producing a more irregular influx of comets. Instead, maybe the waves of mass extinction are caused, not by a companion star, but by another planet.
In 1985, Whitmire and his colleague John Matese suggested that there might be a relatively small rocky planet, around five times the mass of the Earth, orbiting in the Solar System far beyond Neptune. This planet might pull comets, not from the Oort cloud, but from the much-nearer Kuiper belt. This is another disk of icy rocks on the edge of the solar system, of which Pluto and its moon Charon are now recognized as members. Whitmire and Matese called their hypothetical object Planet X.
It is completely possibly that we have failed to spot another planet in the Solar System, even one bigger than the Earth. Before the New Horizons spacecraft reached Pluto and Charon in 2015, the best view we had of those objects was a vague blur, and we are only now starting to be able to make out some of the other large bodies in the Kuiper belt. If Planet X is dark and unreflective, it could well have eluded all our astronomical surveys.
What's more, in January of 2016, astronomers proposed that there could be a ninth planet in the Solar System; orbiting beyond Neptune, with a mass about ten times that of Earth. The suggestion was prompted by observations of visible Kuiper-belt objects, which seemed to be disturbed by an unseen influence. If this planet exists, it probably would not do what Planet X is said to do. But the story illustrates that we do not know what is out there.
Whitmire, now at the University of Arkansas, has taken the Planet X hypothesis even further. In a 2015 study, he showed that the idea fits with the regular 27-million-year extinction periodicity seen by Melott and Bambach. What's more, Whitmire says a second such object, perhaps to be called Planet Y, could explain yet another oscillation in the fossil record. This pattern was reported in 2005 by Richard Muller and Robert Rohde. They found that the diversity of marine species goes up and down every 62 million years: a change that could be caused by changes either in extinction rates or the rate at which new species form.
Waves of comet impacts caused by "hidden" planets are a plausible explanation for these patterns, says Melott. But he says the patterns could also be caused by other, more distant cosmic events. In 2007, Melott and his colleague Mikhail Medvedev argued that the 62-million-year pulse might be caused by a regular feature in the Solar System's journey through the Milky Way galaxy. Our galaxy is shaped a bit like a plate. As it rotates, the Sun rises and falls in the galactic plane, rather like a merry-go-round horse. These shifts in position could change the amount of cosmic rays that stream through the Solar System and hit Earth. Cosmic rays are high-energy subatomic particles, such as protons and electrons, shooting through space. They are thought to be produced in high-energy astronomical processes. Some seem to originate in supernovae: stars that explode when their fuel is exhausted. Others may come from black holes at the centres of other galaxies. There are various ways that they could affect Earth's environment and thereby influence evolution. Cosmic rays could themselves be harmful. When they collide with molecules in the air, they produce showers of particles that could induce mutations in DNA. That is typically bad for life. However, a low level of mutation could actually boost the variety upon which natural selection operates, making life more diverse
Cosmic-ray collisions could also change the chemistry of the atmosphere. They might produce electrically-charged particles that affect cloud formation and thus climate, or they could destroy the ozone layer that protects the Earth from the Sun's harmful ultraviolet rays. Because many cosmic rays are thought to be created in supernovae within our galaxy, the Solar System's bobbing up and down in the galaxy could alter the cosmic-ray flux, with knock-on effects for Earth's life.
However, it is strange that these effects only show up in marine fossils. If anything, you might expect sea-dwelling organisms to be better protected from hazardous particle showers than land-based ones.
Even Melott now thinks that this idea cannot account for the 62-million-year cycle in the fossil record after all. In 2011 he suggested that it might instead be an innate, geological "pulse of the Earth", perhaps related to changes in tectonic activity. There is a similar pattern of changes in the makeup of marine sedimentary rocks, Melott and his coworkers say. This is what would be expected from changes in the rates of mountain-building and erosion, caused by shifts in the movements of tectonic plates. All the same, deadly rays from space do seem to be a good candidate cause for some evolutionary shifts seen in the fossil record. We are constantly exposed to low levels of cosmic rays. But a single supernova could unleash a lethal blast of such particles if it happened near enough to our Solar System.
Stars explode as supernovae all the time; when they do, they can temporarily outshine their entire host galaxies. Many are seen every year in other galaxies, but the most recent one known to have happened in our own galaxy became visible about a hundred and forty years ago. Another in our galaxy that appeared in 1572 was so bright, it was visible to the naked eye and was seen by the astronomer Tycho Brahe.
"Tycho's supernova" was safely distant: nearly eight thousand light years away. If such an explosion happened much closer to us, we would be in serious trouble. The Earth would be raked, not just with high-energy particles, but with X-rays and gamma-rays, which could be fatal. It is estimated that a supernova would need to be within about thirty light years for it to have devastating consequences on Earth. There are not many stars that close.
However, in a 2002 study, astronomers estimated that there may have been as many as twenty supernovae within about four hundred light years of Earth over the past eleven million years, just from one group of stars, some of which are as close as a hundred and thirty light years. Such events might well leave imprints in the fossil record.
They certainly seem to have left traces in sedimentary rocks. Supernovae scatter the outer layers of the exploding star into space, including some atoms that are rare on Earth.
One of these tell-tale products of a supernova is a kind of iron called iron-60, which is not naturally formed on Earth. In 1999, physicists found high levels of iron-60 in geological structures from the deep ocean called ferromanganese crusts, formed over the past five million years or so. Iron-60 has also been found in lunar "soil", and it seems to have come from two supernovae about three hundred light years away, one about seven and the other two million years ago. The latter explosions seems to have left traces in the fossil record.
In a study published in August of 2016, astrophysicist Shawn Bishop of the Technical University of Munich, Germany and his colleagues reported finding iron-60 in fossil iron oxide crystals. The crystals were originally made by bacteria that use the magnetic oxide to align themselves with Earth's magnetic field. The iron-60 began to appear in such fossils in marine sediments that formed about three million years ago.
X-rays and gamma rays coming from so distant a source are not a direct problem in themselves. "They don't penetrate our atmosphere, and so can't directly cause sterilization or mass extinctions," says Bishop. But he says the rays could create an indirect hazard by damaging the ozone layer. "With a reduced ozone layer, as we know from the days of the Antarctic ozone layer hole, ultraviolet light from the Sun will penetrate to the Earth's surface and can then become a problem for organisms."
According to calculations by astronomer Narciso Benítez and his colleagues, supernovae at these distances could potentially deplete atmospheric ozone. What's more, in a study published in July of 2016, Melott and his colleagues estimated that cosmic rays from the supernovae could have boosted the numbers of high-energy neutrons and muons reaching ground level, tripling the overall radiation dose to ground-dwelling organisms. That could have induced cancer-causing mutations, as well as triggering changes in climate, the researchers say.
There does seem to have been a small mass extinction about three million years ago, at the boundary of the Pliocene and Pleistocene eras. But we cannot say for sure if a supernova played a role. Indeed, there is no direct evidence of supernovae ever having a causal impact on the evolutionary history of life, says Bishop. "This will be extremely difficult to prove after millions of years". For example, there is no way to collect and examine fossil DNA for mutations after such long periods of time, let alone to make a comparison before and after the event. However, there is another kind of cosmic outburst that is even more powerful.
The heavens are occasionally riven by blasts called gamma-ray bursts: extremely intense explosions that release gamma rays, lasting between a fraction of a second and a few hours. Gamma-ray bursts are among the most energetic events known in the Universe. They may be produced when particularly massive stars explode.
Fortunately, gamma-ray bursts have so far been seen only in very distant galaxies. But if one went off nearby, a supernova would be like a firecracker in comparison. Worse, "we probably couldn't see one coming, at least no sooner than a few hours before," says Melott. Fortunately, Melott says they are only likely to happen close enough to matter, meaning within ten thousand light years or so, about every hundred and seventy million years. That is rare, but Earth has been around long enough to have been struck many times over. Indeed, in 2004 Melott suggested that a mass extinction around the end of the Ordovician period, four hundred million years ago, might have been related to a gamma-ray burst. The idea is that, again, X-rays and gamma rays from this event could have severely damaged the ozone layer, as well as triggering global cooling by inducing the formation of thick, smoggy nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere. Melott argues that the pattern of extinctions in the late Ordovician fits this picture. For example, shallow-water marine organisms, which would have been more exposed to ultraviolet radiation than deep-water ones, seem to have been hit harder. Also the climate became markedly cooler.
Could this happen again? Earth has about two billion years of life left to it, after which the Sun will expand and render it uninhabitable. In a 2011 analysis, Beech estimated that in that time there are likely to be about twenty supernovae and one gamma-ray burst near enough to do harm. Those are hardly alarming numbers.
Besides, Melott says we should be able to see nearby supernovae well in advance, since we can measure the ages of nearby stars. The nearest one that might detonate soon, meaning any time within the next few million years, is Betelgeuse in the constellation of Orion, but it is too far away to do any damage.
Beech says it might even be possible to engineer stars to avoid a catastrophic supernova. "If a civilisation knew that a supernova was going to occur in their neighbourhood, then one survival option would be to try some super-astro-engineering project," he says.
For example, they might head off the explosion by making the star lose mass or by mixing in some material that could delay its collapse. "How such engineering might be physically performed, I don't know," says Beech. "But the physics of the situation and what one would need to do to prolong a star's life is reasonably well understood".
Beech suggests that stars about to turn supernova might be good places to look for advanced aliens. If such a star started behaving oddly, it might be a sign of deliberate tampering.
In her 2015 book Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, physicist Lisa Randall of Harvard University suggested that a mysterious cosmic substance called dark matter might have been the dinosaurs' ultimate killer. Dark matter does not interact with light, so we cannot see it directly. It only affects ordinary matter via gravity: it has mass, so it exerts a gravitational tug like any other matter. We do not know what dark matter is. No one has ever detected a single particle of it. But most physicists and astronomers are sure it exists. If it were not there, galaxies could not rotate as fast as they do without falling apart. Dark matter is estimated to outweigh ordinary matter in the Universe by about five to one. It is thought to surround each galaxy in a roughly spherical halo.
Randall has suggested that some dark matter differs from the rest. This "exotic dark matter" might feel another force as well as gravity, akin to the electromagnetic force that makes ordinary matter interact with light. The exotic dark matter could then form a disk in the galactic plane, and the passage of the Solar System through the disk could have perturbed the path of an Oort-cloud comet, causing the giant impact sixty-six million years ago.
Biologist Michael Rampino of New York University has extended this idea. In a study published in 2015, he proposed that some dark matter particles might be captured and destroyed in Earth's core. This could release enough energy to boost volcanic activity, creating the "pulse of the Earth" that Melott had previously linked to extinctions. Well, maybe. But some scientists feel that the idea is way too speculative, and would not have got much attention if it had not been put forward by someone as famous as Randall, who achieved something close to scientific superstardom for her work on cosmology.
"You have to invent new physics in order to get the mechanism to work," says Melott.
"The argument seems rather contrived to me," agrees Beech. But he adds that, while it is far from clear that our galaxy really has a disk of dark matter, "we know so little about the distribution and make-up of dark matter within the galactic disk and halo that the premise is certainly viable within our present uncertainty."
At this point that might be a rather too-familiar refrain: "interesting idea but it's all speculation". Should we believe any of these notions? All the individual stories we have discussed are unproven, and many are speculative. But take a step back and there seems no doubt that, one way or another, life on Earth is connected to and contingent on cosmic forces. The difficulty is figuring out which cosmic phenomena played a role in a given incident. These influences play out over such vast timescales that we need not fear any impending existential threat to the biosphere. No planet-sterilizing meteorite impact is anticipated in the foreseeable future, though of course it is wise to keep looking.
However, that is not to say that human civilization is completely safe from space threats.
Melott says our biggest concern should be solar flares: abrupt outbursts from the Sun that shower the planet with high-energy particles and radiation. The electromagnetic pulse they produce could cripple telecommunications.
Astronomical events might, for once, prove a boon to life on Earth rather than a burden.
One such event in 1859 played havoc with the early telegraph network, giving some operators shocks and causing sparks and fires. Today, with our far greater dependence on telecommunications networks, the consequences could be devastating. We narrowly escaped this fate in 2012, when a solar superstorm narrowly missed us, but there was a big one in 1989 that disrupted the Canadian power grid.
If an event like this were indeed to bring civilisation to its knees, it might leave an imprint in the evolutionary record because, ironically, it could actually stop the latest mass extinction, which is happening right now and is entirely of our own doing.
In that case, astronomical events might for once prove a boon to life on Earth rather than a burden. They would have put us firmly in our place and shown just how puny we are in the face of the cosmos.
Hawking thinks so, too:

Rico says that, if and when an asteroid comes, we won't have long to worry about it...

The appropriate song?

Why do some people pose as heroes?

From the BBC:


Rico says you used to see this in Vietnam vets...

History for the day: 29 November 1947: UN votes for partition of Palestine

History.com has this for 29 November:

Rico says that that turned out so well...

Airlines launch flights to Havana

From Money, an article by Kerry Close about flying to Cuba:

As Cuba begins funeral services for its former leader Fidel Castro, US airlines are launching their first direct flights to its capital city of Havana. At 0730 on Monday morning, an American Airlines flight took off from Miami, Florida for an hour-long trip to Havana, the first scheduled commercial route to the city, the Miami Herald reported. It was followed by a JetBlue flight (photo) that left for Havana from JFK in New York City at 0858.
In the coming weeks, United, Delta, Spirit, Frontier, Alaska, and Southwest all plan to offer regular flights to and from Cuba from different US airports, according to USA Today. Here’s the complete list:
United will offer direct flights from Houston and Newark, New Jersey.
Delta will operate direct flights from Atlanta, JFK, and Miami.
Spirit will fly direct from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Frontier plans to offer direct flights from Miami and one-stop flights from Denver and Las Vegas.
Alaska will run direct flights from Los Angeles, California and one-stop flights from Seattle, Washington.
JetBlue will fly direct from JFK and Fort Lauderdale and Orlando, Florida.
Southwest will operate direct flights from Fort Lauderdale and Tampa, Florida.
The price of flights to Cuba’s capital— which had been off-limits to American tourists for more than five decades— vary greatly, depending on your point of origin and dates of travel. For instance, as of Monday morning, the lowest round-trip fare on Delta’s website for round-trip flights from Miami to Havana cost a whopping $1,188. However, a search for flights on United’s website found that you could score round-trip tickets for as low as $284 in the coming weeks.
These are not the first commercial flights offered between the US and Cuba: this summer, JetBlue launched the first commercial flight between the two nations, from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Santa Clara, Cuba. Havana had been off limits to US airlines since aviation officials hoped to test the routes on smaller cities before opening up travel to Cuba’s busiest destination.
The round-trip service to Havana comes as the country grapples with the death last week of its former leader, Fidel Castro. Diplomatic relations between the two nations ceased after Castro’s Communist regime took power in 1959. In the final decade of his life, however, Castro watched as Cuba’s current leader, his younger brother Raul, struck a deal with the Obama administration to resume normal relations between the US and Cuba, thus opening up travel between the two nations.
If you have a hankering to see Havana, you might want to go before President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January.
Rico says it's still his intention to go with the fiancee, unless Trump (the idiot) fucks it up...

Seemingly peaceful gorillas join 'mobs' and beat up rivals

From the BBC:


Rico says (as did Vaughn Bode), after a million years, the replacement team...

The colossal African solar farm that could power Europe

From the BBC:


Rico says some technology is mind-boggling...

28 November 2016


Rico's arch-perv friend Dave forwards this:
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Driving Aston Martin's two-million dollar boat

From the BBC, an article by Jason Barlow about an expensive (but pretty) boat):

Top Gear's Jason Barlow heads to Monaco for seat time in the thousand-horsepower AM37.
It is perhaps a sign of the times, and a lesson in modern brand cultivation, that, a hundred years after its founding as a carmaker, Aston Martin has begun to affix its winged emblem and apply its refined aesthetic sensibilities to a broad array of non-car properties. Be it bedsheets from Emilia Burano, sunglasses from Marma London, or a high-rise tower in Miami, Florida, the UK's fourth-coolest brand has put its imprint on some of the world's most exclusive goodies. And one of the more overt expressions of Aston glamour comes from licensee Quintessence Yachts. Last year, the Southampton, England-based boatbuilder teased the very yar AM37, an Aston-themed power boat with a 007-worthy helping of style and performance and a two-million-pound price tag. This year the company made good on its promise, unveiling a fully loaded AM37 prototype at the tony Monaco Yacht Show.
Top Gear's Jason Barlow was there, and managed to score some seat time in the prototype. With grand-tourer-like ergonomics and a pair of Mercury marine gas engines producing a total of a thousand horsepower, the boat is capable skimming the waves at fifty knots, "which is pretty punchy across the water", notes Barlow. Designed to be "a powerboat that could also work as a day cruiser, the fastest vessel in its class, but one that was also comfortable", the AM37 is a hand-crafted masterwork, a clean-sheet design that, like Aston's AM-RB 001 hypercar, manages to come across as entirely new and instantly recognizable at the same time. It is not merely "the Aston Martin of boats"; it is an Aston Martin boat. Barlow recalls a conversation with Aston CEO Andy Palmer:
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Palmer mused, “if you were down in a luxury harbour somewhere, staying in an Aston Martin apartment, with your Aston Martin parked in the car park, and your Aston Martin boat docked outside?”
The AM37 is so-named because she’s 37 feet long, and, even surrounded by the nautical monoliths that dominate Monaco’s marina, this is an eye-poppingly pretty creation. All the rules that govern car design done properly— stance, proportion, seamless surfacing— are present and correct, to the extent that it almost looks effortless. Unsurprisingly, nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s clear up a big question straight off. The AM37 is not a nautical revisit of the misbegotten Cygnet. This is not a pre-existing boat with some enameled badges stuck on amid fancy leather. No, this is an all-new design from an all-new company, funded by a wealthy Aston-owning Dutch entrepreneur. Quintessence Yachts, registered in Holland but based in Southampton, England, only got going when Aston Martin decided it liked the cut of their jib.
Everything is custom made, apart from the air vents, the microwave, and fridge. There’s a fifty inch television in the cabin, backed up by a server that can handle up to fifteen hundred movies. Even the lavatory has been specially designed for this boat (is this the Aston Martin of loos?)
“Look, I’m as cynical as you about badge engineering,” Aston’s chief creative officer Marek Reichman tells me down the phone from Japan (he’s showing the AM-RB 001 to potential clients; they now have more than six hundred firm expressions of interest). “The only way I would have done this is if we’d had the opportunity to design it ourselves. Over the years, various boat builders have approached Aston Martin about collaborating on something. It never felt right. But when Quintessence Yachts came to see us, we liked their approach. As a new company, they were interested in doing things differently.”
My pilot/driver for the day is Quintessence’s head of operations, Stefan Whitmarsh. He’s worked at (or consulted for) most of the big yachting guns, and is also a former offshore powerboat racer. I’ve met a few of that breed over the years, and they’re about as unhinged as human beings get. But, as this is currently the only AM37 in existence, Stefan chooses to ignore my enthusiastic imprecations to punch the throttle. We hit 35 knots, which is still quick enough to get some proper air. Like every fast boat I’ve ever been on, the AM37 adds an extra dimension simply by interacting with nature’s most thrillingly unpredictable force, although tellingly we don’t get even a tiny bit wet. The Aston guys worked hard to give her car-like ergonomics, so the throttle control has a seamless weight to it, and the view ahead is far better than usual. We still end up looking at the sky, though.
“She’s beamy, which gives you stability, comfort, and volume space, but the downside is a possible reduction in performance,” Stefan says, as we ride the waves with impressive commitment, and he monitors the shifting ‘sea state’. I’m sensing no performance downside so far at all. “This prototype uses two 520-horsepower Mercury marine petrol engines. The engine choice is tailored to usability and standardization of parts; the propellers, for example. These engines can be serviced anywhere in the world. We could have more performance with a different engine, but then servicing would be more difficult. To answer the question I know you’re going to ask, that’s why there’s no Aston Martin V12 in there. But as to the future, who knows…”
Rico says all it takes is a lot of money...

Trump threatens to terminate US-Cuba thaw

From the BBC, an article about Trump & Cuba:

Donald Trump says he will end the thaw between the US and Cuba if the country does not offer a "better deal". (Having written, or hired a ghostwriter to write, a book on the subject, you'd think he'd know one when he saw one.) President Barack Obama has worked to improve relations with the Communist government in Havana, culminating in his historic visit in March of 2016.
The president-elect threatened in a tweet to put an end to the detente following the death of Fidel Castro. But the White House bristled at Trump's warning, saying the president was not concerned about the threat. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters that reversing the policy would be "a significant economic blow" to Cubans and was "not as easy as a stroke of a pen".
President-elect Trump tweeted he would "terminate" Obama's policy on normalizing relations with Cuba as thousands of Cubans queued to pay their respects to Fidel Castro, who died on Friday. They gathered in Havana's Revolution Square as part of farewell commemorations which will last until Tuesday night, when foreign leaders are due to arrive in Cuba to pay their respects. A cortege will then transport his ashes east across the island to Santiago de Cuba, reversing the route Castro took during the Cuban revolution. They will be laid to rest on Sunday in the city's Santa Ifigenia cemetery.
In his tweet, Trump said that, if "Cuba is unwilling to make a better deal for the Cuban people, the Cuban-American people and the US as a whole, I will terminate the deal".
Trump, who takes office in January of 2017, said during the election campaign that he would reverse President Barack Obama's rapprochement with Cuba.
Under Obama, diplomatic ties were restored in 2015 after being severed in 1961. Some trade restrictions have been eased, and the White House has been lobbying Congress to terminate an economic embargo that has been in place for decades. 
What does a Trump presidency mean for US-Cuba relations?Trump's team has accused the Obama administration of giving too much away to Cuba without receiving enough in return. His communications director, Jason Miller, said Trump was seeking "freedom in Cuba for the Cubans and a good deal for Americans, where we aren't played for fools".
But the White House said that better ties with Cuba served US interests and that reversing the changes would deal "a significant economic blow" to the people of Cuba.
"After five decades of not seeing results, President Obama believed it was time to try something different," said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.
In a separate development, the first scheduled commercial flight from the US to Havana in more than fifty years departed from Miami. The American Airlines flight on Monday morning was the first of a new service to the Cuban capital which will fly from Florida four times a day. "It's a monumental day of great historic relevance, with Miami being the epicentre of the Cuban-American community and American's hub for the region," AA Vice President Ralph Lopez was quoted by The Miami Herald as saying.
Several airlines began routes to other parts of Cuba earlier this year, with many more flights and destinations in the offing.
Rico says he won't be surprised if someone terminates Trump... (Oh, he didn't say that, did he? If the Secret Service is reading this, Rico is just kidding, honest...) But the airlines won't like it if Trump tries to shut them down...

Morocco broadcaster apologises after advising women to hide bruises

From the BBC:


Rico says that was dumb...

Shared from BBC News

From the BBC:


Rico says he'll fuck it up...

History for the day: 24 November 1963: Ruby shoots Oswald


Digging Into Boston's mysterious 'Tsunami of Molasses'


Rico says a sticky way to die...

Rescue of POWs from Cabanatuan

From War History Online, Henry Mucci's rescue of POWs from Cabanatuan Prison Camp:

Rico says more almost-forgotten World War Two history...

History for the day: 28 November 1520: Magellan reaches the Pacific

History.com has this for 28 November:


Rico says that, after him, Pizzaro and the other conquistadors...

Cuban-American celebrities react to Castro’s death

From Time:

Rico says they've waited a long time for this day...

27 November 2016

William Campbell obituary

From the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Campbell's obituary:


William V. Campbell
31 August 1940 to 18 April 2016
To sum up the life of Bill Campbell, who died peacefully in his sleep this week with his family by his side, is a daunting and fundamentally impossible task as his life and accomplishments were so vast and varied that even those who knew him best were only lucky enough to have witnessed a portion of them. Tributes to his astonishing legacy in Silicon Valley have already been pouring in, and rightly so. It is a legacy that is difficult to fathom. He had a hand in almost every consequential technology company of the past 30 years, either through direct relationship or through his coaching and mentoring of the company's key players, (and, in the case of Intuit, Claris, and Go, through his own tenure as CEO). From Apple to Google to Amazon to Twitter, from his mentorship of the iconic venture capitalists who helped shape the Valley to his under-the-radar involvement with legions of nerdy and unsexy companies barely known outside the tech community, but whose presences and innovations changed the technology landscape—Bill was always there, all smiles and hugs, his essence embedded in the company's DNA, pushing everyone involved to be better managers, more creative, and, most importantly, better people, to be the most authentic and truest versions of themselves. He is probably best known for being "the Coach," a mentor to legends; as the legends themselves would be the first to tell you, he was so much more than the sum of those he advised. He was himself a legend. He was the legend.
For those who knew Bill, of course, a synopsis of his career in tech only scratches the surface. At Eastman Kodak in the early 80s, before he ever got to Silicon Valley, he was a marketing pioneer whose innovations became best practices across a whole range of businesses. His philanthropy poured millions of dollars into education and youth projects in his hometown of Homestead, PA; into various schools and charitable organizations in the Bay Area; and into his beloved alma mater Columbia University, where he played and coached football, and was ultimately named Chairman of the Board of Trustees, one of the proudest moments of his life. As Columbia's Chairman he helped shepherd projects that changed the face of an already great university, including its expansion into new neighborhoods and a record-breaking fundraising campaign among many other accomplishments. Amazingly, Columbia wasn't the only university on which Bill had an outsized impact. He endowed the athletic director position at Boston College, where in the late 60s and early 70s he'd been the football team's defensive coordinator, and he was integrally involved with Stanford University, consulting on everything from the university's relationship to Silicon Valley to the management of its hospital and medical school to all aspects of the athletics department, especially the football program. He also donated both time and resources to the United States Naval Academy in memory of his brother Jim, who had been a standout football and lacrosse player at the Academy and later a war hero. He was a longtime National Football Foundation Board Member; the award given annually to the nation's top football scholar athlete, the so-called "Academic Heisman," is named the William V. Campbell Trophy. He advised businesses and organizations and people that had nothing to do with tech or sports or education, usually guiding them to successes, but not always. Not every company Bill touched turned to gold; not every business Bill ran turned to gold—he could be animated and even gleeful discussing his (rare) failures because he felt that in those failures were lessons that could and would lead to later triumphs for those he coached. Invariably, of course, he was correct. Any one of these incredibly varied achievements would be enough to overflow multiple obituaries; the fact that they can be attributed to a single person is quasi unbelievable. And even they, in all their listed glory, don't really come all that close to capturing the heart of who Bill Campbell really was.
He was a man of beautiful and almost impossible contrasts. He was profane in a way that was unacceptable in many barrooms, let alone in church, and a devout Catholic who rarely missed Sunday Mass. A workaholic who pushed himself and those around him beyond their natural and professional limits, and a devoted husband and quite possibly the best father in history, who never, no matter what momentous occasion was on his schedule, missed an important event in his kids' lives. Famously honest and blunt (and sometimes even harsh), he would never hesitate to let you know when you were "f—ing up"; but when you were f—ing up, he'd be the guy who'd answer your call at all hours of the night and, with inspiring patience and empathy, talk you through whatever mistakes you had made and how you were supposed to rectify them. He preached teamwork and compassion and love. In many ways he seemed a throwback to a different era, a manly man, a jock's jock, gruff, aggressive, macho, old-fashioned, and yet he was comfortable and even thrived around dorks, dweebs, outcasts of all types—a "nerd whisperer," as one journalist put it. His identity as "the Coach" was derived from both his general football-coaching demeanor and his time as an actual football coach, with all the good and bad that that particular stereotype entails; he was a passionate advocate for the advancement of women in Silicon Valley and for the LGBT community.
Most of all, he was blessed with the gift of humility. He deflected credit and shunned publicity, rarely if ever granting interviews and often refusing to accept awards until he was nagged into submission and then refusing to accept them again. And yet his life was so full and impactful and so well lived that to not have honored him and made public what he might have preferred remain private would have bordered on the criminal. Over the course of his life he received several prestigious awards, including Columbia University's Alexander Hamilton Medal, whose past recipients include media tycoons, Nobel Laureates, and artistic luminaries, and the National Football Foundation Gold Medal, which has been awarded to multiple U.S. Presidents, Jackie Robinson, and various other heroes and household names. But Bill was never happier than at the annual 8th grade graduation at Sacred Heart Schools in Atherton, CA, when, year after year, a stream of students, boys and girls alike, would offer remembrances and speak movingly of by far their most meaningful experience at the school: getting the chance to play flag football for Coach Campbell, absorbing the lessons he taught them, lessons that were, perhaps not surprisingly, essentially identical to the lessons Coach had imparted to those he'd coached in the adult world. Teamwork. Structure. Integrity. Accountability. Passion. Hard work. Empathy. Love. Coach Campbell hadn't condescended to these kids. He'd treated them the same as he'd treated famous tech visionaries (colorful language included) and the kids had responded by reaching into themselves and finding effort and fortitude they hadn't known existed. Bill loved these moments. His humble and often self-deprecating façade would crack a bit and tears would come to his eyes as he recounted with amazement what the kids had said about him. Those who knew him well were always amazed that he was amazed. Of course the kids would feel like that, we'd tell him. It's what all of us always feel when we're in your presence.
There were other moments like this, the moments he loved. He'd feel a grudging satisfaction when some lofty publication or organization made note of his various charitable contributions, but what he really loved was traveling back to Homestead, PA, his beloved and often struggling hometown, which he did frequently. With old local buddies and various other friends he'd sit in Duke's Upper Deck Café, his favorite local bar, throwing back Bud Lights, reminiscing about the trouble they used to get into in high school, laughing and swearing and slapping each other's backs. And in town he might come across a person he'd never met, a mother who would thank him for funding the school her son attended, a father expressing gratitude for the gym his daughter played basketball in or the after-school program that was helping to keep his son out of trouble. He loved these hidden moments more than anything.
People in Homestead have said, and will probably say forever, that Bill Campbell never once forgot his roots. It's a refrain you hear often about Bill, from other circles as well. Bill wasn't always wealthy. Well into his forties he often struggled with money. If anything he gave more money back then as a percentage of income than he did later on—which is saying something—often forgoing personal comfort to donate to causes he cared about. His heart was never far from his teammates from the 1961 Columbia Football team, still the only Columbia team to win the Ivy League Championship. These guys knew him long before he became Bill Campbell—they remember him when he was just some humble kid from a steel town, son of a teacher, coarse and a little naïve. To a man they'll tell you he never changed in any of the ways that matter. As would his buddies from Old Blue Rugby in New York. As would those who knew him when he was making the difficult transition from coaching into business. To the end he was still just a "jagoff from Homestead," or a "dumbass football coach." He remained fiercely intelligent and tough-minded, fighting cancer hard to the bitter end. If anything by the end he was even more big-hearted and full of love.
A final refrain about Bill, one that's been constantly noted in the many moving tributes to his life, one that rings truer than any and is unbearably painful to think about now that he's gone: Everyone who knew Bill thought of him as their best friend. Bill was a people person. He oozed charisma. He was quick with a witty comment and impossible not to like. When he talked to you he made you feel like you were the only person that mattered. It might be tempting for those who didn't know Bill that well to conclude that all this was just some act, a skill he'd been born with or acquired with hard work. After all, how could it not be? How could one person be so overflowing with joy, with the amount of joy and love requisite for connection with such a staggering number of people on such a profound level? Obviously it had to be an act. It wasn't. He really did love people the way they loved him. New friends were made wherever he went. Often they were baristas, waiters, and, let's face it, bartenders, people who didn't know initially who he was and in some cases never would. He had friends in high and low places and everywhere in between. It was infectious. He was a uniter, he imparted his worldview onto his friends and mixed his groups of friends together, so that friends in California became close with friends from Homestead and New York and elsewhere; wealthy friends grew to love friends who were less well off and vice versa; tech friends, academic friends, and football friends were molded into one great big Bill Campbell group. Bill Campbell was an amazing personal success story and he certainly believed in competition and advancement, but he never saw wealth or social status or anything artificial when judging the merits of people. He sought in others the same qualities he himself so fully embodied—integrity, honesty, humor, selflessness, toughness and kindness in equal measure, and, above all, the ability to open yourself up and love. Bill's friends, and there were many, by definition embodied these values; he wouldn't have been friends with them if they hadn't. He wouldn't have loved them with the fierceness that he did. Bill Campbell really did believe that everyone who lived by these values, friend or not, was fundamentally the same, of equal goodness, of equal worth. On this last point, sadly, he was somewhat mistaken. Indeed when you get down to it most people are essentially the same, most of their differences are artificial. But Bill Campbell was better than everyone. And all of his friends are infinitely better off for having known him.

William Vincent Campbell Jr., who was born August 31, 1940 in Homestead, PA and who died April 18, 2016 in Palo Alto, CA, is survived by his wife Eileen Bocci Campbell, his two children Jim and Maggie, and his three step children Kevin, Matthew, and Kate Bocci. A Funeral Mass will be held Monday, April 25th at Sacred Heart Preparatory in Atherton, CA at 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, the family, per Bill's wishes, requests that donations be made to the American Cancer Society, or, for the benefit of the community of Homestead, PA, to the Campbell Education and Community Foundation. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/sfgate/obituary.aspx?n=william-campbell&pid=179705840&#sthash.iTcfdvfM.dpuf

Rico says that Bill was a good man and a great leader.

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