Thursday, March 31, 2011


Mistakes Were Made

A bitterly divided Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out a jury verdict won by a New Orleans man who spent 14 years on death row and came within weeks of execution because prosecutors had hidden a blood test and other evidence that would have proven his innocence.

The 5-4 decision delivered by Justice Clarence Thomas shielded the New Orleans district attorney's office from being held liable for the mistakes of its prosecutors. The evidence of their misconduct did not prove "deliberate indifference" on the part of then-Dist. Atty. Harry Connick Sr., Thomas said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg emphasized her disapproval by reading her dissent in the courtroom, saying the court was shielding a city and its prosecutors from "flagrant" misconduct that nearly cost an innocent man his life.

"John Thompson spent 14 years isolated on death row before the truth came to light," she said. He was innocent of the crimes that sent him to prison and prosecutors had "dishonored" their obligation to present the true facts to the jury, she said.

In 1999, when all his appeals had failed on his conviction for the murder of a hotel executive, Thompson was scheduled to be put to death. But a private investigator hired by his lawyer found a blood test in the police lab that showed the man wanted for a related carjacking had type B blood, while Thompson's was type O.

In rejecting the judgment, Justice Thomas described the case as a "single incident" in which mistakes were made. He said Thompson did not prove a pattern of similar violations that would justify holding the city's government liable for the wrongdoing. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined to form the majority.

However, Thompson's lawyers showed that at least four prosecutors knew about the hidden blood test. They also showed evidence of other, similar cases in New Orleans in which key evidence was concealed from defense lawyers.


Marching Into History

[ed.  I'd never seen this photo before.  It appears to have been taken moments before another picture; one that would become one of the most searing and enduring images of the Vietnam War ever captured on film]

Iconic photo here:

photo credit:

Not So Foreign Policy


Shadow Play

Kumi Yamashita

Adventures in Marketing

Name a snack food that's neon orange and makes a loud crunch when munched.

If you picked Cheetos, the nation's biggest producer of baby carrots wants you to think again.

Just in time for the battle over what's gonna be in millions of back-to-school lunches, Bolthouse Farms and nearly 50 other carrot growers today will unveil plans for the industry's first-ever marketing campaign. The $25 million effort sets its sights on a giant, big-spending rival: junk food.

The $1 billion baby carrot world — hit by the recession following years of growth — is taking on the $18 billion salty snack food industry by trying to beat it at its own hip marketing game.

Heat and Light

by James Kingsland

It's 200 years to the day since the birth of Robert Bunsen, the German chemist famous for inventing the ubiquitous Bunsen burner. But Bunsen's scientific legacy is far, far more important than that – he was one of the most ingenious chemists of the 19th century, whose work led to the discovery of a new element, an antidote for arsenic poisoning and would one day provide clues to the constituents of stars.

For this modest, quiet man, the Bunsen burner was simply a means to an end. Bunsen and his faithful lab assistant Peter Desaga (surely the original Beaker?) needed a very hot, clean flame to pursue their main interest: the characteristic, brightly coloured light emitted by different elements when they are heated. Bunsen was the first person to study these "emission spectra" systematically.

Bunsen and his colleague Gustav Kirchhoff went on to split this light into its constituent wavelengths using a prism, in the process inventing a prototype of today's spectroscopes and founding the brand new scientific field of spectroscopy. They discovered that every element emits a distinctive mix of wavelengths that can be used like a fingerprint to identify its presence.

Bunsen identified the emission spectra of sodium, lithium and potassium. He also detected a previously unseen blue spectral line produced by mineral water which he guessed was being emitted by an unknown element. Having gone to the extraordinary length of distilling 40 tonnes of water to isolate 17 grams of the new element, he called it caesium, meaning "deep blue" in Latin. (As the radioactive isotope caesium-137 – with a half life of around 30 years – it's responsible for the deadly legacy of nuclear accidents like Chernobyl).

Read more:

Cosmonaut Crashed Into Earth 'Crying In Rage'

by  Robert Krulwich

So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.

The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won't work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship."

Starman tells the story of a friendship between two cosmonauts, Vladimir Kamarov and Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin, the first human to reach outer space. The two men were close; they socialized, hunted and drank together.

In 1967, both men were assigned to the same Earth-orbiting mission, and both knew the space capsule was not safe to fly. Komarov told friends he knew he would probably die. But he wouldn't back out because he didn't want Gagarin to die. Gagarin would have been his replacement.
Both sides in the 1960s race to space knew these missions were dangerous. We sometimes forget how dangerous. In January of that same year, 1967, Americans Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died in a fire inside an Apollo capsule.

Two years later, when Americans landed on the moon, the Nixon White House had a just-in-case statement, prepared by speechwriter William Safire, announcing the death of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, had they been marooned or killed. Death was not unexpected.

Read more: 

Christmas Truce

During the First World War, drafts created the armies that were drawn from remarkably similar societies for the first time in modern warfare. Along the Western Front, on both sides there were industrial workers and farm laborers. On both sides there were aristocratic senior officers and middle-class junior officers. For Catholics, Protestants and Jews fighting for separate armies, they sometimes identified more with their religious brethren on the opposing side than with their fellow soldiers.

The soldiers, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans and Italians were equally irreverent about what they were supposedly fighting for. Over the longer period of trench warfare, a kind of ‘live and let live’ attitude developed in certain relatively quiet sectors of the line; war was reduced to a series of rituals, as with the Greeks and Trojans. English pacifist Vera Brittain noted about a Scottish and a Saxon regiment that had agreed not to aim at each other when they fired. They made a lot of noise and an outsider would have thought the men were fighting hard, but in practice no one was hit. Robert Graves — in his pivotal memoir of the Great War, Goodbye to All That — recollected about letters arriving from the Germans, rolled up in old mortar shells: “Your little dog has run over to us, and we are keeping it safe here.” Newspapers were fired back and forth in the same fashion. Louis Barthas spent some time in a sector where the Germans and the French fired only six mortar rounds a day, ‘out of courtesy’.

Nothing symbolized this easygoing attitudes more than the informal Christmas truce of 1914, when opposing soldiers in many sectors joined together to sing carols, and exchange Christmas greetings and gifts. Soccer games were played in no man’s land with makeshift balls. Of course, there were some who refused to participate in the truce; among those was a German field messenger named Adolf Hitler, who grumbled, ““Such things should not happen in wartime. Have you Germans no sense of honor left at all?”

At Diksmuide, Belgium, the Belgian and German soldiers famously celebrated Christmas Eve together in 1914, drinking schapps together. One year later, ad hoc ceasefires took place again, this time in northern France. No man’s land was suddenly transformed into ‘a country fair’ as lively bartering began for schnapps, cigarettes, coffee, uniform buttons and other trinkets. More worryingly for their superiors, the soldiers sang the Internationale.

Yet socialist hopes that soldiers would ultimately repudiate their national loyalties for the sake of international brotherhood were proven to be futile. Christmas Truce was almost the last hurrah of a bygone era; as the war went on, mutual hatred grew, expunging the common origins and predicament of the combatants. War, too, has lost its mystique; soon, only fools would celebrate it or enter it with excited patriotic fervor. After August 1914, when thousands of red-trousered Frenchmen and white-gloved officers in full dress and plumes were decimated by German machine guns, France eschewed her pride and switched to neutral-colored service uniforms — the last world power to do so. Soon, there will be no more sabres and Sam Browne belts, no more centuries-old habits of chivalry, no more leaving civilians out of war.

hat tip:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What Love Looks Like

Damian Aspinall had brought up Kwibi, a gorilla, at Howletts Wild Animal Park in England. When Kwibi was 5 years old, he was brought to a million-acres reserve in West Africa, and adapted to life there.

Five years later, when Kwibi was ten, Aspinall went to West Africa to see his old friend, who had attacked the last two people he had encountered.

Aspinall takes a boat up the river to find Kwibi.

If you don't have time for the four minutes of the video, then go to the 3-minute mark.

Microsoft’s Odd Couple

It’s 1975 and two college dropouts are racing to create software for a new line of “hobbyist” computers. The result? A company called “Micro-Soft”—now the fifth-most-valuable corporation on earth. In an adaptation from his memoir, the author tells the story of his partnership with high-school classmate Bill Gates, until its dramatic ending in 1983.

[ed. note.  This excerpt from a memoir by Paul Allen about the birth of Microsoft sounds eerily similar to that of another recent tech behemoth -- Facebook]

by Paul Allen

The Teletype made a terrific racket, a mix of low humming, the Gatling gun of the paper-tape punch, and the ka-chacko-whack of the printer keys. The room’s walls and ceiling were lined with white corkboard for soundproofing. But though it was noisy and slow, a dumb remote terminal with no display screen or lowercase letters, the ASR-33 was also state-of- the-art. I was transfixed. I sensed that you could do things with this machine.

That year, 1968, would be a watershed in matters digital. In March, Hewlett-Packard introduced the first programmable desktop calculator. In June, Robert Dennard won a patent for a one-transistor cell of dynamic random-access memory, or DRAM, a new and cheaper method of temporary data storage. In July, Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore co-founded Intel Corporation. In December, at the legendary “mother of all demos” in San Francisco, the Stanford Research Institute’s Douglas Engelbart showed off his original versions of a mouse, a word processor, e-mail, and hypertext. Of all the epochal changes in store over the next two decades, a remarkable number were seeded over those 10 months: cheap and reliable memory, a graphical user interface, a “killer” application, and more.

It’s hard to convey the excitement I felt when I sat down at the Teletype. With my program written out on notebook paper, I’d type it in on the keyboard with the paper-tape punch turned on. Then I’d dial into the G.E. computer, wait for a beep, log on with the school’s password, and hit the Start button to feed the paper tape through the reader, which took several minutes.

At last came the big moment. I’d type “RUN,” and soon my results printed out at 10 characters per second—a glacial pace next to today’s laser printers, but exhilarating at the time. It would be quickly apparent whether my program worked; if not, I’d get an error message. In either case, I’d quickly log off to save money. Then I’d fix any mistakes by advancing the paper tape to the error and correcting it on the keyboard while simultaneously punching a new tape—a delicate maneuver nowadays handled by a simple click of a mouse and a keystroke. When I achieved a working program, I’d secure it with a rubber band and stow it on a shelf.

Soon I was spending every lunchtime and free period around the Teletype with my fellow aficionados. Others might have found us eccentric, but I didn’t care. I had discovered my calling. I was a programmer.

One day early that fall, I saw a gangly, freckle-faced eighth-grader edging his way into the crowd around the Teletype, all arms and legs and nervous energy. He had a scruffy-preppy look: pullover sweater, tan slacks, enormous saddle shoes. His blond hair went all over the place. You could tell three things about Bill Gates pretty quickly. He was really smart. He was really competitive; he wanted to show you how smart he was. And he was really, really persistent. After that first time, he kept coming back. Many times he and I would be the only ones there.

Read more:

photo credit and additional article:

Cesium Fallout from Fukushima Already Rivals Chernobyl

As I’ve previously noted, many experts say that the Fukushima plants will keep on leaking for months. See this and this.

And the amount of radioactive fuel at Fukushima dwarfs Chernobyl.

As the New York Times notes, radioactive cesium is the main danger from the Japanese nuclear accident:
Over the long term, the big threat to human health is cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years.
At that rate of disintegration, John Emsley wrote in “Nature’s Building Blocks” (Oxford, 2001), “it takes over 200 years to reduce it to 1 percent of its former level.”
It is cesium-137 that still contaminates much of the land in Ukraine around the Chernobyl reactor.
Cesium-137 mixes easily with water and is chemically similar to potassium. It thus mimics how potassium gets metabolized in the body and can enter through many foods, including milk.
So it is bad news indeed that, as reported by New Scientist, cesium fallout from Fukushima already rivals Chernobyl:
Radioactive caesium and iodine has been deposited in northern Japan far from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, at levels that were considered highly contaminated after Chernobyl.
The readings were taken by the Japanese science ministry, MEXT, and reveal high levels of caesium-137 and iodine-131 outside the 30-kilometre evacuation zone, mostly to the north-north-west.
After the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the most highly contaminated areas were defined as those with over 1490 kilobecquerels (kBq) of caesium per square metre. Produce from soil with 550 kBq/m2 was destroyed.
People living within 30 kilometres of the plant have evacuated or been advised to stay indoors. Since 18 March, MEXT has repeatedly found caesium levels above 550 kBq/m2 in an area some 45 kilometres wide lying 30 to 50 kilometres north-west of the plant. The highest was 6400 kBq/m2, about 35 kilometres away, while caesium reached 1816 kBq/m2 in Nihonmatsu City and 1752 kBq/m2 in the town of Kawamata, where iodine-131 levels of up to 12,560 kBq/m2 have also been measured. “Some of the numbers are really high,” says Gerhard Proehl, head of assessment and management of environmental releases of radiation at the International Atomic Energy Agency.
While Japan has been exposed to very high levels of cesium, so far, the levels of cesium in other parts of the world appear to be relatively low.

And see this.

But anyone who believes that Fukushima cannot possibly become as bad as Chernobyl has no idea what they are talking about.


Letting Go

by Atul Gawande

Sara Thomas Monopoli was pregnant with her first child when her doctors learned that she was going to die. It started with a cough and a pain in her back. Then a chest X-ray showed that her left lung had collapsed, and her chest was filled with fluid. A sample of the fluid was drawn off with a long needle and sent for testing. Instead of an infection, as everyone had expected, it was lung cancer, and it had already spread to the lining of her chest. Her pregnancy was thirty-nine weeks along, and the obstetrician who had ordered the test broke the news to her as she sat with her husband and her parents. The obstetrician didn’t get into the prognosis—she would bring in an oncologist for that—but Sara was stunned. Her mother, who had lost her best friend to lung cancer, began crying.

The doctors wanted to start treatment right away, and that meant inducing labor to get the baby out. For the moment, though, Sara and her husband, Rich, sat by themselves on a quiet terrace off the labor floor. It was a warm Monday in June, 2007. She took Rich’s hands, and they tried to absorb what they had heard. Monopoli was thirty-four. She had never smoked, or lived with anyone who had. She exercised. She ate well. The diagnosis was bewildering. “This is going to be O.K.,” Rich told her. “We’re going to work through this. It’s going to be hard, yes. But we’ll figure it out. We can find the right treatment.” For the moment, though, they had a baby to think about.

“So Sara and I looked at each other,” Rich recalled, “and we said, ‘We don’t have cancer on Tuesday. It’s a cancer-free day. We’re having a baby. It’s exciting. And we’re going to enjoy our baby.’ ” On Tuesday, at 8:55 P.M., Vivian Monopoli, seven pounds nine ounces, was born. She had wavy brown hair, like her mom, and she was perfectly healthy.

The next day, Sara underwent blood tests and body scans. Dr. Paul Marcoux, an oncologist, met with her and her family to discuss the findings. He explained that she had a non-small cell lung cancer that had started in her left lung. Nothing she had done had brought this on. More than fifteen per cent of lung cancers—more than people realize—occur in non-smokers. Hers was advanced, having metastasized to multiple lymph nodes in her chest and its lining. The cancer was inoperable. But there were chemotherapy options, notably a relatively new drug called Tarceva, which targets a gene mutation commonly found in lung cancers of female non-smokers. Eighty-five per cent respond to this drug, and, Marcoux said, “some of these responses can be long-term.”

Words like “respond” and “long-term” provide a reassuring gloss on a dire reality. There is no cure for lung cancer at this stage. Even with chemotherapy, the median survival is about a year. But it seemed harsh and pointless to confront Sara and Rich with this now. Vivian was in a bassinet by the bed. They were working hard to be optimistic. As Sara and Rich later told the social worker who was sent to see them, they did not want to focus on survival statistics. They wanted to focus on “aggressively managing” this diagnosis.

This is the moment in Sara’s story that poses a fundamental question for everyone living in the era of modern medicine: What do we want Sara and her doctors to do now? Or, to put it another way, if you were the one who had metastatic cancer—or, for that matter, a similarly advanced case of emphysema or congestive heart failure—what would you want your doctors to do?

The issue has become pressing, in recent years, for reasons of expense. The soaring cost of health care is the greatest threat to the country’s long-term solvency, and the terminally ill account for a lot of it. Twenty-five per cent of all Medicare spending is for the five per cent of patients who are in their final year of life, and most of that money goes for care in their last couple of months which is of little apparent benefit.

Spending on a disease like cancer tends to follow a particular pattern. There are high initial costs as the cancer is treated, and then, if all goes well, these costs taper off. Medical spending for a breast-cancer survivor, for instance, averaged an estimated fifty-four thousand dollars in 2003, the vast majority of it for the initial diagnostic testing, surgery, and, where necessary, radiation and chemotherapy. For a patient with a fatal version of the disease, though, the cost curve is U-shaped, rising again toward the end—to an average of sixty-three thousand dollars during the last six months of life with an incurable breast cancer. Our medical system is excellent at trying to stave off death with eight-thousand-dollar-a-month chemotherapy, three-thousand-dollar-a-day intensive care, five-thousand-dollar-an-hour surgery. But, ultimately, death comes, and no one is good at knowing when to stop.

Read more:

It's a Corporate World

Giant Hand of Atacama

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Dark Side of Soy

by Mary Vance Terrain

As someone who is conscious of her health, I spent 13 years cultivating a vegetarian diet. I took time to plan and balance meals that included products such as soy milk, soy yogurt, tofu, and Chick'n patties. I pored over labels looking for words I couldn't pronounce--occasionally one or two would pop up. Soy protein isolate? Great! They've isolated the protein from the soybean to make it more concentrated. Hydrolyzed soy protein? I never successfully rationalized that one, but I wasn't too worried. After all, in 1999 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved labeling I found on nearly every soy product I purchased: 'Diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol that include 25 grams of soy protein a day may reduce the risk of heart disease.' Soy ingredients weren't only safe--they were beneficial.

After years of consuming various forms of soy nearly every day, I felt reasonably fit, but somewhere along the line I'd stopped menstruating. I couldn't figure out why my stomach became so upset after I ate edamame or why I was often moody and bloated. It didn't occur to me at the time to question soy, heart protector and miracle food.

When I began studying holistic health and nutrition, I kept running across risks associated with eating soy. Endocrine disruption? Check. Digestive problems? Check. I researched soy's deleterious effects on thyroid, fertility, hormones, sex drive, digestion, and even its potential to contribute to certain cancers. For every study that proved a connection between soy and reduced disease risk another cropped up to challenge the claims. What was going on?

'Studies showing the dark side of soy date back 100 years,' says clinical nutritionist Kaayla Daniel, author of The Whole Soy Story (New Trends, 2005). 'The 1999 FDA-approved health claim pleased big business, despite massive evidence showing risks associated with soy, and against the protest of the FDA's own top scientists. Soy is a $4 billion [U.S.] industry that's taken these health claims to the bank.' Besides promoting heart health, the industry says, soy can alleviate symptoms associated with menopause, reduce the risk of certain cancers, and lower levels of LDL, the 'bad' cholesterol.

Class Warfare: Fire The Rich

by David Macaray

Not only has the so-called trickle-down theory of economics been revealed to be a cruel hoax, but most of the good industrial jobs have left the country, the middle class has been eviscerated, the wealthiest Americans (even in the wake of the recession) have quintupled their net worth, and polls show that upwards of 70 percent of the American public feel the country is “going down the wrong track.”

No jobs, no prospects, no leverage, no short-term solutions, no long-term plans, no big ideas to save us. While the bottom four-fifths struggle to stay afloat, and the upper one-fifth cautiously tread water, the top 1 percent continue to accumulate wealth at a staggering rate.

Thanks to the global engine, there are now more than a thousand billionaires. Oligarchies, “client-state” capitalism, wanton deregulation, CEOs earning monster salaries, corporations receiving taxpayer welfare, and half the U.S. Congress boasting of being millionaires. Meanwhile, personal debt in the United States continues to soar, one person in ten is out of work, and food stamp usage sets new records every month.

Yet even with near-record unemployment, the Department of Commerce reported in November 2010 that U.S. companies just had their best quarter . . . ever. Businesses recorded profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter of 2010, which is the highest rate (in non-inflation-adjusted figures) since the government began keeping records more than 60 years ago. Shrinking incomes, fewer jobs . . . but bigger corporate profits. Not a good sign.

The conviction that class distinctions don’t exist in the United States raises some obvious questions: Could this stubborn belief be driven by something as simple as old-fashioned optimism? Or is it a form of whistling in the dark—combating fear and despair by denying that things are as bad as they seem? Or could it be the product of self-delusion and vanity, of no one wishing to be labeled “working class”?

Will Cell Phones Replace Wallets?

The history of money and the emergence of Near Field Communication (NFC) technology.  Click on the graphic for a full size image (this is roughly 20%):


Listen To Your Heart


How To Have a Rational Discussion


Humble Abode

With breathtaking views of the Amandan Sea, this stunning six-bedroom villa designed by Original Vision is a sight to behold. Built into a dramatic granite rock face and situated on the exclusive Millionaire’s Mile, the incredible Villa Amanzi in Phuket, Thailand sleeps up to 12 guests with daily rates of $2,000 – $4,500 per day.

Tracking the Migration of the Common Loon

December 2010:  The U.S. Geological Survey hosts a website where you can track the migration of common loons (Gavia immer)from the Upper Midwest and Northeast to the Gulf and Southeast U.S.  Individual birds are tracked using satellite telemetry.

If you want to explore the website, it's at this link.

[ed. note. very cool application, check it out]


Designed to Thrill

V-22 Osprey Tiltrotor

Wikipedia:  The Osprey is the world's first production tiltrotor aircraft, with one three-bladed proprotor, turboprop engine, and transmission nacelle mounted on each wingtip. It is classified as a powered lift aircraft by the Federal Aviation Administration.  For takeoff and landing, it typically operates as a helicopter with the nacelles vertical and rotors horizontal. Once airborne, the nacelles rotate forward 90° in as little as 12 seconds for horizontal flight, converting the V-22 to a more fuel-efficient, higher-speed turboprop airplane. STOL rolling-takeoff and landing capability is achieved by having the nacelles tilted forward up to 45°. For compact storage and transport, the V-22's wing rotates to align, front-to-back, with the fuselage. The proprotors can also fold in a sequence taking 90 seconds.  Composite materials make up 43% of the V-22's airframe. The proprotors blades also use composites.

The V-22's development process has been long and controversial, partly due to its large cost increases. The V-22's development budget was first planned for $2.5 billion in 1986, then increased to a projected $30 billion in 1988.  As of 2008, $27 billion have been spent on the Osprey program and another $27.2 billion will be required to complete planned production numbers by the end of the program.

The aircraft is incapable of autorotation, and is therefore unable to land safely in helicopter mode if both engines fail. A director of the Pentagon's testing office in 2005 said that if the Osprey loses power while flying like a helicopter below 1,600 feet (490 m), emergency landings "are not likely to be survivable". But Captain Justin (Moon) McKinney, a V-22 pilot, says there is an alternative, "We can turn it into a plane and glide it down, just like a C-130".  A complete loss of power would require the failure of both engines, as one engine can power both proprotors via interconnected drive shafts.  While vortex ring state (VRS) contributed to a deadly V-22 accident, the aircraft is less susceptible to the condition than conventional helicopters based on flight testing.  But a GAO report stated the V-22 to be "less forgiving than conventional helicopters" during this phenomenon.  In addition, several test flights to explore the V-22's VRS characteristics in greater detail were canceled.  The Marines now train new pilots in the recognition of and recovery from VRS and have instituted operational envelope limits and instrumentation to help pilots avoid VRS conditions.

With the first combat deployment of the MV-22 in October 2007, Time Magazine ran an article condemning the aircraft as unsafe, overpriced, and completely inadequate.  The Marine Corps, responded with the assertion that much of the article's data were dated, obsolete, inaccurate, and reflected expectations that ran too high for any new field of aircraft.


Monday, March 28, 2011

The Elements of Style


Not Style

photo credits: style and not style

Tsunami Ravaging Kesennuma Port

[ed. note.  I've been hesitant to post much about the Japan earthquake and tsunami because of all the media coverage elsewhere.  But this is different.  This video could well become one of the most enduring images of the tsunami that we remember. Very powerful.]


Sky's The Limit

Located on a coastal rainforest bluff overlooking the Pacific, Hotel Costa Verde near Quepos, Costa Rica, features one of the most unique hotel rooms I’ve ever encountered. A two bedroom, fully retrofitted, vintage 1965 Boeing 727 fuselage, available on your next vacation!

more pics here:

Always Strive To Be Polite

Summer Bachelor

Robert George Harris (American b.1911)

Crab Cakes

Light, fluffy crabcakes and a peppery salad with an Asian twist.

Makes about 6
Cooking time: 20 miunutes

1 cup* cooked crabmeat
1/2 cup* mashed potatoes
3 spring onions
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 tsp each ground black pepper and cayenne pepper
1 beaten egg
Flour, for dusting
Olive oil, for frying
Watercress and tartare sauce, to serve

In a bowl, combine the crabmeat, potatoes, onion, parsley, pepper, cayenne, egg and a little salt (use your hands to ensure it's all well mixed). Refrigerate for 30 minutes, then shape into 6cm cakes.

Dust with flour and shallow-fry in olive oil over a medium heat for about five minutes on each side, until golden-brown.

Serve with a salad of spring onions, wild mizuna or rocket, coriander dressed in a little soy and lime juice, then serve lime wedges alongside.

*approximate metric conversions

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Investing Like It's 1999

by Evelyn M. Rusli and Verne G. Kopytoff

Banks pouring money into technology funds, wealthy clients and institutions clamoring to get pieces of start-ups, expectations of stock market debuts building — as Wall Street’s machinery kicks into second gear, some investors with memories of the Internet bust a decade earlier are wondering whether this sudden burst of activity spells danger for the industry once again.

With all this exuberance, valuations are soaring. Investments in Facebook and Zynga have more than quintupled the implied worth of each company in the last two years. The social shopping site Groupon is said to be considering an initial public offering that would value the company at $25 billion. Less than a year ago, the company was valued at $1.4 billion.

“I worry that investors think every social company will be as good as Facebook,” said Roger McNamee, a managing director of Elevation Partners and an investor in Facebook, who co-founded the private equity fund Silver Lake Partners in 1999 at the height of the boom. “You have an attractive set of companies right now, but it would be surprising if the next wave of social companies had as much impact as the first.”

Read more:

Creatures, Great and Small


Lonely Together

by Lydialyle Gibson 

Two years ago, Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo co­wrote the book Loneliness, which advances a novel theory for this elusive emotional state. Loneliness, Cacioppo argues, isn’t some personality defect or sign of weakness—it’s a survival impulse like hunger or thirst, a trigger pushing us toward the nourishment of human companionship. Furthermore, he writes, “people who get stuck in loneliness have not done anything wrong. None of us is immune to feelings of isolation, any more than we are immune to feelings of hunger or physical pain.”

Being lonely isn’t the same as being alone, Cacioppo is careful to clarify. Lonely people can be surrounded by coworkers, neighbors, friends, and family. They’re no less attractive or intelligent or popular. What sets the lonely apart is a sense that their relationships do not meet their social needs.

That uneasy feeling goes back aeons. Loneliness was, Cacioppo believes, a powerful evolutionary force binding prehistoric people to those they relied on for food, shelter, and protection, to help them raise their young and carry on their genetic legacy. Cacioppo also points to the long years children spend utterly dependent on their parents. “It’s a good decade before they’re going to be able to survive on their own,” he says. Small wonder that isolation makes people feel not only unhappy but also unsafe.

Which is why loneliness can work: It prods people to reach out to those around them. “Some people get stuck,” Cacioppo says, “but on average, when you get lonely you do something to get out of that aversive state.”

Like other evolutionary adaptations, loneliness varies from person to person. There are extroverts and introverts. There are those who don’t seem to need friends at all. “That makes great sense because those are the explorers,” Cacioppo says. “We need them.” But for those who feel warmer near the communal fire, isolation works as a civilizing influence. “When children are acting selfish and narcissistic, you put them by themselves,” Cacioppo explains. “Well, that’s not a dramatic punishment, is it? And yet it’s painful.” Children cry; they beg to be allowed back into the group. When they do come back, “they’re better social citizens. They’ll now take the other child’s perspective; they’ll share their toys.”

Read more:

Giancola Donato

Giancola Donato - Faramir at Osgiliath

The Sweet Spot


“are you dyin’ on me, old man?” the girl says with a sweet, cruel smile.

I am not dyin’. I am coughing.

Trying to muffle another, I spit out a hacking hee-hawish sound:  KARGHHA-HAAA! The laugh-cough is an unconvincing piece of theater, like someone trying to brightly yodel their way through a bout of diarrhea. “Don’t die, old man,” she purrs soothingly, “not right now.…”

Yes, please, not now. Not while she is, unaccountably, here in my bed, making jokes at my expense. She’s lovely. Naked. Twenty-two. She could read to me from Mein Kampf or throw pebbles at my head and I would still consider this an excellent morning to be alive. It occurs to me that I have lived a full 1.5 decades’ more mornings than she has. When she was born, I already had a driver’s license and beginner’s beard. Now I’m a 38-year-old, newly unmarried, formerly baby-tracked bachelor whose friends have summer homes and pictures of pink-cheeked toddlers posted in their Facebook profiles.

How did our paths cross here? The answer is a hitherto uncharted territory in the life of a man, the Sweet Spot, when suddenly you find yourself free to date anyone from recent college graduates to near re-tirees. It begins sometime after your thirty-fifth birthday, though the precise moment is impossible to identify. Suddenly, the pool of available women you can feasibly sleep with expands to include everyone—and her mother. If you are a female born sometime between the launch of Sputnik 1 and the release of Evil Dead II, we could conceivably be getting a drink later.

The Sweet Spot isn’t about love or even happiness. It’s just an observation of fact: For a presumably brief but glorious spell, the man in his late thirties can date more women of more fascinating types and circumstances than at any other time in his life. The discovery is like waking one day to read in the science section of the Times about the existence of a new planet made of salted caramel with rivers of flowing bourbon. For once, good news about getting older! In fact, it’s a fucking miracle.

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School Cool

15 Fascinating Schools of Fish


How Kickstarter Became a Lab for Daring Prototypes and Ingenious Products

by Carlye Adler

Build a better mousetrap and the world is supposed to beat a path to your door. It’s a lovely thought, one that has inspired generations of American inventors. Reality, though, has fallen somewhat short of this promise: Build a better mousetrap and, if you’re extremely lucky, some corporation will take a look at it, send it through dozens of committees, tweak the design to make it cheaper to manufacture, and let the marketing team decide whether it can be priced to return a profit. By the time your mousetrap makes it to store shelves, it is likely to have been fine-tuned and compromised beyond recognition.

But now some inventors are finding that promise rekindled, thanks to Kickstarter. The site launched in 2009 as a way to crowdsource the funding of idiosyncratic arts projects. Rather than run a gauntlet of agents, studios, producers, publishers, gallery owners, foundations, and philanthropists, applicants simply uploaded a description of their idea. Kickstarter empowered creators, who had a new, no-strings source of funding, as well as audiences, who had the opportunity to help realize the kind of art they wanted to see, rather than what some suit thought would be profitable. “It has changed who the gatekeepers are,” says Douglas Rushkoff, author of the anticorporate manifesto Life Inc. “It has opened up the things you want to do to the free market.”

More than 14,000 people have posted projects on Kickstarter, and more than 400,000 people have supported them, contributing a total of more than $35 million. Eighty new projects are launched every day, and $1 million is pledged every week. The site has tapped a source of patronage that was all but nonexistent before. The result, says cofounder and CEO Perry Chen, has been the realization of thousands of passion projects—a lone sailor who wanted to travel the world and send Polaroids and origami boats to backers, a designer who created a free online library of symbols, a vegan food truck in Louisville—that might never have found funding otherwise. “Kickstarter has the potential to jump-start—I guess the word would be kick-start—an explosion of creation and invention,” says Caterina Fake, cofounder of Flickr and an investor in the site. “There was a compelling need for something like this.”

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Days and Nights of an NBA Groupie

by Lisa Depaulo and Kyla Jones 

The Arrival

Check-in at the Doubletree in Houston is extra special on NBA All-Star weekend. First there is the loud parade of women, fresh from their flights into George H. W. Bush airport, some wearing supersize Velcro rollers in their hair, many in the Official Groupie Travel Outfit (hot pink sweat suit, silver high heels, knockoff Louis Vuitton bag). There are the fights at the front desk—"no, we ain't payin' no $400 a night; no, that ain't what you said on the telephone!"—between large pissed-off women and the cowering staff bearing nametags, chocolate-chip cookies, and a list of special additions to the in-room dining menu (buffalo wings and jalapeƱo poppers). On All-Star weekend, guests of the Doubletree are asked to sign a "no-party policy" form ("If we learn that a party is in progress…we will reserve the right…to IMMEDIATELY evict the occupants"). At the lobby bar, an enormous sign has been erected: welcome nba all-star fans. A few feet beside it, a plaque: firearms are prohibited on these premises
It will be here, in the lovely Doubletree Hotel, that the working girls will set up camp for the next three days. By working girls, we don't mean hookers, though these will infiltrate the Doubletree as well. (It gets a little tricky, because the working girls and the "working girls" tend to dress alike. The standard outfit this weekend: a Band-Aid—sized denim miniskirt studded with rhinestones slung low enough to flash ass-cleavage, knee-high shiny white boots, a silver belt that appears to be made of hubcaps, a midriff-baring top that shows off belly tattoos, and enough fake bling and chains to tow a Hummer.) We mean working girls—the hundreds, thousands, who in their real lives have actual jobs, dreary thankless jobs, but in their fantasy lives get to be NBA groupies. All-Star weekend is their mecca. They save all year for this. They put in for their vacation time early. They spring for hair extensions and new boots.

And with a little bit of luck, they might even get to blow a basketball player.

They tumble out in carloads, talkin' shit and demanding respect. One particular group—four ladies from New York—stands out instantly. Because they are already having a blast. They have no time for fights with desk clerks; they gotta get their case of Goose up to their room. "I can't believe we're actually here!" says the ringleader, a New York City cop named Renee. "I'm pinching myself." Though, with any luck, she'll get someone else to do that for her.

Saturday Night Mix

Motoko Wada


Bob Dylan's Curious Dotage

by  Tim de Lisle

A few years ago a concert promoter took the BBC television series “Walking with Dinosaurs” and turned it into a stage show that toured the world’s indoor arenas. Seen from one angle, it was an enterprising move. Seen from another, it was quite unnecessary. The world’s arenas were already crawling with dinosaurs, in the form of old rock stars.

The early years of the 21st century have been the age of the veteran in rock and pop. Records are now trumped by live music, a field where the oldies can dominate. The golden age of popular music, the Sixties, is just close enough for the central figures from it to be still on the road. The Rolling Stones do a world tour every few years; Paul McCartney, with a small child to think about, does a short tour every few months. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, now a doddery old teddy bear propped up by a dazzling young band, turns out every other year. Simon & Garfunkel, not always on the best of terms, manage a month here and a month there. And then there is Bob Dylan.

Dylan tours even more than the others. In the 20 years to 2010, he gave 2,045 concerts, according to the fan site, where you can study the setlist for every one of those nights. In April he will play in Singapore, Australasia and—if Beijing lets him in, after rebuffing him last year—China. In the summer he is expected in Europe. Not for nothing are his wanderings known as the Never Ending Tour.

Dylan’s gigs are unlike those of all his peers. If a show by McCartney or the Stones has a fault—apart from some creaking on the high notes—it is that it can be predictable. The Stones always play “Satisfaction”, “Brown Sugar”, “Jumping Jack Flash”; McCartney always does the Beatles classics he wrote himself—“Let It Be”, “Get Back”, “Hey Jude”. With Dylan, the only sure thing is “Like a Rolling Stone”, locked in as the first encore. Otherwise, he reserves the right to leave out any song. And often it’s a relief when he does, given the way he treats the songs he does play, which veers between indifference and outright sabotage.

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Keitai Shosetsu: The Cell Phone Novel

Wikipedia:  A cell phone novel, or mobile phone novel is a literary work originally written on a cellular phone via text messaging. This type of literature originated in Japan, where it has become a popular literary genre. Chapters usually consist of about 70-100 words each due to character limitations on cell phones.

"Sunday Morning"
     by Barry Yourgrau

It’s Sunday morning. A dog wakes me up. I hear it barking under the window, I open the window and yell at it. The lady who owns the dog is gardening. She shouts at me to quit yelling at her dog. I shout at her, so knock off the noise!, and slam down the window.

I go downstairs later, it’s quiet, she is sitting in her kitchen. She’s crying. Her breasts are exposed. I feel guilty (because I actually like the dog) and lustful too, at the way she sits there, bent so intimately over a cup of tea. Inspired, I get down on all fours and bounce into her kitchen, barking “Bow wow! Bow wow!” The lady keeps on crying, she doesn’t want to smile but I can see the corners of her mouth begin to turn up. I crawl under her chair and turn over on my back and wag my tail. That does it, she’s really grinning now, and I get up behind her and slide my hands down over her breasts, they have the dark, spongy feel of soil.

“I’m sorry,” she sniffles, about her tears, “it’s all because—”

“Don’t worry,” I tell her, understanding everything. “I’ll help you repot them this afternoon.”

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The Geek-Kings of Smut


After once being the best thing that ever happened to porn, the Internet is now wreaking havoc: destroying some fortunes, making bigger ones, and serving as a stimulus plan, in more ways than one.

For one brief moment here at the 2011 Adult Video Awards in Las Vegas, America’s porn performers can forget about the Golden Decade of the Teen Wanker and remember when they were stars. Tonight, all of them, the whole porn carnival, are vamping down the red carpet at the Palms Casino. There are actual midgets. There is self-styled fakir Murrugun the Mystic, who has been nominated for Most Outrageous Sex Scene: swallowing a sword “while she swallows my sword,” as he puts it. There are the Oscar-ishly glammed-up ladies with titanic breasts and twitchy Restylane smiles. There is—yes, here he comes—Ron “The Hedgehog” Jeremy: The starriest living male porn star ambles along the carpet in a sad, grubby collar and with an air of existential depletion. And now, the announcer is introducing Joslyn James as “Tiger Woods’s ex-girlfriend,” fresh from her appearance in the scandal-milking The Eleventh Hole.

Maybe you’ve seen it. Did you pay for it? This evening, if only for a few hours, the industry is doing its best to ignore the explosion of free porn online that has made the early-21st century such a bonanza for masturbators. It’s difficult. The Adult Entertainment Expo taking place simultaneously at the Sands has scaled back dramatically; Vivid and Adam & Eve, two of the best-known companies in the business, didn’t even have booths on the main floor this year. There are no Jenna Jamesons on this red carpet, and even the idea of a porn A-list seems dated. Performers are making less money, working harder for it, getting fewer jobs. “It doesn’t affect me that much—well, I guess less work—but my friends with companies are being put out of business,” Ron Jeremy says, pausing before the media gauntlet. He mentions one who has been forced to diversify into “cookies, penis pills, and a blender.”

For a decade or so, to the porn industry, the Internet looked like the best thing ever invented—a distribution chute liberating it from the trench-coat ghetto of brown paper wrappers and seedy adult bookstores, an E-Z Pass to a vast untapped bedroom audience. If it was equally apparent that the web would prove as destabilizing as it has for other media, the money was so good that the industry could ignore the warning signs. Now the reckoning has arrived.

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R. Crumb, The Art of Comics - An Interview

Robert Crumb asked me to say that he lives in Albania, to discourage would-be pilgrims from beating a path to his doorstep. He doesn’t, but his medieval hamlet is so far from the United States in every sense that it takes some perseverance to find, and upon locating it, I discovered that the streets of his walled village are too narrow to penetrate with even the tiniest French rental car. I mean, Albanian.

But even this tiny community was too distracting when it came time to draw and ink the extraordinarily detailed illustrations for The Book of Genesis, which was published last year. Like a monastic scribe, he pursued his vision in a desolate shelter in the mountains outside town, working for weeks without human contact. These mountains have harbored many heretics over the centuries, but Crumb’s Genesis was an act of textual devotion, precise to the last “begat.”

Crumb is perhaps the most influential cartoonist of his or any generation, famous for decades of work that reflect an idiosyncratic variety of fascinations—arcane twenties music, everyday street scenes, the female form—yet have proved capable of mass appeal. But “cartoonist” fails to convey the full scope of the Crumb oeuvre, which includes the handmade comics he created as a teenager; the underground periodicals he generated by the score in the sixties; and the increasingly realistic work he has produced since then, probing the lives of twenties bluesmen, authors, biblical patriarchs, and his own family. In all of the places he has lived, Crumb has been a creator of books on his own terms, helping to spawn a thriving DIY print culture of zines and graphic novels that has revived and reinvented the comic form. It is a remarkable achievement for someone who came of age when the comic book was the lowest form of literary life imaginable, attacked by Congress and shunned or ignored by respectable society.

When the weary traveler finally locates Crumb’s house, where he lives with his wife Aline Kominsky-Crumb, a small sign in his unmistakable hand warns the mailman, pas de pub svp—no advertisements, please. Crumb is equally jaundiced toward the media, and remains distrustful of many aspects of contemporary life, including e-mail and the Internet. But modernity is not much of a threat inside his seventeenth-century home. Books are packed in everywhere, and in his collections the centuries begin to crowd each other out—a Brueghel print from the fifteen hundreds hangs on the wall next to a racy ad from the nineteen forties. When the tape was not rolling, we listened to many of Crumb’s favorites from a library of more than five thousand 78-rpm records—including Blind Mamie Forehand, Chubby Parker, and Skip James—witnesses to a past that never ceases to exist as long as the record is intact and the turntable spins.

The Stoner Arms Dealers

The e-mail confirmed it: everything was finally back on schedule after weeks of maddening, inexplicable delay. A 747 cargo plane had just lifted off from an airport in Hungary and was banking over the Black Sea toward Kyrgyzstan, some 3,000 miles to the east. After stopping to refuel there, the flight would carry on to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Aboard the plane were 80 pallets loaded with nearly 5 million rounds of ammunition for AK-47s, the Soviet-era assault rifle favored by the Afghan National Army.

Reading the e-mail back in Miami Beach, David Packouz breathed a sigh of relief. The shipment was part of a $300 million contract that Packouz and his partner, Efraim Diveroli, had won from the Pentagon to arm America's allies in Afghanistan. It was May 2007, and the war was going badly. After six years of fighting, Al Qaeda remained a menace, the Taliban were resurgent, and NATO casualties were rising sharply. For the Bush administration, the ammunition was part of a desperate, last-ditch push to turn the war around before the U.S. presidential election the following year. To Packouz and Diveroli, the shipment was part of a major arms deal that promised to make them seriously rich.

Packouz and Diveroli had picked the perfect moment to get into the arms business. To fight simultaneous wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the Bush administration had decided to outsource virtually every facet of America's military operations, from building and staffing Army bases to hiring mercenaries to provide security for diplomats abroad. After Bush took office, private military contracts soared from $145 billion in 2001 to $390 billion in 2008. Federal contracting rules were routinely ignored or skirted, and military-industrial giants like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin cashed in as war profiteering went from war crime to business model. Why shouldn't a couple of inexperienced newcomers like Packouz and Diveroli get in on the action? After all, the two friends were after the same thing as everyone else in the arms business — lots and lots and lots of money.

"I was going to make millions," Packouz says. "I didn't plan on being an arms dealer forever — I was going to use the money to start a music career. I had never even owned a gun. But it was thrilling and fascinating to be in a business that decided the fate of nations. Nobody else our age was dealing weapons on an international level."

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