Friday, August 31, 2012

Senior Driving Laws

There is a trend in most States to require senior citizens to do extra measures when they have to renew their driver's licenses. Here are the State-by- State requirements.

1. Alabama: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) In person, with a vision test, every 4 years.
2. Alaska: For those 69 and older must renew in person.
3. Arizona: For those 65 and older, must renew in person with a vision test every 5 years.
4. Arkansas: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person with a vision test every 4 years.
5. California: For those 70 and older must renew in person.
6. Colorado: For those 61 and older must renew every 5 years.
7. Connecticut: For those 65 older must renew every 2 years.
8. Delaware: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person every 5 to 8 years.
9. Washington DC: For those 70 and older must have doctor's statement
10. Florida: For those 80 and older must renew every 6 years.
11. Georgia: For those 60 and older must renew every 5 years.
12. Hawaii: For those 72 and older must renew every 2 years.
13. Idaho: For those 63 and older must renew every 4 years. For those 70 and older must renew in person.
14. Illinois: For those 81 to 86 must renew every 2 years. For those 87 and older must renew every year For those 75 and older must renew in person and take a road test.
15. Indiana: For those 75 to 84 must renew every 3 years. For those 85 and older must renew every 2 years. For those 75 and older must renew in person.
16. Iowa: For those 70 and older must renew every 2 years.
17. Kansas:  For those 65 and older must renew every 4 years.
18. Kentucky: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 4 years.
19. Louisiana: For those 70 and older must renew in person.
20. Maine: For those 65 and older must renew every 4 years. For those 62 and older must take a vision test.
21. Maryland: For those 40 and older must renew every 8 years and take a vision test.
22. Massachusetts: For those 75 and older must renew in person and take a vision test.
23. Michigan: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 4 years. Every other renewal must be in person with a vision test.
24. Minnesota: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person every 4 years and take a vision test.
25. Mississippi: For those 71 and older must renew in person every 4 to 8 years.
26. Missouri: For those 70 and older must renew every 3 years and take a vision test.
27. Montana: For those 75 and older must renew in person every 4 years and take a vision test.
28. Nebraska: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 5 years. Every other renewal must be in person with a vision test.
29. Nevada: For those 70 and older must renew every 4 years.
30. New Hampshire: For those 75 and older must renew every 5 years and take a vision test and a road test.
31. New Jersey: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 4 years. Every other renewal must be in person.
32. New Mexico: For those 67 to 75 must renew every 4 years. For those 75 and older must renew in person every year and take a vision test.
33. New York: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 8 years by mail or in person and take vision test.
34. North Carolina: For those 66 and older must renew every 5 years and take a vision test.
35. North Dakota: For those 78 and older must renew every 4 years and take a vision test.
36. Ohio: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 4 years and take a vision test.
37. Oklahoma: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 4 years.
38. Oregon: For those 50 and older must renew every 8 years and take a vision test.
39. Pennsylvania: Must renew every 2 to 4 years in person, by mail or electronically.
40. Rhode Island: For those 75 and older must renew every 2 years and take a vision test.
41. South Carolina: For those 65 and older must renew every 5 years and take a vision test.
42. South Dakota: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person every 5 years and take a vision test.
43. Tennessee: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 5 years. Every other renewal must be in person and take a vision test.
44. Texas: For those 85 and older must renew every 2 years. For those 79 and older must be in person and  take a vision test.
45. Utah: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person every 5 years and take a vision test.
46. Vermont: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 2 to 4 years. Must renew in person every 8 years.
47. Virginia: For those 80 and older must renew every 8 years and take a vision test.
48. Washington: For those 70 and older must renew every 6 years and take a vision test.
49. West Virginia: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person every 5 years and take a vision test.
50. Wisconsin: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew in person every 8 years and take a vision test.
51. Wyoming: There are no additional requirements for seniors (NARS.) Must renew every 4 years. Every other renewal must be in person and take a vision test.

I do not agree that senior citizens should be required to any extra measures simply because of their age. I think that any one, regardless of their age, who shows signs of bad/poor driving should have to do the extra steps (ie go in person, take the vision test and the road test.) I know many people around the country that are bad drivers and not all of them are seniors. There are only two states that require road tests and of course I have to live in one of them. I hope that the states that have no additional requirements for seniors (NARS) do not change and add measures.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Israeli Muppets And War

From The Jerusalem Post:
"Muppet urges Israelis to prepare in case of war"

The Israeli muppet on the cover of a new, emergency pamphlet being distributed nationwide puts a happy face on some grim warnings in a country preparing for possible war with Iran. Israelis, the military-issued booklet says, would have only between 30 seconds and three minutes to find cover and hunker down between the time air raid sirens sound and rockets slam into their area.  The 15-page pamphlet has started to appear in mailboxes across the country, and instructs Israelis how to prepare a safe room or shelter for emergency situations. On the cover a smiling Moishe Oofnik, the Israeli muppet version of Oscar the Grouch - the resident pessimist of the US children's show Sesame Street - sticks out of the trash can he calls home. He strikes a more pensive pose inside the booklet, resting his head on his hand under instructions on what to do when sirens wail. Stepped-up rhetoric by Israeli officials in recent weeks has suggested Israel might soon attack an Iranian nuclear program its sees as an existential threat, raising international concern about regional conflict. Israeli ministers have said up to 500 civilians could die in any war following a strike on Iran. An Israeli military source said on Monday the emergency pamphlet was part of a regular, public awareness campaign and noted it also included advice on how to act in the event of an earthquake. "There are always innovations the public needs to know about, it doesn't mean anything is going to happen today, tomorrow or the next day," the source said. Iran denies it is seeking atomic weapons and has promised to retaliate strongly if it is attacked. Israel fears that Iran's Hezbollah guerrilla allies in Lebanon and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip could also launch rocket strikes. Israel stepped up the distribution of gas masks and other protective gear to the public some weeks ago, but the mailing of what-to-do information suggested an escalation in preparation for possible conflict. The pamphlet urges Israelis to have a "family talk" about getting ready for any national emergency. "You should find the proper time to have the conversation - not during mealtime or when you are watching television. It should not be held after a family argument or when you are agitated about some other pressing matter," it advises.

^ It is a sick world when you have to use children's TV characters to teach children what to do in case there is an attack on them. Unlike the air raid turtle from the 1950s (when people may have feared an attack, but none had come before or since) there have been countless attacks on Israel since it was created in 1948. Israeli children grow-up knowing about the wars and attacks from the past and have seen the missiles themselves. You would think that every Arab and Muslim country that has fought against Israel (Iran included) would learn that no matter how many thousands of soldiers or bombs you put up against them Israel will ALWAYS win. They have the support of most of the world - including the US - and we would never let Israel be destroyed. We may have Arab and Muslim allies that are against Israel, but in the end, I firmly believe we would stick with our alliance with Israel over anyone. ^

Do It Yourself Airports

From Yahoo:
"The self-service airport"

Airlines are laying the groundwork for the next big step in the increasingly automated airport experience: a trip from the curb to the plane without interacting with a single airline employee.
For years, travelers have been checking in online or at airport kiosks, and more recently, airlines have converted paper boarding passes into electronic ones. Now carriers are turning to technology that enables travelers to check their own bags and scan those boarding passes—but not always without snags. At the airport of the near future, "your first interaction could be with a flight attendant," said Ben Minicucci, chief operating officer of Alaska Airlines.  After testing the technology in Austin, Texas, American Airlines is rolling out kiosks that direct travelers to tag their own checked bags in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and other major airports over the next two years. And last month in Las Vegas, JetBlue became the first U.S. airline to officially implement self-boarding gates, where fliers scan their own tickets to board the plane. Airlines say the advanced technology will quicken the airport experience for seasoned travelers—shaving a minute or two from the checked-baggage process alone—while freeing airline employees to focus on fliers with questions. Airline-employee unions, however, say the machines are a way for carriers to cut staff by outsourcing preboarding tasks to fliers. "Clearly it's not something passengers are clamoring for," said Frank Larkin, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. "More technology, fewer people? I don't think so." A recent SITA survey found self-boarding appeals to 70% of passengers and almost as many travelers want to tag their own bags. Self-tagging and self-boarding have each been implemented in 115 instances around the world, according to the International Air Transport Association. That global airline trade group is pushing for extending a complete self-service airport experience to 80% of the world's fliers by 2020 in order to save the industry $2.1 billion a year. The Transportation Security Administration said it has monitored pilot programs for self-tagging and self-boarding and approves of the technologies. U.S. airlines and airports are catching up to their counterparts in Europe, where Lufthansa began testing self-boarding in the late 1990s. The airline officially implemented the technology last year in its three main hubs in Germany, where customers have readily adapted to it. "A lot of our passengers are frequent fliers who really prefer not to talk with staff all the time," said Lufthansa spokesman Aage Duenhaupt. "They check-in online, get a mobile boarding pass and then use it at an automated boarding gate." British Airways and Iberia are also introducing a variety of self-service tools, including at Madrid's Barajas Airport, where Iberia has 30 kiosks that print checked-bag tags. New ID readers have sped the process to less than an average of 30 seconds, the airline said. Before long, travelers in many countries will be able to print baggage tags at home and insert the bar-coded paper in plastic cases distributed by airlines, similar to baggage tags that many already issue to their frequent fliers, SITA said. Qantas Airways of Australia already issues permanent electronic bag tags that store fliers' information. On a recent weekday, fliers of Canadian carrier WestJet largely breezed through the check-in process with the help of kiosks that printed their bag tags. But the process was hardly fully automatic: While a handful of travelers handled the process themselves, WestJet employees tapped through the kiosk screens for most fliers and then applied their bag tags. More agents then scanned the tags and boarding passes before sending the luggage to the plane.

^ I have used the self kiosks and the self gates (in Munich) and didn't care for them. I don't see the majority of Americans being able to deal with the self technology. I think this program will also do away with the handful of airline staff that you currently find. On paper it sounds great, but I don't think it will be good in practice. ^

Kelsey's Law

From USA Today:
"Missouri to be eighth state to enact Kelsey's Law"

Missouri will become the eighth state Tuesday to enact Kelsey's Law, which requires cellphone carriers to provide law enforcement with a customer's location information in an emergency. Named for Kansas teenager Kelsey Smith, whose body was found four days after she was abducted on June 2, 2007, the law is intended to ensure local police agencies quickly get what they need to find people in danger. The law has been gaining ground steadily since the first one took effect in Kansas in 2009. Nebraska, Minnesota and New Hampshire enacted laws in 2010, followed by North Dakota in 2011 and Hawaii and Tennessee earlier this year. A similar bill is in the works in Illinois. Although federal law allows cellphone companies to provide location information to law enforcement in certain circumstances, Kelsey's Law seeks to mandate it. Catherine Crump, staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union in New York, agrees that the information should be made available in emergencies. She compared the practice to an officer who hears a woman screaming inside a home. The officer is allowed to kick the door in to help her. Another provision in the law protects cellphone providers from lawsuits, cutting down on potentially lengthy liability discussions among a company's legal team — as was the case in Kelsey Smith's abduction, said Missey Smith.

^ This should be mandated in every State as well as at the Federal level. It only makes sense that they have the information in an emergency. ^

Logan's TSA At It Again

From Yahoo:
"TSA: Boston bag screeners distracted by cellphones"

The Transportation Security Administration has moved to fire six bag-screeners and suspend 14 others at Logan International Airport in Boston for performing inadequate luggage checks, some because they were distracted by their cellphones or other electronic devices. The moves were prompted by a routine audit that showed some officers were not paying close attention to monitors that display the contents of each bag passing through an explosives-detection machine. Those screeners were distracted by their phones or other devices and are being recommended for unpaid suspensions ranging from three to 14 days. The six employees the TSA is seeking to fire are accused of ignoring protocol to hand-inspect bags that trigger alarms. When screeners are unable to determine what set off the alarms, they are supposed to take the bags into a separate screening room for inspection. "All TSA employees are held to the highest standards of conduct and accountability," the agency said Tuesday in a statement. "These standards are critical to our work and TSA's commitment to the safety of the traveling public." The agency said the actions and not related to an investigation into allegations of racial profiling by TSA behavior-detection officers at Logan.
^ This is no surprise considering Logan's TSA has been in the news many times in the past year. I have written about personal experiences (mostly bad) I had with the TSA at Logan. Both the TSA and an independent governmental agency needs to do more to fix all the problems at Logan and other US Airports. ^

It's Good To Be President

From Yahoo:
"Putin Lives Large: Yachts and Planes"

According to a report released today by a pair of Russian opposition leaders, President Vladimir Putin enjoys the use of 20 official villas and residences around the country, a billion-dollar fleet of government jets, and a mini-armada of state-owned luxury yachts.The authors, former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov and opposition activist Leonid Martynyuk, say these perks allows Putin to live like a "Gulf King" or an oligarch, all while ordinary Russians struggle to make ends meet. They claim the budget for the Office of Presidential Affairs is over $2.7 billion, which they say is about the same as the budget for the entire city of Nizhny Novgorod, which is home to 3.3 million people.
Most of the assets listed in the report are owned by the state, not Putin, but they dwarf his relatively modest official salary of about $120,000. At that salary, the opposition leaders point out, Putin would have to refrain from eating, drinking, or doing anything for about six years just to pay for his luxury watch collection, which is said to be worth about $700,000. The report says the number of palaces, villas, and residences available to President Putin has doubled since he took office in 2000, including several that were built on Putin's orders. Others are old palaces that belonged to Russian czars. Some are appointed with pools, tennis courts, helipads, bowling allies, and movie theaters. When Putin has to fly anywhere, he has his choice of 43 airplanes. The report says a toilet on one of them cost $75,000. He also has 15 helicopters at his disposal. Putin also has use of four luxury yachts, including one that the report claims is among the world's top 100 mega-yachts. The 187-foot boat reportedly boasts mahogany finishes, a Jacuzzi, and is alone worth $50 million. Another of Putin's yachts, valued at $37 million, was acquired in 2011 and has its own wine cellar and a spa complete with a waterfall. Putin's spokesman Dimitry Peskov told the Russian newspaper Kommersant that he hadn't read the report, but said the government resources available to President Putin are no state secret.
"Information on the residences and transportation of the president is absolutely open," he said.
Nemtsov was quoted as telling the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets that no publishing house would agree to publish the report, which he said was a sign of the "level of fear there is of the authorities."

^ It's always interesting to see what any world leader has access to them - whether they are President of Russia or the US. Of course leaders of countries get the best of everything - that's no secret. ^

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More Postal Woes

From Yahoo:
"Things the Postal Service Won't Tell You"
. Your failure to send your Mother a proper birthday card is the least of our problems.Publicly, the Postal Service has blamed its financial woes on a waning interest in old-fashioned mail (exacerbated by the financial crisis). And it has cited that reason when it announced staff reductions -- about a quarter of its workforce, or 150,000 postal jobs, will be eliminated by 2016 -- as well as when it talked about closing post offices and when it proposed ending Saturday mail delivery, a measure currently pending in Congress. But some in the postal industry say that declining mail is just an excuse: "There is red ink -- but the overwhelming share has nothing to do with mail volume, the Internet, or other factors related to the mail," says Fredric Rolando, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers. The retiree health payments account for nearly 80 percent, or $9.2 billion, of the first three quarters' losses, and they "not only have exhausted the Postal Service's profits, savings and borrowing authority, they also have distracted the USPS from addressing the structural issues that do indeed exist as society changes," says Rolando, adding that there are "plenty of opportunities" in mail, including e-commerce shipping. "The prefunding of retiree health benefits for future retirees is a major cause of our financial crisis -- but not the only cause," says a USPS spokesman, citing decline in first-class mail as another major cause. While many industry groups, including the Postal Regulatory Commission, have recommended that the health care payments -- the result of a congressional mandate passed in 2006, before the Postal Service's problems started -- be reduced to alleviate the burden, there is one massive roadblock: the federal budget. Because the retiree health prefunding payments are counted in federal funds, they are tied into the nation's budget, which some experts say amounts to the USPS subsidizing government operations. "So the Postal Service has been a kind of cash cow for the federal government for the last 40 years," says Postal Regulatory Commission chairman Ruth Goldway.

2. Our retirees are just fine, thanks.
On Aug. 1, for the first time since the 2006 mandate, the Postal Service did not pay its $5.5 billion annual retiree health benefits bill, and announced that it's likely to default on the next payment too, due Sept. 30. While the announcement raised red flags of concern for the welfare of retiring postal workers, experts, including postal employee unions, contend that the retirees will be fine -- or may even be better off -- if the USPS doesn't pay another cent into the fund for a long time. Indeed, Postal Service inspector general David Williams wrote a letter to the Senate earlier this year recommending just that -- eliminating the annual payments and letting the $44 billion fund grow with interest. Despite the Postal Service's debt, its retiree benefit coffers are beyond full. Its pension funds are more than 100% funded, compared with 42% for all federal pension funds and 80% for the average Fortune 1000 pension plan. That "astonishingly high figure," according to Williams, amounts to a "war chest" of resources that will take care of older workers for decades to come.

3. Anybody want to buy an ailing government agency?

As a federal agency, the Postal Service is something of a platypus: It is bound by law to perform certain functions -- the old postman's motto goes, "Neither snow or rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stay these couriers from their swift completion of their appointed rounds" -- but it also has to report financial results like a business. Some economists say turning the postal service into a corporation with a board of directors and a fiduciary duty to shareholders would allow it to make sound financial decisions based on market conditions, rather than falling prey to political motivations and bureaucratic red tape. Under the current system, "managers are hamstrung," says Richard Geddes, Cornell University professor of policy analysis and management and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. A USPS spokesman says privatization isn't the answer, adding that it would be hard for even a private company to profit serving rural areas, and that the Postal Service has a business plan to become "financially sound and continue universal service to all Americans."

4. We're hiring our competitors to do our jobs for us.

The Postal Service increasingly relies on outside corporations for everything from sorting mail and transporting it by air and ground to advertising and I.T. consulting: Last year, the agency spent more than $12 billion on such contracts, according to Husch Blackwell, a law firm that represents Postal Service contractors. The USPS even hires some of its competitors to help it do its job, including the United Parcel Service and FedEx, which was the Postal Service's highest-paid supplier in 2011. "The postal service essentially has privatized everything but the last mile of delivery," Goldway says. The number of mail delivery routes served by outsourced carriers increased 84 percent to nearly 10,000 between 1998 and 2012, according to a recent report by the Congressional Research Service. There is now a thriving industry of third-party companies contracting with the USPS, including large publicly traded corporations such as presorting mail firm Pitney Bowes. Postal worker unions generally oppose the practice of contracting, which dates back to the 18th century, saying that outsourcing Postal Service functions is less reliable and takes jobs away from postal employees who are already being laid off in droves. The National Association of Letter Carriers has referred to the practice as a "cancer" that must be stopped before it spreads. Still, contractors deliver mail on just 4.4% of routes, up from 2.3% in 1998, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service. The Postal Service, for its part, says it will continue to use contractors, as long as doing so is cost-effective and consistent with their contractual obligations.

5. We're addicted to junk mail.

Like Big Oil and Big Pharma, the Big Mailers -- including banks and catalog publishers as well as presort mail companies -- are a powerful force on Capitol Hill, and the Postal Service courts their business because the vast breadth of envelopes buoys mail volume. Through its workshare discounting program, the Postal Service offers reduced postage rates to companies with large stakes in the mail -- from mass mailers like AT&T and Bank of America to mail-handling specialists like Pitney Bowes -- that presort mail or deliver it part of the way.
^ I knew about them using FedEx and UPS to help them ship. I was told about it when I wanted to send a package next-day and was told they had to charge me a lot more because of the size and the fact that it was going on a UPS plane. Congress and the USPS needs to get their act together and soon. ^

School Against Deaf Name

From Daily News:
"Family: Nebraska school says our deaf 3-year-old's sign-language gesture for his own name looks like 'weapons,' must change"

A Nebraska school district wants a 3-year-old deaf boy to change the way he signs his name because they say the gesture makes his hands look like weapons, the boy's family claims.  The district, in Grand Island, about three hours west of Omaha, has a policy that forbids kids bringing to school "any instrument ... that looks like a weapon," local station KOLN reported. According to the report, Hunter Spanjer signs his name by crossing his index finger and middle finger and then wagging his hands, which the school says is not appropriate. "Anybody that I have talked to thinks this is absolutely ridiculous. This is not threatening in any way," his grandmother, Janet Logue, told KOLN. It's a symbol," his father, Brian Spanjer, added. "It's an actual sign, a registered sign, through S.E.E.," or Signing Exact English, a sign language system. A school spokesman called the issue a "misunderstanding" and said it had nothing to do with guns or weapons. The name gesture was "not an appropriate thing to do in school," and administrators were asking Hunter to spell his name out, letter-by-letter, instead of using the sign, spokesman Jack Sheard told the Daily News.

^ This is one of the dumbest things I have heard in a long time. It re-enforces how people have allowed their common sense to disappear. The fact that it's a school district is worse because these lack of common-sense people are teaching their stupidity to other people's children. I really hope the boy's parents sue the school until they allow him to sign his name the correct way. ^

Monday, August 27, 2012


I dropped my lawn mower to be repaired on August 19, 2012 at Parkhurst and was told by the young woman that the repairman was at lunch, but she took my key, manual and mower. I called about the status on August 24, 2012 to be told by an older woman that the guy was off but she would call him about the mower and call me back. I didn't get a call. Then today (August 27, 2012) I called to try and find out the status again and an older woman (Fran) was pretty rude on the phone. She said it hadn't been worked on and the guy was on vacation. I told her it had been over a week and I should have been told that when I dropped the mower off. She didn't care and mentioned something about "spaghetti" when I asked her when the repairman would be there. I have no idea what she meant. And so I told her I was going to come and get the mower as she didn't care about keeping customers informed. She said "Good. Do that." I went to their store and asked for my mower, the key and the manual. Fran was very belligerent from the beginning (as was another employee) and made very rude comments while waiting for others to find the items. She went off when she asked me who was looking for the mower and I told her "a gentleman employee." She didn't know what a gentleman was and I told her "it is a guy." Eventually everything was found (after many rude comments from Fran) and she asked if I needed help getting the mower in my car. As I just wanted to get away from the store and this unintelligent woman I told her "No" and then she started reaching to push the mower. I told her I had it and reached down for the bag of parts. (I don't know why the blade was off as she had told me that no work had been done as the guy was on vacation, but it was in a bag.) She then started following my mother and myself out of the store saying rude things - which I said right back to her. It is clear that neither Fran nor anyone I dealt with at Parkhurst has a clue about good customer service. Fran lied to both my mother's and my face (that no work was done and that the repairman was on "vacation.") I am all for buying locally, but not when you have to deal with belligerent people like Fran who lie and treat you badly on the phone and in person

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Neil Armstrong

From Yahoo:
"Neil Armstrong, 1st man on the moon, dies"

Neil Armstrong was a quiet self-described nerdy engineer who became a global hero when as a steely-nerved pilot he made "one giant leap for mankind" with a small step on to the moon. The modest man who had people on Earth entranced and awed from almost a quarter million miles away has died. He was 82. Armstrong died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures, a statement Saturday from his family said. It didn't say where he died. Armstrong commanded the Apollo 11 spacecraft that landed on the moon July 20, 1969, capping the most daring of the 20th century's scientific expeditions. His first words after setting foot on the surface are etched in history books and the memories of those who heard them in a live broadcast. "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind," Armstrong said. In those first few moments on the moon, during the climax of heated space race with the then-Soviet Union, Armstrong stopped in what he called "a tender moment" and left a patch commemorate NASA astronauts and Soviet cosmonauts who had died in action. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin spent nearly three hours walking on the lunar surface, collecting samples, conducting experiments and taking photographs. "The sights were simply magnificent, beyond any visual experience that I had ever been exposed to," Armstrong once said The moonwalk marked America's victory in the Cold War space race that began Oct. 4, 1957, with the launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 1, a 184-pound satellite that sent shock waves around the world.  A man who kept away from cameras, Armstrong went public in 2010 with his concerns about President Barack Obama's space policy that shifted attention away from a return to the moon and emphasized private companies developing spaceships. He testified before Congress and in an email to The Associated Press, Armstrong said he had "substantial reservations," and along with more than two dozen Apollo-era veterans, he signed a letter calling the plan a "misguided proposal that forces NASA out of human space operations for the foreseeable future." At the time of the flight's 40th anniversary, Armstrong again was low-key, telling a gathering that the space race was "the ultimate peaceful competition: USA versus U.S.S.R. It did allow both sides to take the high road with the objectives of science and learning and exploration."  Armstrong was born Aug. 5, 1930, on a farm near Wapakoneta in western Ohio. He took his first airplane ride at age 6 and developed a fascination with aviation that prompted him to build model airplanes and conduct experiments in a homemade wind tunnel. As a boy, he worked at a pharmacy and took flying lessons. He was licensed to fly at 16, before he got his driver's license. Armstrong enrolled in Purdue University to study aeronautical engineering but was called to duty with the U.S. Navy in 1949 and flew 78 combat missions in Korea. After the war, Armstrong finished his degree from Purdue and later earned a master's degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California. He became a test pilot with what evolved into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, flying more than 200 kinds of aircraft from gliders to jets. Armstrong was accepted into NASA's second astronaut class in 1962 — the first, including Glenn, was chosen in 1959 — and commanded the Gemini 8 mission in 1966. An estimated 600 million people — a fifth of the world's population — watched and listened to the landing, the largest audience for any single event in history. Parents huddled with their children in front of the family television, mesmerized by what they were witnessing. Farmers abandoned their nightly milking duties, and motorists pulled off the highway and checked into motels just to see the moonwalk. Television-less campers in California ran to their cars to catch the word on the radio. Boy Scouts at a camp in Michigan watched on a generator-powered television supplied by a parent. Afterward, people walked out of their homes and gazed at the moon, in awe of what they had just seen. Others peeked through telescopes in hopes of spotting the astronauts.

^ Neil Armstrong was one of those all-time great Americans that the whole world will always remember. Even though I wasn't around when he landed on the moon and was never really interested in space I know that he did more than just be the first man ever to land on the moon. He (and his crew) effectively ended the Space Race between the Soviets with the US winning. The fact that he was so humble about everything he did makes him even more revered. ^

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Puerto Rico's Furture

From Yahoo:
"Puerto Rico statehood vote could be an election day wildcard"

Today marks the anniversary of the last state to join the union, as Hawaii became the 50th state in 1959. But in three months, Puerto Rico faces a similar vote to become the 51st state.
And as of now, the results of its complicated statehood vote on November 6 are certainly up in the air. Hawaii and Alaska (the 49th state) navigated a lot of political roadblocks to become states in the 1950s, since each state brought a pair of senators and a House member to Congress.
The Constitution is vague about the whole process of how a territory becomes a state, delegating the task to Congress. In Article IV, Section 3, Congress is given the power to decide what states and territories are, but state legislatures would have to approve any act that would combine two existing states or form a new state from parts of other states. (So reuniting Pennsylvania and New Jersey, or Virginia, and West Virginia would be a very difficult task.)  And because any state automatically gets two U.S. senators and at least one member in the House of Representatives, statehood becomes even trickier if the balance of power is close in Congress.  And now, there is the issue of statehood for Puerto Rico. The island is a U.S. territory and its residents are U.S. citizens, but they don’t have voting congressional representation.  So effectively, Puerto Rico residents can’t vote in the presidential general election. (Articles I and II of the Constitution says that only states can vote, and the 23rd Amendment extends voting rights to the District of Columbia.) Another statehood referendum is set for Election Day, Tuesday, November 6, and the territorial governor, Luis Fortuno, is supporting statehood as the best option for Puerto Rico. Other statehood votes failed in Puerto Rico in 1967, 1993, and 1998. The 2012 vote is different because it has two parts. The first question asks voters if they want to move away from Puerto Rico’s territorial status. The second part asks voters to choose three options other than remaining a territory: becoming a U.S. state, an independent country, or a freely associated nation with legal ties to the United States. To complicate matters, there are three major political parties in Puerto Rico, none of which align with the Democrats and Republicans–they are aligned to statehood, independence, and territory factions. In a May 2012 poll, the newspaper El Nuevo Dia found general confusion among potential voters. About 51 percent didn’t want to move way from Puerto Rico’s territorial status and 45 percent didn’t fully understand all the ballot options. Only 36 percent supported statehood.
^ I don't see Puerto Rico becoming a US State anytime soon. They have it way too easy being a US territory. We give them lots of Federal money and keep their standard of living to one of the highest in the Carribbean. ^

Estonian Gas

From RT:
"Estonian gas co. advertises with Auschwitz gate"

An Estonian company has landed itself in a scandal after its website posted an image of the infamous “Arbeit macht frei” (work sets you free) gate to the Auschwitz concentration camp in an attempt to advertise the firm’s gas and heating services. The image of the Auschwitz gate on Gasterm’s website was supplied with a signature that can be roughly translated as “Gas heating – flexible, convenient and effective.” The slogan, which looks regular for this section, sent an odd message when placed right under the notorious sign adorning the Auschwitz gate. The advertisement was added to the website the previous week, according to the Estonian daily DzD.  By Thursday, the day on which Europe commemorates victims of Stalinism and Nazism, the image was replaced by one of a gas burner. The slogan was expanded to say: “If the image placed here earlier has caused any inconvenience, please accept our sincere apologies.” Linros says he condemns the crimes against humanity committed in the concentration camp. But he also insists the Gasterm website is designed for gas heating experts, who did not seem to find the image at all controversial. Over 1.3 million people died in the Nazi camp, situated in Poland, during World War II. Auschwitz is still remembered for its gas chambers used for mass executions.

^ Anyone who makes a "joke" about the death camps and gas chambers to sell something is a complete idiot. Not only is it in bad taste, but belittles all the millions upon millions of innocent men, women and children who were murdered in them. Many Estonians (Jews and non Jews) were imprisioned and/or murdered in the death camps and so this "joke" has even more meaning for a gas company in Estonia. I don't think I would use any services from this or any company that does something like this. ^

Russia In The WTO

From the BBC:
"Russia's entry to World Trade Organization hailed by EU"

Russia is the EU's third biggest trading partner, with member countries exporting 108bn euros ($134bn; £85bn) of goods to the country, including 7bn euros worth of cars and 6bn euros of medicines. Russia finally joined the WTO on Wednesday after 18 years of negotiations. The country will now lower its import duties, limit its export duties and grant greater access to European companies. It will also introduce a host of other measures to bring it into line with WTO trading procedures. All this should make the country with the biggest population in Europe a much more accessible - and predictable - market for foreign companies, says the BBC's Moscow correspondent Daniel Sandford. Russia could also benefit greatly from joining, economists say. It will get easier access to international markets and should see an increase in foreign investment. Russia currently exports 200bn euros of goods to the EU, of which 130bn euros is oil. However, economists have warned that any improvement will also depend on Russia clamping down on corruption, reducing bureaucracy and improving the rule of law, our correspondent says. Russia is the 156th member of the WTO. The Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, which also joined the organisation on Wednesday, is the 157th member.

^ Hopefully Russia joining the WTO will benefit Russia along with all the other member states. ^

There's A War In Afghanistan?

From Yahoo:
"Americans tune out Afghan war as fighting rages on"

It was once President Barack Obama's "war of necessity." Now, it's America's forgotten war.
The Afghan conflict generates barely a whisper on the U.S. presidential campaign trail. It's not a hot topic at the office water cooler or in the halls of Congress — even though more than 80,000 American troops are still fighting here and dying at a rate of one a day. Americans show more interest in the economy and taxes than the latest suicide bombings in a different, distant land. They're more tuned in to the political ad war playing out on television than the deadly fight still raging against the Taliban. Earlier this month, protesters at the Iowa State Fair chanted "Stop the war!" They were referring to one purportedly being waged against the middle class. By the time voters go to the polls Nov. 6 to choose between Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, the war will be in its 12th year. For most Americans, that's long enough. Public opinion remains largely negative toward the war, with 66 percent opposed to it and just 27 percent in favor in a May AP-GfK poll. More recently, a Quinnipiac University poll found that 60 percent of registered voters felt the U.S. should no longer be involved in Afghanistan. Just 31 percent said the U.S. is doing the right thing by fighting there now. Not since the Korean War of the early 1950s — a much shorter but more intense fight — has an armed conflict involving America's sons and daughters captured so little public attention. "We're bored with it," said Matthew Farwell, who served in the U.S. Army for five years including 16 months in eastern Afghanistan, where he sometimes received letters from grade school students addressed to the brave Marines in Iraq — the wrong war. "We all laugh about how no one really cares," he said. "All the 'support the troops' stuff is bumper sticker deep." Ignoring the Afghan war, though, doesn't make it go away. More than 1,950 Americans have died in Afghanistan and thousands more have been wounded since President George W. Bush launched attacks on Oct. 7, 2001 to rout al-Qaida after it used Afghanistan to train recruits and plot the Sept. 11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 Americans. The war drags on even though al-Qaida has been largely driven out of Afghanistan and its charismatic leader Osama bin Laden is dead — slain in a U.S. raid on his Pakistani hideout last year. Strangely, Afghanistan never seemed to grab the same degree of public and media attention as the war in Iraq, which Obama opposed as a "war of choice." Unlike Iraq, victory in Afghanistan seemed to come quickly. Kabul fell within weeks of the U.S. invasion in October 2001. The hardline Taliban regime was toppled with few U.S. casualties. And over time, his administration has grown weary of trying to tackle Afghanistan's seemingly intractable problems of poverty and corruption. The American people have grown weary too. World War II had its Normandy, Vietnam its Tet Offensive and Iraq its Battle of Fallujah. Afghanistan is a grinding slough in villages and remote valleys where success is measured in increments. In July, 40 U.S. service members died in Afghanistan in the deadliest month for American troops so far this year. At least 31 have been killed this month — seven when a helicopter crashed during a firefight with insurgents in what was one of the deadliest air disasters of the war. Ten others were gunned down in attacks from members of the Afghan security forces — either disgruntled turncoats or Taliban infiltrators. The U.S.-led coalition's combat mission will wind down in the next few years, leading up to the end of 2014 when most international troops will have left or moved into support roles. Iran and other regional powerhouse nations.

^ This is just plain sad and sickening. Whether you are for the war or not you should respect and remember the American men and women who are fighting and dying everyday. Until the last troops come home the American public and government need to show true admiration and support. ^

Friday, August 17, 2012

German Holocaust Comic

From Deutsche Welle:
"German comic depicts true Holocaust story"

Reinhard Kleist tells the story of the Polish Jew Harry Haft in the form of a comic. To entertain the Nazi soldiers in Auschwitz, Haft had to box against other prisoners - for life or death. Harry Haft is 16 years old when the Germans take him from his hometown, the Polish city of Belchatow, to a concentration camp. He has to leave behind his family and Leah, the girl he loves. Haft comes from a poor family - his father sells vegetables - but the slight-statured boy is tough and has learned to find his own way. One of the Nazi SS soldiers notices that and protects Haft - but with ulterior motives. He wants him to become a boxer in the camp, fighting other prisoners to entertain the soldiers.
It's a fight for life and death. Harry Haft remains undefeated, while his opponents are sent to the gas chamber. It's not a simple story that follows the typical perpetrator/victim format, says graphic artist Reinhard Kleist. For a German author, talking about the Holocaust in a comic is touchy - even more so with a story of a Jew who was also a perpetrator. Kleist managed this challenge by keeping his distance. "I often just placed the camera further away," he said. "Something like Haft's work in the crematorium at Auschwitz can really only be hinted at. Otherwise it seems too sensationalist, and I really didn't want that." American artist Art Spiegelman was among the first to show that the Holocaust can be dealt with in a comic. In 1992, his "Maus" became the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize. In Spiegelman's work, however, the Nazis are depicted as cats and the concentration camp prisoners are mice - a technique that turns the story into a fable. Kleist's approach, however, avoids getting too deep into Haft's own perspective, so "The Boxer" remains a somewhat superficial story, told second-hand. The narrative is exciting, but the reader is kept at a distance. What Kleist does do, however, is tell the end of the story. Haft managed to flee Auschwitz and emigrate to the United States. In the US, he had ambitions to become a professional boxer, but lost his biggest fight to the famous heavyweight boxer Rocky Marciano. In the end, he ran a vegetable store in Brooklyn and was feared by his family because of his bad temper. He never stopped searching for his childhood sweetheart Leah, whom he would meet again after 62 years. It was after this that the 78-year-old finally broke his decades of silence. Just a few years before his death in 2007, he let his son write out his biography, which became the basis for Kleist's graphic novel.

^ I think it's wrong for a non-Jewish German to make a comic about the Holocaust. I understand that it's a true story and he is trying to show how impossible a situation the man was put in by the Nazis, but it still just seems wrong (I can't think of a better word than it is just "wrong.") I would feel the same way about a white person making a comic about slavery in the US. I read "Maus" and "Maus 2" and thought it was a really intelligent way to show the horrors of the Holocaust and do so in a way that even children could understand. ^

Putin's Reign

From Deutsche Welle:
"'Outdated leadership for a modern society'"

Has "new" president, Vladimir Putin, already reverted back to his old ways? DW interviewed Russia expert Dr. Hans-Henning Schröder about the state of affairs in Moscow 100 days after Putin reentered office.
Vladimir Putin's dominion in Russia spans over a decade, either as its president or prime minister. One-hundred days ago, he formally commenced his third term as president. In the run-up to the election in early March, there was speculation as to whether Russia would get a new Putin. Was this the case?

Hans-Henning Schröder: I have the impression that what we have now is really the old Putin, one that has forgotten what he promised to become during his term as prime minister from 2000 to 2008. Back then he was fond of reform. He had initiative. He had a team that tried to design policies with some degree of imagination. Now, however, that is no longer the case.

How has his team changed? Who are his advisers?
Putin's team has seen some significant reshuffling. Some politicians who worked as domestic intelligence agents, such as Vladislav Surkov and Gleb Pavlovsky, are now no longer working within the president's inner circle. Now we find people like Sergei Ivanov, who seems firmly set on playing by Putin's rules.

Did Putin's government make a mistake with its handling of the Pussy Riot case? Had the three women just been given a fine for their 'punk prayer' against Putin in Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, the case might have been quickly forgotten. But now the case has ballooned into an international spectacle...

This was handled very stupidly. A large majority of the Russian population rejects what the women in the punk band did. But the way in which the court and the Orthodox Church have proceeded has cast these three women in a very sympathetic light. Russia has a very strong reputation to lose, and it's clear from this affair that the current leadership was not quick enough to foresee what happened.

Putin's government has taken steps to restrict the right to assemble. Those who participated in demonstrations against election fraud that followed the parliamentary and presidential elections are being pursued systematically. What does this achieve?

We'll have to see what happens at the regional elections in autumn. Indeed, the mass demonstrations in December and January, and then again in March and May came as a shock to the leadership. The instruments they used to counter them were also repressive. I don't think this will be successful in the medium and long term, because Russian society has changed. We are dealing with a modern society - but an outdated leadership. These two will eventually collide.

But, nevertheless, Putin has reversed his policy and once again allowed regional governors to be directly elected. Is this not a step towards liberalization? It was certainly viewed that way. We had two major changes in January under President Dmitry Medvedev. Firstly, the election of governors was permitted, albeit with presidential approval. And secondly, many more political parties were allowed to part in elections. Just how democratic these processes really are, however, will be determined in autumn's regional elections. We will see then whether regional parties will be suppressed and whether all candidates will indeed have the chance to run.

Nowadays, domestic affairs are ultimately also foreign affairs. How is Russia dealing with this? German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has criticized Moscow's 'Njet' in the UN Security Council's resolution on Syria. Isn't Russia just isolating itself here?

We have to be realistic about this. Currently, Russia is really quite flexible in the UNSC, as the United States will be hesitant to make any major political moves in the run-up to its presidential elections. Even within EU and German politics, no big steps will be taken with regard to the issue until well after the general elections in autumn 2013. Basically, Moscow has almost year to pursue its interests.

^ This is good food for thought. ^

Russian Hooliganism?

From Yahoo:
"Russian punk band found guilty of ‘hooliganism,’ given two-year jail sentence"

Three members of Pussy Riot--a Russian punk band and feminist collective that mocked Russian president Vladamir Putin during a "punk prayer" in a Moscow cathedral--have been found guilty of hooliganism and sentenced to two years in jail. Judge Marina Syrova announced the verdict from a district court in central Moscow, about two miles from the Christ the Saviour Cathedral where the guerrilla group performed its "flash" stunt. "The girls' actions were sacrilegious, blasphemous and broke the church's rules," Syrova said. The band members--Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, Maria Alyokhina, 24, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 30--were arrested on March 3, several weeks after the performance, and charged with "hooliganism." They've been in jail ever since. The trio sat behind a class-walled cage inside the courtroom and laughed as the verdict was read. Prosecutors had sought a three-year sentence. Supporters outside the courthouse chanted "Shame!" as news of the verdict spread. "They are in jail because it is Putin's personal revenge," Alexei Navalny, one of them, told Reuters. "This verdict was written by Vladimir Putin." The trial drew enormous international interest, sparking catcalls from international free-speech advocates and spawning dozens of protests. There were several impromptu protests in Moscow, London, Paris, Barcelona and elsewhere on Friday, and numerous reports of arrests. Madonna, Bjork, Paul McCartney and Courtney Love were among a long list of musicians to come out in support of Pussy Riot, calling on the Russian government to set the band members free. Last week in Berlin, more than 400 people joined a protest led by electro-singer Peaches. "In one of the most extravagant displays," the Associated Press said, "Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr rode through the streets of the Icelandic capital in a Gay Pride parade ... dressed like a band member--wearing a bright pink dress and matching balaclava--while lip-synching to one of Pussy Riot's songs." What started as "a punk-infused political prank," London's Independent said, "has rapidly snowballed into one of the most notorious court cases in post-Soviet Russian history."
Five members of the group, which formed in 2011, were arrested in January after a video of a Putin-baiting performance in Moscow's Red Square circulated online. They were detained for several hours by police, fined and released, NPR said. But the 10-member Pussy Riot, inspired by the American "riot grrrl" movement and bands like Bikini Kill, vowed more protest performances. Pussy Riot's stunt at Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church, was a response, they said, to Patriarch Kirill's public support of Putin in the build-up to Russia's presidential election. Putin won a third term as president in March. "Holy Mother, send Putin packing!" the group sang. The Guardian called the trial, which began on July 30, "worse than Soviet era." "By the end of the first week of Pussy Riot's trial," the Guardian's Miriam Elder wrote last week, "everyone in the shabby Moscow courthouse was tired. Guards, armed with submachine guns, grabbed journalists and threw them out of the room at will. The judge, perched in front of a shabby Russian flag, refused to look at the defense. And the police dog--a 100 [pound] black Rottweiler--no longer sat in the corner she had occupied since the start of Russia's trial of the year, but barked and foamed at the mouth as if she were in search of blood." Lawyers for the women complained during the trial that the trio were being starved and tortured in prison. Two threatened to go on a hunger strike after they were initially jailed.
"Their treatment has caused deep disquiet among many Russians, who feel the women are--to coin a phrase from the 1967 trial of members of the Rolling Stones--butterflies being broken on a wheel," the BBC's Daniel Sandford wrote. Syrova was subjected to unspecified threats during the trial, Russian authorities announced on Thursday--assigning bodyguards to protect her before and after she announced the verdict.

^ Hooliganism? Really? That sounds like a crime only found in the 1950s and not 2012. I guess this is one more example of the disappearance of freedom of speech as well as the lack of separation of church and state. I find it interesting how powerful the Orthodox Church has become within Russia. Another thing, I was always taught that every religion (whether Catholic, Russian Orthodox, etc) preached forgiveness I guess 70 + years of official Soviet repression of religion has done away with that trait. I think it's a little funny that so many Russians consider themselves very religious as it has only been allowed in the past 20 years. I'm curious to know how many of these "ultra religious" Russians were card-carrying Communists until it came out of fashion. I don't personally care for this group's music, but respect their constitutional right to use non-violence to speak their mind. Every Russian needs to watch "Pinocchio" - Пиноккио - and cut the strings and be "a real boy." ^

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Stars Earn Stripes

From Yahoo:
"'Stars Earn Stripes' draws fire"

"Stars Earn Stripes" is a new reality show in which celebrities (does Dolvett Quince count?) compete in military-themed exercises. Cash prizes go to different military charities. Sounds like good harmless fun. After all, who wouldn't want to watch Nick Lachey yelled at by a humorless drill instructor? Well, apparently, plenty of people. A backlash is building, thanks in large part to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and a host of other Nobel Peace laureates. An open letter from the dignitaries and addressed to NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt read: "This program pays homage to no one anywhere and continues and expands on an inglorious tradition of glorifying war and armed violence. Trying to somehow sanitize war by likening it to an athletic competition further calls into question the morality and ethics of linking the military anywhere with the entertainment industry in barely veiled efforts to make war and its multitudinous costs more palatable to the public."  NBC responded to the open letter. A spokesperson for the Peacock Network said, "'Stars Earn Stripes' is about thanking the young Americans who are in harm’s way every day. This show is not a glorification of war, but a glorification of service."  Other contestants include boxer Laila Ali, wrestler Eve Torres, actor Dean Cain, skier Picabo Street, and all-around badass Terry Crews.

^ I have seen the show and think all these so-called dignitaries need to find more important things to complain about - like real war, poverty, crime, etc. The show does not promote war. It promotes support for American soldiers that are willing to fight and die for their country and the strength and courage it takes to risk your life to help others. Soldiers to not create wars - Government officials do. The show also shows support for veterans and their families after their service is done. More (from both the Government and the public) needs to be done to support active-duty servicemen and women as well as veterans and families. ^

OPSEC Vs Obama

From Yahoo:
"Special ops group attacks Obama over bin Laden bragging, leaks"

A group of former U.S. intelligence and Special Forces operatives is set to launch a media campaign, including TV ads, that scolds President Barack Obama for taking credit for the killing of Osama bin Laden and argues that high-level leaks are endangering American lives. Leaders of the group, the Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund Inc, say it is nonpartisan and unconnected to any political party or presidential campaign. It is registered as a so-called social welfare group, which means its primary purpose is to further the common good and its political activities should be secondary.
In the past, military exploits have been turned against presidential candidates by outside groups, most famously the Swift Boat ads in 2004 that questioned Democratic nominee John Kerry's Vietnam War service. The OPSEC group says it is not political and aims to save American lives. Its first public salvo is a 22-minute film that includes criticism of Obama and his administration. The film, to be released on Wednesday, was seen in advance by Reuters. "Mr. President, you did not kill Osama bin Laden, America did. The work that the American military has done killed Osama bin Laden. You did not," Ben Smith, identified as a Navy SEAL, says in the film. "As a citizen, it is my civic duty to tell the president to stop leaking information to the enemy," Smith continues. "It will get Americans killed." Obama has highlighted his foreign policy record on the campaign trail, emphasizing how he presided over the killing of bin Laden, as well as how he ended the war in Iraq and set a timeline for winding down the war in Afghanistan. However, Obama has come under sharp attack from Republican lawmakers who have accused his administration of being behind high-level leaks of classified information. They have pointed to media reports about clandestine drone attacks, informants planted in al Qaeda affiliates and alleged cyber-warfare against Iran that Republicans say were calculated to promote Obama's image as a strong leader in an election year.
^ It seems Obama is caught in another incident of his own making. Hopefully, ordinary Americans will see this and all the other things he has and hasn't done and vote for someone (anyone) else in November. He always has an excuse whenever anything he does goes bad and always takes the credit when things he had nothing to do with go right. ^

German-German Border

From Deutsche Welle:
"Remembering inner-German border victims"

While the Berlin Wall remains a symbol of German division and the brutal former East German regime, a new project aims to focus attention on the many victims of the equally forbidding East-West German border zone. On August 13, 1961, the communist East German regime began building the Berlin Wall. The construction became the infamous symbol of a divided Germany, but the border between the two countries received less public attention, despite also being heavily guarded from an even earlier point in time. Politically, Germany had been split since 1949. Four years after the end of the Second World War, the Federal Republic of Germany was created in the west, and the geographically smaller German Democratic Republic (GDR) - commonly known as East Germany - was established on the other side. Despite its name, the GDR was a communist dictatorship that severely limited its citizens' political freedom and regularly punished dissidents. Politically and economically, West Germany was more successful than its neighbor from the start. Many East Germans started crossing over to the other side in the early days of the two countries. This exodus prompted the GDR's ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED) to create a five-kilometer-wide (3.1-mile) restricted area along the demarcation line. The border stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Vogtland region in Saxony and was nearly 1,400 kilometers long. Anyone who entered this zone risked being arrested or shot. According to Germany's minister for culture and media, Bernd Neumann, the project's focus is the people behind the statistics. Research into individuals' stories will give the victims names and faces, thereby restoring their dignity.
"Their biographies will remind us how the people of Germany were affected by the brutal SED dictatorship and the inhumane border regime," said Neumann at a presentation on the project at the Berlin Wall Memorial. The research should be finalized by 2015, producing a book of short biographies of the victims. It is based on the research into the victims of the Berlin Wall, which has largely been completed. The Berlin Wall Memorial includes the "Window of Remembrance" with names and photos of the dead, located in the middle of the former border zone. In the time preceding the Wall, the residents of Berlin still enjoyed relative freedom of movement, but the inner-German border was already fortified with barbed wire and guard posts. As the years went on, crossing it only became harder. Border guards were ordered to shoot anyone attempting to cross, but those who went unnoticed still risked being killed by the many mines planted within the zone.  Despite all this, the number of attempted escapes remained high. Project head Klaus Schroeder from the Free University of Berlin has found out from the documents of the East German secret police (Stasi) that between 1974 and 1979 there were nearly 5,000 people who attempted to cross the inner-German border. Of these, 229 successfully made it to the other side. Nearly 100 set off mines or spring-guns. The majority were arrested. According to Schroeder, the files contain no information about the fates of those whose attempts failed.

^ I know that many people don't even know that the East Germany/West Germany border had mines and other barriers - they only know of the West Berlin/East Berlin border. I have a piece of the West German- East German border. ^

Unsecured JFK

From Yahoo:
"Jet Skier Breaks Through JFK Airport's $100 Million Security System"

A man whose jet ski failed him in New York's Jamaica Bay swam to John F. Kennedy airport, where he was easily able to penetrate the airport $100 million, state-of-the art security system.
Daniel Casillo, 31, was able to swim up to and enter the airport grounds on Friday night, past an intricate system of motion sensors and closed-circuit cameras designed to to safeguard against terrorists, authorities said. "I think he should be given dinner and a bottle of champagne for showing us our faults," said Nicholas Casale, an NYPD veteran and former MTA deputy security director for counterterrorism. Instead, Casillo was arrested after the incredible adventure that has stunned security officials. "It's outrageous," Casale said. "Why in 2012 do we not have a security system throughout our airports?"

 ^ Airport security in the US is just plain bad all around and needs to be fixed from the ground up. ^

Sunday, August 12, 2012

US Medals

The London Games are over and while I don't care for the Olympics  - I think they are a huge waste of time and money - I always like knowing how well the US did. As expected the United States did the best. We got a total of 104 medals with 46 of them being Gold. Not only that but Michael Phelps has won the most medals in Olympic history (taking the title away from a former Soviet athlete who got the distinction in the 1960s.) Now we have to wait a few more years for Sochi and then a couple more for Rio.

Israeli SMS Alerts

From the Jerusalem Post:
"Home Front Command begins SMS alert experiment"

The IDF Home Front Command will begin a nationwide experiment on Sunday in which it will send mock text messages to cellphones warning of incoming missile attacks. The experiment will last until Thursday. Called “Personal Message,” the alert system has been under development for several years. It can deliver area-specific warnings based on the projection of an incoming trajectory of a rocket or missile.  During the test, members of the public receive the following message, “The Home Front Command, checking cellular alert system,” followed by a number. Messages will be sent in Hebrew, Arabic, English and Russian. Home Front Command officials say the messages will be directed on the basis of geographical areas, between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. On Sunday and Monday, residents of Ramle will receive the messages, while residents of Haifa, Tel Aviv, Acre, Nahariya, Karmiel, Safed, Netanya, Ashdod, Ashkelon, and other cities will do so on Tuesday. Kiryat Shmona, Rishon Lezion, Rehovot, Yavne, Dimona and other cities will receive messages on Wednesday, while Jerusalemites and residents of Modi’in, Bet Shemesh, Mevaseret Zion and other areas can expect them on Thursday. The IDF has been working on integrating the cellphone alert system into its early-warning program – mostly based on air-raid sirens – but has encountered resistance from several cellular companies. The carriers do not want to enable their phones to receive the warnings, which come in the form of a text message.  “This will improve our ability to issue warnings just to people who are inside a specific area that is going to be hit by missiles,” a Home Front officer explained. The Home Front Command said Saturday that members of the public who do not wish to receive the service can ask their cellphone operators to disconnect from it. The system is due to become operational this month.

^ I don't know why anyone in Israel would not want to get an alert about a missile or attack coming in their area. The more warnings sent in different forms (air raid sirens, cell phones, television, radio, etc) gives more people more time to prepare and hopefully survive the attacks. I think this is a great idea and hope the tests prove effective. ^

Communists Capitalism

From Deutsche Welle:
"Putting a price on freedom"

During the Cold War, the West German government bought the freedom of East German political prisoners. For the West, the motive was humanitarian, for the East, economic. The deal was politically explosive - Chancellor Konrad Adenauer had to agree to it personally. Under absolute secrecy, the first eight East German prisoners were released to freedom on October 2, 1963. They crossed the inner-German Wartha-Herleshausen border checkpoint on a bus. The communist regime demanded exactly 205,000 deutschmarks (around 100,000 euros) for the human cargo, which was followed by many hundreds of other people. For the first time, this chapter in the division of Germany is the subject of a museum exhibition. "Bought free - Ways out of Prison in East Germany" can be seen until the end of March 2013 at the former Marienfelde resettlement center for East German refugees in Berlin, which today is a memorial. To avoid even the appearance of state human trafficking, the West German government commissioned the charitable wing of the Lutheran Church with the financial details for the transfer of East German prisoners. This cover was possible because West German church communities had materially supported congregations in East Berlin since 1957.
The Ministry for All-German Affairs, renamed the Ministry for Inner-German Affairs in 1969, was responsible at the political level in the West. From the outset, Berlin-born lawyer Ludwig Rehlinger made a great contribution to buying the freedom of prisoners of conscience. A comprehensive video interview about his experiences as a negotiator can be seen in the exhibition. By the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, some 87,000 East Germans had ended up behind bars because they wanted to escape or were otherwise considered politically "unreliable" in the eyes of the East Berlin authorities. The West bought the freedom of nearly 34,000 of these "enemies of socialism" - the East German terminology for the inmates. Only the first busload of 1963 was paid in cash - following which there was a barter transaction: people in exchange for goods. Depending on what the shortage-plagued East German economy needed, West Germany supplied food or petroleum. Diamonds also found their way from West to East.
^ This is just another example of Communist hypocrisy. They claim they are of and for the people and yet the people they are supposedly for and about always try to flee it. In this case the Communists decided to go one-step further and make money from it - which is capitalism in its purest form. Communism is only good on paper and has never been and will never be good in practice. ^

PQ Drama

From the Globe and Mail:
"Parti Québécois promises tougher language laws if elected"

A Parti Québécois government would adopt a tougher language law within a hundred days of taking office, party leader Pauline Marois says. Changes to the current language law, Bill 101, are needed if Quebec is to ensure that French remains the dominant language in the province, especially on the Island of Montreal, Ms. Marois said.  The PQ leader expressed concerns that the English language was becoming increasingly present as the preferred language of communication in Montreal. According to Ms. Marois, data collected by the Office québécois de langue française, the government agency that oversees the enforcement of the language law, showed that between 2010 and 2012 the number of merchants in Montreal who welcomed their customers in French has dropped had dropped from 89 per cent to 74 per cent. Ms. Marois said the decline of the French in Montreal signals the need for a tougher language law. “The message has to be clear: in Quebec we live in French, we work in French, we communicate in French,” Ms. Marois said during a campaign stop in Montreal on Sunday. The new Bill would increase the powers of the language agency. A “few million dollars” more would go to hiring more staff to enforce the law. Moreover provisions in the law regarding the use of French in the workplace would be extended to the smaller companies, those that employ between 11 and 50 employees. This would affect 54,000 businesses, mostly retailers who would be closely monitored to ensure they speak French to their clients. “That is how things should be done in Quebec,” Ms. Marois said. Under the proposed Bill, francophone students and those from immigrant families who must attend French language schools will be required to enroll in French language post-secondary colleges known as Cegeps. Under the existing law, post-secondary students can freely choose the language of education of their choice after graduating from high school. The same restrictions would apply to vocational schools and adult education. In Quebec students must complete a two-year program in a Cegep if they wish to attend university. A PQ government would also abolish bridging schools which allow for those who have the financial means to circumvent the law and send their children to a private English-language elementary school for a few years in order to become eligible to attend a publicly funded English language school. Under Bill 101 only those children of parents who studied in English in Quebec or in the rest of Canada are allowed to attend an English language elementary or secondary school in Quebec. And if a child attends an English language establishment anywhere in Canada, that student and all of his or her siblings are then allowed to pursue their education in English. Ms. Marois said those who have been allowed to circumvent the law following a Supreme Court of Canada ruling must be stopped. Ms. Marois insisted none of the proposed measures would undermine the rights of the province’s English-language minority. “We will be respectful of their rights. If the other provinces in Canada would do the same with regards to their francophone minorities, francophone [rights] would take a giant step forward,” the PQ leader said.

^ Marois wants to strengthen Quebec's "Language Police" and force French on the province's residents. I am all for having equal representation (both French and English services) provided to every Canadian in every province and do not like when one province (in this case - Quebec) tries to go against that equality and force their own will on others. Despite what Marois believes - English is the only international language and has been since 1945. It is the binding language that brings together people from different countries and allows them to travel, trade and learn about new places. Learning and using English will not destroy the French language, but will enhance people's understandings of one another and in the end - enhance the French-speakers in Quebec. My grandfather was French-Canadian and spoke English (with an accent, but still he spoke it.) I would hear stories of how a French-speaker from Quebec would be hard to understand by a French-speaker from France (maybe they would have understood each other better in English) or how he couldn't help with his children's French homework because it wasn't the same.  Quebec and people like Marois should understand that French will only "disappear" if they continue to shove it down people's throats. People will do whatever they are told and ordered not to do. It has lasted in Quebec since the 1600s and has done so because the people continue to want to speak it. I see no problem with promoting both French and English in Quebec and the rest of Canada and showing that each language is unique and should be learned and used the same.  ^