17 August 2017

More terrorism in Europe

Yahoo has an article about another truck attack:

At least thirteen people are feared dead and thirty more injured, ten seriously, after a van plowed into a crowd of people in the center of Barcelona, Spain in a terror attack, according to police sources at the scene.
Local media reports have said two armed men have fled on foot and barricaded themselves in a nearby restaurant where a hostage situation is currently developing; other reports have said just one attacker has taken refuge in the bar.
Police officers have evacuated nearby streets, which are part of the popular Las Ramblas area, and confirmed there have been multiple fatalities.
Pictures from the scene showed police helping people injured in what has been described as a ‘massive crash’. People are now taking shelter in local shops and cafes, according to local reports.
 Reports say that a Spanish passport of a man with a Moroccan name was found inside the van. The area has now been cordoned off and local metro stations are closed.
One eyewitness said: “We have seen people lying on the ground, the police told us to leave quickly.”
Eyewitness Ethan Spibey told Sky News: ‘It was real chaos, people started running, screaming. There was a loud bang.’
Another witness, Aamer Anwar, said: “All of a sudden, I just sort of heard a crashing noise and the whole street just started to run, screaming. I saw a woman right next to me screaming for her kids. “Police were very, very quickly there, police officers with guns, batons, everywhere. Then the whole street started getting pushed back.”
In recent weeks, threatening graffiti against tourists has appeared in Barcelona, which draws at least eleven million visitors a year.
In one video, released under the slogan “tourism kills neighborhoods”, several hooded individuals stopped a tourist bus in Barcelona, slashed the tires and spray-painted the windscreen.
Since July 2016 a number of vehicles have been driven into crowds in a series of attacks across Europe, killing well over a hundred people in Nice, France, Berlin, Germany, London, England, and Stockholm, Sweden.
Las Ramblas is a popular shopping street in the center of Barcelona and one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations.
Rico says it's like roaches, you gotta kill 'em all...

16 August 2017

Why the Trump Advisory Forum really disbanded

Fortune has an article by Valentina Zarya about the real reason Trump's CEOs quit:

On Wednesday, President Trump announced that he was "ending" two of his business advisory councils: a manufacturing initiative and a strategy forum.
The tweet with the news came after the latter reportedly decided to disband on its own, a chain of events confirmed by a letter IBM CEO Ginni Rometty sent her employees the same day:
The group "can no longer serve the purpose for which it was formed," the executive wrote. "Earlier today I spoke with other members of the Forum , and we agreed to disband the group."
Members of the group, which was led by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, included other chiefs of major US corporations, among them PepsiCo's Indra Nooyi and BlackRock's Larry Fink.
The decision came the day after Trump reaffirmed early remarks that a white supremacist rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend was the fault of "both sides" and three days after he initially refrained from denouncing neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups by name.
In her memo, Rometty characterized the rally as "despicable conduct" by "hate groups."
Below is her full letter to IBM's four hundred thousand employees:
Team: By now, you’ve seen the news that we have disbanded the President’s Strategy and Policy Forum. In the past week , we have seen and heard of public events and statements that run counter to our values as a country and a company. IBM has long said, and more importantly, demonstrated its commitment to a workplace and a society that is open, inclusive and provides opportunity to all. IBM’s commitment to these values remains robust, active and unwavering.
The despicable conduct of hate groups in Charlottesville last weekend, and the violence and death that resulted from it, shows yet again that our nation needs to focus on unity, inclusion, and tolerance. For more than a century and in nearly two hundred countries, IBM has been committed to these values.
Engagement is part of our history, too. We have worked with every American president since Woodrow Wilson. We are determinedly non-partisan, and we maintain no political action committee. We have always believed that dialogue is critical to progress; that is why I joined the President’s Forum earlier this year.
But this group can no longer serve the purpose for which it was formed. Earlier today I spoke with other members of the Forum and we agreed to disband the group. IBM will continue to work with all parts of the government for policies that support job growth, vocational education, and global trade, as well as fair and informed policies on immigration and taxation.
Rico says that Trump's view of reality is, of course, different...

Apple iOS 11 Preview: A Speed Boost For The iPad | Time.com


Sent from my iPad

Irish goodbye UF

Rico says he's done it, but good to know what to call it:

What is an Irish Goodbye?The “Irish goodbye” or “French exit”— not be confused with “ghosting”— is the act of leaving an event without actually telling everyone that you’re leaving. You just go. Sound rude? It’s not.
To understand the Irish goodbye, you have to understand why it came to be. As Cahir O’Doherty explains at Irish Central, Irish goodbyes are simply the opposite of Irish welcomes. You see, the Irish are famous for being extremely hospitable. So hospitable, in fact, it can be a bit overwhelming. You’re offered something to drink, something to eat, and constantly being taken care of. This kind of hospitality translates to an extremely long farewell, like this example:
“Are you leaving us? Ah, you’re leaving us. Would you like a cup of tea? Would you like a biscuit? There are leftovers. I have Tupperware and tinfoil, sure we’ll put it in that. It’s no trouble. And a custard cream. We’ll put it in the bag, sure. No, we’ll put it in your pocket. Say nothing. And take this and this and this and this and this and this and this. And let me hold your coat. Is this your coat? Is this or this or this or this or this or this your coat? Look-it, it’s raining. Stay until it stops raining. I am not letting you go and it’s raining...”
So, when you think about it, Irish goodbyes aren’t rude, they’re actually pretty considerate. You’re sparing your host the trouble of giving you a long farewell, you’re not interrupting people’s conversations with an egotistical “Goodbye everyone! Stop what you’re doing and look at me!”, and you avoid wasting anyone’s time making plans you’ll never follow through with. Besides, nobody cares if you leave. The party will go on without you. 
How to Do an Irish Goodbye Properly
While Irish goodbyes aren’t inherently rude, you still have to do them right. Some scenarios aren’t meant for the Irish goodbye, for example. They’re best used for exiting parties, and perhaps some work events, but probably not when you’re visiting grandma or having an intimate dinner with friends. Here’s how to do it:
Plan ahead, if you can: If you know you’ll be pulling an Irish goodbye, think about your exit strategy. Don’t bring anything you’ll need to retrieve before you leave, like coats, plates, games, etc. And make sure you pay your tab first. Don’t stick anyone else with the bill.
Pick an exit: When you’re ready to go, look for a route that’s out of the way and won’t draw attention.
Let someone know: You don’t have to completely disappear for this to work. It’s okay to tell a close friend you’re taking off so no one starts to worry about you. A text works too.
Ninja vanish: Disappear into the night and make your way home (or wherever it is you’re headed).
If that all still feels too impolite for your tastes, you can always send a thank you email or text the next day. Or make your exit, then send a text once you’ve gone. They’ll understand, trust me. And if someone sends you a “Where r u?” text, be nice and respond. And that’s it! The Irish goodbye is easy as pie.

The I word

Laura Bradley, a Hollywood writer for VanityFair.com, who was formerly an editorial assistant at Slate and lives in Brooklyn, New York, has the story from Vanity Fair:

On Tuesday afternoon, Donald Trump once again had a meltdown so egregious that late-night hosts were forced to re-write their monologues in the minutes between its end and their shows’ tapings. Seth Meyers issued another harsh rebuke of the president’s unhinged press conference Tuesday night, but the most in-depth criticism came from Stephen Colbert, whose team re-wrote his entire monologue in less than an hour and left no Trump comment un-mocked.
Trump was supposed to simply read a written statement during the press conference; as Colbert noted, he could even be seen taking that statement out of his pocket. We never heard what it said, but Colbert guessed it was something along the lines of “Hello, everyone. Today, we are going to see me give the strongest argument for my impeachment yet.”
On Trump’s insistence that there’s “blame on both sides, and I have no doubt about it, and you don’t have any doubt about it, either”, Colbert said that “the only thing I’m doubting right now is whether you’re still going to be president by Friday, because what the hell are you talking about?!”

On Trump’s assertion that there were plenty of peaceful protesters “the night before” the rally:
“Okay, uh, the night before. Let’s take a look at the night before. Yep, just your average friendly, civic-minded torch-wielding mob. You know, probably holding the torches so everyone could see them point out all the good people there.”
On Trump’s concern that taking down statues of other slave-holders, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, would re-write history:
“Spoken like a guy who’s suspiciously worried that racist presidents don’t get statues anymore,” Colbert quipped. “Yes, taking down a statue is totally changing history. Because the main way anybody learns about history is through statue-based study. That’s how we know that Abraham Lincoln was twenty feet tall and loved sitting down.”
“They had a permit!” “Folks, you’ve got to give it to the Nazis, they always do their paperwork. Very punctual.”

Colbert and Meyers weren’t the only comedians to call out the president, of course. Jimmy Kimmel also spent his entire monologue addressing the press conference, and he finished by speaking directly to Trump voters:
“First of all, I want to say, I get it,” he said. “I actually do. You were unhappy with the way things were going; you wanted someone to come in and shake things up. Every day there’s something nuts, but you’ve been trying to ignore it because you don’t want to admit to those smug, annoying liberals that they were right. That’s the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, deep down inside, you know you made a mistake. You know you picked the wrong guy. And it isn’t getting better. It’s getting worse. So you can do one of two things: you can dig in like Chris Christie at a hometown buffet, or you can treat this situation like you would if you put Star Wars wallpaper up in the kitchen: ‘All right, I got caught up, I was excited; I made a mistake, and it needs to go.’ Well, now he does need to go, so it’s time for you who voted for him to tell him to go.”
On The Late Late Show, James Corden offered his own blow-by-blow, including this astute remark about the President’s grave miscalculation: “Apparently Trump went off-script and improvised all of these remarks during a press conference that was about infrastructure, which is terrible, because I’m pretty sure the first rule of infrastructure is whatever you do, do not burn bridges.”

Rico says he hopes Colbert is right, otherwise we gotta do it the hard way:

Trump again

Yahoo has an article via Reuters about the latest petulance by The Donald:

President Donald Trump dismantled two CEO advisory panels on Wednesday as a growing number of chief executives announced their resignations following his response to a weekend of violence in Charlottesville, Virginia that stoked racial tensions nationwide.
"Rather than putting pressure on the businesspeople of the Manufacturing Council & Strategy and The Policy Forum, I am ending both. Thank you all!" Trump wrote on Twitter.
Adding to a growing list of others, the CEO of 3M announced he is resigning from President Donald Trump's Manufacturing Advisory CouncilInge Thulin, chairman of the board and president and CEO for 3M, said in a statement that "I joined the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative in January to advocate for policies that align with our values and encourage even stronger investment and job growth in order to make the United States stronger, healthier, and more prosperous for all people. After careful consideration, I believe the initiative is no longer an effective vehicle for 3M to advance these goals. As a result, today I am resigning from the Manufacturing Advisory Council."
Thulin was the sixth to drop out of Trump's council in recent days, responding to the President's remarks on the events in Charlottesville over the weekend. Denise Morrison, CEO of Campbell's Soup, announced her resignation shortly after Thulin.
Roughly an hour later, the resignations were rendered moot, as Trump tweeted he was ending both the manufacturing council and the strategy and policy forum.

Rico says that, as the saying goes, is closing the barn door behind the horse...

Craig as Bond, again

In an interview aired on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on Tuesday, Daniel Craig finally confirmed he will return for a fifth James Bond movie. “I think this is it,” said Craig, who has been playing Agent 007 since 2006’s Casino Royale. “I just want to go out on a high note. I can’t wait.” As VF.com’s Julie Miller writes, Craig first set off alarms in 2015, when he told a reporter he would “rather break this glass and slash my wrists” than reprise his role as 007. Craig explained his 2015 comment to Colbert by saying, “There’s no point making excuses about it, but it was two days after I had finished shooting the last movie and I went straight to an interview where someone asked, ‘Would you do another one?’ and I went, ‘No!’ Instead of saying something with style and grace, I said something really stupid.”
Hey, it happens. Who hasn’t complained about the burden of carrying a five billion dollar franchise? The leather on those Aston Martin seats must really chafe! We’ll be chilling one final martini glass for Craig in the as yet untitled 25th James Bond movie, due on 8 November 2019.
Rico says he will, of course, see it.

Baltimore, sneaky as ever

The Associated Press has an article about Baltimore, Maryland's solution to the Confederate statue problem:

Confederate monuments in Baltimore were quietly removed and hauled away on trucks in darkness early Wednesday, days after a violent white nationalist rally in Virginia that was sparked by plans to take down a similar statue there.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh told The Baltimore Sun that crews began removing the city's four Confederate monuments late Tuesday and finished at 0530 on Wednesday. "It's done," Pugh told the newspaper. "They needed to come down. My concern is for the safety and security of our people. We moved as quickly as we could."
Video taken by WBAL-TV shows workers using a crane to lift the towering monument to Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson onto a flatbed truck in the dark.
Pugh said Monday that she had contacted two contractors about removing the monuments, but declined to say when they would come down, saying she wanted to prevent the kind of violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia. Pugh said at the time that she wants the statues to be placed in Confederate cemeteries elsewhere in Maryland.
A commission appointed by the previous mayor recommended removing a monument to Marylander Roger B. Taney, the Supreme Court justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision denying citizenship to African-Americans, as well as a statue of two Virginians, the Confederate generals Lee and Jackson.
Instead, former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake put up signs calling them propaganda designed to falsify history and support racial intimidation.
Baltimore's swift removal of the monuments comes days after what is believed to be the largest gathering of white supremacists in a decade, including neo-Nazis, skinheads, and Ku Klux Klan members. They descended on Charlottesville, Virginia for a rally prompted by the city's decision to remove a monument to Lee. Violent clashes broke out between white nationalists and counter-protesters and a woman was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people who were there to condemn the white nationalists. A memorial service for Heather Heyer is scheduled for Wednesday morning at a downtown Charlottesville theater.
Rico says that's a quieter way...

The real Curly Bill

Rico says that Powers Boothe (photo, top) was, of course, better looking than the real Curly Bill (photo bottom, at center), as is common with Old West characters:

Rico says that his cowboy persona, based on Lee Marvin as Henry 'Rico' Fardan in The Professionals, is not as handsome as Marvin was, either...

Bushes, father and son, weigh in on Charlottesville

Yahoo has an article by Oliver Knox about two former presidents:

Former President George H.W. Bush (photo, left) and former President George W. Bush (photo, right), in a rare joint statement, declared Wednesday that Americans must reject “hatred in all its forms” in the aftermath of the white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“America must always reject racial bigotry, anti-Semitism, and hatred in all forms,” the father-son duo said in the statement, released by both their offices. “As we pray for Charlottesville, we are reminded of the fundamental truths recorded by that city’s most prominent citizen in the Declaration of Independence: we are all created equal and endowed by our Creator with unalienable rights,” they said, in a reference to Thomas Jefferson. “We know these truths to be everlasting because we have seen the decency and greatness of our country.”
The combined message came a day after President Trump said there was “blame on both sides” in Charlottesville, where a young woman was killed when a white supremacist deliberately drove his car into a group of counter-protesters. The Unite The Right forces also clashed with so-called antifascist counter-protesters. Some prominent Republicans have broken sharply with Trump, while white nationalists have cheered him on.
Joint statements from the Bushes are rare, though they have released at least one before, in 2013, after former Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci died, according to the elder Bush’s office.
Rico says it's nice to see them on the correct side (they were always on the right side) of things, for once.

Idiot for the day

Proving yet again that actors shouldn't try and advocate anything, James Woods weighs in on the Confederate statue tizzy:
Conservative actor James Woods is monumentally unhappy that Confederate statues are being taken down. The movement to destroy these monuments has gained attention following the violent clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists rallied against the planned displacement of a General Robert E. Lee statue.
The Ghosts of Mississippi actor took to Twitter on Monday to insult #liberals, using the Marine Corps War Memorial to make his point: before the #liberals find a reason to deface, destroy or degrade this one, I thought some of you might like to see it one more time...
Let’s just say that it touched off a bit of a war that was not civil. Here are some of the 93 replies back at Woods:
I too am unable to recognize a difference between the heroes who defeated Fascism and the rancid losers who lost trying to preserve slavery.
Hi I'm conservative dipshit James Woods, and every single statue means the same thing to me. Someone please take me seriously.
You're an asshole. Don't ever compare Marines to Confederate traitors.
Our Marine Corps will never allow that to happen. This is more than a monument. It is every man and woman who has served. God bless the USA!
Don't give in to his rhetoric, liberals wouldn't touch this. For starters, it's not commemorating the owning, beating, and murder of people.
Marine here. Important difference between statue of Marines & a corpsman at Iwo Jima versus Confederate statues: one is of Americans, one is of traitors.
It's not 1997 anymore, James. You can stop playing Hades.
When was your last audition?
Rico says he, too, wonders what Woods is up to these days...

Trump for the day

The Slatest has an article by Jim Newell about The Donald:

Donald Trump's press conference about his infrastructure plans quickly deteriorated into a defense of his initial response to the violent Charlottesville, Virginia, march, as well as of some of the marchers.
When Trump first started taking questions at Trump Tower this afternoon, he argued that his Saturday statement was vague in assigning blame because "unlike you, and unlike the media, before I make a statement, I like to know the facts". Once he knew the facts, he said, of course he was willing to condemn the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists.
When reporters began to ask about whether the alt-right was behind the Charlottesville bloodshed, though, Trump unleashed a torrent of both-sides whataboutism and crankery.
"What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?" he asked.
And then the President of the United States began to defend some of the marchers, which gave way to a slippery slope argument about what happens if you begin removing statues of Robert E. Lee:
But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists, by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee. You look at some of the groups and you see, if you are honest reporters, which in many cases you are not, but many of the people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. This week it's Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. Is it George Washington next week, and Jefferson the week after?
Trump added that there were "some very fine people on both sides" at the protest, and that there was a peaceful march the night before.
Oh yeah, those good ol' marchers on Friday night.
So it seems like our President is back in Saturday statement mode. It's almost like he never really left it, despite his clean-up on Monday.
At least some people are happy, like David Duke... 
Rico says he's so proud of the fact that he did not vote for this guy (but he's sorry Hillary didn't win). But it still makes him gag to see 'Trump' and 'President of the United States' in the same sentence...

History for the day: 1896: Gold is discovered in the Yukon

History.com has this for 16 August:

While salmon fishing near the Klondike River in Canada’s Yukon Territory on 16 August 1896, George Carmack reportedly spots nuggets of gold in a creek bed. His lucky discovery sparks the last great gold rush in the American West.
Hoping to cash in on reported gold strikes in Alaska, Carmack had traveled there from California in 1881. After running into a dead end, he headed north into the isolated Yukon Territory, just across the Canadian border. In 1896, another prospector, Robert Henderson, told Carmack of finding gold in a tributary of the Klondike River. Carmack headed to the region with two Native American companions, known as Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie. On 16 August, while camping near Rabbit Creek, Carmack reportedly spotted a nugget of gold jutting out from the creek bank. His two companions later agreed that Skookum JimCarmack’s brother-in-law– actually made the discovery.
Regardless of who spotted the gold first, the three men soon found that the rock near the creek bed was thick with gold deposits. They staked their claim the following day. News of the gold strike spread fast across Canada and the United States, and over the next two years, as many as fifty thousand would-be miners arrived in the region. Rabbit Creek was renamed Bonanza, and even more gold was discovered in another Klondike tributary, dubbed Eldorado.
Klondike Fever reached its height in the United States in mid-July of 1897 when two steamships arrived from the Yukon in San Francisco, California and Seattle, Washington, bringing a total of more than two tons of gold. Thousands of eager young men bought elaborate “Yukon outfits” (kits assembled by clever marketers containing food, clothing, tools, and other necessary equipment) and set out on their way north. Few of these would find what they were looking for, as most of the land in the region had already been claimed. One of the unsuccessful gold-seekers was twenty-year-old Jack London, whose short stories based on his Klondike experience became his first book, The Son of the Wolf , published in 1900.
For his part, Carmack became rich off his discovery, leaving the Yukon with a million dollars worth of gold. Many individual gold miners in the Klondike eventually sold their stakes to mining companies, who had the resources and machinery to access more gold. Large-scale gold mining in the Yukon Territory didn’t end until 1966, and, by that time, the region had yielded some quarter billion dollars in gold. Today, some two hundred small gold mines still operate in the region.
Rico says it changed Alaska, fer sure...

15 August 2017

Watching the eclipse

Rico says he'll be watching it on television, safely.

Trump for the day

Time has an article by David Johnson about The Donald:
President Trump's approval rating sank to 34% over the weekend, the lowest it's been since he took office. The rating, based on Gallup polling data from Friday, Saturday and Sunday, came after a week in which Trump threatened North Korea with "fire and fury", amid escalating tensions. Some of the polling data was collected after violence broke out at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, and Trump faced criticism for not directly condemning the racist groups that organized the demonstration. (He more explicitly denounced white supremacists and neo-Nazi sympathizers on Monday.) Previously, Trump's lowest approval rating since taking office had been 35% in late March.
Since Gallup began presidential approval polls in 1945, six presidents have seen as low or lower approval ratings than Trump during their overall time in office: Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush.
However, Trump's first six months in office have been marked by some of the lowest early approval ratings of any President in modern history. In the graph here, you can compare Trump’s approval ratings over his first two hundred days with those of presidents dating back to Truman, when Gallup began the presidential approval poll:

Rico says he's down around where Obama, Clinton, and Nixon were...

Quote for the day

From an article in Men's Journal about Ken Burns:
"As one of our Marines in the film about Vietnam says, we didn't get to be the dominant species on the planet because we're nice."
Rico says he couldn't agree more...

Rio, after the Olympics

Adam Clark Estes has a Gizmodo article about the post-Olympics condition of Rio de Janiero, Brazil:

The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro were doomed from the start. Some daft optimists thought that maybe, just maybe, if we just believed in Brazil, the politicians would pull through on their promises that the games would lift the city up to a new level of prosperity. But, a year later, the opposite is true.
Reports from Rio are flowing in as we mark the one-year anniversary of the Olympics, and, boy, are they bleak. A couple weeks ago, Brazil’s government deployed nine thousand troops in the city to fight increasingly violent organized crime gangs. Rodrigo Maja, speaker of Brazil’s equivalent of the House of Representatives, recently told the press, “We have completely lost control of public security in Rio.”
This is exactly what was not supposed to happen. Leading up to the Olympics, security officials in Rio attempted a new policy called Pacification, intended to de-escalate tension between police and the gangs. It now looks like the strategy made things worse, as the number of deaths during police raids has doubled in the past four years. Local residents of the favelas say they’ve heard shootouts every single day of 2017.
That’s only the beginning. Improvements made for the Olympics, including the construction of multiple world class athletic stadiums, were supposed to be converted into public facilities. That didn’t happen. ESPN just published a lengthy feature on Brazil’s broken promises a year after the games, and the details are downright disturbing:
While 15 of the original 27 venues have hosted some sort of event since the Games, others sit largely abandoned, their decay and disrepair a constant reminder of what was meant to be. Even the iconic soccer stadium, the Maracanã, has been vandalized, and had its power shut off completely after amassing a $950,000 electric bill.
Here’s an aerial view of the Olympic Park which does, indeed, look quite abandoned:

The Olympic Park, one year after the Olympics
The situation gets worse, too:
Deodoro Olympic Park, long hailed by Brazilian politicians and Olympic proponents as a path to upgrade one of Rio’s poorer neighborhoods, is shuttered. The community pool that was supposed to come out of the canoe slalom course was closed in December and has yet to re-open. Brazil’s Federal Court of Audit (TCU) reported last week that another abandoned pool, at the Deodoro Aquatics Center, is now covered in bugs, mud and rodent feces. A Deodoro elevator once used to lift fans over a busy road now leads to nowhere.
Rio’s new mayor, Marcelo Crivella, has scrapped plans to turn the handball arena into four public schools. And the thirty towers that made up the athletes village, which were set to be transformed into luxury condos, now sit largely vacant:

While it’s hard to identify one specific reason for Rio’s failure to follow through on the commitments made leading up to the games, it’s easy to blame the politicians. At the exact same time the Olympics were unfolding, the largest government bribery scandal in Brazil’s history was unfolding behind the scenes. The aptly named “Operation Car Wash” investigation ultimately put over 200 top-level officials in the crosshairs. Even the once beloved Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ended up being convicted and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison over $5 billion in bribes. That’s billion with a “b.”

The athletes’ village sits abandoned (above), despite plans to turn the buildings into luxury condos.
That’s just scratching the surface of Brazil’s post-Olympic woes. That ESPN story goes into more detail about individual athletes in Brazil who were promised fame and fortune after winning medals in Rio last year. Now some of them say they’re worse off than they were before the games, not only losing more competitions but also losing sponsors and income.
We all saw this coming. Months before they even started, the Rio Olympics seemed doomed by corruption, scandals, poop, crime, and freaking Zika. And once they did start, everything seemed to go wrong, including the athletes’ village being deemed “uninhabitable” and the suspension of the diving competition due to the pool spontaneously turning into a green pit of sludge.
After six months, the Olympic venues had already started to decay. It’s simply tragic to know that things are worse than ever now. It’s even more tragic to realize that things will probably get even worse.
Rico says he wasn't going, anyway...

Trump for the day

Abigail Tracy, a staff news writer for the Hive covering Silicon Valley, Wall Street and Washington, has a Vanity Fair article about The Donald:

As the White House struggles to contain the North Korean nuclear threat and the fallout from a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that left three dead, Donald Trump is racing toward a legislative deadline that could upend the world economy. Congress must pass a new budget by 30 September 2017 to avoid a government shutdown, and it is also under pressure to approve a debt-ceiling hike that would allow the United States to continue paying its bills and forestall a potential financial crisis. The Trump administration has called for the “cleanest possible” increase tied to a continuing resolution to keep the government funded. But Republicans, who control both houses and the presidency for the first time in a decade, aren’t eager to let a potential crisis go to waste. “We just don't think that's the right approach,” one Freedom Caucus source told CBS News. “Why, when we have Republicans in the House, the Senate, and the White House, are we doing what we criticized Democrats for doing for eight years, which is just clean raising of the debt ceiling without big structural reforms?”
Debt-ceiling showdowns were complicated enough in past years, when President Barack Obama frequently clashed with Republicans over raising the government’s statutory borrowing limit. But the Trump White House has been uniquely inept when it comes to dealing with Congress, or hitting any of the self-imposed arbitrary deadlines it set for itself on Obamacare repeal and tax reform. Both efforts have lurched along for months with little to show except for worsening relations between Trump and the Republican leadership, which he has attacked in recent days as a “disgrace”. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that “our new president, of course, has not been in this line of work before, and, I think, had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.” Trump’s “artificial deadlines,” he added, haven’t helped.
Trump may yet make matters worse. Politico reports that the White House is still debating spending levels for the budget, even as the president’s priorities are all over the place. Trump is likely to pan any budget that doesn’t allocate funding for the United States-Mexico border wall or immigration. At the same time, the White House is gearing up for another infrastructure push, holding a tax- reform event, and continuing to push senators to return to the negotiating table over health care. All four initiatives will likely run into difficulty with the House Freedom Caucus and other conservative coalitions that are agitating for a fight over spending cuts, linked to the debt ceiling, in a potentially disastrous replay of the Obamacare fight that divided the Republicans last month. “The stakes are very high in September,” Jenny Beth Martin, the leader of the Tea Party Patriots, a conservative grassroots organization, told Politico. There is a lot to do in a very short time.”
The West Wing is publicly hopeful that September will mark a turning point for the administration. Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, and Gary Cohn, Trump’s economic adviser, are reportedly hoping to tackle the debt ceiling and the budget as quickly as possible, so as to move on to tax reform, where Trump could score a major win. “Our view is it’s all about tax reform,” Scott Reed, the chief strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview with Politico. “Success would help turn the page on all the drama of the White House so far.”
Privately, however, aides recognize that the next month could be the toughest of Trump’s presidency. “Senior officials have described the coming month as ‘brutal’, ‘bad’, or ‘really tough’ because of the confluence of complicated issues,” Politico’s Josh Dawsey reports. While a White House spokesperson said that there “shouldn’t have to be a choice” between the president’s “commitment to getting health care, tax reform, and infrastructure passed in Congress,” the reality is that Trump needs to lower his expectations for what is possible if he wants to focus on clearing the critical debt-ceiling hurdle without triggering the kind of financial panic that threatened Obama in 2011, the most volatile week for Wall Street since 2008.
According to Dawsey, “Trump’s aides have prepared lengthy memos and presentations on the legislative calendar” for next week to hammer out how he plans to proceed. But with Trump’s own team divided between nationalists and “globalists”, populists and moderates, it’s not clear whether the president will receive a unified message. His feuds with the Republican leadership are mounting just as Robert Mueller’s FBI probe is escalating and the North Korean crisis is coming to a head. With his propensity to blame Congress rather than work with his party to resolve issues, it remains to be seen whether Trump can rise above his own ego to focus on the granular political tradeoffs and policy minutiae necessary help strike a deal to keep the government open and solvent.

Rico says that Trump can't 'rise above his own ego'...
Rico's friend Kelley forwards this about Charlottesville:

History for the day: 1969: Woodstock

Rico says he lived in California, and didn't go. Liked the movie, though.

14 August 2017

Justice, a buck's worth

Yahoo has an Associated Press article by James Anderson and Tatiana Flowers about the Taylor Swift 'groping' trial:
Taylor Swift (photo) won $1 and long-awaited vindication after a jury decided that a radio host had groped her during a pre-concert photo op four years ago.
After a weeklong trial over dueling lawsuits, jurors determined that fired Denver DJ David Mueller assaulted the pop star by grabbing her backside during a backstage meet-and-greet. The six-woman, two-man jury also found that Swift's mother and radio liaison were within their rights to contact Mueller's bosses.
Mueller sued the Swifts and their radio handler, Frank Bell, seeking up to three million dollars for his ruined career. Just before closing arguments, the judge dismissed Taylor Swift from Mueller's lawsuit, saying he had failed to prove that she sought to get Mueller fired or had any reason to believe that someone else may have assaulted her. US District Judge William Martinez also drastically reduced the amount Mueller could collect.
The singer-songwriter said in her countersuit that she wanted a symbolic dollar and the chance to stand up for other women.
Testimony showed that Swift reported the incident to her mother and others on her team, but that she never sought any specific action regarding Mueller.
From the start, Swift's side portrayed the encounter as a clear case of sexual assault, even though they never reported it to police. Her mother tearfully testified that she asked Bell to reach out to Mueller's employers at country station KYGO-FM instead, because they wanted to handle the matter quietly and avoid exposing the singer-songwriter to publicity.
Bell contacted a station vice president and asked for an investigation of Mueller's conduct. He also sent the station executive a photo taken of Swift, Mueller, and Mueller's then-girlfriend at the meet-and-greet.
In a fiery hourlong stint on the witness stand last week, Swift blasted a low-key characterization by Mueller's attorney, Gabriel McFarland, of what happened. While Mueller testified he never grabbed Swift, she insisted she was groped. "He stayed attached to my bare ass-cheek as I lurched away from him," Swift testified. "It was a definite grab. A very long grab," she added.
Mueller emphatically denied reaching under the pop star's skirt or otherwise touching her inappropriately, insisting he touched only her ribs and may have brushed the outside of her skirt as they awkwardly posed for the picture.
That photo was virtually the evidence besides the testimony. In the image shown to jurors during opening statements but not publicly released, Mueller's hand is behind Swift, just below her waist. Both are smiling. Mueller's then-girlfriend is standing on the other side of Swift.
Swift testified that, after she was groped, she numbly told Mueller and his girlfriend, "Thank you for coming," and moved on to photos with others waiting in line because she did not want to disappoint them.
But she said she immediately went to her photographer after the meet-and-greet ended and found the photo of her with Mueller, telling the photographer what happened.
Andrea Swift testified that she asked Bell to call Mueller's employers. They did not call the police to avoid further traumatizing her daughter, she said.
"We absolutely wanted to keep it private, but we didn't want him to get away with it," Andrea Swift testified.
Bell said he emailed the photo to Robert Call, KYGO's general manager, for use in Call's investigation of Mueller. He said he didn't ask that Mueller be fired but that "appropriate action be taken."
Rico says that, from the photos, it was a foregone conclusion...

Trump for the day

Dylan Stableford, a senior editor for Yahoo News, has an article about Trump:

President Trump delivered a statement from the White House on Monday, explicitly condemning violent white supremacists (video above).
“Racism is evil,” Trump said from the White House Diplomatic Room. “And those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear. As I have said many times before, no matter the color of our skin, we all live under the same laws,” the President said. “We all salute the same great flag. And we are all made by the same almighty God.”
The comments came after Trump was widely criticized for only knocking violence from “many sides” at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a car was driven into a crowd of counter-potesters, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring nineteen other people. Two Virginia state troopers were also killed when their police helicopter crashed nearby. In his initial remarks Saturday, Trump did not explicitly call out neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, or other self-identified white supremacists there.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides,” the President said during a previously scheduled press event at his golf club in New Jersey. “On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time. It has no place in America.”
On Sunday, the White House attempted to clarify Trump’s message, saying that the president “condemns all forms of violence”, including hate groups.
“The President said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred,” read the statement issued by an unnamed White House spokesperson. “Of course that includes white supremacists, the KKK, neo-Nazis, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”
But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle blasted Trump for not explicitly condemning the white supremacists involved.
“It’s very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, tweeted.
“We reject the racism and violence of white nationalists like the ones acting out in Charlottesville,” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said in a statement. “Everyone in leadership must speak out.”
“Mr. President, we must call evil by its name,” Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, added. “These were white supremacists, and this was domestic terrorism.”
In his statement Monday, Trump did not use the word “terrorism” to describe the car attack in Charlottesville.
Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer said Trump bears responsibility for the violence that erupted in his city.
“Look at the campaign he ran,” Signer said in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday. “I mean, look at the intentional courting, both on the one hand of all these white supremacists, white nationalists, a group like that, anti-Semitic groups, and then look on the other hand: the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence, you know, put to bed all those different efforts, just like we saw yesterday. I mean, this is not hard.”
On NBC’s Meet the Press, Lieutenant General H.R. McMaster, Trump’s national security adviser, said Trump’s denunciation of hate groups went without saying.
“When he condemned bigotry and hatred on all sides, that includes white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and I think it’s clear,” McMaster said. “I know it’s clear in his mind.”
On Sunday, Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and White House adviser, issued a two-part statement on Twitter denouncing the hate groups. “There should be no place in society for racism, white supremacy and neo-nazis,” she tweeted. She added: “We must all come together as Americans and be one country UNITED.”
Earlier Monday, before delivering his statement denouncing the KKK, Trump lashed out at Kenneth Frazier after the Merck & Co. chief executive resigned from the President’s Manufacturing Council.
“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier said in a statement.
Trump promptly tore into Frazier, tweeting that his resignation will give him more time to “lower ripoff drug prices”. In his tweet, the President did not hesitate to call out Frazier by name.
Rico says that Trump ain't on the side of the angels yet, but he's getting there...

Game of Thrones UF

Rico says it depends on your definition:

These are Roman, which seems appropriate...

Rob Bricken has a Gizmodo article about the show, titled On Game of Thrones, the Cracks Are Beginning to Show:

I wish I meant that there are cracks showing on the stoic facades of the rival queens, or the troubled relationships between siblings, or between the massive, but fractured partnership that forms at the end of the episode. Instead, I mean the TV series itself—because last night there were too many problems to ignore.
If Game of Thrones started its sprint to the season seven finish line in Stormborn, then Eastwatch is the episode where the show stumbled, fell down, and scrambled madly in an attempt to maintain its top speed. It was often sloppy and it was frequently shoddy, but man did it still move the story along as quick as it possibly could, no matter what the cost.
And there were costs. There were several interesting things in the episode that would have been wonderful if the show could have explored in more depth, as it has in the past. Daenerys has listened to Tyrion, Varys, and even Jon Snow’s pitches about how to lead the world and make it a better place for all people (i.e. peasants). Now Daenerys takes all the Lannister prisoners from the battle, and ask them if they want to bend the knee and help make the world a better, kinder place for everyone with her or if they want to die horribly. (Sam Tarly’s horrible father and reasonable-seeming brother Dickon choose dying horribly.)
After failing to convince his Queen that a more merciful, less deadly approach may be called for, Tyrion—already shaken by the sheer destructive power of the dragons, seen while he walks through the ashes of the battlefield—heads straight for the wine, and even Varys takes a drink, as they contemplate Dany’s “join me or die” approach. They don’t think she’s a new Mad King, but the fact they feel the need to bring it up at all is telling. But they have hope Dany can be advised to become a more merciful, less murder-y queen—but they’re a hell of a lot less sure than they were before they left Essos. Is Daenerys really the savior the people of Westeros need?
As for the other queen, Cersei isn’t pretending she’s going to make the world a better place for anyone but the people she loves… and she’s not even sure about them. After Bronn leads Jaime to a surprise meeting with Tyrion—another reunion that could have used some more time!—Jaime goes up to his sister to tell her about the armistice Daenerys is offering. But, thanks to Qyburn, Cersei knew about the meeting, and greets Jaime as the queen, not the sister who loves him.
She talks with utterly fake-pleasantness about how Bronn betrayed Jaime, how Jaime betrayed her, how Tyrion murdered their father and son—as which point Jaime corrects her, revealing that Olenna Tyrell confessed to poisoning Joffrey. Cersei drops her mask, infuriated that Olenna was killed quickly and painlessly instead of torturously, despite the fact Cersei had already murdered the rest of her family. But Cersei recovers to tell Jaime the good news—she’s having another baby, and this time she’s going to tell everyone who the real father is. Jaime is genuinely choked up at the idea that he will publically have a child… which is when Cersei threatens him to never betray her again. Count how many times Cersei says “betray” in this scene—and you can see her mask crack a little more each time, revealing someone who will happily watch all of King’s Landing burn rather than let her “enemies” win.
There could have been interesting scenes like these, except the show just couldn’t be bothered to give them some time. Tyrion’s tense, tearful secret meeting with Jaime was more of an uber-brief plot-dump than anything else. Jorah’s triumphant return to his khaleesi was blah, especially because he immediately left with Jon Snow for the North. Even beyond the bare hints of the love-triangle between them—it’s basically only Jon and Jorah giving each other the mildest of side-eyes when the other is looking at Dany—they’re two wildly different characters. It would be cool to watch them interact together, get to know each other more.
Especially when Davos and Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s bastard son, whom Davos found (Was there a “still rowing” joke? There was!) and who immediately decided he wanted to travel with these cool new guys Davos knows north of the Wall to capture a wight to convince Cersei (and Daenerys, let’s be real) that the army of the dead exists. Like, even just a single scene of them on a ship together, just measuring each other up. But nope! They all travel to Eastwatch together off-screen, where they meet up with Tormund Giantsbane… and also find Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and Sandor Clegane, waiting for them, too. The time for them all to decide to head beyond the Wall together to find a wight, despite the fact many of them hate each other a great deal: about two minutes.
This show’s utteral refusal—it was so harried last night it almost felt like fear—to never stand still for a moment is producing ridiculous results. Case in point: The show flat-out began with Bronn hauling the fully armored Jaime out of the lake on the far side, and they’re both only mildly exerted by traveling 40 or so feet underwater. The show doesn’t even bother trying to explain away the impossibility of this, apparently fully content to have had a cool cliffhanger in the previous episode over something that makes any sort of sense.
There was the immensely aggravating scene of Sam at the Citadel; first he just happens to be bringing busywork into a room with the maesters are discussing and summarily dismissing a note from Bran and his maester about an army of the dead is just outside the Wall. Sam gives a stirring speech about it, about the importance of maesters using their wisdom to help people, about how the threat is real because he’s seen these things himself—and of course he gets dismissed. It’s such a cliché, but it’s less annoying than Sam’s decision to steal about five to 10 seemingly random books, flee Oldtown, and quit Maester school later that night, along with Gily and Lil’ Sam. Unless those books include Fighting White Walkers for Dummies or something—and we have no reason to suspect what they’re all about—Sam just finished a six-episode internship to cure Jorah and clean shit. What a great use of everybody’s time.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, was worse than the bullshit going on in Winterfell. If I may? (clears throat)
Why is Arya giving Sansa shit about ruling Winterfell? They’ve just met again after years of hardships. Perhaps Arya could stay polite a bit longer instead of basically accusing her sister of undermining Jon? Also how is Sansa undermining Jon by reminding all the grumpy lords of the North that yes, Jon is still their king?
Who cares if Sansa wants to rule Winterfell anyway? She’s spent years dealing with rulers and politics and learning how to manipulate people. This is a job she’s incredibly suited for that Jon is terrible at, which we know because not only did he abandon his people to go south to meet with a foreign invader, and instead of going home he then traveled to Eastmarch to personally find an ice zombie despite the fact there are many, many other people who can do that. Jon left a mess, still hasn’t come home to fix it, and Sansa’s trying to keep it all together as best she can—for Jon.
Why is Arya suddenly so terrible at sneaking? Why wouldn’t she at least use someone else’s face when stalking Littlefinger?
Why does that note that Cersei forced Sansa to write to Winterfell against her will, that Ned had been rightfully killed as a traitor, mean anything? Is Arya going to suddenly think Sansa was really happy back in King’s Landing and super-pro-Lannister? That she married Ramsay Bolton for political gain? That’s so dumb it makes my teeth hurt.
Is Littlefinger playing for much more low-stakes discord? That because Arya discovered he hid the letter, she’ll think he must be up to something, tell Sansa, Sansa will get pissed Arya broke into his chambers further driving a wedge between the two sisters? Uh, everyone knows Littlefinger is up to something all the time, especially Sansa. She should see through this shit a mile away.
The final question here isn’t “Is Sansa going to usurp Jon Snow?” It’s “Shouldn’t Sansa usurp Jon Snow?” Jon is so busy trying to save the world—and hey, good on him for that—that he’s not serving the North, and the North is fracturing because of it. The dumb, fickle Lords are already ready to ditch the newest King in the North for someone who actually stays in the North, and clearly a stable, present leader would make the North stronger and more united. Honestly, if Jon doesn’t get home to fulfill his duties as a king, Sansa may be forced to usurp him if she wants to hold the North together at all.

That’s not my point. My point is the show is moving so relentlessly fast that things feel rushed and unearned, scenes and characters aren’t given time to breathe, and the storytelling is suffering as a result—at least when there’s not a dragon to distract us. The show has completely abandoned its pretense of having a reality of time and space, from Jaime’s immediate saving by a Bronn ex machina to the borderline absurd way the episode managed to end with Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and the Hound—few of which have ever met each other—suddenly all going on a mission together to find an ice zombie. Their conflicts were presented as an infodump of all the reasons they don’t like each other, specifically so they can be swept under the rug and they can be shoved out the Wall door before the credits roll. But better that than the poor Stark women, who now have their own conflict thanks to having gotten caught up in Littlefinger’s Scheming 101, as if they had suddenly forgotten Littlefinger taught scheming at Westeros University. These characters know better than this, and I’m afraid the show, in its desire to keep at top speed, is willing to ignore whatever fact/obstacle it thinks might be in it way.
I know this season is almost at an end—only two more episodes!—and season eight will only have six. But while these episodes have all been packed, the craftsmanship seems to be suffering. “Eastwatch” feels like it was an episode made for speed not quality, to get certain characters in certain places and situations for the next round of the Game. I guess my biggest problem is that I’m not convinced in the next episode, they won’t just do it again.
I mean, I had thought the showrunners were racing through these episodes to get to the epic final season, to get everything in place for the Game’s final round. Now I’m thinking they just want to be done playing the game entirely.

Assorted Musings:
One meeting that the show gave all the time in the world: Jon Snow and Drogon becoming best friends. Daenerys is bewildered at how much Drogon is accepting of Jon—maybe even turned on?
In the episode’s needlessly longest scene, Davos and Gendry are trying to get their secret boat ready to go when two guards come and very slowly harass them until they spy Tyrion. This is all just a set-up for Gendry to show off his big hammer and his badass skull-smashing skills. I could practically see the RPG text: “GENDRY (Fighter Lv 7) has joined your party!!!!”
Maybe I was just annoyed at how the episode was progressing, but Gilly’s reading aloud from a “random” section of a maester’s diary about a “Prince Raggar” whose marriage was annulled and a new one held in a secret ceremony in Dorne and Sam of course having zero idea that Gilly had dropped a valuable clue made me incredibly annoyed. It was like Old Town was designed to prevent Sam from learning anything except how to fix Jorah Mormont so he could die in the very near future of something else.

Rico says the picture is of Rico's second favorite dwarf, after Walt Martins, but he has steadfastly (now there's a GoT word) avoided watching it.

Idiot for the day

Yahoo has an Associated Press article about the driver who rammed the crowd in Charlottesville:

An Ohio man accused of ramming his car into a crowd of protesters at a white nationalist rally in Virginia will remain in jail, at least until he has an attorney.
Judge Robert Downer declined to set bond at a hearing Monday for James Alex Fields Jr., who faces second-degree murder and other charges, until he has legal representation.
The judge says the public defenders' office informed him it could not represent Fields because a relative of someone in the office was injured in Saturday's protest. Downer said Charles Weber, a local attorney, will be appointed to represent the twenty-year-old Fields.
The next scheduled court hearing is 25 August 2017, though Fields' attorney could request a bond hearing before then. Fields was not physically present in the courtroom but appeared via video monitor. He was seated and wearing a black and white striped uniform. He answered questions from the judge with simple responses of "Yes, sir" when asked if he understood the judge.
He told the judge, "No, sir" when asked if he had ties to the community of Charlottesville.
Fields is charged in the death of Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville. She died when Fields allegedly slammed his car amid a crowd of people protesting the white nationalist rally Saturday. Fields was arrested shortly after and has been in custody ever since.
Fields was fascinated with Nazism, idolized Adolf Hitler, and had been singled out by school officials in the ninth grade for his "deeply held, radical" convictions on race, a former high school teacher said Sunday. He also confided that he had been diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was younger and had been prescribed an anti-psychotic medication, Derek Weimer said in an interview with The Associated Press.
In high school, Fields was an "average" student, but with a keen interest in military history, Hitler, and Nazi Germany, said Weimer, who said he was Fields' social studies teacher at Randall K. Cooper high school in Union, Kentucky, in Fields' junior and senior years. "Once you talked to James for a while, you would start to see that sympathy towards Nazism, that idolization of Hitler, that belief in white supremacy," Weimer said. "It would start to creep out."
Police say Fields drove his silver Dodge Challenger through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing Heyer and wounding nineteen other people. A Virginia State Police helicopter deployed in a large-scale police response to the violence then crashed into the woods outside of town, and both troopers on board died.
Fields had been photographed hours earlier carrying the emblem of Vanguard America, one of the hate groups that organized the "take America back" campaign in protest of the removal of a Confederate statue. The group on Sunday denied any association with the suspect, even as a separate hate group that organized Saturday's rally pledged on social media to organize future events that would be "bigger than Charlottesville".
The mayor of Charlottesville, political leaders of all political stripes, and activists and community organizers around the country planned rallies, vigils, and education campaigns to combat the hate groups. They also urged President Donald Trump to forcefully denounce the organizations, some of which specifically cited Trump's election after a campaign of racially charged rhetoric as validation of their beliefs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced late Saturday that Federal authorities would pursue a civil rights investigation into the circumstances surrounding the crash.
Weimer recalled that school officials had singled out Fields when he was in the ninth grade for his political beliefs and "deeply held, radical" convictions on race and Nazism.
"It was a known issue," he said. Weimer said Fields left school for a while, and, when he came back, he was quieter about politics until his senior year, when politicians started to declare their candidacy for the 2016 presidential race. Weimer said Fields was a big Trump supporter because of what he believed to be Trump's views on race. Trump's proposal to build a border wall with Mexico was particularly appealing to Fields, Weimer said. Fields also admired the Confederacy for its military prowess, he said, though they never spoke about slavery.
As a senior, Fields wanted to join the army, and Weimer, a former officer in the Ohio National Guard, guided him through the process of applying, he said, believing that the military would expose Fields to people of different races and backgrounds and help him dispel his white supremacist views. But Fields was ultimately turned down, which was a big blow, Weimer said. Weimer said he lost contact with Fields after he graduated and was surprised to hear reports that Fields had enlisted in the Army.
"The Army can confirm that James Alex Fields reported for basic military training in August of 2015, said Army spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Jennifer Johnson. "He was, however, released from active duty due to a failure to meet training standards in December of 2015," she said.
Fields' mother, Samantha Bloom, told The Associated Press late Saturday that she knew her son was going to Virginia for a political rally, but she had no idea it involved white supremacists. "I just told him to be careful," she said, adding she warned him that if there were protests "to make sure he was doing it peacefully."
Rico says too stupid for the National Guard, perfect for white supremacy groups...

13 August 2017

Who knew?

Rico says that it turns out that Steve Jobs (yes, that Steve Jobs) is buried across the street from Rico's old high school, Gunn (photo, top)... Now that's a coincidence...

History for the day: 1961: Berlin divided

History.com has this for 13 August:

Shortly after midnight on this day in 1961, East German soldiers begin laying barbed wire and bricks as a barrier between Soviet-controlled East Berlin and the democratic western section of the city.
After World War Two, defeated Germany was divided into Soviet, American, British, and French zones of occupation. The city of Berlin, though technically part of the Soviet zone, was also split, with the Soviets taking the eastern part of the city. After a massive Allied airlift in June 1948 foiled a Soviet attempt to blockade West Berlin, the eastern section was drawn even more tightly into the Soviet fold. Over the next twelve years, cut off from its western counterpart and basically reduced to a Soviet satellite, East Germany saw between two million and three million of its citizens head to West Germany in search of better opportunities. By 1961, some one thousand East Germans– including many skilled laborers, professionals and intellectuals– were leaving every day.
In August of 1961, Walter Ulbricht, the Communist leader of East Germany, got the go-ahead from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to begin the sealing off of all access between East and West Berlin. Soldiers began the work over the night of 12 to 13 August, laying more than a hundred miles of barbed wire slightly inside the East Berlin border. The wire was soon replaced by a six-foot-high, hundred-mile-long wall of concrete blocks, complete with guard towers, machine gun posts and searchlights. East German officers known as Volkspolizei (Vopos) patrolled the Wall day and night.
Many Berlin residents on that first morning found themselves suddenly cut off from friends or family members in the other half of the city. Led by their mayor, Willi Brandt, West Berliners demonstrated against the wall, as Brandt criticized Western democracies, particularly the United States, for failing to take a stand against it. President John F. Kennedy had earlier said publicly that the United States could only really help West Berliners and West Germans, and that any kind of action on behalf of East Germans would only result in failure.
The Berlin Wall was one of the most powerful and iconic symbols of the Cold War. In June 1963, Kennedy gave his famous Ich bin ein Berliner (“I am a Berliner”) speech in front of the Wall, celebrating the city as a symbol of freedom and democracy in its resistance to tyranny and oppression. The height of the Wall was raised to ten feet in 1970 in an effort to stop escape attempts, which at that time came almost daily. From 1961 to 1989, a total of five thousand East Germans escaped; many more tried and failed. High profile shootings of some would-be defectors only intensified the Western world’s hatred of the Wall.

NBC has an unbloggable video about the fall of the Wall here. 
Finally, in the late 1980s, East Germany, fueled by the decline of the then-Soviet Union, began to implement a number of liberal reforms. On 9 November 1989, masses of East and West Germans alike gathered at the Wall and began to climb over and dismantle it. As this symbol of Cold War repression was destroyed, East and West Germany became one nation again, signing a formal treaty of unification on 3 October 1990.
Rico says he had the opportunity, back in 1969, coming from a summer in Sweden, to see the Wall from both sides (it was even scarier from the East). He was happy when he finally made it into the West.

Kim killing Kims

Esquire has an article by Jean Lee about Kim Jong Un and his much-reduced family:

The video begins with no fanfare, no preamble. A lone figure, a young man in black, sits in front of a stark white backdrop. His hair is tousled. He fidgets. Light streams in from his right, but there is nothing to identify where he is or whom he's with.
He trains his eyes on the camera. "I'm from North Korea," he says in English. To prove it, he holds up a passport. Emblazoned on the front is a coat of arms featuring Mount Paektu, the sacred and still-active volcano in the far north of the Korean Peninsula, where the Kims trace an ancestry they claim gives the family its right to rule.
He looks off to his left, pausing to collect his thoughts. "My father has been killed a few days ago." Though the video was released on 7 March 2017, a month before I traveled to Pyongyang, the reference to the death indicates it was filmed weeks earlier. His voice is jumpy but composed. He does not mention which country he's in now, but he says he's safe.
There is one clue: an insignia at the top of the screen, in both English and Korean, that reads Cheollima Civil Defense. A cheollima is a mythical winged horse capable of flying vast distances. It's a popular name in North Korea for everything from streets to fonts; a statue of one looms over downtown Pyongyang. It gives the name of the group, which seems to have helped this North Korean flee, a symbolic meaning that's at once serious and ironic. He concludes by saying he hopes his situation will get better. The forty-one-second video then cuts to black.
The young man's name is Kim Han Sol. His father, Kim Jong Nam, was assassinated in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in February of 2017. The person widely believed responsible for issuing the order is Kim Jong Nam's half brother, the chairman of the Workers' Party of Korea, and the supreme leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea: Kim Jong Un.
At thirty-three, Kim Jong Un may be the world's youngest sitting dictator. But, with his nuclear bombs and ballistic missiles, he's already among the most dangerous. On 4 July, he gave what he gloated was an Independence Day "gift" to the "American bastards": the successful test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, designed to obliterate American cities that, when perfected, will be able to reach Los Angeles in thirty minutes. Once his nuclear scientists get a warhead small enough to fit on the Hwasong-14 missile, he'll have a weapon capable of wreaking unimaginable destruction.
There is no question how important bombs and missiles are to the North Koreans. But the goal is not to carry out a first strike; with eighty thousand American troops across Northeast Asia, backed by a fleet of nuclear-powered weaponry, the North Koreans know such a move would be suicide. Kim Jong Un wants to prove his strength to the people he leads, to cause enough concern to force the international community to acknowledge the DPRK as a nuclear state, and to get the US to the negotiating table for aid and concessions, if not a peace treaty to finally end the Korean War.
While Kim stares down his enemies abroad, it's easy to forget that he's also fighting a battle from within his own borders: to survive at all costs. Like any autocratic leader, he's under constant pressure to maintain order and allegiance. But his youth and inexperience make staying in power that much more of a challenge, which in turn requires absolute control. Opposition must be eliminated, and no one is safe, not even his own family.
Three weeks before his video appeared on YouTube, Kim Han Sol was in Macau with his teenage sister, Sol Hui, who'd just graduated from a nearby Anglican high school, and his mother, Ri Hye Kyong. 
Macau (photo) was more home to them than Pyongyang. They'd moved to the former Portuguese colony, forty miles west of Hong Kong and now under Chinese control, in the early 2000s, seeking refuge from North Korea. In Macau, the family lived under the protection of local police, and could move around with relative ease. There they were safe.
On 13 February 13, Kim Jong Nam was not with them. He was visiting Kuala Lumpur, a four-hour plane ride away, using a DPRK passport under the name Kim Chol, the North Korean equivalent of John Smith. There are few places in the world where a North Korean citizen can travel without diplomatic hassle. Malaysia is one.
That morning, Kim Jong Nam headed to Kuala Lumpur International Airport to catch a flight back to his family. Terminal 2 was bustling with travelers that day, from European backpackers in sandals to Malaysian women in ornately printed hijabs. It was the start of the Lunar New Year, and banners featuring baby chicks festooned the airport walls in celebration of The Year of the Rooster.
What happened next was captured on closed-circuit television and later broadcast by a Japanese television network. Kim Jong Nam, dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, and a summer blazer, strides into the terminal. He is alone and has no luggage, save for a black backpack slung over his shoulder. He stops briefly to check a flight display, then moves toward a line of check-in kiosks. A woman in white approaches him from behind. There is a brief tussle as she reaches around and wipes a cloth across his face. Another woman squeezes in and swipes his cheeks. Seconds later, both slip away, heading in opposite directions and disappearing into the crowd.
Kim lurches toward the information desk, where he interrupts an employee and gestures frantically at his eyes. Police accompany him to the airport's health clinic, though they don't appear to be in a hurry; Kim walks on his own. But a photograph taken minutes later shows him slumped in a chair in the clinic, arms outstretched, eyes glazed. He suffered a seizure, police would later say.
Kim died minutes later, in a hospital-bound ambulance. He was forty-five. Toxicology reports revealed that he was poisoned with the banned nerve agent VX. The dose was composed of two tasteless and odorless chemicals that are benign on their own but deadly once mixed, a possible explanation for the two face swipes. A single drop can kill within minutes; the substance can linger for up to half an hour, potentially exposing scores in a crowded space like an airport terminal. Developed during the Cold War for military warfare, it is classified by the United Nations as a weapon of mass destruction. According to South Korea's Ministry of National Defense, VX is just one part of the DPRK's chemical-weapons arsenal, the total size of which they estimate to be twenty-five hundred to five thousand metric tons
February in North Korea is brutal. Fierce winds sweep across the country from Siberia without respite or obstruction: much of the habitable land in the country, about the size of Virginia, was denuded of trees decades ago. Around the time of Kim Jong Nam's assassination, soldiers, teachers, factory workers, and traffic controllers were donning their warmest winter jackets to lay red flowers reminiscent of the late leader's namesake kimjongilia begonia at the foot of his statue on Mansu Hill. University students danced in public plazas to Song of CNC, an ode to computerization— jackets flapping as they twirled. Children ripped open gift packets to suck on the sweet candy inside. It was a time of celebration.
In the days after Kim Jong Nam's death, there was not one word of it on North Korean state media. Without acknowledging the incident, Kim Jong Un presided over lavish festivities for a holiday honoring the 16 February birth of their father, Kim Jong Il, known as the Day of the Shining Star— an anniversary that is marked with the same mix of solemnity and festivity as Jesus' birth is in the Bible Belt
The Kims are everything, and everywhere, in North Korea. Bronze statues of Kim Jong Il and his father, Kim Il Sung, the first leader of the DPRK, loom over the city. Massive mosaics chart the mythology of their heroic feats. Their portraits cover the walls of every office, home, and school, and the loyalty badge pinned to the shirt over the heart of every adult in this nation of over twenty million people.
Officially, North Korea calls itself a socialist state. In reality, it operates like an absolute monarchy. Kim Il Sung, the self-proclaimed guerrilla fighter and the DPRK's spiritual figurehead since its formation in 1948, was placed in power by the then-USSR at the outset of the Cold War. He was the Soviets' man in Pyongyang, meant to install and maintain a communist regime. But Kim knew that ruling with a hammer and a sickle wouldn't be enough to command the devotion of a people who'd just survived nearly four decades of Japanese occupation, a period defined by systematic attempts to stamp out their language and culture. He and his political strategists drew heavily on Korean history and culture, in addition to mysticism, shamanism, and Christianity, to craft their singular version of Marxist-Leninism. They created a social order built around a cult of personality that was both familiar and new. Its guiding principle was called juche, a nationalistic ideology of self-reliance that inspired a sense of pride, and it was used to justify xenophobic, isolationist, totalitarian policies.
Like the founder of ancient Korea thousands of years before him, Kim also claimed ancestry in a lineage forged on Mount Paektu, the volcano that has held spiritual significance for Koreans for centuries. To be "descended" from the mountain meant that he and his offspring were godlike.
But mythology alone wasn't enough to keep order. For decades, the Kims have purged, exiled, and executed their enemies, often with scant or no proof of wrongdoing. People disappear all the time from North Korea, even at the highest levels of leadership. Assassinations are carried out in secret, and rarely acknowledged publicly. For North Koreans and foreigners alike, the best way to figure out who's in power and who's been purged is to keep an eye on state-media coverage of formal events. The names of officials are listed in order of seniority and importance; omissions often indicate that a person has been removed from power, or even executed.
Yoji Gomi, a Japanese journalist who covers North Korea, corresponded with Kim Jong Nam in the mid-2000s. Gomi told me that Kim's assassination was "a message that North Korea will not tolerate any anti–North Korean views. It's a threat, a strong warning."
By the early 1970s, Kim Il Sung, then in his sixties, had been the DPRK's leader for more than two decades. Succession was on his mind, but it wasn't yet clear who among his relatives would inherit power.
Kim Jong Il, the president's elder son, proved his mettle by outmaneuvering the Kims from what he called kyotkaji, side branches, in need of pruning. "In order to show his father that he was the most loyal, he mercilessly attacked and got rid of the associates he selected for reasons like having the wrong ideals," Hwang Jang Yop, a high-ranking party secretary who'd helped Kim Il Sung conceive juche, wrote in a memoir after he defected to South Korea in 1997.
First, Kim Jong Il engineered the relocation of his uncle, then a rising star in the ruling Workers' Party, to remote Jagang Province. Meanwhile, Kim's half brother, son of the president's second wife, was dispatched to a succession of North Korean embassies in Eastern Europe, where today he serves as ambassador to the Czech Republic, tethered to the regime, but far from its center of power.
In 1974, Kim Jong Il, then the secretary of the party's Central Committee, was recognized internally as heir apparent. But it was a full twenty years before he took over, after Kim Il Sung died of a heart attack in 1994. The Dear Leader ascended to the head of state in what became the Communist world's first hereditary transfer of power.
Kim Jong Nam was born into this world of court intrigue in Pyongyang in 1971, to Kim Jong Il and his then-lover. Kim's birth, like his death, was never announced in state media. But he was doted on by his father, and diplomats were ordered to bring back expensive toys for his son, including diamond watches and gold-plated guns. Father and son were driven around in matching Cadillacs. According to a close Kim relative, the bill for the young Kim's lavish birthday parties ran more than a million dollars, in a country where the yearly GDP at the time was less than five hundred dollars per person.
When Kim Jong Nam was three, his mother suffered a nervous breakdown that required medical care in Moscow. Kim joined her when he was eight, but he was so unaccustomed to life outside the royal palace that he urinated in his pants rather than use Russia's public toilets, recalled Song Hye Rang, his maternal aunt, in her 2000 memoir, Wisteria House. He was sent back to Pyongyang to live with his aunt and her children, Ri Il Nam and Ri Nam Ok. A 1981 family portrait on page 97 shows a pudgy Kim Jong Nam in shorts and sneakers, his feet barely touching the floor, his father next to him, his aunt and two cousins standing over his shoulder. The cousins would later recall jet-skiing off Wonsan beach, watching foreign movies, and reading South Korean books with Kim: unimaginable and illicit luxuries for the average North Korean.
Kim Jong Il began grooming his eldest child for a future in politics, as his father had done with him, bringing him to his office. He dressed the boy in the military uniform of a marshal of the Korean People's Army. "This is where you'll be giving orders," Kim Jong Il said, according to his cousin.
But Kim Jong Nam soon had competition for the affections of the man he called Papa. Over the next two decades, Kim Jong Il had at least four more children: a daughter with his wife, and two boys and a girl with another mistress. Kim Jong Un was the younger of those two sons, born while Kim Jong Nam was off at boarding school in Geneva, Switzerland. As he'd done with his eldest son a decade earlier, the Dear Leader bedecked his youngest son in full military uniform. Kim Jong Il's sushi chef, a Japanese man who published a memoir in 2003 under the pen name Kenji Fujimoto, wrote that, when he first met Kim Jong Un, then seven, the boy was outfitted like "a little general". A certain ruthlessness seemed to shine through even then: "He glared at me with a menacing look when we shook hands. I will never forget the look in his eyes, which seemed to be saying: 'This is one despicable Japanese guy.' "
This survival-of-the-fittest culture put the futures of Kim Jong Nam's close relatives in jeopardy. Some stayed in Pyongyang; others fled. In 1982, Ri Il Nam, one of the cousins who was raised with Kim Jong Nam, decided he wanted to live the "American dream", ,according to a tell-all memoir he published under an assumed name titled Taedong River Royal Family. He called the South Korean embassy in Switzerland, where he was then enrolled in school, asking for advice on how to seek asylum in the United States. The ambassador instead convinced him to defect to Seoul, South Korea.
In his memoir, Ri recounted a circuitous, if relatively comfortable, route that took him from Switzerland to France, Belgium, Germany, and the Philippines, where he caught a flight to Seoul. Contrast that with the trials most North Korean defectors endure: many don't have passports or travel permits and must bribe their way to the Chinese border. Because China has a policy of sending defectors back to North Korea, they must make their way on foot or by bus to a safe house or a refugee camp in a third country— Laos, Vietnam, or Thailand— before they are able to reach South Korean embassies to seek asylum. The process can take years.
Ri lived quietly in Seoul under an assumed name and, thanks to plastic surgery, a new look. In 1995, broke and desperate for money, he agreed to call his aunt, Kim Jong Nam's mother, in Moscow in exchange for five thousand dollars from a Seoul-based magazine that wanted to air the conversation live.
It was Ri's own mother, Song Hye Rang, who picked up the phone. The call was the first time they had spoken in fourteen years. The two spoke regularly for two months before Song decided to defect, too.
For decades, the Kims have purged, exiled, and executed their enemies, often with scant or no proof of wrongdoing. "I had to choose," Song wrote in Wisteria House. "I could tell the leader everything and go back to Pyongyang, or take this chance to leave to the West." If she confessed, Kim Jong Il probably "would not punish me, but he would not allow me to leave Pyongyang," she wrote. "Even if there were plenty of books and I could take twelve baths a day and eat all kinds of delicacies, the residence was a prison to me."
At the time, most North Koreans would have considered a warm bath a month a luxury. It was a grim time to be an ordinary citizen in the DPRK. The country, already suffering from the loss of the safety net once provided by the then-Soviet Union, was in the throes of an unprecedented famine. For decades, most North Koreans had relied on the state to provide meals through a centralized rationing system. But, by the late 1990s, the state had nothing left to feed its people. Half a million North Koreans starved to death, according to conservative estimates, in what became known as the Arduous March. Meanwhile, in the royal palace, luxuries overflowed. Kim Jong Il, it was revealed, was the world's largest customer of Hennessy cognac in 1992 and 1993, reportedly racking up a yearly tab as high as eight hundred thousand dollars.
In 1996, Ri published his memoir, which described growing up in the lavish household he called a "fancy prison". There, he said, the Supreme Leader presided over parties with strippers that devolved into orgies. When one wife threatened to report the bacchanalian festivities to Kim Il Sung, Ri wrote, her husband shot her to death in Kim Jong Il's presence.
Six months after the book's release, in February of 1997, almost exactly twenty years to the day before Kim Jong Nam's death, Ri stepped out of his building's elevator and was shot in the head.
Ri's death spooked his sister, Ri Nam Ok, who'd fled North Korea in 1992. Before she left, she'd written a note for her uncle Kim Jong Il, whom she considered a father figure, begging him not to find her. Now with her brother dead, she sued to halt publication of her own memoir, The Golden Cage; the book was never released. "I was terrified of being found and taken back to North Korea, of being taken home in a bag," she wrote of her defection, according to a copy of the manuscript obtained by Esquire. "I would have preferred to be killed on the spot rather than suffer a life in the mines or the countryside." In a 1999 interview with South Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, she further emphasized the fear that comes with belonging to the Kim dynasty: "Being exposed means death to our family." She has not spoken publicly since.
Defections occurred in Kim Jong Un's branch of the family as well. In 1998, his beloved aunt, Ko Yong Suk, who'd been dispatched to Europe to watch over him while he attended Liebefeld-Steinhölzli, a school outside Bern, Switzerland, fled with her husband to the United States, where today they live middle-class lives under new names with American passports. Kim Jong Un was a teenager when she left, and some North Koreans suggest he was embittered by her abandonment. His heart hardened toward those who defected from the DPRK.
Born to different mothers a dozen years apart, Kim Jong Nam and Kim Jong Un grew up in separate palaces in Pyongyang. Kim Jong Nam claimed the two never met. Like his older brother, Kim Jong Un enrolled at the Swiss school under a false identity. A school official acknowledged the enrollment of a North Korean teen he described as "well-integrated, industrious, ambitious," and passionate about basketball. Every day, an embassy driver picked him up from school, and fellow students say they thought he was the driver's son. It was only when the young man made his international debut as the DPRK's heir apparent, in 2010, that they realized his quasi-royal provenance.
At the time, many assumed Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son, was being groomed to succeed his father, but he preferred partying to politicking. Gregarious and social, he began sneaking out to drink as soon as he hit puberty, his maternal aunt recalled in her memoir.
Kim simply was not suited for life in Pyongyang. "Kim Jong Nam was treated like a prince in North Korea," says Lee Sin Uck, a professor of political science at Dong-A University in South Korea. The two became friends when Kim visited Moscow, where Lee was in graduate school, in the late 1990s. "But he was bored and wanted to see the outside world."
The final straw came in 2001. Kim Jong Nam, by then a father of three— a son with his wife, and a son and daughter with his mistress— tried to visit Tokyo Disneyland using a fake Dominican passport under the name Pang Xiong: "Fat Bear" in Chinese. Kim, by then a portly figure in gold-rimmed glasses, was detained and sent back by Japanese immigration officials. The incident made international headlines. Kim and his father agreed he should move to Beijing, a two-hour flight from Pyongyang but far enough not to cause the regime further embarrassment. There Kim's marriage soured, and he later moved with his mistress and their children, Han Sol (photo below) and Sol Hui, to Macau.
With its crumbling, fading colonial buildings, its casinos and showgirls, Macau (photo above) is a slice of old Europe in new Asia. On weekends, thousands of tourists take the hour-long ferry from Hong Kong to pack the narrow alleyways, see the cathedral, line up for the famous egg tarts, and drink vinho verde under the shade of palm trees in genteel courtyards of what is the most densely populated region in the world.
And to gamble. Sleepy by day but decadent by night, Macau— known as the Monte Carlo of the Orient, and the only place in China where casinos are allowed— is where Asia's nouveau riche go to indulge their vices. "Living Las Vegas in Asia," Kim wrote in a 2010 Facebook post, since taken down. Reporters assigned to trail him knew to lie in wait at the Wynn Macau or the Four Seasons, though he claimed in recent years to have given up gambling.
For a man raised in luxury, Kim Jong Nam led a simple life. He traveled by taxi rather than the chauffeured Mercedes-Benzes that today take the Kims around Pyongyang. He dined at local Korean restaurants, sporadically treating friends to meals. He dressed in breezy weekend attire. But Kim was hard to miss, not just because of his gold necklaces, rings, and elaborate tattoos: he moved with an official entourage of local police who, as he told Yoji Gomi, were providing either protection or surveillance; he was never sure which, but said he tolerated and appreciated their presence.
As a father, he gave Han Sol the ordinary childhood he never had. Instead of shuttling his son off to a Swiss boarding school under a false identity, leashed to North Korean diplomats charged with keeping an eye on him, Kim Jong Nam sent him to a local private school. There, Han Sol built a diverse group of friends, tested out new looks (ear piercings, dyed hair), and even explored Christianity. He started a Twitter account, posted photos to Facebook, and created a blog on which he listed Bruce Almighty and Katy Perry among his favorite cultural touchstones.
When Kim Jong Un's aunt left him, his heart hardened toward those who defected from the DPRK. The equilibrium Kim Jong Nam had achieved for himself and his family began to shift when, in August of 2008, his father had a stroke. As the leader recuperated out of the public eye, Jang Song Thaek, a Moscow-educated cadre who was married to the Dear Leader's beloved only sister, stepped in as de facto regent. With the future of the regime in question, Jang oversaw a campaign to groom his nephew Kim Jong Un to assume power.
Even if Kim Jong Nam hadn't expressed interest in politics in years, his half brother saw him as competition. In 2009, Kim Jong Un sent secret police to raid his vacation home and arrest his friends. After that, Kim Jong Nam told Gomi that he avoided going back to North Korea. Lee, the professor at Dong-A University, says that "in a patriarchal society, when the first heir has been banished and the second or third son becomes the heir, the first son's existence becomes a threat. Considering the Paektu lineage, Kim Jong Nam was a threat."
When Kim Jong Un, then twenty-seven, assumed power in December of 2011, following the death of Kim Jong Il from a heart attack (the same ailment that had killed Kim Il Sung), he inherited an altogether more intense series of tensions than either of his predecessors did. The nation was economically troubled, with a per capita GDP estimated at five percent of that across the border in South Korea. Most North Koreans did not have reliable electricity or running water, much less computers or Internet access. Politically, Pyongyang had few friends abroad and was under growing scrutiny for its abysmal human-rights record. The country was, and still is, technically at war with the United States.
To inspire loyalty, Kim Jong Un modeled himself after his legendary grandfather, in looks and in manner. He wore the same Mao suits and straw hats that Kim Il Sung wore at his age, and introduced updated versions of the same economic policies. He revised the wording of a key national doctrine governing the daily life of North Koreans, known as Ten Principles for the Establishment of the One-Ideology System, to require allegiance to those in the Mount Paektu lineage. He embarked on a campaign of terror, one that was even more far-reaching than those carried out by his father and grandfather, with an unprecedented spree of purges and executions, typically by firing squad, of those who opposed him or presented a threat. More than a hundred party and military officials have been executed during Kim's rule, seared to death with flamethrowers or eviscerated by machine-gun fire, while their colleagues are forced to witness the gruesome, bloody killings, claims the Institute for National Security Strategy in Seoul, a government-funded research center affiliated with South Korea's National Intelligence Service. According to the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, commercial satellite images taken of North Korea in 2014 caught what appeared to be an execution by firing squad using antiaircraft machine guns.
Kim Jong Nam wrote to Gomi in January of 2012, just days after his half brother took over, that "anyone with common sense would find it difficult to tolerate three generations of hereditary succession. I question how a young heir with two years of training is able to inherit absolute power that has lasted for thirty-seven years." Then, a miscalculation, or perhaps a willful denial: "Kim Jong Un is simply a symbolic figure."
Kim's criticism of the newly anointed leader did not sit well with Pyongyang. But he had a protector in Jang, the uncle who'd helped Kim Jong Un rise to power and was considered the second-most-powerful person in North Korea. Jang had high-ranking positions in the government, and he commanded a network of relatives and allies working at North Korea's missions and embassies abroad. He and his wife were Kim Jong Nam's main connections to Pyongyang.
That ended in December of 2013, when Jang dramatically fell out of favor. Perhaps because he'd decided that his uncle had become too powerful, Kim Jong Un ordered Jang tried for treason and a host of other charges. Jang's execution by firing squad was made public, once again highlighting that no one, not even a close relative, was safe from the leader's wrath.
David Straub, a former US diplomat and the LS-Sejong Fellow at the Sejong Institute, a think tank in South Korea, says he was "stunned" by the rashly vengeful way Jang's fall from grace was handled by North Korea. "This happened in such an atmosphere of paranoia and fear and overflowing adrenaline and testosterone," Straub says. "It shows that Kim Jong Un and the people around him put on a face of being completely confident, but are under great psychological pressure, and that makes them take extreme action."
Kim Jong Nam soon found out that he, too, was on the regime's hit list. After an alleged assassination attempt, Kim pleaded with his half brother for a reprieve, the then-director of South Korea's National Intelligence Service told lawmakers two days after Kim's assassination. "Please withdraw the order to punish me and my family," he wrote in a letter reportedly intercepted by South Korean intelligence. "We have nowhere to go and nowhere to hide. Our only escape is suicide."
In late April, two months after Kim Jong Nam's death, I landed in Pyongyang. Abroad, headlines warned of impending war on the Korean Peninsula.
But, in North Korea's capital, it was life as usual. The streets were calm. Farmers were preparing for the upcoming rice season. To the north, the eye-popping new neighborhood of Ryomyong Street, empty and imposing, flashed Technicolor like an amusement park on steroids. Just weeks earlier, the Marshal, as Kim Jong Un is known, himself presided over the inauguration of the new residential complex, constructed to reward his nuclear scientists.
I wanted to find out what people knew of the assassination. From years of reporting here, I knew to be cautious: North Koreans can be opinionated and snarky, but their openness does not extend to their leader and their country's political system. A strictly enforced law defines any criticism of the Supreme Leader as anti-state activity, punishable by hard labor or, for treason, execution by firing squad. The first time I traveled here, in 2008, our guide warned me not to destroy any North Korean newspapers. The Kims are featured or mentioned on every page, and so to crumple one up could be seen as defacing the leader's image. "Just lay the newspaper carefully on top of the wastebasket," she advised.
That warning came back to me when I heard the news that Otto Warmbier, a twenty-two-year-old University of Virginia student who was visiting North Korea in late 2015, had been arrested. Footage captured by hotel surveillance cameras shows him purportedly tearing down a poster written in Korean. He may not have known that it was a sign bearing Kim Jong Il's name, and therefore sacred. For his act of defacement, Warmbier was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor before being released and returned to the US, in a coma, in June of 2017. He died a few days later; his doctors said he had suffered massive brain damage while in the hands of the North Koreans.
Cautiously, I asked my guides, well-educated members of North Korea's elite, if they had heard about the death in Malaysia. They nodded, saying they had read about the death of "a citizen" by heart attack. Did they know who he was? I asked. Silence.
Kim's assassination may have gone unnoticed elsewhere in the world, too, if it hadn't been for an error on the part of the Malaysian police, who, according to Reuters, informed South Korea's embassy first, not North Korea's, about the death. The news was leaked to South Korean media, and it quickly spread around the world. What ensued was a bizarre diplomatic incident. Objecting to an autopsy, North Korean officials told the Malaysian government that the man was not, in fact, Kim Jong Nam. They demanded that the body be handed over. Police refused, and all but accused the North Koreans of trying to break into the morgue where it was held.
Kim Jong Un has demonstrated untrammeled ambition and ruthlessness that seem motivated by self-preservation at all costs.
Malaysian police arrested the two women spotted on security footage: one from Vietnam and the other from Indonesia, who independently claimed they'd been promised a hundred dollars to take part in a television-show prank. Shortly after, a North Korean chemist living in Kuala Lumpur was arrested but released due to lack of evidence. Four more suspects had already fled Malaysia and were safely back in Pyongyang by the time Interpol released a "red notice", the closest equivalent to an international warrant, calling for their capture:
It was discovered that three others who were wanted for questioning, including a diplomat and an employee of North Korea's flagship airline, were holed up at the North Korean embassy in Kuala Lumpur. When Malaysian police demanded that they be turned over, North Korea responded by barring Malaysians in Pyongyang from leaving the country. In retaliation, North Korean citizens were blocked from departing Malaysia.
At the end of March of 2017, a deal was reached: the three men wanted for questioning were cleared to depart Kuala Lumpur, leaving only the two women to face trial on murder charges. If convicted, they face the death penalty.
On the same day, it was announced that Kim Jong Nam's body would be returned to North Korea in exchange for the departure of nine Malaysians in Pyongyang. The half brother to the supreme leader would, after living abroad for more than a decade, finally return home.
In the six years he's been in power, Kim Jong Un has demonstrated untrammeled ambition and ruthlessness that seem motivated by self-preservation at all costs. Despite crippling sanctions that ensure his people's ongoing misery, he continues developing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles unabated. North Korea already has the technology to annihilate Seoul and Tokyo, and experts predict it will soon be able to mount nukes on missiles that can reach Los Angeles in thirty minutes. So long as its nuclear stockpile exists, preemptive military action against the country is all but impossible, and Kim Jong Un's rule will likely continue.
But that doesn't mean he'll ever feel that his power is wholly secure. In May of 2017, North Korea issued a long letter that accused the CIA of plotting to assassinate its leader, claiming as proof that American operatives were paying tens of thousands of dollars in cash to carry out the deed. (The North Koreans have not released any evidence.) In June, South Korean intelligence told lawmakers that Kim Jong Un was becoming increasingly paranoid, and had taken to traveling at night, in decoy cars.
Since then, new details have emerged about Kim Jong Nam's fateful trip. A Japanese newspaper published security footage placing Kim in a Malaysian hotel with an American who's suspected of being an American spy. In the images, Kim is wearing the same pale gray blazer and carrying the same black backpack that he was seen with on the day of his death. The bag was stuffed with over a hundred thousand dollars in cash, all in hundred-dollar bills, the paper reported, citing unnamed Malaysian sources.
As Kim Jong Un's paranoia deepens, which family members are in his crosshairs? His aunt has not been seen in public since her husband Jang's 2013 execution. The supreme leader's sister has been promoted to a high-ranking propaganda post in the party, but she does not appear poised to overthrow her brother. Others in the Kim royal family are lying low: there is little mention in state media of their publicity-shy brother, or an older half sister. It is unclear where a nephew, Kim Jong Nam's second son, may be.
And then there's Kim Han Sol, now twenty-two, whose video was released just weeks after his father's death. Though his mother was Kim Jong Nam's mistress, and he never met his grandfather or uncle, he's a direct descendant of Kim Il Sung, and therefore an inheritor of the Mount Paektu bloodline:
Kim Han Sol 
With his hipster haircut, geek-chic glasses, and charisma, Han Sol is unlike any Kim family member we've seen: intelligent, curious, and open-minded. Educated almost exclusively abroad— including at Sciences Po in France, alma mater of five of the last seven French presidents— he speaks fluent English. In the few interviews he's given, Han Sol has championed democracy, peace, and diplomacy. In one, with a Finnish television station in 2012, he praised the Arab Spring, calling the uprising that unseated Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi a "revolution." In perhaps the most surprising moment of the conversation, he referred to his uncle as a "dictator". Kim said his dream was to one day "go back and make things better, and make it easier for the people there. I also dream of unification."
Kim Han Sol has the birthright to lead and a wish for his country to open up in ways that appeal to the US and its allies. "This is a cosmopolitan, bright young kid," says Straub, of the Sejong Institute. "Maybe he is the real threat, in the long term, to the regime."
The site for Cheollima Civil Defense, the group that Kim Han Sol credits with saving him, his mother, and his sister, published a declaration explaining that the three were evacuated with the help of China, the United States, the Netherlands, and a fourth, unnamed country. "This will be the first and last statement on this particular matter," it reads, "and the present whereabouts of this family will not be addressed."
Little is known about the group. Could it be run by North Korean defectors? South Korean intelligence? The country's constitution grants nationality to all Koreans born on the peninsula, north or south, and the government has a system for reintegrating— and protecting— high-profile defectors. European allies? Lody Embrechts, the Dutch ambassador to South Korea, was thanked on Cheollima's site; he has remained tight-lipped about his involvement. Or is it an ad hoc group the world will never hear from again? At press time, its website was no longer live.
Where Kim Han Sol is in hiding is a guessing game among those who monitor North Korea. Of the dozens of reporters, experts, diplomats, and agents I spoke with, no one knew— or was willing to share— any information. Is he in the United States, or a US-allied country, under CIA protection? Or is he in Europe, where he has exiled family and a tight circle of friends?
The one place everyone was sure he is not is North Korea.
Rico says we got rid of Qaddafi, and Mao finally died, maybe we can get a new Kim...

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