Saturday Reads

desire-dehau-reading-a-newspaper-in-the-garden-Toulouse Lautrec

Good Morning!!

Amid all the bad news, there’s apparently progress in the negotiations with Iran. The LA Times reported yesterday that a “nuclear deal appears imminent.” Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva, Switzerland yesterday to help out.

After a rocky day Thursday, negotiators appeared for now to have overcome their differences on Iran’s entitlement to enrich uranium and on how to curb progress on a partially built nuclear research reactor that Western powers view as a particular threat.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry left late Friday for Geneva to help “narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement,” the State Department said. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, arrived from Moscow early Friday evening, making him the first of the six nations’ ministers to show up for a possible signing ceremony that would end a decade of usually stalemated negotiations….

A deal would be a first-stage agreement that would give Iran temporary relief from the crushing Western sanctions on its economy in exchange for temporary limits on its nuclear program. Many nations fear that Iran, despite its insistence that its program is for peaceful purposes only, is seeking weapons capability with its huge nuclear infrastructure.

This deal would open the way for tough bargaining on a final, comprehensive agreement that would take six months or longer to be reached.

Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish with a little carrot and stick diplomacy? Too bad Bush and Cheney never tried it.

From USA Today:

U.S. negotiators and their counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China have been meeting with the Iranians since Wednesday in an effort to strike an interim deal to delay Iran’s nuclear program while a larger deal is worked out that would prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of “very difficult negotiations, saying “narrow gaps” remain on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round earlier this month.

“We’re not here because things are necessarily finished,” Hague told reporters. “We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult.”

Still, the fact that they are talking is definitely encouraging. In another sign that something is actually happening, the Chinese foreign minister arrived in Geneva today. “Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Saturday the talks…have reached the final moment.”

For those of you who still use air travel, the FCC is on the verge of making a decision that could make flying infinitely more annoying that it is already. From The Washington Post: FCC sees backlash after proposing to allow in-flight cellphone calls on planes.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it will consider rules that would allow air travelers to make calls and use their cellular data plans once a plane reaches 10,000 feet. Restrictions would remain for takeoffs and landings.

The proposal, which will be raised at the commission’s meeting next month, has the backing of the agency’s newly appointed chairman. But the idea is bound to be controversial. Within hours of the announcement, consumers flooded the agency with protests.

One FCC commissioner received hundreds of e-mails complaining that the move would lead to unbearable noise pollution, an aide said. Passengers are already crammed into smaller seats and tighter rows, and being forced to listen to one another’s calls would be yet another indignity, they wrote.

petition quickly went up on the White House Web site Thursday, asking the Obama administration to stop the effort. “This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse, and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud,” a resident from Richmond wrote.

Something tells me if this plan goes through, there are going be a lot more air rage incidents in the not-so-friendly skies. But after the uproar, USA Today is reporting that the new FCC commissioner–only three weeks into the job–is backpedaling rapidly.

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after setting off an uproar among travelers opposed to in-flight phone calls, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Chairman backtracked, saying he personally isn’t in favor of calls on planes.

The role of the FCC, he added, is to advise if there is a safety issue with using phones on planes. He said there is “no technical reason to prohibit” the use of mobile devices on planes.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself,” chairman Tom Wheeler said in a Friday statement.

The decision to allow calls will ultimately rest with the airlines, Wheeler emphasized.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III “Appears Receptive to Critics of NSA’s Collection of Phone Data.” Back in 1979, the Supreme Court decided that phone records are not private, because we willingly give the information to our telephone company. But now Judge Pauley is questioning that decision based on recent revelations about NSA data collection.

“Doesn’t the information collected here reveal far more?” U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III asked during a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Friday.

Judge Pauley also questioned whether Congress could authorize the collection when the NSA program’s existence wasn’t widely known among lawmakers.

The hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its New York affiliate days after the program was revealed in news reports that were based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The groups argue the bulk collection of records called metadata—which includes the phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from—violates Americans’ privacy rights, as well as federal law.

The judge issued no immediate ruling and left open the possibility that he could dismiss part of the case, because federal law designates the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as the proper venue for certain national-security issues.

Pauley is a Clinton appointee.

In Pakistan, a protest by about 10,000 people against U.S. drone strikes succeeded in blocking a supply route to and from Afghanistan.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical impact as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the U.S. to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told the protesters.

The demonstrators dispersed after Khan’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying they will begin stopping trucks from carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indefinitely beginning Sunday night. That could spark a clash with the federal government.

Raw Story has an update in the case of Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old whose body was found inside a gym mat in a Valdosta, GA high school.

At least an hour of footage is missing from each of the four surveillance cameras at Kendrick Johnson’s high school, and the original footage showing how the Georgia teenager died might be gone, CNN reported on Thursday.

“Those files are not original files,” forensics video analyst Grant Fredericks told CNN. “They’re not something investigators should rely on for the truth of the video.”

CNN enlisted Fredericks in order to analyze more than 290 hours of video it acquired from Lowndes County High School, where the 17-year-old was found dead in the gym in January. Local officials initially determined that he died from asphyxiation after getting trapped inside a gym mat, an argument his family has rejected. An independent autopsy ordered by the victim’s family found the cause of death to be “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.”

But while the Lowndes Public Schools district told CNN the video it provided was “a raw feed with no edits,” Fredericks disagreed, saying it was “altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information loss. There are also a number of files that are corrupted because they’ve not been processed correctly and they’re not playable. I can’t say why they were done that way, but they were not done correctly, and they were not done thoroughly. So we’re missing information.”

Specifically, two of the cameras are missing 65 minutes of footage each, while the other two are missing 130 minutes apiece. Another camera outside of the gymnasium has a time stamp 10 minutes behind the ones inside.

It sounds like the cover had to involve someone in the school administration, doesn’t it?

So . . . it’s kind of a slow news day, but I found a few stories for you to talk about. What are you hearing? Did I miss any big news? Please post your links in the comment thread.

45 Comments on “Saturday Reads”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    My sister is down in Texas right now visiting some friends. She lived down there for quite a long time and worked in the oil fields when it was rare for women to get those jobs. She’s working on the second volume of her memoirs and wanted to talk to some of the people she used to work with. She and her husband are on the way out to California where they’re going to stay for a few months.

    Anyway, it looks like she brought winter weather with her to Texas. I hope it doesn’t affect you too much Ralph!

    KXAN: Major winter storm to bring ice, sleet

    AUSTIN (KXAN) – Freezing weather has reached parts of Texas with hundreds of homes and businesses losing power and an airport closed for several hours amid icy conditions.

    Freezing rain and sleet were reported in parts of the Texas Hill Country on Saturday morning and winter weather is expected to affect travel though the weekend.

    About a dozen low water crossings are closed in Williamson County. Click here for a list of the closures.

    A driver in Mason County slid off of Highway 71 this morning. The sheriff’s office said no one was injured. The driver said he hit a patch of ice.

    To prepare for freezing temperatures and possibly icy weather in Central Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation has assembled workers and supplies throughout the region.

    • RalphB says:

      Darn winter found us. It hasn’t frozen at my place yet, 35 now and a light rain. Tonight and tomorrow look like we may get some sleet, ice and/or what passes for snow. Guess I’ll just hibernate for a while 🙂

      This story is about the anniversary of JFK’s last political appearance.

      JFK honored in Fort Worth, site of ‘the last good memory’

    • RalphB says:

      are on the way out to California where they’re going to stay for a few months.

      Now that’s an excellent idea!

      • bostonboomer says:

        They have a house near Santa Rosa. They moved to Indiana a few years ago, but they’re going to move back to CA eventually.

        • Fannie says:

          Luv Santa Rosa, in Sonoma Co. just outside SF.

        • RalphB says:

          Like Fannie I love the Santa Rosa area. The entire area north of SF is simply gorgeous.

        • Beata says:

          Could I live in their basement in Santa Rosa? I’m quiet and small. I can sleep on the floor. Just let me have an ironing board for a table.

          • Beata says:

            It’s going to be 11 degrees here tonight with a windchill of zero. It gets dark in the afternoon at around 4 o’clock on a cloudy day. It’s like Norway without the social safety net.

        • Delphyne49 says:

          I don’t blame them for returning to that area – it is gorgeous. I lived in the Bay Area for 30 years and was up in the Sonoma area regularly. Got married in Marin Civic Center and had the small, hippie kind of reception in Sonoma, in the square. Lovely, lovely area.

          I’d like to go back – I miss it terribly.

      • NW Luna says:

        We’re having a cold, frosty spell here in the Seattle area, but it’s clear and sunny! Rare. So I won’t complain about the cold — it’s so nice to have sun in November!

  2. RalphB says:

    Little girl gets a lot for her street musician donation 😉

  3. RalphB says:

    This seems like a really good idea. Hope they don’t hit any problems getting it done.

    Austin to Shelter Homeless in a Tiny House Village

    In Austin, Texas, a project to offer affordable housing to some 200 chronically homeless citizens is on the move. Community First! Village, which has been in the planning stages for nearly 10 years, is set to soon break ground on a 27-acre property sprinkled with tiny houses, mobile homes, teepees, refurbished RVs, a three-acre community garden, a chapel, a medical facility, a workshop, a bed and breakfast, and an Alamo Drafthouse outdoor movie theater.

    Supporter Alan Graham, of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, notes that the price of not housing these folks costs taxpayers about $10 million a year, not to mention the emotional and psychological tolls on the homeless themselves. Graham says that, for the most part, local residents seem to be in favor of the project, “We haven’t converted everybody, but when people come out here they go, ‘Oh!’ They see a chapel; they see medical and vocational services on site, and they learn that residents will not live there for free; they’ll pay a monthly rent.”

    • NW Luna says:

      That sounds like a great plan! Community garden and workshop space, medical services — now all that and the housing sounds well thought-out. Hope to see more of these.

      • RalphB says:

        Alan Graham, of Mobile Loaves and Fishes, is the kind of Christian that I personally think is worthwhile. He seems to be really following the teachings of Jesus, as best you can anyway.

        • NW Luna says:

          We have enough hellfire, damnation and smiting here on Earth.

          Love your neighbor, help the poor, heal the sick, do unto others as you would have done unto you — that’s what we need more of.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Excellent! I wish we could do that here. It sounds so civilized–can we really get back to being civilized in this country?

  4. NW Luna says:

    Something tells me if this plan goes through, there are going be a lot more air rage incidents in the not-so-friendly skies. But after the uproar, USA Today is reporting that the new FCC commissioner–only three weeks into the job–is backpedaling rapidly.

    Thank the deities! Though I already avoid flying like the plague.

  5. NW Luna says:

    Guerrilla astronomy and one retired man with a telescope in a parking lot who offers views of sky jewels and loveliness:

    SOMEWHERE ALONG the way, we the people stopped looking up. ….

    One single peek on a single night many years ago has burnt a permanent place in Ingram’s brain, next to lifetime memories of stunning, clear nights in the world’s far-flung, last dark places — nights when the Milky Way shone so bright, hanging there with such throbbing beauty, that it cast a shadow on the ground.

    This night, Ingram was not in the desert or on a mountaintop but at a supermarket on Southeast 208th Street, when an elderly man of Indian heritage happened by. He looked at the telescope, looked at Ingram, and finally, sheepishly, responded to a gesture to c’mon over.

    Tentative, the old man peered into the scope — through the wrong end. Redirected, he pressed his head to the eyepiece and saw a close-up of Saturn, rising in the night sky. For a long time, he did not move. Then, “He just took off — gone,” Ingram says.

    Half an hour later, an old VW bus pulled into the lot. The old man burst out of the driver’s door and swooshed the slider open. Out popped three generations of his family, soon lining up at the telescope.

  6. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s a really interesting list of questions that need to be answered about Lee Harvey Oswald.

    Just a few examples:

    1) The United States Navy Base at Atsugi, Japan, to which U. S. Marine Corps member Oswald was assigned from September 1957 to November 1958, was not just a run-of-the-mill U.S. Navy-operated defense base. It was and is a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) base. Among other intelligence operations, the Atsugi base was one of two bases from which the CIA operated the top secret U-2 spy plane, which flew reconnaissance and surveillance missions over the Soviet Union and China. Why was the low-achieving, nondescript Oswald assigned to such a top secret and important base? [….]

    3) Oswald traveled through four nations in Europe en route to his defection to the Soviet Union, but he had virtually no money. As a person of modest means, how did Oswald finance his complicated defection trip?

    4) During his trip through Europe to the Soviet Union, Oswald traveled from England to Helsinki, Finland, and initially checked in to the Hotel Torni — which was roughly equivalent to staying at the Ritz Carlton. Where did the cash-strapped, low-resource, working-class Oswald get the money to stay at such a high-class hotel?

    Perhaps Oswald underestimated the Torni’s hotel fees, because he soon checked out and sought another hotel — but his second choice wasn’t much cheaper: the Klaus Kurki Hotel — another four-star hotel — which was similar in quality to the Four Seasons.

    • Fannie says:

      I think my posting from yesterday was caught up in spamy…………….but my thoughts were about the KGB involvement with Lee, since he spoke the Russian language, and his prior testing show his aptitude test results were not very good. And he was in NY, how did that come about……………He moved 22 times when he was a child………..going from school to school………………something is wrong, it’s like you see two different people…………

    • RalphB says:

      I had a friend who was an Air Force meteorologist stationed at the U-2 base in Turkey in the late 60s/early 70s. He took 30 days leave and went to Switzerland. where he met a former British commando who was a mercenary commander. This guy set my friend up with a fake passport and got him into Russia on a two week tour with a Swedish student group. He went all over the place, saw Lenin’s body and had a great time.

      If the Russians had caught him, he would almost certainly have been kept as a spy with all that entailed. But that might have been better than if the Air Force had caught him. Moral of the story is that strange things happen easier than you might think.

  7. dakinikat says:

    I’ve been reading some depressing education links today including how freshmen enrollments are way down …

    States Aren’t So Sure Their High Schoolers Should Go to College

    Education departments around the country are rolling back graduation requirements in a bid to aid students who aren’t headed to university. But they risk marginalizing minorities.

    • dakinikat says:

      This is about Texas again … watering down their math requirements… sheesh. I was also reading this one;

      Texas Board Of Education Tried To Keep Word ‘Slave’ Out Of ‘Slave Trade’

      Among the proposed changes were plans to “teach” children to challenge the “solvency” of “long-term entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare” and other euphemistic views of history that, for example, would refer to the slave trade as simply the “Atlantic triangular trade.” Oh, the conservative members of the board also hoped that no one noticed that they omitted from textbooks the name of the 44th President of The United States: Barack Obama.

      • RalphB says:

        That scared me. Those stories are from 2010 and I’m \pretty certain that didn’t make it through the process, although not 100% certain.

      • RalphB says:

        Just seven years ago, the Texas Legislature mandated that all high schoolers pass two algebra courses and geometry to graduate. This summer, the state reversed course, easing its strict math, science, and social-studies requirements to free up class time for job training.

        There was a pretty big fight over this in the Lege, but the Dems lost like on the abortion bill. When I went to HS in TX, four math classes were required to graduate.

    • NW Luna says:

      Changing standards because they’re not sure their high schoolers should go to college?

      Sounds like that could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  8. NW Luna says:

    Prescription charges in England should be increased to £10 to fund cash-strapped NHS services, a centre-right think-tank has argued.

    Reform says raising the price tag from £7.85, with exemptions for people on low incomes but not necessarily all pensioners, could generate millions of pounds each year.

    Around 90% of prescriptions in England are currently dispensed free of charge. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have scrapped all prescription charges.

    The British Medical Association has previously said the current system is “unfair” and wants prescription charges to be scrapped in England.

    That’s $12.75 now; proposed increase would be $16.23 at the current exchange rate. And the Brit’s version of the AMA is against any charges for prescriptions? lolsob (starts looking for UK immigration policy info…)

  9. NW Luna says:

    Funny story from the Category of Biology News:

    Promiscuous mice bear sexier smelling sons

    But alas:

    boosted production of sexually attractive pheromones [in the sons] appeared to come at a price.

    In a further study, the team discovered that only 48% of the promiscuous mothers’ sons lived to the end of the experiment, compared with 80% of monogamous mothers’ sons.

  10. bostonboomer says:

    Here’s a feel-good story:

    A group of 5th grade boys in Bridgewater, MA banded together to support a 1st grade boy who was being bullied. There’s a video at the link.

  11. RalphB says:

    They should put Orange guy in a commercial for Obamacare. 🙂

    Boehner Fails to Fail on Obamacare

    Late last week Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) made a big show of trying but failing to sign up for Obamacare because of the notoriously buggy website….

    Actually, it turns out he had successfully enrolled and got a call confirming that about an hour after his tweet. But it gets better.

    According to Scott MacFarlane, a reporter for the local NBC affiliate in Washington, reports that a DC Health Care exchange representative actually tried to contact Boehner by phone during the enrollment process but was put on hold for 35 minutes, after which time the representative finally hung up.