Total solar eclipse fans chase a moment in the sun They travel thousands of miles to catch the celestial intersection of sun and moon, which some describe as a spiritual high. On Sunday, it happens again. By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
July 10, 2010
When the moon blots out the sun's blinding rays on Sunday, a sliver of the Earth's surface will be plunged into eerie darkness.
Travelers who have crossed thousands of miles to witness the celestial show will gaze at the sky and, for a few minutes, see a thing most people never get to see: a halo of fire — the sun's corona — flickering around the edges of the silhouette of the moon.
But Jay Pasachoff, over on Easter Island, may be looking down more than up — calibrating his instruments, checking for technical glitches, peering through lenses. He doesn't need to look up. He's seen 28 total eclipses, and 50 eclipses in all.
The Williams College astronomy professor saw his first total eclipse at age 16, when he was a freshman at Harvard. Flying with classmates above the cloud line in a DC-3 just north of Boston in October 1959, he gazed at the spectacle through the double-pane airplane window. "I could see it low in the sky, see it straight out — and it was wonderful," he said.
He fell in love.
He's looked up the details on eclipses set to occur in upcoming decades. He has a list of them out to the year 3000.
To some, such single-mindedness might be considered extreme. Not to Tom Thornbury, 68, of Bel-Air, who's racked up seven total eclipses so far. He recalls dolphins doing back flips in the Sea of Cortez during his first, in 1991. Six years later, as the corona glowed above Mongolia, he proposed to his now wife.
Nor to Alex Filippenko, a UC Berkeley astronomer who's seen 10 total eclipses and is awaiting his 11th on the cruise ship Paul Gauguin, in waters southeast of Tahiti.
"The first is in some ways the best. Most people I've met become transformed by the experience," Filippenko said. (Eclipses aren't a big slice of his day job; quasars and black holes are more his thing.)
If they don't feel the wonder, he added, "I think they're brain-dead."
Some eclipse chasers describe the feeling they get during totality — those moments when the sun is fully covered — as spiritual, others as a high. The self-described "coronaphiles" often form tight networks and eagerly log the minutes spent in totality at websites such as http://www.eclipse-chasers.com.
"A lot of people say it's as good as sex. Well, it's right up there. It's close," Thornbury said. "It makes you realize how extraordinary this universe in which we live actually is."
Solar eclipses are the result of a mathematical coincidence: The sun's diameter is roughly 400 times that of the moon's, but it's also roughly 400 times as far away. So when sun and moon line up right — as they do roughly every 18 months along a given path over Earth — the moon almost perfectly covers the sun.
Each total eclipse is unique, aficionados say, because so many factors are at play. The corona can appear sparser at some times and more dynamic at others, depending on where the sun is in its 11-year sun spot cycle. Bad weather might obscure the sun at given points. And the length of each totality will vary — as will the path along which totality can be seen.
Anywhere outside that narrow path, the sun will peek over the moon's edge, destroying the effect. That's why eclipse chasers often must travel to some of the world's most remote lands — and even its seas, as with Sunday's eclipse. For this event, the path of totality will cross eastward through the South Pacific, making landfall only at the Cook Islands and Easter Island until it reaches the tip of South America.
Eclipses have long been a way of life for the Pasachoff family — Pasachoff's wife, Naomi, also works at Williams College, and their daughters Deborah and Eloise often accompanied them on eclipse expeditions as children. Even when Pasachoff went solo, the family was standing by at home, on call.
"There's always eclipse errands. It's a very drama-filled lifestyle," said Deborah Pasachoff, who has observed eight total eclipses, the first when she was an infant.
Days before the 1983 eclipse in Java, Indonesia, Naomi Pasachoff got a panicked call from her husband. A digital data recorder wasn't working, and Java wasn't known for its spare electronics parts. Naomi dug up the home phone number for the president of Tektronix, manufacturer of the recorder. The executive located a replacement in Boston.
Naomi asked a colleague to pick up the device and buy a plane ticket to Java on her husband's American Express card. The colleague talked his way through Indonesian customs by showing officials an article Jay Pasachoff had written for National Geographic about a 1970 eclipse. He arrived at the observation site just in time.
In the early days, before wide use of cellphones and e-mail, the parents could be incommunicado for weeks at a time when they were off studying eclipses.
"It was always 'Where are Mom and Dad?' instead of 'How are Mom and Dad?' " said Deborah Pasachoff, now 33 and living in Pasadena. Their mother devised a system to keep the daughters in touch — a prepared package of letters, typewritten on turtle-themed stationery, describing what the parents were up to at each step.
"Every day," Deborah said, "whoever was staying with us would read a letter to us — 'I hope you have a good time with so and so this afternoon … today we went to see the Taj Mahal.' "
When the daughters could go with their parents, they often served as educational emissaries, instructing local schoolchildren on how to view an eclipse safely (fine to look straight up when the eclipse is total, but an eye-searing no-no when the sun is partially covered).
And they'd look out for their dad as he fiddled with his instruments during those crucial few minutes of dark.
"We always have to remind him … you can take your eyeball away from these lenses for a minute."
In many ancient mythologies, eclipses were seen as a bad omen, said Isaac Kikawada of Mountain View, a retired professor of Babylonian studies at UC Berkeley who got hooked after viewing his first total eclipse in 2001 and who takes amateur photos of the spectacles. (He is on Easter Island with his wife, Heidi Gerster.) Even now, people in some parts of the world act strangely when confronted by eclipses, beating on pots and pans, for example, or sacrificing chickens.
"Until modern times, an eclipse was something to be feared.... Now we can predict exactly to the second where it happens," Kikawada said. "I celebrate this triumph of science."
The ancient Babylonians identified the 18-year Saros cycle, which can be used to predict solar and lunar eclipses. More than 2,000 years later, a 1919 eclipse played a key role in proving Einstein's theory of general relativity, by demonstrating how light would bend around massive objects like the sun.
Gen. James Mattis is named head of U.S. Central Command Defense Secretary Robert Gates praises the general for his 'strategic insight and independent thinking.' The poetry-quoting, blunt-talking Marine once said it's 'fun to shoot some people.' By Ken Dilanian, Tribune Washington Bureau
5:27 PM PDT, July 8, 2010
Reporting from Washington
Defense Secretary Robert Gates praises the general for his 'strategic insight and independent thinking.' The poetry-quoting, blunt-talking Marine once said it's 'fun to shoot some people.'
Marine Gen. James N. Mattis, an erudite combat veteran known for quoting poetry and openly expressing his enthusiasm for "killing the enemy," has been selected to take over U.S. Central Command, the Pentagon announced Thursday.
Mattis would replace Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is in Afghanistan as the U.S. and NATO's top military officer there. Petraeus took over after President Obama accepted Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's resignation June 23 in the wake of an article that quoted McChrystal and his staff mocking U.S. civilian leaders.
Mattis is now the head of the Joint Forces Command, based in Norfolk, Va. That command coordinates strategy and trains generals. In June, he was passed over for the job of commandant of the Marine Corps in favor of Gen. James F. Amos.
As head of Central Command, Mattis would oversee U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well as across the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran. In his new position, Mattis technically would be Petraeus' boss.
The job requires Senate confirmation.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters that he was impressed with the general's "strategic insight and independent thinking."
Mattis is a general who is seemingly straight out of central casting, a gravel-voiced warrior best known for leading troops into the battle of Fallouja in Iraq in 2004.
Fond of quoting Shakespeare, Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, he tends to speak bluntly of the harsh realities of war. His candor got him in trouble in 2005 when he asserted in a speech in San Diego that it was "fun to shoot some people."
Mattis, a three-star general at the time, told the audience that some Afghans deserved to die.
"Actually, it's a lot of fun to fight," he said. "You know, it's a hell of a hoot.... It's fun to shoot some people. I'll be right upfront with you. I like brawling."
He added, "You go into Afghanistan, you got guys who slap women around for five years because they didn't wear a veil. You know, guys like that ain't got no manhood left anyway. So it's a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them."
His comments evoked some laughter and applause, but his then-boss, Gen. Michael Hagee, asked him to watch his words in public.
Gates said Thursday that he raised the issue with Mattis during the job interview and was confident that the general will be careful.
"I think the subsequent five years have demonstrated that the lesson was learned," he said.
Nonetheless, Mattis has continued to tell reporters that his main job is to "kill the enemy."
Considered one of the military's premier strategic thinkers, he is also a deft political operator. Among the members of his advisory board at Joint Forces Command have been Republican Newt Gingrich and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Huge hoard of Roman coins found on Somerset farm. A total of 52,500 bronze and silver coins dating from the 3rd century AD found by hobby metal detectorist Dave Crisp
Maev Kennedy guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 July 2010
The largest single hoard of Roman coins ever found in Britain has been unearthed on a farm near Frome in Somerset.
A total of 52,500 bronze and silver coins dating from the 3rd century AD – including the largest ever found set of coins minted by the self proclaimed emperor Carausius, who lasted seven years before he was murdered by his finance minister – were found by Dave Crisp, a hobby metal detectorist from Devizes, Wiltshire.
Crisp first dug up a fingernail-sized bronze coin only 30cm below the surface. Even though he had never found a hoard before, when he had turned up a dozen coins he stopped digging and called in the experts, who uncovered a pot bellied pottery jar stuffed with the extraordinary collection, all dating from 253 to 293 AD – the year of Carausius's death.
Just giving them a preliminary wash, to prevent them from sticking together in a corroded mass as the soil dried out, took conservation staff at the British Museum a month, and compiling the first rough catalogue took a further three months.
How they got into the field remains a mystery, but archaeologists believe they must represent the life savings of an entire community – possibly a votive offering to the gods. A Roman road runs nearby, but no trace of a villa, settlement or cemetery has been found.
Roger Bland, a coins expert at the British Museum, said: "The whole hoard weighs 160 kilos, more than two overweight people, and it wouldn't have been at all easy to recover the coins from the ground. The only way would have been the way the archaeologists had to get them out, by smashing the pot that held them and scooping them out.
"No one individual could possibly have carried them to the field in the pot, it must have been buried first and then filled up."
Bland, who heads the Portable Antiquities service which encourages metal detectorists to report all finds, said the hoard had already absorbed more than 1,000 hours of work. He admitted his first stunned reaction when he saw the coins in the ground in April, was "oh my god, how the hell are we going to deal with this? Now I think it will see me out, the research will keep me going until my retirement."
July 8, 2010 Biggest Defaulters on Mortgages Are the Rich By DAVID STREITFELD
LOS ALTOS, Calif. — No need for tears, but the well-off are losing their master suites and saying goodbye to their wine cellars.
The housing bust that began among the working class in remote subdivisions and quickly progressed to the suburban middle class is striking the upper class in privileged enclaves like this one in Silicon Valley.
Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that greatly exceeds the rest of the population.
More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate analytics firm CoreLogic.
By contrast, homeowners with less lavish housing are much more likely to keep writing checks to their lender. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.
Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties, just as they would any sour investment.
“The rich are different: they are more ruthless,” said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior economist.
Five properties here in Los Altos were scheduled for foreclosure auctions in a recent issue of The Los Altos Town Crier, the weekly newspaper where local legal notices are posted. Four have unpaid mortgage debt of more than $1 million, with the highest amount $2.8 million.
Not so long ago, said Chris Redden, the paper’s advertising services director, “it was a surprise if we had one foreclosure a month.”
The sheriff in Cook County, Ill., is increasingly in demand to evict foreclosed owners in the upscale suburbs to the north and west of Chicago — like Wilmette, La Grange and Glencoe. The occupants are always gone by the time a deputy gets there, a spokesman said, but just barely.
In Las Vegas, Ken Lowman, a longtime agent for luxury properties, said four of the 11 sales he brokered in June were distressed properties.
“I’ve never seen the wealthy hit like this before,” Mr. Lowman said. “They made their plans based on the best of all possible scenarios — that their incomes would continue to grow, that real estate would never drop. Not many had a plan B.”
The defaulting owners, he said, often remain as long as they can. “They’re in denial,” he said.
Here in Los Altos, where the median home price of $1.5 million makes it one of the most exclusive towns in the country, several houses scheduled for auction were still occupied this week. The people who answered the door were reluctant to explain their circumstances in any detail.
At one house, where the lender was owed $1.3 million, there was a couch out front wrapped in plastic. A woman said she and her husband had lost their jobs and were moving in with relatives. At another house, the family said they were renters. A third family, whose mortgage is $1.6 million, said they would be moving this weekend.
At a vacant house with a pool, where the lender was seeking $1.27 million, a raft and a water gun lay abandoned on the entryway floor.
Lenders are fearful that many of the 11 million or so homeowners who owe more than their house is worth will walk away from them, especially if the real estate market begins to weaken again. The so-called strategic defaults have become a matter of intense debate in recent months.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two quasi-governmental mortgage finance companies that own most of the mortgages in America with a value of less than $500,000, are alternately pleading with distressed homeowners not to be bad citizens and brandishing a stick at them.
In a recent column on Freddie Mac’s Web site, the company’s executive vice president, Don Bisenius, acknowledged that walking away “might well be a good decision for certain borrowers” but argues that those who do it are trashing their communities.
The CoreLogic data suggest that the rich do not seem to have concerns about the civic good uppermost in their mind, especially when it comes to investment and second homes. Nor do they appear to be particularly worried about being sued by their lender or frozen out of future loans by Fannie Mae, possible consequences of default.
The delinquency rate on investment homes where the original mortgage was more than $1 million is now 23 percent. For cheaper investment homes, it is about 10 percent.
With second homes, the delinquency rate for both types of owners was rising in concert until the stock market crashed in September 2008. That sent the percentage of troubled million-dollar loans spiraling up much faster than the smaller loans.
“Those with high net worth have other resources to lean on if they get in trouble,” said Mr. Khater, the analyst. “If they’re going delinquent faster than anyone else, that tells me they are doing so willingly.”
Willingly, but not necessarily publicly. The rapper Chamillionaire is a plain-talking exception. He recently walked away from a $2 million house he bought in Houston in 2006.
“I just decided to let it go, give it back to the bank,” he told the celebrity gossip TV show “TMZ.” “I just didn’t feel like it was a good investment.”
The rich and successful often come naturally to this sort of attitude, said Brent T. White, a law professor at the University of Arizona who has studied strategic defaults.
“They may be less susceptible to the shame and fear-mongering used by the government and the mortgage banking industry to keep underwater homeowners from acting in their financial best interest,” Mr. White said.
The CoreLogic data measures serious delinquencies, which means the borrower has missed at least three payments in a row. At that point, lenders traditionally file a notice of default and the house enters the official foreclosure process.
In the current environment, however, notices of default are down for all types of loans as lenders work with owners in various modification programs. Even so, owners in some of the more expensive neighborhoods in and around San Francisco are beginning to head for the exit, according to data compiled by MDA DataQuick.
In Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and the most expensive neighborhood in adjoining Mountain View, defaults in the first five months of this year edged up to 16, from 15 in the same period in 2009 and four in 2008.
The East Bay suburb of Orinda had eight notices of default for million-dollar properties, up from five in the same period last year. On Nob Hill in San Francisco, there were four, up from one. The Marina neighborhood had four, up from two.
The vast majority of owners in these upscale communities are still paying the mortgage, of course. But they appear to be cutting back in other ways. The once-thriving Los Altos downtown is pocked with more than a dozen empty storefronts in a six-block stretch.
But this is still Silicon Valley, where failure can always be considered a prelude to success.
MUFON CMS #24103 - Short Description of UFO Event: 2 bright lights huge object no sound thought we were going to die
Detailed Description of the UFO Event:
Im not sure how long it lasted because we thought we were going to die but you will understand in this description. It felts like minutes but I know it was seconds because we really thought we were going to die! Here is the story: I am reporting this in sadness because of this event my dog died! My daughter went to get the dogs from outside to bring them in (she's 15) and she ran screaming "get out a plane is going to hit us" "run" and she was hysterical. Me my husband and my son and I went running downstairs and my husband went to the backdoor (running) to investigate because my daughter is very meek and quiet and never screams. The next thing I know my husband is yelling "run" "its gonna hit us" and he started praying to God that we lived and if not take us to Heaven and let it be quick. We ran straight out the door as fast as our legs would go. Myself and my son never heard or saw anything we were just running for dear life. My husband told us to stop behind the trees because he thought at any moment it would hit and we wouldnt get much father ( didnt atually even think we would make it out the front door) and we live in the country so its all mostly open space in front of us. When nothing happened after a few seconds he told us to keep running as I horrifyingly saw him turn back toward the house. We kept going hurrying down the road and as we went we were trying to call our dogs that had escaped with us. My husband returned in his truck to state the object simply was gone/vanished he had no idea where it went but it never hit our house or flew over us and not a single sound was heard. So we continued the search for our dogs however one was struck by a car and killed. Later when I spoke with my husband and daughter I was informed it had 2 bright lights and was up in the sky they could see the back neighbors house below it and it made no sound and teetered a little back and forth but the lights were always horizontal to each other. This object made no sound what so ever and my husband said he saw the silhouette and it was as big as our back pasture across and very dark. I am very saddened but wanted to report this because weird things have occurred before here that we never mentioned to people. Like for one instance our laser pointer lights (we would play with our dogs with) when we would point them in the field they would disappear at some points but would be seen all the way to the orchards at other points and we always laughed that it was like something invisible was sucking up the light at that spot. Im now truely scared and wanted this reported in the case something happens to us. Now it is time for me to grieve. I am afraid to sleep. I truly believe it must have landed in our pasture but everything appears normal. Something very wrong happened here tonight...please help!! Has anyone else ever experienced this?
Jeff noted: Hey Lon, here is a case I am working on for MUFON....MUFON case #24103
The media here picked up on the story but did a piss poor job...and you can say I said that...they left out very important points...which I gave them. Here is the video link of the newscast, go ahead and use this so people can see when they compare to the actual MUFON report...also, they used a video in the news clip that had nothing to do with the report...Someone posted this on you tube which they recorded on the night of the sighting and they used it to make the news clip more exciting....that's not what this family saw that night..Here are 2 links to youtube. I recorded 2 unmarked vans sitting across the street of the house that reported the sighting the night before...These vans were parked out front the following morning....I was working that day ( AT&T Telephone) in that same area and as I was driving past the house I noticed the first van then a second one showed up...I parked 3 houses away in my van and started to record them...They both were wearing suits and this drew a flag because we are talking Saturday morning out in the country....
Arizona: Land of beauty, mystery, UFOs and extraterrestrial visitors
Submitted by Steve Hammons on Fri, 07/09/2010 - 12:56
Although Arizona has been in the news for the recent actions by the state legislature and governor, the state also is known for its other alien visitors – and these are not from Mexico.
Arizona is home to an interesting array of locations and incidents associated with leading-edge scientific developments and even highly unusual incidents.
For example, the March 13, 1997, so-called "Phoenix lights" case was clearly one of the most significant UFO sightings in recent decades. One or more large unusual flying objects were reportedly witnessed by hundreds, or maybe thousands, of Phoenix-area and Arizona residents that evening.
Theories about that night include views that the sightings were of U.S. advanced aircraft or that witnesses mistook a group of conventional planes for one large object.
Other opinions involve the idea that the incident was a U.S. "psychological operation (PSYOP)" of some kind. And, of course, one view is that it was an extraterrestrial craft.
This past April, a reliable witness reported the sighting of large U-shaped or V-shaped UFO near Lake Pleasant, at the far northwest edge of the metro Phoenix region.
The object had flashing red, yellow, blue and green lights and zipped around the sky briefly west of the I-17 freeway near the turn-off of the Carefree highway, the road to the towns of Cave Creek and Carefree on the far northern side of Phoenix, according to the witness.
Former U.S. senator from Arizona Barry Goldwater, who was also an Air Force reserve major general, famously inquired up the chain of command about UFOs and extraterrestrials, but said he was strongly told to back off from the topic.
Some researchers also say smaller unusual globes of light are often seen flying around the metro Phoenix "Valley of the Sun" area.
But the Phoenix lights case and other reports of unidentified flying objects are not the only aspects of Arizona related to forward-leaning scientific investigations of the unknown.
At both Arizona State University in Tempe and the University of Arizona in Tucson, scientific activities involving the U.S. space program have reportedly been key to the success of several U.S. space projects, including the search for extraterrestrial life.
Additional advanced programs in various other fields are also leading the way.
These include the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at ASU which explores a wide range of scientific disciplines. The center calls itself "a pioneering center devoted to tackling foundational questions of science and philosophy."
In addition, the U of A's Veritas Research Program is looking at consciousness and life after death. The interesting investigations there are changing how we look at human consciousness and the nature of reality.
The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at U of A is headed by well-known physician and professor at U of A's respected medical school, Andrew Weil, M.D. This center is providing valuable leadership in reshaping and improving wellness, disease prevention and health care.
Several major observatories are also located in southern Arizona's majestic Sonoran Desert. Here, leading astrophysicists and other scientists are making significant progress in knowledge about the Universe and Earth's place in it.
These and other activities in the Sonoran Desert region of Arizona are fascinating and leading to progress in the sciences and the human condition for people throughout America and around the world.
The many Native American Indian communities throughout Arizona are also contributing to cultural awareness and expanded views and perspectives about history, philosophy and Nature.
Their traditions and ancient knowledge are now apparently blending in many ways with modern scientific understanding. And, some of their legends seem to reflect unusual happenings going on now.
UNIQUE, DIVERSE, BEAUTIFUL, MYSTERIOUS
In the central Arizona mountain region, Sedona is internationally known as a physically beautiful and mystical place that could involve unknown energies.
The amazing red rock mountains and outcroppings of the area are truly breathtaking. Visitors from around the country and around the globe travel to Sedona to see and feel this magical beauty.
Have unconventional or anomalous incidents also occurred in the Sedona region? You bet, say some of the locals. Ancient Native American Indians of the region reportedly considered it a special and sacred place.
Today, visitors hike the many trails, take adventurous jeep tours, enjoy the Western art galleries and relax in the local inns and resorts. Some even find that the alleged metaphysical and spiritual energies in Sedona help them gain new perspectives.
In northeastern Arizona, the "Four Corners" area is home to the Navajo and Hopi nations, as well as Monument Valley. This region is not only rich in history, culture and unique beauty, there have also been reports of unusual happenings that are not fully understood by modern science.
The spirit of creativity is also alive and well in the state. Arizona has been a location for movie-making since the 1920s. The diverse landscape offers deserts, mountains and forests for filmmakers.
From the 1930s to the '50s director John Ford returned to Arizona many times to make his memorable westerns. Over the decades, dozens of western-themed films were shot in the state, and this trend continues.
However, Arizona also has a film connection to space and other worlds. It was also a shooting location for the portrayal of another planet in "Return of the Jedi" (1982). "Starman" (1983) was shot in Arizona and included a climactic scene at the famous meteor crater east of Flagstaff.
A wide variety of movies telling stories about different lands and many kinds of people have been filmed or partially filmed in Arizona.
Today, creative media professionals, many living in Arizona, are continuing to develop innovative films, TV shows and other projects that tap into the natural beauty and special energy of Arizona.
Despite current controversies in the news, Arizona's true nature is deeper and different than today's headlines.
At a more fundamental level, the region is a place of mystery and beauty, enjoyed by human beings – and maybe visitors from elsewhere, too.
Chinese airport closed after fiery UFO is spotted flying over city By Daily Mail Reporter Last updated at 3:20 PM on 9th July 2010
I was reading about the Chinese UFO a little earlier and whilst I suspect it of (more than likely) having an ‘earthly’ explanation I noticed it was accompanied by a couple of stunning images so I’ve took the liberty of posting them below.
One looks to some degree like an experiment of mine using different types of CG lighting.
Good morning Icarus99,
Unfortunately I don't know a lot about photography. So thank you and DrDil for your imput. I'm one of those that will look at a photo and say, "OHHH!!!!" then someone that knows what they are looking at will turn the photo up the other way and say, "You were looking at it upside down."
U.S. seized opportunity in arrests of Russian spies
By Karen DeYoung Washington Post Staff Writer Saturday, July 10, 2010; A01
President Obama's national security team spent weeks before the arrest of 10 Russian spies preparing for their takedown and assembling a list of prisoners Moscow might be willing to trade for the agents, senior administration officials said Friday.
U.S. officials began negotiating with their Russian counterparts shortly after the spies were arrested late last month, the officials said. Before long, the sides had reached an agreement that included pledges that neither would engage in any further "retaliatory steps," such as a diplomatic freeze or expulsions, and that neither would harass each other's officials or citizens.
Officials who provided details of how it all unfolded concentrated Friday on what they described as the smooth integration of the administration's law enforcement, intelligence and diplomatic teams in tracking the Russian agents and turning the situation into a national security victory rather than a source of political and public concern and potential criticism. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because, they said, the undertaking had been a group effort, authorized by the president.
Now, with the swap on an airport tarmac in Vienna completed, the administration hopes the episode will remain a nonissue between Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, treated as one of the occasional, fleeting bumps in a smooth road ahead for relations between their countries.
With any luck, U.S. officials indicated, it would be as if the biggest spy swap since the end of the Cold War had never happened.
The first time White House officials learned about the spies was in February, when representatives of the FBI, CIA and Justice Department held a briefing, according to one official. The briefers laid out "the broad contours" of what had been a decade-long investigation of a network of Russian "sleeper" agents placed in this country under false identities, and provided specifics about the individual agents.
Over the next several months, as concern grew that some of the agents were preparing to leave the United States, they discussed the timing of the arrests. Obama was first told about the Russian program and the long-running investigation June 11.
"He was also informed about plans for the arrests, and how that would be effected, what they would be charged with . . . [and] follow-on actions that were contemplated at that time," an official said.
Further presidential briefings followed, as did meetings among top national security officials but without Obama. Throughout those sessions, an official said, "there was a full discussion . . . about what was going to happen on the day after" the arrests.
Although there had been no final decision, the CIA and State Department had begun assembling a list of candidates for a swap, focusing on criteria that included humanitarian concerns and the general category of espionage.
They discarded the possibility of asking Moscow for individuals with no intelligence connections, and they found that the universe of imprisoned Russians who had been accused of spying for the West was surprisingly small. The list eventually included three former KGB officers and a researcher for a Moscow think tank who had been convicted of passing sensitive information to what Russia had alleged to be a CIA front company in London.
The idea of a swap "made perfect sense," an official said. There has been mild criticism from unnamed retired intelligence officials and some politicians that the release of the Russian spies gave away intelligence information, but "we didn't really have anything to learn from the agents themselves. We'd basically been looking over their shoulders for years."
The timing of the arrests was left in the hands of Justice and the FBI. When they finally moved on June 27, an official said, it was "entirely coincidental" that Medvedev had just left Washington after his seventh face-to-face visit with Obama.
Several officials said that the FBI's hand was forced by a flight out of the country booked for that night by one of the suspects for that night.
No one in the administration knew how the Russian government would react to the arrests, and the first response from Moscow was an official denial of the spy ring. But White House officials were heartened when the Russians reversed themselves within a day, and Obama quickly approved his national security team's recommendation that the swap be proposed.
CIA Director Leon Panetta was assigned to make the initial approach to his Russian counterpart, Mikhail Fradkov, and called him the day after the arrests. "They were ready to listen," a U.S. official said.
The four names were quickly transmitted and negotiations began. U.S. prosecutors began discussing a plea arrangement with the 10 in this country. In Moscow, the Russians accepted the U.S. list, gathered their own prisoners and arranged for presidential pardons. Panetta and Fradkov eventually spoke three times, the last call on July 3.
How a business grew out of a failed social-media app
By Jill Priluck Sunday, July 11, 2010; G02
In early 2009, Foursquare's chief executive sashayed out of South by Southwest with 2,500 users and enough chatter to launch a rocket. Social Bomb's founders, meanwhile, left deflated after the launch of their product, Paparazzi -- another mobile location app, with a photo-sharing tool -- which delivered on the promise of its maker's name: It bombed.
A little more than a year later, Social Bomb boasts a groundbreaking module that spans a panoply of networks and devices. It has a regular revenue stream from a Fortune 500 company and a new deal to create a social-media platform for HBO's "True Blood." The start-up is also in talks with Sony.
Like many in the little-guy economy, Social Bomb has been beset by more twists and turns than a spinning top. The failure of a lean and nimble app-based start-up is as familiar as a summer heat wave. The fledgling industry is a low-risk marketplace where ideas can take shape fast but frequently yield little tangible value. And failures often occur when the concepts aren't mined for other uses. But Social Bomb's trajectory shows how plain old resourcefulness can be a remarkable weapon in the little guy's arsenal.
After the South by Southwest debacle, Social Bomb's founders scrambled. In spring 2009, investors were either cash-strapped or guarding their reserves. So Scott Varland, Mike Dory and Adam Simon stopped taking paychecks and freelanced on the side, juggling up to five jobs each. They argued and considered parting ways.
But instead of walking, they retired their dreams of a killer app and returned to the technologies underlying Paparazzi and Tagnic, their Twitter app. As Facebook and Twitter grew, the trio began thinking about apps that would span more than one network. They had already built Paparazzi for the iPhone and Facebook. But if they wanted to extend their app's currency in the social-media landscape, they would need to harvest information on many platforms. So the team created a module to monitor user activity and bounce back and forth between relatively proprietary networks and custom Web sites. Their infrastructure, it turned out, was the killer app -- and their willingness to see this was their ace. "That ability to bridge different kinds of networks is what's special," said board member and author Clay Shirky, who taught the founders in graduate school.
This wasn't a newfound perseverance. Social Bomb's short history had already been replete with fits and starts. In 2007, the founders entered the business-plan competition at New York University's Stern School of Business, thinking they'd get bounced in the first round. They took home $50,000 in prize money. The 40-page plan helped Social Bomb send a clear message while raising funds in 2008. But in December of that year, they lost $100,000 -- one-third of a funding round from a backer who had second thoughts.
Social Bomb's triumphs so far are also unusual because its founders made the leap from a failed app to a viable enterprise. Creating an app is nothing like building a business that requires a mastery of sales and product management, among others.
With money in short supply, the team continued down the road of reinvention familiar to denizens of the little-guy economy and targeted large corporations eager to leverage brands online. It took months to sign a deal, but in October 2009, Social Bomb contracted with Mattel's Fisher-Price, which became its first Fortune 500 client -- and the source of recurring revenue -- to create a social-media campaign. Four months later, Facebook fans descended onto the toy company's new "Moments to Share" platform, which features a scrapbook for mothers to upload photos and videos of their kids. The page has about 36,000 users.
Social Bomb's about-face was not pain-free. Three hipster bachelors were now devising a social-media campaign for moms and kids under the direction of an entity founded in 1930.
Little-guy entities such as Social Bomb also operate differently. Large companies are known for being buried in paperwork and overexecuting. Social Bomb's saving grace was its patience and flexibility, which would pay off when its trajectory shifted again.
In February, Shirky connected Social Bomb with Chad Stoller, an executive at the BBDO Worldwide ad agency. In April, Stoller called from Sweden and asked Varland whether he had seen "True Blood." Varland hadn't, but he said he'd go home and watch it. "It was a 'True Blood' marathon," Varland said.
As a top HBO show, "True Blood" has a voracious fan base, including 2.5 million Facebook fans. Stoller tapped Social Bomb to devise a feature that would connect viewers in real time with Facebook and Twitter users -- and extend the fiction of the franchise beyond the cable box. To drive super-fandom and "aggressive sharing" on Blu-ray disks, Social Bomb created a feedback loop that would allow viewers to share scenes and artifacts directly from Blu-ray.
July 9, 2010 Dead for a Century, Twain Says What He Meant By LARRY ROHTER
Wry and cranky, droll and cantankerous — that’s the Mark Twain we think we know, thanks to reading “Huck Finn” and “Tom Sawyer” in high school. But in his unexpurgated autobiography, whose first volume is about to be published a century after his death, a very different Twain emerges, more pointedly political and willing to play the role of the angry prophet.
Whether anguishing over American military interventions abroad or delivering jabs at Wall Street tycoons, this Twain is strikingly contemporary. Though the autobiography also contains its share of homespun tales, some of its observations about American life are so acerbic — at one point Twain refers to American soldiers as “uniformed assassins” — that his heirs and editors, as well as the writer himself, feared they would damage his reputation if not withheld.
“From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,” Twain instructed them in 1906. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see.”
Twain’s decree will be put to the test when the University of California Press publishes the first of three volumes of the 500,000-word “Autobiography of Mark Twain” in November. Twain dictated most of it to a stenographer in the four years before his death at 74 on April 21, 1910. He argued that speaking his recollections and opinions, rather than writing them down, allowed him to adopt a more natural, colloquial and frank tone, and Twain scholars who have seen the manuscript agree.
In popular culture today, Twain is “Colonel Sanders without the chicken, the avuncular man who told stories,” Ron Powers, the author of “Mark Twain: A Life,” said in a phone interview. “He’s been scrubbed and sanitized, and his passion has been kind of forgotten in all these long decades. But here he is talking to us, without any filtering at all, and what comes through that we have lost is precisely this fierce, unceasing passion.”
Next week the British literary magazine Granta will publish an excerpt from the autobiography, called “The Farm.” In it Twain recalls childhood visits to his uncle’s Missouri farm, reflects on slavery and the slave who served as the model for Jim in “Huckleberry Finn,” and offers an almost Proustian meditation on memory and remembrance, with watermelon and maple sap in place of Proust’s madeleine.
“I can see the farm yet, with perfect clearness,” he writes. “I can see all its belongings, all its details.” Of slavery, he notes that “color and condition interposed a subtle line” between him and his black playmates, but confesses: “In my schoolboy days, I had no aversion to slavery. I was not aware there was anything wrong about it.”
Versions of the autobiography have been published before, in 1924, 1940 and 1959. But the original editor, Albert Bigelow Paine, was a stickler for propriety, cutting entire sections he thought offensive; his successors imposed a chronological cradle-to-grave narrative that Twain had specifically rejected, altered his distinctive punctuation, struck additional material they considered uninteresting and generally bowed to the desire of Twain’s daughter Clara, who died in 1962, to protect her father’s image.
“Paine was a Victorian editor,” said Robert Hirst, curator and general editor of the Mark Twain Papers and Project at the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, where Twain’s papers are housed. “He has an exaggerated sense of how dangerous some of Twain’s statements are going to be, which can extend to anything: politics, sexuality, the Bible, anything that’s just a little too radical. This goes on for a good long time, a protective attitude that is very harmful.”
Twain’s opposition to incipient imperialism and American military intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, for example, were well known even in his own time. But the uncensored autobiography makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers.
In a passage removed by Paine, Twain excoriates “the iniquitous Cuban-Spanish War” and Gen. Leonard Wood’s “mephitic record” as governor general in Havana. In writing about an attack on a tribal group in the Philippines, Twain refers to American troops as “our uniformed assassins” and describes their killing of “six hundred helpless and weaponless savages” as “a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.”
He is similarly unsparing about the plutocrats and Wall Street luminaries of his day, who he argued had destroyed the innate generosity of Americans and replaced it with greed and selfishness. “The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars,” Twain observes. “He pays taxes on two million and a half.”
Justin Kaplan, author of “Mr. Clemens and Mark Twain: A Biography,” said in a telephone interview: “One thing that gets Mark Twain going is his rage and resentment. There are a number of passages where he wants to get even, to settle scores with people whom he really despises. He loved invective.”
The material in Volume 1 that was omitted from previous editions amounts to “maybe as little as 5 percent of the dictations,” said Harriet E. Smith, chief editor of the autobiography. “But there will be a much higher percentage in Volumes 2 and 3,” each expected to be about 600 pages.
By the time all three volumes are available, Mr. Hirst said, “about half will not have ever been in print before.” A digital online edition is also planned, Ms. Smith said, ideally to coincide with publication of Volume 1 of “the complete and authoritative edition,” as the work is being called.
Some of Twain’s most critical remarks about individuals are directed at names that have faded from history. He complains about his lawyer, his publisher, the inventor of a failed typesetting machine who he feels fleeced him, and is especially hard on a countess who owns the villa in which he lived with his family in Florence, Italy, in 1904. He describes her as “excitable, malicious, malignant, vengeful, unforgiving, selfish, stingy, avaricious, coarse, vulgar, profane, obscene, a furious blusterer on the outside and at heart a coward.”
About literary figures of his time, however, Twain has relatively little to say. He dislikes Bret Harte, whom he dismisses as “always bright but never brilliant”; offers a sad portrait of an aged and infirm Harriet Beecher Stowe; and lavishly praises his friend William Dean Howells. He reserved criticism of novelists whose work he disliked (Henry James, George Eliot) for his letters.
Critics, though, are another story. “I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value,” Twain writes. “However, let it go,” he adds. “It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.”