Russia Wants To Fight ISIS: 3-Way War Consequences

Secular Talk

Russia is looking into furthering its military support of the leader of Syria, who is fighting ISIS.

These are the two main sides of the war – fundamentalist Jihadi rebels (such as ISIS) on one side, and Bashar al-Assad (the ruler of Syria) on the other.

The U.S. wants to support “moderate” rebels, who are supposedly against both Assad and ISIS, creating a 3-way war.

A 3-way war is an interesting concept.  How is this working out in real life?

NYC Now The Most Expensive City In The World?

According to Curbed, a new report by major international bank UBS says that New York City is now the most expensive city in the world to live in.  They claim that it isn’t just the city’s property prices that have steered it towards its new qualifier; it’s also the city’s cost of goods and services and low after-tax wages, according to The Wall Street Journal (h/tTRD). While global cities Zurich and Geneva outpace New York in their cost of goods and services, the city’s burdensome rents tipped the scale in New York’s favor for the title of World’s Most Expensive City.

(Updated article)

Pope Rides Around In A Fuel-Efficient Compact Car


During his trip to the U.S., the Pope has refused to ride in a limousine, and instead has been driven around in a modest Fiat 500 from the airplane.

MSNBC reports on the Pope’s departure from Joint Base Andrews in a small Fiat after saying goodbye to President Obama and the First Lady.

(Updated post)



In 1972, three years before Sony’s Betamax, more than a decade before Blockbuster, and 25 years before Netflix, Cartrivision – based in San Jose, California – brought Americans into the era of on-demand video with the first consumer videotape recorder available in the U.S., according to Fast Company.

Sony had built a video-tape recorder before this (the U-Matic), but it was made for television studios, not for consumers.

Cartridge Television’s “Cartrivision” could record and play back color-TV programs, play prerecorded videos, act as a closed-circuit security camera, and even play back home movies recorded on its companion video camera.

Cartrivision was a home-entertainment center with the TV and video recorder sold together as one unit.

The cartridges – 8-inch plastic squares – were inserted into a bottom-hinged compartment that closed into the color-TV console “with the thunk of a car door,” writes Fast Company.  Cartrivision could fast-forward and rewind tapes. It also had a simple wind-down timer for scheduling recordings.

In addition to offering reusable blank tapes starting at $15 for a 15-minute cartridge, Cartrivision was also quick to recognize the value of video content and offered a catalog of 100 to 200 tape cartridges to buy or rent.

Just as with later VCRs, the selection ranged from wholesome family entertainment (Roger Ramjet cartoons) to X-rated movies (Private Duty Nurses).

“This will put pornography back in the home where it belongs,” said an unnamed employee of Hornhill and Weeks-Hemphill, a Cartrivision investor, in a 1973 Washington Post article.

Most of the films available for purchase—prices ranged from $13 to $40—were instructional or cultural programs. Hollywood releases were supposedly available only for rental, at $3 to $6 a pop.


The latter included such classics as The Bridge on the River Kwai, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Dr. Strangelove, and High Noon.

That the company was able to offer Hollywood releases at all was good, given Hollywood’s resentment towards home video in the 70s.   That resentment led to the famous “Betamax case” of Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.

Just as today’s iTunes Store enforces time limits on digital movie rental via digital-rights management technology, Cartrivision employed analog-rights management: rented tapes, offered in red casings, could be rewound only with equipment available at retailers. That ensured that a consumer could only watch a movie once.

Integrated with a color TV, Cartrivision could record and play back color programming. However, it offered a monochrome “instant replay” video camera and further optional microphone that could be used to make home movies.

Even though the camera, tapes, and home-TV player all came from one company, the video cartridges couldn’t be moved from the camera to the TV console, like the VHS-C tapes that would come come a decade later. Playing back the recordings required hooking up cables to jacks on the Cartrivision side of the TV.CLICK THE PICTURE TO ENLARGE, BACK BUTTON TO RETURN

Rather than sell its system directly under its own brand, Cartrivision attracted a number of prominent TV and retailer brands, including Admiral, Emerson, Teledyne Packard Bell, Macy’s, Montgomery Ward, and Sears. Then, as now, there was a fair amount of product relabeling. The Montgomery Ward unit, for instance, used an Admiral chassis.

Cartrivision was the first video tape recorder made available in the U.S. Cartrivision had contemporary competition of sorts with machines such as the Philips N1500, which saw marginally more success in Europe.

The Philips device was expensive for its time (£600, or about $11,700 in today’s dollars), but had advantages. It was available as a standalone unit, where as Cartrivision came with a TV, as a home entertainment center.

The Phillips device also offered better video quality on its hour-long videocassettes. It also had a programmable digital timer and the ability to record shows on a channel that wasn’t being watched via its own tuner, which allowed the TV to be turned off during recording. Its fast-forward and rewind buttons used standard piano-style keys and didn’t require switching into a separate mode as Cartrivision did.

Philips looked into bringing the device to the U.S. in 1977, but encountered technical difficulties resulting from differences between the American NTSC broadcast standard and the European PAL standard. And by that time, the company was looking to VHS as the future of videotape.


With the U.S. market to itself, Cartrivision pushed hard on marketing the wonder of its machine. The Hollywood spotlight even briefly shined on it in an episode of What’s My Line? in which the panelists had to guess that the contents of a Cartrivision cartridge contained the opening of the very program they were on. (It took panelist Henry Morgan less than a minute to do so.)

Cartrivision indulged the medium it served with its advertising and instructional materials, too. Indeed, save for period fashions, background music straight out of a Brady Bunch episode, and gender stereotypes (“While you’re at the meeting, your wife simply inserts a blank cartridge, presses the record button, turns the selector switch, and records the program in full color.”), its promo videos bring to mind pitches that accompany crowdfunding campaigns. The company was not shy about using effusive language for its “experience center,” with the voice of the anthropomorphized Cartrivision noting, “I can bring you whatever you want to see, whenever you want to see it.”


Alas, for all its pioneering, Cartrivision attracted a very small audience and failed spectacularly over the course of a little more than a year. The product suffered from a range of problems. First among these was price. In 1972, even standard color TVs were still pricey: only about half of American homes had one. The mass market was loath to cough up Cartrivision’s asking price of $1,600 (about $9,100 in today’s dollars).

Cartrivision also had its user experience failings. Here’s how one enthusiast site describes its operation:

“[T]o go into fast forward, you press down the FF button and turn the function selector knob to the rewind position. Kind of like going into record mode. (Press & hold record button, turn selector to play.) This takes two hands and even then is cumbersome to say the least. Notice that the positioning of the controls is near the height of most people’s ankles! Behind the smoked cover . . . are two additional mode switches and the mechanical sleep timer. The logic of these switches is bewildering in its (unnecessary) complexity.”

The Cartrivision’s picture was reportedly fuzzy.  The product recorded only every third video frame, in an early form of analog compression.

Unfortunately, due to poor luck or poor planning, the company stored many of its cartridges in a warehouse so humid that many of the tapes were destroyed.

Some also claim that advance pronouncements from RCA about its forthcoming SelectaVision MagTape VCR, which never shipped, harmed Cartrivision. In 1973, Avco, the company that manufactured Cartrivision, pulled out, and founder Frank Stanton was forced to lay off staff and slash work on projects such as a standalone version of the product.

But like today’s startup entrepreneurs, the company’s staff were true believers. A radio report on the closure of Cartrivision notes that employees came in the day after they were let go to keep the company going, perhaps in hopes of a salvation that never arrived.


In 1975, Sony shipped the first Betamax systems in Japan. It undercut the price of Cartrivision even at the premium Sony was able to charge. JVC followed with the even less expensive first VHS VCR the following year. Even if it had seen more early success, Cartrivision was doomed to be crushed in the looming war between these formats, both of which avoided some of its quirks.

The ultimate paradox of Cartrivision was that it looked like just another color TV of the era. Fast Company claims that its invisibility contributed to challenges on the sales floor.

The “I am Cartrivision” video (seen above) acknowledges this by noting, “At first, you probably thought I was a color television set.” However, behind the scenes, the company was attempting to move mountains in a prototypical technology-entertainment ecosystem, bringing together licensed hardware (the TV manufacturers and cameras), content (the movies available to purchase and rent), services (the rental rewinding and catalogs), and distribution (the retailers).

(Updated post)

Syrian Refugee Numbers

Which countries have taken in the most Syrian refugees?

Here are the numbers:

Turkey: 1.9 million

Lebanon: 1.1 million

Jordan: 629,000

Egypt: 132,000

Which countries are getting the most Syrian asylum requests?

Germany: 98,700

Sweden: 64,700

Serbia: 49,500

Hungary: 18,800

Austria: 18,600

Bulgaria: 15,000

Netherlands: 14,100

Denmark: 11,300

Switzerland: 8,300

United Kingdom: 7,000

France: 6,700

Spain: 5,500

Greece: 3,545

Italy: 2,143

These are the number of asylum requests, not the actual number of people who have arrived in that nation.  Nor is it the total number expected to apply.  For example, the total number of people expected to apply for asylum in Germany is between 800,000 and 1,000,000.

What’s the U.S. doing?

About 1,500 Syrian refugees have been admitted to the United States since the start of the conflict in 2011, most of them this fiscal year, writes CNN.

CNN writes that President Barack Obama ordered his administration to “scale up” the number of Syrian refugees to be allowed into the U.S. – at least 10,000 in the next fiscal year, a White House spokesman said on September 10th.

The proposed resettling of at least 10,000 Syrian refugees would be allocated out of a U.S. quota of 75,000 total refugee admissions slated for next fiscal year, beginning October 1, said a senior administration official.

Thai Murder Case Unravels

Roughly one year ago, the bodies of a young British couple were discovered dead on a Thai beach.

Hannah Witheridge was from eastern England and David Miller was from the Channel Islands in Britain. They were in their early 20s and vacationing together on the tiny tropical island of Koh Tao off the coast of southern Thailand.

On Sept. 14, 2014, they attended an all-night party on Koh Tao’s idyllic Sairee Beach: a half-mile swath of emerald water and white sand. Sometime deep into the night, the two friends wandered off, perhaps headed back to their bungalow resort nearby.

That’s when the killers pounced.

By the time dawn broke over Koh Tao, the beach had been transformed into a grisly scene. Witheridge was found with her head beaten and her skirt wrenched up and her body showing signs of rape. Miller was found not far away with his head also beaten.

A rusty hoe, its blade broken and supposedly caked in gore, lay nearby.

Authorities scoured its jungles for suspects as islanders blocked the ferry to prevent the killers’ escape. Coming just four months after a coup had installed a military junta in power, the case quickly became a litmus test of the new government’s commitment to fighting crime.

One year later, those test results are far from convincing.

Two Burmese workers are currently on trial for the tourists’ killings, but the case is quickly unraveling in court. On Friday, a Thai forensic expert said that DNA evidence from the supposed murder weapon does not match that of the suspects.

The testimony is just the latest in a long series of shocking setbacks that threaten to sink the case.

From the beginning, there were signs that the investigation was in trouble.

Thai police admitted to moving Miller’s body, ostensibly to prevent it from washing away. Authorities announced that Witheridge was raped, then said she wasn’t, before finally saying she was raped twice.

Cops initially named a British friend of hers as a person of interest, then began taking DNA samples from hundreds of suspects. The investigation descended into the absurd when Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha commented on the killings by saying that only ugly women were safe wearing bikinis in Thailand.

Finally, police appeared to have found their footing when they arrested two Burmese migrants who, police said, had confessed to the crime.

Yet, that case also has been disintegrating. Shortly after arresting the two 22-year-old Burmese men, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, Thai officials had the suspects perform a bizarre public reenactment of the crime, in which they seemed confused. Bystanders, including a TV reporter, were roped in to play the the victims.

Their confession, itself, was confused. The men said they didn’t use condoms, even though police insisted they had.

Then, just a few days later, a lawyer for the two men said that the confession was false: Police had beaten it out of them.

“They told me that they were on the beach that night drinking and singing songs,” said attorney Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese Embassy official, the Guardian reported. “They said they didn’t do it, that the Thai police beat them until they confessed to something they didn’t do.

“They’re pleading with the Burmese government to look into the case and find out the truth,” he added after speaking to the two men. “They were a really pitiful sight. Their bodies had all sorts of bruises.”

Doubts about the case against the migrants — and the underlying mystery of who killed the tourists — have only deepened since the trial began in early July.

Thai police admitted in court that they never bothered to check CCTV footage of a boat leaving from a nearby pier just an hour after the killings.

“We have the footage, but we never checked it,” Police Col. Cherdpong Chiewpreecha said in court, drawing gasps from those in attendance, according to Sky News. He said he simply didn’t believe the killer would have taken the boat.

Cherdpong also said that his department had not investigated rumors of a fight between Witheridge and the son of a powerful Koh Tao politician the night of the killings.

His department didn’t fully test the alleged murder weapon. Instead, the colonel told the court that the hoe was examined under a magnifying glass but that investigators decided there were no viable fingerprints or DNA to collect, according to Sky News.

Blood spatters were not tested, Cherdpong said.

Finally, he said he didn’t think it was relevant that CCTV footage showed men fleeing from the area in different clothing than what the Burmese workers were wearing that night.

Last month, the interpreters who were used to obtain the now retracted confession admitted in court that they are actually roti (pancake) vendors who barely understand Thai and speak little Burmese, according to the Myanmar Times.

“The second roti seller has been on the stand today, and it’s become very clear that he does not have much of grasp of Thai at all, so we don’t understand how he could have translated for police,” Andy Hall, a British migrant-rights advocate who is assisting the defense, told the newspaper. “As well there have been many police procedural issues exposed this week, including many inconsistencies in the timing of events around the arrest of the accused.”

Then came Friday’s bombshell about the DNA on the bloody hoe.

Police had previously given conflicting statements about the DNA evidence, initially saying that it was lost or “used up” before later insisting that it had been properly saved, according to Reuters.

Last month, a court on Koh Samui — 40 miles from Koh Tao — ordered that the remaining forensic evidence in the case be sent for reexamination.

Last Friday, Pornthip Rojanasunand, the head of Thailand’s forensics institute, testified that DNA found on the hoe does not match that of the two accused Burmese men, according to the Telegraph.

The trial is expected to be finished later this month, but with no DNA evidence and a disputed confession, the case appears to be collapsing.

Police Mistook Student’s Clock For Bomb

The Dallas Morning News

A high school student in Texas named Ahmed Mohamed built a clock that authorities mistook for a bomb.

The Dallas Morning News writes:

The teacher kept the clock. When the principal and a police officer pulled Ahmed out of sixth period, he suspected he wouldn’t get it back.

They led Ahmed into a room where four other police officers waited. He said an officer he’d never seen before leaned back in his chair and remarked: “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.”

Ahmed felt suddenly conscious of his brown skin and his name — one of the most common in the Muslim religion. But the police kept him busy with questions.

“They were like, ‘So you tried to make a bomb?’” Ahmed said.

“I told them no, I was trying to make a clock.”

“He said, ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’”

USA Today writes that President Obama invited him to the White House.

“Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House?,” @POTUS tweeted. “We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”

Mohamed is a  freshman at MacArthur High School in Irving.  He was suspended and Irving police handcuffed, questioned and detained him, then let him go, according to USA Today.


Sick Story: Woman Sent To Psychiatric Ward Because Police Didn’t Believe She Owned Her Car

TYT Network

A woman is suing New York City after she claims she was forced to spend eight days in a mental health facility and given a $13,000 (£8,500) bill because a police officer didn’t believe the BMW she was driving was hers, according to the British newspaper The Independent.

Kamilah Brock, 32, who is a banker, said that police had initially pulled her over at a red light in Harlem and asked her why her hands were not on the steering wheel. She said she was dancing because she was at a light. She was then asked to get out of the car.

She was detained in jail and later released without charges. When she went to get her BMW, the cops reportedly didn’t believe it was hers and sent her to Harlem hospital psychiatric ward.

“I just felt like from the moment I said I owned a BMW, I was looked at as a liar,” Brock told PIX 11.

According to the British newspaper The Daily Mail, records show that personnel at Harlem Hospital tried to make her deny that she owned a BMW, was a banker, and that President Barack Obama followed her on Twitter.

Medical staff believed that Brock had bi-polar disorder for her claims about the BMW, her job, and her social media account.

According to the Daily Mail, Brock’s lawyer Michael Lamonsoff says that his client told the truth the entire time and claims that Brock was discriminated against because she is black and a white woman would not have had the same experience.
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Civil Asset Forfeiture

What is Civil Asset Forfeiture?

Civil Asset Forfeiture in the United States, sometimes called civil judicial forfeiture, is a legal process in which law enforcement officers take assets from persons suspected of involvement with crime or illegal activity without necessarily charging the owners with wrongdoing.

While civil procedure generally involves a dispute between two private citizens, civil forfeiture involves a dispute between law enforcement and property, such as money or valuable items such as a car.  The item should be suspected of being involved in a crime.

Wikipedia states that to get back the seized property, “owners must prove it was not involved in criminal activity.”

This is an odd twist:  usually, the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but in this case, the owner of the item must prove his or her innocence.

Last Thursday, SB 443, California’s attempt to end civil-asset forfeiture and “equitable sharing” abuse, failed passage in the State Assembly, 24 to 44, according to the National Review.

What is equitable sharing?

The National Review writes that “Forfeiture practices are further complicated with the existence of equitable-sharing agreements. Therein, state and local agencies partner with federal law enforcement, seize property, and proceed with the forfeiture motion through the jurisdiction with the least restrictive process, oftentimes the federal courts. The agencies then share the proceeds. This allows law enforcement to wholly sidestep any legal protections guaranteed by the state.”

More on Civil Asset Forfeiture by Wikipedia:

“Proponents see civil forfeiture as a powerful tool to thwart criminal organizations involved in the illegal drug trade, with $12 billion annual profits, since it allows authorities to seize cash and other assets resulting from narcotics trafficking. Proponents argue that it is an efficient method since it allows law enforcement agencies to use these seized proceeds to further battle illegal activity, that is, directly converting bad things to good purposes by harming criminals economically while helping law enforcement financially. Critics argue that innocent owners become entangled in the process such that their right to property is violated, with few legal protections and due process rules to protect them in situations where they are presumed guilty instead of being presumed innocent.”

The ACLU writes:

“Civil forfeiture allows police to seize — and then keep or sell — any property they allege is involved in a crime. Owners need not ever be arrested or convicted of a crime for their cash, cars, or even real estate to be taken away permanently by the government.”

Why would we allow civil asset forfeiture?

The Heritage Foundation writes that Civil Asset Forfeiture is intended to give law enforcement a tool they can use to go after organized crime – mafia, etc. – including drug dealers and their organizations.

The Heritage Foundation continues:  “Unfortunately, civil asset forfeiture is also used by law enforcement as a way to generate revenue, and many of its targets are innocent members of the public.”

In regards to the California Senate Bill 443, the bill “would not affect law enforcement’s power to seize property, based on probable cause. Police would still be able to hold seized property in evidence rooms and impound lots until forfeiture proceedings are resolved.”

A Sacramento Bee letter to the editor writes:

“Instead, SB 443 would only allow seized property to be forfeited (to the government) once its owner has been convicted of any crime. California already requires this for most seizures. Several states, including Montana, Nevada and New Mexico, recently enacted this vital protection of due process.

“Moreover, whenever California agencies collaborate with the federal government, SB 443 would first require the federal government to obtain a criminal conviction before proceeding with forfeiture. One investigation found the federal government, in cooperation with California agencies, took nearly $300 million in cash from people never charged with a crime.”

Did Trump Start With Nothing?

TYT Network

Did presidential candidate Donald Trump Start with nothing?  Did he “pull himself up by his boot straps?”

Vox writes:

“In an outstanding piece for National Journal, reporter S.V. Dáte notes that in 1974, the real estate empire of Trump’s father, Fred, was worth about $200 million. Trump is one of five siblings, making his stake at that time worth about $40 million. If someone were to invest $40 million in a S&P 500 index in August 1974, reinvest all dividends, not cash out and have to pay capital gains, and pay nothing in investment fees, he’d wind up with about $3.4 billion come August 2015, according to Don’t Quit Your Day Job’s handy S&P calculator. If one factors in dividend taxes and a fee of 0.15 percent — which is triple Vanguard’s actual fee for an exchange-traded S&P 500 fund — the total only falls to $2.3 billion.

“It’s hard to nail down Trump’s precise net worth, but Bloomberg currently puts it at $2.9 billion, while Forbes puts it at $4 billion. So he’s worth about as much as he would’ve been if he had taken $40 million from his dad and thrown it into an index fund.”

More on whether Donald Trump started with nothing here:’s_protection_mostly_did_the_trick

Don’t Quit Your Day Job: