Famous quotes

"Happiness can be defined, in part at least, as the fruit of the desire and ability to sacrifice what we want now for what we want eventually" - Stephen Covey

Sunday, May 20, 2018

O Captain My Captain - Walt Whitman

O Captain! My Captain!

By Walt Whitman

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring;
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head!
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still,
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will,
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done,
From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won;
Exult O shores, and ring O bells!
But I with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.

Collar Bomb Heist

This incredible real life crime story has more twists and turns which is far more intriguing than any Hollywood movie

Thank for the Stuff you should know podcast to introduce me to this remarkable story

By Rich Shapiro in the Wired magazine


At 2:28 pm on August 28, 2003, a middle-aged pizza deliveryman cane in his right hand and a strange bulge under the collar of his T-shirt. Wells, 46 and balding, passed the teller a note. "Gather employees with access codes to vault and work fast to fill bag with $250,000," it said. "You have only 15 minutes." Then he lifted his shirt to reveal a heavy, boxlike device dangling from his neck. According to the note, it was a bomb. The teller, who told Wells there was no way to get into the vault at that time, filled a bag with cash—$8,702—and handed it over. Wells walked out, sucking on a Dum Dum lollipop he grabbed from the counter, hopped into his car, and drove off. He didn't get far. Some 15 minutes later, state troopers spotted Wells standing outside his Geo Metro in a nearby parking lot, surrounded him, and tossed him to the pavement, cuffing his hands behind his back.

Wells told the troopers that while out on a delivery he had been accosted by a group of black men who chained the bomb around his neck at gunpoint and forced him to rob the bank. "It's gonna go off!" he told them in desperation. "I'm not lying." The officers called the bomb squad and took positions behind their cars, guns drawn. TV camera crews arrived and began filming. For 25 minutes Wells remained seated on the pavement, his legs curled beneath him.

"Did you call my boss?" Wells asked a trooper at one point, apparently concerned that his employer would think he was shirking his duties. Suddenly, the device started to emit an accelerating beeping noise. Wells fidgeted. It looked like he was trying to scoot backward, to somehow escape the bomb strapped to his neck. Beep... Beep... Beep. Boom! The device detonated, blasting him violently onto his back and ripping a 5-inch gash in his chest. The pizza deliveryman took a few last gasps and died on the pavement. It was 3:18 pm. The bomb squad arrived three minutes later.

The police began sorting through a trove of physical evidence. In Wells' car, they discovered the 2-foot-long cane, which turned out to be an ingeniously crafted homemade gun. The bomb itself was likewise a marvel of DIY design and construction. The device consisted of two parts: a triple-banded metal collar with four keyholes and a three-digit combination lock, and an iron box containing two 6-inch pipe bombs loaded with double-base smokeless powder. The hinged collar locked around Wells' neck like a giant handcuff. Investigators could tell that it had been built using professional tools. The device also contained two Sunbeam kitchen timers and one electronic countdown timer. It had wires running through it that connected to nothing—decoys to throw off would-be disablers—and stickers bearing deceptive warnings. The contraption was a puzzle in and of itself.

The most perplexing and intriguing pieces of evidence, though, were the handwritten notes that investigators found inside Wells' car. Addressed to the "Bomb Hostage," the notes instructed Wells to rob the bank of $250,000, then follow a set of complex instructions to find various keys and combination codes hidden throughout Erie. It contained drawings, threats, and detailed maps. If Wells did as he was told, the instructions promised, he'd wind up with the keys and the combination required to free him from the bomb. Failure or disobedience would result in certain death. "There is only one way you can survive and that is to cooperate completely," the notes read in meticulous lettering that would later stymie handwriting analysis. "This powerful, booby-trapped bomb can be removed only by following our instructions... ACT NOW, THINK LATER OR YOU WILL DIE!" It seemed that whoever planned the robbery had also constructed a nightmarish scavenger hunt for Wells, in which the prize was his life.

In the frantic hours after Wells was killed, the cops tried completing the hunt themselves. The first note was straightforward enough: "Exit the bank with the money and go to the McDonald's resturaunt [sic]," it read. "Get out of the car and go to the small sign reading drive thru/open 24 hr in the flower bed. By the sign, there is a rock with a note taped to the bottom. It has your next instructions." Wells drove straight there after he left the bank with the bag of cash. He retrieved a two-page note from the flower bed, which directed him up Peach Street to a wooded area several miles away, where a container with orange tape would hold the next set of instructions. Wells was caught before he got to that clue, but the investigators picked up the thread, locating the container with the orange tape. In it, they found a note directing them 2 miles south to a small road sign, where the next clue would be waiting in a jar in the woods nearby. When they got there, they found the jar, but it was empty. Whoever had set this macabre ordeal in motion, it seemed, had called it off once the cops had appeared—and had probably been watching them every step of the way.

Wells' clothing added another layer of intrigue. He died wearing two T-shirts, the outer one emblazoned with a Guess clothing logo. Wells wasn't wearing the shirt at work that morning, and his relatives said it wasn't his. It appeared to be a taunt: Can you guess who is behind this?

That was just one of the questions that perplexed investigators. What, for instance, was the purpose of the scavenger hunt? Why send a hostage hopping around Erie in broad daylight? Why scatter clues in public locations where they might be discovered? How was Wells chosen to be the hostage?

The bomb was rigged such that any attempt to remove it would set it off. Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom The riddles transfixed the city of Erie and drew headlines in newspapers from St. Louis to Sydney. It also set in motion a byzantine investigation, with federal agents sniffing out clues and hunting down leads in twisted pursuit of the shadowy criminal who came to be known as the Collar Bomber. For seven years, the FBI was engaged in a scavenger hunt of its own, one that the Collar Bomber seemed to have planned as intricately as the one that had ensnared Wells. The only question was whether the Feds would get any further than Wells had.

The hunt began at Mama Mia's Pizza-Ria. That's where Wells was working at 1:30 pm on the day of the robbery, when an order came in for two small sausage-and-pepperoni pies to be delivered to a location on the outskirts of the city. Wells was a loyal employee—in 10 years, the only time he had called in late for work was when his cat died. Even though he was at the end of his shift, he agreed to deliver the order. He walked out of the shop, two pies in hand, at about 2 pm.

Wells entered the bank with this ingenious handmade gun disguised as a cane. Photo: Michael Schmeling The delivery location, reachable only by a dirt road, was a TV transmission tower site in a wooded area off of busy Peach Street. When investigators combed the vicinity, they discovered shoe prints consistent with Wells' footwear and tire tracks matching the treads on his Geo Metro. But the site offered no clues as to who may have lured him there or what happened once he arrived.

The next day, a reporter and a photographer for the Erie Times-News headed to the tower. The dirt road leading there was cordoned off by authorities, but the journalists spotted a tall, heavyset man in denim Carhartt overalls pacing in front of a home that sat right next to it. His backyard extended almost to the transmission tower. The man identified himself as Bill Rothstein.

Rothstein, 59, was an unmarried handyman and a lifelong resident of the area. He spoke elegantly, like someone who takes great pride in his mastery of the English language. (He was also fluent in French and Hebrew.) Rothstein seemed oblivious to the investigation unfolding beyond his backyard. The journalists, eager to get a view of the scene, asked Rothstein if he could lead them through his yard. He agreed. They headed into the thick brush but still couldn't see much. After spending about 15 minutes at Rothstein's place, they took off.

Bill Rothstein may have appeared to be just a man who owned a house next to a TV tower. But he turned out to be hiding a dark secret. On September 20, less than a month after the bomb killed Wells, Rothstein called 911. "At 8645 Peach Street, in the garage, there is a frozen body," he told the police dispatcher, referring to his own address. "It's in the freezer."

Within hours of making the call, Rothstein was in custody. He told the cops that he had been in agony for weeks. He had considered killing himself, he told them, and had gone so far as to write a suicide note, which investigators found inside a desk at his home. Writing in black marker, Rothstein expressed his apologies "to those who cared for or about me," identified the body in his freezer as that of Jim Roden, and noted that he "did not kill him, nor participate in his death." The note opened with a curious disclaimer: "This has nothing to do with the Wells case."

Bill Rothstein was a handyman with the skills to fabricate an elaborate explosive device. Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom Over the next two days, Rothstein explained to police how a dead man came to be in his freezer. In mid-August, he said, he'd received a phone call from an ex-girlfriend, Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong, whom he had dated in the 1960s and early 1970s. Diehl-Armstrong told him she had shot her live-in boyfriend, James Roden, in the back with a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, in a dispute over money. Now she needed help removing the body and cleaning up the scene inside her Erie home, about 10 miles from Rothstein's place. Rothstein did what she asked. He kept the corpse in a chest freezer in his garage for five weeks. He painstakingly melted down the murder weapon and scattered the pieces around Erie County. But, Rothstein said, he couldn't go through with the plan to grind up the body, and he called 911 because he was afraid of what Diehl-Armstrong might do to him.

On September 21—the day after Rothstein called 911—Diehl-Armstrong was arrested for the murder of Roden. Sixteen months later, in January 2005, she pleaded guilty but mentally ill and was sentenced to seven to 20 years in state prison. But by that time, Rothstein was past caring about the old girlfriend he'd given up to the cops: He had died of lymphoma in July 2004.

The team of federal agents investigating the collar bomb mystery hadn't been paying much attention to the Roden murder. It was a local matter and seemed to have nothing to do with their case. But in April 2005, they got a phone call from a state police officer who had just met with Diehl-Armstrong about an unrelated homicide. Rothstein's suicide note, it seemed, was a lie; Diehl-Armstrong had said that Roden's murder had everything to do with the collar bomb plot. When the Feds met with Diehl-Armstrong, she told them that, if they could arrange a transfer from Muncy state penitentiary to the minimum-security prison in Cambridge Springs, a facility much closer to Erie, she would tell them everything she knew.

Even before she was arrested for killing Roden, Diehl-Armstrong was one of Erie's most notorious figures, well known for her string of dead lovers. She first drew public attention in 1984 when, at 35, she was charged with murdering her boyfriend, Robert Thomas. Diehl-Armstrong claimed she shot him six times in self-defense, and a jury eventually acquitted her. Four years later, her husband, Richard Armstrong, died of a cerebral hemorrhage. The death was ruled accidental, but questions lingered; Armstrong had a head injury when he arrived at the hospital, but the case was never forwarded to the coroner's office.

Back in high school, according to former classmates, Diehl-Armstrong was known for her dazzling intelligence, and she still possessed an almost encyclopedic knowledge of literature, history, and the law. But over the years, that brilliance had become spiked with madness. According to court records, she suffered from bipolar disorder. Her moods swung sharply, and she appeared unable to control her nonstop, rapid-fire speech. She was paranoid and narcissistic. In 1984, investigators found 400 pounds of butter and more than 700 pounds of cheese, nearly all of it rotting, inside her trash-strewn house. Psychiatrists deemed her mentally incompetent seven times before a judge finally ruled she was fit to be tried in the Thomas case.

She seemed to be exactly the kind of person—murderous, eccentric, and intent on demonstrating her intellectual gifts—who might devise an overly complicated bank heist. She also seemed to be the kind of person who would likely be unable to stop herself from telling the world about her brilliant ruse.

Evidence collected over the course of the complex investigation: a Remington shotgun shell. Photo: Michael Schmeling When Diehl-Armstrong met with federal investigators for a series of interviews, that's exactly what she appeared to be doing. While she insisted that she was not in any way involved in the plot, she admitted that she knew about it, that she had supplied the kitchen timers that were used in the bomb, and that she was within a mile of the bank at the time of the robbery. She also said that Wells, the dead pizza delivery guy, was not just a victim but had been in on the plan. And so was Rothstein, the man who turned her in for Roden's murder. In fact, she asserted, he had masterminded the whole thing.

But even as Diehl-Armstrong pointed the finger at Rothstein, she was implicating herself. Indeed, even before hearing her self-incriminating testimony, investigators had begun to suspect that Diehl-Armstrong was behind the collar bomb plot. Over the previous weeks, they had met with four separate informants who revealed that Diehl-Armstrong had talked about the crime in intimate detail. One kept notes of the conversations, which included Diehl-Armstrong's assertions that she killed Roden because "he was going to tell about the robbery" and that she had helped measure Wells' neck for the bomb.

Then, in late 2005, a few months after Diehl-Armstrong first talked to the Feds, they received another break in the case: A witness came forward to say that an ex-television repairman turned crack dealer named Kenneth Barnes was also involved. Barnes, an old fishing buddy of Diehl-Armstrong, had spoken too freely about the plan, and his brother-in-law had turned him in while Barnes was already in jail on unrelated drug charges. Threatened with even more time behind bars, Barnes agreed to a deal: He would give a full account of the crime in exchange for a reduced sentence.

Barnes confirmed the Feds' belief that Diehl-Armstrong was the mastermind behind the collar bomb plot. He claimed she needed the cash so that she could pay him to kill her father, who she believed was blowing through his fortune—money she expected to inherit. Barnes insisted he was kept in the dark about several aspects of the plot. But even with holes, his account corroborated much of what the agents had already heard. The investigation, finally, was gaining steam.

On February 10, 2006, federal agents met again with Diehl-Armstrong, who had brought her attorney. The agents told Diehl-Armstrong they had enough evidence to bring an indictment against her. She went ballistic, slamming her fist on a conference table and cursing out the agents and her lawyer. But, incredibly, she continued to speak with them. In a subsequent meeting, she even agreed to drive around Erie with them to point out where she was the day Wells robbed the bank. At the conclusion of the drive, in which she admitted to being at several locations linked to the crime, Diehl-Armstrong told the agents she wouldn't provide any more information without receiving an immunity letter. It was too late. The woman who couldn't stop talking had already said far too much.

In July 2007, a month shy of the four-year anniversary of Wells' death by collar bomb, the US attorney's office in Erie called a news conference about "a major development" in the case. Standing before a bank of TV cameras, US attorney Mary Beth Buchanan announced that the investigation was over. Diehl-Armstrong and Barnes were charged with carrying out the sensational crime—a plot that Diehl-Armstrong had put into motion. The indictment also charged that other conspirators were involved. Rothstein was one. And Wells, the purported victim, was another. Pulling together information culled from more than a thousand interviews over almost four years, the indictment charged that Wells was in on the scheme from the beginning. He had agreed to rob the bank wearing what he thought was a fake bomb. The scavenger hunt, he was told, was simply a ruse to fool the cops; if he got caught, he could point to the menacing instructions as evidence that he was merely following orders.

But over time, Buchanan said, Wells went from being a planner to "an unwilling participant." At some point, instead of merely playing the part of a hostage, Wells was double-crossed and actually became one. The fake bomb turned out to be a real one. And the scavenger hunt went from a clever piece of misdirection to a real-life race against the clock. Sitting in the press section, Wells' family seemed stunned. One of his sisters, Barbara White, repeatedly shrieked "Liar!" as Buchanan completed her statement.

Wells' relatives weren't the only ones who were dubious. For those who closely tracked the case, the government's long-awaited announcement was severely unsatisfying. It seemed to provoke as many questions as it answered. Why would Wells participate in such a plot? Did he realize the danger that he was in? And could Diehl-Armstrong, with her myriad mental issues, really plan such a complex crime? The questions only multiplied a week later, when it was revealed that the FBI had concluded that the entire scavenger hunt was a hoax. The bomb was rigged such that any attempt to remove it would set it off. Wells was destined to die.

Barnes pleaded guilty in September 2008 to the conspiracy and weapons charges involved in the collar bomb plot. He was sentenced to 45 years behind bars, but he agreed to testify against Diehl-Armstrong in the hope of getting his sentence reduced.

More evidence collected over the course of the investigation (from left): a component from the collar bomb and directions leading the doomed victim to an orange-taped container in the woods. Photo: Michael Schmeling Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong's brilliance had become spiked with madness. Paranoid and narcissistic, her moods swung sharply and she appeared unable to control her nonstop, rapid-fire speech. Photo: Erie Federal Courthouse; Erie Bureau of Police; Newscom Diehl-Armstrong's trial promised to clear up the mysteries that had surrounded the collar bomb case. But those revelations would have to wait. First a federal judge ruled Diehl-Armstrong mentally unfit to stand trial. When she finally was deemed ready to face a judge and jury, she was diagnosed with glandular cancer, and the proceeding was put on hold again as she awaited her prognosis. The judge received the doctors' assessment in August 2010: Diehl-Armstrong had three to seven years to live. Prosecutors opted to press on, and the trial was rescheduled for October 12.

Most intriguing, Diehl-Armstrong's lawyer, Douglas Sughrue, had decided to let his client take the stand. It seemed to be a risky move. After all, she had already implicated herself in the murder. Was it wise to let such an erratic, unpredictable personality testify?

On day five of the trial in the Erie Federal Courthouse, Ken Barnes took the stand. By this time, the prosecutor—Marshall Piccinini, a fast-talking, silver-haired assistant US attorney—had already built an impressive case. Summarizing the strange characters linked to the Wells plot as a cast of "twisted, intellectually bright, dysfunctional individuals who outsmarted themselves," Piccinini had trotted out seven former inmates who recounted incriminating information that Diehl-Armstrong had shared with them. Barnes—the ex-crack dealer and would-be hit man—was Piccinini's star witness, and his final one. He was also the man who seemed prepared, finally, to tell the whole story of what happened in the days leading up to August 28, 2003, the day of the robbery. Barnes, who had the wan face and sparse collection of teeth of the former crack addict he was, approached the bench and took the oath. Then he sat in the witness box and matter-of-factly described the conspiracy to a rapt jury.

Diehl-Armstrong, Barnes said, devised the plan and enlisted a few coconspirators to help carry it out. Rothstein was one of them. Wells was another, lured in with the promise of a payday. He certainly needed the money. It turned out that the quiet pizza man had a relationship with a prostitute. With the help of his pal Barnes, he bought crack, which he then gave to the prostitute in exchange for sex. But in the weeks before the robbery, Wells fell into debt with his crack dealers and needed cash. It was only on the afternoon of the crime, when he delivered the pizzas to the TV transmission tower, that Wells realized he had been double-crossed and that the bomb was real. He was tackled as he tried to sprint away and locked into the device at gunpoint.

Throughout Barnes' testimony, Diehl-Armstrong angrily whispered to her attorney. Several times she blurted out "Liar!" drawing stern warnings from the judge. To all appearances, it was excruciating for her to listen to people like this discredit her.

On October 26, the eighth day of the trial, Diehl-Armstrong finally got the opportunity to tell her version of events. For five and a half hours over two days, she used the witness stand as her stage. Her wavy black hair looked greasy and clung to the sides of her face. Every time she opened her mouth, she unleashed a torrent of words. She ridiculed her lawyer: "That's a stupid question, Mr. Sughrue." She belittled the prosecutor: "If this is the kind of evidence you have against me, I'm telling you, this is a pitiful case." She cried. She yelled. More than 50 times, the judge sought—often futilely—to cut her off.

During her first day on the stand, she mentioned Brian Wells only once, in the final 10 minutes of a nearly 100-minute-long diatribe: "I never met Brian Wells, and I never knew Brian Wells. Never. I became aware of him the day that he died. I saw it on the news."

The jury didn't buy it. After deliberating for 11 hours, the seven women and five men returned guilty verdicts on all three charges: armed bank robbery, conspiracy, and using a destructive device in a crime of violence. She could face a mandatory life term when she is sentenced on February 28.

After seven years, the outstanding questions had finally been answered. At least, that's how most observers viewed Diehl-Armstrong's conviction. But that's not how Jim Fisher sees things. A retired FBI criminal investigator, Fisher started closely tracking the collar bomb case after he saw footage of Wells squirming on the pavement with the device yoked around his neck. The then-64-year-old criminal justice professor had a thing for unsolved crimes, and this was one of the most staggering he had ever seen. He obsessively pored over the media coverage of the case and studied every piece of evidence released by the FBI. And, according to Fisher, there is no way that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong planned the collar bomb caper.

For proof, Fisher points to a profile of the Collar Bomber produced by the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. "It continues to be the opinion of the [department] that this is much more than a mere bank robbery," it reads. "The behavior seen in this crime was choreographed by 'Collarbomber' watching on the sidelines according to a written script in which he attempted to direct others to do what he wanted them to do... Because of the complex nature of this crime, the [FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit] believes there were multiple motives for the offender, and money was not the primary one." In other words, the robbery was never the point. Whoever planned the heist didn't care whether Wells ever delivered the cash. They just wanted to craft a beguiling puzzle, one that would resist explanation for years to come and that would keep cops and investigators hunting fruitlessly after clues just as Wells was sent on his doomed scavenger hunt.

None of this, Fisher says, sounds much like Diehl-Armstrong, who prosecutors credited with planning the whole affair in order to get enough money to pay a hit man. But if Diehl-Armstrong didn't set this plan in motion, who did? Fisher turns back to the FBI's profile, which states that the bomb builder was "comfortable around a wide variety of power tools and shop machines." He was "a frugal person who saves scraps of sundry materials in order to reuse them in various projects." And he was "the type of person who takes pride in building a variety of things."

To Fisher, that sounds like a description of Bill Rothstein, the man who lived next to the TV tower and who agreed to keep a dead man in his garage freezer. The handyman had the skills to fabricate such an elaborate explosive device. Even more convincing to Fisher was the description of the mastermind directing others according to a written script that only he seemed to have access to.

In Fisher's view, Rothstein toyed with the investigators from the start, concocting the scavenger hunt at least in part to send them on a useless chase, eating up valuable time in the precious days after the robbery. Then there was the 911 call. Fingering Diehl-Armstrong in the Roden murder case allowed Rothstein to frame the Wells investigation on his own terms. If he hadn't gone to the Feds, he knew, Diehl-Armstrong or one of his coconspirators would have. So he implicated Diehl-Armstrong in the Roden case before she could rat him out, all while pleading ignorance of the collar bomb affair. He also gave the impression that he was a man with nothing to hide. After all, why would someone who was involved in the plot voluntarily call the cops and meet with them for hours? Rothstein continued to deny any knowledge of the collar bomb plot on his deathbed, even though he seemingly had no more reason to hide. Until his dying day, Rothstein was insulating himself, or in Fisher's words, "controlling the narrative."

In his closing argument at Diehl-Armstrong's trial, the prosecutor, Piccinini, described the crime as a "ludicrous, overwrought, overworked, desperately failed plan." If stealing money was the ultimate goal, then that's a pretty accurate summary. But Fisher thinks that this wasn't about money. Rothstein, who never accomplished much in life, wanted to prove his brilliance by executing a crime that would grab headlines across the globe and baffle authorities for years. He recruited coconspirators he knew he could control and kept crucial details of the plot from them—a tactic designed to further complicate the investigation.

"The son of a bitch ended up winning," Fisher says. "He died with all of the secrets. He died taking all the answers with him. He gets the last laugh in that sense. He escaped punishment. He escaped detection. He left us with these idiots and a bunch of questions."

Those questions, Fisher says, serve as a reminder of Rothstein's ultimate triumph. He died a free man. And the last step in the scavenger hunt, the clue that reveals the answers that the agents had been searching for all along, will forever remain hidden.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The man in the Arena

Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts;
not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles,
or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena,
whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;
who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming;
but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions;
who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement,
and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,
so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The future is here !!! Google Duplex

How is this even possible. I just finished watching the movie Anon which seems to provide a premonition on our future and Google introduced Google Duplex and Google Lens which seems to be the exact same technology in Anon. An eeriee feeling came over me...

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Westworld Season 2

The series which many feel is more dense and complex than GOT has come back to HBO.

God of War 4 : All cutscenes

I thought the God of war is one of the best game series of the past decade and didnt require a reboot. It is like Prince of Persia series which is the iconic game of its time.This reboot seems deviate to a different genre. It felt more like a fallen hero concept in "Logan" which makes it worth buying.

WHy has the blockade on Qatar failed ?

The future of internet

Friday, April 27, 2018

Guilty : Finally a conviction in the celebrity harrasment case

I believe such convictions are imperative to act as a deterrent for other acts of coercion by people with fame or power.
By Margaret Sullivan of Washington Post

The guilty verdict against Bill Cosby might seem to say that American culture has changed overnight for women accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct.

After all, a year ago, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose dominated morning TV. Harvey Weinstein’s movie empire seemed untouchable.

In just months, it’s all come tumbling down.

The truth is that it’s taken decades — or more — for a slow heat to finally boil over.

Anita Hill told her truths to a public unfamiliar even with the term sexual harassment in 1991, and the man she accused became a Supreme Court justice.

But since the change began, it has come fast and relentlessly.

There is now a clear shift toward believing credible accusers. This is because of the now-undeniable truth — revealed in painstaking reporting — that some of the most powerful men in American media, entertainment, business and politics for too long abused women with impunity.

“This is fast culture change and an important milestone, but it’s taken centuries to get here,” said Nancy Erika Smith, who represented Gretchen Carlson in her suit against Fox News co-founder Roger Ailes. He stepped down from his post atop the media world in mid-2016.

Once the boiling point was reached, there was no turning down the heat.

The New York Times and the New Yorker wrote their first stories about Harvey Weinstein’s accusers barely six months ago. After that, so many other stories about sexual abuse and assault quickly followed. Congressmen, comics, business moguls, actors, journalists. Across many industries and workplaces, powerful figures have tumbled, one after another, like so many highflying birds falling from the sky.

“Anita Hill suffered the horror, initially, of not being believed,” said Jill Abramson, co-author with Jane Mayer, of “Strange Justice: The Selling of Clarence Thomas.” A year after the Thomas confirmation hearings, she told me, the number flipped: More Americans believed Hill than Thomas.

The scene in Pennsylvania after Bill Cosby was convicted of sexual assault

The 80-year-old comedian, once revered as ?America?s Dad,? faces a maximum of 30 years in prison after being convicted of assaulting Andrea Constand, a Temple University women?s basketball administrator whom he was mentoring.

“That was the beginning of mass understanding of how endemic the problem of sexual harassment is,” Abramson said.

Cosby’s retrial — following a hung jury last spring when prosecutors first took him to court — was the first prominent criminal trial of the #MeToo era. And though the jury was instructed not to bring recent headlines into their thinking, no one can control the effects of a culture that is righting itself.

“Things are much different now,” Steve Fairlie, a Philadelphia-area defense attorney told my colleague Manuel Roig-Franzia earlier this month.

Cosby’s defense team, Fairlie said, had to know that “the prosecution is marching into battle waving this banner of #MeToo.”

For many women — including those who have suffered harassment or abuse without being believed — the guilty verdict against Cosby seems almost miraculous. It’s a day they never thought would dawn.

Roig-Franzia wrote of the charged reaction in the Pennsylvania courtroom Thursday, relating how, as the forewoman of the jury said the words, “guilty, guilty, guilty — the courtroom rocked with emotion.”

But while there was profound relief, and release, there remains a sense of what hasn’t happened yet. What hasn’t changed.

Lauren Duca, the firebrand young writer for Teen Vogue, remained far from satisfied, tweeting that the verdict was just a start: “We’re all still part of the society that allowed him to traumatize over 60 women, silencing their stories with fear of backlash, while he thrived in the spotlight for decades.”

A memorable New York magazine cover image in July 2015 featured 35 Cosby accusers in four long rows. Its message was clear: There is strength in numbers.

That Cosby now faces perhaps decades in prison is almost unbelievable after all this time.

And within that sense of wonder, paradoxes abound.

The seismic change that seems so sudden didn’t happen overnight. And the verdict that centered on one brave woman’s truth-telling required the courage of hundreds.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Legion S02e04

This has to be one of the best episodes of Legion

Why Netflix is the future of film

Hollywood is Wrong: Netflix is the Future of Film

by Kristin Houser on April 20, 2018

The film industry has sent a clear message to Netflix: You can’t sit with us.

Industry insiders clearly think Netflix’s films are somehow “less than” those released in theaters. Steven Spielberg told ITV News the streaming service’s releases shouldn’t be eligible for Oscars. Christopher Nolan told IndieWire he would never work with the company. Cannes banned Netflix’s films from competition, prompting Netflix’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos to pull all of the service’s films from the festival, even the ones that weren’t eligible to win anything.

“We want our films to be on fair ground with every other filmmaker,” Sarandos told Variety. And why shouldn’t they be? They star A-list actors (Will Smith, Adam Sandler). They’re helmed by respected directors (Martin Scorsese, Noah Baumbach). And they truly do compete with movie-theater films, scoring Oscar nominations and winning other prestigious awards.

Film industry haters should really reconsider.

Even the snobbiest film buffs can’t deny that Netflix is bringing something positive to the world of cinema.

Instead of lashing out against Netflix, the industry could benefit by embracing some of what Netflix is doing right.

First, the film industry might want to take more risks. “Studios are lagging behind for the very simple reason that they are relying on retreads and reboots, and most of those aren’t being well received,” Jeff Bock, an expert on film industry trends at Exhibitor Relations, told Business Insider.

Sure, for every unicorn like Beasts of No Nation, Netflix releases a dozen films that fall flat. But giving lesser-known filmmakers or outside-the-box story ideas a chance has paid off for Netflix. Plus it’s helping establish an audience for the Spielbergs and Nolans of tomorrow. How could that possibly be bad for cinema?

The industry might also want to rethink its pricing model. The average cost of a movie theater ticket in 2017 was $8.97. In major cities like New York or Los Angeles, that can be much higher. For comparison, an entire month of Netflix costs between $7.99 and $13.99.

Yes, the theater has overhead to pay, but according to Variety, most of the blame for rising ticket prices belongs to the increase in IMAX and 3D screenings. In other words: it’s because of the dang screens. If Netflix’s success means anything, it’s that (screen) size really doesn’t matter.

Instead of putting money into more of these premium screenings, the industry might want to make movies more affordable. One way to do that would be by following Netflix’s subscription model.

And oh look! Such a service already exists: MoviePass.

MoviePass subscribers pay $9.95 for the ability to see up to four 2D-movies in the theater per month. MoviePass then pays the theater for every ticket, with the hope that, eventually, they’ll be able to earn a profit by selling site advertisements or partnering with theaters on special screenings.

And guess what: MoviePass now has 2 million subscribers. People want this service. The bad news is that the company is simply bleeding money.

If theaters wanted to get more butts in seats, they could consider partnering with MoviePass or creating a similar subscription service.

Ultimately, if movie theaters want to compete with Netflix, they need to look at what Netflix offers — more options, more affordably — and figure out how to apply that to the theater experience. After all, turning away the cool new kid isn’t going to suddenly make everyone else want to sit at your table.

I hope that a similar moviepass service comes to India as well .

Saturday, April 21, 2018


US Tax reforms impact on Apple

Apple, Capitalizing on New Tax Law, Plans to Bring Billions in Cash Back to U.S.

Inside a building at Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The company said Wednesday that it planned a $350 billion contribution to the American economy over the next five years.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

By Daisuke Wakabayashi and Brian X. Chen Jan. 17, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple, which had long deferred paying taxes on its foreign earnings and had become synonymous with hoarding money overseas, unveiled plans on Wednesday that would bring back the vast majority of the $252 billion in cash that it held abroad and said it would make a sizable investment in the United States.

With the moves, Apple took advantage of the new tax code that President Trump signed into law last month. A provision allows for a one-time repatriation of corporate cash held abroad at a lower tax rate than what would have been paid under the previous tax plan. Apple, which has 94 percent of its total cash of $269 billion outside the United States, said it would make a one-time tax payment of $38 billion on the repatriated cash.

For years, Apple had said it would not bring its foreign earnings back to the United States until the corporate tax code changed, because such a move would be too costly. Now Apple’s bet to hold back on paying such taxes is reaping rewards under the Trump administration.

In return, Mr. Trump and other Republicans can point to Apple as having come around because of their legislative action. The $38 billion tax payment from the Silicon Valley giant is set to be among the biggest payouts from the tax bill, and Apple said it would put some of the money it brought back toward 20,000 new jobs, a new domestic campus and other spending.

“I promised that my policies would allow companies like Apple to bring massive amounts of money back to the United States,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Great to see Apple follow through as a result of TAX CUTS.”

Timothy D. Cook, Apple’s chief executive, said in a statement, “We have a deep sense of responsibility to give back to our country and the people who help make our success possible.”

Apple estimated that its direct impact on the American economy would total more than $350 billion over the next five years, but how much that goes beyond what the company would have spent anyway is unclear. Apple’s current pace of spending in the United States is $55 billion for 2018, so it was already on track to spend $275 billion over the next five years. After the $38 billion tax payment is subtracted, that leaves its new investment at roughly $37 billion over the next five years.

A. M. Sacconaghi, a financial analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein, said Apple had consistently spent tens of billions of dollars on areas like staffing and capital expenditures in recent years. Bringing back the overseas cash, he said, does little to aid its expansion. But it makes the company appear to answer Mr. Trump’s call for more jobs to be created in the United States.

“This is Apple putting its best foot forward consistent with objectives of the administration,” Mr. Sacconaghi said.

Apple is one of several multinational giants that have kept a total of roughly $3 trillion in global profits off their domestic books to sidestep the previous 35 percent federal corporate tax rate. Under the new tax law, companies that make a one-time repatriation of cash will be taxed at a rate of 15.5 percent on cash holdings and 8 percent on nonliquid assets. That is lower than the new 21 percent corporate rate. And under the new tax code, Apple would also have been taxed whether it brought the money back or not.

By shifting the money under the new terms, Apple has saved $43 billion in taxes, more than any other American company, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a research group in Washington.

Other tech giants are set to follow suit in the coming months. Companies like Microsoft, Alphabet and Cisco also shifted their profits into offshore shell companies, avoiding billions of dollars in taxes, and are now in a better position to bring the money back.

Although Republican supporters of the tax law argued that the influx of international profits would create jobs and increase wages, many economists disagreed that a one-time repatriation would have any substantial impact on real investment.

Apple’s announcement, couched as a major investment in the United States instead of a massive financial windfall, followed years of criticism that the company did not do enough for the American economy because it makes most of its products in China and parked its profits abroad.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Apple was a frequent target of Mr. Trump, who pledged that as president he would force the company to start making iPhones and Macs in the United States. While that hasn’t happened and is unlikely to, Apple has since gone on a charm offensive to demonstrate its value to the American economy. The company has highlighted the number of jobs created by the so-called app economy, an ecosystem of software and services that run on the iPhone and other Apple products. Last year, Apple also said it was creating a $1 billion fund to invest in advanced manufacturing in the United States. On Wednesday, Apple said it was increasing the size of that fund to $5 billion and noted that it was already backing projects from manufacturers in Kentucky and Texas.

Apple, which is based in Cupertino, Calif., also took a page out of Amazon’s public relations strategy on Wednesday by saying it will open a new domestic campus in a location where it currently has no operations. Amazon garnered good will throughout the country last year when it announced plans to open a second corporate headquarters outside its home base of Seattle.

Apple currently has about 84,000 employees in the United States, so 20,000 new jobs would be a 24 percent increase. The company added that it would invest more than $30 billion in capital expenditures, or spending on parts and the equipment required to produce them, over the next five years in the United States.

For a comparison, Apple spent $14.9 billion in capital expenditures in the last fiscal year, though it did not specify how much it spends in the United States alone.

For Apple, repatriating the cash creates opportunities that could include acquisitions and higher dividends for shareholders. The company had previously chosen to borrow money to fund its stock buybacks and dividends, instead of bringing its cash back from abroad. Over the last five years, Apple has returned $233 billion in cash to shareholders through buybacks and dividends.

Paying $38 billion in taxes now is unlikely to strain Apple’s checkbook because the company had already earmarked $36.4 billion in anticipation that it would eventually have to pay taxes on its foreign earnings.

“From a financial statement perspective, it’s going to be a nonevent,” said J. Richard Harvey, a Villanova University law professor and former Internal Revenue Service official. Other companies are not as prepared, he said, and would likely have to take a significant loss should they make a one-time cash repatriation.

Apple employees will see benefits as well. Mr. Cook said in an email to staff on Wednesday that Apple was increasing investment in its employees by rewarding them with bonuses of $2,500 in restricted stock units, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the plans were not public. Apple joins other companies, such as AT&T, that have issued employee bonuses since the tax law was signed.

Patricia Cohen contributed reporting from New York

NBA Playoffs 2018 preview - Western conference

By Rob Mahoney of SI.com

one of the four Western Conference playoff matchups were decided until Wednesday night, the official end of the regular season. Every hour since has been a mad scramble for the coaching and video staffs involved—a frantic turn from focus on their own team to a specific opponent.

The playoffs yield the best basketball because of how tailored every challenge is to the team involved. Teams no longer run a base offense or defense, but one customized to their opponents limitations. It’s a deeply personal means of competition. If a player can’t shoot, the defense will refuse to guard them, broadcasting their disrespect to a national TV audience. If a player can’t guard, they’ll be picked on relentlessly until they’re removed from the game entirely.

What makes the Rockets and Warriors so frustrating is how few weaknesses they present—and how effectively they cover for them. The Timberwolves and Spurs, respectively, will have their work cut out for them. Yet in the middle matchups, we find two series ripe for tactical experimentation. The Blazers, Thunder, Jazz, and Pelicans all wear their limitations on their sleeve; each is so reliant on their top players as to be put at a precarious balance. The coming weeks will see all four pushed from every angle, testing their balance and their capacity to respond. And the lucky winners will have the privilege of enduring that same scrutiny once more—this time from the Rockets and Warriors themselves

. Most Intriguing Storyline: Can the Thunder hit their highest gear?

No team in the West has embraced variance quite like the Thunder, who have managed to dominate and implode in almost equal measure. The best of OKC—something we haven’t seen consistently or often enough this season—would scare any opposing coaching staff. Gameplanning against Russell Westbrook is always an ordeal. The ferocity of his driving game is such a unique test for a defense, and when perfectly calibrated it can be overwhelming. Factor in Paul George, Steven Adams, Carmelo Anthony, and a punchy cast of reserves, and the Thunder have the personnel necessary to mount a challenge to any team in the field.

At issue are the conditions to make that challenge a reality. Oklahoma City’s defense has been flaky ever since Andre Roberson went down for the season with a ruptured patellar tendon. Its offense—while efficient overall—is prone to the kinds of fits and starts that can derail a playoff run. The Thunder aren’t a team waiting to flip the switch so much as one veering desperately to find their groove. If they do, it could change the outlook of the entire Western Conference bracket.

Biggest X-Factor: Rajon Rondo, Pelicans

There has never been a clean fit for New Orleans’ mercurial point guard, which makes his most effective stints all the more noticeable. His game remains fundamentally unchanged; the Rondo we’ve come to know from years of over-passing and hesitant shooting remains a glaring presence in the modern NBA. Yet when his game is working—as is periodically the case with a team that relies on his mid-play facilitation—it elevates the Pelicans beyond their standing. New Orleans needs the version of Rondo that slowed Isaiah Thomas in the playoffs last year to do the same to Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. They need a creator who can alleviate some of the pressure on Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, even if he won’t often be knocking down shots himself. Rondo coming up big could change the complexion of the Pelicans’ series—in part because the alternative would leave an already shallow team short yet another viable rotation piece.

The Wolves aren’t exactly the picture of defensive discipline, which is pretty much the only way to keep competitive in a series against the Rockets. Every layer of your coverage needs to be in order. Whichever defenders are assigned to cover James Harden and Chris Paul—or are switched into covering them mid-play—face the most challenging isolation matchups in the league. The pick-and-roll defense has to be so impeccably timed as to disrupt the rhythms of Clint Capela, but without favoring him so much as to give up lanes to Harden or Paul. The help has to come quickly, but the second level of help even more so; if you’re the sort of team that can only make one rotation reliably (as is often the case with the Wolves), you have no shot of stopping Houston’s initial actions and keeping their arsenal of three-point shooters under wraps. It’s for that reason that the Rockets literally doubled up the Wolves in made threes during the season series, turning a strength into an overwhelming mathematical edge. Whether Minnesota can keep any of these specific elements contained will dictate how long they survive in this series. Great as it is to see the Wolves in the postseason again, it’s hard to imagine they’ll be long for it. The pick: Rockets in 4.

(2) Golden State vs. (7) San Antonio: How vulnerable are the Warriors?

There is an incredible amount of respect for the Spurs around the league, and in the Bay Area in particular. Players and coaches with the Warriors have spoken candidly over the years about the trouble the Spurs have caused them—a glowing endorsement from one of the greatest teams of all time. But let’s get one thing clear up front: these are not those Spurs, in the sense that they don’t present the full-strength Warriors any real threat.

The injured, short-handed Warriors, on the other hand, have shown that they can fall out of their groove against pretty much anyone. And that’s what the rest of the league will be watching—not for a potential first-round upset, but as a stress test of a defending champion that hasn’t been healthy in months. Stephen Curry will likely miss the entire series. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are working through some nagging issues. Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green are only a few weeks removed from missing time themselves. A defense like San Antonio’s will make Golden State earn everything, and it can be especially stifling with Dejounte Murray and Danny Green at the point of attack. This is a low-risk series for the Warriors, but the kind that should hint at how they might play—both with and without Curry—the rest of the way.

The pick: Warriors in 5.

NBA (3) Portland vs. (6) New Orleans: Which supporting cast shows up?

Both the Blazers and Pelicans have high-level defenders to throw at the other’s stars, but it’s telling that Davis and Lillard had 77 points between them in their last regular season meeting. You don’t hold down players this good for an entire series. You only hope to make their lives difficult enough that you can overcome them by committee. Fittingly, each defense will put that idea to the test. If you’re New Orleans, your goal is to get the ball into the hands of anyone who isn’t Lillard or McCollum as often as possible (even Jusuf Nurkic is preferable).

If you’re Portland, your aim is to deny Davis touches at every turn, thereby forcing possessions into the hands of Solomon Hill, Emeka Okafor, or Darius Miller. Those sorts of contributors will have to knock down shots, lest the integrity of the offense buckle beneath them. The scrutiny of a seven-game series will quickly decide who needs to be guarded and who doesn’t. Outstanding as Davis, Lillard, and McCollum might be, none wants to turn the corner to find multiple defenders and a crowded lane waiting for them. The winner of this series will be the team that best alleviates that pressure—whether through role players stepping up as contributors or stars, through some creative quirk, circumventing the premise entirely.

The pick: Trail Blazers in 6 (4) Oklahoma City vs. (5) Utah: Who dictates the matchup game?

What makes both the Thunder and Jazz such an interesting pair is that both teams have their options. There is the flexibility to play big and small, to cross-match between positions, and to put skilled players to use in unconventional ways. In the broadest sense, their series will be decided by the intersection of what both teams do best: OKC’s explosive offense working against the grain of one of the best defenses in the league. Yet the terms of engagement are all up for grabs, starting with how each team elects to match up. Who should guard Russell Westbrook between Donovan Mitchell and Ricky Rubio, and who should wreak havoc off the ball? How much should Paul George check Mitchell, the engine of Utah’s entire offense, after barely guarding him in the regular season? How might Derrick Favors look to attack Carmelo Anthony and vice versa?

This promises to be a fun, competitive series, which makes the strategic choices on the margins that much more meaningful—and also quite challenging to predict. The Jazz have the more trustworthy baseline, but the Thunder have more dangerous potential. My lean is toward security after watching OKC waffle all season, in particular because no matchup play on the board can easily get Rudy Gobert out of Westbrook’s way.

The pick: Jazz in 6.