Boy who fled Vietnam War returns as commander of warship

Cmdr. H. B. Le, the first Vietnamese-American to command a United States Navy destroyer, had just stepped ashore on a formal port call, making an emotional return to Vietnam for the first time since he fled as a young boy on a fishing boat at the end of the war in 1975.

A youthful and smiling man of 39, he bore the weight of the symbolism of cautiously warming military ties between Vietnam and the United States in the visit over the weekend…

Stepping ashore was awesome,” he said after landing from his destroyer, the Lassen, which was anchored in Da Nang Harbor. “To be able to return to Vietnam after 35 years and to be able to do it as commander of a United States naval warship was an incredible honor and a privilege.”

He was returning to a very different Vietnam from the one he fled at the age of 5 with his parents and three of his siblings. Most people in this young nation, like Commander Le himself, have no memory of the war.

In the last decade or more, Vietnam has opened its economy, increased trade with the United States and risen from postwar poverty even as the Communist government maintains control of the news media and political expression…

“Gradual and steady,” said Carlyle B. Thayer, an expert on the Vietnamese armed forces at the Australian Defense Force Academy, describing the evolving relationship. “The Americans see a glacier moving, and they call it progress…”

And it is progress. Sometimes, too fast – sometimes, too slow – for some.

RTFA. Interesting stuff.

Supreme Court case illustrates absurdity of US patent law

It took less than two minutes Monday for the high-stakes patent case in the Supreme Court to descend to the level of questioning whether “Lorenzo Jones” could get a patent on one of his hare-brained inventions, if Bernard Bilski and Rand Warsaw could get one on their theory about managing business risk. “Jones,” an old-time radio figure who thought his creations in a garage would bring him fame and fortune, made an appearance in the first question, by Justice Antonin Scalia.

Scalia also suggested the seeming absurdity of a patent for Dale Carnegie’s influential 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. But it was the “Lorenzo Jones” comment that set the tone for the entire argument in Bilski, et al., v. Kappos (08-964). It would take a most inventive analyst to find a way in the argument for the risk-management idea under review to fit into the Patent Act’s coverage. The idea had no defenders whatsoever on the bench

The largest question left unanswered when the one-hour argument was over was whether the Court would go forward and issue a major new ruling interpreting patent law, when the practical result here seemed so evident. Lawyers and judges have invested heavy resources in the Bilski case, and it does raise a fundamental question that may well need answering. But, when there may well be no formulation of patent law that would salvage the Bilski-Warsaw creation, why bother?

J. Michael Jakes, a Washington lawyer arguing for a patent on that invention, faced a seemingly unending litany of hypotheticals to test how far he would take his plea for wide access to a patent monopoly. Justice Sonia Sotomayor wondered if a patent would be available on “a method of speed-dating,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked about methods for avoiding corporate takeovers or picking a jury, Justice Stephen G. Breyer brought up a successful businessman’s right to protection for “how he made his money” and a method for teaching antitrust law that “would keep 80 percent of the students awake,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., wondered about a business model counseling “buy low and sell high,” and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy questioned patent rights for someone who went to the Bureau of Statistics and worked out a table of life expetancy. On and on the hypotheticals went.

These schmucks actually want a software patent on managing hedge funds according to the weather.

Nanny was renting baby to beggars in Bangalore

Child welfare officials are investigating the case of a baby who was reportedly rented out to beggars in the southern Indian city of Bangalore…

The nanny reportedly told the parents she would “rent” the baby for 100 rupees ($2) a day to beggars who attract more sympathy with an infant.

She was found out when the mother came home early to find her child missing…

Ms Nayak added that the parents were worried about the stigma that could be attached to the infant if a case were to be pursued by the authorities…

Police say they will track down the “horror nanny” – as she is being described in the local media – if the parents file a complaint…

But he added that it would be difficult to pursue the case without co-operation from the parents. The nanny has been dismissed from their service.

Unconfirmed reports say the child was sedated and dressed in rags. The practice is said to have gone on for several weeks.

Trust no one and cut the cards – or in this case, check the references.

Czechs troops in Afghanistan wearing Nazi symbols – UPDATED

Matonoha wearing the emblem of the 9th SS panzer division

Two commanders of the Czech rapid reaction brigade had Nazi symbols on their helmets during their deployment in Afghanistan, the Prague daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today.

Hynek Matonoha wore the symbol of the 9th SS panzer division Hohenstaufen, Jan Cermak of the SS Dirlewanger brigade, which was one of the most infamous SS combat units of World War Two, the paper writes.

Czech Defence Minister Martin Bartak and chief-of-staff Vlastimil Picek decorated both men on Friday after their return from the Afghan mission, MfD says.

Picek and Bartak may have not known about the commanders’ helmets, MfD notes.

But Czech police serving in Afghanistan reported the case. They confirmed this to the paper, requesting anonymity because they believe that the Czech military wants to keep the case secret…

The single incident that prompted my best friend to get into parachutes reconnaissance – after he lied about his age and enlisted at the start of WW2 – was the massacre of all the men and boys over 16 by the SS in Lidice, Czechoslovakia.

Believe me, there is no one in the Czech Republic who doesn’t know what Nazi symbols mean.

UPDATE: The two commanders have been fired.

Nothing but net!

Two North Carolina State University engineers have figured out the best way to shoot a free throw – a frequently underappreciated skill that gets more important as the game clock winds down.

To get a swish rather than a brick, you need the best possible conditions for releasing the basketball from your hand, say Drs. Chau Tran and Larry Silverberg, mechanical and aerospace engineers at NC State and co-authors of a peer-reviewed study.

The engineers used hundreds of thousands of three-dimensional computer simulations of basketball free-throw trajectories to arrive at their conclusions. After running the simulations, Tran and Silverberg arrived at a number of major recommendations to improve free-throw shooting.

First, the engineers say that shooters should launch the shot with about three hertz of back spin. That translates to the ball making three complete backspinning revolutions before reaching the hoop. Back spin deadens the ball when it bounces off the rim or backboard, the engineers assert, giving the ball a better chance of settling through the net.

Where to aim? Tran and Silverberg say you should aim for the back of the rim, leaving close to 5 centimeters – about 2 inches – between the ball and the back of the rim. According to the simulations, aiming for the center of the basket decreases the probabilities of a successful shot by almost 3 percent.

The engineers say that the ball should be launched at 52 degrees to the horizontal. If you don’t have a protractor in your jersey, that means that the shot should, at the highest point in its arc to the basket, be less than 2 inches below the top of the backboard.

Free-throw shooters should also release the ball as high above the ground as possible, without adversely affecting the consistency of the shot; release the ball so it follows the imaginary line joining the player and the basket; and release the ball with a smooth body motion to get a consistent release speed.

“Our recommendations might make even the worst free-throw shooters – you know who you are, Shaquille O’Neal and Ben Wallace – break 60 percent from the free-throw line,” Silverberg says with tongue firmly in cheek.

Just in case you wish to improve your game.

Life in prison for youths who never killed

There are just over 100 people in the world serving sentences of life without the possibility of parole for crimes they committed as juveniles in which no one was killed. All are in the United States. And 77 of them are…in Florida.

Before you read the article, examine this statistic. It is so skewed, you have to consider the circumstances of such jurisprudence to be outside the pale of uniform, thoughtful justice.

Today, the Supreme Court will hear appeals from two such juvenile offenders: Joe Sullivan, who raped a woman when he was 13, and Terrance Graham, who committed armed burglary at 16. They claim that the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment forbids sentencing them to die in prison for crimes other than homicide.

Outside the context of the death penalty, the Supreme Court has generally allowed states to decide for themselves what punishments fit what crimes. But the court barred the execution of juvenile offenders in 2005 by a vote of 5 to 4, saying that people under 18 are immature, irresponsible, susceptible to peer pressure and often capable of change…

Several factors in combination — some legal, some historical, some cultural — help account for the disproportionate number of juvenile lifers in Florida.

The state’s attorney general, Bill McCollum, explained the roots of the state’s approach in the first paragraph of his brief in Mr. Graham’s case.

“By the 1990s, violent juvenile crime rates had reached unprecedented high levels throughout the nation,” Mr. McCollum wrote. “Florida’s problem was particularly dire, compromising the safety of residents, visitors and international tourists, and threatening the state’s bedrock tourism industry.” Nine foreign tourists were killed over 11 months in 1992 and 1993, one by a 14-year-old…

In response, the state moved more juveniles into adult courts, increased sentences and eliminated parole for capital crimes.

RTFA. Judge for yourself whether or not justice has been compromised. Or not?

Federal Court backs protesters wearing empty holsters

A federal court decision will let Tarrant County College students wear empty holsters in public areas when they protest a ban of concealed weapons on campus next week.

However, they can’t wear the holsters in the Fort Worth-area school’s classrooms and hallways.

Clayton Smith and John Schwertz sued because officials limited the protest to a table on the front porch of the student center, and told them they couldn’t wear empty holsters.

U.S. District Judge Terry R. Means, of Fort Worth, granted a temporary restraining order on Friday. It prevents Tarrant County College from restricting the protest by Students for Concealed Carry on Campus.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas represents the two.

Poisonally, I think these are nutballs of the first order – wanting concealed carry on campus. But, the ACLU and others are taking appropriate action defending their right to demonstrate and protest against existing regs.

Symbolic empty holsters is a reasonably bright gimmick for the protest – and they should be supported in their freedom to dissent.