Later On

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Archive for August 26th, 2019

Are Spies More Trouble Than They’re Worth?

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Adam Gopnik has an interesting set of book reviews in the New Yorker:

Is intelligence intelligent? This is the question that runs or, rather, leaps through the mind of the reader struggling with Christopher Andrew’s encyclopedic work “The Secret World: A History of Intelligence” (Yale). Andrew, who is a longtime history don at Cambridge, begins his book—as long and thorough as Diarmaid MacCulloch’s classic “A History of Christianity,” though less violent—with one of the most appealing opening lines in recent nonfiction: “The first major figure in world literature to emphasize the importance of good intelligence was God.” The Israelites’ reconnaissance mission to the promised land of Canaan is the first stop in Andrew’s tour of four thousand years of spying; the last is the American failure to anticipate 9/11. For anyone with a taste for wide-ranging and shrewdly gossipy history—or, for that matter, for anyone with a taste for spy stories—Andrew’s is one of the most entertaining books of the past few years.

Yet these tales of spying and counterspying involve dances so entangled and contradictory that one finishes this history wondering if having a successful spy service really is a good way to have a successful nation. (That early spy mission, in which most of the Israelites came back to say that the promised land was too well guarded to keep its promise, went badly enough, God knew.) There seems to be a paranoid paradox of espionage: the better your intelligence, the dumber your conduct; the more you know, the less you anticipate. Again and again, a reader of Andrew’s history finds that the countries with the keenest spies, the most thorough decryptions of enemy code, and the best flow of intelligence about their opponents have the most confounding fates. Hard-won information is ignored or wildly misinterpreted. It’s remarkably hard to find cases where a single stolen piece of information changed the course of a key battle.

During the First World War, the British decrypting center known as Room 40 had useful information about the movement of German ships during the Battle of Jutland, off the coast of Denmark, but the officers of the British fleet, disliking the cut of the analyst’s intellectual jib, contemptuously ignored what they were told, and managed only to draw a battle they could have won. Richard Sorge, a Russian spy in Germany’s Embassy in Japan, gained detailed knowledge about the approaching German invasion of Russia in 1941, and passed it on. Stalin not only ignored information about the coming invasion but threatened anyone who took it seriously, since he knew that his ally Hitler wouldn’t betray him. The delayed reaction cost hundreds of thousands of lives, perhaps millions, and very nearly handed Hitler victory. The invasion was launched, and Stalin soon retreated to his dacha in shock. When a delegation of apparatchiks came to see him, he took it for granted that they were coming to depose him, since that’s what he would have done in their place, and was startled when they begged him to step forward and lead, being themselves dependent on the cult of the great leader.

More frequently, one comes upon absurd stories like the following. In 1914, on the brink of war, French officials became so consumed with an earlier episode in which their cabinet noir had decrypted certain German messages—with politicians trying to wield the decrypts to embarrass one another or protect themselves from embarrassment—that they helped keep the intelligence professionals from going on with their actual work of anticipating a German attack. As Andrew explains, the climax of the affair occurred when Gaston Calmette, the editor of Le Figaro, accused the former Prime Minister Joseph Caillaux of having worked in the German interest. Caillaux had reason to think that Calmette had obtained decrypted cables from another journalist, who was given them by a former foreign minister, and, in January, he warned the President, Raymond Poincaré, that Le Figaro was planning to publish the decrypts. But Caillaux, as Andrew explains,

had already taken devious precautions of his own in case the decrypts were published. During a week as caretaker Interior Minister in December 1913 he had raided the Sûreté archives (a raid condemned by its director, Pujalet, as a “burglary”) and removed copies of the Italian intercepts which had embarrassed Poincaré the previous spring—no doubt as a potential means of putting pressure on the President. . . . The whole extraordinary affair took a new and even more sensational turn on the afternoon of 16 March 1914, when Madame Henriette Caillaux walked into the office of Gaston Calmette, drew a revolver from her muff and shot him dead. Her immediate motive for murder was to prevent Le Figaro publishing love letters between herself and Caillaux, written while he was still married to his first wife. It was quickly rumoured, however, that Madame Caillaux’s main motive had been to prevent publication not of the love letters but of the German telegrams intercepted during the Agadir crisis.

This series of events turns out to be only a particularly rococo Parisian instance of what happens again and again in this history: a seeming national advance in intelligence is squandered through crossbred confusion, political rivalry, mutual bureaucratic suspicions, intergovernmental competition, and fear of the press (as well as leaks to the press), all seasoned with dashes of sexual jealousy and adulterous intrigue. “Because of this political mishandling,” as Andrew puts it dryly, the decrypts “did as much to confuse as to inform French policymakers.”

Not for the first or the last time, the point of spying—to know what the other side is likely to do—had been swallowed up by the activity of spying, a frantic roundelay in which each actor is trying to score obscure points against his internal enemies, with a certainty (often misplaced) that someone else is playing him in another complicated roundelay. Meanwhile, Andrew notes, “the great power with the best foreign intelligence during the few years before the First World War continued to be Tsarist Russia.” And we know how that worked out.

A few famous modern espionage coups do still register as coups. The Allied creation of George S. Patton’s “phantom army”—a ploy to make the Germans think that the D Day offensive in Normandy was only a feint, with the real invasion planned for the Pas de Calais—really did work. And the parallel Soviet penetration of the Manhattan Project’s atomic secrets was even more impressive than is generally understood: the famous perpetrators, like Klaus Fuchs or the Rosenbergs, turn out to have been relatively small fry compared with Theodore Hall, a Harvard physicist who delivered the real goods to the Russians and went on to have a long, productive career in Chicago and then in Cambridge. (He seems to have escaped prosecution for a reason typical in the history of these things: had the government used as evidence its top-secret “Venona intercepts,” which might have identified Hall, the project would have been exposed.)

And many fabled espionage gambits seem to have been double-sided. The Cambridge Spies—the much studied and dramatized cell that formed in the thirties and included Kim Philby and Anthony Blunt—were utterly sincere about the Communist cause they had pledged their lives to, but all were assumed by their Soviet handlers to have been turned, and made double agents. Despite the spies’ strenuous efforts to provide Stalin with British secrets, the Soviets regarded them as so untrustworthy that they sent a team of additional spies to England in order to monitor them. Only after they had delivered the entire deception plan for D Day did Stalin begin to trust his British minions.

The old Mad-magazine cartoon series “Spy vs. Spy,” in which two interchangeable agents, one black-hatted and one white-hatted, do each other in, over and over again, without much cumulative point or purpose, seems like a reasonable picture of the whole. As it happens, the series was invented by a Cuban satirist named Antonio Prohías, a liberal anti-Batista cartoonist who, witnessing Castro’s growing hostility to a free press, fled post-revolutionary Cuba, under suspicion of being a spy for the C.I.A. You can’t escape the game, apparently.

The rule that having more intelligence doesn’t lead to smarter decisions persists, it seems, for two basic reasons. First, if you have any secret information at all, you often have too much to know what matters. Second, having found a way to collect intelligence yourself, you become convinced that the other side must be doing the same to you, and is therefore feeding you fake information in order to guide you to the wrong decisions. The universal law of unintended consequences rules with a special ferocity in espionage and covert action, because pervasive secrecy rules out the small, mid-course corrections that are possible in normal social pursuits. When you have to prevent people from finding out what you’re doing and telling you if you’re doing it well, you don’t find out that you didn’t do it well until you realize just how badly you did it. (The simple term of art for this effect, “blowback,” originated within the C.I.A.) Good and bad intelligence circle round and round, until both go down the drain of sense.

Some of these circlings are funny, in the “Spy vs. Spy” way. Others are tragic. In a new book, “Poisoner in Chief” (Henry Holt), about the C.I.A.’s MK-ULTRA program—the attempt, mostly in the nineteen-fifties and sixties, to achieve mind control through drugs—Stephen Kinzer, a former Times correspondent, points out that the entire idea of Communist “brainwashing” was a classic piece of Cold War propaganda, popularized by a writer with C.I.A. connections named Edward Hunter. “Brainwashing” was supposed to explain American defections in Korea, and the idea made its way to outlets like Argosy, a pulp men’s magazine of the period. But it turns out that the upper reaches of the C.I.A. bought into the story, and launched a mind-control program in a desperate effort to counter the nonexistent threat that it had helped conjure into being. “There was deep concern over the issue of brainwashing,” Richard Helms, a C.I.A. hand who eventually became the agency’s director, later explained. “We felt that it was our responsibility not to lag behind the Russians or the Chinese in this field.”

Kinzer’s antihero is Sidney Gottlieb, a renegade chemist who oversaw the MK-ULTRA program. Gottlieb was a Jew from the Bronx who had worked his way from City College to a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Caltech, and whose desire to serve his country was redoubled when he was rejected by the Army during the Second World War. When, in 1951, Allen Dulles and Richard Helms went looking for a chemist with imagination and no reservations about pursuing the dark arts, Gottlieb’s name came up.

Gottlieb, an enthusiast for biowarfare (though also a kind of proto-hippie who apparently made his own goat’s-milk yogurt), was eager to manufacture mind-manipulating toxins. But his special contribution to American culture was introducing it to LSD; at one point, he bought up the entire supply produced by the Sandoz company, in Switzerland. He used it on often unwitting subjects, including prisoners and students, to see if it could induce a mental state extreme enough to work as either a kind of truth serum or a mind-control agent. (It did neither successfully.)

Winding through the spy-loving Eisenhower-Kennedy years, Kinzer’s book is a Tarantino movie yet to be made: it has the right combination of sick humor, pointless violence, weird tabloid characters, and sheer American waste. It is also frightening to read, since it documents the significant sums our government spent on spy schemes as tawdry as they were ridiculous, not to mention spasmodically cruel and even murderous. (At least one C.I.A. officer died in a mysterious “fall” from a hotel window, after becoming involved with MK-ULTRA colleagues and being given acid.)

The MK-ULTRA story is one of almost unqualified failure. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 6:33 pm

Posted in Government, Military

The Anthropologist of Artificial Intelligence

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In Quanta James Pavlus interviews Iyad Rahwan about the new field of study he is creating:

How do new scientific disciplines get started? For Iyad Rahwan, a computational social scientist with self-described “maverick” tendencies, it happened on a sunny afternoon in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in October 2017. Rahwan and Manuel Cebrian, a colleague from the MIT Media Lab, were sitting in Harvard Yard discussing how to best describe their preferred brand of multidisciplinary research. The rapid rise of artificial intelligence technology had generated new questions about the relationship between people and machines, which they had set out to explore. Rahwan, for example, had been exploring the question of ethical behavior for a self-driving car — should it swerve to avoid an oncoming SUV, even if it means hitting a cyclist? — in his Moral Machine experiment.

“I was good friends with Iain Couzin, one of the world’s foremost animal behaviorists,” Rahwan said, “and I thought, ‘Why isn’t he studying online bots? Why is it only computer scientists who are studying AI algorithms?’

“All of a sudden,” he continued, “it clicked: We’re studying behavior in a new ecosystem.”

Two years later, Rahwan, who now directs the Center for Humans and Machines at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, has gathered 22 colleagues — from disciplines as diverse as robotics, computer science, sociology, cognitive psychology, evolutionary biology, artificial intelligence, anthropology and economics — to publish a paper in Nature calling for the inauguration of a new field of science called “machine behavior.”

Directly inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning biologist Nikolaas Tinbergen’s four questions — which analyzed animal behavior in terms of its function, mechanisms, biological development and evolutionary history — machine behavior aims to empirically investigate how artificial agents interact “in the wild” with human beings, their environments and each other. A machine behaviorist might study an AI-powered children’s toy, a news-ranking algorithm on a social media site, or a fleet of autonomous vehicles. But unlike the engineers who design and build these systems to optimize their performance according to internal specifications, a machine behaviorist observes them from the outside in — just as a field biologist studies flocking behavior in birds, or a behavioral economist observes how people save money for retirement.

“The reason why I like the term ‘behavior’ is that it emphasizes that the most important thing is the observable, rather than the unobservable, characteristics of these agents,” Rahwan said.

He believes that studying machine behavior is imperative for two reasons. For one thing, autonomous systems are touching more aspects of people’s lives all the time, affecting everything from individual credit scores to the rise of extremist politics. But at the same time, the “behavioral” outcomes of these systems — like flash crashescaused by financial trading algorithms, or the rapid spread of disinformation on social media sites — are difficult for us to anticipate by examining machines’ code or construction alone.

“There’s this massively important aspect of machines that has nothing to do with how they’re built,” Rahwan said, “and has everything to do with what they do.”

Quanta spoke with Rahwan about the concept of machine behavior, why it deserves its own branch of science, and what it could teach us. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Why are you calling for a new scientific discipline? Why does it need its own name?

This is a common plight of interdisciplinary science. I don’t think we’ve invented a new field so much as we’ve just labeled it. I think it’s in the air for sure. People have recognized that machines impact our lives, and with AI, increasingly those machines have agency. There’s a greater urgency to study how we interact with intelligent machines.

Naming this emerging field also legitimizes it. If you’re an economist or a psychologist, you’re a serious scientist studying the complex behavior of people and their agglomerations. But people might consider it less important to study machines in those systems as well.

So when we brought together this group and coined this term “machine behavior,” we’re basically telling the world that machines are now important actors in the world. Maybe they don’t have free will or any legal rights that we ascribe to humans, but they are nonetheless actors that impact the world in ways that we need to understand. And when people of high stature in those fields sign up [as co-authors] to this paper, that sends a very strong signal.

You mentioned free will. Why even call this phenomenon “behavior,” which seems to unnecessarily invite that association? Why not use a term like “functionality” or “operation”?

Some people have a problem with giving machines agency. For instance, Joanna Bryson from the University of Bath, she’s always outspoken against giving machines agency, because she thinks that then you’re removing agency and responsibility from human actors who may be misbehaving.

But for me, behavior doesn’t mean that it has agency [in the sense of free will]. We can study the behavior of single-celled organisms, or ants. “Behavior” doesn’t necessarily imply that a thing is super intelligent. It just means that our object of study isn’t static — it’s the dynamics of how this thing operates in the world, and the factors that determine these dynamics. So, does it have incentives? Does it get signals from the environment? Is the behavior something that is learned over time, or learned through some kind of copying mechanism?

Don’t the engineers who design these agents make those decisions? Aren’t they deterministically defining this behavior in advance?

They build the machines, program them, build the architecture of the neural networks and so on. They’re engineering, if you like, the “brain” and the “limbs” of these agents, and they do study the behavior to some extent, but only in a very limited way. Maybe by looking at how accurate they are at classifying things, or by testing them in a controlled environment. You build the machine to perform a particular task, and then you optimize your machine according to this metric.

But its behavior is an open-ended aspect. And it’s an unknown quantity. There are behaviors that manifest themselves across different timescales. So [when you’re building it] maybe you focus on short timescales, but you can only know that long-timescale behavior once you deploy these machines.

Imagine that machine behavior is suddenly a mature field. What does it let us understand or do better? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 4:12 pm

Seattle Has Figured Out How to End the War on Drugs

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The War on Drugs, let us remember, is thanks to Richard Nixon, infamous crooked president, who rejected the findings of his own expert commission on the problem figuring that, since he was president, he knew a lot more than a group of people who had seriously studied the issues for years. (Sound familiar?) Nicholas Kristof writes in the NY Times:

On gritty streets where heroin, fentanyl and meth stride like Death Eaters, where for decades both drugs and the war on drugs have wrecked lives, the city of Seattle is pioneering a bold approach to narcotics that should be a model for America.

Anyone caught here with a small amount of drugs — even heroin — isn’t typically prosecuted. Instead, that person is steered toward social services to get help.

This model is becoming the consensus preference among public health experts in the U.S. and abroad. Still, it shocks many Americans to see no criminal penalty for using drugs illegally, so it takes courage and vision to adopt this approach: a partial retreat in the war on drugs coupled with a stepped-up campaign against addiction.

The war on drugs has been one of America’s most grievous mistakes, resulting in as many citizens with arrest records as with college diplomas. At last count, an American was arrested for drug possession every 25 seconds, yet the mass incarceration this leads to has not turned the tide on narcotics.

The number of opioid users has surged, and more Americans now die each year from overdoses than perished in the Vietnam, Afghan and Iraq wars combined. And that doesn’t account for the way drug addiction has ripped apart families and stunted children’s futures. More than two million children in America live with a parent suffering from an illicit-drug dependency.

So Seattle is undertaking what feels like the beginning of a historic course correction, with other cities discussing how to follow. This could be far more consequential than the legalization of pot: By some estimates, nearly half of Americans have a family member or close friend enmeshed in addiction, and if the experiment in Seattle succeeds, we’ll have a chance to rescue America from our own failed policies.

In effect, Seattle is decriminalizing the use of hard drugs. It is relying less on the criminal justice toolbox to deal with hard drugs and more on the public health toolbox.

Decriminalization is unfolding here in part because of Dan Satterberg, the prosecuting attorney for King County, which includes Seattle. It’s also arguably underway because of what happened to his little sister, Shelley Kay Satterberg.

At the age of 14, Shelley ran away from home because her parents wouldn’t let her go to a concert on a school night. It was a rebellion that proved devastating. She was away for several months, was gang-raped by two men, was introduced to hard drugs and began to self-medicate with those drugs to deal with the trauma of rape.

As Dan Satterberg rose through the ranks of prosecutors, Shelley Satterberg wrestled with addiction. She was never arrested or jailed (middle-class drug users often avoid police attention, which focuses on marginalized people who use or sell in public).

Dan told me that he was angry at Shelley — angry that she had made terrible choices, angry that she had hurt their parents. But over time he also concluded that his own approach of prosecuting drug users accomplished little, except that it isolated them from the family and friends who offered the best support system to escape addiction.

In 2015, Dan took Shelley to Navos, a nonprofit that provides mental health and addiction services, and she was able to stop using street drugs and gradually put her life back in order. Dan saw that treatment made a huge difference in Shelley’s life and became a believer.

Yet it wasn’t enough. Shelley died of a urinary tract infection last year at age 51, a consequence of previous drug and alcohol abuse.

“It gave me some insight about what works better than jail,” Dan Satterberg told me. “What Shelley needed was not a jail cell and not a judge wagging a finger at her, but she needed some support.”

Seattle’s first crucial step came in 2011 when Satterberg and others started a program called LEAD, short for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion. The idea is that instead of simply arresting drug users for narcotics or prostitution, police officers watch for those who are nonviolent and want help, and divert them to social service programs and intensive case management.

Almost immediately, this was a huge success. A 2017 peer-reviewed study found that drug users assigned to LEAD were 58 percentless likely to be rearrested, compared with a control group. Participants were also almost twice as likely to have housing as they had been before entering LEAD, and 46 percent more likely to be employed or getting job training.

LEAD isn’t cheap — it costs about $350 per month per participant to provide case managers. But it is cheaper than jail, courts and costs associated with homelessness. As a result, this approach has spread rapidly around the country, with 59 localities now offering LEAD initiatives or rolling them out.

Chian Jennings, 45, who had struggled with drugs for years, living in the streets and financing her habit by selling sex and by stealing, was smoking crack when a policeman stopped her.

“It was probably the best thing that happened to me,” Jennings told me. “It saved my life.” Instead of locking her up, the police officer handed her over to social workers at LEAD.

Through LEAD, Jennings got medical care, clothing and housing. She also gained confidence in herself, people who cared for her and the idea that life could get better. “They’re some of the most caring people I’ve ever met,” she said of the counselors. “Whether you come in high or not, they always treat you with respect.” Now, she said, “I work to make them proud of me.”

Jennings remains a work in progress. She says she still sometimes uses cocaine, but less over time, and she adds that she’s no longer stealing. If she had been held in jail, she said, “it would have pissed me off, and I would have gotten high when I got out. I’d still be homeless, stealing for food and drug money.”

Prison, she says, just makes people more miserable and more dependent on drugs when they are released. “This bit about ‘I learned my lesson’ — no, it doesn’t work that way,” she said. “People are hurting inside. That’s why they’re using in the first place.”

The war on drugs began in 1971 out of a legitimate alarm about narcotics both in the United States and among U.S. troops in Vietnam. But the “war” approach locked up enormous numbers of people and devastated the family structure. Drug laws discriminated against African-Americans (possession of crack cocaine, disproportionately used by blacks, drew far harsher sentences than possession of the same quantity of powdered cocaine, more likely to be used by whites).

Yet locking up endless waves of users has had little deterrent effect, and overdose deaths have surged. The White House has estimated that the economic cost of the opioid crisis in the United States exceeds $500 billion a year, equivalent to about $4,000 per household. And that doesn’t even include cocaine, meth and other drug use.

While the U.S. doubled down on the criminal justice approach to drugs, Portugal took the opposite avenue, decriminalizing possession of all drugs in 2001. It was a gamble, but it succeeded. As I’ve reported, Portugal’s overdose deaths plunged. The upshot is that drug mortality rates in the United States are now about 50 times higher than in Portugal. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 3:05 pm

Why Climate Change Is So Hard

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post on this. Basically it is because humans are not willing to make a drastic change in how they lead their lives. As Drum writes:

. . . I think Zaki misses the real issue: halting climate change, as he himself says, requires us to “dramatically alter our way of life.” This is not something most people are willing to do, regardless of empathy. We may feel tremendous empathy for the child in the well or the vicitim of a tornado, but we still aren’t willing to dramatically alter our way of life to help them. At most we’ll send some money to the Red Cross.

This is something that too many people don’t get. What makes climate change different from other environmental calamities isn’t that it’s bigger or farther away or difficult to see. Those things all contribute to our inaction, but the key difference is that halting climate change requires us to dramatically alter our way of life. All of us. For a very long time.

Human beings aren’t wired to do this. You aren’t doing it. I’m not doing it. Europeans aren’t doing it. No one is doing it. We’re willing to make modest changes here and there, but dramatic changes? The kind that seriously bite into our incomes and our way of life? Nope.

When I mention this to people, a common reaction is disbelief. You really think people will let the planet burn before they’ll give up their cars? That’s exactly what I think, because it’s happened many times before. Over and over, human civilizations have destroyed their environments because no one was willing to give up their piece of it. They knew exactly what they were doing but still couldn’t stop. They have overfished, overgrazed, overhunted, overmined, and overpolluted. They have literally destroyed their own lifeblood rather than make even modest changes to their lifestyles.

Anybody who’s interested in constructing a realistic plan to fight climate change has to accept this. It’s the the single biggest obstacle in our way, and it can’t be wished away or talked away. As frustrating as it is, it has to be addressed on its own terms. . .

I think it was Jared Diamond who wondered about the thoughts of the Eastern Islander who chopped down the last tree on the island…

I continue think I was quite fortunate in having my lifespan fall when it did.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 1:43 pm

Unusual abilities

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Most of us can remember a word that we see or hear. It’s not a big deal. We hear (say) “synesthesia” and get an explanation of what it means, and then we know that word when we see it.

With colors, it’s not the same: to see a color and then have a clear memory of its hue, saturation, and brightness so that you can recognize that exact color when you see it later—that’s something few can do. But some can. I read a novel once in which an artist, taking an afternoon off from his work, noticed the dark-green of his Martini olive—not in a general way, but very specifically the exact hue, saturation, and brightness—and thought it would work well in a painting he was working on (whose colors he recalled with equal specificity and vividness). And we know someone who shops for fabrics and can remember colors in fabrics she’s seen so that she can buy a fabric knowing that its colors will match a fabric she has at home.

And dancers can remember precisely the movements of their body, and a sequence of movements. I certainly can’t.

And musicians can remember notes—specific notes, with timbre, loudness, pitch, and volume—and even reproduce the notes from memory given the right instrument.

These sort of special perceptions occur more frequently than I think we recognized, and in a variety of spheres. Lyndon Johnson said once that if you could not walk into a room and tell just by looking who was with you and who was not, you had no business in politics. I at first took that as a general statement, but now I think he probably meant exactly what he said, and with specificity: when an issue was on the table, he could tell by looking who supported it and who opposed it.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life

Fine new badger brush from Yaqi and the Parker Slant, with Lenthéric and Guerlain

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It turns out that the bi-color synthetic brush I used has a removable head (threaded base, with the handle tapped), and with it I got a very nice badger brush. This is a Yaqi brush and I’ll note that the Yaqi shaving brushes I received are excellent and modestly priced. Yaqi currently has only three with a 22mm knot, but the 24mm knots (as in this brush) are not bad at all. And the pictured brush, with two interchangeable heads (base of knot is threaded and screws into the tapped handle), is very nice—and I particularly like the bi-color synthetic knot: very soft and comfortable. Manuel tells me:

Yaqi has a very good synthetic fiber production, in my opinion the best or the best currently. It has magnificent high mountain Manchurian badger. Plisson synthetic brush is known, then very imitated as Plissoft by several vendors (Fine AA among others) .. but it is Yaqi who made that model for Plisson .. the story is long and twisted. Most brands and vendors, and stores that sell their own models, are OEM jobs that Yaqi does for them.

He provides the name of that bi-color brush:

Some developments, such as the 4-quadrant brush (the Target Shot) are my ideas … corresponds to a military theme [the camouflage handle, I presume, which matches the Saturday razor I used – LG], what they saw in the periscope in German submarines of World War II, when they aimed their torpedoes against the ships to sink, of the allies, that black and white target divided into quadrants, it was a system of aiming at night against surface ships, hence its name: Target Shot.

Given the high quality and modest price of Yaqi razors and shaving brushes, the site is worth bookmarking.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had a new badger brush, but I did remember that, like boar brushes, a break-in period is required: a new boar brush simply destroys the lather you’ve made. You work up a nice lather, lather your stubble, put the brush down, shave the first pass, pick up the brush, and there’s no trace of lather at all. It’s as though the natural bristles have a lathercidal coating.

If you continue to use the brush this wears/washes off, and within a week the lather endures. And the same is true of badger brushes, to a lesser degree: whatever the lathercide is, it is more easily washed away. Remember this, I first used the brush to work up a sort of lather from my bar of MR GLO after washing my stubble with it at the sink. I loaded the brush, worked the lather up in my palm, then rinsed the brush clean, shook it, and loaded it with the fragrant Lenthéric, one of my favorite shaving soaps.

The fragrance really is quite present in this soap, and I enjoyed the lathering immensely. The knot has a wonderful feel: dense but soft, and I happily worked up a good lather, adding just a little water since I had loaded the brush heavily. The the first past with the Parker slant. (Parker calls it a “Semi-Slant” so as not to frighten potential purchasers, but it’s an extremely comfortable razor—and highly efficient as well: my face as I write this is remarkably smooth, much smoother than usual.)

I pick up the brush to lather for the second pass… and the lather’s all gone! Totally vanished. I guess one washing wasn’t enough. I wet the knot, give it a shake, and reload the brush. Again I work up a wonderful lather, and I shave the second pass.

I pick up the brush and find it still full of lather, so perhaps the second washing did it. Badger brushes move past the lathercidal phase quickly and easily, after all. The third pass went well, then a rinse and a good splash of Guerlain’s Vol de Nuit as an aftershave, and the new week begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 August 2019 at 8:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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