Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 7th, 2020

Why Did World War II End?

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post that makes the argument that it was not the atomic bombs that forced Japan’s surrender. I find his argument persuasive.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 6:09 pm

Posted in Daily life

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Christopher Alexander: A Primer

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Christopher Alexander’s books — notably The Timeless Way of Building and A Pattern Language — are deep and rewarding but difficult to summarize. This video is an effort to summarize some of his ideas:

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 4:46 pm

Posted in Art, Technology, Video

“My Life Pouring Concrete”

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Michael Humeniuk writes in Quillette:

The ritual was to arrive at work half an hour early, so I could gradually wake up in the car listening to the radio, drinking coffee, and eating doughnuts. I’d park my Honda Fit beside the site foreman’s pick-up truck. His morning pre-shift was like mine, except that his breakfast was vodka-soda with painkillers. Another two labourers usually arrived after I did: an irritable six-foot-three indigenous guy called by everyone, including himself, the “BFI,” which stood for “Big F-cking Indian”; and a cocaine-addled Italian who split “a gram or two with the wife” nightly, pairing it with a three-litre bottle of red wine. He claimed to sleep only two hours, which I never doubted, since he had to commute an hour to get on site at 6am. Of my colleagues, only the BFI always worked sober, having survived years of alcoholism (not to mention some prison time).

At age 20, I’d started my first week in construction, excavating a commercial space for a liquor store. The dark pits of freshly-dug soil gave the air a musty sweetness that stuck in the back of the throat. We’d spend 12-hour days digging trenches in the subterranean dark, and then fill them up with concrete. The ready mix splashed onto my skin and made my eyes burn, while men yelled monosyllabic instructions over the din of engines. The air smelled of diesel, with notes of liquid metal thanks to the welders. On break, we made our way outside, the only time we saw the sun, to immediately contaminate the fresh air with a round of cigarettes. True to stereotype, not one woman escaped our gaze. They were something to look at that wasn’t steel, dirt, dust, or rock.

This is how some men spend the majority of their lives.

I say “men” because, in my chosen subspecialty of concrete (whose ranks include those formally designated in the United States under the category of “cement masons, concrete finishers, and terrazzo workers”), the work force is 98.9 percent male. According to 2018 data (collected well before the COVID-19 pandemic), the average annual salary is about $42,000, significantly less than the national average of $54,000. In this industry, 50 is considered old. And working past 60 is almost unheard of. Most of the men I worked with had little formal education. Many had a criminal record. Men working in construction and extraction have the highest suicide rate of any industry, as well as the highest rate of opioid addiction, and (predictably) overdoses. Alcoholism rates are second only to the mining industry. It’s a rough crowd doing hard work. So you can see why employers might have difficulty addressing their gender imbalance.

Men work construction jobs because they need the money. But they also take pride in their daily work product, and the more general fact that they build and fix the concrete world that we all need. There’s usually a strong work ethic on display, too, even if it doesn’t always manifest itself as what many of us would describe as professionalism per se.

To the extent construction workers are discussed at all in the media or popular culture, it’s usually by reference to stereotypically negative attributes, such as sexist leering, foul language, and substance abuse. Unless you are embedded in this world, you’ll miss the offsetting positive aspects, including the unspoken code that exists among most crews: (1) Do the best work you can, without creating more work for others; (2) don’t shirk the dirtiest or hardest task; (3) obey your direct boss, but remain suspicious of authority more generally, especially when it walks on to the site with clean hands and nice shoes. (Young engineers tend to be particular objects of scorn); (4) never rat. If someone’s alcohol or drug problem is out of hand, let the supervisor address it. If your colleague gets fired because you blew the whistle, you may lose something more precious than a job.

While doing interviews for this article, two unionized municipal construction workers told me, off the record, “There are only two rules with Percocet: One, never talk about perkies. Two, do you have any?” The high level of opioid use among construction workers arises from the need to alleviate pain. Many workers freely offer stories about past accidents and the ensuing surgeries. In other cases, it’s a case of repetitive stress and bodily wear and tear, including slipped disks and rotator-cuff issues. Opioids are especially helpful for contract labourers who don’t have union protection or job benefits. Without work, they have no money, so they rely on pills to stay on site.

Eventually, of course, avoidance of withdrawal symptoms becomes the dominant priority. And one friend of mine fell off the workforce when he could no longer find a steady supply of pills. The symptoms of sudden abstinence, which often start with vomiting and diarrhoea, can sometimes be life-threatening. To save a colleague from unemployment, and possibly from falling into a deadly spiral, a few men relinquished some of their own pills as an act of charity, knowing the roles could be reversed one day.

On the sites I worked, Percocet went for between $3 and $5 per 5mg dose. The more potent 80 mg OxyContins went for $80. (The active ingredient in both is oxycodone.) Labourers are rarely prescribed enough by their doctors to feed their addictions, and so they buy or trade amongst one another. Some spend upward of $500 per week, and have to enter into informal buy-and-sell agreements, somewhat comparable to stock options . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 4:42 pm

“It’s the healthcare system, stupid”

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Charles Frank writes in Le Monde Diplomatique:

The great underlying political crisis of this plague year, it is often said, is the stubborn refusal of Americans to respect expert authority. There’s an epidemic raging… and just look at those people frolicking in a swimming pool at the Lake of the Ozarks, repeating stupid conspiracy theories, spreading non-peer-reviewed medical advice on social media, running errands without a mask on, setting off roman candles in the street. And just look at their idiot of a president, dismissing the advice of his own medical experts, blaming everyone but himself for the disaster, suggesting we inject ourselves with Clorox because it’s effective on countertops and toilet bowls.

In truth, this grand conflict between the ignorant and the enlightened has been a motif of our politics for years (1). Liberals, we believe, are uniquely attuned to objective reality; they dutifully heed the words of Nobel laureates and Genius Grant winners. But Republicans are different: they live in a world of myth and fable where the truth does not apply.

Ordinarily our punditburo plays this conflict for simple partisan point-scoring. Us: smart! Them: stupid!

But the pandemic has given the conflict an urgency we have not seen before. These days, right-thinking Americans are tearfully declaring their eternal and unswerving faith in science. Democratic leaders are urging our disease-stricken country to heed the findings of medical experts as though they were the word of God.

Our ‘thought leaders’, meanwhile, have developed a theory for understanding the crazy behaviour we see around us: these misguided people are not merely stupid, they are in the grip of a full-blown philosophy of anti-expertise called ‘populism’. These populists are the unlettered who resent the educated and sneer at the learned (2). They believe in hunches instead of scholarship; they flout the advice of the medical profession; they extol the wisdom of the mob. Populism is science’s enemy; it is at war with sound thinking. It is an enabler of disease, if not a disease itself.

So sweetly flattering, so gorgeously attractive is this tidy little syllogism that members of our country’s thinking class return to it again and again. Medical science is so obviously right and populism so obviously wrong that celebrating the one and deploring the other has become for them one of the great literary set pieces of the era, the raw material for endless columns and articles.

Crushing national failure

Unfortunately, it’s all a mistake. Donald Trump’s prodigious stupidity is not the sole cause of our crushing national failure to beat the coronavirus. Plenty of blame must also go to our screwed-up healthcare system, which scorns the very idea of public health and treats access to medical care as a private luxury that is rightfully available only to some. It is the healthcare system, not Trump, that routinely denies people treatment if they lack insurance; that bankrupts people for ordinary therapies; that strips people of their coverage when they lose their jobs — and millions of people are losing their jobs in this pandemic. It is the healthcare system that, when a Covid treatment finally arrives, will almost certainly charge Americans a hefty price to receive it (3).

And that system is the way it is because organised medicine has for almost a century used the prestige of expertise to keep it that way.

Populism, meanwhile, was the reform impulse that tried (and failed) to change the system so that it served ordinary people.

Which is to say that the pundits and the scholars and the thinktankers in their grave solemnity have got it entirely backward. Bowing down before expertise is precisely what has made public health an impossible dream. And the populism that our pundits so hate and fear is, in fact, the cure for what ails us.

Who was a populist?

Begin with the word. The term ‘Populist’ was coined in Kansas in 1891 to describe members of a brand-new American farmer-labour party who demanded a modern currency, a war on monopoly, and the nationalisation of the railroads. The movement caught fire, and the people who called themselves Populists seemed poised to succeed at first. Instead, their party fizzled out by the end of that decade. Still, Populism’s influence lived on for decades; its ideas can be traced through the American Socialist Party, the New Deal of the 1930s and 40s, and the Bernie Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020.

The rise and fall of the American Populists — again, the people who invented the word — has long been a favourite subject of romantically inclined historians. The Populist party’s principles and its leading figures are well known to scholars and are the subject of many books.

A curious fact that is repeated often in those books: the Populists were not opponents of science or learning. On the contrary: Populists produced homages to technology and scholarship and education that were so earnest and ornate that they are embarrassing to read today. They thought their own ideas about regulation and the welfare state were in full alignment with the scientific advances of the late 19th century.

At the same time, the Pops fought endlessly with the business and academic elites of their day — experts who regarded the established order as the work of God. Populists regarded all special privilege with suspicion, including the prestige that props up the professional class. A clear illustration of this theme can be seen in the famous Garden of Eden sculpture garden in Lucas, Kansas, which was built as a primer on Populist/socialist principles. One of its focal points is a rendering of ‘Labour crucified’ and the people who can be seen torturing the working man to death are society’s honoured professionals: banker, lawyer, doctor, preacher.

The Populist way of looking at things was radically democratic: the people came first. The correct role of experts, the original Populists thought, was to serve and inform the people as they went about their lives as citizens of a democracy.

The original Populist movement didn’t have much to say about healthcare policy. In the 1890s, American medicine had not yet hardened into the supremely costly bureaucratic labyrinth we know today. But as the price of medicine grew out of reach in the decades that followed, farmers and unions and charities proposed all kinds of alternative, more democratic arrangements, and always with the same aim: to make healthcare an affordable part of life for ordinary, working-class people. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 4:29 pm

Exploiting GPS vulnerability

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Greg Milner has an article in the New Yorker on that describes how the GPS system is vulnerable and how that vulnerability is being exploited by Russia and China, among others. From the article:

G.P.S. is now crucially important for reasons that are unrelated to providing geolocation. Because the G.P.S. clocks are synchronized to within nanoseconds, the network’s signals are used to unify time-dependent systems spread over large areas. G.P.S. time helps bounce calls between cellular towers, regulate power flows in electrical grids, and time-stamp financial trades on the major exchanges. If a spoofer were to feed erroneous information that confused the clocks in even a few nodes of these systems, the damage could be widespread: as time errors multiply, communications systems could fail, wrongly apportioned power flows could result in blackouts, and automated trading programs could yank themselves out of the markets, causing crashes. And those are just a few scenarios. We still have not figured out exactly how to safeguard a technology that is so crucial yet so porous.

In 2001, the Department of Transportation released a report warning that G.P.S. could become a “tempting target” for enemies of the U.S. The joint study was the first official acknowledgment that spoofing was a real and significant threat. Humphreys heard about the report while at Cornell. The worst-case spoofing scenario it described seemed like something he could do himself—in fact, like something he could do better himself.

. . . Four years later, in June, 2017, a French oil tanker, the Atria, sailed across the Mediterranean, through the Bosporus strait, and into the Black Sea. As the ship approached the Russian city of Novorossiysk, the captain, Gurvan Le Meur, noticed that the ship’s navigation system appeared to have lost its G.P.S. signal. The signal soon returned, but the position it gave was way off. The Atria was apparently some forty kilometres inland, shipwrecked at the airport in Gelendzhik, a Russian resort town.

Le Meur radioed nearby vessels, whose captains reported similar malfunctions in their navigation systems: all in all, twenty other ships had been “transported” to the same inland airport. Meanwhile, something similar had been happening in Moscow—this time to Uber customers, not ship captains. Passengers taking short trips discovered that their accounts were charged for drives all the way to one of the city’s airports, or even to locales thousands of miles away.

The activity attracted the interest of the Center for Advanced Defense Studies (C4ADS), a Washington-based think tank focussed on security issues. Using data from ships, which are required by maritime treaties to continuously broadcast their location, researchers discovered that the spoofing problem was much larger than anyone had realized. According to a report released in March of 2019, there were ten thousand spoofing incidents at sea between February 2016 and November 2018, affecting about a thousand and three hundred vessels. Similar data are harder to come by for land vehicles, but C4ADS used heat maps from fitness-tracking smartphone apps to confirm that drivers near the Kremlin and in St. Petersburg encountered similar spoofing.

Once they had logged where and when the spoofing incidents occurred, researchers cross-referenced this information with the travel schedule of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. On a fall afternoon in 2017, six minutes before Putin gave a speech in the coastal town of Bolshoy Kamen, a nearby ship’s G.P.S. coordinates showed it jumping to the airport in Vladivostok. In 2018, when Putin attended the official opening of a bridge across the Kerch Strait, at least twenty-four ships in the area reported their location as Anapa Airport, sixty-five kilometres away. What was going on? It seemed increasingly likely that the President’s security detail was travelling with a portable software-defined spoofer, in the hope of protecting Putin from drone attacks.

The strange specificity of the spoofing—the relocation of ships and vehicles to airports—has a cagey explanation. Most drones contain geofencing firmware, which prevents them from entering designated areas, including the world’s major airports. If a drone senses that it’s near an airport, either because it actually is or because spoofed G.P.S. coordinates make it believe that it is, it will either return to its starting point or simply down itself.

For one of the world’s most prominent politicians, spoofing may not seem like an unreasonable precaution. In August, 2018, a speech by the Venezuelan President, Nicolás Maduro, was interrupted when a pair of drones detonated above one of Caracas’s largest thoroughfares. A few days later, French secret-service agents destroyed a mysterious drone that flew too close to the summer home of the French President, Emmanuel Macron. But for those who’ve fallen prey to spoofing incidents—the befuddled captains at sea, the overcharged passengers in Moscow—it may be difficult to accept that they are merely collateral in attempts to shield a head of state. And the same technology that might seem like a strategic security system in some circumstances contains within it an ominous potential for subterfuge.

. . . In July of last year, the captain of a container ship registered in the U.S. noticed something strange with his navigation system as he entered the port of Shanghai. The ship’s G.P.S. placed the vessel several kilometres inland. When Humphreys and C4ADS heard of the incident, they doubted that it was an isolated event. “We looked at more data, and, by golly, we saw the same thing popping up in areas around China’s coastline,” Humphreys said. Three hundred other ships had been subject to spoofing in Shanghai on the same day, and thousands of others in the same year. What was unusual about the Shanghai spoofing was that the vessels, rather than being “transported” to the same fake location, were all reporting different coordinates. Further analysis by Bjorn Bergman, at the watchdog group SkyTruth, showed a similar pattern in twenty other locations in China.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 11:31 am

Homeless at the Holiday Inn

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In the Economist 1843 Samira Shackle describes a situation playing out in many cities:

When the door shut behind her, Ariel knew she ought to feel relieved. Her double room in a south London Holiday Inn offered a haven from the coronavirus outbreak roiling the capital, as well as previously unthinkable luxuries: her own bathroom, a tv, a door that locked, a proper bed. Yet, as she took in the empty wardrobe and the bland walls decorated with a single, abstract print, her stomach tightened. The winter shelter she’d come from had been basic in its provision but full of camaraderie. Now she was on her own.

Ariel (who didn’t want her real name used) lay in bed, unable to sleep. Screams came from next door. Afua, the woman occupying the neighbouring room, had arrived from the shelter at the same time as her. The upheaval had disrupted her routine and she’d stopped taking her psychiatric medication. Social-distancing rules meant that Ariel couldn’t go and comfort Afua (another pseudonym). She just had to lie there and listen.

Both Ariel and Afua had been placed in the Holiday Inn, along with another 150 or so homeless people, by St Mungo’s, a charity. Case workers hurried to Afua’s door, but she kept asking for Ariel, the only person there she trusted. Ariel eventually persuaded the staff to let her sit with Afua in the corridor. The two women camped out there on a mattress for three days. At first Afua would panic whenever Ariel got up to go to the loo or have a shower. Over time she started to feel more like herself and agreed to take her medicine. After the mattress was put away and they each returned to their own rooms, Ariel realised that she had been so focused on looking after Afua that her own anxiety had receded.

Community had always been important to Ariel. When she was little, her mother told her that everyone bled the same colour so you should always try to find common ground. That stayed with her. An affectionate, chatty, neatly turned-out person, Ariel immigrated to Britain from Nigeria in the 1990s to work as a nurse in the nhs. Her life was stable until, in 2012, her husband died. She wouldn’t say what happened, only that she blamed herself for not preventing it.

The experience triggered a long episode of suicidal depression. Ariel found it hard to concentrate at work; eventually, the hospital let her go. When she disputed the decision it led to problems with her immigration status, which exacerbated her despair. Her landlord evicted her for falling behind on the rent, and she ended up being admitted to a psychiatric ward. After she was released in January, aged 56, she had nowhere to go.

Ariel told me she often thinks about the homeless people she used to walk past when she was working as a nurse. The shock of becoming one of them herself was paralysing. She is one among many. Britain’s homeless population has ballooned to around 280,000 since 2010, when many people began to struggle with their rent after the coalition government decided to cut welfare spending. The number of rough sleepers – those without even a sofa to crash on – has more than doubled in that time: some 4,000-6,000 are on the streets of England on any single night.

When the covid-19 pandemic arrived, experts warned that both this group and those in crowded hostels were highly vulnerable to the disease and likely to spread it. On March 27th, within days of the government announcing lockdown in Britain to contain the virus, local councils in England were given 48 hours and emergency funding to re-house the homeless. Hotels across the country had no guests; England’s most at-risk homeless people were moved into their empty rooms instead. The rough-sleeping problem was more or less solved within a matter of weeks, at least temporarily.

When Ariel became homeless a few months before these measures, a charity worker suggested that she get a place in the winter night-shelter run by her local council. This meant a camp bed and hot meal in a different church or community centre each night of the week. Though Ariel was apprehensive about what it might be like, the other people there turned out to be funny, generous, vulnerable and kind. Within weeks, she couldn’t imagine life without them. Going to sleep at night she could feel other people’s breath, sometimes smelling of alcohol. It was crowded but comforting. “We were like one big family,” she said.

That closeness took on a different dimension when coronavirus hit London. Ariel watched the evening news on tv in the church hall and discovered, with growing panic, that the disease seemed to be especially dangerous for anyone with diabetes or asthma. She had both. The winter-shelter programme was about to finish; other charities and shelters were shutting because of the pandemic. Ariel thought she was going to be left on the streets to die. Then a volunteer announced that they would all soon be housed in hotel rooms. Ariel’s case was accelerated because of her risk profile: a taxi came for her and Afua, a fellow diabetic, later that week. The night before, her last at the shelter, Ariel cooked a Nigerian feast of jollof rice and lamb chops for everyone. She cried when it was time to leave. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 11:21 am

Cool Alekhine game with 5 Queens on the board

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Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 9:55 am

Posted in Chess, Video

Facebook fired an employee who collected evidence of right-wing pages getting preferential treatment.

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One reason journalists are so strongly attacked by corporations and corrupt politicians is that journalists make public the information and evidence those corporations and and politicians want to keep hidden. Indeed, corporations and corrupt politicians will try to destroy anyone who exposes what they’re doing (cf. President Trump’s many attacks on critics who point out (for example) his statements that he now wants to deny).

The “Daily 202” is a roundup of political new items that appears daily in the Washington Post. Among today’s items:

“Some of Facebook’s own employees gathered evidence they say shows Breitbart — along with other right-wing outlets and figures including Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk, Trump supporters Diamond and Silk, and conservative video production nonprofit Prager University — has received special treatment that helped it avoid running afoul of company policy. They see it as part of a pattern of preferential treatment for right-wing publishers and pages,” BuzzFeed News reports. “On July 22, a Facebook employee posted a message to the company’s internal misinformation policy group noting that some misinformation strikes against Breitbart had been cleared by someone at Facebook seemingly acting on the publication’s behalf …

“The same employee said a partly false rating applied to an Instagram post from Kirk flagged for ‘priority’ escalation by Joel Kaplan, the company’s vice president of global public policy. Kaplan once served in George W. Bush’s administration and drew criticism for publiclysupporting Brett Kavanaugh’s controversial nomination to the Supreme Court. … In one case, a senior Facebook engineer collected multiple instances of conservative figures receiving unique help from Facebook employees, including those on the policy team, to remove fact-checks on their content.”

Facebook is seriously out of control and IMO requires some strong regulation if not breaking up in some way.

Facebook’s action — firing the employee who exposed the problem rather than addressing the problem — is typical of how the powerful react (cf. Vladimir Putin’s assassination of critical journalists).

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 9:43 am

The NRA backstory

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Heather Cox Richardson provides a good potted history of what led to the NRA lawsuit. She writes:

Last night, the New York Attorney General’s Press Office announced that Attorney General Letitia James would make “a major national announcement” today at 11:30 AM. When she appeared, she announced she was launching a lawsuit to disband the National Rifle Association (NRA).

The NRA was chartered in New York in 1871, in part to improve the marksmanship of Americans who might be called on to fight another war, and in part to promote in America the British sport of elite shooting. By the 1920s, rifle shooting was a popular sport.

In the 1930s, amid fears of organized crime, the NRA backed federal legislation to limit concealed weapons, prevent possession by criminals, the mentally ill and children, to require all dealers to be licensed, and to require background checks before delivery. NRA officers insisted on the right of citizens to own rifles and handguns, but worked hard to distinguish between, on the one hand, law-abiding citizens who should have access to guns for hunting and target shooting and protection, and on the other hand, criminals and mentally ill people, who should not. The NRA backed the 1934 National Firearms Act, and parts of the 1968 Gun Control Act, designed to stop what seemed to be America’s hurtle toward violence in that turbulent decade.

But in the mid-1970s, a faction in the NRA forced the organization away from sports and toward opposing “gun control.” It formed a political action committee in 1975, and two years later elected a president who abandoned sporting culture and focused instead on “gun rights.”

The NRA had gone into politics. Its officials now opposed all limits on gun ownership, even though basic safety measures have always been popular, even within the NRA’s own membership. In 1980, the NRA endorsed a presidential candidate for the first time ever, standing behind Ronald Reagan. Now a player in national politics, the NRA was awash in money from gun and ammunition manufacturers. By 2000, the NRA was one of the three most powerful lobbies in Washington. It spent more than $40 million on the 2008 election.

In 2016, donations to the NRA jumped sharply. While in 2012, it spent $9 million, and in 2014 it spent $13 million, in 2016, it spent more than $50 million on Republican candidates, including more than $30 million on Trump’s effort to win the White House. This money was vital to Trump, since many other Republican super PACs refused to back him. The NRA spent more money on Trump than any other outside group, including the leading Trump super PAC, which spent $20.3 million.

In February 2018, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Ron Wyden (D-OR), began an investigation of the NRA, its donors, and its role in the 2016 election.

On July 15, 2018, the federal government arrested Russian national Maria Butina and charged her with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation within the United States without prior registration.” Butina and Russian government official Alexander Torshin began coming to the U.S. for NRA events in 2014. Butina moved to the U.S. in 2016 on a student visa, intending to gain access to the American political system through the NRA and to push U.S. policy closer to Russian interests.

Butina became romantically involved with Republican political operative Paul Erickson, who had worked for Republican insurgent candidate Pat Buchanan in 1992, was friends with criminal lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and later represented John Wayne Bobbitt in media deals after Bobbitt’s wife Lorena cut off his penis with a kitchen knife. (Surgeons reattached it.)

Erickson promised to help Butina gain access to Republican lawmakers. When federal investigators began to monitor Butina, he came to their attention, and they discovered his businesses were designed to defraud investors. In November 2019, Erickson pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering in an unrelated case. Last month, he was sentenced to seven years in federal prison.

But when their NRA scheme was still intact, Butina and Torshin attended NRA annual meetings and other NRA events at the invitation of its leaders, who invited the two to events like the National Prayer Breakfast, where they could meet Republican lawmakers. In turn, Butina and Torshin invited NRA leaders to Moscow, where they met with leaders who promised lucrative business opportunities with Russian oligarchs, including the opportunity to produce weapons for the Russian military. Some of the Russians they met were under sanctions from the U.S. government.

In April 2019, Butina pleaded guilty to working as a foreign agent without registering with the U.S. Department of Justice. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison, a sentence Russian President Vladimir Putin, who insisted she was being railroaded, called “arbitrary.” In September 2019, the Democrats on the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance outlined the work of Butina and Torshin in the U.S., and called the NRA “a foreign asset.”

Butina served 15 months in the Tallahassee Federal Correction Institution before being deported to Moscow. Reporters from RT, the state-sponsored Russian media outlet, traveled on the plane with her. Supporters greeted her at the Moscow airport with flowers and cheers, giving her a hero’s welcome. Once back in Moscow, she said she had been pressured to plead guilty to a crime, but all she was doing was “hosting friendship dinners.” Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told ABC News: “the only thing she was doing was supporting bilateral relationship and friendship between peoples. … She did nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong.”

There is at least some reason to wonder if the sudden jump in NRA donations in 2016 had something to do with the Russian oligarchs who were talking with its leaders. When Senator Wyden requested information about their donors, NRA leaders stated categorically they did not accept money from “foreign persons or entities in connection with United States elections,” which is illegal. But then they said  . . .

Continue reading.

I think it’s clear that Russia has engaged in a broad-ranging and intense effort of aggression in the US, not on the battlefield (though Russia did pay Afghan insurgents money to kill American soldiers, something that doesn’t seem to bother the US president), but in political and economic fields of struggle. And their aggression is covert, not aboveboard.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 8:27 am

Brush comparison: Omega Pro 48 and Mr Pomp. Supporting actors: Organism B-46 and Baby Smooth — plus a note on blade dulling

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I decided on the spur of the moment (after I took the photo) to use my Pro 48 along with Mr Pomp. I mostly was motivated to compare the brushes, but the alluring fragrance of Organism 46-B was also a factor: by spending twice the time in lathering, I could enjoy the fragrance twice as long.

Both brushes made excellent lather, so performance is top-notch for both. In feel, there was definitely a difference: with the knots engorged with lather, Mr Pomp felt very soft and very smooth on my face. The Pro 48 was also soft but have a little (very pleasant) grain. Both felt fine, but had different textures. Assuming high quality, a paté and a steak are both very tasty, and both have pleasant mouthfeel, but the paté is smooth and the steak has some grain. The difference is analogous to that.

Three passes with the Baby Smooth — particularly with the extended lathering — left my face perfectly smooth. IMO, everyone should have a Baby Smooth in his razor collection — but I do recognize YMMV and that for some it probably does not work so well as it does for me. I find it one of the best razors I own: reliable, completely comfortable, and highly efficient.

A splash of Organism 46-B to carry me through the day, and the weekend is dead ahead.

BLADE NOTE: The Eldest pointed out an interesting investigation of blade sharpness, specifically directed at the question of why a hard knife edge becomes dull when cutting something much softer. The article is unclear on what is meant by “blade angle.” Consider a whisker that is perpendicular to a plane. The blade can approach the whisker on that plane, in which case the blade angle would be an angle wrt the blade’s direction of travel (cf. a slant razor). But the blade can also approach the whisker at small acute angle to the plane to which the razor is perpendicular — another kind of blade angle, and that blade approach can also be at an angle to the direction of travel. The paper’s summary does not make clear what exactly is meant by “blade angle.”

Update: See also this NPR article.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2020 at 8:12 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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