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Archive for August 18th, 2020

Miles Taylor witnessed first hand how Trump is destroying the US

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Miles Taylor is an extremely credible witness. He voted for Trump, he supported Trump, and he served Trump in the White House.

First, watch the brief video in this tweet:

And then read his op-ed in the Washington Post. It begins:

After serving for more than two years in the Department of Homeland Security’s leadership during the Trump administration, I can attest that the country is less secure as a direct result of the president’s actions.

Like many Americans, I had hoped that Donald Trump, once in office, would soberly accept the burdens of the presidency — foremost among them the duty to keep America safe. But he did not rise to the challenge. Instead, the president has governed by whim, political calculation and self-interest.

I wasn’t in a position to judge how his personal deficiencies affected other important matters, such as the environment or energy policy, but when it came to national security, I witnessed the damning results firsthand.

The president has tried to turn DHS, the nation’s largest law enforcement agency, into a tool used for his political benefit. He insisted on a near-total focus on issues that he said were central to his reelection — in particular building a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico. Though he was often talked out of bad ideas at the last moment, the president would make obviously partisan requests of DHS, including when he told us to close the California-Mexico border during a March 28, 2019, Oval Office meeting — it would be better for him politically, he said, than closing long stretches of the Texas or Arizona border — or to “dump” illegal immigrants in Democratic-leaning sanctuary cities and states to overload their authorities, as he insisted on several times.

Trump’s indiscipline was also a constant source of frustration. One day in February 2019, when congressional leaders were waiting for an answer from the White House on a pending deal to avoid a second government shutdown, the president demanded a DHS phone briefing to discuss the color of the wall. He was particularly interested in the merits of using spray paint and how the steel structure should be coated. Episodes like this occurred almost weekly.

The decision-making process was itself broken: Trump would abruptly endorse policy proposals with little or no consideration, by him or his advisers, of possible knock-on effects. That was the case in 2018 when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced, at the White House’s urging, a “zero tolerance” policy to prosecute anyone who crossed the border illegally. The agencies involved were unprepared to implement the policy, causing a disastrous backlog of detentions that ultimately left migrant parents and their children separated.

Incredibly, after this ill-conceived operation was rightly halted, in the following months the president repeatedly exhorted DHS officials to restart it and to implement a more deliberate policy of pulling migrant families apart en masse, so that adults would be deterred from coming to the border for fear of losing their children. The president was visibly furious on multiple occasions when my boss, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, refused.

Top DHS officials were regularly diverted from dealing with genuine security threats by the chore of responding to these inappropriate and often absurd executive requests, at all hours of the day and night. One morning it might be a demand to shut off congressionally appropriated funds to a foreign ally that had angered him, and that evening it might be a request to sharpen the spikes atop the border wall so they’d be more damaging to human flesh (“How much would that cost us?”). Meanwhile, Trump showed vanishingly little interest in subjects of vital national security interest, including cybersecurity, domestic terrorism and malicious foreign interference in U.S. affairs.

How can you run a huge organization under those conditions? You can’t. At DHS, daily management of its 250,000 employees suffered because of these frequent follies, putting the safety of Americans at risk.

The president has similarly undermined U.S. security abroad. His own former national security adviser John Bolton made the case so convincingly with his recent book and public accounts that there is little to add, other than to say that Bolton got it right. Because the commander in chief has diminished America’s influence overseas, today the nation has fewer friends and stronger enemies than when Trump took office.

Trump has also damaged the country in countless ways that don’t directly involve national security but, by stoking hatred and division, make Americans profoundly less safe.

The president’s bungled response to the coronavirus pandemic is the ultimate example. In his cavalier disregard for the seriousness of the threat, Trump failed to . . .

Continue reading.

The US is facing its greatest crisis since the Civil War — and the forces against American’s government and democracy, then and now, share many characteristics: selfishness, ignorance, racism, anger, and hatred dominate.

It’s worth noting that Miles Taylor worked on and backed those family-separation policies he now deplores. Ryan Mac and Jason Leopold report in Buzzfeed:

Google executives misled their own employees last week when they said a former top Department of Homeland Security official who had recently joined the company was “not involved in the family separation policy,” government emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal.

In fact, Miles Taylor, who served as deputy chief of staff and then chief of staff to former Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, was involved in high-level discussions about immigration enforcement, helping to shape the department’s narratives and talking points as one of Nielsen’s trusted lieutenants.

As Nielsen’s deputy chief of staff, Taylor was included on some of the DHS secretary’s emails and privy to her events schedule, often prepping his boss with reports and talking points ahead of public appearances between April and June 2018, when the family separation policy was in effect.

In one email obtained by BuzzFeed News, Taylor assisted Nielsen in preparing what he described as the “Protecting Children Narrative” — the department’s spin on a policy that horrified Americans when images of abandoned, caged migrant children in squalid camps emerged. Other emails from Nielsen’s events planner show that he had been scheduled to participate in at least two weekly calls to “discuss Border Security and Immigration Enforcement” in June 2018.

Two former DHS officials dismissed Google’s claim that Taylor — who last month joined the company as a government affairs and public policy manager advising on national security issues — could have kept his hands clean from the policy.

Nielsen’s staff had a very “tight inner camp” that included Taylor, said one former DHS official, who spoke to BuzzFeed News anonymously to preserve personal relationships. They noted that any policy or decision moving off the secretary’s desk would have had Taylor’s eyes on it.

“The idea that you could disassociate from a policy that consumed the entire department while you were deputy chief of staff is ridiculous,” the former official said.

Google declined to comment. Taylor did not respond to multiple requests for comment. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2020 at 2:44 pm

The Endgame of the Olympics

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This article matches what I’ve thought for a few decades: the Olympics are a great flaming waste of money — or, rather, a highly efficient way to direct rivers of money from taxpayers to developers, leaving behind (almost always) white elephants in the form of overbuilt and useless structures. (In fairness, I also think much money is pointlessly expended on professional sports — NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL, …. )

Dvora Meyers writes at Longreads:

A year ago, back when we were still allowed to gather in groups larger than a minyan, activists convened in Tokyo to talk about how they were going to end the biggest global gathering of them all — the Olympic Games.

The activists came from all over: past host cities like Rio, London, Nagano, and Pyeongchang; future host cities Paris and Los Angeles; cities that had managed to derail their bids, including Boston and Hamburg; and places like Jakarta, which is gearing up for a 2032 bid.

They were in Tokyo exactly a year out from the scheduled start of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games, attending the first-ever transnational anti-Olympic summit, which was organized by Hangorin no Kai, a group of unhoused and formerly unhoused people based in Tokyo. The activists, along with academics and members of the media, talked about common Games-related issues, like displacement and police militarization, and discussed strategies for resisting local political forces and the IOC to protect their communities. Elsewhere in Tokyo, Thomas Bach, President of the International Olympic Committee, and the rest of the IOC crew had arrived to mark the start of the 365-day countdown to the Opening Ceremonies.

Eight months after these two very different gatherings in Tokyo, the IOC announced that the 2020 Olympics were going to be postponed by a full year due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. By the time they made the announcement, most other major sports tournaments planned for the summer had been canceled or postponed and the athletes, many of whom were shut out of training facilities due to lockdowns, were calling on the IOC to act for over a week. Once the IOC made the inevitable official, the athletes were able to reset and refocus their training on July 2021.

That even a stripped-down version of the 2021 Games will happen is hardly a foregone conclusion. The pandemic may not be under control by then. Even if it is, and even if an effective vaccine against the coronavirus is developed in time, the Games still might not happen. The postponement is likely going to add billions to a budget that was already triple that of the original projection of the Tokyo bid that the IOC had accepted in 2013. Public opinion in Japan seems to be swinging against the Games, too. In a recent survey, 77 percent of respondents said that the Olympics could not be held next year. In another poll, a slim majority of Tokyo residents said the same thing.

The horrors of the pandemic are real and massive. Yet COVID-19 has offered an opportunity to derail the Games — one that didn’t exist just a few months ago and certainly hadn’t existed when the activists came to Tokyo last July. Dr. Satoko Itani, a professor of sport, gender, and sexuality studies at Kansai University, told me that the pandemic is a “powerful wake-up call to the people who otherwise wouldn’t have given a thought about the costs of the Olympics.”

“Now that a lot of people in Japan are counting and monitoring the government’s spending to fight the pandemic, it became ever more clear actually just how much taxpayers’ money we had allowed the TOCOG [Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games] and the government to spend on the two-week-long sport spectacle while we don’t have enough money to equip ‘essential workers’ with the essential protective gear,” they wrote in an email.

The Games’ postponement is happening not just against the backdrop of a global pandemic, but also that of a global uprising against state-sanctioned murders of Black people by the police. The catalyst for this movement was the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by Derek Chauvin, but the protests quickly spread beyond the Twin Cities to the rest of the U.S. and then around the world, including Japan.

The pandemic, police brutality, and the Olympics are not unconnected events. While COVID-19 might be a virus incapable of racial bias, the course it has taken through the population of the U.S., wending its way through Black, Latinx, and poor communities, was determined by decades of racist policy and discrimination. American police forces have killed Black people for decades with impunity as part of the same system that allowed more African Americans to die from COVID-19 than any other group. It’s also the system that has allowed the Olympic Games in the post-war period to reshape the cities that host the event, rarely for the benefit of all citizens. The Games have been a driving force behind displacement, police militarization, increased surveillance, and violence against the working class and poor people, especially Black and Brown, in the cities where they’ve touched down. The very same groups that the pandemic has disproportionately killed and that the police disproportionately target are those who become the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of the Olympics.

But people are growing wise to what the Olympic Games are actually about. “It wasn’t 15, 20 years ago you could say, ‘We’re going to have a bid in our city,’ and stand behind the podium and jabber on about jobs and economic upticks floating everybody’s boat, and people just nodded along,” Jules Boykoff told me. (Boykoff is a professor at Pacific University and author of Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics and NOlympians: Inside the Fight Against Capitalist Mega-Sports in Los Angeles, Tokyo and Beyond.) “Today, no way. People aren’t nodding along like they once did.”

Over the last decade, residents of potential Olympic host cities have voted overwhelmingly to reject the Games. The IOC and local organizers have lost referenda in Hamburg, Calgary, Graubünden, Krakow, Munich, Sion, Vienna, and Innsbruck. Activists in other cities like Boston, Budapest, and Graz/Schladming managed to turn public opinion against the Games so decisively that the bids were pulled before the IOC and Olympic boosters could be embarrassed by yet another referendum loss. If the anti-Olympics activists have their way, soon no city will be a safe harbor for the Games.

* * *

Resistance to the Games is almost as old as the Games themselves. The very first modern Games in Athens, in 1896, already inspired wariness about using public funds to pay for Baron Pierre de Coubertin’s pet project. Greek prime minister Charilaos Trikoupis didn’t want the state to be responsible for financing the Olympics, and private (mostly aristocratic) donors footed the bill.

Nowadays, a lot of tax money goes into financing Games-related projects, but one practice has persisted to this day: wildly underestimating the cost of running the event. Coubrertin had claimed that the whole thing would cost no more than 200,000 drachmas; as Boykoff writes in Power Games, “the stadium refurbishment alone cost three times that much.”

Rome was originally supposed to host the 1908 Olympics, but many people there protested the decision because of the costs. London ended up taking over hosting duties at the last minute — not because the Italian government suddenly became responsive to the will of its citizens but because Mount Vesuvius erupted less than 200 miles away.

In 1912, the Olympics really hit their stride, at least according to their most ardent supporters — the entire city of Stockholm was taken over by the event. The Games were no longer a thing happening in a city, a footnote to the World’s Fair. (The early Olympics were often held in tandem with the World’s Fair.) In Stockholm, residents couldn’t ignore the Games even if they wished to. “Whereas in London the life of the huge metropolis had not been influenced by the invasion of Olympism, the whole of Stockholm was impregnated by it,” Coubertin said of the 1912 Olympics. That the Olympics have since affected every aspect of life in their host cities is a feature, not a bug, and it’s been there almost from the get-go.

Several subsequent Games were met with resistance and with citizens arguing against a misallocation of public resources. The first Games ever hosted in Los Angeles took place in the middle of the Great Depression; “Groceries, not Games” was the rallying cry of people opposing the 1932 Olympics. In London, . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more: it’s a Longread.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2020 at 2:21 pm

The Voynich Manuscript: A book you’re not meant to read

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Kathryn Murphy writes in Apollo:

This is a book you are not meant to read. Or at least, one that nobody has been able to read for the last 400 years, and not for want of trying. Beinecke MS 408, as the Voynich Manuscript is officially known, bound in unostentatious grey vellum, is the outwardly unassuming object of shelves’ worth of speculation, conspiracy theory, and interpretative ingenuity. Inside the wrinkled and stained calfskin are hundreds of pages written in a script unknown from any other source, and which has thus far proved impossible to decipher. Most of the pages also incorporate vivid illustrations, of plants which have no known analogues, of star maps and asterisms, and of naked women disporting in interlinked networks of pools, flumes, and pipes. Despite efforts across the 20th century by cryptologists, and the attention of scholars of medieval and Renaissance alchemy and palaeography, no progress has been made on its decipherment or even its subject, though scientific and scholarly investigation has tempered some more extravagant theories. All claims of decoding have been debunked. According to the title of an article published in Harper’s Magazine in June 1921, it is ‘the most mysterious manuscript in the world’.

Yale University Press’s sumptuous facsimile reproduction makes freely available something whose cachet has always been caché. The first verifiable notice of its existence is in the ambit of the Habsburg Emperor Rudolph II, whose Prague court drew alchemists and artists from across Europe, aware of the Emperor’s esoteric and curious tastes. In the 17th century it was thought to be the work of the 13th-century Oxford natural philosopher Roger Bacon, whose legend includes a prophesying mechanical brazen head and conversations with demons; subsequent rumours proposed that John Dee, the Elizabethan mathematician and communicator with angels, brought it from England to sell to Rudolph. Later in the 17th century, it was sent from Prague to Rome, to the Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher, whose prolific works included attempts at the decipherment of hieroglyphs, the first European printing of Sanskrit, and a work on the Tower of Babel, which speculatively reconstructed the original language of all mankind. Kircher, though evidently fascinated by alien scripts, made no headway with this one. From his hands it passed into the library of the Jesuit University at Rome, and remained in possession of the Jesuits until it was bought in 1911 by the Polish revolutionary and rare book dealer Wilfrid Voynich, who glamourised the manuscript’s legends and invented some more, in his attempts to sell it.

Jesuits, revolutionaries, angels, and magicians: the story of the book’s provenance, both attested and speculative, is a roster of major names of the history of esoterica, and a parable of the desire to decode and decipher. Investigation of the construction and materials of the manuscript have dated it most probably to the 15th century, making Bacon’s authorship impossible, with some evidence for an origin in northern Italy or Central Europe, so that a connection with Dee is unlikely. Even without their participation, the story is still remarkable, and the failed attempts at decipherment, such as William Romaine Newbold’s insistence that each individual character of the script was composed of tiny micrographic letters in a Greek code, are gripping.

The brief introduction, preface, and essays accompanying this facsimile offer histories of the manuscript’s provenance and attempts at decipherment, as well as an account of the work’s material production. They share a tone of well-informed bafflement. Jennifer Rampling’s judiciously sceptical essay on the parallels between the images and alchemical illustrations is a careful deconstruction of over-excited theories. An entertaining account by William Sherman of the failed deciphering attempts of 20th-century military cryptanalysts likewise testifies to the book’s enigmatic refusal of attempts to account for, let alone read it.

The essays tell the history of . . .

Continue reading. More illustrations from the book at the link.

Amazon Prime has a video on the manuscript. In Canada, It’s available on PrimeVideo.

Amazon has the book.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2020 at 9:06 am

Posted in Books

The Solar Flare and Planet Java Hive, with the Baby Smooth

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I had a discussion in comments to yesterday’s shaving post on (among other things) the various types of synthetic brushes. For example, the Omega S-brushes, the Omega Hi-Brush, the Kent Infinity, a Plissoft like (say) Maggard’s 22mm synthetic or Italian Barber’s Keyhole synthetic, the Mühle synthetics, the Edwin Jagger “synthetic silvertip,” the Green Ray I used yesterday, today’s Solar Flare, and the Phoenix Artisan Starcraft are all different and respond to (and require) different treatment and technique.

The answer is to experiment and observe — specifically, don’t do the same thing (e.g., use the same pressure) every time. Vary what you do and observe what happens. Over time you then will adapt your technique to get the most from the brush.

Varying your practice and observing the result is pretty much how you learn to get the best from any sort of tool — a razor, a knife, a fry pan, a vegetable, whatever. With (double-edge safety) razors, the first shave with a new razor may not be very good, but as you continue using it and trying different brands of blades, different shaving angles, differing amounts of pressure, the razor that was awful sometimes turns out to be excellent. I used to call this process “breaking in the razor,” but some took that literally — that there was a change in the razor itself — rather than as a shorthand for “learning how to get the best from the razor” (the change being in you and the technique you use) so I had to drop the phrase. I did like the phrase, because it encapsulates how we tend to blame our tools rather than our technique, putting the fault outside ourselves, which is a way of avoiding responsibility and accountability (always a temptation, since we always understand our intentions to be good).

The Solar Flare has its own character, somewhat different from that of the Green Ray, and today it worked wonderfully well with Phoenix Artisan’s Planet Java Hive in the CK-6 formula. I do love the fragrance, an equal partnership of coffee and honey, and that CK-6 lather is truly a premium experience.

The Baby Smooth is a razor very easy to learn and has proved to be exceedingly comfort and exceedingly efficient. This might be the ideal gift razor for a young man just learning to shave: forgiving and efficient in one.

Three passes, baby smoothness, and a splash of Java Hive to carry me through the day: a great start to a good day.

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2020 at 8:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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