Later On

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

Archive for September 14th, 2020

The Man Who Refused to Spy

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Laura Secor writes in the New Yorker:

In the spring of 2017, an Iranian materials scientist named Sirous Asgari received a call from the United States consulate in Dubai. Two years earlier, he and his wife, Fatemeh, had applied for visas to visit America, where their children lived. The consulate informed him that their requests had finally been approved. The timing was strange: President Donald Trump had just issued an executive order banning Iranians from entering the U.S. on the very kind of visa that Asgari and his wife were granted. Maybe applications filed before the visa ban had been grandfathered through, or some career State Department official wanted to give families like his a last chance to reunite.

Asgari, who was then fifty-six years old, considered the U.S. a second home. In the nineties, he had attended graduate school at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, and he came to like America’s commonsense efficiency. His daughter Sara was born in the U.S., making her an American citizen. His two older children, Mohammad and Zahra, had attended American universities and stayed on. Asgari was now a professor at Sharif University of Technology, in Tehran, and former graduate students of his worked in top American laboratories; his scientific research, on metallurgy, sometimes took him to Cleveland, where he had close colleagues at Case Western Reserve University.

Asgari and Fatemeh boarded a flight to New York on June 21, 2017. They planned to see Mohammad, who lived in the city, and then proceed to California, where they would visit Zahra and meet the man she had married. But when the Asgaris stepped off the jet bridge at J.F.K. two officials accosted them.

The officials whisked the Asgaris into a room, where a phalanx of F.B.I. agents awaited them. Asgari was under arrest, the agents told him, accused of serious charges in a sealed indictment whose contents they couldn’t reveal at the airport. He could go with them to a hotel and look over the indictment, or he could go to a local detention center, and then be transferred to Cleveland, for an arraignment. In the turmoil of the moment, he barely registered that nobody had stamped his visa or returned his passport.

Asgari was fluent in English, but the word “indictment” was new to him. He’d never had a problem with the law. He was a high-spirited man accustomed to middle-class comforts, a professor’s lectern, and an easy repartee with people in authority. Surely, he figured, he was the subject of some misunderstanding, and so he would go to the hotel and quickly clear it up.

At the hotel, the agents handed Asgari a twelve-page indictment. It charged him with theft of trade secrets, visa fraud, and eleven counts of wire fraud. To Asgari, the indictment read like a spy thriller. It centered on a four-month visit that he had made to Case Western four years earlier, which the document presented as part of a scheme to defraud an American valve manufacturer of its intellectual property in order to benefit the Iranian government. The punishment, the agents made clear, could be many years in prison. Their evidence had been gathered from five years of wiretaps, which had swept up his e-mails before, during, and after the visit in question.

The charges were nonsense, Asgari said. The processes he’d studied at Case Western were well known to materials scientists—they were hardly trade secrets. If the government really meant to prosecute him, it would inevitably lose in court.

“We haven’t lost a case,” one agent told Asgari.

“This will be your first,” he replied.

Asgari didn’t realize it, but a vise was closing around him. He had never seen his visits to America through the prism of its tensions with Iran. “Science is wild and has no homeland,” an Iranian philosopher had once said, and Asgari believed this to be so. His scientific community spanned the globe, its instruments and findings universally accessible. That national boundaries and political intrigue should interfere with intellectual exchange seemed to him unnatural. He had confidence in the capacity of cool rationality to set matters right.

If he could just make the F.B.I. agents understand the science, Asgari told himself, they would see their mistake. He described the relationships and the laboratory equipment that had attracted him to Case Western, and explained how the properties of a material emanated from the arrangement of its atoms, and could be altered by engineers who understood that structure. But even as he talked he began to have a sinking feeling that an indictment was not something he could dissipate with words.

That night, Fatemeh went home with Mohammad, and two guards stayed in Asgari’s hotel room as he slept. In the morning, the agents drove Asgari to Cleveland, his wife and son following behind.

He was arraigned at the federal courthouse and delivered to the Lake County Adult Detention Facility, a maximum-security jail in Painesville, Ohio. For the first of the seventy-two days he would spend in that facility, Asgari occupied an isolated cell. Lying on his bed, he could hear other inmates screaming.

The F.B.I. had reason to be interested in a man like Asgari. Sharif University was Iran’s premier technical institution, and the instruments and insights of materials science could be used to build missiles and centrifuges as easily as to improve the iPhone or to better understand the properties of a gem. Asgari’s concerns fell squarely on the civilian side of the line. “I never intentionally worked for destructive purposes,” he told me, during a series of conversations that began in 2018. “If you have a pen, you can write a love letter, or you can write instructions for making a bomb. That’s not a problem with the pen.”

Asgari’s career was a love letter to the atom. He was dazzled . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US in practice doesn’t think much of human rights.

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2020 at 4:44 pm

Hummus treat

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I read a guy’s comment on how he didn’t much care for the idea of a whole-food plant-based diet because he thought it was important to have a treat now and then.

I’m missing something. I have treats regularly — for one thing, the three pieces of fruit and the bowl of berries I eat every day seem like treats to me. And just now I made myself a batch of hummus. I used my basic recipe, but this time I added some cayenne pepper and a scallion along with the garlic and ground cumin, the scallion cut into sections. I also used about 80% tahini and 20% almond butter (since I had it on hand after buying it for the “nice cream” treat).

And now that I’m enjoying the treat, I think next time I’ll add either a jalapeño (and perhaps a dash of liquid smoke) or a chipotle in adobo from a can.

No treats? What was he thinking?

Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2020 at 3:32 pm

The wonderful Monday morning shave — thanks in part to the Fine slant

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After taking the photo and just before starting the shave, I remembered that Barrister &  Mann’s Reserve soaps do much better with synthetic knots (which is what he recommends), so instead of using the silvertip badger shown, I used a synthetic brush with the same general form factor: the RazoRock 400 (shown in this post). Using the synthetic knot, I got a very nice lather indeed.

I really love now the Fine aluminum slant. It’s a great razor — highly efficient and highly comfortable — if you follow two simple rules: 1. use light pressure (and the light weight of the razor is a good reminder); and 2. maintain a good blade angle (keep the handle far from your face and focus on making sure the cap is in (light) contact with your skin). If you do that, it’s a razor of the highest rank.

Three passes produced perfect smoothness with no problems at all, and a splash of Reserve Spice aftershave finished the job.

And the tempeh looks very good indeed. I think I’ve found the best approach.


Written by Leisureguy

14 September 2020 at 8:42 am

Posted in Shaving

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