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Archive for December 18th, 2020

The Republican Party is the party of bad faith

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Heather Cox Richardson writes regarding Friday’s events:

A year ago today, the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

In his plea to Senators to convict the president, Adam Schiff (D-CA), the lead impeachment manager for the House, warned “you know you can’t trust this president to do what’s right for this country.” Schiff asked: “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” and then answered his own question: “A lot. A lot of damage.” “Can you have the least bit of confidence that Donald Trump will… protect our national interest over his own personal interest?” Schiff asked the senators who were about to vote on Trump’s guilt. “You know you can’t, which makes him dangerous to this country.’’

Republicans took offense at Schiff’s passionate words, seeing them as criticism of themselves. They voted to acquit Trump of the charges the House had levied against him.

And a year later, here we are. A pandemic has killed more than 312,000 of us, and numbers of infections and deaths are spiking. Today we hit a new single-day record of reported coronavirus cases with 246,914, our third daily record in a row. The economy is in shambles, with more than 6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits. And the government has been hobbled by a massive hack from foreign operatives, likely Russians, who have hit many of our key departments.

Today it began to feel as if the Trump administration was falling apart as journalists began digging into a number of troubling stories.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, appointed by Trump after he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet on November 9, this morning abruptly halted the transition briefings the Pentagon had been providing, as required by law, to the incoming Biden team. Observers were taken aback by this unprecedented halt to the transition process, as well as by the stated excuse: that Defense Department officials were overwhelmed by the number of meetings the transition required. Retired four-star general Barry R. McCaffrey, a military analyst for NBC and MSNBC, tweeted: “Pentagon abruptly halts Biden transition—MAKES NO SENSE. CLAIM THEY ARE OVERWHELMED. DOD GOES OPAQUE. TRUMP-MILLER UP TO NO GOOD. DANGER.”

After Axios published the story and outrage was building, Miller issued a statement saying the two sides had decided on a “mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow.” Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham promptly told reporters: “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break. In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay,” a reference to the delay in the administration’s recognition of Biden’s election.

Later, the administration suggested the sudden end to the transition briefings was because Trump was angry that the Washington Post on Wednesday had published a story showing how much money Biden could save by stopping the construction of Trump’s border wall. Anger over a story from two days ago seems like a stretch, a justification after the briefings had been cancelled for other reasons. The big story of the day, and the week, and the month, and the year, and probably of this administration, is the sweeping hack of our government by a hostile foreign power. The abrupt end to the briefings might reflect that the administration isn’t keen on giving Biden access to the crime scene.

Republicans appear to be trying to cripple the Biden administration more broadly. The country has been thrilled by the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine that promises an end to the scourge under which we’re suffering. Just tonight, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, for emergency authorization use. This vaccine does not require ultracold temperatures for shipping the way the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does. Two vaccines for the coronavirus are extraordinarily good news.

But this week, as the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were being given, states learned that the doses the federal government had promised were not going to arrive, and no one is quite sure why. The government blamed Pfizer, which promptly blasted the government, saying it had plenty of vaccines in warehouses but had received no information about where to send them. Then the White House said there was confusion over scheduling.

Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo has been following this story, and concluded a day or so ago that the administration had made no plans for vaccine distribution beyond February 1, when the problem would be Biden’s. Kovensky also noted that it appears the administration promised vaccine distribution on an impossible timeline, deliberately raising hopes for vaccine availability that Biden couldn’t possibly fulfill. Today Kovensky noted that there are apparently doses missing and unaccounted for, but no one seems to know where they might be.

Today suggested yet another instance of Republican bad faith. With Americans hungry and increasingly homeless, the nation is desperate for another coronavirus relief bill. The House passed one last May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Throughout the summer and fall, negotiations on a different bill failed as . . .

Continue reading, and read the whole column. The US is sliding into the abyss, pushed along by the GOP.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 9:29 pm

Nature picks best science images of 2020

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The photo above — “Spark of destruction. Tom Houghton (Media editor). This incredibly powerful moment — a lightning strike during the Taal Volcano eruption in the Philippines back in January — looks like a dramatic oil painting by a nineteenth-century artist. Volcanic lightning is an incredible phenomenon caused by static electricity generated from ash particles colliding in the volcano plume. It results in the most breathtaking examples of destructive power. Credit: Domcar C Lagto/PACIFIC P/SIPA/Shutterstock” — is one of several in Nature’s Best Science Images of 2020.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 7:09 pm

Posted in Daily life, Science

Means of Descent: Robert Caro talks about writing about power — and powerlessness

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Robert Caro is a great writer and his works on Robert Moses (The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) and Lyndon B. Johnson (read at least The Path to Power) are absorbing, detailed, and illuminating (and I include both in the list of books I find myself repeatedly recommending). In Medium Rachel Syme interviews him. Her article is prefaced with a pull quote:

“You couldn’t just write about how power works, you had to write about its effect on people who didn’t have power.”

The text of the article begins:

Robert Caro doesn’t want to renew his lease. He tells me this on a cold day in mid-October, as we stand in an elevator bay on the 22nd floor of the Fisk Building on West 57th Street. He has worked in this same office, every day, for the last 26 years. He likes his routine — he dresses to write (this day he was wearing a periwinkle v-neck sweater and a pair of pressed khakis; an informal choice for a man who usually puts on a tie before he writes a single word), walks from his apartment on Central Park West down to Columbus Circle, and takes the same rickety elevator up to the cloistered rectangle of grey carpet and a drab brown desk where he has written the last two orchestral volumes of Lyndon Johnson’s biography.

The historian is now working on the fifth installment of his LBJ series, which was only supposed to be three volumes when he began his research in the 1970s. But Caro doesn’t believe in brevity or speed; his first book, The Power Broker, began as a small character study of the Machiavellian city planner Robert Moses and swelled to seven years of work and over 1,300 pages. He won the Pulitzer for it — the first of two he would win for his oeuvre, along with the National Book Award, and tonight, a National Book Award medal for lifetime achievement — but writing it nearly broke him and his wife, Ina.

Caro is now 80 years old. The regularity of his writing routine comforts and motivates him. He hesitates to break up the flow; he is now deep into the Vietnam era of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the period in which everything goes wrong and Johnson’s power starts to crumble. This requires concentration and consistency. He writes every day, first in longhand on a legal pad, then on a typewriter, placing each page in a box to edit by hand the next morning.

But looking out the window over 57th Street, he tells me that he has not been able to bring himself to sign the paperwork to stay in the office for another year. The skyscrapers are depressing him. He points to One57, the tower that will cast a permanent shadow over Central Park. “Isn’t that disgusting?” he asks me. “For a moment, I thought maybe things were changing in New York City. But now I am not so sure.”

What makes Caro melancholy about these towers is that their presence means that someone currently has too much power. When he agreed to an interview about his life’s work, Caro did so on the stipulation that he did not have to discuss either presidential candidate. He said he was far too consumed with charting the every move of a past president to focus on what comes next. But with just a few weeks until the election, the idea of someone wrangling outsized power without proper checks and balances does not seem far from his mind.

As he looks out over the new construction, which he says will make 57th Street the most congested corridor in the city, he sighs. He doesn’t want to be confronted day after day with a new abuse of urban power and the human cost of the skyscrapers. But he says he will eventually sign the lease, and he will keep coming back. He has to finish his investigation of power. It is his small gift to humanity sung in big operatic sentences. He is the scrivener of the hidden systems that people use and abuse to gather power for themselves, and also of the powerless who suffer at their hands.

In the end, he doesn’t too care much for the skyscrapers. But he cares a great deal about the people in their shadow.

So, we are going to talk about power. If anything defines your work, it is this intricate and detailed dissection of how power works and moves between people and institutions. How did you become obsessed with analyzing power structures?

I fell into it. I knew nothing. They needed an investigative reporter at Newsday, and it was purely by accident. But I started getting more and more interested in political power.

Everything I was looking into…the path seemed to lead to Robert Moses. I thought, who the hell was Robert Moses? He doesn’t have a position. I would type “City Planning Commissioner Robert Moses.” And I thought, what does that have to do with the fact that he is building the Long Island Expressway, which isn’t even in the city? He is the chairman of the Triborough Authority and the Henry Hudson Authority and the Bethpage State Park Authority and the Jones Beach Authority. It all seems to lead to public authorities. So I went to the card catalog, and not only was there not a book, there wasn’t even a magazine article on a public authority as the source of political power. Everything said: “It sells bonds and collects tolls to build a bridge, then goes out of business.” But obviously something very different was going on here.

Newsday had me investigate Moses wanting to build a bridge from Rye to Oyster Bay, and another one from Orient Point to Connecticut. It was the world’s worst idea. It would have required 8 or 10 more lanes on the expressway just to handle the traffic. And it was so long that the piers that would hold it up would have to be so big that they would disrupt the tidal flow in Long Island Sound and cause pollution. So I wrote these stories.

They sent me up to Albany, and I saw Governor Rockefeller and the assembly speaker, and the president of the State Senate. Everyone seemed to know it was the world’s worst idea. So I wrote these stories that the bridge was dead. And about two weeks later, a friend called and said, “Bob, you better come back up here.” And I said something like, “Oh, I don’t think that’s necessary.” But I remember walking into the assembly chamber as they were voting on the next step, and it was some vote like 144-to-3 to authorize it.

I remember thinking in that moment: Everything you have been doing so far is bullshit. That was a moment for me. Everything is based on this feeling that in a democracy power comes from the voters, being elected. But here was a guy who was never elected to anything. A guy who had more power than anyone who was elected, more power than any mayor, more power than any governor, more power than any mayors or governors combined. And he had had this power for 44 years, and with it, had built everything! And I said to myself: You, who are supposed to know something about political power, have not the faintest idea about how it works, and apparently neither does anybody else.

They let me do a long series. And I thought, you could never do this in the terms of a newspaper. You are going to have to do a book. I only knew one editor, really. So I wrote him a letter and got a very small contract to do The Power Broker.

Syme: Why did this moment have such an effect? How did you know you needed to focus on this man and how his power affected people?

Caro: I got really angry at the injustice of something that happened to small farmers on Long Island. And I just knew that the book I had started out to write wasn’t going to satisfy me. I wasn’t really going to examine power the way I thought it should be examined, because it didn’t deal with the powerless. You have to deal with the powerless. You couldn’t just write about how power works, you had to write about its effect on people who didn’t have power, both for good and for ill.

So then I said, that book is going to take years and years to do. There are all these books on the human cost of highways, but there is not a single definition of human cost. I need to figure out a way to show the human cost. He destroyed 21 neighborhoods. And I’ll take one and show what that meant. And that’s a decision that has a lot of ramifications if you’re doing a book; it’s going to take six months to research and write, and we didn’t have any money.

Syme: You were out on the streets, broke, trying to get the details right of this one neighborhood, captured in the Power Broker chapter “One Mile.” Was that stressful?

Caro: Oh, we were totally broke. We had been broke for so long. But you have to talk to everyone and research the history of the neighborhood. But more than that, you have to really write it. You want to capture that this was a real neighborhood. This was a lower-class, mostly Jewish, real neighborhood. They had a home. They had a nice life. They had big rent-controlled apartments and a community. And Moses tore down 54 six- and seven-story apartment houses in this one mile. He had an alternate route where he only had to tear down six tenements, but if he used that route for the Cross Bronx Expressway, the end of it had to come back up and destroy the Third Avenue Transit Co., a business all the Bronx politicians had stakes in. So he took the other route.

Sime: And so you realized you had to discuss power through the human cost rather than through the lens of people at the top?

Caro: Exactly. That’s a good way of putting it.

Sime: Did you feel you had a certain amount of power when reporting on Robert Moses, because at the time you were writing about someone who was alive? Did you feel you had the power to affect his career? Did you feel like publishing this huge tome about the city infrastructure and this man who controlled it would make you a powerful force?

Caro: No, the answer to that is no. This book took seven years. And money played a big part of this. We didn’t have any savings. I was a reporter. And I thought it was only going to take a year, so I couldn’t quit. I got a contract for $5,000, they gave me $2,500 as an advance. So I was trying for half the year to keep my job and work on the book, but I wasn’t getting anywhere. And I heard about a grant for one year, and I got it. And I remember I told Ina, we are finally going to get to go to France. I thought, they are giving me this money for a year, and this outline is only going to take me nine months! Of course at the end of the year, I’d hardly started, and we were just broke.

So Ina sold the house, but that only gave us — this was before the real estate boom — $25,000 of profit. That was enough to live for a year in an apartment in the Bronx. And then I was just totally broke, and Ina went to work. Then I got hurt and couldn’t get out of bed for a long time. So she had to stop and do the research.

All this time, all I’m hearing is nobody is going to read a book on Robert Moses, including from my first editor. He said, “It’s a good book, but nobody is going to read it. You have to prepare yourselves for a very small printing.” All I was trying to do, over years of thinking, was show that it was important that people understand how power works in cities. Because, you know, Moses was such a genius, that he got to the heart of what power was in cities. If you can explain how he did it, which no one had ever done before him, you would be explaining something nobody knows about how power works — not just in New York, but in all cities.

But I must say, for several years, I had very little hope of finishing the book. When I thought about the book, I didn’t feel powerful. I believed no one was going to read it. And I was just thinking I have to finish, but I don’t know how we are going to make it.

After five years, we were completely out of money. I still remember the rent on our apartment was $362.73 because every month we were worried about it. I learned later that Ina was so afraid to walk past the butcher and dry cleaner because we owed money; she always took the long way, but never said anything at the time.

Sime: What I am trying to understand is how the theme of power has continued to run through your life. After The Power Broker, were you thinking of doing another broad investigation of power? I know you were going to write about Fiorello LaGuardia, but through a conversation with your editors decided to transition to Lyndon Johnson instead, and have now written four major volumes about his life with more to come. Did you think, “First I have to understand power in the city, and then I can move on to the entire country?”


That was my calculus, yeah. Things evolved. In the course of doing it, I realized I was fascinated by political power because it affects all our lives. Was the subway service bad today? It is because Moses starved the subways for 40 years, and they can’t ever catch up with the maintenance he didn’t do. If you go up the FDR Drive, look across the river, you’ll see that the bridge comes down in Astoria, across 96th Street. So why do you have to drive up to 125th Street? You are adding four and a half miles. And of course, it is because of William Randolph Hearst. And that’s a tiny little way it works. But it all has ripple effects.

It was a revelation for me. Something happened. I knew that this was really about justice and injustice. I was so angry and what happened to people here. And I was angriest because no one had ever told their story. I really wanted to do a book about national power. And I knew I wanted to do it through Lyndon Johnson. The thing that attracted me to him was that he did something that no one ever did before. He was the Senate majority leader — I got interested in him not as a president but as a senator. Because before he became majority leader in January 1955, before then for 100 years the Senate was the same dysfunctional mess it is today. He comes in, he is majority leader for six years. The Senate is suddenly the center of governmental creativity and ingenuity in Washington. It’s not Eisenhower’s Civil Rights Act, it’s Johnson’s.

Sime: How has writing about power all these years affected you? Has it made you more cynical? How has it changed the way you live day to day?. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And if it’s behind a paywall — well, IMO Medium is worth subscribing to.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 1:14 pm

The Family Court Judge Who Threatened a Mother With Contempt of Court for Getting Her Child a COVID-19 Test

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The United States grows increasingly strange.  Marshall Allen and Rachel Dissell report in ProPublica:

Ohio juvenile court Judge Timothy Grendell has been outspoken about his belief that the COVID-19 pandemic is overblown.

At a protest rally in May, just steps away from where he presides over family court, Grendell proclaimed that public health restrictions to contain the pandemic were unconstitutional and “we should be allowed to get back to our lives.” The following month, he testified to state lawmakers in Columbus that health authorities and a “drumbeat” of media coverage had “created an atmosphere of fear” surrounding the virus.

But Grendell hasn’t confined his views to the public square. A few weeks after he testified to lawmakers, he referred to the pandemic as a “panic-ademic” in the midst of a custody proceeding in his courtroom in Geauga County, outside Cleveland. And he has claimed that 15 mothers in his court have used the virus as an excuse in custody cases to “mess with” their exes’ parenting time.

Then, on Oct. 2, Grendell made an order that legal experts call unheard of, and medical experts say could cause harm. The judge banned two parents, who were wrangling over custody of their young boys, from having the “children undergo COVID-19 testing” without his approval, according to the court record.

A doctor subsequently ordered a coronavirus test for one of the boys before admitting him to a children’s hospital for severe breathing problems. When Grendell found out, he threatened to find the mother in contempt of court, a move that could lead to her being thrown in jail.

Legally, judges have wide discretion to resolve disputes between parents. Some courts have issued standing orders that general concerns about COVID-19 should not disrupt established parenting schedules. But medical experts told ProPublica that a COVID-19 test is often essential for health care providers to protect themselves and to decide on the best course of treatment for a patient.

“We are unable to provide the right kind of care without it,” said Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. “It’s basically blindfolding us or asking us to take care of someone with an arm tied behind our back.”

Judges around the country have received media attention for their rulings related to the pandemic. ProPublica reported in July that a Michigan judge sent a 15-year-old girl to juvenile detention, ruling she violated her probation by failing to complete her homework while remote learning. The Michigan Court of Appeals ordered her immediate release later that month.

In April, a judge in South Florida temporarily took custody away from a doctor because she treated patients with COVID-19, the Miami Herald reported. In Iowa, a judge sentenced a mother to 10 days in jail for refusing to follow a child visitation ruling due to COVID-19 concerns, according to the Sioux City Journal. And another judge in South Florida required a mom to wear a mask if she wanted to see her child, wrote the South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The conflict between public health precautions and individual freedoms has been extreme in Ohio, which was among the first states to issue sweeping health orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Rising discontent with the orders this spring led angry citizens to march on the Ohio Statehouse, chanting “Open Ohio” and breaking several windows. Protesters showed up at the suburban Columbus home of Amy Acton, then the director of the Ohio Department of Health. Some carried rifles. One woman carried a sign with an anti-Semitic message aimed at Acton, who is Jewish. Acton later resigned and some conservative lawmakers turned their attention to Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, with some demanding his impeachment and his arrest, to no avail.

Grendell’s wife, Diane, an Ohio state representative and former appellate judge, introduced legislation to terminate the state COVID-19 emergency public health orders.

Infection numbers were low early on in Ohio, but since October the seven-day average of new daily COVID-19 cases has spiked tenfold, to about 10,000 on Dec. 13. Daily deaths and hospitalizations also have jumped to record highs.

Timothy Grendell, a Republican former legislator who has been on the bench for more than a decade, has long been a polarizing figure in Ohio political and legal circles. That reputation extends to his courtroom. ProPublica has spoken to mothers and grandmothers in four additional cases who said Grendell has been unfair to them. Some said they have filed complaints against him. Investigations are confidential until concluded; Grendell has not been disciplined by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In May, Grendell sent Stacy Hartman’s two teenage sons to juvenile detention after they refused a court-ordered visit with their father. The judge also threatened to hold Hartman in contempt of court and jail her if she didn’t take them to the visit, according to a court transcript. Hartman told ProPublica that she begged that her two boys not be locked up during a pandemic. After the local ABC television affiliate reported on the story, Hartman said mothers and some grandmothers started to call her with stories about their cases in Grendell’s courtroom. Each of the cases was different. But Hartman was struck by one similarity: “Everybody is scared about what he is going to do.”

The judge also has been embroiled in public spats, sometimes with other elected or political officials. In one high-profile example, in 2014, he threatened to hold the chairwoman of the Geauga County Republican Party in contempt of court after he learned she had privately characterized him as a “narcissist and mentally ill.” The matter was dropped.

Several family law attorneys told ProPublica that they refuse to take cases in Grendell’s court because they do not believe he treats parties in cases fairly. They asked to speak on the condition of anonymity because they did not want to risk the judge filing a complaint against their licenses.

Grendell declined ProPublica’s request to be interviewed for this story. In his most recent judgment entry, on Dec. 9, he said the mother at the center of the COVID-19 testing case had failed to return the children on several occasions, “using COVID-19 or her concerns about the children and COVID-19 as the reason for not complying with the Court’s orders.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 12:57 pm

Vermeer – Light, Love, and Silence

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From the comment on the YouTube video below:

Johannes Vermeer (October 1632 – December 1675) was a Dutch Baroque Period painter who specialized in domestic interior scenes of middle class life. He was a moderately successful provincial genre painter in his lifetime but evidently was not wealthy, leaving his wife and children in debt at his death, perhaps because he produced relatively few paintings.

Vermeer worked slowly and with great care, and frequently used very expensive pigments. He is particularly renowned for his masterly treatment and use of light in his work.

Vermeer painted mostly domestic interior scenes. “Almost all his paintings are apparently set in two smallish rooms in his house in Delft; they show the same furniture and decorations in various arrangements and they often portray the same people, mostly women.” He was recognized during his lifetime in Delft and The Hague, but his modest celebrity gave way to obscurity after his death. He was barely mentioned in Arnold Houbraken’s major source book on 17th-century Dutch painting (Grand Theatre of Dutch Painters and Women Artists), and was thus omitted from subsequent surveys of Dutch art for nearly two centuries. In the 19th century, Vermeer was rediscovered by Gustav Friedrich Waagen and Théophile Thoré-Bürger, who published an essay attributing 66 pictures to him, although only 34 paintings are universally attributed to him today. Since that time, Vermeer’s reputation has grown, and he is now acknowledged as one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Like some major Dutch Golden Age artists such as Frans Hals and Rembrandt, Vermeer never went abroad. And like Rembrandt, he was an avid art collector and dealer.

See also this post, an educated guess (and testing of the hypothesis) of how Vermeer might have achieved the photo-realistic results in his paintings—quite interesting and on the whole convincing), and note the availability of high-resolution online digital reproductions of Vermeer’s paintings.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Science, Video

The end-game seems to be in Russia’s favor

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I blogged earlier about the explicit celebration in Russian media over the damage President Trump has done (and continues to do) to the United States. And Heather Cox Richardson sounds a somber note in her column today in which she reflects on yesterday’s news. I quote from the middle of the column:

. . . The story is getting worse still.

Today CISA said that the hackers used many different tools to get into government systems, taking them into critical infrastructure, which could include the electrical grid, telecommunications companies, defense contractors, and so on. Officials said that the hacks were “a grave risk to the federal government.”

Later in the day, it came out that the Energy Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration, which oversees our nuclear weapons, was also hit, although a Department of Energy spokesperson said that there is no evidence that the hackers breached critical defense systems, including the NNSA.

Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, today said the company had identified 40 different companies, government agencies, and think tanks the hackers infiltrated, and that those forty were just the tip of the iceberg. Smith said that more companies had been hit than government agencies, “with a big focus on I.T. companies, especially in the security industry.”

The Associated Press quoted a U.S. official as saying: “This is looking like it’s the worst hacking case in the history of America. They got into everything.” Tom Kellermann, the cybersecurity strategy chief of the software company VMware, told Ben Fox of the Associated Press that the hackers could now see everything in the federal agencies they’ve hacked, and that, now that they have been found out, “there is viable concern that they might leverage destructive attacks within these agencies.”

It is not clear yet how far the hackers have penetrated, and we will likely not know for months. But given the fact they have had access to our systems since March and have almost certainly been planting new ways into them (known as “back doors”), all assumptions are that this is serious indeed.

Initially, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo downplayed the attack, saying that such attacks are common and that China, not Russia, is the biggest offender. Trump has said nothing about the attacks, and administration officials say that they are simply planning to hand the crisis off to Biden.

But this attack does not come out of the blue for the Trump administration. There was discussion of strengthening our security systems against attackers after the 2016 election, and on July 9, 2017, Trump suggested we would partner with Russia to address the issue. “Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded,” he tweeted.

Congress instead created the CISA within the Department of Homeland Security in 2018 to protect against precisely the sort of attack which has just occurred, shortly after Russia hacked our electrical grid, including “multiple organizations in the energy, nuclear, water, aviation, construction, and critical manufacturing sectors,” according to the FBI and Department of Homeland Security report.

In response to the Russian attack, the U.S. hit Russia’s electrical grid in June 2019.

And then — and note this especially:

Since then, administration officials have deliberately forced out of CISA key cybersecurity officials. The destruction was so widespread, according to Dr. Josephine Wolff, a professor of cybersecurity policy at Tufts University’s Fletcher School who holds her PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “they signify the systematic decimation of the personnel most directly responsible for protecting critical infrastructure, shielding our elections from interference and guarding the White House’s data, devices and networks.”

Almost exactly a year ago, on December 19, 2019, Wolff warned in the New York Times that “As we head into 2020, worrying about the integrity of our elections, the growing scourge of ransomware and the increasingly sophisticated forms of cyberespionage and cybersabotage being developed by our adversaries, it’s disconcerting to feel that many of our government’s best cybersecurity minds are walking out the front door and leaving behind too few people to monitor what’s coming in our back doors.”

Just a month ago, Trump continued this process, firing Christopher Krebs, the former director of CISA, on November 18, saying he was doing so because Krebs defended the 2020 election as “the most secure in American history.” Krebs said that there “is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”

Read the whole column and reflect on it. And this morning Mike Allen and Jonathan Swan report in Axios:

Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ordered a Pentagon-wide halt to cooperation with the transition of President-elect Biden, shocking officials across the Defense Department, senior administration officials tell Axios.

The latest: Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham contradicted the Pentagon’s official response to this story on Friday afternoon, telling reporters, “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break.”

  • “In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay,” Abraham continued, referring to the Trump administration’s delay in recognizing Biden as president-elect.
  • Miller had said in a statement following the publication of this story: “At no time has the Department cancelled or declined any interview. … After the mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow, we will continue with the transition and rescheduled meetings from today.”

Behind the scenes: Trump administration officials left open the possibility cooperation would resume after a holiday pause. The officials were unsure what prompted Miller’s action, or whether President Trump approved.

Why it matters: Miller’s move, which stunned officials throughout the Pentagon, was the biggest eruption yet of animus and mistrust toward the Biden team from the top level of the Trump administration.

  • Fury at the Biden team among senior Pentagon officials escalated after the Washington Post published a story on Wednesday night revealing how much money would be saved if Biden halted construction of Trump’s border wall.
  • Trump officials blame the leak on the Biden transition team (Though, it should be noted, they have no evidence of this, and both reporters on the byline cover the Trump administration and have historically been prolific beneficiaries of leaks.)

What happened: Meetings between President Trump’s team and the Biden team are going on throughout the government, after a delayed start as the administration dragged its feet on officially recognizing Biden as president-elect.

  • Then on Thursday night, Miller — who was appointed Nov. 9, when Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper right after the election — ordered officials throughout the building to cancel scheduled transition meetings.

A senior Defense Department official sought . . .

Continue reading.

This all seems quite ominous, particularly since many Republicans (including the White Supremacist wing and President Trump) continue to dispute that Joe Biden is the President-Elect, despite having previously said that they would accept only the decision of the Electoral College. When that decision did not go the way they wanted, they promptly reneged. They are not to be trusted because they so consistently lie.

December 21 seems to be a date that holds a special fascination for them — the winter solstice plus the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn (an unusual astronomical event) plus Trump’s time in office is running out and on that date he will have less than a month left to screw things up for his successor (or, as he undoubtedly sees it, for the person who humiliated him). And in the meantime the daily death toll in the US continues to climb. (That little downturn is an artifact of reports delayed by the Thanksgiving holiday. You can see how the catch-up continued the trend line upward.) The chart shows a 7-day rolling average of deaths per million. The US current death rate is greater than in the earlier peak.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 11:34 am

Organism 46-B with the Duke and OneBlade

with 4 comments

The OneBlade arrives via a reader’s comment on pondering whether to get one. It’s not a bad razor, but takes only one brand and model of blade, which the maker advises should be changed after each shave. The blades cost US$1 each.

Also, I find more frequent rinsing is needed than with my double-ed razors, which hold more lather. But in terms of feel and performance, the OneBlade isn’t bad at all: quite comfortable and reasonably efficient (though I find it not so efficient as a good double-edge razor with a good blade, but that may be due to my lack of practice with the OneBlade).

I had actually taken today’s shave photo yesterday morning: the sun had come out and was at a good angle for a dramatic photo (see at right), but then I read Tony’s comment and went with the OneBlade instead of the Fatip Testina Gentile shown in this photo. Still, I do like that photo, so there it is.

Simpson’s Duke 3 Best is a very nice brush, and as I’ve noted I love the fragrance of Organism 46-B (“Scent Notes: burnt sugar – bitter orange – brandy – Hedione – tobacco absolute – benzoin resin – ambergris”), though I understand some prefer a single fragrance note: rose, say, or lavender, or sandalwood. I prefer variety, as shown by the various brushes, razors, soaps/creams, and aftershaves that show up in the SOTD. A single flavor (an apple, perhaps) can be enjoyable, but so also can a blend of flavors (an apple concoction of some sort, or perhaps apples and onions sautéed in bacon fat to be served with a thick pork chop, or my old favorite, Harvy-Scarvy). The broader the range of things you can enjoy, the more likely you are to find enjoyment.

So a single-note fragrance can be fine, but so can a blend, and a single-note fragrance will always be lacking in complexity. As Eugene Delacroix noted, “A taste for simplicity cannot endure for long.” One longs for variety, and among the variety complexity can be as much a pleasure as simplicity.

Three passes and, with a little work and never a threat of a nick, a smooth finish. A splash of the matching aftershave — great fragrance — and the day is launched with the weekend dead ahead.

Written by Leisureguy

18 December 2020 at 10:59 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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