Later On

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

Archive for August 22nd, 2021

Find the Honest Broker

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Ted Gioia explains the title of his siteThe Honest Broker. He writes:

. . .  I rarely talk about my workaday life before I settled into music and writing. Those days are far too strange and confusing to convey without writing a whole book about them. And I’ll never write that book because a lot of it I’d rather forget.

Other people in the creative economy have day gigs, but they are usually simple to describe—waiting on tables, tutoring school kids, driving a taxi, would you like fries with that, mister? But my work wasn’t anything like that. I took on projects that sent me into unfamiliar terrain all over the world, and thrust me into odd and unpredictable situations. The deliverables were always high stakes, the work often secret, surrounded by confidentiality agreements and cautionary warnings, and the agenda rarely going according to plan.

I’ll admit it: I was like a person with a split personality in my twenties. I was obsessed with music, working to advance my piano skills, and digging deeply into the research that would eventually result in so many later books and articles. But I also had to pay the bills, and I possessed a few highly marketable skills. I had an ability to analyze complex social, political and economic situations, a way of navigating through turbulent waters, a knack for making the right move at the right time. These skills caught the notice of powerful people, and they would put me to work to solve their problems.

And, oh man, did they have problems. They would thrust a plane ticket in my hand, and send me packing—off into situations that might involve everything and anything.

The good news: My bosses paid well. What they wanted was never simple or straight-forward. But if I could pull it off, I got rewarded with enough money to cover my costs during long stretches solely devoted to my music and writing.

I have little desire to dwell on the details. Many of them are still confidential, and telling too much could get me into trouble. Much of it is a blur any way—Bangkok, Medellín, Cannes, Shanghai, Prague, Copacabana, Macau, Paris, Tasmania, Jakarta, Tijuana, Frankfurt, Krakow, Tokyo and all other places I went on my various missions.  So many cities, so many crazy days and long nights.

But I need to remember it, if only because I have to tell you about the Honest Broker.

This particular project brought me to China. I was trying to set up an operation in a remote province, far outside my comfort zone, and couldn’t seem to figure out how to maneuver among the various interests and stakeholders. My patron was one of the wealthiest men in Hong Kong, and by using his contacts, I gained access to people who normally operate behind layers of intermediaries and gatekeepers. But even these contacts led me on an endless runaround. My sources gave me  conflicting advice and confusing directions. Everything felt wrong and nothing seemed quite on the level.

I knew I needed help, but had run out of options. Then I met the drunk Australian.

He wasn’t a contact on my list, and I can’t even remember his name. This was a chance encounter in a hotel bar late at night. But this hard-drinking Australian was talkative and had interesting things to say. He had spent most of his life bouncing around the capitals of Asia, and was a high-level operator in his own spheres. He bragged about his insider’s knowledge, and claimed—with some accuracy, as I came to discover—that he knew how to maneuver in China better than the clueless Westerners who were now appearing on the scene. He had traced the secret paths to power and knew all the dangerous mistakes amateurs always make.

He reeled off a list of them. “You go into a province or city and flash around some money, then expect the local officials will help you? Forget it. They’ll rob you blind, and even make you bribe them for the privilege. Same goes for the party leaders. From each according to his ability, and all that, my friend. And forget about lawyers—the legal protections here are like this”—he held up his empty glass, then flipped it over as if to emphasize the nothingness of what he was offering to the gods of Marx and Mao. “As for the bankers, you might as well call them wankers.”

The empty glass was also a sign that I needed to order another round of the local brew, and I quickly complied. My new friend fell into a meditative silence until further libations arrived. Finally, after another sip on the stomach-destroying glass of baijiu that passed for spirits at our watering hole, I asked the obvious question.

“So what do I do? Who can I trust?”

“That’s easy, mate. You need to . . .

Continue reading. Very interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 6:25 pm

Formaldehyde Causes Leukemia, According to Epa Assessment Suppressed by Trump Officials

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Sharon Lerner reports in the Intercept:

A 2017 DRAFT assessment of formaldehyde that was suppressed by the Trump administration found that the chemical causes myeloid leukemia, according to several sources familiar with the document. The draft assessment concludes that 1 microgram of formaldehyde in a cubic meter of air increases the number of myeloid leukemia cases by roughly 3.5 in 100,000 people, more than three times the cancer risk in the assessment now in use. The EPA currently regulates formaldehyde using an outdated set of calculations, finalized in 1991, based on the risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. If the nasopharyngeal cancer and myeloid leukemia risks are combined, the cancer risk could be 4.5 times higher than the current value.

Although the suppressed assessment, produced by a division of the Environmental Protection Agency known as the Integrated Risk Information System, or IRIS, has grave implications for public health, Trump administration officials, including former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, refused to allow the agency to release the assessment, several sources told The Intercept.

If the Biden EPA permits IRIS to finalize the assessment, which is among the most controversial in the agency’s history, other branches of the EPA will likely set regulatory limits based on the new risk value. IRIS values are used to determine safety thresholds for the amounts of the chemical permitted in air and water, emissions caps from industrial facilities, and guidance for cleanups. Such thresholds also alert exposed people to the dangers they face.

“This is a big, big deal. It could trigger significant interest by the personal injury bar,” said Bob Sussman, who served as the senior policy counsel to the EPA administrator during the Obama administration and deputy EPA administrator under President Bill Clinton. “Even without including the leukemia, the risk is a significant one. With the leukemia, it’s certainly a very significant public health concern.”

Even using the much lower, outdated cancer risk number set in 1991, formaldehyde is already the greatest source of nationwide cancer risk from industrial air pollutants, estimated to cause roughly 18 of the 32 cancers in every 1 million people in the U.S. that are caused by toxic pollutants in the air, according to the EPA’s own data. If the risk values are increased by a factor of four or more, the reported cancer risk from formaldehyde will go up accordingly, revealing previously unrecognized cancer hot spots around the country.

Formaldehyde, mainly used to make plywood, particleboard, and glues, is also a hazard for millions of workers who are exposed to the chemical through the production of resins, wood composite and furniture production, plastics manufacturing, paper production, embalming, foundry work, fiberglass production, building construction, agriculture, firefighting, and the teaching of biology, among other occupations. The general public is exposed to formaldehyde through tobacco smokecosmetics, food and water, as well as “off-gassing” from consumer goods, construction materials, and furniture. In 2019, 662 facilities reported releasing 47.7 million pounds of formaldehyde.

In addition to looking at the chemical’s relationships to nasopharyngeal cancer and leukemia, the draft assessment also factored in evidence that formaldehyde causes decreased lung function, allergic conditions, reproductive and developmental toxicity, and sensory irritation.

In part because formaldehyde is so pervasive, a wide range of business interests have attempted to prevent the EPA from finalizing the assessment and publicly acknowledging the connection to leukemia. Until now, the EPA has kept the contents of its assessment under tight wraps. The leaked information provides a window into how the science and regulation around the chemical will finally be updated.

“Just knowing that the IRIS assessment acknowledges that formaldehyde causes myeloid leukemia is huge, regardless of what the value is,” Jennifer McPartland, a senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund, said after being told about the main findings of the draft assessment. “But the numbers tell you even more. They set the tone for how the agency will proceed with risk management.”

Assessment Was “Ready to Go”

While the EPA has claimed in court that the formaldehyde assessment did not exist in a form that allowed it to be shared — and used that argument to refuse to release it in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the environmental whistleblower group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER — former EPA officials told The Intercept that the completed assessment not only existed but that it had also been prepared for release in early 2018.

“We had the document ready to go for review within the agency, but we were not allowed to proceed,” said

. . .

Continue reading. The government is supposed to protect the public. Republicans don’t understand that.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 4:28 pm

The biggest military evacuation in US history is going pretty well

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Kevin Drum points out some obvious facts that some are ignoring:

I have had it with coverage of the Kabul evacuation. The plain fact is that, under the circumstances, it’s going fairly well. Both Americans and Afghan allies are being flown out safely and bloodshed on the ground is surprisingly limited. Sure, the whole operation is going to take a few weeks, but what did everyone expect?

But you’d never know this thanks to an immense firehose of crap coming from the very people we should least believe. This includes:

  • The hawks who kept the war in Afghanistan going for years with lies and happy talk, and who are now desperate to defend themselves.
  • Republicans who figure this is a great opportunity to sling partisan bullshit. Their favorite is that Biden has destroyed America’s standing in the world, an old chestnut for which there’s no evidence whatsoever.
  • Trumpies trying to avoid blame for the execution of their own plan. It is gobsmacking to hear them complain about slow processing of Afghan allies when they were the ones who deliberately hobbled the visa process in the first place.
  • Democrats who, as usual, are too damn cowardly to defend the withdrawal for fear of—something. It’s not always clear what.
  • Reporters who are sympathetic to all this because they genuinely care about the danger that the withdrawal poses for people they knew in Afghanistan.

The only real mistake the military made in this operation was in not realizing just what a terrible job they had been doing all along. Everything else flows from that. If the Afghan government had been able to hold off the Taliban for even a few weeks, everything would have been fine. But they didn’t even try. Ghani just grabbed a few suitcases of cash and took off.

All by itself, this should tell you how hopeless the situation in Afghanistan has been all along. After 20 years, the Afghan military, even with plenty of warning about when we planned to leave, was unable, and in many cases unwilling, to fight. It’s laughable to think that another few months would have made any difference. It’s equally laughable to hear from the “light footprint” gang, who think that we could have kept a few thousand troops in Afghanistan forever and avoided any kind of fighting even after the Taliban cease-fire was over.

As for all the Americans being airlifted out, I suppose it’s bad form to point out that they were told to leave months ago? If they had a lick of common sense most of them wouldn’t be stuck in Kabul and elsewhere waiting to be rescued.

The sophisticated attitude these days is to say that, of course, we needed to leave Afghanistan, but surely we could have executed the withdrawal more competently? Maybe, but I’d like to hear the plan. The problems we’ve run into were baked into the cake long ago, and the actual evacuation itself has been run with courage and guts. “There’s a whole nother story line that media could follow,” Cheryl Rofer says. “The people who are working to keep the flights running, the people who get on the flights, the people who are helping others to get to the airport, the people who are running the logistics.”

Amen to that. This is by far the biggest military evacuation in US history, and it’s being handled surprisingly well. Maybe that will change tomorrow. Anything could happen. But so far the US media has been suckered into a narrative that’s almost precisely the opposite of the truth. It needs to stop.

See, for example, “Congressman Seeking to Relaunch Afghan War Made Millions in Defense Contracting.”

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 4:02 pm

Covid-19 deaths per million: 7 nations compared

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Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 1:27 pm

Seneca and Nero: How (Not) to Give an Emperor Unwelcome Advice

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Catherine Edwards writes in Antigone:

The philosopher – and celebrated public speaker – Seneca the Younger, after eight years in exile on the island of Corsica, was summoned back to Rome in AD 49 (aged around 50) to take on what might at first sight look like an enviable job. Emperor Claudius’ new wife, Agrippina, had chosen Seneca to be tutor to her young son Nero (aged 12), who had become, with his mother’s glittering marriage, step-son to the emperor. This was quite a reversal of fortune for Seneca, who had been exiled in AD 41 on a charge (probably false) of adultery with another of Claudius’ relatives.

When Nero in turn became emperor, Seneca would go on to play a key role in the imperial government. Seneca’s position was in many respects an unprecedented one. Tacitus’ history of this period (the Annals, written in the 110s AD) gives us some sense of the dynamics of the relationship between Seneca and Nero; Seneca’s own extensive writings also cast light on how he sought to guide, indeed to manage, Nero as a young ruler.

As tutor to the adolescent Nero, Seneca was not given a free hand. Particularly in later centuries, Seneca has been admired as an exponent of Stoic philosophy; Agrippina made clear (according to Suetonius’ biography of Nero, written in the 120s AD) that philosophy was not to be on her son’s curriculum. Nero was apparently keen on poetry (Suetonius and Tacitus disagree on whether he was any good at writing verse). But a young man destined for a prominent role in public life needed above all to be a good public speaker; Seneca, known for his eloquence, was to instruct him in rhetoric. Agrippina’s ambitions for her son would be fulfilled in just a few years: by the time Claudius died (poisoned by Agrippina, it was widely believed), Nero, a little older than Claudius’ son Britannicus, had been adopted by the emperor. And it was Nero who succeeded in the year 54, becoming emperor at the unprecedented age of only 16.

For all Seneca’s tuition, Nero still needed some help with his public speaking. He was expected to give the eulogy at Claudius’ funeral and to address the Praetorian Guard, whose military presence in Rome protected the emperor – and whose support was crucial. Seneca found suitable words for his pupil to deliver and also composed Nero’s inaugural speech to the Senate. Senators were appreciative when Nero respectfully emphasised how keen he was to follow the example of Augustus, the principate’s founder. Later speeches, too, were widely believed to be Seneca’s compositions.

Seneca was now in an extraordinarily influential position. He was tutor, or rather adviser, to the most powerful teenager in the history of the Roman world. But how was he to frame advice and guidance to a young man who seems to have become increasingly resistant to being told what to do? For the first few years of Nero’s reign, Seneca, together with Burrus, Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, appears to have been relatively successful in persuading Nero to attend to government business and to maintain good relations with the senatorial elite, who saw themselves as Rome’s governing class. We may speculate that Seneca’s relationship with Nero’s mother Agrippina, herself a smart political operator, was sometimes strained. Tacitus – a man very hostile to the idea that a woman should be involved in imperial government – tells how Seneca prompted Nero to intervene, when Agrippina tried to take part in the official welcome of envoys from Armenia (Annals 13.5).

Seneca’s treatise De clementia, “On mercy,” a work addressed to Nero and written very early in his reign (AD 55/6), shows the kind of strategies Seneca might use to persuade Nero to act as he ought. Seneca argues that, through exercising leniency against those who offend him, the Good Emperor does not put himself in danger but strengthens his own position. Seneca (in an approach termed “protreptic”) repeatedly praises the ways in which Nero already exemplifies the qualities of the ideal ruler.

Although the treatise On mercy is addressed to the emperor, Seneca was, we may imagine, very much aware of how others (particularly members of the Senate) would interpret the advice he was offering Nero. Many senators had, under Claudius, been subject to harsh punishments widely seen as unjustified; members of the Senate under Nero would surely be reassured that Nero’s most influential adviser counselled, on grounds both moral and pragmatic, against such cruelty. Seneca stressed that the Good Emperor relies on his subjects – and the subjects on their emperor.

Nero’s notorious appetite for partying, his taste for poetry, his enthusiasm for the circus races were perhaps viewed as forgivable in such a youthful ruler. Some were initially pleased when stories circulated that Nero had fallen out with his mother Agrippina over his choice of girl friend. But Nero’s move in AD 59 to have Agrippina killed was deeply shocking. Did Seneca and Burrus know what was planned? If so, they were faced with a dilemma. Should they risk opposing the emperor – and bringing his anger down on themselves – or should they collude with matricide?

Nero’s initial attempt to get rid of his mother in a staged boating accident failed. Instead, her messenger was framed as an assassin and Nero’s soldiers were despatched to kill his mother. Certainly, Seneca and Burrus seem to have been . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 12:56 pm

Did Music Create Human Rights?

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The first successful labor strike took place at Deir el-Medina—the same place where songs of personal expression were born. Mere coincidence?

Ted Gioia writes at The Honest Broker:

The first songs to express personal emotions and individual aspirations appeared more than 3,000 years ago in Deir el-Medina, a village on the west bank of the Nile. By seeming coincidence this was also the location of the first successful labor protest in history, when artisans launched a sit-down strike that forced “management”— Ramesses III in this instance—to increase grain rations. Is it just by chance that a major musical innovation and a historic expansion in human rights took place in the very same (and tiny) community? 

Perhaps only a few dozen families lived in this setting, yet they spurred a profound change in both arts and politics. But this wouldn’t be the last time that new ways of singing would be linked to the growth of personal autonomy and individual rights. The same thing happened in ancient Greece, in Christian medieval societies, under the Abbasid Caliphate, during the 1960s US civil rights movement, and in many other historical settings. In fact, song has been our most enduring tool for the advancement of freedom.

We take for granted that songs express personal feelings. But that wasn’t always the case. And we shouldn’t minimize how empowering this kind of music can be. Having the right to sing about what you feel legitimizes your worldview to an uncanny degree. First you claim a stake to your own music, and soon you demand other freedoms. That’s how the process has always worked.

Just consider how often rebellions and dissident movements take place in the same communities that produce innovations in music. During the height of the troubadour movement in the south of France, the sociopolitical environment was so threatening to authorities, that the Pope went to war against the residents of this region—the first time in history that a Crusade was launched against Christians. Greil Marcus has suggested that the Cathars, the heretical movement that made this intervention necessary, anticipated the later punk ethos. At first glance, that seems like a strange, exaggerated claim—could medieval punks really have existed? But a holistic view of the converging musical and ideological shifts of that time and place make it a plausible hypothesis.

In fact, the whole first thousand years of Christianity witnessed an extraordinary suppression of peasant songs. These were attacked repeatedly in sermons, laws, and various official pronouncements. The censorship was so severe that almost no love songs or lyrics of personal emotion in the vernacular languages have survived from that long period. It’s hard for us, nowadays, to grasp why a love song might be threatening to those in power. But, viewed from another perspective, the power of a love song in promoting personal autonomy makes perfect sense. After all, these romantic lyrics proclaim the lovers’ determination to take control of their destiny and happiness—and if they are willing to do it in this instance, what prevents them from demanding independence and self-determination in other matters as well?

The same is true in modern times. Consider the case of . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 10:59 am

Bad news: New studies hint that the coronavirus may be evolving to become more airborne

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Masks become more important at a time when a segment of the population becomes more resistant to wearing them (a segment that presumably also refuses to wear seatbelts).

Tina Hesman Saey reports in Science News:

Small aerosol particles spewed while people breathe, talk and sing may contain more coronavirus than larger moisture droplets do. And the coronavirus may be evolving to spread more easily through the air, a new study suggests. But there is also good news: Masks can help.

About 85 percent of coronavirus RNA detected in COVID-19 patients’ breath was found in fine aerosol particles less than five micrometers in size, researchers in Singapore report August 6 in Clinical Infectious Diseases. The finding is the latest evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is spread mainly through the air in fine droplets that may stay suspended for hours rather than in larger droplets that quickly fall to the ground and contaminate surfaces.

Similar to that result, Donald Milton at the University of Maryland in College Park and colleagues found that people who carried the alpha variant had 18 times as much viral RNA in aerosols than people infected with less-contagious versions of the virus. That study, posted August 13 at, has not been yet been peer reviewed. It also found that loose-fitting masks could cut the amount of virus-carrying aerosols by nearly half.

In one experiment, the Maryland team grew the virus from the air samples in the lab. That could be evidence that may convince some reluctant experts to embrace the idea that the virus spreads mainly through the air.

The debate over aerosol transmission has been ongoing since nearly the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, 200 scientists wrote a letter to the World Health Organization asking for the organization to acknowledge aerosol spread of the virus (SN: 7/7/20). In April, the WHO upgraded its information on transmission to include aerosols (SN: 5/18/21). The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had acknowledged aerosols as the most likely source of spread just a few weeks before.

Previous studies in monkeys have also suggested that more virus ends up in aerosols than in large droplets. But some experts say that direct evidence that the virus spreads mainly through the air is still lacking.

“There’s lots of indirect evidence that the airborne route — breathing it in — is dominant,” says Linsey Marr, a civil and environmental engineer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, who studies viruses in the air. She was one of the 200 scientists who wrote to the WHO last year. “‘Airborne’ is a loaded word in infection control circles,” she says, requiring health care workers to isolate patients in special rooms, wear protective equipment and take other costly and resource-intensive measures to stop the spread of the disease. For those reasons, infection control experts have been reluctant to call the coronavirus airborne without especially strong proof.

Most COVID-19 cases have been among . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Virus mutations that are more successful at infecting people will prevail over the variants that are not so infectiouss: basic evolution.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 10:42 am

Smac McCreanor – HydraulicPress Series compilation

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Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 7:47 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

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The Soviet military was a hollow colossus

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Elisabeth Braw has a somewhat long but quite interesting article in Engelsberg Ideas:

After the fall of the Soviet Union, some of its military conscripts from former republics ended up in NATO countries. Their personal stories are not only compelling accounts of recent history – they also offer valuable insights into the former superpower’s ‘five-million man’ martial might and even today’s Russian military.

One day in 1985, an eighteen-year-old named Riho Terras turned up at the Soviet armed forces’ large conscript assessment facility in Tallinn, some two hours from his hometown of Kohtla-Järve in northeastern Estonia. It was not his choice: like all other Soviet men, Terras was obliged to complete military service. But uniquely in modern history, some have ended up not in Russia or its affiliated former Soviet republics – but on the other side, as citizens of NATO member states. Though young when they served as Soviet conscripts, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian men have insights into the Soviet-turned-Russian military that no other Westerners will ever have. Their stories are compelling and insightful accounts of recent history.

On that day in 1985, young Riho didn’t know what to expect. He came from an ordinary Estonian family without any connections. Boys with influential parents, he knew, had a chance of being posted close to home. ‘You had no idea in which service you’d serve, and as a result you didn’t know how long you’d serve,’ Terras told me. He was assigned to the navy, which meant a three-year stint. (Army conscripts served for two years). Soon he was on a train to Kaliningrad for six months of initial training.

Around the same time, a twenty-two-year-old semi-professional basketball player named Maris Riekstins arrived for conscription assessment in his home city of Riga. When Riekstins turned eighteen, the Soviet Union exempted university students from military service, but now, in 1985, Riekstins – who had just graduated from Riga’s Academy of Sports – knew there was no avoiding assessment anymore. ‘Everybody knew that when they got the papers from their local military office it was their turn to serve, but lots of people also tried to get out of it,’ Riekstins said. ‘Some people smoked silk in order to get lung damage. The risk everyone was particularly worried about was being sent to Afghanistan.’ Riekstins decided to attempt to avoid conscription too, by trying to get accepted to SKA Riga, one of the Red Army’s elite basketball teams.

His plan failed. Straight after being assessed, Riekstins was sent to an artillery regiment on the other side of Latvia. Better than East Germany, he thought, and probably better than the Far East too. ‘People say, “oh, that’s excellent, you got to stay close to home,”’ Riekstins told me. ‘Sure, it was better than Siberia, but it didn’t really matter because you were not allowed to go home anyway. And there was always the risk of being sent to Afghanistan after the initial training.’

Riekstins subsequently came to understand that the lack of information was a psychological tool. ‘The system told you that you had no say about your future, that you were nobody,’ he said. ‘You simply don’t know where you will end up. It might be the navy, it might be an airborne division in Afghanistan, it might an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] base in Siberia or a regiment guarding convicts.’ After the Chernobyl nuclear accident some six months after Riekstins’s arrival at his regiment, Soviet authorities started sending soldiers to help with the clean-up. Once again, he had to worry about an exceptionally dangerous assignment.

Around the same time as Riekstins became an artillery soldier, another student in Riga, eighteen-year-old Maris Selga at the Latvian State University, was instructed to turn up for a journey to a military unit, having no idea where he was headed or what he’d be doing. The only thing Selga knew was that he’d be serving in the Red Army. ‘I was hoping to go to Volgograd [the city once known as Stalingrad, located near the Caspian Sea] because I knew they usually sent conscripts far from their home republics and I felt Volgograd was the best I could hope for,’ Selga told me. ‘But that didn’t happen.’ He was sent to Tashkent, the capital of the Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. It was his first time on an aeroplane.

In Tashkent, Selga learnt he’d been assigned to what was known as the interior army, the part of the Red Army guarding domestic installations, ranging from government agencies to prisons. And when he discovered the military base located next to his, he realised two years of military service in Uzbekistan wasn’t so bad: that base trained conscripts headed for Afghanistan, so he surmised he wasn’t destined for the same fate. When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant collapsed, Selga – like Riekstins – knew his unit could be sent to help with the clean-up. But he too was lucky.

The year of 1985 was an eventful one.  . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 2:00 am

Pierre Sprey, Pentagon analyst who battled brass to produce A-10 warplane, dies at 83

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Matt Schudel writes Pierre Sprey’s obituary in the Washington Post:

Pierre Sprey, a 1960s Pentagon “whiz kid” who was a formidable intellectual force in military analysis and weapons development and was sometimes an outspoken critic of Defense Department spending and war plans, died Aug. 5 at his home in Glenn Dale, Md. He was 83.

The cause appeared to be a sudden heart attack, said his son, John Sprey.

The French-born Mr. Sprey (pronounced “spray”) was considered a polymath whose interests encompassed history, engineering and literature. A Baltimore Sun profile declared that he “may well be the most fascinating person you’ve never heard of.”

In later years, he set up a recording studio and jazz record label in a tumbledown house and produced dozens of recordings known for their exquisite high-fidelity audio.

Former colleagues said he applied the same meticulous — and sometimes unconventional — principles to military matters. After working for the Grumman aircraft company early in his career, Mr. Sprey moved to the Pentagon in 1966 as part of a group of analysts and engineers dubbed the “Whiz Kids,” borrowing a term first used to describe then-Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara and his former colleagues at Ford Motor Co.

“Even among McNamara’s Whiz Kids — the highly educated and extraordinarily bright young men brought into the [Pentagon] with the mandate to impose rational thought on both the military and the military budget — Pierre Sprey stood out,” author Robert Coram wrote in a 2002 biography of Mr. Sprey’s onetime Pentagon boss, John Boyd.

It was the height of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and Mr. Sprey spent his first year working on a study of the Air Force budget and preparations for a potential war in Europe. His report, based on studies of World War II and information from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that the Air Force’s existing plan to bomb bridges and infrastructure was useless and would not prevent Soviet troops from pouring into Europe.

By rejecting a long-held doctrine, Mr. Sprey quickly became persona non grata among top-ranking Air Force brass, many of whom had been fighter or bomber pilots and resented getting advice from a civilian who was barely 30.

“He was one of the most detested people by the United States Air Force,” Tom Christie, who spent decades as a Pentagon analyst, said in an interview, “because he was challenging a lot of sacred programs and strategies.”

Instead, Mr. Sprey advocated a primary mission of “close air support,” with Air Force planes flying low to support Allied ground troops and to attack enemy convoys and armored units. He made the startling assertion that the most important vehicles in warfare were not fighter planes, aircraft carriers or tanks — but ordinary trucks.

“I made myself pretty unpopular by pointing out that trucks were much more important than airplanes,” Mr. Sprey told the Baltimore Sun in 2002. “The tonnages moved by airplanes are tiny. Trucks are what count in the theater of war. Well, that wasn’t very glamorous for all those guys, so I got fired from that job.”

Mr. Sprey, Christie and a few others became part of a small group of analysts under the leadership of Boyd, a former fighter pilot who wanted to bring improved planning and efficiency to the Air Force. They adopted an almost furtive, underground approach, often working late at night, and came to be known as the “fighter mafia.”

In general, the group believed that simpler, cheaper weapons and aircraft worked better than complex, more expensive designs. Airplanes loaded down with electronics and other features, Mr. Sprey argued, were less maneuverable and harder to repair.

Mr. Sprey and his group faced a strong backlash from Pentagon officials and from manufacturers who stood to profit from defense contracts. According to Coram’s book on Boyd, the Air Force assigned a colonel to get Mr. Sprey fired. When the colonel presented doctored statistics to challenge Mr. Sprey’s calculations, Mr. Sprey replied, “Your numbers are a lie.”

The colonel demanded an apology, but Mr. Sprey responded by calling him a “slimy creature” who “oozed mendacity.”

“Unlike many civilians who worked in the Pentagon,” Coram wrote, “Sprey was not intimidated by rank; in fact, he thought there was an inverse relationship between the number of stars on a man’s shoulders and his intelligence.”

He stayed at the Pentagon as part of Boyd’s team and worked on two new airplane designs in the 1970s: one was a lightweight fighter that turned out to be the F-16; the other was a relatively slow, low-flying aircraft that became the A-10.

Mr. Sprey was particularly influential in the development of the A-10, a stubby plane with upright fins on the tail and two jet engines mounted over the body. Its central feature was a nose-mounted 30-mm Gatling gun that could fire 70 rounds a second. The plane could carry missiles and bombs under its wings.

Mr. Sprey insisted that the A-10 be durable and easy to repair. It was covered in a titanium shell that could withstand ground fire. Fuel tanks were insulated with nonflammable material to prevent explosions, and backup systems were in place for various hydraulic and mechanical components. Officially called the Thunderbolt, the A-10 looked so ungainly that pilots affectionately called it the Warthog.

The Pentagon sought repeatedly to kill the A-10 project or relegate the aircraft to the National Guard, even after testing proved that its gun and rockets could easily destroy armor-plated tanks. Mr. Sprey helped rally support for the plane among sympathetic military officials and members of Congress, and the program stayed alive.

During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the A-10 was brutally effective, taking out 1,100 of the 1,500 Iraqi tanks lost during the conflict, plus more than 1,000 pieces of artillery. The A-10 was so rugged that stories and footage began to circulate of badly damaged planes landing safely after combat missions. The A-10 continued to be a useful warplane during the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The pilots love them,” Mr. Sprey said in 1999. “Any of our jet fighters can be shot down by a .22-caliber rifle. But you can punch an A-10 full of holes and it will come home with sky showing through the wings.”

Pierre Michel Sprey was born Nov. 22, 1937, in Nice, France. His Jewish parents had fled oppression in Germany in the early 1930s, then came to the United States in 1941, settling in the New York borough of Queens.

His father was a jeweler, and his mother a homemaker. Young Pierre grew up speaking German and sometimes French with his parents, who would discuss classical music at the dinner table.

Mr. Sprey studied engineering and French literature at Yale University, graduating in 1957 at age 19. He later received a master’s degree in systems engineering and statistics from Cornell University.

His eyesight was not sharp enough to allow him to be a fighter pilot, his son said, so he turned to aircraft design. After leaving the Pentagon in the 1970s, he continued to work on defense projects as a consultant for many years afterward.

While growing up in New York, Mr. Sprey often attended jazz clubs, and he began to record musical performances as a hobby. A fellow Pentagon engineer showed him a high-end turntable, spurring Mr. Sprey to take it apart and explore the mechanics of high-fidelity sound.

He devised a homemade recording system that employed extremely thin wires, battery-powered microphones and a two-track Sony reel-to-reel recorder weighted with lead. He had a restored 1911 Steinway piano in the front parlor of an old country house called Mapleshade in Upper Marlboro, Md. He had made amateur recordings of Washington jazz singer Shirley Horn, who came to Mr. Sprey’s house to play his piano.

“One night she was sitting at my piano and fell in love with it,” he told The Washington Post in 1996. “She said, ‘P. baby, I want to do my next album on this piano and I want you to be my engineer’ … I enjoyed recording Shirley so much, I decided to hang out my shingle.”

Mr. Sprey named his record label Mapleshade and recorded primarily jazz and blues musicians, including saxophonists Clifford Jordan and Hamiet Bluiett and pianists Walter Davis Jr., John Hicks and Larry Willis. He placed rubber baffles on the walls and ceiling and turned off all the lights, refrigerators, furnaces and electronic devices to obtain as pure a sound as possible.

“Something important is happening in Upper Marlboro,” a CD Review critic wrote. “To sit down with a small stack of your very first Mapleshades is a revelation.”

A 1997 recording of New York’s Arc Choir singing the gospel tune “Walk With Me” was sampled on Kanye West’s hit . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

22 August 2021 at 1:54 am

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