Sunday, July 22, 2018

Money Well Spent

On the way from work this morning, I stopped by the local H Mart, a Korean-American supermarket with great prices, good quality, and a head-spinning variety of products. After picking up some vegetables and a package of delicious chicken hearts, I headed down the Housewares aisle and made a big score, a portable charcoal grill with folding legs for only eight bucks:




Huh, I never noticed that the decorative ferrule on the chair in the lower right corner looked like a peener until now... At any rate, this grill is smaller than my laptop and probably weighs under two pounds. I guess it was on sale because summer vacation time is waning. At any rate, grilling season is year-round. My landlady provided us a propane grill, but it's not the same as a GEN-YOO-INE CHARCOAL GREE-YUL... you might as well just put a stove in the backyard.

Even better, at the local Stop and Shop yesterday, I scored a package of T-bone steaks, each one perfect for this grill, for under $4/lb. I think Reagan would approve of this purchase because REASONS.

Friday, July 20, 2018

When Looking Around Is Getting You Down

It's been a crap week, as far as the news cycle goes. On the workfront, things have been busy- this is a six day week, which is wearing me down, but good for the bank account. Today was a gloriously lovely summer day- not too hot, and with low humidity. Tonight is absolutely gorgeous- shortly after sundown, I was greeted by a lovely half moon (most appropriate for a lower New York location) attended by Jupiter:




Even a quick shot with a phone camera resulted in a decent photo- the half moon is rounded out by the focus softening clouds and Jupiter is just visible below the halo of light from the moon. The sight of these heavenly bodies was even prettier than the photograph indicates. Given the vastness of the cosmos, earthly problems can diminish to insignificance for a moment or two.

When looking around is getting you down, look up.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

I've Seen This Movie

In the midst of all the crazy stories deriving from the Helsinki Treason Summit, there's one story which really needs more attention: a small amount of plutonium and cesium were stolen from a Department of Energy SUV parked in a San Antonio hotel lot. This is the sort of thing that happens when a corrupt boob runs the department. While the amount of missing plutonium may be small, that stuff is dangerous, so the fact that it is missing is disconcerting, to say the least.

This whole kerfuffle reminds me of the plot of one of my favorite movies, Robert Aldrich's 1955 noir classic Kiss Me Deadly, with its famous atomic McGuffin:





If you haven't watched the film, it's just about perfect, with incredible dialogue and a morally ambiguous hero who is up against absolute monsters. Do yourself a favor and watch it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

If Anything, Things Look Worse

It's been one bummer of a week, and it's little more than half over. While we don't know what Trump discussed with his boss on Monday, there are some suggestive hints... Trump's bizarre statement about Montenegro's people being aggressive, and the possibility of them starting World War Three, is troublesome, considering that Montenegro joined NATO last year. Putin probably backed an attempted coup in Montenegro in 2016. Trump's statement about Montenegro signals that the United States can no longer be trusted to honor the obligations encoded by its alliances... to me, it looks like NATO is functionally done.

Just as worrisome is Trump's refusal to rule out handing former ambassador Michael McFaul to the tender mercies of Putin's inquisitors. This is a clear signal to anyone in the diplomatic corps that diplomatic immunity is now a farce. It also signals that the US Government doesn't take seriously its obligation to protect United States citizens from autocratic regimes with which the US doesn't even have an extradition treaty. McFaul may be Putin's enemy, but he's no enemy of the American people.

Mere discussion of violating treaties and extraditing American citizens to hostile foreign powers is an unacceptable subversion of the norms by which civilized societies work. If this doesn't spur Congress to initiate impeachment proceedings, then this downward spiral into autocracy will ramp up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

KGB? NRA? GOP? WTF?

It's been almost a decade since the last foxy redheaded Russian spy story broke, but sexiness sells, and it seems that foxy Russian spies are a renewable resource, therefore the arrest of Russian 'gun rights activist' and possible spy Maria Butina is all over the news. She certainly has appeared with numerous pro-gun figures, as David Hogg pithily noted:





The real kicker is that the NRA funneled Russian money into the Trump campaign... Russian money, Russian agents- the GOP is in the midst of a Slavic shitstorm, a Russiacane. Now, in order to better cover up this flow of dark money, the Treasury Department is going to make it easier to hide donors. Spasiba, assholes!

I suspect that Maria Butina was ratted out by Dana Loesch... Dana is ten years older than Butina and probably saw the younger gal with the flamboyant red hair as a threat. I think the final straw probably came when this borscht 'bibing babe sold more beets than Dana. How many gun molls could the NRA possibly need? Gun molls, like foxy redheaded Russian spies, are also a renewable resource.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Summit Was a Nadir

Today, I spent a good deal of the day listening to the United States President act as if he were a Russian mole who had infiltrated the highest office in the land In a meeting which has popularly come to be known as the Treason Summit, Donald J. Trump met with his boss for a performance review. Before the summit, by which I mean nadir, began, Trump was blaming the United States for bad US/Russia relations. When he met with Putin, it was behind closed doors, with the accompaniment solely of translators... not a good sign at all. I sure as hell hope the Finns found a way to bug the meeting, perhaps with a 'wire tapp' of some sort.

Things got even more surreal when Trump and Putin conducted a joint press conference which freaked a lot of people out. Particularly bizarre was Trump's plan to let Putin guard the henhouse:


"I addressed directly with President Putin the issue of Russian interference in our elections. I felt this was a message best delivered in person. Spent a great deal of time talking about it. And President Putin may very well want to address it, and very strongly, because he feels very strongly about it, and he has an interesting idea."


He trusts Putin over the members of his own country's security/intelligence apparatus:


"So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today."


Okay, Vlad says he's innocent, so he must be innocent!

The whole summit nadir has been such a shitshow that even Republican congresscreeps are freaking out about it, though none of them seem inclined to do anything about it, such as impeaching the motherfucker. Trump will return to DC, or one of his golf resorts, and he'll still be a Russian asset. It wasn't that long ago that American neocons were trumpeting a unipolar moment in which the United States was the world's sole hyperpower- now through the actions of one fool, it now seems to be a client state of a country with a GDP smaller than that of Canada. I can't wait until Putin rolls out our new cybersecurity strategy!


As a kid, the classic WLIR used to play this song, which even during the tail end of the Cold War seemed a bit of a novelty song:





Somehow, it doesn't seem all that funny anymore.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

There Are Twelve of Them and Asshole Lyin'

In the realm of international relations and domestic politics, things are, to use a technical term, fucked up... twelve Russians have been charged with meddling in the 2016 election cycle and the president of the US might be a Russian asshole... errr... asset. Put succinctly, shit's weird.

Seeking a bit of escapism, I decided to read a novel, John Le Carré 's 1974 thriller/procedural Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. The novel chronicles an investigation into Russian infiltration of an intelligence agency conducted by an agent, George Smiley, who was drummed out of the service in the upheaval after the death of the elderly, ailing agency head. Brought out of retirement after a bombshell revelation of betrayal by a field agent who romanced a disenchanted Soviet agent, who divulged the presence of the undermining 'mole'. Smiley was conceived as an anti-James Bond... he is on the far end of middle-age, portly, erudite, unobtrusive enough to be able to melt into a crowd, and married to a brilliant, aristocratic wife who conducts multiple affairs (in the parlance of the Cartoon Frog Ironic Nazi Brigade, he is a 'cuck'). Possessing an eidetic memory and a painstaking attention to detail, Smiley, with the aid of his trusted protégé Peter Guillam, tracks down clues, interviewing former agents and hunting down information pointing to the contents of 'misplaced' or redacted files. Smiley's role is almost entirely cerebral, with Guillam doing the necessary legwork and occasional pilfering of evidence.

The title refers to the code names of the suspects, derived from a children's rhyme:


Tinker, tailor,
soldier, sailor,
rich man, poor man,
beggarman, thief.



Before the action of the novel, Smiley was a suspect, but was cleared by the old agency head, known simply as 'Control'. After clearing Smiley, there are three highly-ranked suspects in addition to the new agency head, hence the tagline which my post title refers to: "There are three of them, and Alleline." Smiley's mission is to uncover which of these individuals is, or are, responsible to feeding information to the Russian intelligence service.

The book was a quick, entertaining read- the dialogue is flawless, and the jargon invented by le Carré has an air of authenticity that has led to its adoption in real life. The action in the book is almost entirely cerebral- the hunt is a battle of wits, not a superfest di puncho puncho run run. The book also frankly depicts sexual matters such as Smiley's wife's infidelity and the probable same-sex romance between two extremely competent men of action, with no moral judgment attached to their relationship by le Carré.

Immediately after reading the novel, I hunted down the 1979 BBC miniseries starring Alec Guinness.





I wanted to cement in my head the complicated plot, and to be able to visualize the settings described in the book. I'm not a big TV watcher, but the miniseries was superb, anchored by a flawless lead performance- Alec Guinness conveys erudition, but can wither with a glare. The miniseries belongs to him, but actress/comedienne Beryl Reid runs away with a scene playing a former agency head of research who Smiley contacts for information regarding the probable Russian handler of the mole:





I particularly love the way she conveys the sheer delight she feels to be on the hunt again, to match her superb wit against her subtle enemy. It's to Alec Guinness' credit that he is content to be upstaged by his costar. Ms Reid's soliloquy also reveals the temptation presented to boys growing up during the death-throes of a world superpower: Trained to Empire, trained to rule the waves. Englishmen could be proud then, George. They could... All gone.

Both book and miniseries are fantastic, and complementary. In this era of renewed Russian actions against the West, they are good, timely reads.