People who don't study history tend not to understand why our foreign allies and adversaries behave the ways they do. Case in point: the Soviet Union, of which the largest part lives on as the Russian Federation, ended in part because we forced them to spend down their economy just to keep up with us. They might still hate us a little for that.
One man who helped this effort, Gus Weiss, hit on the idea of sabotaging the technology that Soviet spies bought or stole from American and other Western companies. Via Bruce Schneier, Wired has a long-form description of Weiss and his plan:
This plan to feed defective technology, which Weiss says carried the operation designation “Kudo,” existed as part of a larger government mobilization in response to the Farewell intelligence across the national security community. “It was multilayered operation,” Galahad told me. According to Galahad, Weiss didn’t hold any formal leadership role in this effort; instead, “Gus did his work through his own contacts. He was a White House guy. He could get people to pay attention to his ideas. He had friends in the computer business. He had Casey’s ear.”
Galahad told me that Weiss zeroed in on the Soviet industrial sector; he wanted to gut punch the Soviet economy. Galahad recalled that Weiss was friendly with the analysts in the CIA’s Office of Soviet Research. “Let’s say the Italians were building a tractor factory for the Russians in the Ukraine—the guys in OSR would have had access to those blueprints. Gus shared his ideas and recommendations based on that intelligence to his friends at the DoD.”
Meanwhile, the government worked with private sector software companies to create doctored industrial products. They were then made available to the patent clerks and engineers in American technology and arms companies who’d been recruited by the KGB.
High up on the Soviet tech shopping list was software to regulate the pressure gauges and valves for the critical Siberian gas pipeline. According to Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes, the Soviets sought the software on the open market. American export controls prohibited its sale from the US. However, a small industrial software company located in Calgary called Cov-Can produced what the Soviets wanted. As Weiner writes, “The Soviets sent a Line X officer to steal the software. The CIA and the Canadians conspired to let them have it.”
The faulty software “weaved” its way through Soviet quality control. The pipeline software ran swimmingly for months, but then pressure in the pipeline gradually mounted. And one day—the date remains unclear, though most put it in June 1982—the software went haywire, the pressure soaring out of control. The pipeline ruptured, igniting a blast in the wilds of Siberia so massive that, according to Thomas C. Reed’s At the Abyss, “at the White House, we received warning from our infrared satellites of some bizarre event out in the middle of Soviet nowhere. NORAD feared a missile liftoff from a place where no rockets were known to be based. Or perhaps it was the detonation of a nuclear device. The Air Force chief of intelligence rated it at three kilotons.”
I wonder if Presidents Putin and Trump discussed this history during any of their recent unrecorded conversations?
Welcome to 2020, the year when the GOP says the quiet things out loud. In the middle of a pandemic, the Environmental Protection Agency has given every polluter who wants one a get-out-of-jail-free card:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.
The move comes amid an influx of requests from businesses for a relaxation of regulations as they face layoffs, personnel restrictions and other problems related to the coronavirus outbreak.
Issued by the E.P.A.’s top compliance official, Susan P. Bodine, the policy sets new guidelines for companies to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the outbreak and says that the agency will not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements.
Companies are normally required to report when their factories discharge certain levels of pollution into the air or water.
“In general, the E.P.A. does not expect to seek penalties for violations of routine compliance monitoring, integrity testing, sampling, laboratory analysis, training, and reporting or certification obligations in situations where the E.P.A. agrees that Covid-19 was the cause of the noncompliance and the entity provides supporting documentation to the E.P.A. upon request,” the order states.
Cynthia Giles, who headed the E.P.A. enforcement division during the Obama administration, said: “This is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules. It is so far beyond any reasonable response I am just stunned.”
How long before some asshole kills an entire river "because of Covid-19?" How long before a working-class neighborhood sees a spike in respiratory illness "because of Covid-19?" They don't even try to hide their corporatist ideology anymore.
Meanwhile, in the president's fact-free world, his supporters think epidemiology is a hoax. I mean. What the ever-loving fuck.
Because of Chicago's weather yesterday (14°C and sunny), a ton of Gen Z kids broke quarantine and headed to the lakefront. This has now had entirely predictable consequences:
Multiple aldermen along and near Chicago's lakefront have confirmed the closure of the trail along Lake Michigan, less than 24 hours after Mayor Lori Lightfoot threatened closure because of a lack of social distancing among trail and park users. Aldermen say the downtown Riverwalk and the 606 Trail are closed, as well.
Ald. James Cappleman, whose 46th ward borders Osterman's, confirmed the closures include the lakefront trail, all adjoining parks, play lots and field houses—which were already closed by the park district—as well as the 606 Trail and the Riverwalk. Ald. Sophia King, 4th, also says the Riverwalk and 606 are shut down.
Cappleman said the department of Public Health and the Chicago Police Department were in agreement about the necessity of the closure.
Remember: the stupid kids who think they're immortal aren't Millennials anymore. The Millennials are staying home with their own kids (Generation C?) and yelling at their own parents not to go out.
In other news, Andy Borowitz had one of his best-ever headlines this morning: "New Evidence Indicates Intelligence Not Contagious:"
In a controlled experiment documented by the study, a seventy-nine-year-old man with intelligence was placed in close proximity to a seventy-three-year-old man without it for a period of several weeks to see if even a trace of his knowledge and expertise could be transmitted.
After weeks of near-constant exposure, however, the seventy-three-year-old man appeared “a hundred per cent asymptomatic” of intelligence, the researchers found.
The researchers, however, left open the possibility that intelligence might be transmissible to other people, just not to the seventy-three-year-old who was the subject of the experiment.
Yes, there was.
That seems like a reasonable conclusion based on recent statements from conservative broadcasters:
At the heart of their campaign is a skepticism over the advice offered by experts and a willingness to accept a certain number of deaths to incur fewer economic costs.
Many also see in the mass shutdowns and shelter-in-place policies a plot to push the country to the left.
[Glenn] Beck, for example, suggested Democrats were trying to “jam down the Green New Deal because we’re at home panicked.” Heather Mac Donald, a conservative thinker and Thomas W. Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute, sees the restrictions as “a warm-up for their wish-list of sweeping economic interventions.”
A less common line of argument that has also been picked up by Trump comes from the religious conservative camp, a sure sign that the debate about public health and the economy has also become part of the nation’s long-running culture wars.
Reno, in an article entitled “Say No to Death’s Dominion,” called the widespread shutdowns of nursing homes and churches the result of a “perverse, even demonic atmosphere” that was preventing people from practicing their faith. The closures, he argued, were evidence of Satan preying on the fear of death.
The Independent UK takes a stab at understanding why:
The reason for the president’s rapid about turn may be no more simple than people may guess.
Covid-19 has not become any less deadly, or infectious.
Rather, as Axios reported earlier in the day, the president has grown tired with the advice of health officials whose recommendations will likely result in financial meltdown. That is not something he wants to have on his back as he campaigns for re-election.
Exactly. It's all about Trump. As long as "the economy"—i.e., equity markets and the immense stores of wealth they represent—keeps ticking along nicely, everything is fine, even if a few people in big cities have to suffocate on their own blood because the president has refused to send ventilators.
At least the president can't order states to end quarantines, according to University of Texas Law School Associate Dean Bobby Chesney. But he can encourage such things, and many parts of the country will listen.
Today is the 103rd birthday of Chicago's bus system:
The City of Chicago had granted a transit franchise to the Chicago Surface Lines company. But the boulevards and parks were controlled by another government entity, the Chicago Park District. In 1916 the new Chicago Motor Bus Company was awarded a franchise by the Park District. Now, on March 25, 1917, their new vehicles were ready to roll.
Mayor William Hale Thompson and a collection of dignitaries boarded the bus at Sheridan and Devon. The ceremonial trip moved off over the regular route, down Sheridan to Lincoln Park, through the park and over various streets, until reaching its south terminal at Adams and State. Then, while the invited guests were brought back to the Edgewater Beach Hotel for a luncheon, revenue service began.
And it only took 62 years for "Weird" Al Yankovic to make his immortal contribution to public transit lore.
Jason Rezaian spent 544 days in solitary confinement inside an Iranian prison. He has some advice on how to survive social isolation:
1. Don’t spend all your time online.
You thought you spent a lot of time on the Internet before? That was nothing. And if you’re active on social media, as many of us are, it’s going to be hard to step off that merry-go-round.
2. Read books
After I was released from solitary confinement after 49 days, I was allowed some small privileges. The one that I quickly realized was the most indispensable was access to books. Reading was a wonderful mental escape from my grim surroundings. It also connected me to the outside world.
No matter how small your living space is, though, you probably have enough room to walk. If possible, take the stairs. That’s what I’m doing. All three flights of them, many times a day.
And with that, I'm going to get my 250 steps for the hour.
The governor ordered everyone to stay at home only a few days ago, and yet it seems like much longer. I started working from home three weeks ago, initially because my entire team were traveling, and then for safety. My company turned off all our badges yesterday so I couldn't go back even if I wanted to. And I find myself planning meals a week out because I find it nearly impossible to cook small amounts of food. (Sample entries: Monday dinner, shrimp in garlic, butter, and wine sauce with wild rice; Tuesday lunch, leftover grilled chicken with wild rice. The shrimp were delicious, by the way.)
It doesn't help that the President and Senate Republicans are trying to turn this whole thing into a corporate giveaway. Some other lowlights:
But in one bit of good news, China announced an end to the two-month lockdown of Hubei province a few hours from now. Could we also start getting back to normal mid-May?
And finally, enjoy some scampi:
There's enough going on in COVID-19 news today that I will have a regular post on the subject later on. But why don't we start the day with yesterday's National Puppy Day photos in The Atlantic? Would that be good?
Just a few minutes ago, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping restrictions on assembly and movement similar to those currently in effect in Illinois and some other parts of the US:
To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.
So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.
Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.
From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.
Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.
That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
- shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
- any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
- travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.
You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No.
You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.
You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.
The key difference between Illinois and the UK: Johnson explicitly gave police the power to levy fines and disperse gatherings. Also, Johnson announced that people who can't work because of the restrictions will get government support, and 7,500 retired doctors and nurses have rejoined NHS to help.
Also today, author John Scalzi posted some advice to creatives on his blog.
The New York Times' chief classical music critic, Anthony Tomassini, gives credit to the person who was Germany's greatest composer, until Bach:
[B]orn in 1585, exactly 100 years before Bach, he is considered the greatest German composer of the 17th century. I hardly knew his music, however, and neither does much of the concert-going public today.
One day, that professor put on a recording of Schütz’s “Die Sieben Worte Jesu am Kreuz,” a setting of Jesus’s final words from the cross, framed by two stanzas of a hymn text. From the start of the poignant Introitus to this austerely beautiful piece, I was hooked.
What grabbed me was the importance Schütz gave to making the German text clear. In faithfully rendering the clipped rhythms and natural cadences of the language, the music taps into the deeper meaning of the words. Schütz drives home the emotions through deliberate repetitions of overlapping phrases. As a devotee of musical theater, I was struck by how Schütz seemed to anticipate the word-setting techniques of Broadway songsmiths.
Later in life, Schütz — who died in 1672, at 87 years old — composed three passions that anticipated those of Bach. These works are affectingly austere. The elegant, supple, quasi-melodious recitatives for the Evangelist and Jesus are unaccompanied; the lucid choral writing is dramatic, but understated. The tenor Peter Schreier, who died last year, recorded all three of the Evangelist roles with the Dresdner Kreuzchor choir, singing with radiant sound and aching sensitivity. I especially love the “St. Matthew Passion.”
I don’t think Bach would mind if, now and then, a performance of his own “St. Matthew Passion” were replaced with Schütz’s. I’d be there.
If you find yourself with extra time on your hands, check out some of Schütz’s works.