Friday, 17 August 2018

there in a cockatrice?

Another nearby pub that I hadn't previously visited. One of those deceptive ones, with a small entrance through an archway and then a long building on both sides of a narrow paved area.

The bar area somehow reminded me of a galleon. Narrow corridors with wooden sides. Angles and hidden areas. Not surprising as the original structure dates from around 1420.

A one-time deadly well once took part of the site and around in 1649 there were rumours that a cockatrice lived at the bottom.

By 1832 the area was beset with cholera, and a few years later the pub was in cash-for-votes corrupt elections.

I had to find our group, who said they were in a back room. I hunted around and despite getting to know the layout of both sides of the paving, I eventually had to admit defeat.

A quick phone call later and I discovered that the back room was actually outdoors in a twinkly corner of the garden.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

field notes around #topsham

The combine harvester paid another visit to the field opposite. A seriously high-tech device - the CLAAS Lexion 770.

It has tracks at the front which somehow provide stability from a narrow platform, considering the width of the spinning orange vario header which is used to cut the hay. It's also got some fancy telematics so that the exact paths it takes around the field can be tracked back at base.

When they sowed the field we saw all the rabbits running to the edge. This time (for the second cut) I guess the rabbits read the memo.
I'll have to see how my hay fever handles the next couple of days, although so far so good.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

targeting, but not a market

Now that the so-called president is using his powers to settle personal scores, we can expect to see ever more people on his hit list.

After John Brennan's security clearance revocation which bypassed the chain of command completely, there's a long list of others to follow. The targets are Trump critics as he removes the separation between political and national security powers.

Peter Strzok and James Comey are obvious hits, although they could easily be bundled within a larger list. Trump's game isn't just to shut these people down, he also wants to stop any investigations which could damage him.

Manafort's trial could lead a challenge, although omissions from witnesses though sweetheart 'get out of jail' deals may create a chink in the prosecution case. The Fifth Amendment means that witnesses can trade silence for non self-incrimination.

But Trump won't be put off from his path to destroy anyone who he doesn't get along with.

"Fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok is a fraud, as is the rigged investigation he started," the president lambasts. "There was no Collusion or Obstruction with Russia, and everybody, including the Democrats, know it. The only Collusion and Obstruction was by Crooked Hillary, the Democrats and the DNC!"

It's not a subtle approach. A broken record with embedded hate chants suitable for use at his rallies.

Bruce Ohr might be the next to get fired. An easy target with Fusion ink on his (and his wife's) hands.

But all of this is lining up towards another target. It has to be stopping Mueller, perhaps via Jeff Sessions. Or to find another way to bypass the hierarchy. On Tuesday Trump again blamed Sessions, labelling him as not a 'real' attorney general. That's after Saturday, when the president accused Sessions of being 'scared stiff' and 'missing in action.' He's trying to get his own puppet in place instead.

And perhaps he is saving his more dogged insults for later, whilst routinely dishing them to others.

Meanwhile, the so-called president's administration continues to create its own truth. Last week Ms Sanders wrongly told a media briefing that Mr Obama created 195,000 jobs for black workers which was much less than the 700,000 in Mr Trump’s first 18 months. Grossly inaccurate.

About three million more African-Americans were in work by the end of the Obama's second term, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. Equivalent recent stats for Trump's regime show a rise in black unemployment from 6.7% to 7.7%.

None of it matters to many of the voters. They'll pick a baseball cap and ignore the rest. Or just rely upon others to make the decisions.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Chèvres en équilibre (retour)

Sometimes, after a complicated blog post, it's good to have a simple one.

Aficionados will know that the full version is on YouTube.

Monday, 13 August 2018

one too many diagrams and a thousand lies behind?

A curious facet of the upcoming US elections is that quite a few voters need to re-register before they can take part. Simple enough if you're a householder with a passport or similar i.d.

Less so for a student, whose student i.d. would be insufficient and might need to find something like a gun-owner licence to be able to register. Last time the mid-term turn-out was around 37%. Perhaps this time a Russian presence in some key areas might tip the numbers upwards a little?

I've been working out the Russian leverage. It has to be money. Sleaze won't cut it for the so-called President. Power might, but Putin doesn't play that game.

It'll be about the US sanctions against Russia and the leverage will be the loans and business model offered to Trump's companies. The 2016 Trump Tower 'adoption' talks were really about sanctions removal, as well as possible dirt-dishing.

Drawing a diagram doesn't really work. It's too complicated. That's the accidental brilliance of cutting everything into 140 character bursts.

Instead, let's look at a few events.

In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.”

Where that money comes from exactly could be a moot point. How it gets cleansed as part of the process could be another interesting discussion.

A quick example of funding comes from a Putin controlled bank which helped out Toronto Tower. The Russian-Canadian developer of the project sold a Ukrainian steel mill and received $850 million. A Ukrainian industrial group bought the mill through five offshore companies, funded with money from Russia’s state-owned Putin-chaired bank (VEB). The developer thereafter put $15 million into Trump Toronto.

Then there's the May 2017 story of a reporter Dodson asking Donald Trump, "'What are you using to pay for these (golf) courses?' And he just sort of tossed off that he had access to $100 million... So when I got in the cart with Eric, as we were setting off, I said, 'Eric, who's funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, ... have touched a golf course?~' Eric said, 'Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.' I said, 'Really?' And he said, 'Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they're really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.' Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting."

But oh, then Eric denies it all two days later.

However, Trump in Moscow: “The Russian market is attracted to me,” he tells Real Estate Weekly, describing his Moscow meetings. “I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”

As for the organisation of it all. A quick example is the link to the Bayrock Group. Founded in 2001 by Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official from Kazakhstan. Arif hired Russian businessman Felix Sater as MD then COO of Bayrock. As COO, Sater assisted with several projects, including the Trump SoHo project. But Sater left Bayrock in 2008 after a New York Times article revealed that in 1998, Sater had pled guilty to stock racketeering and fraud as part of a US and Russian mafia-connected $40 million stock pump and dump scheme.

Answering deposition questions in a case involving a Fort Lauderdale project, Trump says he had only "limited involvement" with Bayrock Group, which was a Trump tenant. Trump testifies that he spoke with Felix Sater “for a period of time” when he was an executive with Bayrock.

Now here's the thing. Allegedly, after leaving Bayrock, Felix Sater becomes "senior adviser to Donald Trump," according to his Trump Organization business card. He also had a Trump Organization email address and office. The phone number listed on the card had belonged previously to a lawyer in Trump’s general counsel’s office.

But then after a BBC reporter questions Trump about Felix Sater’s alleged prior connections to organized crime, Trump ended the interview.

Fast forward to this year. The White House were forced to correct the Putin/Trump Helsinki meeting transcript. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported that the White House had deliberately omitted key language from the official transcript of Vladimir Putin’s answer to a question from Reuters reporter Jeff Mason. Eventually the White House revises the transcript to include the missing question and answer:

“Q: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

“PRESIDENT PUTIN: (As interpreted.) Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.”

Vladimir Putin also told Russian diplomats that he proposed a “Peace Plan” to Trump in Helsinki. According to Bloomberg, Putin’s proposal calls “for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status,” including eastern Ukraine. Some eighteen months earlier – in January 2017 – Michael Cohen had met with Felix Sater and Andrey Artemenko to provide a proposed ‘Peace Plan’ that Cohen said he would deliver to then national security adviser Michael Flynn. The Sater-Artemenko plan reportedly provided that Ukrainian voters would decide in a referendum whether Crimea would be leased to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years and, eventually, to lift US sanctions against Russia.

Okay, a slightly simpler diagram:

Still, a lot of information. Let's net it down.
  • Trump's organisation brags that it gets lots of money from Russia.
  • It's hard to tell where it all came from or how clean it is.
  • Much seems to flow from the demise of the Soviet Union, when the Russian 'wild east' opened shop.
  • There's an intertwining of tarnished advisors in the mix too. Felix Sater and Paul Manafort have some challenged back-stories.
  • An as yet unexercised 'Peace Plan' is hatched to give new Russia and Putin tactical gains as well as better access to the global economy.
  • As for the leverage: "Do our bidding or we'll call in all the loaned money and fire off some of the kompromat."
Time will tell.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

one less visit to the shops

Sometimes it all goes wrong. I bought some jeans, got them home and discovered they still had a security tag on them.

A grey tag on grey jeans. You'd think they'd make the tags bright yellow or orange? I could have gone back to the store, but I wondered if there was a simpler solution.

The innards of the non-ink tags are basically magnetic ball bearings which lock against a sprung collar. I thought I'd just need a big magnet to un-ping it.

So I looked behind my guitar amp and there was a big Celestion speaker with some kind of neodymium magnet thingy. I tried a few brisk taps (I don't recommend this etc.), and astonishingly the tag was freed.

The other way, so I'm told, is to use a hammer directly onto the bit that holds the ball bearings. Also not recommended, although I have a strong feeling it would work.

Friday, 10 August 2018

design faults and a book

It all went a bit pear-shaped when I was checking out the language class options for next time around. I was drawn into another topic area entirely, related to my artists' writing sessions which ended early in 2018.

For the rest of 2018, I've decided to join a creative writing session at another nearby pub. My design fault was to attempt to add some sort of book reviewing meetup. It all went wrong, of course. The planned book review sessions were at the same time as the creative writing.

No worries, I thought, I'll find a different reviewer session.

That I did.

I found the replacement group on Wednesday, enrolled and then discovered that its next session was Thursday, the very next day. They were to review a book by Will Self. I could have skipped the session, but that's not the way to do it.

I'll happily listen to Will Self prognosticating, often from Radio 4 or in a Guardian-style lecture. I've read one of his shorter writings, 'The design faults of the Volvo 760', which is about motor car and lifestyle faults. I'd originally read it as part of one of those Penguin binge-boxes, where it was amongst 70 individually bound short stories.

I downloaded the selected book to review from Kindle.

The Book of Dave.

Not 30 pages, this one, oh no, 500 pages plus a glossary. Kindle estimated 9h30 to read it. I knew I wouldn't do it justice in my available time before the next evening's session at the pub.

That was even before I started it.

Self had decided to invent a new post apocalyptic language to write in for about half of the book. The first chapter starts as a cross between an extended mockney and text-speak. The story is partly about religion, filtered through the mind of a raging and mad misogynistic London taxi-driver. After being dumped by his wife, he writes a rant, has it printed on metal pages which he then buries it in a garden.

This rant, Dave's rules, are discovered after a great dystopian flood and with the mixed terminology of cockney, taxi driving, The Knowledge and SMS-texting become the basis of a new governance and religion.

The storyline is split into various threads, with the future set some 527 years After Dave, during which a small remaining island of what was once Hampstead (Ham) goes about its Moto (part-sentient animal) farming business, somewhat to the sarf uv Nú Lundun. Many scenes are framed through Dave's mind which boils with an intense anger, whether through his presence, or through the effect of his inadvertent messages to the future.

I could go on with the story, which I assembled by reading 2-3 pages every 20 or so, such that I'd have a general idea of the book, its style and general messaging, ahead of our get together.

As luck would have it, I was not alone in finding this book difficult to read. There were around a dozen of us around the raucous table in the pub. Two had finished the book legitimately. A couple more had managed around a third. I felt like I'd managed to be up there with the 'most read' despite my (disclosed) unconventional approach.

Will Self may have created a Dävinanity and plenty of clever word play, but the voice of his character is so unremittingly shouty and bleak (a rude man, that Dave Rudman), that it is hard to see how the religion would form around it.

But I suppose that is one of Self's points.

He opens the book with a quote from Edward Thomas: I like to think how easily Nature will absorb London as she absorbed the mastodon, setting her spiders to spin the winding sheet and her worms to fill in the graves, and her grass to cover it pitifully up, adding flowers – as an unknown hand added them to the grave of Nero.

Then much later he applies the other bookend with a rail about religion: After all, the Church had murdered itself, as with every decade more and more depressed dubiousness crept into its synods and convocations, until, speaking in tongues, it beat its own skull in at the back of the vestry. Divorcees and devil-worshippers, schismatics, sodomites and self-murderers – they were all the same for the impotent figures who stood in the pulpit and peered down at pitiful congregations, their numbers winnowed out by satellite television and interest-free credit.

There's no doubt that Self can write, nor that he can think; he writes about London well and with humour. There's the little section about the huge hotels on the A4 - so large they could check in the other smaller hotels, or the section about Edgeware Road and the plate glass windows of Maroush... Arabs supping fruit juices and smoking shishas. I can't help thinking that as a single novel this may need to be read in small instalments and not as I attempted.

Someone asked me: Will I go back and fill in the 20 page gaps? Probably not, it's work on me is done.

And meanwhile, our noisy but otherworld vocabulary weary group of a dozen and a floppy dog veered away from Will Self and onto other matters.

Thursday, 9 August 2018


Last academic year's language classes finished and I wondered how to prevent my new experiences fading away ahead of next term. To avoid a castle in the air, I'd already joined a conversation group, and even arranged a couple of meetings.

(see the lengths I'll use to get a picture of the lovely Burg Hohenzollern into the blogpost?)

The organiser arranged for me to be a co-organiser but then contacted me to say thanks for helping and to ask if I'd mind running the group. A classic pro-active dilemma. I've said yes, although it's a bit of a stretch of my language capabilities dealing with the inevitable emails which arrive and require me to reply in the language.

It's been an interesting test. I can bat away English emails in seconds, often with a short and informal reply. Another language requires more care. I might accidentally say something slightly unintended.

Separate from that group another one has organically formed. Some of the folk from the weekly language class decided to meet every couple of weeks at a local pub for some conversation.

I'm in with that too, so hopefully the added chatter will help. And on Sunday I'm co-ordinating my third meeting of the other group, this time at a wider Language Café session.

Next, maybe I'll need to plan a short trip.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

points create surprises

I'm in some of those frequent traveller programmes for hotel chains and airlines. My Stocard App holds all the details. They used to be called loyalty schemes, but I can understand why that term is being phased out. Things they don't always tell you are the ways the points melt away if not used.

I recently lost 20,000 points on one system because I hadn't stayed somewhere in their last allocated time period.

Then, when we recently travelled to Canada, the lovely hotel chain we were using changed its system whilst we were there. They cancelled their own club and we became a new number in another multi-brand system. It turned out I was already a member, although I was given a new number. Whether I will ever reclaim/relink the points together is an ongoing question.

And then to a 2019 flight I've recently booked. I logged onto the airline loyalty system and sought the best value flight. Let's say it was priced at 1850. Before I booked it, it was suggested that I see what exactly the same flight would cost to a non-member of the points scheme.

A different computer, the same airline quote site and curiously enough, it was 1724. Around 125 less.


So then I logged back into my points, from within that second quote. Still at 1724. Now to add some points to the fare to bring it down further. Another 500 less. 1224. A better result.

Maybe this is what is known as dynamic pricing and flexible ticketing?

These convoluted processes are not really adding to loyalty, however.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

not with a bark, but a dog-whistle

When a dog barks to get attention, it could be a lighthearted 'wuff' or altogether more noticeable full throated and sustained utterances.

Someone responsible for the dog has to determine whether the effect is endearing or sometimes requires discipline.

Just as important is the reason for the bark. An imminent danger maybe? or just making a noise? It doesn't matter how cute the dog looks, an owner still needs to be able to handle the situation.

So when an amoral politician uses dog technique to gain attention, there's a similar question.

A blatant use of viral populism to scrabble into the news needs a firm leader to say 'No'.

But this scruffy haired dog can't even be kept on a short leash. Its day has passed.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

occasion at Lympstone

A visit to chef Michael Caines excellent Lympstone Manor, a short way along the River Exe.

A tasteful and modern restoration to the interior of this Georgian manor house, now with 21 rooms and a singularly excellent restaurant. A simple menu with highly tempting and original options.

We sat outside whilst choosing, enjoying the sunshine view of boats on the River Exe. A couple of trains meandered (our side) and snaked (the Dawlish side) along the river.

Time to eat and we were escorted inside and presented with canapés demonstrating the chef's taste blending skills. Now I don't usually take pictures of food, but I'd think it impossible to take a bad picture of anything served in this Michelin starred restaurant. These initial morsels served to show the treat ahead, so here's my iPhone snap.

That fancy looking spoon is about teaspoon-sized, to get an idea of this taste-packed initial item.

Some lovely wine and after a suitable pause the first course arrived. I won't go through a blow-by-blow account, instead I'll show a picture of another wonderful course delightfully presented. Proper 'Occasion dining'.

After lunch we explored some of the grounds. There's a fledgling vineyard, in an area close to the already established Pebblebed vineyards, so in a couple more years we should be able to get interesting choices from the sunny slopes around this part of Devon.

Now, when's the next special occasion?

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

when a kingdom stands on brittle glass

As Trump tries to shut down the Mueller investigation, my thoughts flittered briefly to Shakespeare.

Depending on how it's measured, Richard III, is broadly considered to be one of his top three villains. Shakespeare's Richard scores around 11 on something called the Dr Stone scale. It's a continuum describing psycho killers, from 1-lowest to 22-highest. His score could have been higher, but he usually enacted his power-mad bloody deeds through the actions of others.

Richard had deaths from warfare on his hands, but also an excess of murder and executions. First as the Duke of Gloucester before deviously grasping the throne, his deceits and cold-blooded elimination of those in his way gave Shakespeare plenty of material. Richard repeatedly schemes to capture the crown, and in the play we hear his inner thoughts expressed, often cruelly, in monologues.

Richard is portrayed as a supremely confident manipulator. Rick the Trick rather than Don the Con. A first example is his seduction of Lady Anne after being the instrument of her husband’s death. For Richard it is the first of many vile acts, including ordering the murders of his brother George, Duke of Clarence and his two young nephews who stand between him and the crown.

As well as his hunched back and withered arm, Richard had an unbalanced demeanour. He could act as a weasel when useful and unpredictably forceful when necessary. Shakespeare wrote him to reveal his chilling innermost thoughts directly to the audience.

Set in the late 1400s and written in 1590, there's ne'er a tweet in sight, although the type of actions and motivations still ring true today. My movie still above shows Ian McKellen as Richard III, but reimagined in a 1930s fascist Britain.

That's why I've used the Stone scale in a slightly different way. The Stone numbers around 10-12 are all about someone removing people who are 'in the way'.

10 is removal of witnesses, 11 is removal of family members, 12 is striking out when cornered, 13 invokes uncontrollable rage.

See where this is heading? But if we are to believe the Stone scale, we are still only half way along the continuum.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

i finally finish watching 'The Americans'

I've just finished watching The Americans on Amazon. It's been a six series box set almost impossible to have watched in real time because of all its weird scheduling.

Slightly based on a real situation, Russia sends spies to the USA to become part of the American fabric. Known by the FBI as illegals, the series centres on a couple living in suburban Falls Church, just a few miles along the I-66 from Washington D.C. A KGB Fred and Wilma next door to an FBI Barney and Betty.

Add family members, Russian agent controllers, an FBI office and the Russian Residence in Washington, and there's a great recipe for a series.

The two Russians (Philip and Elizabeth) are mostly American in their behaviour, except when on their espionage missions. There's plenty of breakfast table scenes, working at the office and so on. Then, unlike this publicity shot, they don elaborate disguises and do everything from surveillance to assassination. No-one they interact with ever notices their sometimes dodgy looks and that thing about 'the wig enters the room three seconds before the person' doesn't seem to apply.

Their teenager-ish kids don't ever spot anything untoward, even with the late night working frequently required by one or both parents.

Set in the 1980s through to around the start of the 1990s, the period seemed almost older. No smartphones, clunky old cars, cassette and diskette operated computers, distressingly jagged nightmare-inducing geometric wallpaper. The era worked well to support old-school spy-craft, with buzzy walkie talkies and chalk marks on post boxes. Oh yes, and crazy walls full of paper.

There were some colour palates at play too. Moscow was often shot in a bluer hue, Washington got greys and some of the house interiors were almost 1970s browns. The soundscape buzzed and clicked. Air conditioners, car engines ticking as they cooled, city hubbub, tumble dryers, diskette head seeks, only the black screens were properly quiet.

The making of the series between 2013 and 2018 overlaps recent events in the USA, with the series featuring Cold War prevalence and various players with sharp personal memories of World War Two and the Vietnam war. The Russian central control frequently reference famines, sickness and the huge USSR death toll from World War Two. By the end of the series we're around the time of perestroika and arms limitations. As 21st Century USA gets ready to spend huge new money on military and borders, there's a worrying parallel with the earlier situations in the series.

I never really found the main protagonists likeable. They were watchable with their unplugged backstory. Understandable because they had been wrenched from Russia to suddenly become Americans. We could then see their acceptance of American lifestyle and its choices and surpluses. A contrast sharpened through another character, who was exfiltrated from the USA to go to live in an empty shelved Moscow. A distancing from what was becoming a changing Russia too. Philip and Elizabeth had memories of how it was, but not what it was becoming.

There's also a coiled spring ruthlessness in these two main characters. They both kill reflexively and in the case of Elizabeth, in later scenes we see her mantling over bodies like some bird of prey.

There's various ways that this kind of show can end. The last couple of series set up questions about life in Russia and USA, through character discussions. Then we have some all-important show-downs and some clever directing. The sort of scenes that could go in a number of directions.

I won't dwell on the actual ending. It's in an episode called START, which could itself signify an intriguing character's reboot, or maybe George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev signing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Monday, 30 July 2018

my latest thriller reading is a government report

That Facebook. Up it pops again in that MP Damian Collins Commons Select Committee report. It could be a best-seller.

Yet, after all the news a few days ago about Facebook's share valuation dropping by around $120 billion, I can't help but notice their overall share price is still only back to May 2018 levels. A case of the eyeballs have it.

Facebook is certainly the 'Eff' in FAAANG, so that so-called US President should be aware of the difference just those few companies make to the US outlook.

That's in more ways than one.

I do still have a Facebook account, but very much as a placeholder. I won't be seduced by the recent electronic adverts on bus shelters saying how cuddly Facebook has become.

Damian Collins committee's "Disinformation and ‘fake news’: Interim Report" [click to download a PDF of the report], shows how interwoven the likes of Facebook and other social media are in the spreading of disinformation.

The interim report's conclusions include that:
  • 9 Electoral law in this country is not fit for purpose for the digital age, and needs to be amended to reflect new technologies.
  • 41. In November 2017, the Prime Minister accused Russia of meddling in elections and planting 'fake news' in an attempt to 'weaponise information' and sow discord in the West. It is clear from comments made by the then Secretary of State in evidence to us that he shares her concerns. However, there is a disconnect between the Government’s expressed concerns about foreign interference in elections, and tech companies intractability in recognising the issue.
Those two items alone illustrate how a perverse agency could tip scales in a democratic process. Throw in some blah-blah Black Cube/Crimson Hexagon hacking, citizen-by-investement schemes and a bunch of botnets and you've got the makings of a good thriller novel - or - somewhat improbably, a fascinating UK Government Report.

Weaponising information isn't exactly a new idea, but the scale and reach of its effects over the last few years create a significant inconvenience for the UK to ponder.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

would that it were so simple

There's still a storm of Trumpian fragments scattered through the news. Trump uses new noise to divert attention from whatever issue is hardening into a viewpoint. I decided to take a look at a sequence of possible inferences, stripped of all the side debates.
  1. Allegedly, Trump’s been cultivated for more than 20 years by the Russians.
  2. The cultivation was part of the long-term Kryuchkov initiative to seed more helpful ‘plants' in developed economies.
  3. Russian ambassador to US Yuri Dubinin appealed to Trump's ego so he didn’t realise he was becoming an 'object of deep study'.
  4. Trump’s ideas like 'spend more on defence and spend less on defending others' date right back to 1987. He even published a newspaper advert about it.
  5. Perhaps Russian work to gain kompromat about Trump started in 1987, when he was first involved with real-estate ideas about a Trump Tower opposite the Kremlin.
  6. At this time Putin was a KGB officer in the first directorate, running recruitment and kompromat operations in Dresden.
  7. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapses, post communist Russia begins.
  8. Between 1991 and 2009, Trump plays with the U.S. Chapter 11 company bankruptcy laws, to trim his over-leveraged debt and avoid tax.
  9. Trump needs more money so licensing deals and apartments for cash augment his casino businesses. It would be inappropriate to call any of these schemes laundering at this stage, although plenty of shell companies seem to have sprung up.
  10. Paul Manafort's plan about the ways to advance Russia by breaking up other alliances is fed towards Putin via Oleg Deripaska.
  11. Putin understands kompromat but also that as well as what you know, it’s what the other guy thinks you may know.
  12. Trump and various family members and associates have stepped into a Russian lasso but don’t realise it.
  13. Putin maintains his style of being completely 'hands off’ regarding kompromat, disinformation and hacker based influence strategies.
  14. There’s still plenty of time to pull on the rope.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Back once again, with the ill behavior (fade and return)

To my surprise, my bike turbo setup and its related technology all still worked after its extended period without use. It restarted the exact session and recognised all the components.

Then, the next day, the bicycle monitoring computer requested a Windows 10 update. It wasn't a stroppy one where it just did it.

Instead it issued me with an ultimatum. Do it now or do it overnight. It even asked me what time, but then assiduously refused to provide any of the time prompts.

The next day I noticed a completely new wallpaper on the screen of that computer. Some sort of brownish building interior. I'll have to search around to reinstate my preferred one. Either that or something bicycle-related like a snapshot from my recent whizz around Montebello, Quebec.

Then I login to the machine and try the bicycle turbo wireless link. No longer working, of course. Unplug and replug things. Reboot everything. Still nothing.

I decide I'd rather take a bike out for a spin instead of faffing around with this time-sink activity.

Later that evening I investigate further. A quick email to someone in Nevada.

Yes, an undisclosed amendment to some of the software.

I've abandoned that way of linking things, adopted a plan B and am back in the game.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

ship of dreams? ship of fools? Plato said it first.

I've mused on the ship of fools previously, but this time I'm right back to 380 BC with Plato and the conversation between Socrates and Adeimantus.

"Imagine then a fleet or a ship in which there is a captain who is taller and stronger than any of the crew, but he is a little deaf and has a similar infirmity in sight, and his knowledge of navigation is not much better.

The sailors quarrel with one another about the steering. Every one believes they have a right to steer, though each has never learned the art of navigation. Furthermore they assert that steering cannot be taught, and are ready to cut in pieces any one who says the contrary.

These crew throng about the captain, begging and praying him to commit the helm to them. If at any time they do not prevail, with others preferred to them, they kill the others or throw them overboard.

Then, having chained the captain's senses with drink or drug, they mutiny and take possession of the ship and make free with the stores.

Those who aid them in their plot for getting the ship out of the captain's hands into their own, they compliment with the name of sailor, pilot, able seaman.

They abuse the rest, who they call good-for-nothings.

A true pilot must pay attention to the year and seasons and sky and stars and winds, if he intends to be qualified for the command of a ship.

The true pilot must and will be the steerer, whether other people like it or not - However, the possibility of this union of authority with the steerer's art has never seriously entered into their thoughts or been made part of their calling.

Now in vessels which are in a state of mutiny and by sailors who are mutineers, how will the true pilot be regarded? Will he not be called by them a prater, a star-gazer, a good-for-nothing?

Hmm. It may have been written around 2,400 years ago, but it's still a surprisingly accurate representation of current UK events. A pseudo captain. A quarrelsome crew. Some already thrown overboard. A few ready to lead a mutiny. Now even the new negotiation leader has been relegated to role of assistant.

I'm also reminded of last week's sunny adventure on the St Lawrence River when our whale-spotting boat played Dido as it re-docked. What's the line? "I will go down with this ship."

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

how it ends

I received one of those emails from Netflix. "Watch this," it said, "because you liked that..."

I'd just finished a set of episodes of something and thought I'd give this new one a try. How it ends.

Fire it up. Hmm, 1h40. Must be a long opening show or the pilot. Some sort of dystopian futures thing.

Twenty minutes in. They are just finishing the set-up about a man whose partner is to have a baby. The man has gone to visit the woman's stern militaristic father across the country.

Something happens. We get the wobbly coffee rings effect. The wobbly television effect. V-shaped formations of birds. The father and boyfriend argue before getting in a fancy sedan to go find out if the daughter/girlfriend is okay on the other side of the country.

There's no radio, television or internet. No traffic, yet few deserted cars. They drive and meet a military roadblock, which Dad uses military dad speak to get through. They find hillbillies with guns that cause confrontations. They find a native American village and team up with one of the locals. She knows how to fix the broken car. There's a long military train full of tanks and supplies that mysteriously derails leaving no-one visible.

Yes, it's a sort of road movie. Everything that happens has happened already in other movies (except one good line about helicopters).

My slight jet lag facilitated me watching it to the end, with it only dawning on me in the last minutes that this was all they'd got. It wasn't a series, just a single movie.

It had that thing that some TV shows do. The double ending. In Sopranos there's a scene at Series S6E18 (three before the end) which could have been the end of the whole show. It's around this scene, before the show runner writing for the clever end of the end kicks in.

In Breaking Bad it's a little bit earlier. In this movie it's at Movie End minus 20 seconds. They even briefly slow the frame rate. I knew it was the real end and they'd tacked another little piece on just for Hollywood.

Stars? 1. for the sweeping roads cinematography of the second unit and some of the special effects.

Monday, 23 July 2018

channel hopping

Our cable telly is provided by Virgin nowadays, so we're among the 4 million to suddenly get 10 channels replaced with a different 10. Weirdly the full set of replaced channels are anyway available on Freeview, so the whole situation is slightly odd.

I understand that it's about commercial rights and licensing payments. We probably use the Virgin system more for its 200Mb broadband, with the television channels as a useful accessory - although only the first page of the 200 channels is used most of the time.

I'm more interested in the way that the channel substitution was made, one evening and without warning. There was no explanation on the Virgin system for the next couple of days - with just the news about the 'new' Paramount Movies(?) channel.

It's that aspect of customer management that I find the most strange. I'd seen the rumours of the failed negotiation on digital spy, so it wasn't exactly news to me when it happened. Just that Virgin didn't bother to tell us - instead trying to spin the positive of the 'new' channel(s).

Do I care that I can't watch old episodes of Top Gear? Not really - why would I want to? What about ancient repeats of Have I got News for You? I've survived thus far without them.

If anything, it's made me think about whether to downgrade the TV subscription and go back to free-to-air plus the Netflix, Amazon and other subscriptions.

But wait. I don't have a roof aerial.

Friday, 20 July 2018

they lied to us (refrain)

they lied to us
I'm running out of tee shirts and had to dig out a couple of older ones. This one from 2008 is still apposite and could be repurposed easily for current times. A little lie could be that the 'no deal' crash (Br)exit is the preferred government option all along.

  • Why else put someone like David Davies in charge for so long? He only spent 4 hours in head to head with the EU and never showed any signs of a plan. We knew he was blagging it back in 2017. Some say he resigned with dignity. I accuse him of being asleep at the wheel.
  • Why else let the so called European Research Group(ERG), run by Jacob Rees-Mogg continue to target every related government paper and hack pieces off? It's not about European Research, it's about ways for a rich toff to exert influence.
  • Why else would Steve Baker leave the government to join the ERG? He knows where the bodies are buried what was happening in DexEU (Dept for Exiting EU) and most significantly knows about the work already completed on the 'crash out' option.
  • Why else would Theresa May scrabble around to produce a 12 point plan on a couple of sheets of paper right at the last minute? It's almost tRumpian.
  • Why else would the UK issue a 24 language summary of their intentions with enough translation and grammar errors to make everyone who has read them irritated and dismissive? Not forgetting it raises the wider issue around precise interpretation of individual words.
  • Why, when doing these translations, pointedly produce a full translation for Welsh (not an officially recognised EU language) but not for Irish (which is) and do this when Northern Ireland also the source of one of the key controversies?
  • Why hint at an early recess for Parliament, even if it was thrown out? Like 'job done' here's a reward.
  • Why run the lurching and shambolic process right to the recess of parliament, leaving only a few remaining weeks to get everything settled?
The populist street phrase now is 'Why don't they just get on with it?' - with no interest in the finer detail. In practice it's the ruthless beasts of the main parties trying to grasp power in the pretence that they are carrying out 'the will of the people'. Expect to get last minute situations sprung into the debate, which will give no-one time to properly respond.

Cameron, Osborne, Farage, Johnson, Gove, Davis, Rees-Mogg, Corbyn should all be very ashamed. I can't tell for May, who I have to keep in the 'hapless' column at the moment.

Oh well, it could still get worse, I suppose.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

TDS and the need for a reboot

Has the President of the United States been hacked? I can't think of any other excuse.

Look closely and his pixels don't properly align. His entire operating system is malfunctioning.

Not just at the level of previous narcissism and mendacity, but now as fundamental unconscious incompetence.

Aside from the would/n't statement, we had the follow-up where he answered 'No' to whether he thought the Russians were still targeting the US.

This too was later claimed as a misspeak.

Apparently, as explained by a White House spokesperson, he was simply saying 'no' to the idea of more questions.

It will be interesting to see how he unspools his 130 minute private conversation with Putin, although one has to assume this will be opportunist and revisionist.

He's just claimed his 'appropriately late' endorsement for Roby won her the Alabama GOP Primary.

His spinners are already generating him a new tightly scripted 'Exceptionalism' speech to attempt to reset a leadership tone. His acolytes will believe it along with any other staccato directive soundbites.

Curiously, there must be pieces of the Trump system still operating, He's actually tweeted a term to describe his own condition. He thinks it applies to others, but it's a case of one finger points forward and three point back.

Trump Derangement Syndrome. Would/n't you know?/no? System Exception. Kernel Panic. Reboot.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Suite 1742, Reine Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal

This time we're in lovely and friendly Montreal, staying in the hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their Bed-In. It was the second Bed-In actually, because their first one was at the Hilton in Amsterdam, when they had just got married. Famously that one is described in the road trip lyrics of the Ballad of John and Yoko.

Lennon and Ono protested strongly at the acts of governments appearing to do the wrong things. A lesson for today as well.

To set the scene, here's a Canadian TV description of their exploits, en route to Montreal.

And here's the original song, which was performed by the Beatles and shows the complicated route which led to the second protest about the need for peace and culminated in the second song. It's the only pop video I know that features Basingstoke and Hatch.

The song Give Peace a Chance was composed, arranged and performed in suite 1742 at the Reine Elizabeth in Montreal. Here's the 5 minutes version.

The hotel was recently remodelled and the original room has kept the spirit of the day back in 1969 when the song was performed. The promotional rate to stay in the room is a bit more that we'd pay. It's $1,969. echoing the year of the protest. We are staying in the lovely hotel, but can only glimpse the old green phone from room 1742.

The Ballad of John and Yoko

Standing in the dock at Southampton
Trying to get to Holland or France
The man in the mac said
You've got to go back
You know they didn't even give us a chance

Christ you know it ain't easy
You know how hard it can be
The way things are going
They're going to crucify me

Finally made the plane into Paris
Honeymooning down by the Seine
Peter Brown call to say
You can make it O.K.
You can get married in Gibraltar near Spain


Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton
Talking in our beds for a week
The newspapers said
Say what are you doing in bed
I said we're only trying to get us some peace


Saving up your money for a rainy day
Giving all your clothes to charity
Last night the wife said
Oh boy when you're dead
You don't take nothing with you but your soul,


Made a lightning trip to Vienna
Eating chocolate cake in a bag
The newspapers said
She's gone to his head
They look just like two gurus in drag


Caught the early plane back to London
Fifty acorns tied in a sack
The men from the press
Said we wish you success
It's good to have the both of you back


Monday, 16 July 2018

in which I encounter tic-tac-toe the humpback whale

Meet Tic-Tac-Toe - a wild humpback whale that came up to our boat today. We're back in the mist-enshrouded wilds along the St Lawrence River and had a kind of substitute Jaws moment when this huge humpback whale appeared right in from of us.

No picture from that startled and incredibly close encounter, but a few from later when the same whale reappeared ahead of us.
This particular humpback whale has a migration of about 7,000 km. They mate and calve in the warm, shallow waters of the Caribbean and Cape Verde and then return to the St Lawrence River, where this particular lady seems to thrive.
Rude to ask about weight? Maybe a guess would be a svelte 30 tons. That's a lot of krill.

Friday, 13 July 2018

i negotiate the hotel roadblock

Getting to our hotel in Québec was slightly awkward because of the extensive roadblocks. They were all because of the Festival d'été de Québec. I decided to ask a policeman how to navigate the last part of the barricades all around the hotel area. He good naturally described the route. I have a feeling he'd be doing that several thousand times in the day.

The stage closest to our hotel was the Bell stage. Before it got like the picture above, it was pretty easy to get around. Here's a soundcheck session from this afternoon.
That same stage opened properly in the evening and here's a tiny clip from this evening's excellent Lorde concert.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

a brief stay at Château Frontenac

There's no getting away from it. Our current hotel is large. It's the Château Frontenac in Québec.

Originally built with around 130 rooms, it was progressively extended until around 1920 when the whole central core was added. Another 17 floors bringing the total guest rooms to around 631. It's the main landmark in the city.

Yes, the hotel is bustling with people, Yes, we had to negotiate roadblocks to get to it, but it's a fabulously central location to explore Québec. So far every street has been interesting and quirky.

And everywhere we go seems to have a view back to the hotel.

Did I mention it was big?