Thursday, April 18, 2019

Mueller Thursday

So, here we go.

The Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 400-page report Thursday, offering a granular look at the ways in which President Trump was suspected of having obstructed justice, people familiar with the matter said.

The report — the general outlines of which the Justice Department has briefed the White House on — will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump’s intent and because some of his actions could be interpreted innocently, these people said. But it will offer a detailed blow-by-blow of the president’s alleged conduct — analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller’s inquiry, they added.

Attorney General William P. Barr plans to hold a 9:30 a.m. news conference to address “process questions” and provide an “overview of the report,” a senior Justice Department official said. The report will be delivered on discs to Capitol Hill between 11 a.m. and noon and posted on the special counsel’s website thereafter, the official said.

Thus beginneth the spinning.

Thursday’s rollout plan — and news of the White House’s advance briefing, which was first reported by ABC News and the New York Times — sparked a political firestorm Wednesday, with Democrats suggesting the attorney general was trying to improperly color Mueller’s findings before the public could read them.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference that Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump” and had “taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation.” He said after his committee had time to review the redacted report, he would ask Mueller and other members of his team to testify before Congress.

And the Republicans, who impeached Bill Clinton for lying about a blowjob from an intern, will suddenly have found that their moral compass now includes giving latitude to working with a foreign hostile power to win an election.  But hey, at least there’s room to think he didn’t mean to.  Which means the excuses you’re going to hear from Fox News and the Trumpistas is that he was too stupid to figure out that he was being played by the Russians and certain members of the campaign staff, none of whom he says he ever laid eyes on.

But you know there has to be some news in the report that casts doubt on the Trump’s motives and his actions.  Otherwise, why would the White House and their cronies be gearing up such an elaborate response effort?

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, has said he is preparing a counter-report to Mueller’s findings and in a recent interview said his document would explain from the president’s viewpoint every episode that could be considered obstructive. Giuliani and others have long feared Mueller’s findings on obstruction, viewing them as potentially more damaging than anything found on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians.

Mueller did not find a conspiracy between Russians and Trump or his campaign, Barr said in a brief letter describing the special counsel’s conclusions shared with Congress late last month.

Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s attorneys, told The Post, “We do not discuss conversations that we may or may not have had with the president.” A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to address questions about its briefings to the White House, the report’s redactions or Mueller’s findings on obstruction.

Oh, and speaking of collusion…

Trump had also apparently been briefed in advance of the planned news conference, which he revealed Wednesday during a radio appearance only to have it confirmed later by a Justice Department spokeswoman. Barr will appear alongside Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, the spokeswoman said, and he planned to take questions.

Barr has faced intense scrutiny from the public and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for his handling of Mueller’s report so far. The Thursday news conference could give him an opportunity to address his critics — and perhaps provide them fresh ammunition. It is sure to be watched closely by Trump, an avid TV viewer whose relationship with his attorney general will almost certainly be colored by Mueller’s findings and what Barr says about them.

Since when in the course of jurisprudence and legal ethics has the prosecution worked with the defendant to provide a cover and alibi for the accused?  Maybe that works in a regime where the fix is already a forgone conclusion.  Like in Russia.

Josh Marshall:

The goal here is to max out every avenue to protect the President from the contents of the Report. Bill Barr and his friends at the White House clearly do not care what anyone outside of Trump world thinks at this point. They are not even bothering to keep up appearances at the margins. A good and increasingly relevant question for Bill Barr at this point would be at what point the statutory powers of the Attorney General can amount to obstruction of justice if exercised with corrupt intent.

[…]

Every detail of this has been planned to spin the Report or maximally conceal it in the interests of protecting the President.

None of this is on the level.

Not that it was ever going to be on the level in the first place.

So, brace yourself, kids; it’s going to be a wild ride.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

ICEcapades

The widower of a soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan was deported to Mexico, then returned when the media coverage hit the fan.

Immigration officials last week deported the spouse of a U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan in 2010, leaving the couple’s 12-year-daughter in Phoenix, then abruptly reversed its decision on Monday when the deported man was allowed to return to the U.S.

Jose Gonzalez Carranza, 30, was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers last Monday on his way to his welding job and then deported to Nogales, Sonora, early Thursday morning, according to Gonzalez Carranza and his attorney, Ezequiel Hernandez.

Gonzalez Carranza was married to Army Pfc. Barbara Vieyra, who was killed on Sept. 18, 2010, while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. She was 22.

During an interview, Gonzalez Carranza told The Arizona Republic he was allowed to re-enter the U.S. through the DeConcini port of entry in Nogales, Arizona Monday afternoon.

He said he was then driven back to Phoenix where ICE officials dropped him off at the agency’s headquarters near downtown.

ICE officials offered no explanation for the decision to allow Gonzalez Carranza to return to the U.S. But Hernandez believes the reversal was triggered by media attention the deportation received.

That’s good for Mr. Gonzalez Carranza, but the deportations and family separations are still going on and not every one of them makes it on the nightly news.

Still Crazy After All These Years

Hey, remember Michele Bachmann, the batshit-crazy congress-critter from Minnesota with the look in her eyes that if you saw her on the Metro Rail you’d change cars?  Yeah, well, she’s still at it and claiming that we will never see a more godly and biblical president in our lifetime than guess-who.

Well, yeah, if by godly and biblical you mean adulterous, racist, buys-off-porn-stars creep, I think she’s on to something.  But then, she’s probably a few milligrams short on the Prozac, too.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

On The Roof Of Notre-Dame

Lauren Collins writes in The New Yorker about being on the roof of the cathedral just weeks ago.

Seeing the spire of Notre-Dame split like a pencil, you wanted, honestly, to be sick. “La flèche s’est effondrée” (“The spire has collapsed”) was how they said it—on TV, on the radio, on Twitter—in French. “La flèche” also means “arrow.” That seemed fitting: Notre-Dame’s peak was a standby of Paris wayfinding, but it also pointed to the sky, to the realm of creators and destroyers who, on a whim, could seize a city on a Monday night. To Victor Hugo, the Paris skyline was “more jagged than a shark’s jaw, upon the copper-colored sky of evening.” Now there was a smoking void. The falling arrow seemed to be pointing to some kind of reckoning, to some bigger thing than the construction accident that early reports suggested might have been at fault for the fire. The omniscient of the Internet told us not to fret, that cathedrals had been built and burned before. But Parisians watched with the supplicant helplessness of the ages, singing hymns on their knees as the firefighters battled to save the north belfry on the second day of Holy Week.

The diocese of Paris had recently begun a hundred-and-fifty-million-euro restoration, which was to have been carried out over the next ten years. The façade of the cathedral was cleaned up in 2000, but the rest of its exterior was in dire shape. Flying buttresses were giving way; erosion had blunted the pinnacles into melting candles. In some places, the limestone was so friable that you brushed a finger against it and it ran like sand through an hourglass. In others, missing elements had been replaced by plywood and PVC pipe. The spire’s lead covering was cracked, and water had damaged the wooden structure that underlaid it.

Late on Monday night, I called Olivier Baumgartner, a master technician at a company called SOCRA, which specializes in the restoration of historic monuments. Baumgartner and a colleague, Alexandre Decaillot, had spent a week working at the cathedral, removing copper statues for restoration offsite. “I’m completely nauseated,” Baumgartner told me. He added, of the effort to restore the cathedral, “In wanting to give her a second youth, we have perhaps destroyed her.”

I met Baumgartner on the roof of the cathedral in late March, when I went to see how the renovation was coming along. He and Decaillot had been at Notre-Dame for almost a week, dismantling the copper statues of the twelve disciples that the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc installed around the cathedral’s spire sometime after 1843. The men were wearing hard hats and cobalt-blue jumpsuits. Scaffolding rose around them. Decaillot was carrying the apostle Andrew’s head, which he had just separated from its base with a blowtorch. The head was heavy, so Decaillot held it upside down and face in, with its nose poking into his belly. Then he turned the head around and stuck a hand into its hollow neck, like a puppeteer. Saint Andrew had a mournful look. Streaks of verdigris ran from his eyes to his beard, giving the impression that he’d been crying for a hundred and sixty years.

Decaillot and Baumgartner had been deployed to Versailles (fixing the marble in the Hall of Mirrors) and Mont Saint-Michel (re-gilding the archangel Gabriel and putting him back on top of the church with the aid of a helicopter). Even so, they were discreetly thrilled to be spending their workdays in the gargoylesphere. From where they were standing, you could see the Eiffel Tower, Les Invalides, the mysteriously lopsided towers of Saint-Sulpice.

Fabuleux,” Baumgartner said.

C’est la chance,” Decaillot replied.

Decaillot and Baumgartner finished work on the statues on Thursday. They were looking forward to going back to Notre-Dame in a few weeks, to take down the rooster that perched on top of the spire. Tonight I realized that we may have been some of the last people to stand there. I remember seeing a pigeon that had made its nest in the flat of a gargoyle’s neck. I got up close to a clock that, I was amazed to learn, was wound every Thursday morning. The job site seemed clean and well organized—there was a shower cabin where, before descending, each worker was required to wash off toxic lead, untold quantities of which were released tonight into the atmosphere—but I was amazed at how fragile everything was, and how intimate its upkeep. The cathedral was the work of people, not machines.

Baumgartner has also been working on the renovation of the Samaritaine department store, just across the river from Notre-Dame. There, he said, private firemen patrol the job site as a preventive measure. But that would have been impossible at Notre-Dame, due to its architecture. “There’s no such thing as zero risk,” Baumgartner said.

As of late Monday evening, the western façade of the cathedral—the twin bell towers, the Portal of Judgment—appeared to have been saved. “The worst has been avoided,” the French President, Emmanuel Macron, said on the scene. For Parisians, Macron said, Notre-Dame was “the epicenter of our lives.” He vowed to rebuild and said that a national fund to do so would be launched on Tuesday.

That morning on the roof, Decaillot and Baumgartner wrapped Saint Andrew’s head in bubble wrap, sealing it with orange tape. They put it in a wooden crate where his brethren—along with four smaller sculptures depicting symbols of the Evangelists—were waiting.

The saints’ bodies were joined with their heads last week, at the artisans’ workshop in Périgueux. They are the city’s sentries, its wayposts, the bombers of a billion photos, the inhabitants of an arrondissement in the sky. They, at least, are safe.

Photo from Sipa/AP.

Quick Work

It has to be a record.

The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has opened an investigation into ethics complaints against the agency’s newly installed secretary, David Bernhardt.

Mr. Bernhardt, a former lobbyist for the oil and agribusiness industries, was confirmed by the Senate last week to head the agency, which oversees the nation’s 500 million acres of public land and vast coastal waters. He has played a central role in writing policies designed to advance President Trump’s policy of “energy dominance” and expanding fossil fuel exploration. He has been dogged by allegations of ethics violations since joining the Trump administration as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary in 2017.

He was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday, April 11 and under investigation by Monday, April 15.

Next time just to save the work, not to mention the catering bill, they should announce the replacement at the swearing-in.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Florida Man Meets Darwin

Via Buzzfeed (HT Faithful Correspondent):

A Florida man has died after being attacked by either one or two cassowary birds, which have often been called “living dinosaurs” and are considered one of the most dangerous birds in the world.

The victim, identified as 75-year-old Marvin Hajos, owned the farm where the incident occurred.

“It appears that the gentleman who was killed raised the birds and was injured after falling in a path near the Cassowary enclosure,” Jeff Taylor, the Fire Rescue Deputy Chief for Alachua County, told BuzzFeed News.

Taylor said that there were two cassowaries on the site, but it’s “unclear whether one or both birds took part in the attack.”

Hajos was taken to UF Health Shands Hospital where he later died, a spokesperson said.

“Our crews worked very hard to give the victim the best chance possible at survival,” Taylor said.

Cassowaries are large feathered birds that resemble the emu, according to the San Diego Zoo.

They can run as fast as 30 miles per hour and can grow as large as 6 feet tall.

The animal is native to tropical forests in New Guinea and can be found in Australia as well.

It possess a claw on each foot, which can grow as long as 4 inches, and can “slice open any predator or potential threat with a single swift kick.”

Lt. Brett Rhodenizer, a spokesperson for the Alachua Police, told the Gainesville Sun that “initial information indicates that this was a tragic accident for Mr. Hajos and his family.”

Rhodenizer added that the birds involved are “secured on private property at this time.”

The incident is currently being investigated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the local sheriff’s department.

Representatives for the Alachua Police Department were not immediately available for comment.

On second thought, peacocks are just annoying.

Mayor Pete Makes It Official

It’s pronounced BOOT-edge-edge.

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of this northern Indiana city who in just weeks has vaulted from being a near-unknown to a breakout star in the Democratic Party, officially started his presidential bid here on Sunday, presenting himself as a transformational figure who is well positioned to beat President Trump, despite being young and facing off against many seasoned rivals.

“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern, millennial mayor, but we live in a moment that compels us each to act,” Buttigieg said in front of thousands of supporters, jacket-free with his sleeves rolled up. “It calls for a new generation of leadership.”

Buttigieg added, “It’s time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different.”

The scene for Buttigieg’s rally was a hulking former Studebaker assembly plant, whose closure decades ago rocked this region’s economy. The site has since become a data and education hub pushed by his administration — and central to his technocratic, hopeful pitch that he is ready to help communities still struggling with the effects of globalization.

“Change is coming, ready or not,” Buttigieg told the crowd. “There is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back,” and he touted his attempts in the city to assist the workforce with training and skills programs.

Some attendees drove from around the country after being inspired by Buttigieg’s message and the historic nature of his campaign as a gay presidential candidate.

For Buttigieg, Sunday’s upbeat gathering on a dreary, snowy mid-April afternoon was an important political juncture: a reintroduction to a party that has only begun to pay attention to this mayor with a hard-to-pronounce name, but is now certainly listening closely as it searches for a standard-bearer.

It’s worth noting that within my adult lifetime, the idea of an openly gay person running for president, much less being taken seriously for doing it, has gone from Are You Kidding Me to It Could Happen.

The fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall Riots is coming up in June.  That we have come so far so fast says that human nature — and our attitudes about it — can be changed practically overnight, at least compared to how we have changed in attitudes about race and gender.

Whether or not Mayor Pete will still be in the race as a serious contender a year from now is another matter, but just the idea that he could be in the race at all is a major leap not just for the LGBTQ community but for all of us.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Reading

John Cassidy in The New Yorker argues that the indictment of Julian Assange is a threat to journalism.

Imagine that, in the summer of 2014, the Justice Department had indicted Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, charging that, in 2010, he engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Chelsea Manning, the former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, to “facilitate Manning’s acquisition and transmission of classified information related to the national defense of the United States so that WikiLeaks could publicly disseminate the information on its website.”

How do you think the editorial page of the New York Times would have reacted? (In July, 2010, the Times joined with the Guardian and Der Spiegel to publish tens of thousands of the documents that Manning provided to WikiLeaks.) What about the editorial page of the Washington Post, which published extensive stories about the leaked material? This material included video footage from 2007 of a U.S. Army Apache gunship carrying out an attack in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Iraqi civilians who were working for Reuters.

We can’t know for sure, but it seems unlikely that the Times would have published an editorial that said, “The administration has begun well by charging Mr. Assange with an indisputable crime.” It also seems unlikely that the Post would have published an editorial that said, “Mr. Assange’s case could conclude as a victory for the rule of law, not the defeat for civil liberties of which his defenders mistakenly warn.” Both of these statements were contained in editorials that the Times and the Post, respectively, published on Thursday, after Assange was arrested, in London, and Donald Trump’s Justice Department unsealed a federal indictment that federal prosecutors filed in Northern Virginia, last year.

Of course, a great deal has happened since 2014, much of it awful. During the 2016 Presidential election, Assange and WikiLeaks repeatedly published information that was damaging to the Democratic Party and to Hillary Clinton, timing the releases for maximum political damage. Assange denied that the Russian government was the source of this information, but, last summer, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, charged twelve Russian intelligence operatives with hacking D.N.C. servers and the e-mail account of John Podesta, Clinton’s campaign manager. Mueller’s indictment said that the Russian spies “used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release additional stolen documents through a website maintained by an organization (‘Organization 1’),” which was WikiLeaks.

Whether he knew it or not, Assange was a key participant in an outrageous Russian effort to sow division inside this country and help Donald Trump. It is understandable that the events of 2016 have heavily colored perceptions of Assange’s arrest and possible extradition to the United States. (“Once in the United States, moreover, he could become a useful source on how Russia orchestrated its attacks on the Clinton campaign,” the Times editorial noted.) But it is important to recognize that the legal charges against him have nothing to do with Russia or the 2016 election. They relate exclusively to his dealings with Manning, in 2010. As numerous media watchdogs and civil-rights groups have already pointed out, they amount to a dangerous attack on the freedom of the press and on efforts by whistle-blowers to alert the public of the actions of powerful institutions, including the U.S. government.

In explaining the charges against Assange, the indictment’s “manners and means of the conspiracy” section describes many actions that are clearly legitimate journalistic practices, such as using encrypted messages, cultivating sources, and encouraging those sources to provide more information. It cites a text exchange in which Manning told Assange, “after this upload, that’s all I really have got left,” and Assange replied, “Curious eyes never run dry in my experience.” If that’s part of a crime, the authorities might have to start building more jails to hold reporters.

The indictment, and some of the commentary it engendered, also makes much of the fact that Assange offered to try to crack a computer password for Manning. The Department of Justice claims that this action amounted to Assange engaging in a “hacking” conspiracy. Even some independent commentators have suggested that it went beyond the bounds of legitimate journalism—and the protections of the First Amendment.

But did it? On Thursday, my colleague Raffi Khatchadourian, who has written extensively about Assange, pointed out that, as of now, it looks like Assange didn’t do much, if anything, to crack the password once Manning sent the encrypted version. Khatchadourian also pointed out that federal prosecutors have known about this text exchange for many years, and yet the Obama Administration didn’t bring any charges. “As evidence of a conspiracy,” Khatchadourian writes, “the exchange is thin gruel.”

Even if Assange had succeeded in decoding the encryption, it wouldn’t have given Manning access to any classified information she couldn’t have accessed through her own account. “Cracking the password would have allowed Manning to log onto the computers using a username that did not belong to her,” the indictment says. “Such a measure would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.” So the goal was to protect Manning’s identity, and Assange offered to assist. But who could argue that trying to help a source conceal his or her identity isn’t something investigative journalists do on a routine basis?

Robert Mahoney, the deputy director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, described the indictment as “deeply troubling” because of the precedent it sets. “With this prosecution of Julian Assange, the U.S. government could set out broad legal arguments about journalists soliciting information or interacting with sources that could have chilling consequences for investigative reporting and the publication of information of public interest,” Mahoney warned.

The editorial in the Times did ultimately acknowledge “that the prosecution of Mr. Assange could become an assault on the First Amendment and whistle-blowers.” The Post’s editorial didn’t even go that far. Instead, it ended by saying Assange “is long overdue for personal accountability.” Many people would agree with that statement. But it is important not to view absolutely everything through the prism of 2016.

Putting The Picture Together — Marina Koren in The Atlantic on how the pieces came together to get the picture of the black hole.

The picture of a black hole, captured for the first time, shows a ring as radiant as gold against the darkness of space. At its center, the charcoal shadow of a void so powerful, nothing can escape its pull.

The dreamy photograph represents a tremendous technological achievement, assembled using eight radio telescopes in four continents—two each in Hawaii and Chile, and one each in Arizona, Mexico, Spain, and Antarctica—all synced together to scan the skies for several days in a row.

But the picture would not exist without technology much less sophisticated: computer disk drives.

The telescopes’ data had to go to two astronomy institutions to be processed, MIT’s Haystack Observatory in the United States and the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Germany. An email attachment wasn’t going to work. The observatories had collected five petabytes of data. The average iPhone has 64 gigabytes of data storage. One million gigabytes are in one petabyte. It would have taken years for the data to cross the internet.

And so the data were carried on hundreds of hard disk drives, shipped to and from the observatories through plain old FedEx. Which is kind of marvelous, when you think about it. In a world where transferring information from one end of the world to another takes only a click, some things still have to be done the old-fashioned way. Humanity owes its first glimpse of one of the most mysterious objects in the universe not to something flashy and high tech, but a technology that has been around since the late 1950s, and transportation methods far older.

And to find out how it’s done, you have to talk with Don Sousa.

Sousa is a computer-support specialist at the Haystack Observatory. He’s also the shipping guy. He handled virtually every shipment for the Event Horizon Telescope, the effort to photograph a black hole.

Sousa grew up a few towns over from Haystack and has the trademark Boston-area accent to prove it. Over decades at the observatory, he has packaged equipment, put in orders, wrangled foreign customs regulations, and filled out reams of paperwork so that all kinds of hardware, from atomic clocks to disk drives, gets where it is needed. Before disk drives became widely available, he shipped reels of magnetic tape. “It’s amazing the differences from the mid-eighties, when I started, to what we do now,” Sousa says.

For the Event Horizon Telescope, Sousa packaged the disk drives in groups of eight. (“These are off-the-shelf hard drives,” he says. “You could buy them for your own personal computer if you wanted.”) The stacks were placed inside custom cases that allowed data to be recorded on all eight drives at once. Each module—eight disks, plus their custom coating—weighed about 23 pounds. Sousa shipped them in boxes labeled fragile and lined with a two-inch layer of foam, with cutouts in the middle to snuggle the modules, like precious jewelry in an antique box.

Sousa says he uses mostly FedEx and UPS. Some routes were trickier than others. Chile and Mexico had stricter rules about what could cross their borders. Sousa had to obtain a special license from the U.S. Department of Commerce to ship a particular piece of equipment to Mexico.

The toughest destination was the South Pole Telescope in Antarctica. Without a nation to decide customs law, the continent relies on shipping agencies in Christchurch, New Zealand, which dispatch cargo ships and planes to the ice. Sousa had to coordinate with the National Science Foundation, which operates the research station where the telescope is based. Shipments had to meet very detailed specifications; Haystack had to build a wooden crate to carry the modules, because plastic containers weren’t allowed. “If it gets to Christchurch and something’s wrong, your equipment just sits there,” Sousa says.

The journey to the eight observatories was fine. It was the return trip that was worrisome. There were too much data to go through the burden of making extra copies; the disks that flew out of the stations were the only ones they had. “Going out there, they’re just blank,” says Mike Titus, the researcher who operated the supercomputer that helped synthesize all the data into a single, composite image. “Coming back, they’re precious commodities.”

I asked Titus whether the team considered asking a file-sharing service like Dropbox to build them something capable of transferring all those petabytes. “Don’t tell me that Amazon Cloud and Google Cloud, they wouldn’t love to have our data and store it for us,” Titus said, laughing. But even groundbreaking scientific teams don’t have that kind of budget. “Too much data and too much money—that’s why we don’t do it that way. Nothing beats the bandwidth of a 747 filled with hard disks.”

The return of the disks from the South Pole was particularly welcome. The shipment arrived months after all the rest thanks to the Antarctic winter, which had prevented anyone from flying in. The staff at Haystack was jubilant when FedEx arrived with a truck full of cosmic goodies from the bottom of the Earth. “It’s like they thought we were expecting penguins to jump out of the box or something,” says Nancy Wolfe Kotary, the communications officer at Haystack.

Sousa understood the concern, but he wasn’t too worried himself. “I’ve shipped to every continent,” he says, and in his 32 years on the job, he hasn’t lost one package.

Well, there was one, but it wasn’t his fault, or even the fault of any shipping company. The equipment, bound for a new research station in South Africa, cleared customs in Johannesburg and was loaded onto a truck. On the road, the truck was hijacked, and its contents stolen. “To this day, we figure it’s sitting somewhere on a coffee table as a conversation piece,” Sousa says.

Sousa plans to retire in three years and enter a new phase of his life that doesn’t require checking tracking alerts every day. He doesn’t have a background in science; before joining Haystack, he worked as a police officer for the state of Massachusetts. For him, the photo is the culmination of years’ worth of effort by astronomers and shipping experts alike. But the actual shot, he says, is pretty impressive, too.

Doonesbury — That’s Headley.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Me And My Mustangs: Fifty Years And More

Fifty years ago this weekend — April 1969 — my parents and I went over to Brondes Ford in Toledo and found a gray 1965 Mustang 2+2 with a black interior, an AM radio, and a heater.  It had the 289 V-8 with a three-speed manual transmission, no power steering, and no power brakes.  They paid $1,500 for it.  Somewhere in my box of pictures I have one of me standing next to it, but for now this stock photo of one will have to do.

1965 Ford Mustang 2+2

Thus began my fifty-year love affair with the Mustang. In truth, though, I was smitten five years before when they were introduced with great fanfare at the New York Worlds Fair on April 15, 1964.  They took the world by storm, selling over 600,000 in their first model year, and when they introduced the 2+2 in September 1964 to go with the coupe and convertible, they made an impression on this twelve-year-old car-crazy kid: I wanted one.

By April 1969 I’d had my license for all of six months and drove either my mom’s 1967 Ford Country Squire (the seed of my affection for wood-grain-sided wagons) or my dad’s 1965 Ford LTD.  But I’d been bugging my parents for my own car and by April I’d worn them down to the point that even Mom liked the idea of me with a Mustang (although I can’t remember if she ever drove it).  Ostensibly the car was to be shared with my older brother and sister, but they were away at school, so for the first few months it was my car, and when I went off to college in Miami in 1971 (and thanks to an inattentive clerk at registration who didn’t notice that as a freshman I wasn’t supposed to have a car on campus), I took it with me to Miami.

In August 1973, in a fit of stupidity, I sold the Mustang to some kid for $300 and bought an F-150 pick-up.  Meanwhile, Ford kept making changes to the Mustang, including making it bigger and, to me, less attractive, and when they brought out the Pinto-based 1974 Mustang II, the love affair, as they often do, turned to indifference and even derision.  For the next thirty years I stayed away, dallying, as it were, with other cars including a Ford Granada, a Jeep Wagoneer, a Subaru wagon, and finally settling down with the Pontiac in 1989.  But the siren call of the Mustang was still in the back of my mind.  In 2003, when my mom, who had traded her 1979 Volvo for a 1995 Mustang GT convertible, V-8 5-liter Laser Red with white leather interior, sold it to me so she could acquire a Mini Cooper (which she still drives), all was forgiven and I was back in a Mustang.  The Pontiac went into the garage for a well-earned rest after 250,000 miles.

1995 Mustang GT — August 2003 – March 2008

I happily drove it from August 2003 until one fateful afternoon in March 2008 when another driver in Coral Gables tried to test the theory that two molecules can occupy the same space at the same time by making a left turn in front of me. His theory was disproved, and the Mustang was totaled.  I drove the Pontiac for a year, and then in March 2009 I took the insurance payout and, utilizing the internet, found a 2007 Mustang convertible, Wind Veil blue with gray interior and a black top and a V-6 at Maroone Ford in Fort Lauderdale. It had 34,000 miles and a full warranty.

2007 Mustang — March 2009 – present

Ten years later, it’s still with me, 100,000 more miles on the odometer, and likely to be with me for a while.

Like all love affairs, it’s not easy to explain.  After all, it’s just a car; a machine that takes you from one place to another.  But there’s always been a connection between me and this particular brand, and even though there was a long hiatus, I still get that feeling I had fifty years ago on the cold gray April afternoon when I drove my first Mustang off the lot in Toledo and learned, on the way home, how to drive a stick.  What can I say? Love is like that.

By the way, the Pontiac doesn’t mind.  It’s the one that wins the trophies at the car shows.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Blame The Hippies

The instrument has yet to be invented that can measure my indifference* to the opinions of a retired Catholic priest, but this is ridiculous.  And criminal.

Pope Benedict XVI has broken his silence in a rare essay on the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, claiming that it was caused in part by the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the liberalization of the church’s moral teaching.

In the 11-page analysis published today in a German magazine for priests, Klerusblatt, the former Pope also reveals some of the behind-the-scenes struggles between the Vatican and American bishops in handling the crisis and admits that the Vatican was initially overwhelmed in dealing with it.

[…]

In the essay, Benedict asserts that the changes in traditional moral standards on sexuality both in society and within the Catholic Church laid the groundwork for the sex abuse crisis.

“Part of the physiognomy of the Revolution of ’68,” he writes, “was that pedophilia was then also diagnosed as allowed and appropriate.”

Benedict says that this mentality also affected bishops and Catholic seminaries and caused, “the extensive collapse of the next generation of priests.”

“There were — not only in the United States of America — individual bishops who rejected the Catholic tradition as a whole and sought to bring about a kind of new, modern Catholicity,” he writes.

“In various seminaries homosexual cliques were established,” he writes, “which acted more or less openly and significantly changed the climate in the seminaries.”

Benedict cites one bishop who showed seminarians pornographic films, “allegedly with the intention of thus making them resistant to behavior contrary to the faith.”

Nice try, you old fart.  There are records that detail abuse going much further back than the 1960’s and even more on how the church covered it up.  So STFU and go back to reading “Mein Kampf” in Latin.

*HT Hawkeye Pierce.

It’s The Messenger

It would be a lot easier to be in favor of Julian Assange’s mission of freedom of information if he wasn’t such an arrogant prick about it.

One has to laugh, however, at some of the responses to his arrest and rather ignominious removal from the Ecuadorian embassy — the British equivalent to the bum’s rush — and how soon his supposed allies have NO idea who he is or what he did.

One in particular.

I know nothing about Wikileaks, it’s not my thing.

Worst Sgt. Schultz impersonation ever.

Thursday, April 11, 2019