Friday, September 15, 2017

Harry Dean Stanton RIP

1926 - 2017

















That's a long career. He was Tramp in Cool Hand Luke way back in 1967, and worked up until just a couple years ago, but I think he was most memorable in Repo Man (1984).

If you've seen it, then you know the life of a Repo Man is always intense. He lived it well.



Monday, September 11, 2017

Hillary's Still Switching Between Left and Right

Left, right, left, right, left, right

















In her CBS News interview yesterday, Hillary Clinton highly recommended a yoga practice called alternate nostril breathing as a tool for calming her post-election nerves.
"I just felt this enormous letdown, just kind of loss of feeling and direction and sadness," Clinton said. "And, you know, Bill just kept saying, 'Oh, you know, that was a terrific speech,' tryin' to just kinda bolster me a little bit. Off I went, into a frenzy of closet cleaning, and long walks in the woods, playing with my dogs, and, as I write-- yoga, alternate nostril breathing, which I highly recommend, tryin' to calm myself down. And-- you know, my share of Chardonnay. It was a very hard transition. I really struggled. I couldn't feel, I couldn't think. I was just gob-smacked, wiped out."

I like how she's just tryin' and tryin' like a regular lower class gal who drops her Gs. Did Hillary do that kind of vernacular politickin' back when she was a candidate?  I can't recall.

But back to alternate nostril breathin' breathing. Slate Magazine has an explainer about that today: The breathing technique that helped Hillary Clinton cope with her election loss.
According to the website for the Chopra Center, a wellness center co-founded by the alternative medicine guru Deepak Chopra, alternate nostril breathing is a technique meant to calm the mind and alleviate stress. Breathing exercises are a fundamental part of yoga. Pranayama, the specific discipline that deals with controlling your breathing, comes from classic Indian yoga and has been around for centuries. It can be translated to “the control of the life force.” Apart from alternate nostril breathing, there are also practices to breathe in deeply and expel the breath quickly; ones that focus on feeling the motions of your stomach while you breathe; and ones in which you hum or chant while exhaling.

The guru Deepak Chopra notwithstanding, the fact is that almost everybody breathes out of one nostril at a time anyway, yoga or not. It's called the nasal cycle. Any benefit Hillary may have gotten from deliberate alternate nostril breathing was at best a placebo effect.

The Chardonnay part was probably effective, though, alcohol in moderation being the most efficient substance for the relief of anxiety ever discovered.
  

The Senator Got the Tub, But the Taxpayers Got Soaked

Limestone tub at the Seasons Hotel, George V, Paris
















When Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) wanted to book three nights in a $1,536.96 a night Paris hotel suite that featured a “King bed, work area with internet, limestone bath with soaking tub and enclosed rain shower,” he didn't need to pay for it himself. He got it compliments of his wealthy friend, political contributor, and fellow party animal Doctor Salomon Melgen. Doctor Melgen could afford it since he was loaded due to his business practice of defrauding Medicare to the tune of $105 million.

An extravagant hotel room was the least of Dr. Melgen's gifts to Senator Menendez. According to the U.S. Department of Justice "among other gifts, Menendez accepted flights on Melgen’s private jet, a first-class commercial flight and a flight on a chartered jet; numerous vacations at Melgen’s Caribbean villa in the Dominican Republic and at a hotel room in Paris; and $40,000 in contributions to his legal defense fund and over $750,000 in campaign contributions. Menendez never disclosed any of the reportable gifts that he received from Melgen on his financial disclosure forms."

And so, way back two and a half years ago, Senator Menendez was indicted on one count of conspiracy, eight counts of bribery, and three counts of honest services fraud. The indictment spelled out how Menendez used "his Senate office and staff to advocate on behalf of Melgen’s personal and financial interests."

Here's the indictment:


Well, Senator Menendez finally went on trial this week, although I have seen little to no news media coverage of it so far.

Despite his indictment on public corruption charges, the U.S. Senate has not taken any action against Menendez. It has not expelled him, sanctioned him, or even removed him from his committee assignments. One of those assignments was to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which I'm sure was especially pertinent to Menendez's ability to assist Dr. Melgen by pressuring the U.S. State Department to issue visas for the doctor's foreign girlfriends, an offense which features in the indictment.
Bob Menendez was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the 113th Congress and continues to serve as a member of the powerful Committee that helps shape foreign policy of broad significance, in matters of war and peace and international relations. In the current 115th Congress

How lucky for Melgen that he had a pet Senator in an ideal position from which to write a letter of support to the U.S. Embassy in the Dominican Republic for a 22-year-old girlfriend and her 18-year-old sister who wanted to visit him in Miami. And when the sisters' applications were denied (a memo outlining the reason read: “Siblings, 18 and 22 yrs old. No children. No previous travel. To go visit a friend in Florida. Neither is working. No solvency on their own. Not fully convinced of motives for travel.”) the good Senator Menendez was willing to take the matter up with the ambassador and with high-ranking officials in the State Department. The sisters were re-interviewed and got their visas the second time around.

Senator Menendez of the Foreign Relations Committee was also willing to write letters of support for a Ukrainian model/actress girlfriend of Melgen's who needed a tourist visa, and for a Brazilian actress who Melgen set up as a law student in Miami.

There is lots more in the indictment, including a charge that Menendez interfered with State Department officials to further one of Melgen's side businesses - purchasing the exclusive right to sell port security inspection equipment to the government of the Dominican Republic - while simultaneously trying to prevent the Department of Homeland Security from sending the Dominican Republic free inspection equipment.

Unless there was a Senator-caught-with-a-dead-prostitute extortion angle here à la Godfather II - and I do not totally discount that there might have been - Menendez was abusing his office out of simple greed. He certainly wasn't the first. Twelve previous U.S. Senators have been convicted on various charges while in office. Political reactions to those convictions have varied.

The last such case was in 2008, when Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was found guilty of seven counts of making false statements, after which there were immediate and bipartisan calls for his resignation. Barack Obama said that Stevens needed to resign to help "put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington." In any event, Stevens was never sentenced and his conviction was thrown out due to prosecutorial misconduct so egregious that the Department of Justice opened criminal contempt investigations on six members of its own prosecution team.

The last Senator to be convicted before Stevens was Harrison Williams (D-NJ), who was convicted of taking bribes in the Abscam investigation in May of 1981. He brazenly stayed in office until March of 1982, resigning only when the Senate was about to vote on his expulsion.

Should Senator Menendez be convicted, expect him to go the Harrison Williams route and stay in office while he appeals. Unlike with Williams, I'd also expect the Senate to tolerate his presence for at least as long as it takes to get another Democratic Governor in New Jersey. Should Menendez resign before Gov. Cristie leaves in January 2018, Cristie would presumably appoint himself to fill Menendez's term, improving the Republicans' thin 52-to-48 Senate majority. What's a little more corruption and influence-peddling in Washington compared to that?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Friday Night Document Dump: More of Hillary's Email














Pursuant to FOIA litigation, the Department of State tonight released another batch of Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails that were sent by her while she was SecState. Read them here.

What with it being the Friday before a three-day weekend, we'll all have plenty of time to browse them.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

And the Last Word on The Sounding Board Goes to ...

A monk works on an illuminated manuscript



















To my good friends in the Bureau of Overseas Buildings Operations! Congratulations to all of you who used the Board to plead for rescue from the coming innovation of paperless design reviews.

I always took the The Sounding Board to be a harmless escape value for people who wanted to vent their frustrations, but, I totally stand with my OBO comrades in complete opposition to doing away with paper design drawings. Maybe no one who hasn't done the design review job will really understand this, but you can't keep a mental picture of the 3-D thing you are reviewing if you have to look at it through a series of 2-D keyholes. It just doesn't work.

So why does OBO management want to go paperless? I suppose because people just assume higher tech is always better. But paper is a technology too, and very plausibly a better one for the design reviewer's job. Bigger monitors on smaller desks - due to a simultaneous planned cubicle tight-sizing - will not help in the least.

If anyone in OBO reads this, please take up the cause after The Sounding Board closes tomorrow.


P.S. - About the monk and his manuscript above, a colleague of mine from years ago once asked me "how's the monastery?", by which he meant OBO. That was the perfect word for the place. Have you ever walked past the rows of cubicles on the engineering and architectural floors of SA-6, seen all the worker bees crouched over their desks covered with sheets of design drawings, pens and pencils in hand, surrounded by stacks of more design packages piled up around them, and imagined them as medieval monks in monastery cells pouring over illuminated manuscripts? For what is an architectural design drawing if not a modern-day illuminated manuscript? The illusion was even stronger in the days before CADD when they all did their drawing and drafting over a slanted desk, sometimes with a big magnifying glass.

That's how I see them. The monastery will just not be the same if it ever loses the paper.

Everybody Laughs at the Redneck Until the Flood Comes












I can't recall the WaPo doing this sort of thing before, but today it celebrated the virtues of rural blue collar men - you know, the pickup-truck-and-bass-boat crowd. The occasion was the water rescue work being done by rednecks Agro-Americans country gentlemen in the flooded city of Houston.

Read it here: In crises such as Harvey, you want outdoorsmen on your side:
The country is suddenly grateful for this “Cajun Navy,” for their know-how, for the fact that they can read a submerged log in the water, and haul their boats over tree stumps and levees and launch them from freeway junctions. There are no regulators to check their fishing licenses or whether they have a fire extinguisher and life preservers on board, which they don’t … Spending hours in monsoon rains doesn’t bother them, because they know ducks don’t just show up on a plate, and they’ve learned what most of us haven’t, that dry comfort is not the only thing worth seeking ... You can’t help but be struck by just how much they know how to do — and how much your citified self doesn’t. Trim a rocking boat, tie a secure knot, navigate the corduroying displaced water, and interpret the faint dull colors in the mist-heavy clouds.

Wow, that is like lyric poetry.