Friday, January 30, 2015

The KGB Spy and me

So I was in Washington DC this week to celebrate my birthday and to have an excuse for Joyce & me to get away for a few days, and we got tickets to a really cool event.

"Really cool" if you're as geeky as I am about spy stuff and cold war thrillers, that is.
The International Spy Museum hosted a free preview screening of the new NBC spy series Allegiance, which airs Thursday, February 5th. The drama is about a family of post Soviet-era Russian spies who live in the U.S. as a sort of inactive sleeper cell. And the producers insist it's absolutely nothing like that other series "The Americans" (unless you've seen it; then there are some striking similarities).
The had a nice reception in the lobby of the museum, with appetizers and free drinks. We positioned ourselves near the hallway where the servers came out with their trays of goodies, so we had first dibs from each tray that was carried by; yes, I'm sneaky that way!

We struck up a conversation with a woman who turned out to be a blogger. She runs a lifestyle and entertainment blog called The Bobby Pen (thebobbypen.com). Then, a guy came up to us and joined the conversation. It turns out he was also a blogger! I guess we just sort of gravitate toward each other. His is an entertainment blog called The Rogers Review (therogersreview.com).

My biggest question for them is how do they manage to successfully monetize their blogs, while I'm still doing it pro bono?

The answer being, probably, is mostly my inherent laziness but also a desire to keep my amateur standing as a hack writer and journalistic dilettante. If I started doing this for money, I'd probably have to work at it! Fuck that!!!

One of the bartenders looked eerily like Sean Connery; so much so that I mentioned it to the people I was with and they agreed with me. I was going to order a vodka martini, shaken not stirred, but I was afraid he'd hit me. So I had a beer instead. I wish I'd snapped a photo of him though. He looks just like this guy:
I took the drinks back to Joyce, but just then they announced they were seating for the screening, and no drinks were allowed. Joyce said "There's no way I can finish this," and she took a sip and put her wine glass on a nearby table. I hefted my glass filled with ice-cold Heineken, and after a moment's hesitation, I slammed it down in two healthy gulps. I clunked the empty glass on the table and said "Just like when I was in high school!" A security guard nearby laughed and slapped me on the back as I climbed the stairs. Nothing like a little liquid courage in the tank for what came later!

So the screened the show and it was pretty much what they said it would be. I'll probably watch it when it airs (I'm really not a very good reviewer most of the time). After the screening they had a panel discussion, featuring Peter Earnest, former CIA operative & SPY Museum Executive Director, Oleg Kalugin, former KGB clandestine operative, and Mark Stout, former CIA intelligence analyst.

The two former CIA officers (one of them looked and sounded exactly like Hal Holbrook) had some interesting things to say. But Oleg Kalugin stole the show with his stories and observations. There was a moment early in the TV show (not really a spoiler here) where they depict an out-of-favor agent being fed into a furnace as punishment for some wrongdoing. Kalugin was asked about that scene, and he answered that they never did anything that intricate to kill someone, and that Polonium was a simpler way to dispatch a troublesome person! It got some knowing laughs, but definitely chilled those who know the case he was referring to.

In case you forgot, about 10 years ago a Russian dissident named Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned with extremely lethal and radioactive Polonium, apparently murdered by former KGB agents working for the Russian government.

Kalugin is the real thing. He's been active in the U.S. during the cold war years, and was a Maj. Gen. in the KGB in charge of Counterintelligence. He's a stone-cold badass of epic proportions, but he was also funny and charming and he told a lot of tales about the old days of Spy v. Spy. He never defected from the USSR; he was fired by the post-Soviet government for criticizing them. Today he's a naturalized U.S. citizen and is frequently critical of Vladimir Putin's government.

I decided I absolutely had to get a photo with this guy!

Immediately after the Q&A ended I walked up to the side of the stage. Some museum handlers were gathering local VIPs for a photo with Kalugin, but I intercepted him just as he stepped off the stage and asked him if it was OK to take a photo with him. Not only did he agree, but he hammed it up a bit as I took the photo! He was making faces at the phone, but I only had time for a quick photo before one of the CIA guys was gonna snap my neck (or I imagined that might happen). I thanked him, shook his hand, and said that his talk was both very interesting and entertaining.
Joyce was impressed that I got the picture so quickly, but after years of blogging and shooting videos, often with politicians who sometimes don't like me much, I've become shameless about getting selfies with people when I want to.

Hey, the worst he could have done was say no, right?

Unless he had an umbrella with a Ricin-filled tip handy. I'm pretty glad I didn't find that out the hard way!

Friday, December 26, 2014

My Drone Adventure

Day after Christmas. I've already seen "The Interview" and gotten a really cool gift from CT Joyce, so all is well with the world.

My gift was a tiny drone with video capabilities. The thing is about four inches square, powered by four little DC motors, and sporting flashing LEDs and a video transmitter.

Since yesterday I was practicing flying it in the safe confines of my home. I started getting good at controlling it and about half the time I was able to land it back in the foot-square area I'd flown it from. I figured I had it down pat!

So today I decided to fly it from the ball field over at West Shore Rec Center down by Walnut Beach. I set it up and took off. For a few moments I was looking at the TV screen on the controller that was showing live video from the drone. The controller also recorded the video on an SD memory chip. More on this later.

So far, so good. I was watching the video screen and not paying attention to the fact that the wind was taking the drone eastward at about 10 to 15 mph. When I finally looked back up, it was about 100 feet up and well past the fence around the field and over some houses.

I figured I'd try to fly it back because I was worried if it landed in someone's backyard I might not get to recover it. So I tilted it towards me and applied the throttle. Well, what happened was that it clawed it's way back towards me, but also climbed up several hundred more feet! The wind was stronger there, and it was caught speeding backwards away from me.

It was getting smaller and smaller, and no matter what I did, the tiny motors on this thing were overpowered. The live video feed was getting a lot of static because the range is only 300 feet. I was trying to take a bearing on where it was, because it was almost out of sight and I simply cut the throttle in the hopes it would land somewhere I could find it.

This is one of the last images I received from the drone before the video and control link was cut. I yelled "Fuck!" loudly, because that's what angry boys do when they lose their toys. Then I stomped to my car and drove to where I thought it went down. I got out of the car several blocks away from where I launched and walked through the streets and alleys in that crowded beach district.

After about 20 minutes I gave up and took the controller with the video chip back home. I was so pissed off that I had made a stupid rookie mistake and lost my beloved drone on it's VERY FIRST DAY in the wild! I should have known it wasn't a free-range drone! It had been brought up being hand-fed and unable to fend for itself. I was stupid! Now I was gonna have to tell everyone I already told about it how I had a drone for ONE FUCKING DAY!!!

I stormed into the house and popped the chip into my PC. This was my last chance of ever finding it! I began looking at the final minute of the video. I was CSI-ing the shit outta that footage! It was like watching the Zapruder film...the drone went back and to the left! Back and to the left.

I was looking for landmarks where the drone was just before I lost sight of it. A few frames before the video went gave me some clue. I called up Google satellite maps and zoomed in on the neighborhood. I decided it had landed in an apartment complex that was further downwind than the residential area I was searching.

I parked my car in a visitor's space and began strolling the grounds. I was also looking up at the roofs of the two-story apartments in case it landed on a roof. I'm sure I didn't look suspicious at all to the tenants, not with their children playing in the grassy areas nearby.

I had just about searched all the possible places when I came to the street the farthest east from where I launched. I glanced right and began to walk left, when I suddenly stopped and looked back to the right.

There it was, sitting right on the sidewalk! I'd been looking for it for over an hour, and I'm shocked that somebody didn't already find it in the busy neighborhood.

I went home and Google satellite-mapped the spot it landed, along with the launch point. Here it is:

The blue circle is the search area I was looking at, from the aerial images I had right before it cut out. The pin on the right is where I finally found it. This is some CSI-type stuff, right?

It traveled over 1700 feet from where I launched it, and it easily topped 500 feet of altitude. How cool is that? Considering it has a 300' range, this went well past where I thought it would function at all.

So, I've learned a bit about flying the drone outdoors. If it's too breezy to launch a china lantern, then you should probably stay below 50' or so.

Oh, and I wrote my phone number on it, with the words "Reward if returned!"

Friday, December 19, 2014

North Korea is a bunch of stupid rolled into one shitty little nation

Yeah, that's right North Korea! You guys suck!

I mean, why would you even care if a little movie about your beloved leader getting his head blown off is released? Shit, we have like fifty movies about JFK getting HIS head blown off, and do you see us hacking the fuck out of anybody?

No, you don't!

I guess it must be because you guys are all ... so ... ronery!







Friday, November 14, 2014

The American people are America's biggest threat

This post has been marinating in my head ever since the mid-terms.

We saw many dedicated legislators tossed aside by a seemingly insurmountable wave of conservative anger.

The message of the Democrats was drowned out by the well-funded and intensely noisy Republican hate machine.

"We are being taxed too much!"
"Congress isn't doing anything, and it's the Democrat's fault!"
"Obama hates America and wants us to fail!"


Jesus...

How fucking GOOD do people need to have it in this country before they actually feel happy about their representation? Over the last six years things have gotten significantly better for a large portion of our population, and that included ALL socio-economic strata to some extant. Excepting, of course, areas where GOP lawmakers have prevailed in choking off funding for social programs.

Sure, it's not paradise, but we really have it pretty good here in America.

And it took a Canadian to make that argument clear for everyone!

This is an image of a letter to the editor at the Detroit Free Press.


The text of the letter is here:
Many of us Canadians are confused by the U.S. midterm elections. Consider, right now in America, corporate proficts are at record highs, the country's adding 200,000 jobs per month, unemployment is under 6%, U.S. GNP growth is the best of the OECD countries.

The dollar is at its strongest levels in years, the stock market is near record highs, gas prices are falling, there's no inflation, interest rates are the lowest in 30 years, U.S. oil imports are declining, U.S. oil production is rapidly increasing, the deficit is rapidly declining, and the wealthy are still making astonishing amounts of money.

America is leading the world once again and respected internationally - in sharp contrast to the Bush years. Obama brought soldiers home from Iraq and killed Osama bin Laden.

So, Americans vote for the party that got you into the mess that Obama just dug you out of? This defies reason.

When you are done with Obama, could you send him this way?

Richard Blunt
Victoria, British Columbia
This really strikes at the heart of the GOP argument. It's very simple...

WE ARE DOING BETTER THAN WE WERE SIX YEARS AGO WHEN OBAMA TOOK OFFICE.


America ain't perfect, not by a long shot, and it obviously never will be. But we are striving, as a nation, to achieve the very best we can!

So why the fuck are there so many idiots out there who refuse to see this simple fact, even at their own peril?

Yup, it's true. We ARE our own worst enemy.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Sunday Night Music Club v.37

I was thinking of a song that most identifies with Kevin Smith's "Clerks", seeing as this is the 37th installment of the Sunday Night Music Club. But I really can't think of any one song that resonates with Clerks, other than a few snippets of (then) current bands.

And, of course, Beserker...



So, here's Aerosmith and Run DMC with an historic rendition of "Walk The Way":

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Lessons from Connecticut's win

I came across an interesting article from Salon.com this morning, and decided to quote some of it here because it seems to get to the root of the reason why the Governor won so convincingly this year.
Running against a multimillionaire opponent who paid only $673 in federal taxes in 2013, Malloy naturally lobbed plenty of populist rhetorical barbs at Foley. But Malloy also boasted something many Democrats who lost Tuesday night did not — an actual track record of economic populist accomplishments. Malloy could point to specific policies he’d signed into law — most notably, mandatory paid sick leave and the nation’s first-ever state-level minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour — that benefited Connecticut families but would be jeopardized if Foley, who opposed those policies, won the governorship.
Basically, it boiled down to the fact that when a Democrat puts economic issues at the forefront, people tend to respond well.

Malloy and the rest of the state's Democrats did well because things are actually improving in Connecticut, albeit more slowly than most would like. Jobs are being created, people are receiving vital social services, and there is significant growth of business here.

These are the things people like to see.
The lesson for Democrats? Progressive economic measures are “not just good policies,” Lindsay Farrell, Connecticut director of the Working Families Party said. “They’re good politics. Things that give people economic security and tackle economic inequality in this country are popular with voters,” she added.
So, I hope other Democrats are listening, and do what they can to improve the economic lives of their constituents, despite whatever resistance they encounter.

It's a winning strategy.

(The Salon link borrowed from @EpathiaLitmer's Twitter feed. Follow her for great news links that much of the MSM tends to overlook)

Friday, November 07, 2014

Congrats to my Congresswoman

Just wanted to mention that one of the bright spots on an otherwise mostly dismal Election Day was that Rosa DeLauro easily won another term in Congress. Congrats Rosa!

Thursday, November 06, 2014

We won and we lost

Well, no surprises here.

Everyone expected a national bloodbath for the Dems this year. The mid-terms during the second term of a president tend to favor the other party, and this was no different. We expected a slaughter, and we pretty much got one.
The good news is that we won in Connecticut. Gov. Dan Malloy won by a larger margin this time over Tom Foley than in 2010. All our Congressional Representatives are in. The closest race in the executive branch was for Treasurer, with Denise Nappier barely edging out Trumbull's First Selectman Tim Herbst. I would imagine we'll see more of him in the future, especially if Nappier runs her campaign as rough-shod as she did this time around. Her unsettling style of campaigning left many Democrats scratching their heads.

The bad news is that the Republicans bulldozed their way to a solid majority in the US Senate, which means that pretty much every bill that crosses the President's desk over the next two years are going to contain toxic bits and pieces that will likely punish and injure the very same deluded voters that put them in the majority in the first place.

I won't list all the negative things that may happen because of this shift in power, because I'm tired and somewhat disappointed. Besides, I just returned from three days in DC with Joyce, where we stayed at a lovely studio apartment in Foggy Bottom, via Airbnb. This was our first time using this alternative housing service, and we're very pleased with it. For less than what the crappiest downtown DC hotel would charge for a very minimal room, we got a well-equipped studio apartment that was a 5-minute walk to the Metro, and a 10-minute walk to the great restaurants and shops of Georgetown.
We watched the returns come in at Shelly's Backroom, a top-notch cigar bar on F St. about three blocks from the White House. Over cigars, IPAs and sparkling wine, and a chocolate/peanut butter cheesecake, Joyce and I watched CNN slowly proclaim the loss of the Democratic Senate. It seems Republicans were in the majority at the bar, because every time they reported that another Democratic senator bit the dust, there were cheers. After 11PM or so when the GOP hit 52 seats, we decided to walk the 1.5 miles back to our apartment.

We walked by the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. and took a few photos. But our view was not perfect because the police had put in additional crowd barriers about 20 feet out from the fence, so I couldn't walk up and put my camera through the bars to get an unobstructed shot. Thanks alot Fence Jumpers!
The weather was unseasonably warm, so we enjoyed the walk and discussed what we may be faced with in the next two years. Basically, we agreed that so little had been accomplished lately anyway, there probably won't be much different. The Democrats still possess over 40 seats in the Senate, and as the Republicans taught us, 40 is a filibuster's majority! So yay, you guys won another two years of next to nothing happening!

The next night we had the pleasure of seeing our dear friends Maura Keaney, Pete and Hugh, and Melissa Ryan and Michael at Maura's house. We feasted on Dixie Bones BBQ and traded stories about past elections and present events. It was a very fun time and it ended all too early.

One thing about election night that distressed me was how long it took this year to get the returns tabulated in Connecticut. I'd like to hear why it took so long for the numbers to come in, when in 2010 it seemed like everyone made their victory speeches not much later than 11PM on election night.

And another thing is that every online CT news outlet seemed to do a piss-poor job of accurately updating the returns. The Courant even posted vote totals for the major races but neglected to include the percentage of precincts reporting! Rookie mistake, and I'd bet that's because they have rookies in charge of updating and formatting these stats. It wouldn't surprise me if it was because the competent people they had doing this in the past have been "downsized".

Just because it looks simple doesn't mean it is simple.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

The President's Bridgeport visit boils down to 2 words


(image from the Connecticut Post)

Yes, make sure you do that. You have 14 hours on Tuesday to find the time to get to the polls and do your civic duty. So GO VOTE!

CT Dem State Central misteps with mailers

Image via CT News Junkie

Democratic State Central recently sent out a couple of mailers that address the recipient's recent voting record, in what was called "tone deaf" and "creepy" by some. "Big Brother" was mentioned in reference to the mailers.

It turns out that while everyone's actual VOTE is a secret matter, the fact of whether you voted or not is listed on publicly available voting records.

It means that anyone can find out if their friends or relatives or political rivals have done their civic duty by voting, or if they're hypocritical idiots who complain endlessly about their elected representatives yet do nothing to change anything.

I was aware of this for many years, after a dear friend who shall remain nameless chided me on missing several local elections in previous years. Since that moment, I've been very good about voting, even to the point of voting early when I knew I was going to be traveling on election day.

But many Democrats are somewhat shocked and offended by the tone of the mailings.

I understand that in a close election you need to do as much as possible to get people to show up at the polls. Using voting records to guilt people into voting probably isn't the most effective way of doing it.

It was a mistake, probably a bit embarrassing for State Central and the person who was responsible for it. But will it negatively affect the results of Tuesday's election? Very doubtful.

Read the article on CT News Junkie for a very in-depth examination of this relatively minor controversy.

And be sure to get out and VOTE on Tuesday...

Or we'll all know!