All posts by Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.

Our new patrons: how one former FSB dissident ended up dead in London.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on December 12th, 2006. It has been lightly edited to reflect some changing facts. If you have other updates that should be posted, please contact me

On August 31st of 1999, in the town of Buynaksk in the Dagestan province of southern Russia, a bomb is detonated in an apartment building, killing 64 people including Russian soldiers. This is the second bombing in a week and one of four bombings that will later be known as “The Russian Apartment Bombings.” These attacks will claim more than 300 lives in just under two weeks, and will be blamed on the growing Chechen separatist movement, prompting the Russian military to occupy that disputed territory. Before the dust has settled and the victims removed, the newly-elected President Putin will declare – fully two years before the United States – Russia’s own War on Terror.

Elsewhere, former KGB/FSB agent turned political dissident Alexander Litvinenko sits in prison on charges stemming from an alleged misuse of power in the line of duty in the early nineties. Litvinenko had been working in the Central Staff of the FSB, charged with counter terrorism and infiltration of organized crime. In time, Litvinenko will publish a book charging Vladimir Putin with using the FSB to mastermind the Russian Apartment Bombings. In time, Alexander Litvinenko will die.

Seven years later, as Litvinenko’s body is put to rest, dead of a polonium-210 poisoning – while former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar recuperates from the same poison, while Italian security expert Mario Scaramella recuperates from the same poisoning and while traces of radiation are showing up throughout London and on British Airlines planes – the headlines ring with the echoes of that far-away explosion. The seeds that formed the Chechen conflict have until now registered not a whit on American media radars, but that is changing. Gone are the days when tales of KGB spies filled our prime time television shows, but the truth of the current controversy will prove much stranger than the fiction of our past.

As different media outlets here and abroad report on the developments of the day, they pepper those reports with innuendo and accusations stretching over more than a decade, a parade of Russian spies, business men and politicians, all in a bewildering panoply that leaves our heads whirling. Accounts seem to suggest many connections and relationships from the past, but in this avalanche of information, it is difficult to know what those are. Stitching together news articles, Wikipedia entries and other information, this article seeks to illuminate some of those connections.

Alexander Litvinenko began his career in the KGB in 1986 during the tumultuous days of Perestroika, rising rapidly in the ranks and developing his career in the Counterintelligence department of the KGB, the Third Chief Directorate. A great many other men’s careers were formulating as well, including Yegor Gaidar. Gaidar is an economist and writer for the “Communist” ideological journal who would soon renounce his Communist Party affiliation along with his long-time ally, Anatoly Chubais. Gaidar and Chubais would both go to work for the newly-minted Boris Yeltsin Administration and go on to be known as “The Young Reformers,” ushering in an era of decentralization.

In those formative years, Vladimir Putin was struggling with a less-than-illustrious career in the KGB. After having graduated from the International Department of the Law Faculty in the Leningrad State University, Putin eventually got stuck in what he regarded as a minor post in East Germany. Eventually by 1991, he became the head of the International Committee of the St. Petersburg Mayor’s office, promoting foreign investment, but he would soon resign his post in the KGB entirely.

Litvinenko was meanwhile promoted to his counter-terrorism, mob-busting role in the Central Staff. In the following year, Yegor Gaidar became Russia’s Prime Minister for a brief stint and Litvinenko was promoted to the detail of the Main Directorate charged with protecting Gaidar.

It is in this six-month period of Gaidar’s Prime Ministership that he and his friend, now the Vice Premier of Russia, Anatoly Chubais, become known as “The Young Reformers,” and probably not without a little irony. The Yeltsin Administration generally – and this period specifically – are marked by vast instability, civil unrest and lawlessness. Before long, inexperienced decentralization turned into corporate oligarchy.

And chief among the burgeoning corporatist petitioners to the Yeltsin Administration would be Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky is generally known as the chief proponent and one of the primary benefactors of the new-found Russian economic “liberalism,” working his way into intimate familiarity with Boris Yeltsin and using that influence to land lucrative government contracts. He is also a man familiar enough with the Russian Mafia to have survived several assassination attempts, including a shootout in the middle of Moscow.

Much of the mafia hostility was because of Berezovsky’s closeness to the Chechen mafia. Indeed, Boris Berezovsky is reported to have many ties with Chechens, though apparently nothing proven to connect him with Chechen organized crime, specifically. Ties to Chechnya do not seem to have done anyone good in Russia, and indeed with the Chechen conflict due to flair up again in a few years, Berezovsky and may others would find themselves at the wrong end of Russian government fire.

Russia’s credit problems and wide-spread corruption abounded, the Ruble plummeted on the world market, and public opinion began to shift in the direction of the hard-liner’s old ways. Eventually, while then-Communist Party Leader Mikhail Gorbachev was on vacation, the KGB became emboldened to attempt to force him from power in a coup. This was the famous moment in Russian history when Boris Yeltsin stood on the back of a tank and declared the insurrection defeated. All of us in the West cheered and felt better in that moment, but after the cameras left and the moment was gone, the very real problems that led to the coup remained. It was during this coup attempt that Vladimir Putin resigned from the KGB.

The KGB was formally disbanded and reconstituted as the FSB. Boris Yeltsin’s entire cabinet, including Gaidar and Chubais, were fired. Still, the problem persisted, and probably in no little part this was due to Berezovsky.

In 1996, Forbes Magazine published an article by journalist Paul Klebnikov about Berezovsky entitled “Godfather of the Kremlin,” detailing the close ties Berezovsky had to both organized crime and the heads of state in Moscow. Berezovsky tried to sue Forbes to get the article retracted, but curiously did not pursue that course for the book of the same name that Klebnikov released later that same year.

The following year, Alexander Litvinenko was promoted to Senior Operational Officer of the FSB Seventh Section, this time guarding Boris Berezovsky himself. Berezovsky currently held the post of Secretary to the Security Council and had recently become the chairman of ORT, Russia’s biggest media outlet. He became head of ORT when the post became available; the chair had been vacated by a man who was recently killed in a gangland-style murder. Litvinenko would keep his post as Berezovsky’s protector for another four years, and maintain his relationship with Berezovsky right up to the moment of his polonium intoxication.

In July of 1998, Vladimir Putin returned to the agency he left in ’92, now reformulated into the FSB, to become the first civilian leader of the KGB/FSB in its history. His brief tenure at the FSB must have been a tumultuous one. By November 17th of that same year, Alexander Litvinenko and four other FSB officers would accuse the FSB of returning to a practice of political assassination; specifically, they accused the Director of Analysis of Criminal Organizations of ordering the execution of Boris Berezovsky and also an FSB agent turned attorney Mikhail Trepashkin. His closeness to the Chechen resistance was suspected to be one of the main reasons that he was being targeted.

Two days after the announcement, Galina Starovoitova, leader of the Democratic Russia Party and defender of ethnic minorities in Russia including the Chechens, was shot dead in the entryway to her apartment. Vladimir Putin declared no evidence to suggest that her murder was politically motivated.

Alexander Litvinenko, meanwhile, would be dismissed from the FSB and arrested on charges which twice failed to stick, but not before spending some time in the Moscow prison system. It would be during his third time arrested in 1999 when the Russian Apartment Bombings would commence. After he was released from prison, he and Mikhail Trepashkin began work on an independent investigation of the apartment bombings to find the guilty party, but this investigation went nowhere largely due to Kremlin stonewalling.

In 2001, Litvinenko and fellow former FSB security agent Andrei Lugovoi participated in a jail break of Nikolai Glushkov, business partner of Boris Berezovsky in one of his first companies, Aeroflot. Lugovoi and Litvinenko had worked together in the past, guarding both Yegor Gaidar and Berezovsky as members of the FSB. Glushkov was currently serving time in the pokey for fraud. The attempt failed.

Despite the Kremlin stonewalling and despite their investigation not really producing much evidence according to reports, Litvinenko published a book in 2002 entitled Blowing up Russia : Terror from Within. In it, he charged that it was Vladimir Putin, facilitated by the FSB, who was personally responsible for the Russian Apartment Bombings, and that his objective was to force the Second Chechen Conflict into being and ride that into the Kremlin as the new president. He also writes a second book, The Gang from Lubyanka, which alleges that Putin is personally involved in organized crime.

This is an interesting charge from a former mob-busting KGB cop whose publishing career was funded entirely by his former boss, mob-adjacent Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky, meanwhile, fled the country in this same year to avoid prosecution by the FSB. Whether the FSB was after him for his criminal associations or because his opinions as a member of the government against the escalation of the Chechen Conflict were not welcome remains in question.

Litvinenko kept up his attack against the Kremlin and his personal nemesis, Vladimir Putin. In an interview held in 2003 for the Australian SBS television network, Litvinenko alleged that two of the terrorists involved in the Moscow theatre crisis were in fact working for the FSB. This allegation was seconded by Mikhail Trepashkin. Also in 2003, Anna Politkovskaya, journalist, activist and friend of Litvinenko’s, released a book entitled A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Her book painted a picture for the world of the brutality of the Chechen Conflict and also pinned Putin’s rise to power to the escalation of violence in Chechnya.

During this same time, Boris Berezovsky became an investor in Neil Bush’s Ignite! Learning company while living in London in exile, putting him in the same company as George Herbert Walker Bush and Sun Myung Moon, who together with other investors were paying then Governor of Florida an extra $180,000 annually. In presidential politics elsewhere, Berezovsky was alleged to have participated illegally in funding the presidential candidacy of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, and a former president produced documents confirming it in 2005.

In July of 2005, Paul Klebnikov, author of the book detailing Boris Berezovsky’s alleged mob connections, was murdered in Moscow. In that same month, Litvinenko spoke to a Polish newspaper and posited that Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda members were trained in Dagastan by the FSB in 1998. Moreover, within the context of the London bombings, Litvinenko told reporters that the KGB/FSB were the main supporters of terrorism worldwide.

By the summer of this year 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was accusing Vladimir Putin of pedophilia. It is hard to say what motivates anyone involved in these twisting, turning corridors of relationships and enmity, but by now, Litvinenko is utterly inscrutable to someone on the outside. Putin the Pedophile seems something of a stretch, and all of his accusations combined start to sound impossible. But while Litvinenko and Berezovsky might be considered the men in black hats by this point in their history, remember that they are the losers in a deadly game of power and murder. Certainly, the winner must be better at the game?

On October 7th, Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her central Moscow apartment. Litvinenko, Anatoly Chubais and many others lay the blame for the journalist’s death squarely on Vladimir Putin. November 1st, Litvinenko met with a few old friends before eventually succumbing to sickness due to a radioactive poisoning.

One was Andrei Lugovoi, his partner in jailbreaking for Berezovsky. Lugovoi brought with him an associate by the name of Dmitry Kovtun and one other. It is believed by Scotland Yard that this was the moment of his intoxication. But Litvinenko also met with Boris Berezovsky himself.

He also met with an Italian security expert of whom little is known, Mario Scaramella. Scaramella was supposed to have been in possession of documents showing that the Putin government was targeting Russian émigrés to Britain for assassination. Scaramella was also supposed to have had documents proving that Putin was responsible for Politkovskaya’s assassination. None of this evidence has surfaced subsequent to Litvinenko’s death.

So what, exactly, did happen on that day? Even time may never tell, but it is certain that picking a favourite Russian politico based on a moral compass is folly at best. No one seems to hold the high ground. The best that can be said of Litvinenko and Berezovsky is that they fought for an oppressed people, but even that seems like a plausibly justifiable cover for plain-old swindling. Meanwhile, the enemies of the state and of Putin’s ambition keep ending up dead and it seems more and more to Western eyes that nothing really much has changed in Russia.

It has been said that the Soviets killed dissidents and exiles because their continued existence represented an affront to the Kremlin’s power. Perhaps Litvinenko’s continued escalation of rhetoric against Moscow was a mirror image. Perhaps he believed that the purpose of dissidence is to give your expatriate government as many sucker-punches as you can before they eventually take you down. Who knows? Perhaps he was even right.

The Higgs Boson in Four and a Half Minutes

Looking forward to getting back to the science blogging I love after the election, I decided to tackle a concept many have heard about but few understand. The Higgs Boson was officially discovered in 2013, but it’s theoretical existence has existed as a quirk in the math of quantum physics for nearly 80 years before it’s discovery.

Is it really a “God Particle?” What makes it so god-like? In this quick 4:30 thought experiment, I give you a simple way of understanding what is significant about the Higgs Field, the universal energy field from which the Boson gets it’s name. Please enjoy:

Just legalize it: tales from Wine Country

I have a good friend whose name you surely know if you live in the Rochester area: Evan Dawson. I met him when he worked for 13WHAM as a reporter on their nightly news, and he’s now moved on to host his radio show, Connections with Evan Dawson all week on WXXI radio. I mention him because, as you may also know, he wrote a book called Summer in a Glass about Upstate New York’s wine region and the men and women who shape that industry’s fate.

It is a book rich with poetic turns of phrase; it is a book filled with impressions of the country, the people, the history. Very clearly, Evan has a deep and abiding respect for the industry and the products of its labour. It’s a great book and you should definitely read it.

Flash back to a grown-ass adult trying to buy a goddamned bag of weed in the same state: sitting in the cigarette-reeking back of some asshole 20-something’s mini Toyota pickup truck – not the “back seat,” just a subwoofer he never bothered to plug in – waiting patiently among the food wrappers, old clothing and personal hygiene implements for an overpriced bag of agricultural product no more harmful than the stuff Evan waxes poetic about in his book.

With apologies to Evan, we live in a state that doesn’t just allow you to make wine, beer and now hard alcohol: it fetishizes those things as though they were some noble thing. “Uncork New York,” as they say. Every festival in Rochester has a wine tent. There are stores throughout the Finger Lakes that don’t even sell wine, just all the wine accessories you could possibly want including tee shirts, bottle openers, earrings. Evan’s is, as you might suspect, hardly the only written document on the subject.

Matter of fact, there is a comfort care home down the road from me that can’t house more than five people; they’re having a wine tasting in a couple weeks. A home for five people, all of whom must certainly have been told to stop drinking alcohol thirty years ago, and they’re having a wine tasting.

I don’t begrudge the alcohol industry’s success in New York State. Hell, I even used to write a column for (585) Magazine called Over Drinks, dedicated to the topic. But as silly as it’s ever been for weed to be illegal when alcohol is legal, that goes doubly and trebly for a state that makes such a farcically big deal out of hootch. There are those who want or need marijuana for medical use, recreational use and research, but even attempts to make medical weed available have stalled.

If any state in the union ought to have promotions all summer long for it’s Marijuana Region, it is a state as hilly and sunny as New York. We have conditions to make beautiful, award-winning ganja to suit every palate and preference. Setivas. Indikas. Candy bars and sodas. And sure! Why not a weed-themed New York State tee shirt?

“New York State of Mind,” or “We Came, We Saw, We Smoked,” or “My Parents Went to Weed Country, and I Had to Buy This Shirt Online Because They Forgot.” Just as suggestions. Perhaps there could be a “Toke New York” campaign with billboards on the 90?

Either way, while half a dozen other states have a referendum on the ballot this November to legalize weed, our silly-ass pols sit in Albany trying to figure out which universities are going to get weed in pill form. And then get a drink of wine with dinner. Because thank you, New York.

The Trump media DDoS is not a joke.

It’s clear that, however they’ve come up with it, the Trump campaign has opted to completely overwhelm the media with bat-shit stories of every variety. Two Trumpkins interrupted soft-ball interviews for bullshit reasons. Little Donny burst out into holocaust song. Donald Trump and his campaign “can’t seem to get on message” about Trump’s birtherism or his redemption therefrom. But he’s making a major announcement about it, anyway.. no, he’s not. He’s just promoting his new hotel.

Journalists literally cannot keep up. The media does not know what question to ask or whether they really want to ask it. Trump puts out so much bullshit that Matt Lauer didn’t even have to do his job to get him to say more crazy shit.. and no one seems to care.

The Trump media DDoS is real and it’s a strategy. For once, the media is probably advised not to follow every story too closely. It’s as if Joseph Goebbels has decided to try his hand at Dadaism.

In praise of a frivolous 911

Never forget. That’s the mantra from sun-up to sun-down on this September 11th, “celebrated” every year. Everywhere on my Twitter feed, on my Facebook feed: the images of buildings on fire; of sand storm New York City streets; of a skyline that less and less of us recognize as changed.

History is receding from us as our universe expands – not simply does the distance between you and 911 change, but the distance between it and Pearl Harbor, too. Events twice as far away recede from our view at twice the rate, all of it unreachable no matter how hard you try.

What do we lose if we let go of things we can’t hold, anyway? I know Hitler did wrong, having never lived through the Holocaust. I know slavery was wrong, having never been a slave. Based on what I see, what we seem to want to hold onto is the pain. Tributes and memes and links and tweets and posts and blogs and images and hashtags. All seem to ask me to hold onto the surreal, hallucinogenic fear of that moment, staring at an attack less than an hour by plane from Ginna that just took down two of the most iconic buildings in my state. And the Pentagon.

Does that sound like a good idea? Would any shrink – anywhere – recommend that you live the grinding horror of that day annually? It seems instead to be a call to revanchism. To a perpetual feeling of loss and a need for redemption. Redemption that cannot ever come. Instead of appealing to our desire for peace, so much of what I see on 911 is almost fetish-like grinding of our still-open wounds.

We make a lot of fun of ourselves every year because we celebrate Memorial Day and Labor Day and Independence Day with such frivolities as hamburgers, beer and football. Which is proof enough that no, we have not forgotten the meaning of those days. We celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey, beer and football. Christmas? Ham, wine and football.

Meat, booze and sports are how Americans pay tribute to the things that matter to us. It’s impossible not to laugh at, and would you have it any other way? And September just happens to be the hands-down best time for all of these things. I’m not just saying that because September is my birth month. But it helps.

While people remain in our politics like Rudy Giuliani and others who wrap themselves in the death shrouds of 911, whether or not they were there, I suppose there will be no turning to those days. Not easily, anyways. But I for one welcome the slowly-cooling crispy skin of a hot dog, eaten under the same beautiful cerulean skies that greeted me the day so much of our world changed. Skies like that only happen in September. I can be satisfied with chasing my kid around the property while friends and family pass in and out of my porch door, busy getting lunch ready. I can be very happy that this day is not That Day.

And I won’t forget, I promise.

A Few Thoughts on Last Night’s Town Hall

Like I’m sure most of my audience, I spent last night watching the Town Hall style debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The so-called “Commander-in-Chief Town Hall” onboard the Intrepid in front of a gaggle of military men and women, along with their commanders. I’ll take this opportunity to share my thoughts on the night.

Frankly, the event was such a complete shit-show, especially where Trump was concerned, that it would be neigh-on impossible to mention all of it. At least, not without help from other news sources. So I guess you might say this is my list of Most Awful Moments, if you have to call it anything.

Seriously, NBC?

I honestly cannot tell what NBC is covering, anymore. They’re so pleased with themselves with the Williamsian theme music and lush lighting effects, it could be a Macy’s Day Parade, a sporting event or a critical portion of the democratic process. They all come out looking more-or-less the same. Speaking of which,…

Matt Lauer..

Matt Lauer has his perfect job: getting up early in the morning to discuss lizards at the San Diego Zoo, “recipes” featuring pre-made cake mix, and laser hair removal. Why NBC insists on putting him in serious situations that he’s grossly unprepared for is beyond me. But please, NBC: you have a bullpen of fine reporters both male and female. You needn’t settle for the fluff.

* Side note: you could be doing much better with the Macy’s Day Parade, too. Keep that morning show shit in it’s place.

A lot has been made of Lauer’s lack of follow-up. But I think looking at the way the night went overall is more instructive. Trump was asked open-ended questions about his fitness to serve, about ISIS, about our military generals. He was pressed to explain his position on “taking the oil” (more on that in a sec). He was pressed to explain why he wants to keep his strategy vis vis ISIS a “secret.” No one subject dominated the night for Trump. In fact, Lauer was happy to move on even when as people have said, he should have pressed for details. Hillary was asked about..

Ferchrissakes, Email

Lauer’s first question to Hillary Clinton was about the email server. In fact, the first third of Hillary’s part was spent on the email including at least one question from the audience. You could perhaps make the argument that information security is national security. And you would be right. But when focused, ostensibly, on foreign affairs in 2016 with only a half hour per candidate.. is that really the first question you ask?

Again, it is instructive to notice the layout of Lauer’s questions: after grilling Clinton on what is truthfully a trivial matter of security for almost half the time he had with her, Lauer breezes from topic to topic with Trump. Clearly, Matt Lauer set his agenda from the very first question.

It is clear now that the email server is an issue for which Clinton needs to answer in real time in front of a national audience. It’s an issue with which she clearly has a problem doing just that. But then…

Hillary Clinton

She did a shit job answering for her email debacle. And even if the “debacle” part was manufactured by her opposition, by now, we can officially call it a debacle. Because she had no real answers that weren’t focused on exonerating herself legally. That’s fine in a court of law – it may even be fine with a reasonable military person, all of whom have a lot of experience with security in their own jobs – but it’s not a persuasive argument for good judgement.

I think she came back pretty strong on veterans affairs and foreign policy. But the best moment was when she shut down that flake Lauer when she was trying to answer a complex question about the Middle East. If you’re going to sacrifice ten minutes on email, don’t expect to just gloss over Middle East foreign policy, dummy. And I think she came off well for the thinking person who wants to be treated like an adult and given the facts. Hillary has them in spades.

To the extent that Mrs. Clinton was allowed to discuss anything other than being Emailer-in-Chief, I think she did the best with what she had to work with. And then there’s..

Donald Trump

Seriously, ignoring the avowed racists like the Klan who support him, how can any thinking person consider this guy qualified to be President of the United States?

Matt Lauer managed to not press Trump on any but the most preposterous of his claims – including when Trump offered to list things that make President Obama equivalent to Vladimir Putin. He just sorta let that slide by.

No, accusing the sitting Commander-in-Chief of being a dictator doesn’t require any follow up. A person on the Today Show, demonstrating the wonders of her new skin cream? That needs follow up. Not this. Not a line of argument that would get a military man shoved in the brig.

But the most amazing, telling part of that exchange is when Matt Lauer asks if Putin would “change his mind.” You tell me, but I get the sense Trump thinks Lauer is asking about Putin’s mind where Donald Trump is concerned, not the litany of aforementioned crimes in Crimea and elsewhere. Check about 1:19 in this video:

“Possibly! It’s possible. I don’t know, Matt. And it’s not going to have any impact. If he says great things about me, I’m going to say great things about him.”

Stand by your man, Donald. But the question was not about you.

Perhaps the problem for Lauer is the same one that has vexed so many other reporters: Trump is so completely full of shit that it’s hard to know where to begin. Because literally not a single answer of Trump’s was substantive. They were the same angry tone poems he’s been reciting all election season long. Word painting in blood. But not a single policy declaration.

There was one decent Lauer moment when even he couldn’t buy into the Trump Horseshit Roadshow. Trump has insisted for months that describing his broad-strokes strategy will be versus ISIS is somehow equivalent to giving an enemy general his battle plans. That’s just farce and even Lauer had enough backbone to question it. I think we all remember the little asshole in elementary school who would insist, “I know, but I’m not going to tell you!” Right up there with “my dad’s a lawyer” and “my girlfriend is from Canada.”

Wow. Did Trump just shit in the mouth of every general in the US Military?

I know that Trump’s brand of “negotiating” is to employ bully tactics. I know that he stakes outrageous claims specifically so he can walk back to a place where he wins. But just as often these days, I get the distinct impression that what’s really going on is that Trump fucks up, and then begins his strongman routine to cover for it.

Standing in the middle of a room full of servicemen and talking shit about their commanders is a mistake. Forget whatever they might say among themselves, it’s just something you don’t do. But returning to Trump’s tone poems if revanchism, it’s simply not a part of his campaign or his brand that he can live without. And insisting that we’re losing in the world necessarily means saying nasty things about the leadership of the military. You can’t get around it.

He says he’ll listen to “his” generals, but insists that “Obama’s generals” are decimated and in ruins. What does that mean? Is he aware that military brass are not political positions that he can just fill at a whim?

Take the Oil. Please!

Out of all the weird shit that Trump has said for lo, this many months, one of the weirdest was the idea that we could “take the oil” from Iraq. I really want to believe that even Trump supporters can see this nonsensical claptrap for what it is. But alas! I have no such hopes.

Take the oil. How, exactly? Even Matt Lauer wanted to know, and it was pretty obvious from the beginning: Matt Lauer didn’t really want to know shit. If you could just pull all the oil out of the ground at once, don’t you think someone would have thought about that before now? We’d have barrels of crude stacked up behind every Hess station in town. But you can’t because…

Jesus. I might as well be talking to my four year old. You just can’t, OK?

Sexism at the Olympics: why you really can’t talk about the athlete without talking about the coach

Olympic Champion swimmer Katinka Hosszú. Photo credit: Doha Stadium Plus Qatar @ Flickr.com

This quadrennial athletic competition has seen it’s share of controversy. In particular, it seems NBC Sports can’t stop tripping over it’s dick with all the sexist spin on the news. For his part, Sports Analyst Dan Hicks pointed out the “crucial” role that Olympic Record Breaker Hosszu’s coach played in her victory. He later defended that description of Shane Tusup, while apologizing for offending the audience.

No doubt, lots of champions owe their success to their coaches. Coaches represent an often decades-long brain trust of coaching and performing experience. Athletes have talent – and many possess a keen mind as well – but coaches focus those raw talents a young athlete has into a peak performer. And in the case of Katinka Hosszú and her boyfriend, insiders say that there really is a pretty specific dynamic that matters when telling Katrinka’s story.

But it strikes me that I can’t really give you the names of any coaches in Olympic sport at all. None, that is, except Martha and Bela Karolyi of Olympic Women’s Gymnastics fame. If you asked 100 Americans the names of three other Olympic coaches and the Karolyis, I think we know whom a majority would recognize.

I don’t know who Ryan Lochte’s coach is, nor Michael Phelps’. But I certainly know the athletes’ names for their gold-studded histories. Usain Bolt, I know. His coach, I do not.

What I’m getting at, here, is that sports media seems to possess a deep dependency on coaches when discussing women’s athletics generally. We know, for example, that Martha Karolyi is a “queen maker” in the US Women’s Gymnastics Team. Women do not automatically go to the Olympics or compete for any one metal simply because they can or because they scored the highest in Nationals.

Martha Karolyi, via NBC Sports.
Martha decides who goes and who stays. And in the process, we are treated to literally hours worth of collected video of Martha – sitting in the stands, no less – watching the gymnasts and presumably making her decisions.

If a similar decision making process happens on the US Men’s Gymnastics Team, I don’t know about it. And I have literally no idea whatsoever who the head coach of that team is. In fact, Google searching ‘us men’s olympic gymnastics “head coach”‘ returned the Wikipedia pages of Martha and Bela first, followed by a 2009 article naming Kevin Mazeika as the head coach of the men’s team. The fourth entry is finally a list of head coaches throughout the last decade or so, through which I can scroll to finally find my answer: Mark Williams.

So. Mark Williams.

I’m not sure if this is because the media can’t help of thinking of women athletes as silly girls who can’t be trusted with their own athletic careers, or if this is just an old, bad habit. It’s worth pointing out that “Women’s” gymnastics includes athletes barely over 16 years old. Regardless, perhaps if the media is seeking to avoid this kind of blow-up in the future, it ought better to focus on how it treats coaches in it’s storytelling than to any one blow-up.

Welcome to the pre-Trump economy

Summer sucks. There’s no way around that.

As a freelance web developer, I’m always in search of the next gig. There’s never quite so much work that I’m not always thinking of where my next meal will come from. And in the summer time, things tend to be pretty dry. No one is hiring. No one is looking to build things.

But all things being equal, this is about as bad a summer as I’ve seen in a long while. And I’m reasonably certain I know why. As a business owner, the idea of hiring someone when I have absolutely no idea what the future holds seems like lunacy. Even building new websites when I don’t know what happens in the fall seems like maybe saddling your business with the last straw. And if you actually hire someone? Well, you might be volunteering to pay their UI come January.

Because I don’t think there’s anyone in the business world (save for Trump himself) that doesn’t think Wall Street’s going to lose it’s shit if Trump manages to become President of the United States. Even if you support him – even if you’re the sunniest optimist about Trump’s America – you can’t expect that his election won’t be a huge disruption to our economy.

Every Middle Eastern businessman or shop owner knows his business if not his happy home is on the line. Every other business attached to his or hers is also in jeopardy: suppliers, contractors, craft service companies, everybody. Same goes for every Latino in business. And businesses not owned by a ethnic group regularly demonized by the Trump still need to worry about the next flap of Trump’s enormous butterfly wings.

So buckle up, America. It’s about to be a very lean several months. If not years.

The Great Shrug: will Baby Boomers vote Trump?

I am very worried about a Trump Presidency. I know the polls don’t really show it. I know it’s not the sentiment reflected back to us by our televisions. But I’m worried, nonetheless.

I’m not worried about racists. We know what part of the political spectrum concentrates its power with the Southern Strategy. Racist who vote at all will vote predictably.

I’m not worried about Brexit America. Not exactly, anyway: I genuinely think there is some unique and perplexing thing about British citizens who time and time again said they didn’t think their vote would matter. Or perhaps it is we that are the perplexing ones. Either way, in America, if you don’t think your vote counts you generally don’t vote at all.

What worries me is that even among the staunchest of liberals in my father’s generation, I hear a common sentiment. That sentiment is that “in the 60’s, it was about all of us. Peace and love. But I guess now it’s just about black lives mattering.” I do hear it. And I hear it often.

Never mind that the fight for civil rights far predates and postdates the Flower Power movement. Set aside the fact that the 60’s entire claim to fame basically boils down to That Time Privileged White Kids Cared About Social Justice. Baby Boomers seem to think that every stride Black America has made since Hendrix was because they bought the same albums and smoked the same pot.

And now that the rallying cry doesn’t include them, they seem put out. “All Lives Matter!” they cry. Because the one thing you can’t do to a Baby Boomer is uninvite them to the protest.

For how many of our parents’ generation does a vote for Trump represent the Great Shrug of Baby Boomer indifference? Like a sullen Randian character, do Boomers simply reject the politics of the day? Do they throw off any pretensions of liberalism, conservatism or even stewardship and simply vote “Crazier than You?” Maybe I really am worried about a Brexit. Even a Boomer sit-out might be enough to sway the election. Everybody in the Liberal wing of the Boomer gen just sits down, smokes their medical marijuana and says, “I’ve done enough.”

Will the Great Shrug be a vote to reanimate Barney Fife? Donna Reed? Sammy Davis, Jr? Will the Great Shrug be the collective sigh that pines for the days when television told you what to believe and cameras never interfered with the message? Because the sentiment in my parents’ generation feels a lot like technoshock: the moment when you stop understanding what your technology is telling you. That moment when the world moves beyond what you can cope with.

I can sympathise with anyone who can’t handle Hillary Clinton. I’m not anti-Hil, but I certainly would have preferred a better choice than between the Orange Menace and yet another sample of the Bush/Clinton/Bush years. But I smell something nasty in the wind. I hope I’m wrong.

The Trump Violence: don’t get confused by taking sides.

Now that Corey Lewandowski has formally been charged with what was pretty obviously a crime from the start, it’s time once again to discuss the Trump Campaign’s constant stream of violence. Unlike previous bouts of violence at Trump Rallies, which took place in the crowds, this one confirms that there is something inherently violent about the Trump Machine as he runs it. Still, I’m sure there’s plenty of people who will cling firmly to their plausible deniability, encapsulated in the following meme:

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Now, I don’t want to move too fast for the mouth-breathers that support Trump. But consider this: if you intentionally go to a place where you have a better-than-average chance of getting the shit beat out of you, you’re probably something of an asshole. If you go to a place where you have a better-than-average chance of getting a crack in against someone with whom you have a disagreement, you’re almost certainly an asshole. And much though I certainly do love watching people wreck themselves on “World’s Dumbest,” and so on, if you go to a place where you have a better-than-average chance of watching someone you don’t like getting the shit beat out of them, you’re… well, something less than noble, anyway.

The bottom line is this: people who are looking for trouble know where to go. It’s not a Bernie rally, it’s not a Clinton rally, it’s not a Ted Cruz rally, it’s not a John Kasich rally. People who are looking for trouble are going to Trump rallies. Their political affiliations – if such they really have – are meaningless. And now that Trump’s own “campaign manager” has been placed under arrest for the crime of assault, we have positive affirmation that this is exactly what Trump wants.

Ex-Miss America: ‘Our founders were deists’ and God didn’t create a ‘human’ right to health care

So. This article is pretty rich with inaccuracies. As you might imagine from a woman whose only marketable skill is taping her boobs into a dress. Nevertheless:

  • Deists. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
  • Not all the Founding Fathers were Deists. Or Christians. And by the way? Deists and Christians typically stand on the opposite sides of the room at parties…
  • The Constitution itself lists no rights whatsoever. The Bill of Rights does that.
  • Not only does the Constitution not do anything so presumptuous as “grant” rights, but in reality, it only requires of the government certain duties.
  • The last clause of the Constitution says that anything not addressed there is considered to be up to the people. If it’s not in the Constitution, that means you absolutely have that right.
  • Nobody but your Creator gave you any rights. It’s right there in the fucking Declaration of Independence, the document upon which the Constitution was based.
  • The last clause of the Constitution basically says, “Anything not addressed here is for the people and their states to decide.” If it’s not in the Constitution, that actually means that yes you do have that right.

But according to Haglund, government could not acknowledge a basic human right to health care because only God could grant those rights.“Well, no. This country was founded on a document called the Constitution,” she said. “And it also believed — a lot of our founders were deists, you know, some of them were Christians — and they believed that man was born with rights from God, that government doesn’t create rights.”“Because if they create rights, they can also take them away,” Haglund added.

Source: Ex-Miss America: ‘Our founders were deists’ and God didn’t create a ‘human’ right to health care

Mitt Romney was a terrible candidate. But he might be a good Republican Gogmagog.

I’m calling it now: the Republican Party should immediately broker a convention and nominate Mitt Romney as the Bringer of Death to the Party. Who could be better than an empty suit, nominated by empty suits, as a naked attempt to subvert the will of a racist bully body they abhor?

But the 2012 GOP nominee is nevertheless leaving the door open — just a crack — to the possibility of being drafted by his party at a contested convention in July. “I don’t think anyone in our party should say, ‘Oh no, even if the people in the party wanted me to be the president, I would say no to it,'” Romney said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “No one’s going to say that.”

Source: Mitt Romney isn’t exactly ruling out his presidential nomination – The Washington Post

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