Archive for February, 2018

Marine Russian Stove, Take 2


Thanks to all the feedback I received for the previous iteration of the design, it is much improved.

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Make Russia Great Again Through Negligence


After a year and a half of silence, accompanied by much media noise, from the Mueller investigation into Trump the Terrible’s collusion with the Russians (and their lord and master the Dread Pirate Putin) in order to steal the election from innocent young Hillary “twinkle-toes” Clinton, Mueller finally laid an egg. He indicted 13 Russians for identity theft and wire fraud. He alleges that they bought some stolen personal info (Social Security numbers, names, birth dates, etc.) on the internet, used these to set up PayPal and Facebook accounts, and then used these to buy Facebook ads in an effort to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy.

There is no evidence that anyone in the Trump campaign or administration knew that this was happening. There is no evidence that any of the 13 Russians had anything to do with Putin or the Russian government. There is no evidence that anything they did had any measurable effect on the outcome of the election.

There is, however, ample evidence that this indictment will go nowhere.

There is a difference between being indicted and being convicted: a convicted person is proven guilty; an indicted person is protected by the presumption of innocence until convicted. To be convicted in a criminal trial, a person has to be physically present before the court because one has the right to face one’s accusers. A trial held in absentia is automatically a kangaroo court. The 13 Russians are Russian nationals residing in Russia. According to the Russian constitution, Russian citizens cannot be extradited to stand trial in a foreign court, and it seems exceedingly unlikely that they will face criminal charges in Russia based on Mueller’s indictment. Therefore, these 13 Russians have to be presumed innocent under US law—forever—even if they get to spend time in a Russian jail, convicted under Russian law.

It’s still possible that one of these Russians will at some point travel abroad, get snatched and shipped off to the US to stand trial, and be convicted of money laundering, identity theft and wire fraud. But the charge of working to undermine the American people’s faith in the wholesome goodness of their democracy would be rather hard to prove, mostly because there isn’t much of it to be found these days. The accusation is a lot like accusing somebody of despoiling an outhouse by crapping in it, along with everyone else, but the outhouse in question had a sign on its door that read “No Russians!” and the 13 Russians just ignored it and crapped in it anyway.

The reason the Outhouse of American Democracy is posted “No Russians!” is because Russia is the enemy. There aren’t any compelling reasons why it should be the enemy, and treating it as such is incredibly foolish and dangerous, but that’s beside the point. Painting Russia as the enemy serves a psychological need rather than a rational one: Americans desperately need some entity onto which they can project their own faults. The US is progressing toward a fascist police state; therefore, Russia is said to be a horrible dictatorship run by Putin. The US traditionally meddles in elections around the world, including Russia; therefore, the Russians are said to meddle in US elections. The US is the most aggressive country on the planet, occupying and bombing dozens of countries; therefore, the Russians are accused of “aggression.” And so on…

If (for whatever stupid reason) Russia is indeed America’s enemy, it stands to reason that the Americans would want to make it weaker rather than stronger. Working to strengthen one’s enemy seems like a poor strategy. And yet that is what has been happening: the last two US administrations—Obama’s and Trump’s—both have been steadfastly aiding and abetting Russia’s rise to greatness. Aiding and abetting the enemy is bad enough by itself, but it would also appear that they have been doing so unwittingly. Thus, if Mueller really had the health and beauty of American democracy in his heart, he would have indicted both the Obama and the Trump administrations for aiding and abetting the enemy through gross negligence. Here is how the indictment would read:

1. The Obama administration falsely accused the government of Syria of carrying out an attack using chemical weapons near Damascus on August 21, 2013 in order to find an excuse to attack and invade Syria. Chemical weapons were in fact used in that incident, but not by the forces controlled by the Syrian government. Since the Syrian government had no interest in either using chemical weapons or in maintaining its chemical weapons stockpile, this gave Russia an opening to negotiate an international deal under which Syria surrendered its entire stockpile of chemical weapons, which were destroyed, and international inspectors subsequently certified Syria as being free of them. This incident showed Russia to be a trustworthy partner, able to peacefully resolve crises through negotiation, raising its stature in the world, and the US to be a rogue state willing to use any means, including the use of chemical weapons against civilians, in order to justify its illegal use of force. Following in Obama’s footsteps, the Trump administration, soon after assuming office, used similar unverified accusations of a Syrian chemical weapons attack to ineffectually bomb a Syrian airbase using Tomahawk missiles.

2. In February 2014 the Obama administration organized and carried out a bloody coup in Kiev, staging a massacre using foreign mercenaries, falsely accusing the Ukraine’s constitutional government of carrying it out, overthrowing it, and installing a puppet regime managed by the CIA and the US State Department. The nature of this regime, which is comprised of oligarchs and criminals allied with neo-Nazi groups, and which has elevated to the status of national heroes certain perpetrators of genocide against Jews, Poles and others during World War II, has been kept hidden from the public in the US. But because Russia and the Ukraine are not ethnically, linguistically, culturally or religiously distinct, and have existed as a single entity through most of their history, most Russians understood what had happened. The chaos and mayhem that followed the putsch gave the Russian government an opening to hold a referendum in Crimea, which was briefly joined to the Ukraine, but which had been part of Russia since 1783, and to re-annex the territory. It also led to armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine and the formation of two de facto independent republics there, making the Ukraine into a semi-defunct state that does not control its own territory. All of these developments led to a tremendous surge of patriotic feeling among Russians, who felt proud of being able to reclaim what they saw as rightfully theirs and felt threatened by seeing the Ukraine once again fall to the fascists. True to form, the Trump administration has continued Obama’s policy of Making Russia Great Again by providing the Ukrainian military with lethal weapons and advice.

3. Although the Russian annexation of Crimea, based on an overwhelming victory in a popular referendum and a great showing of public support, was impeccably legal in upholding the Crimea’s right to self-determination (unlike NATO previous annexation of Kosovo), the Obama administration saw it fit to impose economic sanctions on Russia in retribution. These sanctions, together with Russia’s counter-sanctions on food exports from the EU, have finally provided the impetus for Russia to break with the past pattern of exporting gas and oil and importing just about everything else, and to embrace the strategy of import replacement. This has allowed Russia to become self-sufficient in many areas, such as oil and gas exploration and production technology, agriculture and many other areas. Although Russia experienced a period of considerable economic difficulty which saw the purchasing power of the population dwindle substantially, Russia’s economy has survived. The popularity of the national leadership did not suffer because most Russians now understand what they are fighting for and, given the barrage of negative news from the Ukraine, who their enemy is, and what would happen to them if they were to show weakness.

4. Although the Trump administration has mostly followed in Obama’s footsteps in Making Russia Great Again, the most recent round of anti-Russian sanctions, which the Trump administration did not impose but only announced, as required by an act of Congress, was inadvertently an act of pure genius. What Trump’s flunkies did was take the Kremlin directory and the Forbes list of Russia’s wealthiest individuals, and put them together into a single list of people. If these sanctions were actually imposed rather than merely threatened, those having any dealings with the individuals on this list would suffer legal repercussions. The brilliance of this plan is in two parts. First, there have been some differences of orientation among the members of the Kremlin administration: some were more US-oriented than others. What this list did was make them look foolish in their hopes of ever appeasing the US. Before, the US had a few lukewarm champions inside the Kremlin; now it has zero. Second, Russia has had a problem with wealthy individuals moving their capital abroad, to Switzerland, to various offshore tax havens, and most notably to the United States, which is the money laundering capital of the world. But now Trump has threatened them with wealth confiscation. At the same time, the Russian government has extended a tax amnesty for those wishing to repatriate their capital. As a result, a flood of money is now reentering the Russian economy, giving it a major boost.

Once you put it all together, the charge against the last two US administrations for Making Russia Great Again by aiding and abetting it, unwittingly and through gross negligence, becomes compelling. There is, of course, no chance at all that anybody will be put on trial for it, but that may not be necessary. As shown by the #MeToo movement, it is no longer necessary in contemporary America to prove a crime; a mere allegation is now sufficient to end careers and to ruin reputations. You can play this game too: of each US policy or initiative announced against Russia, ask yourself: How is it going to help Make Russia Great Again? Because it probably will.

Competitive Lying


No one has ever claimed that it is upstanding, sportsmanlike behavior to tell lies. Outside of some very special occupations—spy, special agent, etc.—lying is almost always a manifestation of failure. Even in its relatively innocuous forms, such as braggadocio and puffery, showboating and grandstanding, it is a poor substitute for having a favorable truth to tell. Then there are the various types of dissimulation, misdirection, concealment and omission; whether motivated by the wish to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid a scandal, the decision to lie is rarely a happy one. Finally, there are those who produce and circulate false and misleading information. When society functions normally, such people are caught, sooner or later, their reputations are ruined, their careers are terminated and the damage they caused is repaired. In a normally functioning society, enough of its members have a solid grasp of facts, are able to reason logically, and have sufficient faith in journalistic and other professional ethics, in the impartiality of public officials, and in the scientific method, to allow them to believe that truth does exist and that they are capable of obtaining it.

But such normal, stolid, matter-of-fact forms of social behavior seem a bit boring, perhaps even fuddy-duddyish, and are unlikely to hold the attention of modern smartphone-addicted whipper-snappers. Wouldn’t it be a lot more popular, modern and fun if the manufacturing of lies for financial and political gain become an accepted form of public behavior?

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Marine Russian Stove


During the decade or so we have spent living aboard, we went through a succession of methods to keep the cabin warm during the cold months. On our first journey south, we cast off from Boston in mid-October, the day before the marina would have kicked us out because we hadn’t signed a contract for winter dockage. We progressed south rather more slowly than we had expected, and made it as far as Charleston in early December. There we decided to overwinter, and proceeded further south three months later. When we first set off, all we had on board was an electric space heater, plus a propane heater powered by 1 lb. camp stove canisters. We went through a large pile of these. The electric space heater only worked when we were tied up at the dock and plugged in to shore power. While under way, we tried to keep warm by burning propane. But propane generates a lot of moisture as it burns, causing the entire cabin—the clothing, the bedding, everything—to become dank, robbing the body of heat, while the moisture in the air condensed on the underside of the cabin top, causing it to literally rain inside the cabin. (There are few things more disagreeable than an intermittent cold drip on your head as you are trying to sleep.)

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The “-ism” to End All “-isms”


Once upon a time, in what many people now reminisce about as “the good old days,” there were just two reigning ideologies: capitalism and communism. Capitalists believed in the sanctity of private property rights, the magic ability of money to be the measure of all things, and in the mystical invisible hand of the marketplace for finding optimal solutions to economic problems. Communists believed in the power of communal property, the ability of rational, objective scientific methods to be the measure all things, and in the power of central planning for finding optimal solutions to economic problems. Both of them fail, eventually, and have done so at various times. Capitalism’s great failure was the Great Depression; communism’s great failure was the collapse of the USSR.

There are some patterns within this general framework of failure. When communism fails (as in the USSR, and, in economic rather than in political terms, in China, Vietnam and elsewhere) it reverts to capitalism (while trying to retain a few communist elements). And when capitalism fails, the capitalists go to war, and the result is fascism.

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Specifically Useful or Generally Useless?


Would you like to take a break from watching financial markets crash, US security and law enforcement agencies destroy their reputations while perjuring themselves and Trump making a fool of everyone including himself? I know it\’s a lot to ask. A joint financial/political collapse extravaganza complete with scratch-and-sniff cards is not one to miss. But in case you can bare to look away, or just need a break, here\’s a blog post about the gradually progressing design of Quidnon—a houseboat that sails.

I once made a cockpit awning. It was a fiberglass-over-plywood affair. Not only was it a cockpit awning, but it also could have been pressed into service as a mediocre paddleboard, a bus shelter for small children and/or midgets, a roof for a tiny gazebo, a protest sign, a miniature frog pond and, of course, a planter. It turned out to be a universally useful/useless piece of crap, depending on how you looked at it.

It started well. I used 1/16-inch Luan for the top and narrow slats of 1/2-inch for the frame, which I cut to gentle curves that made the top into a cold-molded conic section with just a tiny bit of spherical distortion for added stiffness. I filleted the inside joints, sealed the plywood with epoxy, fiberglassed and faired the top… and then I tossed it. Actually, I gave it to some artists, thinking they might use it for some sort of art installation. It didn’t make that good a cockpit awning: too heavy, too difficult to mount securely, plus it added too much windage aft. I didn’t think it would survive a hurricane (unlike the hard dodger I made earlier, which survived passing close to the eye of Hurricane Matthew with no damage).

I did most of the work on sawhorses on the floating dock at the marina. All of the other marina denizens, who mostly just sat on their boats and got drunk, were rather enthusiastic, and a few even tossed some business my way, fixing stuff on their boats. But the marina staff were less enthusiastic, talked about made-up “customer complaints” and eventually exiled me, together with my sawhorses and tools, to a windless, gravel-paved back lot, where I worked roasting in the sun. The hostile work environment probably had something to do with the project’s ultimate failure, but mostly I blame myself, for not spending enough time on the design phase.

There are plenty of designs that are specifically useful for their stated purpose, but are otherwise completely useless. In this category are special-purpose tools, like the egg slicer or the lemon juicer. Yes, they make short work of slicing hard-boiled eggs or juicing lemons, but beyond that they just add clutter. In a pinch, both can be used to prop open doors and windows, and the egg slicer makes a tiny out-of-tune harp, in case you are ever in need of a really pathetic sound effect. But that’s it.

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