Hits and Misses

Hits and Misses

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Is Trump is a Russian Agent? Let's Hope So, Says Garrett Graff

On January 16, 2019, Garrett M. Graff In Wired summed up two competing and mutually exclusive ways to view President Trump.  I'll quote verbatim Graff's first three paragraphs, but I urge you to read his entire piece:  not only is it clear, but the clear presentation of evidence is devastating.*

"It would be rather embarrassing for Donald Trump at this point if Robert Mueller were to declare that the president isn't an agent of Russian intelligence.

"The pattern of his pro-Putin, pro-Russia, anti-FBI, anti-intelligence community actions are so one-sided, and the lies and obfuscation surrounding every single Russian meeting and conversation are so consistent, that if this president isn't actually hiding a massive conspiracy, it means the alternative is worse: America has elected a chief executive so oblivious to geopolitics, so self-centered and personally insecure, so naturally predisposed to undermine democratic institutions and coddle authoritarians, and so terrible a manager and leader, that he cluelessly surrounded himself with crooks, grifters, and agents of foreign powers, compromising the national security of the US government and undermining 75 years of critical foreign alliances, just to satiate his own ego.

"In short, we've reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election--or Trump will go down in history as the world most famous 'useful idiot,' as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it."

Either/Or hypotheses don't always work, however, not only because there can be some middle ground between the two extremes, but because chronologically they sometimes can be seen as "First/Then."  In this case, for example, it's altogether possible that Trump was first a "useful idiot" to the Russians, eager as he was to obtain Russian financing for his hotels that he couldn't obtain from US sources.  Then, compromised perhaps by acts like participating in Golden Showers or money laundering for the oligarchs (and of course both are possible), Trump became an agent of Russian intelligence.

All the more reason, then, to hope that Special Prosecutor Mueller's report gets published.

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*[I am unable to link to Wired, but you can read Graff's piece by Googling "Graff Trump Mueller."]


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Dillinger's With Saw, Plane & Chisel: How to Build Historic American Furniture

As a collector of American Colonial furniture for over fifty years and a user of hand tools for over thirty, I read Zachary Dillinger’s With Saw, Plane & Chisel: How to Build Historic American Furniture (Popular Woodworking Books, 2016) with keen interest. Unfortunately, the book fails to deliver what its title promises.

Dillinger’s six projects span a good hundred years. With detailed instructions and excellent photographs, Dillinger shows how to build a Jacobean chest of drawers, a William and Mary side chair, a Queen Anne stool, a Queen Anne desk, a Chippendale bookcase, and a Hepplewhite hunt board. But how historically accurate are these reproductions? A critical look at these projects soon reveals that they are generic, based less on specific surviving examples than on stylistic features generally attributed to whatever so-called period is in question. The sources for these six projects remain vague: Dillinger says that the William and Mary side chair copies a chair he owns and that the Hepplewhite hunt board comes from Vermont, but he does not give sources for his other projects. Even worse, three of his six projects distort what historic examples looked like.

Dillinger’s version of a “Queen Anne” stool, for example, is nothing less than grotesque.  Upholstered stools with cabriole legs were common in England with its more stratified society but rare in America. Squatty with bandy legs, Dillinger’s stool looks as if it had been whelped by an English bulldog. His “Queen Anne” desk also has faulty proportions:  Colonial slant-top desks with drawers were generally about as wide as they were high.  At 29 1/2” wide, Dillinger’s desk is unusually narrow for its height of 41”, so it looks top heavy. His “Chippendale” bookcase possibly could be considered an example of early 20th century Colonial Revival style, but it certainly isn’t representative of American bookcases from the second half of the eighteenth century. It’s a modern bookcase with some period details applied to the carcass the way icing is applied to a cake.

Half of the six projects, therefore, present distorted versions of Colonial American furniture. To that extent, they are not remotely “historic.” Dillinger’s With Saw, Plane & Chisel is a useful guide to hand tool techniques, but anyone who wants to understand period styles or reproduce furniture that looks right will be far better served by Jeffrey Greene’s American Furniture of the 18th Century: History, Technique and Structure (Taunton Press, 1996) or by Norman Vandal’s Queen Anne Furniture: History, Design and Construction (Taunton Press, 1990).

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Michael Flynn's Sentencing Memorandum

Former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn is back in the news. Last April, Flynn had admitted lying to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador Kislyak about sanctions. This was a criminal offense, but, as I commented at the time, sentencing was being deferred, presumably to ensure Flynn's continued cooperation. Special Prosecutor Mueller had no reason to go easy on Flynn unless Flynn could provide valuable information.

One piece of this information, I continued, would be naming the "very senior member" of Trump's transition team who directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about a United Nations Security Council  resolution. That person could well have been Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law, who perhaps was acting on his own--or perhaps was not. After firing Flynn as national security adviser, Trump tried again and again to get Flynn off the hook, even to the extent of directing the then Attorney General Sessions to fire the then Director of the FBI, James Comey. Why, precisely? As I asked a year ago: Just how deep does this rot go?

Yesterday, the Government's Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing Michael T. Flynn was submitted. Nearly all of the document has been redacted, but we can read that despite his previous "multiple false statements," Flynn's "substantial assistance" justifies "a sentence at the low end of the guideline range" (zero to six months). That substantial assistance apparently took place over the course of nineteen (19!) interviews. That in itself is remarkable, but even more remarkable is that no one has leaked what he said, just as no one has leaked what former White House counsel Don McGahn has said in his 30 hours of testimony and what Michael Cohen has said in his 70 hours of testimony.

Given that Washington leaks like a sieve, this silence is amazing. It is clear that Mueller's team is careful and thorough. Far from being "out of control," as Trump keeps insisting, Mueller is exerting remarkable control. His report, I predict, will be incontrovertible.  The problem in this era of conspiracy theorists will be those fanatics who will choose to ignore documentary evidence in favor of their own fantasies.  Their name is legion.


Monday, August 20, 2018

Rudolph Giuliani's "The Truth is Not the Truth"

That "failing" and "fake news" organ The New York Times had as its lead story in the Sunday edition of August 19, 2018, that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, had never been asked by Trump's team of lawyers to give a full accounting of his testimony to Mueller's investigators.  The potential consequences of this omission have caused consternation among Trump's lawyers.

Why are they so concerned?  In the first place, the first team had not invoked attorney-client privilege before McGahn testified.  Secondly, McGahn was almost certainly mindful of the historical example of former White House Counsel John Dean, who served time after Watergate.  Even more unsettling for the Trump team was the fact that when he testified McGahn believed that Trump might well have chosen him to be the fall guy in any obstruction of justice case relating to firing Comey as head of the FBI.  The result was that McGahn cooperated fully with Mueller's investigators.  How fully is fully?  Would you believe testifying on at least three occasions for a total of more than thirty hours?

Now, endowed with the wisdom of hindsight, Trump's second team of attorneys is frantically performing damage control.

How well is this damage control working?  Judging by that razor-sharp spokesman Rudolph Giuliani's performance on NBC's Meet the Press that same day on August 19th, not too well. In fact, Giuliani appears to have become untethered to any known reality.  It's surreal.

Speaking to his concern that Trump not be "rushed" into testifying and thus get "trapped into perjury," Giuliani declared that any statements made by the president in such an interview would not be true: "It's somebody's version of the truth, not the truth."

"Truth is truth," Chuck Todd, the show's host, responded.

"No, it isn't truth," Giuliani replied, apparently forgetting that the person in question was Trump himself and not "somebody" else.  And then comes Giuliani's kicker: "Truth isn't truth."

How long, O Lord, how long will this surreal farce continue?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trump's Revoking of John Brennan's Security Clearance

John Brennan was director of the CIA from March 2013 to January 2017.  As I noted in an earlier post, Brennan is one of the few who has dared publicly to criticize President Trump.  In a decision made some weeks ago but only announced yesterday, Trump has revoked Brennan's security clearance. Why? Brennan supposedly has demonstrated "erratic behavior" and "increasingly frenzied commentary."   Here, as so often in the recent past, the charges emanating from the topsy-turvey world of the Trump administration apply more pertinently to those who have made them.  I have quoted below some of the key passages from Brennan's Op-Ed piece in The New York Times of August 16, 2018. The ellipses indicate where I've cut, but I encourage everyone to read it in its entirety. Far from being erratic, let alone frenzied, Brennan is clear, logical, and devastatingly persuasive.

Brennan declares: "In my many conversations with James Comey, the FBI director, in the summer of 2016, we talked about the potential for American citizens, involved in partisan politics or not, to be pawns in Russian hands  We knew that Russian intelligence services would do all they could to achieve their objectives, which the United States intelligence community publicly assessed a few short months later were to undermine public faith in the American democratic process, harm the electability of the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, and show preference for Mr. Trump. . . .

"The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton.  By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

"Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do--and what they actually did--to win the election. . . . I am now aware--thanks to the reporting of an open and free press--of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.

"Mr. Trump's claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

"The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of "Trump Incorporated" attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets . . . .

"Mr. Trump clearly has become more desperate to protect himself and those close to him, which is why he made the politically motivated decision to revoke my security clearance in an attempt to scare into silence others who might dare to challenge him.  Now more than ever, it is critically important that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of investigators be allowed to complete their work without interference--from Mr. Trump or anyone else--so that all Americans can get the answers they so rightly deserve."

Trump's revoking of Brennan's security clearance is a clumsy attempt to intimidate not only him but others, whom he has named publicly.  Not only is this revocation unjustified by any malfeasance on Brennan's part, but it is clearly meant to silence, not so much Brennan's views, as those of other potentially damaging critics.  So much for the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment! Every American who cares about the rule of law should protest this bullying by our erratic and increasingly frenzied President, and every American worthy of the name should vigorously support Robert Mueller's investigation.  As the Romans declared, Fiat iustitia, ruat caelum: "Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!"

Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Singles Ad

I just discovered this singles ad in my files:  you may have seen it a few years ago, but it bears rereading.  The ad appeared in the Atlanta Journal.

"Single black female seeks male companionship.  Ethnicity unimportant.  I've a very good looking girl that loves to play.  I love long walks in the woods, riding in your pickup truck, hunting, camping, fishing trips, and cozy winter nights lying by the fire.  Candlelight dinners will have me eating out of your hand.  I'll be at the front door when you get home from work, wearing only what nature gave me.

Call xxx-xxx-xxxx and ask for Daisy."

Over 15,000 men found themselves talking to the Atlanta Humane Society about Daisy, an eight-week-old Black Lab.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Just What Is A Leisenring Lift?

James ("Big Jim") E. Leisenring of Allentown, PA, was a tool maker by trade whose expertise at fly fishing led to him becoming known as the Wet-Fly Wizard of the Brodheads.  He published The Art of Tying the Wet Fly in 1941 and died ten years later. His name has endured among fly fishers because he invented the "Leisenring Lift," a technique of fishing a wet fly or nymph underwater.

I thought I understood this technique: you fished the fly in the typical manner, casting it upstream and letting it drift down as drag-free as possible.  At the end of the drift, you raised your rod tip so that the nymph rose in the water column, thereby imitating a nymph swimming to the surface to metamorphose into a dun.  I had tried this lift from time to time, but never had enjoyed success with it.

Earlier this spring, while reading William C. Black's engaging survey, Gentlemen Preferred Dry Flies:  The Dry Fly and the Nymph, Evolution and Conflict (Univ. of New Mexico Press, 2010), I came across a quotation from Leisenring that stopped me in my tracks. What I thought I knew about the Leisenring Lift seemed to be altogether mistaken, so I decided to read what the Wizard himself had written.  Leisenring's book was reprinted by Crown with additional material by Vernon ("Pete") S. Hidy in 1971 as The Art of Tying the Wet Fly & Fishing the Flymph ("Flymph" is Hidy's coinage for a nymph near the surface or in the surface film that is about to become a dun).

Leisenring describes the lift in his last chapter, "Fishing a Wet Fly". His technique is based on first spotting a trout and then casting a fly upstream some fifteen feet or more above the trout. As the fly sinks to the bottom, the angler follows it with his rod, allowing no slack but being careful not to make the fly move unnaturally.

"Now watch the fly," Leisenring instructs the reader, invoking a dramatic scene: "It is almost to him, and would only have to travel about four more feet to pass right by his nose without his looking at it unless it can be made to appear alive and escaping.  At this point the progress of the rod following the fly is checked, and the pressure of the water against the stationary line and leader is slowly lifting the fly."

As the fly rises in the water current, Leisenring continues, its movement attracts the attention of the trout.  As Leisenring explains, "Now the fly becomes slightly efficient or animated and deadly, and the trout notices it.  The hackles or legs start to work, opening and closing, and our trout is backing downstream in order to watch the fly a little more, because he is not quite persuaded as yet.  Now you can see the fly become even more deadly.  As more water flows against the line, the fly rises higher off the bottom and the hackle is working in every fiber.  It will jump out of the water in a minute, now, and the trout is coming for it. Bang! He's got it" (p. 123).

The Leisenring Lift, then, is not caused by the angler raising the rod tip after the wet fly or nymph has come to the end of its drift.  Instead, the angler stops tracking the nymph's movement with his rod tip  partway through the drift, some four feet or so upstream from a specific trout's position.  Stopping the rod makes the current begin lifting the fly to the surface.  From the trout's point of view, it seems to be alive and to be escaping, and so the trout goes after it.

In the next to last paragraph, Leisenring repeats that elevating his rod tip is not what makes the fly seem alive and therefore desirable to the trout:  "I do not try to impart any fancy movements to my fly with my rod but simply allow the fly to advance naturally with the current over the stones and gravel until I check its progress gently by ceasing to follow it with my rod.  Then the slight tension from the water pressure flowing against my leader and line causes the fly to rise slowly, opening and shutting the hackles, giving a breathing effect such as a genuine insect would have when leaving the bottom of the stream to come to the surface.  The water will do all that is necessary to make a fly deadly if it is properly tied" (p. 124).

Twice, therefore, Leisenring states that checking his rod's movement causes the water current's pressure to move the fly upwards.  He does not elevate his rod tip to perform the Leisenring Lift.

That much seems clear.  One complicating factor is that apparently Leisenring practiced other techniques as well.  Dave Hughes knew Pete Hidy, commenting in Wet Flies (Stackpole Books, 1995) that Hidy had told him that Leisenring and he had meant to write another book on fishing the wet fly.  "'The Lift,' Pete said, 'was just one of many techniques that Jim used.  It's too bad that today everybody believes it was the only method he used'" (p. 29).

I believe we can see another method in an account by Ed Zern. Leisenring gave Zern a demonstration of nymphing one day on the Brodheads. As Zern tells the story in The Masters on the Nymph (ed. J. Michael Migel and Leonard M. Wright, Jr.; Nick Lyons Books, 1979), he was sitting on the bank, fishless, when Leisenring appeared (pp. 257-58).  Zern told him he had been reading The Art of Tying the Wet Fly and didn't understand how one could let the fly drift freely in the current and still maintain contact with it. "I'll show you," Leisenring said.

Leisenring then proceeded to stand quite close to a run and flipped the fly upstream, holding the rod tip high as the fly swept down beside him and then downstream. Zern comments that the fly traveled no more than fifteen feet. It was obvious to him that it drifted freely and Leisenring would have felt, and probably seen, any trout that touched the fly. The demonstration over, Leisenring went on downstream.  Zern stepped into the river, cast as Leisenring had, held the rod tip high, and proceeded to catch one brown trout after another!

Several points seem worth noting about this episode. First, Zern did not ask Leisenring to demonstrate the Lift (perhaps because the term was as yet unknown in the early '40's?). Instead, Zern asked him how he maintained contact with the fly as it came drifting down the bottom. We can't tell from Zern's description whether Leisenring let the water current raise the fly or not. I'd say perhaps not, as the fly continued to drift downstream. He wasn't trying for a specific trout but fishing the water.  So why was the rod tip high? I'd guess, and it's no more than a guess, that first Leisenring and then Zern had to hold the rod high to avoid drag from other currents, much indeed as one must when fishing a dry fly.

It's a shame Leisenring and Hidy never managed to write their book on fishing the wet fly. We have Leisenring's own words describing the Lift, and we can extrapolate from Ed Zern's account that Leisenring also fished a nymph on a short line with rod tip held high when he was fishing the water and not targeting a specific trout. What his other techniques for fishing a nymph or wet fly consisted of is a question that can't be answered.

But now I know that I was wrong about how to do the Leisenring Lift, I'm going to see what happens when I do it the right way. What worked once should work again.  I'd also like to hear from anyone who has used the Lift successfully.  Please comment.  Stay tuned, and tight lines!