How the “Solar Winds” hack went down

Image Source: Republican Policy Committee, US Senate

Nearly every day in our digital lives, we see a multitude of apps on our phones or laptops get updated – innocuous maintenance updates that invariably include words to the effect of “This release addresses maintenance updates, stability improvements, and bug fixes.” It was during one of these routine releases late last year that triggered one of the more immensely damaging and wide ranging hacks the US has ever seen, commonly known as the Solar Winds hack. It is named after the company of the same name, and was triggered by an update of their widely used Orion software that helps companies and major technology operations in the US Government monitor network activity. Like a tiger laying in wait, the seemingly boring update triggered what many believe is one of the largest and most damaging hacks the US has ever seen. For many who analyze this sort of thing, the true impact of this will not be able to be calculated for months if not years.

In the months since it happened, NPR has been doing its research to learn more about how exactly it went down and where the checks and balances failed. As was reported when it happened, the brilliance and sophistication of the hack can not be understated.

Network monitoring software is a key part of the backroom operations we never see. Programs like Orion allow information technology departments to look on one screen and check their whole network: servers or firewalls, or that printer on the fifth floor that keeps going offline. By its very nature, it touches everything — which is why hacking it was genius…

The SolarWinds attackers ran a master class in novel hacking techniques. They modified sealed software code, created a system that used domain names to select targets and mimicked the Orion software communication protocols so they could hide in plain sight. And then, they did what any good operative would do: They cleaned the crime scene so thoroughly investigators can’t prove definitively who was behind it. The White House has said unequivocally that Russian intelligence was behind the hack. Russia, for its part, has denied any involvement.

“The tradecraft was phenomenal,” said Adam Meyers, who led the cyber forensics team that pawed through that tainted update on behalf of SolarWinds, providing details for the first time about what they found. The code was elegant and innovative, he said, and then added, “This was the craziest f***ing thing I’d ever seen.”

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR

The first foundation blocks of the hack started in late 2019 when the hackers inserted a seemingly simple line of code into the software that would indicate to them if the server used a 32-bit or 64-bit processor. Once the hackers were able to see a response to that simple query, they knew they could wreak some havoc. And five months later, they set down further foundational blocks by inserting code that would inform them whenever there was an impending software update.

Under normal circumstances, developers take the code out of the repository, make changes and then check it back in. Once they finish tinkering, they initiate something called the build process, which essentially translates the code a human can read to the code a computer does. At that point, the code is clean and tested. What the hackers did after that was the trick.

They would create a temporary update file with the malicious code inside while the SolarWinds code was compiling. The hackers’ malicious code told the machine to swap in their temporary file instead of the SolarWinds version. “I think a lot of people probably assume that it is the source code that’s been modified,” Meyers said, but instead the hackers used a kind of bait-and-switch.

But this, Meyers said, was interesting, too. The hackers understood that companies such as SolarWinds typically audit code before they start building an update, just to make sure everything is as it should be. So they made sure that the switch to the temporary file happened at the last possible second, when the updates went from source code (readable by people) to executable code (which the computer reads) to the software that goes out to customers.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR

Similar to the situation that happened in the days and weeks leading up to the 9|11 attacks, there were small signals and flags that were picked up by random people in random places, however none of those pieces were put together to demonstrate that something nefarious was going on. It was only after a network administrator at FireEye discovered that there was a listing for two phones for a single employee that they realized that there was a hacker within their network.

Another reason why this hack was such a ‘work of art’ was that all the normal trackers look for ‘normal techniques’ which usually account for 90 to 95% of all attacks. This one was so unique and so stealth that it completely bypassed all normal checks.

Like other catastrophic failures of all shapes and sizes, this hack had its warning signs. There was just no one there looking at the big picture that could have put these pieces together to see what may be happening just beneath the surface. The NPR article is a really great read, and probably worth a second read, just to really grasp the level of sophistication some of these nefarious hacking organizations have.

How the Patriots found him

Last week, Julian Edelman of the New England Patriots retired from pro football after an amazing 13 year career with the only team he knew. Edelman started his football career at a Quarterback at a Southern California Junior college and then transferred to Kent State University in Ohio to play the same position. He was making headlines at Kent State at QB, however the prospect of a 5’9″ QB from a Missouri Valley Conference school breaking through in the pros was slim to none. Yet, the scouts on the Patriots staff saw something, and the story of how they developed relationships with the coaches at the school, and evaluated how Edelman could possibly play other positions in the pros is a story I absolutely love. From Mike Reiss at ESPN:

But Julian was a heck of a football player, and you don’t want to discard really good football players. So you think outside the box and try to get creative, try to find a role for him. There were reasons you thought it could work. He had incredible short-area quickness. He had really good reactive cutting ability. He had great football instincts in terms of feeling people — spatial awareness, things of that nature. Extremely tough with the ball in this hands.

“Digging into the background part of it, he was extremely competitive. The fact he was a California [Junior College] kid and assimilated at a school in the Rust Belt, that’s not easy to do. He’d come out to practice and B.S. with the wideouts, so you could tell he was comfortable with that position group, and that made you feel good — that he was one of the guys.”

Nagy recalled that Edelman just wanted to play football, and bought into the idea of a position switch in the pros — which doesn’t always happen with prospects. The Patriots had December scouting meetings, and then their standard cross-check process in February, with Pioli assigning Nagy wide receivers as his cross-check position. Through that process, Edelman landed on the team’s draft board.

Mike Reiss

Wether he makes the NFL Hall of Fame is up for vigorous debate and that decision and evaluation is way beyond my influence. However, this life long Patriots fan has nothing but respect and happy memories of all that he did to help the team win several Super Bowl championships. He was dependable, tough as nails, and made some phenomenal plays during his career, none more important that the catch in the photo above that he made against the Falcons in SB LII.

Confirmed Russian Collusion

In case this was overlooked with all the other news that is out there these days, a press release from the US Treasury department confirmed what most thought was true but had not been confirmed by the Mueller Report or the bi-partisan Senate Intelligence Committee – what actually happened after Paul Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with the polling data and campaign strategy back in 2016? Yup, Kilimnik passed it on to the Russian Intelligence Agency (aka the “new” KGB) and it likely made its way to Putin himself. From the always excellent Letters From An American Substack:

We also knew from the Senate Intelligence Report that Manafort had provided Kilimnik with secret polling data from the Trump campaign in 2016—his business partner and campaign deputy Rick Gates testified to that—but the committee did not have evidence about what Kilimnik had done with that data.

Today’s Treasury document provides that information. It says: “During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy.”

It is hard to overestimate the significance of this statement. It says that Trump’s 2016 campaign manager, Paul Manafort, provided secret polling data and information about campaign strategy to a Russian intelligence officer, who shared it with Russian intelligence. Russian intelligence, as we also know from both the Mueller Report and the Senate Intelligence Committee report, both hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign, and targeted U.S. social media to swing the 2016 election against Democrat Hillary Clinton and to Donald Trump.

By itself, the statement that the Trump campaign worked with Russian intelligence is earthshaking. But aside from the information about the exchange of this particular kind of intelligence in 2016, this statement also indicates that the Trump campaign itself was not simply operating in happy if unintentional tandem with Russian intelligence– which was as far as the Muller Report was willing to go– but in fact had an open channel with Russian operatives. That’s a game-changer in terms of how we understand 2016 and, perhaps, the years that have followed it.

Heather Cox Richardson

Just so we’re clear, 70 million US citizens voted to re-elect a US President who worked directly with the Russians to ‘win’ the 2016 election, got impeached twice, incited an insurrection on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, and botched the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to the tune of 500,000+ dead US American citizens. Amongst other things.

Abandoned Soviet era copycat Space Shuttles

Two Russian, Soviet era, space shuttles abandoned in Kazakhstan. via CNN

Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, with the US and Russia locked in the depths of the “Cold War”, the US took a major step ahead of Russia in the ‘space race’ by launching the inaugural Space Shuttle mission. Russia felt the need to compete with the US and develop their own version of the Space Shuttle, which they did with great similarity.

A few years ago, some photographers from Europe found their way to sneak into an abandoned hangar in Kazakhstan (neither was named Borat) not too far from the active Russian space launch pads that are currently used today, where these two old Russian shuttles still sit.

It was the Soviet response to the space shuttle, designed to take the Cold War into space. But after just one flight, it was mothballed. Now, the ruins of what was called the Buran program are left to rust in the steppe of Kazakhstan.

Two shuttles and a rocket lie in disused hangars, not far from the launchpad of that first flight, at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It’s an active spaceport about 1,500 miles southeast of Moscow, still used today to send and retrieve astronauts from the International Space Station.

The site is not open to the public, but a few adventurers have mustered the courage to sneak in and take a look.Among them is French photographer David de Rueda, who visited the site three times between 2015 and 2017: “The space shuttles are only a few hundred meters from active facilities. Getting there was an epic adventure, we didn’t know if we would make it because the Kazakh steppe is a hostile environment. But it was entirely worth it. This place is unreal,” he said in an email interview.

CNN

These shuttle, called Buran (Russian for ‘blizzard’), only went on one flight in 1988, a year before Communism and the Cold War fell along with the Berlin Wall. As the world changed, the Russian money used to fund this experiment dried up and they never did any further flights.

The photos in this article are spectacular and you have to think that the sheer thrill that the photographers had in sneaking into these hangars must have been off the charts.

Alright alright alright

A ‘supercut’ of all the iconic scenes that Matthew McConaughey was in from the movie “Dazed & Confused”. I re-watched this movie a few months ago and just loved every scene that Wooderson was in. I wanted to be there. I wanted to hang out with him. He jumped off the screen.

The backstory of how he got the role is pretty awesome, as detailed in this excerpt from his recently released book Greenlights. To his credit, it wasn’t the ageless ‘Alright, alright, alright’ scene that he keyed on when reading the script – since it was essentially improvised and didn’t exist in the script. He focused in on, in my mind, the even more iconic line:

That’s what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age.”

The whole scene when he is hanging out at the drive in with the guys, hanging on the wall, just dripping ‘cool’ is fantastic. He owned every piece of that scene, culminating in him delivering that line. The back story on how he thought through how he was going to present Wooderson for that scene is great:

Wooderson was 22 years old but still hanging out around the high school. That line opened up an entire world into who he was, an encyclopedia into his psyche and spirit. I thought about my brother Pat when he was a senior, and I was 11. He was my big brother, my hero. One day, Pat’s Z28 was in the shop so Mom and I were picking him up from high school.

We were slowly pulling through campus in our ’77 wood-paneled station wagon, Mom driving, me peering out the window in the back seat. Pat was not where we had planned to meet him.

“Where is he?” asked Mom.

Turning my head to look left and right and then out the back window, I saw him about a hundred yards behind us, leaning against the brick wall in the shade of the school’s smoking section, one knee bent, boot sole against the side of the building, pulling on a Marlboro, cooler than James Dean and two feet taller.

“Ther — !!” I started to shriek, then caught my tongue because I realized he’d get in trouble for smoking.

“What’s that?” Mom asked.

“Nothin, Mom, nothin.”

That image of my big brother, leaning against that wall, casually smoking that cigarette in his low-elbow, loose-wristed, lazy-fingered way, through my romantic 11-year-old little brother eyes, was the epitome of cool. He was literally 10 feet tall. It left an engraved impression in my heart and mind.

And 11 years later, Wooderson was born from that impression.

Matthew McConaughey

Twenty eight years later, Mr. McConaughey is still super cool and still riding the wave of that iconic performance.

The Louvre digitizes its full collection

Italie Panini, Giovanni Paolo, Musée du Louvre

The Louvre in Paris last week announced that it had digitized its entire museum collection of artwork, a collection that is close to a staggering half a million pieces.

While trying to navigate and enjoy the entire collection could be daunting, they did break it down into different ‘albums’ such as Masterpieces, Historical Events, and Kings, Queens and Emperors, to name a few.

To me, the album that is most interesting is the National Museums Recovery, which highlights stolen or hidden artwork from World War II that has been recovered by the museum.

After World War II, 61,000 works of art were retrieved in Germany and brought back to France. Many had been stolen from Jewish families. To date, more than 45,000 have been returned to their rightful owners. Unclaimed works were sold by the French State, with the exception of 2,143 objects placed under the legal responsibility of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and entrusted to French national museums for safekeeping. These works are not the property of the State. The Musée du Louvre, is committed to carrying out research to find their rightful owners or beneficiaries. 

Louvre

The piece above, The Roman Forum (Vue du Forum à Rome) by Giovanni Panini is one piece from this album/collection and I found it really striking. It is really neat to see the other works that have been recovered in this collection. It also serves as a reminder of what was stolen from broader society during the time of World War II.

The Legacy of the Cassette tape

The inventor of the cassette tape, Lou Ottens, died earlier this week. From the NY Times:

In these digital days, it may be hard to appreciate how radically Lou Ottens changed the audio world when, in 1963, he and his team at Philips, the Dutch electronics company, introduced the cassette tape.

“As the story goes, Lou was home one night trying to listen to a reel-to-reel recording when the loose tape began to unravel from its reel,” Zack Taylor, who directed the 2017 film “Cassette: A Documentary Mixtape,” said by email.

Mr. Ottens was in charge of product development at the Philips plant in Hasselt, Belgium, at the time.

“The next morning,” Mr. Taylor continued, “a frustrated Lou Ottens gathered the engineers and designers from the Philips audio division and insisted that they create something foolproof: The tape had to be enclosed, and the player had to fit in his jacket pocket.”

The cassette was a way to play music in a portable fashion, something not easily done with vinyl, and to record it conveniently as well. Artists started using cassettes to record passing ideas. Bootleggers used them to record live concerts for the underground market. Young lovers used them to swap mix tapes of songs that expressed their feelings.

Soon record labels began releasing entire albums on cassettes and automakers were installing cassette players on dashboards.

Another portable technology, the bulkier 8-track cartridge, was introduced in the same period, but cassettes, smaller and recordable, quickly doomed those devices, and also cut into the vinyl market.

NY Times

To me, the juxtaposition of Mr. Ottens, an engineer from the Netherlands, and the up and coming urban rappers from NYC (and other cities) who used and embraced his invention to distribute their music, for the exact reasons that Mr. Ottens was frustrated with other formats of the time, can not be understated.

There is a great documentary on Amazon called Cassette: A Documentary Mix Tape. The trailer is below and you can also see several clips and deleted scenes on the documentary’s website.

The importance of Mr. Ottens’ creation across the globe is staggering, if you really think about it, especially in the context of the birth of rap music in the 1970s and the ability of the kids of a certain generation to make mix tapes as a method of expression.

Over the past several years, there has been a renewed interest in cassette tapes. Modern artists today regularly offer up their albums in the cassette format (vinyl too!). While cassettes clearly are not as popular today as they were ‘back in the day’, it seems obvious that the format will never really go away.

GameStop Getting Played

Over the past few days, but really over the past few weeks, GameStop’s stock price has been on a rocket ship ride. It all started when a bunch of folks on the Reddit board WallStreetBets observed that several large institutional investors had shorted GameStop’s stock. So over the past month or so, all of those private investors who follow that Reddit board started buying GME’s stock to drive its value up, thus driving huge possible losses for those institutional investors who bet against the retailer. From the CNBC article:

GameStop has rallied more than 680% in January alone as an army of retail investors marshaled against short sellers in online chat rooms, encouraging each other to pile on and keep pushing the stock higher. Short sellers have amassed a mark-to-market loss of more than $5 billion year to date in the stock, including a loss of $917 million on Monday and $1.6 billion on Friday, according to data from S3 Partners.

This activity was then sent into overdrive when Elon Musk tweeted about it.

Those are some big numbers pointing in the wrong direction. As noted when chatting with a friend today about this, someone is going to be holding the bag on this and it will not be pretty.

A New Day To Look Forward

Yesterday was the last day that we never had a female Vice President of the United States. Congratulations to VP Kamala Harris. This is a big deal and we should not let it go unnoticed.

And stating the obvious here, but the poem by Amanda Gorman. WOW!

Today is a good day for the United States and the World. There is work to do. A LOT of work. But today is a good day to build on.

Everything He Touches Dies

Over the past 5+ years, one of the most vocal and astute observers of the 45th President has been Seth Abramson. Through his Twitter feed, his “Proof” trilogy of books, and now his Substack, he has done a masterful job of aggregating all the reported news on everything having to do with 45, his family of grifters, and the corrupt politicians and lackeys that have enabled him over the past 5+ years, and then stitched it all together into a compelling and damning narrative of the lies, deceit and corruption that has taken place over this timeframe. The damage that has been done to the United States over this short time frame can not be understated. So on the last day of the “Agent Orange” presidency, take a few minutes to read his reminder to never forget what has actually happened over the past 5 years and the utter chaos and damage that has been sowed on our country, to people’s lives, and to the rule of law. Seth’s essay closed with the following:

All I can ask is that we remember the reason for our forgetting: that this president staged his presidency in such a way as to generate so many needless crises per week it was impossible to focus on any one of them for very long. And when finally caught out in illicit conduct he couldn’t distract us from, he used a pliant right-wing media and equally pliant political partners to shame mainstream journalists into a risible “bothsidesism” we still haven’t moved beyond. Had media not permitted itself to be falsely chastened by this historically hypocritical president, it would have given more than a passing mention to the genuinely jaw-dropping revelations about Donald Trump and his aides, allies, advisers, associates, agents, and attorneys that were contained in the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report.

Just so, there would have been follow-ups on stories that were instead permitted to fall through the cracks for the sake of newer and shinier scandals. So it was that the policy atrocities of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos largely escaped sustained attention, or the president’s handling of our immigration system through nothing more than a vanity wall and xenophobic contempt, or the way he orchestrated the brutalization of social justice protesters in the nation’s capital and elsewhere in the summer of 2020.

A man as monstrous as Donald Trump can only continue to move in polite society if he leaves in his wake a swell of forgetfulness so dazzlingly mercurial we can’t help but watch the foam and spray glisten in the sun. Those of us who never bought into this inveterate con man’s schtick might think ourselves immune to his supposed charms, but we are not immune to the way he controlled and manipulated and artificially foreshortened over a thousand news cycles full of disgrace, horror, and vile conduct.

In other words, we don’t remember what we don’t remember, and Trump counts on it.

So for all that this despicable brigand from New York City really should have attended Joe Biden’s inauguration, and really should have written a nice note for his successor to leave in a drawer in the Resolute Desk, and for all that he really shouldn’t be seeking to upstage the inauguration of the 46th President of the United States via a schlocky pseudo-military sendoff at Joint Base Andrews, can we also remember—not just in broad strokes, but the rank particulars—that Donald Trump is a career criminal, a seditious insurrectionist, a serial sexual assailant, and a grave national security threat?

Seth Abramson

I was on a family vacation in London in November, 2016 when the news came that he had won the Presidency. And at that time, I said that we as a nation were completely screwed (using much more colorful language). Four years later, THAT may have been the understatement of the century.

The work needed to extricate our country from the damage of the past 4+ years only now begins, and it will not be easy to get us back on the right path. That said, let’s celebrate the incoming administration and the fact that we elected a woman of color to the post of Vice President of the United States, and that the residents of Georgia elected a black pastor and a Jewish man to their two Senate seats.

Aggregation of 500+ Insurrection Videos

Unless you live under a rock, or choose to live in a media bubble filled with lies and misinformation, you should be aware that after the violent mob attacked the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021, the ‘unfiltered’ social media site Parler was also taken offline by Apple, Google, and Amazon. In addition, a social activist hacker who was thinking quickly downloaded practically all the activity that was posted to the service.

Operating on little sleep, @donk_enby began the work of archiving all of Parler’s posts, ultimately capturing around 99.9 percent of its content. In a tweet early Sunday, @donk_enby said she was crawling some 1.1 million Parler video URLs. “These are the original, unprocessed, raw files as uploaded to Parler with all associated metadata,” she said. Included in this data tranche, now more than 56 terabytes in size, @donk_enby confirmed that the raw video files include GPS metadata pointing to exact locations of where the videos were taken.

Gizmodo

After that, all this amazingly valuable and incriminating information was released and from there, the folks at Pro Publica sifted through all the videos that were posted to Parler, pulled out about 500+ of the most relevant ones, and aggregated them by the time they were shot and the location that they were shot at. The result is a chronological mash up of all these videos from about Noon on January 6th through to 6pm.

Pro Publica had access to this ‘meta’ information because Parler uploaded the raw files to their servers – meaning all the original ‘meta data’ attached to the videos such as time and location – and this information was still there and attached to these videos.

I’m sure this will be very valuable information for law enforcement.

Ted Lasso AFC Richmond Wallpapers

Ted Lasso - AFC Richmond

As with many folks out there binging anything worthwhile on TV and streaming services, I finally got around to watching Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. When I first saw the promos and trailers for the series, I was as skeptical as many other folks out there. The history of television shows that have mutated from advertising campaigns (NBC originally used the Ted Lasso character to promote their coverage of the English Premier League football) is not a pleasant story – see: ABC’s Cavemen via Geico. Yet somehow, Apple TV+ and the show runners have figured out something that works – what a fun, enjoyable, and entertaining series.

So, in honor of the show and its fictitious EPL club AFC Richmond, and the fact that I have a disturbing habit/hobby of making desktop wallpapers of actual EPL clubs, I share with you AFC Richmond Home and Away desktop wallpapers to be downloaded and used to your heart’s content. Like all the others I create, the wallpaper dimensions are 2560 x 1440 pixels and you can drag/drop or download them right to your desktop. You will also be able to find these in the “Television” tab of the Movies, TV & Misc. collection of Wallpapers on my site.

For the AFC Richmond Home kit, I created two versions – one with the red/yellow stripe offset right to mimic the actual kit layout in the show, while the logo is in the center of the wallpaper. The other version has the red/yellow stripe centered with the logo, to mimic how the logo overlays the stripe on the show’s kit. Different folks will have different preferences, so I thought I’d just do it both ways.

AFC Richmond – Home (Offset Vertical Stripe)
AFC Richmond – Home (Centered Vertical Stripe)
AFC Richmond – Away
AFC Richmond – Training (Practice)

Asleep At the Computer

From the NY Times on the recent hack of pretty much every security department system in the US Government:

Over the past few years, the United States government has spent tens of billions of dollars on cyberoffensive abilities, building a giant war room at Fort Meade, Md., for United States Cyber Command, while installing defensive sensors all around the country — a system named Einstein to give it an air of genius — to deter the nation’s enemies from picking its networks clean, again.

It now is clear that the broad Russian espionage attack on the United States government and private companies, underway since spring and detected by the private sector only a few weeks ago, ranks among the greatest intelligence failures of modern times.

Einstein missed it — because the Russian hackers brilliantly designed their attack to avoid setting it off. The National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security were looking elsewhere, understandably focused on protecting the 2020 election.

NY Times

Once again, while the US Government is playing checkers, our adversaries are playing chess when it comes to cyber-security. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that even as the US Government has spent billions to set up their ironically named “Einstein” cyber-security system, it wasn’t that system that detected the hack. It was a private company – the US Government vendor FireEye – that actually detected it and alerted US authorities.

How Thanksgiving Became “Thanksgiving”

Image source: Wikipedia Commons

Yes, there was a feast near Plymouth Plantation between the European settlers and the Native Americans way back in 1621. That is the branding and the omnipresent visuals that have pervaded the holiday over the past decades. The reality is that Thanksgiving did not become a ‘thing’ until the era of the Civil War. From the awesome Substack newsletter of Heather Cox Richardson (History Professor at Boston College):

That first Thanksgiving celebration was not in Plymouth, Massachusetts. While the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags did indeed share a harvest feast in fall 1621, and while early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and– with luck—prosperity, neither of these gave rise to our national celebration of Thanksgiving.

We celebrate Thanksgiving because of the Civil War.

Heather Cox Richardson

During the Civil War, there was a period when the prospects of the Union army was not looking good. So the Governors of several states declared a ‘thanksgiving’ holiday to celebrate the troops efforts and drum up support for the cause. The original date of Thanksgiving was August 6th. However, as the Civil War raged on, the Union Army started to secure some victories – none bigger than Vicksburg on July 4th of 1863. And from there, Lincoln decided that a second date for giving thanks to the troops was needed.

The following year, Lincoln proclaimed another day of thanksgiving, this time congratulating Americans that God had favored them not only with immigration but also with the emancipation of formerly enslaved people. “Moreover,” Lincoln wrote, “He has been pleased to animate and inspire our minds and hearts with fortitude, courage, and resolution sufficient for the great trial of civil war into which we have been brought by our adherence as a nation to the cause of freedom and humanity, and to afford to us reasonable hopes of an ultimate and happy deliverance from all our dangers and afflictions.”

Lincoln established our national Thanksgiving to celebrate the survival of our democratic government.

Heather Cox Richardson

It is always interesting to peel back the perception of how certain traditions started to learn the real history of what circumstances really led to what we celebrate today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Gaelic Football’s Final Four The Same As Bloody Sunday 100 Years Ago

Bloody Sunday Ticket - Tipperary v Dublin
Bloody Sunday Ticket - Tipperary v Dublin
Image via Adams Auctions (https://www.adams.ie)

Recently, and over the next few years, there will be several centennial anniversaries related to the Irish War of Independence that took place roughly 100 years ago (1919-1921) and was led by Irish heroes like Michael Collins. A key event during that difficult time was the Bloody Sunday massacre that took place 100 years ago this past Saturday, November 21st. It was on this day where people attending a Gaelic Football game at Croke Park in Dublin were attacked by British operatives in retaliation for the death of 14 British intelligence officers earlier that day at the hands of the Irish Republican Army. Charles Piece wrote a great piece at The Defector detailing what happened:

Dublin was on edge. That morning, in a coordinated attack, guerrillas under the command of IRA leader Michael Collins fanned out of the city and systematically decapitated the British intelligence apparatus in the Irish capital. In a single operation, the IRA killed 14 people it had identified as British intelligence operatives. It was one of the most decisive episodes in the War of Independence that had begun in 1919 and it shook the British government in Ireland to its core. Suspicions arose that the gunmen may have planned to melt into the crowd at Croke Park; the GAA was born out of the same burst of Irish nationalism that eventually would lead to the Easter Rising and the birth of the IRA. (In fact, historians now believe that John McDonnell, the goalkeeper of the Dublin side, had been involved in the killing that morning of two British intelligence agents before showing up to play the match. That is one rich, full day.) The money raised at the challenge game would go to a fund that supported the families of Republican prisoners still held in British jails.

At Croke Park on the afternoon of November 21, 1920, about five minutes after the game had begun, the attention of the spectators was drawn by an airplane that circled above the stadium twice and then fired off a red flare. 

As if it were a signal, which it likely was, the police and soldiers surrounding the neighborhood stormed into Croke Park through its southwest gate and opened up on the crowd with rifles and revolvers. When the killing was done, 14 people were dead. They included three schoolboys—10-year-old Jerome O’Leary, 11-year-old William Robinson, and 14-year-old John William Scott—as well as Jane Boyle, a 26-year old who was planning to be married later that week, and Michael Hogan, a Tipperary player who was killed while crawling to cover. Somewhere between 60 and 100 people were wounded.

Charles Piece, The Defector

On that fateful Sunday 100 years ago, the final four teams that had survived the Gaelic Football playoffs were Dublin, Mayo, Tipperary and Cavan. And wouldn’t you know that fate would mess with us 100 years on.

The biggest of the planned centenary commemorations, some of which had been in the works for years, were downsized or outright canceled because of COVID-19. But the games went on, sans fans and English soldiers. And from the just-completed quarterfinal round of the GAA’s All-Ireland tournament (an annual competition that grips the nation and is played exclusively by amateur athletes representing their home counties) it appears that the Gaelic football gods remembered what happened all those years ago. The four sides that advanced over the weekend to next month’s semifinals—Dublin, Mayo, Tipperary and Cavan—are the exact same quartet that made the semis in 1920, the year of the bloodbath. 

The 2020 Gaelic Final Four semi finals will take place the weekend of December 5-6 and the Championship will be held on December 19.

Why America’s medical professionals are petrified about this winter and the Coronavirus

From the LA Times:

If you want to know why public health officials are so nervous about how much worse the COVID-19 pandemic will get as the holiday season unfolds, consider what happened after a single, smallish wedding reception that took place this summer in rural Maine.

Only 55 people attended the Aug. 7 reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket. But one of those guests arrived with a coronavirus infection. Over the next 38 days, the virus spread to 176 other people. Seven of them died.

None of the victims who lost their lives had attended the party.

Over the past few weeks, as we all know by now, the volume of cases in the United States has exploded to levels that have exceeded the worst days of the pandemic from this past spring. The current administration has had one meeting of their COVID Task Force since mid October, and that was only held this week, likely because of peer pressure since President-elect Joe Biden has already created a COVID task force and held their first meeting on Tuesday. The current President is in a self-imposed ‘time out’ where he’s spent the past week pouting about losing the general election, while the rest of the country is drowning in COVID outbreaks.

The most infuriating aspect of this whole pandemic is that most of this carnage was preventable. If the current President had just acted on the intelligence that he received in December of 2019, instead of waiting until January 18th to take his first meeting with Health & Human Services officials, it is reasonable to deduce we could have prevented more than half of the 240,000+ deaths that we have had so far as a result of the virus if people and the administration had listened to medical professionals and promoted the idea of wearing a mask. Instead, the president undermined the message from the very beginning and turned it into a political issue. Let that sink in. Instead of me trying to explain this any further, just watch John Oliver explain it in plain terms:

So now, we are heading into the holiday season, where families usually get together and the weather is starting to get much colder. It is inevitable that the Coronavirus may explode beyond the alarming numbers we are seeing today.

Has the Coronavirus ‘magically gone away’? I don’t think so.

Who are we?

From Frank Bruni at The NY Times:

Opinion: “Trump snuffed out my confidence, flickering but real, that we could go only so low and forgive only so much. With him we went lower — or at least a damningly large percentage of us did. In him we forgave florid cruelty, overt racism, rampant corruption, exultant indecency, the coddling of murderous despots, the alienation of true friends, the alienation of truth itself, the disparagement of invaluable institutions, the degradation of essential democratic traditions.

He played Russian roulette with Americans’ lives. He played Russian roulette with his own aides’ lives. In a sane and civil country, of the kind I long thought I lived in, his favorability ratings would have fallen to negative integers, a mathematical impossibility but a moral imperative. In this one, they never changed all that much.

Polls from mid-October showed that about 44 percent of voters approved of Trump’s job performance — and this was after he’d concealed aspects of his coronavirus infection from the public, shrugged off the larger meaning of it, established the White House as its own superspreader environment and cavalierly marched on.

Forty-four percent. Who in God’s name are we?”

Don’t steal a Banksy

Via www.streetartbio.com/artists/banksy/

Most people familiar with the artist Banksy. He (or she. I will use ‘he/his’ moving forward) is known for not being known. And he is also known for his distinctive modern art that ‘pops up’ in unique spots all around the world. With the nature of Banksy’s art being so public and displayed in such public spaces, it is really interesting how he (or she) goes about distributing ‘Certificates of Authenticity’ to verify that the person who possess his art acquired it legitimately.

Banksy has established a virtual portal to authenticate whether specific works of his are both genuine and genuinely obtained — and, as the guy trying to get a painting valued admits, he’d visited the site and been told that the painting could not be validated because it was not obtained legally. 

Dubbed Pest Control, the service offers an easy-to-use interface to determine a particular work’s validity. Elsewhere on Pest Control’s site, they offer a more extensive explanation of what they do — namely, issue certificates of authenticity.

As for what that means, well — here’s what Pest Control themselves have to say: “The certificate of authenticity (COA) means you can buy, sell or insure a piece of art knowing it’s legitimate and the wheels won’t fall off,” they write. “Pest Control is the only source of COA’s for Banksy. We issue them for paintings, prints, sculptures and other attempts at creativity. We don’t issue them for things like stickers, posters, defaced currency or anything which wasn’t originally intended as a ‘work of art’.”

Pest Control also offers a “Keeping It Real” service, which lets prospective buyers of a work by Banksy confirm that the work is, in fact, legitimate. 

This situation came into full relief recently as someone who had ‘acquired’ an Banksy in Brighton UK had brought the piece onto Antiques Roadshow to get it appraised, only to be taken to the woodshed by the host, who chastised the person for not providing the ‘Certificate of Authenticity’.

I am a fan of Banksy’s work because of the way his art communicates a clear, many times withering, message about a topic, movement or circumstance that people need to pay attention to. What brings this home is not only the art itself, but the surface in which the art is painted and/or the environment surrounding the art. One of my favorite pieces that he has done was a mural on the corner of a garage in Port Talbot, Wales, UK. On one wall of the corner, it depicts a child in winter clothes with his arms outstretch and mouth open, seeming to be catching snowflakes with his tongue. If you look on the wall on the other side of the corner, you see that it is a burning garbage bin that is producing the flakes. The message he was sending had to do with the fact that Port Talbot is the home of one of the largest steel mills in the UK that produces immense pollution in and around that area. The accompanying video that he published on his Instagram account really brings the message home.

Update: Maybe my observation that Banksy may be a woman wasn’t too far off! From an article on Bloomberg from 2014:

But what Banksy Does New York makes plain is that the artist known as Banksy is someone with a background in the art world. That someone is working with a committee of people to execute works that range in scale from simple stencil graffiti to elaborate theatrical conceits. The documentary shows that Banksy has a different understanding of the street than the artists, street-writers, and art dealers who steal Banksy’s shine by “spot-jocking” or straight-up pilfering her work—swagger-jackers who are invariably men in Banksy Does New York. All of which serves as evidence against the flimsy theory that Banksy is a man.

The Half Life of A Twinkie

All the stories and legends about the half-life of Twinkies are a lie. The perception has always been that when global warming renders the world into a barren wasteland, or when a massive asteroid hits the earth like in the movie Armageddon, the one food product that would survive would be the Twinkie. With the level of chemicals and artificial sweeteners and flavors contained within the iconic snack, why would you think otherwise? Back in 2012, the Twinkies brand was on life support as Hostess was going bankrupt and people were starting to hoard the snack for posterity and to ensure their supply did not run out, as one does. And that is what Colin Purrington did, unaware that a real life pandemic would take hold of the world and drive him to search his basement eight years later for that old box of Twinkies. They’re Twinkies. They will last forever.

Like many people, Purrington believed Twinkies are basically immortal, although the official shelf life is 45 days. He removed a Twinkie from the box, unwrapped it — it looked fine — and took a bite. Then he retched.

“It tasted like old sock,” Purrington says. “Not that I’ve ever eaten old sock.”

That’s when he examined the other Twinkies. Two looked weird. One had a dark-colored blemish the size of a quarter. The other Twinkie was completely transformed — it was gray, shrunken and wrinkly, like a dried morel mushroom.

Enter some scientists from West Virginia University who did a full on scientific study of the 8 year old Twinkies and the fascinating dichotomy between some of the specimens, who on the outside looked as fresh as if you would have bought them today at your local 7-11, and others who had been completely ravaged by a fungus that had transformed the Twinkie into a shriveled mess, while sucking the air out of the packaging.

They noticed that the wrapping on the mummified Twinkie seemed to be sucked inward, suggesting that the fungus got in before the package was sealed and, while the fungus was consuming the Twinkie, it was using up more air or oxygen than it was putting out.

“You end up with a vacuum,” Lovett says. “And very well that vacuum may have halted the fungus’s ability to continue to grow. We just have the snapshot of what we were sent, but who knows if this process occurred five years ago and he just only noticed it now.”

Lovett had expected a horrific smell to hit them when they opened the snack cakes. “I though the smell would possibly kill one of us, but because of the mummification there really was no smell at all,” he says, “which was really a pleasant surprise.”

Moral of the story. Your snacks won’t last forever, even those as artificial as Twinkies. Eat them when they are fresh.