Russian spies also suck

The news lately has been about the terrifying power of Russian intelligence agencies, who are accused of things such as destroying American democracy and assassinating dissidents in the heart of British power, so here is a reminder that Russian spies are just like Western spies, which is to say that they’re also stupid fucks:

Basically journalists were looking for info on a couple of Russian spies identified by the Dutch. Seeing as Russia is corrupt as shit, the traffic police’s car registration database had been sold on the black market years previously. The journos found the people in the database and saw that the address registered was for the GRU’s cyber warfare branch (the GRU is the Russian agency responsible for military intelligence). The spies registered because GRU officers are exempt from drunk driving charges, traffic stops, etc.  So the journos looked in the database for other people registered under the same address as the GRU building. The end result was that they found the names, dates of birth, cellphone numbers, government ID numbers, and whatnot for 305 Russian spies. And all because the spies wanted to avoid traffic tickets.

What do furries think of the Conservative party?

Yes, this was an actual question that was asked.

This weekend’s Conservative leadership convention shared space at the Toronto Congress Centre with the (much better-attended) 2017 Anime North convention. The National Post’s Maura Forrest took the opportunity to get out of the political bubble and talk to some real Canadians about their views on the issues and who they were hoping would win the leadership.

I have no words.

You’re under arrest

Police lay witchcraft charges after Toronto man billed $101,000 for evil spirit removal

So, uh, why do we still have a law against witchcraft? Couldn’t you arrest Wiccans under this law? This appears to be one of those zombie laws that are probably going to be purged from the Criminal Code, along with laws against crime comics and duelling.

Though looking into it further, the law appears to be against fraudulently practicing witchcraft, so I guess if you can actually transform a prince into a frog you’re in the clear.

The relevant part of the Criminal Code is this:

Canada Criminal Code – Part IX Offenses Against Rights of Property (False Pretences)

Pretending to practise witchcraft:

365 Every one who fraudulently
a) pretends to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration,
b) undertakes, for a consideration, to tell fortunes, or
c) pretends from his skill in or knowledge of an occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner anything that is supposed to have stolen or lost may be found

is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.

A summary offence is apparently a minor crime so you’re not looking at a life sentence here. And if you’re wondering what a “crafty science” is as referred to in c), then according to this Washington Post article, it’s an archaic legal term for fortunetelling and spell-casting. The legal phrase itself dates back to the time of Henry VIII of England, where a specific law punishes

all . . . idle persons going about in any countries or abiding in any city borough or town, some of them using divers & subtle crafty & unlawful games & plays & some of them feigning themselves to have knowledge in physic, physiognomy, palmistry, or other crafty science whereby they bear the people in hand, that they can tell their destinies deceases & fortunes & such other like fantastical imaginations to the great deceit of the King’s Subjects . . .

However, it was used colloquially in The Canterbury Tales to refer to alchemy. Also, this isn’t just a Canada thing – the town of Joplin in Missouri has an ordinance stating that

Any person who shall advertise by display of a sign, circular or handbill, or in any newspaper, periodical, magazine or other publication, or by any other means, to tell fortunes or reveal the future, to find or restore lost or stolen property, to locate oil wells, gold or silver or other ore or metal or natural products, to restore lost love, friendship or affection, or to reunite or procure lovers, husbands, wives, lost relatives or friends, or to give advice in business affairs, or advice of any kind or nature to others for or without pay, by means of occult or psychic powers, faculties or forces, clairvoyance, psychology, psychometry, phrenology, spirits, mediumship, seership, prophecy, astrology, palmistry, necromancy or like crafty science, cards, talismans, charms, potions, magnetism or magnetized articles or substances, oriental mysteries, crystal gazing or magic of any kind or nature shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor.

Do you notice the part where being a therapist who helps patients with relationship troubles legally means you can be arrested for witchcraft in Missouri? I like that part. I gotta say, this is just such an interesting rabbit hole to fall into.

Senpai notices Edmonton

Well, more like senpai notices other senpai blew up Edmonton.

Meanwhile, Rest of Canada argues over which city is Best Girl. Thank you, Grauniad, for your Guardian Canada week focusing on cities and topics across the country.

For increased amusement, check out the comments on the Toronto article, where Canadians alternatively defend and attack the T Dot whilst simultaneously claiming they don’t care if foreigners think Toronto is a world-class city.

Although having said that, I must admit I’ve been obsessively reading each piece in the series. What can I say? I also obsess over what the world thinks of Canada.

Spies in the night

I love spy stories. I especially love ones that are based on real events. That’s why I was fascinated by this news article about the only known Soviet agent to have infiltrated the CIA. The entire thing is a great read, but I especially liked this part:

In a psychological evaluation from that year, [the Czech intelligence service] described Koecher as “over-confident, hypersensitive, hostile towards people, money driven, showing a strong inclination to instability, emotionally unstable, possessing an anti-social almost psychopathic personality, touchy, intolerant of authoritarianism”.

In other words, just the man for the job.

Spies in the night

I love spy stories. I especially love ones that are based on real events. That’s why I was fascinated by this news article about the only known Soviet agent to have infiltrated the CIA. The entire thing is a great read, but I especially liked this part:

In a psychological evaluation from that year, [the Czech intelligence service] described Koecher as “over-confident, hypersensitive, hostile towards people, money driven, showing a strong inclination to instability, emotionally unstable, possessing an anti-social almost psychopathic personality, touchy, intolerant of authoritarianism”.

In other words, just the man for the job.

Science: School is for losers

Most amusing, Guardian. This is a rather droll observation:

It’s uncertain whether universities are delivering on their core purpose. One recent study tracked thousands of students during their time at university. It uncovered a rather disturbing picture: after two years at university, 45% of the students showed no significant improvement in their cognitive skills. After four years, 36% of students had not improved in their ability to think and analyse problems. In some courses – such as business administration – students’ cognitive abilities actually declined in the first few years.

Note the last bit about MBAs. Scientific evidence proves it makes people dumber!

The Non-Americans

Fascinating article from The Guardian about the US-raised children of a couple in Russia’s infamous Illegals spy program. It would of course be mind-blowing to discover as a teenager that your parents were secretly Russian deep cover spies trained by the KGB, and the article covers that in depth. Peripherally related to that issue is the fact that the TV show The Americans is very loosely based on the Illegals Program.

It’s kind of interesting to think about how the fictional kids on that show would react to the same revelation of their parents’ secret lives as enemies of the state. The real-life sons are currently trying to regain their Canadian citizenship (their parents’ cover having been that of Canadian immigrants to the US) and on reflection I think I wouldn’t mind if they became legit Canadians. As they point out, they barely know Russia and have few personal ties there. Plus they seem eager to live in and contribute to Canada, so what the hell. There’s plenty of room.

Also interesting is this video of the father in the story, Andrey Bezrukov. There is a noticeable non-native accent in his English speech, but it might be that he is no longer trying to disguise his origins or that his speech patterns have been influenced by the people around him after he has returned home – or both, probably.

Eat the Rich

So the revelations from the Panama Papers are all shocking and whatnot if you didn’t already assume that the world’s oligarchs were greedy pieces of shit. Though I suppose it’s interesting to see how specifically all this tax haven stuff works.

But what really surprised me was this picture from The Guardian:

Jasmine Li (centre) at the Crillon debutante ball for Vanity Fair magazine in Paris, France. Photograph: Jonathan Becker/Contour by Getty Images

They still have debutante balls? And the kind where actual wealthy people attend, not athletes or minor celebrities but those whose ungodly riches can destroy nations. There were princesses and future captains of industry at this shindig. I swear, it looks like something out of My Fair Lady.

The ostentatious ballroom of marble floors and baroque chandeliers filled with the rich and powerful seated for dinner

Jasmine Li, it seems, is a scion of one of China’s Communist Party elites. Well, the party calls itself communist, but really, when your party members’ kids are coming out in a debutante ball then there’s no use pretending there’s anything of the old ideals left.

It just goes to show that the 1% live in a different world from the rest of us, which is especially noteworthy since the pictures date from 2009, during the worst economic crisis in decades. Ordinary people were left destitute and homeless as the masters of the world waltzed the night away. I wonder, is this kind of inequality what we can expect for the rest of this century? One wonders.

Russia’s department of trolls

Your reminder that we’re living in the 21st century:

The Agency

From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet — and in real-life American communities.

Around 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 11 last year, Duval Arthur, director of the Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness for St. Mary Parish, Louisiana, got a call from a resident who had just received a disturbing text message. “Toxic fume hazard warning in this area until 1:30 PM,” the message read. “Take Shelter. Check Local Media and columbiachemical.com.”

St. Mary Parish is home to many processing plants for chemicals and natural gas, and keeping track of dangerous accidents at those plants is Arthur’s job. But he hadn’t heard of any chemical release that morning. In fact, he hadn’t even heard of Columbia Chemical. St. Mary Parish had a Columbian Chemicals plant, which made carbon black, a petroleum product used in rubber and plastics. But he’d heard nothing from them that morning, either. Soon, two other residents called and reported the same text message. Arthur was worried: Had one of his employees sent out an alert without telling him?

If Arthur had checked Twitter, he might have become much more worried. Hundreds of Twitter accounts were documenting a disaster right down the road. “A powerful explosion heard from miles away happened at a chemical plant in Centerville, Louisiana #ColumbianChemicals,” a man named Jon Merritt tweeted. The #ColumbianChemicals hashtag was full of eyewitness accounts of the horror in Centerville. @AnnRussela shared an image of flames engulfing the plant. @Ksarah12 posted a video of surveillance footage from a local gas station, capturing the flash of the explosion. Others shared a video in which thick black smoke rose in the distance.

Dozens of journalists, media outlets and politicians, from Louisiana to New York City, found their Twitter accounts inundated with messages about the disaster. “Heather, I’m sure that the explosion at the #ColumbianChemicals is really dangerous. Louisiana is really screwed now,” a user named @EricTraPPP tweeted at the New Orleans Times-Picayune reporter Heather Nolan. Another posted a screenshot of CNN’s home page, showing that the story had already made national news. ISIS had claimed credit for the attack, according to one YouTube video; in it, a man showed his TV screen, tuned to an Arabic news channel, on which masked ISIS fighters delivered a speech next to looping footage of an explosion. A woman named Anna McClaren (@zpokodon9) tweeted at Karl Rove: “Karl, Is this really ISIS who is responsible for #ColumbianChemicals? Tell @Obama that we should bomb Iraq!” But anyone who took the trouble to check CNN.com would have found no news of a spectacular Sept. 11 attack by ISIS. It was all fake: the screenshot, the videos, the photographs.