Archive for September, 2013

That Knowing Glance

September 27, 2013

Be seeing you!  In today’s no-longer-futuristic surveillance society, something or somebody may always be watching. Or maybe not. This implicit uncertainty adds an extra layer of ambiguity to the Lacanian proposition that much of human behavior (including our own) is a performance enacted for an audience of ‘others’  –even when that ‘other’ is no one but ourselves.  Is it then that we’re always on stage, playing the role of ourselves or the self we wish to be, no matter whether anyone is there to see it?  I can hear a tree falling, in a forest I imagine, before it even hits the ground.

WTF is Lunghu talking about?!?  Not much, just a philosophical digression inspired by a media report that London (UK) police are making a systematic attempt to deploy the unique talents of officers with unusually well-developed facial recognition skills.

Since 2011, about 200 London police officers have been recruited to an elite squad of super recognizers. Paul Hyland almost never forgets a face. “If I’ve met someone before and see them again, I’ll usually know where I know them from, even if I can’t remember their name,” Hyland said. Several years ago, for example, London police were on the lookout for a burglar wanted for nine break-ins.  Some time later, Hyland and two colleagues were stuck in traffic. “I looked up and noticed this guy coming out of a university and knew it was him,” Hyland recalled, adding that neither of his colleagues recognized the burglar. Hyland arrested the suspect, who confessed after questioning.


Remember this face. He’ll remember yours.

After London’s 2011 riots … arrests of 4,000 suspects were based on police identifications from video images. The super recognizers were responsible for nearly 30 percent of the identifications, including one officer who identified almost 300 people. A facial recognition software program made only one successful identification.  At Scotland Yard’s request, psychologist Josh Davis of the University of Greenwich ran several tests on 18 of the best- performing super recognizer cops and found many scored off the charts when compared to average people. He’s now planning to examine all 200 super recognizers on the London police and to develop a test for new recruits to see who might have special facial recognition abilities.

Brad Duchaine of Dartmouth College in Hanover, NH has published research on super recognizers. “People are much better at facial recognition than software (is), so using people is a very reasonable thing to do,” Duchaine said.

Facial recognition is not a prominent part of Lunghu’s own intell skillset –he’s too easily distracted by something as simple as a hat or a different hairstyle, and he’s always sure that he’s met that beautiful woman somewhere before, when happiness shines in her eyes.  However, as compensation, Lunghu has a rare talent that few in the police business possess: on the street, he instantly recognizes fugitive murderers for what they are, even though he has never met them or even seen their mugshots.  The desperate fear of capture is hidden in their eyes.  Rather than introduce himself, Lunghu knows enough to walk away.  As Great-Grandma Lunghu used to say, “No matter the crime, he’ll be kotched in the end.” And they have been.  Be seeing you!


Ring of Fire

September 26, 2013

For the moment, forget about those manufactured media sideshows cluttering the minds of the Beltway blitherati – U.S. budget lockdown, Syrian chemical weapons, playing nice with President Rowhani.  Far better to focus your attention on the infotainment value reliably provided by Comrade Bear whenever the “official” narrative becomes too, too predictable.  In a nutshell, on the surface, here’s the message: in Russia, the only political publicity stunts permitted are those of Comrade Bear himself.  So when Greenpeace trespasses on the Gazprom Ocean, “it is absolutely obvious that they are not pirates, [but] they tried to seize the oil platform,” broke Russian and international law, and these crimes must be investigated.  Port of call: Murmansk.


Comrade Bear once again displayed his trademark deadpan invocation of a hypothetical, potential terrorist threat to justify nearly any forceful response by the organs of public order and security:

The Coast Guard “didn’t know who was trying to seize the platform under the guise of Greenpeace.  Especially in view of the events in Kenya, really, anything can happen,” he said. … Environmentalists viewed Putin’s comments as a conciliatory move.

Luckily, Comrade Bear was in a magnanimous mood on that particular Wednesday … although the specific reason why is a matter of some debate:

In an interview with the Izvestia daily, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov directly responded to chatter on the Internet that Putin [last] weekend married gymnast Alina Kabayeva at a secret ceremony at the Iversky Monastery on Lake Valdai in northern Russia where the president had been attending a discussion forum.  “This is all from the realm of the imagination and it is useless to deny these (rumors) or call them rubbish. We have done this already a hundred times,” Peskov said. “The rumors stay alive, what can you do about them? But they have nothing in common with reality,” he added.  The rumor had been started by a former government official in the Caucasus who tweeted that he had been told Putin had married Kabayeva at the monastery, which had been [closed] to the public.
“Why the monastery was [closed] off, I cannot tell you,” added Peskov.

Back when he still wore a wedding band.

Back when he still wore a wedding band.

Lunghu wouldn’t marry her either: among European Olympians, he prefers German rowers to Russian gymnasts. But lest we be too hasty in dismissing the mere possibility of this heavenly love match, let’s review some relevant aspects of matrimonial customs in the Orthodox Church:

A wedding ring is a metal ring indicating that the wearer is married. In Eastern Orthodox tradition the wedding ring is worn on the right hand rather than the left.  Among Eastern Orthodox Christians, the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service, rather they are exchanged at the betrothal … The actual symbolic act of marriage is not the exchange of rings, but the public exchange of wedding vows.  In the Eastern Orthodox Service of Betrothal, the Priest makes the Sign of the Cross with rings over the bridegroom’s head while saying three times “The servant of God (Groom) is betrothed to the handmaid of God (Bride), in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. This is then followed by another three times over the bride’s head with the names reversed, after which the rings are exchanged three times (either by the priest or by the best man).

Let’s take a closer look, invoking the spirit of former President Bill Clinton to parse the literal (translated) words of Dimi Peskov:

  • “Whether he has a wife or not, let us leave that to him and not interfere,” Peskov said.
  • “This [wedding story] is all from the realm of the imagination and [has] nothing in common with reality,” he added.
  • “Why the monastery was [closed] off, I cannot tell you,” added Peskov.
  1. Peskov isn’t saying Putin is married, and he isn’t saying he’s not.
  2. Peskov states that a Putin wedding did not occur at the Iversky Monastery.
  3. Peskov says that he can’t tell you why the monastery was closed to the public, not that he doesn’t know.

Iversky Monastery

All these statements can be literally true, and Dimi Peskov can remain a truthful spokesman, if the Iversky Monastery was closed for an Orthodox betrothal ceremony (the exchange of rings), instead of an actual Orthodox wedding ( the public exchange of wedding vows). Congratulations are perhaps in order for Comrade Bear and Comrade Foxy: they’re not (yet?) married, but maybe they’re betrothed!  Best of all, from the point of view of those concerned:

The central and unifying feature of Orthodox monasticism is Hesychasm, the practice of silence.

Timing is Everything

September 19, 2013

You wonder about the timing.  On Monday, a military contractor “who had been seeking treatment for severe mental health problems” mows down a baker’s dozen in DC’s Navy Yard.  On Wednesday, the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command spokesman Lt. Col. Dave Connolly announces that:

[its] Surgeon General’s Office sent a message to commanders and medical personnel last Friday ordering a halt in prescribing mefloquine for malaria prevention.  The message also told commanders and medical workers to assess the possibility that some of their troops have been sickened by the drug but may mistakenly have been thought to be malingering or to have post- traumatic stress disorder or other psychological problems.

[Although] mefloquine has been effective in preventing malaria, is less expensive and is taken in lower dosages than alternatives, toxic levels of the drug in the brain may produce side effects such as anxiety, depression and hallucinations. Relatives of some military personnel … believe [this may have] prompted psychotic behavior in their loved ones, including killings and suicides.


There’s nothing like a last minute, deathbed conversion.  Too bad it was someone else’s deathbed.  Can’t wait for the National Rifle Association to get on board with this: “we don’t need more gun control, we need better drug prescriptions.”

Old Town, Hot Time

September 14, 2013

Although Chris Christie says that it would be “irresponsible for any of us to speculate” about the ultimate cause of Seaside’s recent boardwalk fire, Lunghu has just gotta ask:

Did someone forget to pay Tona Borelli?  Any Egyptian in Edgewater can tell you that that is definitely not a good idea.


Seaside 20130912

Trunk Line

September 10, 2013

An elephant never forgets … and holds a grudge, apparently:

An 84-year-old man was killed in Lizy-sur-Ourcq near Paris when an elephant belonging to a local circus escaped from its pen and hit him with its trunk, police said. The elephant grabbed a tarpaulin and placed it over the electric fence surrounding its pen, before breaking through barriers and trailers that formed a second enclosure.  The elephant then moved toward the elderly man and struck him with its trunk, slamming him to the ground. The unidentified man was taken to a nearby hospital but died from his injuries overnight Sunday.


En francais:

Un retraité de 84 ans participe à un concours de pétanque sur la place de la république, à Lizy-sur-Ourcq. ‘Tanya’ a jeté une bâche sur les fils électriques avant de s’échapper. C’est là qu’elle s’est dirigée vers les boulistes. L’animal a alors asséné un coup de trompe à la victime. Souffrant d’un traumatisme thoracique et d’une fracture à la jambe et malgré le fait que le retraité ait été héliporté rapidement vers l’hôpital du Kremlin-Bicêtre (Val-de-Marne), il est décédé pendant la nuit.

At its most prosaic, this could be a cautionary tale about disturbing an elephant’s slumber with the low-frequency clank and clatter of pétanque. But it also seems as though there could be a backstory worthy of Georges Perec hidden somewhere here.  But we’ll probably never know.  Three key questions come to mind: how old was the elephant?  And had she originally roamed free in the forests of what used to be French Indochina? Had victim and pepetrator met previously?


But this story has even stranger dimensions, ones that take the form of ‘unusual coincidences’. Lizy-sur-Ourcq isn’t just some sleepy rural commune on the fringes of Paris:  it’s the final resting place of France’s pioneering circus dynasty.

La cimetière de Lizy-sur-Ourcq regroupant de nombreuses tombes des gens du cirque, dont une grande nécropole rom, celle de Bouglione. … Les Bouglione, roms Sintis de la branche pakistanaise, sont montreurs d’ours au XVIIIe siècle en Italie.”

At the turn of the 20th Century, after generations of the Bouglione clan had plied their trade throughout Europe as itinerant exhibitors of trained bears, an enterprising scion of the family spotted posters for Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in a French railway car.  He decided to adopt (copy) the concept, and France’s first circus was born.  The rest is histoire.


So: a cluster of gypsy circus spirits haunting the environs of Lizy-sur-Ourcq. Steer clear. Arouse them at your peril.

Another Brick in the Street

September 5, 2013

A fortnight ago, whilst Lunghu was out and about attending to other business, the usual suspects managed to orchestrate their proportionate response to that mysterious monkey business earlier in August.  And they got it done before the end of the Monkey Month, just as feng shui soothsayers had warned us.

Trading in thousands of U.S. stocks ground to a halt for much of [August 22nd] after an unexplained technological problem halted trading in Nasdaq securities.  The shutdown of trading in such familiar names as Apple Inc, Facebook Inc, Google Inc, Microsoft Corp and about 3,200 other companies lasted 3-hours and 11-minutes, the longest in recent memory.

Nasdaq halted trading after learning that its Securities Information Processor, which consolidates stock prices, was not disseminating price quotations. During the shutdown, trading of shares not listed on Nasdaq continued, but transactions could not be executed on the Nasdaq platform. Options trading was also halted. A “connectivity issue” between the NYSE’s all-electronic ARCA platform and Nasdaq’s SIP caused the breakdown.


[Two days earlier,] a technical problem at Goldman Sachs Group Inc had resulted in a flood of erroneous orders in U.S. equity options markets.

Sun Tzu at work. Right there in your own backyard. So, does this mean that Everbrite’s source code honeypot was at Goldman after all?