• Pence was escorted to a safe room 1 minute before Trump rioters broke in to kidnap and hang him

    Last week Trump insurrectionists set up a gallows with Pence's name on it and broke into the Capitol to find him and hang him.

    In this interview with Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig, we learn that just one minute before the insurrectionists got to the Senate floor, Secret Service had taken Pence to a nearby safe room.

    From Leonnig's article in the Post:

    Many of those in the mob had their sights on Pence — enraged that he had refused President Trump's demand that he head off the electoral college count that formalized President-elect Joe Biden's victory.

    According to the FBI, one man who was charged this week with trespassing and disorderly conduct after making his way into the Senate chamber said in a YouTube video: "Once we found out Pence turned on us and that they had stolen the election, like, officially, the crowd went crazy. I mean, it became a mob."

    At one point, a group of rioters began chanting, "Hang Mike Pence!" as they streamed into the main door on the east side of the Capitol.

  • Reporter says "phishing attack" tricked her into believing she got a professorship at Harvard

    This is a weird story. Nidhi Razdan is a famous television news anchor in India. She says she quit her job after being offered a position as associate professor of journalism at Harvard University.

    But today Razdan tweeted, "After hearing from the University, I have now [learned] that I have been the victim of a sophisticated and coordinated phishing attack. I did not, in fact, receive an offer by Harvard University to join their faculty as an associate professor of journalism."

    Her statement reads:

    "In June 2020 and after 21 years with NDTV, I decided to move on and said that I would be joining Harvard University as an Associate Professor of Journalism.

    I had been given to believe that I would be joining the University in September 2020. While I was making preparations to take up my new assignment, I was later told that due to the ongoing pandemic, my classes would commence in January 2021. Along with these delays, I began noticing a number of administrative anomalies in the process being described to me. At first, I had dismissed these anomalies as being reflective of the new normal being dictated by the pandemic, but recently the representations being made to me were of an even more disquieting nature. As a result, I reached out to senior authorities at Harvard University for clarity. Upon their request, I shared some of the correspondence that I believed I had received from the University.

    After hearing from the University, I have now learnt that I have been the victim of a sophisticated and coordinated phishing attack. I did not, in fact, receive an offer by Harvard University to join their faculty as an Associate Professor of Journalism. The perpetrators of this attack used clever forgeries and misrepresentations to obtain access to my personal data and communications and may have also gained access to my devices and my email/social media accounts. Alarmed at the scale of this attack, I have filed a complaint with the police and provided them with all the relevant documentary evidence. I have requested them to take immediate steps to identify, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of this abominable attack. Separately I have written to the Harvard University authorities and urged them to take the matter seriously.

    In the past few days, I have written to individuals and organizations with whom I have been in touch with over the past few months to keep them informed of this shocking development. I hope that the police are able to get to the bottom of this attack on me at the earliest and help me bring this unsavoury incident to a swift end."

    She added, "I will not be addressing this issue any further on social media."

    From The Boston Globe:

    Just one setback. Harvard doesn't have a journalism program.

    After months of delays that she attributed to the pandemic, Razdan had a jarring realization: the faculty position, it turns out, doesn't exist. The offer she thought she had accepted was nothing more than an elaborate ploy to access her personal information, she said.

    Others were skeptical about Razdan's version of events.

    "Don't fall for her spin as the victim here," one person wrote. "All after having been called out for masquerading as an Associate Professor at Harvard, to build clout through speaking engagements."

    [Image: By Joseph Williams – originally posted to Flickr as Harvard, CC BY 2.0]

  • This website has a map of Capitol Hill with links to Parler videos from the day of the riot

    This website is maintaining a map with videos of the Capitol building attack.

    From Vice:

    A developer calling themselves Patr10tic has taken archived versions of videos uploaded by Parler users during the deadly Capitol Hill siege, geolocated them, reuploaded them, and placed them on an interactive map for anybody to watch.

    The beta project nicknamed "Y'all Qaeda" is one of the first to present posts and videos from the archived Parler data that was saved by a hacker and a team of archivists. So far, most reporting and projects have relied on metadata alone.

  • Happy birthday, drummer great Gene Krupa

    Gene Krupa (1909-1973) was born on this day 112 years ago. In this video you can see that the secret to his exemplary drumming was that he had five arms and four legs.

    Additional photographic evidence:

  • Capitol Police officer had to beg Trump rioters not to kill him with his own gun

    Capitol Police officer Michael Fanone recounts how a mob of Trump rioters surrounded him and started pulling his badge, ammunition, and other equipment from his uniform. The insurrectionist started shouting "Shoot him with his own gun!"

    Fanone said he saved himself by telling his would-be murders that he has children, at which point some in the crowd came to his aid.

    He says of the people who protected him, "Thank you, but fuck you for being there."

  • Waiting for the American Khrushchev: Who will deliver the "Cult of Personality" speech to Americans?

    In this powerful personal essay, Institute for the Future executive director Marina Gorbis writes about growing up in a Soviet Union brainwashed by Stalin's Big Lie, and what it took to break the lie.


    A few years after his death, Stalin's Big Lie was revealed to be just that by none other than one of his former enablers — Nikita Khrushchev who delivered the famous "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences" speech at a closed meeting of the 20th Congress of the Soviet Union in 1956. The speech was quickly leaked outside of the inner party ranks and ushered in a period of reforms, with accounts of purges, killings, and horrific conditions in Soviet gulags gradually becoming public. According to some sources, when Khrushchev revealed the truth about Stalin's reign of terror, some of the ardent Big Lie believers suffered heart attacks, a few committed suicides, and some refused to acknowledge the truth. With Khrushchev initiating widespread rehabilitations of former enemies of the people and many of the exiles returning to their homes from labor camps in Siberia, truth, however, was increasingly difficult to deny. Stalin turned from a hero to a villain in the eyes of most Soviet citizens.

    We need an American Khrushchev to deliver a Cult of Personality speech to break the spell of Trump's Big Lie. Who could do it?

    (I'm on staff at Institute for the Future)

  • Batman No. 1 sells for $2.22 million

    A lucky bidder snagged a near-mint copy of Batman No. 1 (1940) for $2.2 million today. From Heritage Auctions:

    The finest known copy of 1940's Batman No. 1 sold Thursday for $2.22 million, far and away the highest price ever realized for a comic book starring Bruce Wayne and his caped-and-cowled alter ego.

    The issue, the sole copy ever to receive a 9.4 grade from the Certified Guaranty Company, was already a record-setter before the start of Heritage Auctions' four-day Comics and Comic Art event. A week before the Jan. 14-17 auction even began, Batman No. 1 crossed the $1.53-million mark, besting the previous world record set for a Batman title in November when Heritage sold 1939's Detective Comics No. 27 for $1.5 million.

    The book shattered estimates and expectations long before it was sold during the first session of the four-day event. It has seen more than two dozen bids since Christmas and accrued tens of thousands of pageviews worldwide; more than 700 Heritage clients also kept close tabs on its progress as it made its way toward the auction block.

    By Wednesday afternoon, all that interest had pushed bids on Batman No. 1 to $1.89 million with buyer's premium. Shortly before the auction opened at noon Central Standard Time Thursday, it had climbed to $1.95 million. Heated bidding raised the final price to $2.22 million.

    This issue of Batman No. 1, featuring the debuts of the Joker and Catwoman, is now the most expensive comic book ever sold by Heritage Auctions.

    "We knew when the book came in that it was beyond special, that it was a once-in-a-lifetime offering – from appearance, its blindingly bright cover to its white pages, to provenance," says Heritage Auctions Senior Vice President Ed Jaster of this newly discovered copy. "As I like to say, this is just a breathtaking book in so many ways. So we are not at all surprised that this has become a record-setting issue. But we are extraordinarily proud and honored to have brought it to market, to have done justice to its owner and to have found it a new home."

  • Why flies are hard to swat, and how to outwit them

    If you want to be smarter than a fly, aim your swat slightly ahead of it in the direction it's likely to take. That's the advice Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena gave to The Independent back in 2011. The advice probably holds true today, unless morphic resonance within the fly-o-sphere has kicked in.

    Professor Michael Dickinson of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, said the findings offered a practical suggestion to anyone plagued by an annoying intruder in the kitchen. "It is best not to swat the fly's starting position, but rather to aim a bit forward of that to anticipate where the fly is going to jump when it first sees your swatter," he said.

    Houseflies have all-round vision and can take off in any direction independently of how their body is aligned. This is one of the reasons why they are so good at evading an attack, Professor Dickinson said.

    In the instant between seeing a moving swatter and flying away, the fly's brain is able to calculate the position of the impending threat and place its legs and body in an optimal position that allows it to jump in the opposite direction. All of the action is carried out within 100 milliseconds after the fly first spots the moving swatter, which shows just how rapidly the fly's brain can process the information, said Professor Dickinson.

    [Image: By I, Kamranki, CC BY-SA 3.0]

  • Tiny Paper Dungeons: pocket-sized, spiral-bound, randomly-generated paper adventures

    As soon as I saw the photo of Tiny Paper Dungeons on the Kickstarter page, I signed up.

    How to play:

    Gameplay is simple but entertaining: you roll a 6-sided die to determine how far you'll move each turn. Then pick a direction, draw a line, and interact with anything on that line, be it a monster (ouch!) some treasure (nice!) or a teleporter (cool!).

    Customize your character, roll your way through each floor, and get items at the shops sprinkled throughout the game. There's even a page in the back to track stats like how many times you died — so if you die, don't worry! It's all part of the adventure.

  • Black officers say racism is endemic in Capitol Police

    If you're wondering why the rioters in Trump's coup attempt last week were able to breach barriers and break into the Capitol so easily, this ProPublica article offers a couple of reasons. First, some of the Capitol Police helped the rioters into the building, and second, the agency is full of racists.


    Since 2001, hundreds of Black officers had sued the department for racial discrimination. They alleged that white officers called Black colleagues slurs like the N-word and that one officer found a hangman's noose on his locker. White officers were called "huk lovers" or "FOGs" — short for "friends of gangsters" — if they were friendly with their Black colleagues. Black officers faced "unprovoked traffic stops" from fellow Capitol Police officers. One Black officer claimed he heard a colleague say, "Obama monkey, go back to Africa."

    Helping/sympathizing with the rioters:

    Already, officials have suspended several police officers for possible complicity with insurrectionists, one of whom was pictured waving a Confederate battle flag as he occupied the building. One cop was captured on tape seeming to take selfies with protesters, while another allegedly wore a red "Make America Great Again" hat as he directed protesters around the Capitol building. While many officers were filmed fighting off rioters, at least 12 others are under investigation for possibly assisting them.

  • In 1948 James T. Mangan declared the entire universe to be a country under his protection

    This is from last week's issue of my newsletter, The Magnet — Mark

    Anyone can start their own micronation. The hard part is getting the snobbish macronations to accept you into their club. Wikipedia has a list of about 90 micronations from the past and present. Carla and I even visited one of them — Christiania, a micronation (strictly speaking a "free town") established in 1971 on abandoned military barracks in Denmark. We spent a summer afternoon there in the late 1980s. We ate in a cafe, watched naked carpenters remodel a building, interviewed a teenager who worked in the post office, and turned down a couple of aggressive hashish and psychedelic mushroom dealers in the community marketplace. Christiania is still around, but after going through some rough patches with murderous biker gangs running things, it's a lot less anarchistic now. Even with a population of 1,000 residents and 50 years of history behind it, Christiania hasn't achieved official nation status, but I don't think any of its residents really care what the United Nations thinks of it.

    On the other hand, the founder of the Nation of Celestial Space (aka Celestia) wanted nothing more than to have the United Nations recognize his micronation. James Thomas Mangan, a 52-year-old Chicago publicist, self-help author, and industrial designer founded the Nation of Celestial Space in 1948, claiming the entirety of outer space, ''specifically exempting from claim every celestial body, whether star, planet, satellite, or comet, and every fragment." In other words, Celestia owned no matter — just the empty space the matter occupied. (Celestia's charter made an exception for the Moon, Venus, and Mars and its two moons as "Proclaimed Protectorates.")

    Mangan's grandson, Todd Walter Stump (Duke of the Milky Way), wrote in 2005 that Mangan's claim to the universe was typical of ''an enormous personality who had an insatiable curiosity, a voracious appetite for argument, and a catholic array of interests. Papa was one of the lucky few whose vocation and avocation were the same. He was a promoter of ideas… But make no mistake: the creation of the Nation of Celestial Space was a completely forthright and serious endeavor.''

    From 1948 until his death in 1970, Mangan worked tirelessly to convince the world to recognize the Nation of Celestial Space, which had been ''instituted solely for Peace and Service to Man."

    The first four articles of Celestia's constitution were:

    Article One: There shall never be any taxes on property in Celestia

    Article Two: No amendment can ever be made to this constitution changing Article One

    Article Three: No military conscription, and no conscription of any kind, shall ever be legalized in Celestia

    Article Four: no amendment can ever be made to this constitution changing Article three

    Mangan registered Celestia with the Cook County, Illinois Recorder and mailed letters to the secretaries of state from 74 countries and the United Nations asking them to formally recognize the Nation of Celestial Space. They ignored him. "Only my wife, my son, and my partner see the depth of it," he told a reporter in the May 1949 issue of Science Illustrated. "This is a new, bold, immodest idea." In 1958 Mangan took it upon himself to travel to the UN building in New York City and run the Celestia flag up a pole alongside the other national flags flying there. UN security personnel quickly removed the flag and told Mangan not to try it again.

    As the self-appointed Founder and First Representative of Celestia, Mangan had dictatorial powers over the universe. He warned world governments that satellites and space stations would not be welcome in his country, at least not without his express permission. Even television and radio signals were "trespassers" who were "violating the law right now." He also said that "all space capsules, space junk hardware floating in the sky, are there by sufferance of Celestia and may be ordered out at any moment as violating the sovereignty of Celestia." (He did, however, give a distillery in Kentucky the right to manufacture whiskey in outer space, an undertaker a license to perform burials in space, and a man named Harold Henry Elsesser permission to "use and operate in any way he desires the space inside his own bowling ball." )

    Mangan also wasn't above abusing his power. After a police officer issued a $1 traffic ticket to one of Mangan's family members, Mangan sent a letter to the cop, warning him that he would become ''the first man in History to be declared Persona Non Grata in Outer Space and a dunce for not knowing international protocol and being so backward in the Space Age."

    To generate revenue, Mangan sold "perfect spheres of pure space, slightly larger than the earth" for the modest sum of one dollar apiece. Those who paid became "participants" (Celestia didn't have citizens) and were granted "suggestion rights or thinking rights" but not voting rights ("I don't like voting," he said).

    Mangan also funded his project by issuing postage stampspassports to the Moon, paper currency, and gold, silver, and brass coins with the profile of his daughter, Ruth Marie, "the pleasantest person in the universe," to whom he bestowed the title "Princess of the Nation of Celestial Space." In 1962, Mangan sent a passport to astronaut John Glenn who wrote back thanking him. "Looks like I'm all set now," he said. These coins and other memorabilia are now highly-sought-after items in the collectibles market.

    By 1963, over 36,000 people had become participants, according to a letter Mangan wrote to the curator of coin displays at the Smithsonian Institute. "This is not a fly-by-night project, Doctor," Mangan told the curator. "I have kept it up with intensive publication for 14 years and have received much encouragement from men of fine repute."

    Mangan, who died in 1970, encouraged his children to continue his quixotic quest to have the Nation of Celestial Space officially recognized by other countries. He seemed unperturbed by a 1966 UN resolution that "outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty."

    Was Mangan mentally ill? Was he a prankster? Was he trying to make a satiric point about the absurdity of claiming the universe? I'm not sure, but I think he was serious about his desire to encourage people to consider the future of human endeavor in space and promote its use for peaceful projects. And I appreciate that he did it in an amusing, attention-grabbing way.


  • Best self-help books of 2020

    Five Books asked Oliver Burkeman, author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, to select his five favorite self-help books from 2020.

    From the interview with Burkeman:

    There's evidence for certain kinds of mystical experiences going back right to the beginning of the human species. But formal meditation, of the sort where you sit down and train your mind, is new, relatively speaking. It's a few thousand years old, as far as people can tell. And I've seen it argued that this is because meditation is a response to what people felt happening to their attention when cities started to develop, when some early form of information overload began—when people were no longer just living in bands of twelve in rural isolation.

    This is fascinating to me, because it suggests that, actually, they were struggling with the equivalent of what we're struggling with today when we're trying to figure out if it's possible to use Twitter in a sane way.