Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Little Tich...

When visiting friends in Bedfordshire I mentioned that I've been looking into French vaudeville and liked what I've thus far seen. 

Dave asked me if I'd come across Little Tich.  Well, no.  I hadn't encountered him.  So he sent me the following video.  It's of the English Vaudeville performer working in Paris.  I think it's brilliant.  Have a look and see what you think.


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Yvette Horner...

Zounds!

Yvette Horner has died.

If you don't know who she is, look her up. 

Great artist.  Great music.  Great personality.  IMNSHO.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Democracy Risks, Data Collection, and Chinese Spy Operations...

I swore I would stay away from this topic after I was laid off from my last job.  I have not been in industry for going on seven years, but a story compels me try and provide relevant detail so people can understand the deeper issues in play. 

It was recently revealed that Facebook has granted Chinese telephone manufacturers and data network providers access to user data.   In February of this year the FBI Director Christopher Wray continued to warn US consumers to avoid buying products from these same companies.

Why does the story matter?  Afterall, we never hear of US companies having a problem sharing data with businesses in other countries.  Certainly US companies do share data with non-US businesses, right?  What makes China special?

During a public debrief of the then current state of People's Republic of China industrial espionage and data theft activities, a representative from one of the three letter agencies visited the company I worked for.  He shared that two foreign companies in particular were his "biggest headaches."  There were certainly other Chinese entities that merited close attention, but dealing with activities of these two Chinese state-run entities consumed more of his time than anything else his job also required.

The companies in question are ZTE and Huawei.

ZTE has been in the news recently.  It seems as if the company may be on the verge of folding.  But  "...the president announced he wished to rescue ZTE, which is on the verge of bankruptcy because of the U.S. decision to not only ban the company from selling phones here, but also buying essential U.S.-made components. As the president noted, shutting down ZTE penalizes thousands of innocent Chinese workers."


Huawei, too, has been in the news.  "Six top US intelligence chiefs, including the heads of the FBI, CIA and NSA, told Americans they wouldn't recommend buying products or services from the Chinese manufacturer..."

In defense of products from Huawei and ZTE, occasionally a person can find writers who say it's crazy to think anything bad could happen by letting Chinese designed and manufactured technology products into the US.  But based on research of un-classified and widely available publical materials, such a defensive position appears to be naive and perhaps even dangerous.


"...General James Cartwright, while serving as the Combatant Commander of the US Strategic Command, testified before a Congressional commission that China is actively engaging in cyber reconnaissance by probing the computer networks of US government agencies as well as private companies…"  - Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation. Prepared for The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Project Manager Steve DeWeese, Principal Author Bryan Krekel, Subject Matter Experts George Bakos and Christopher Barnett, October 9, 2009, page 52


In short, on-going Chinese cyber-operations target not only US Government computer operations, but private industry, too.  The cost to US businesses is quite high in several dimensions, not the least of which include risks to long term viability and profitability.



"...Foreign intelligence services have discovered that… private sector information, once unreachable or requiring years of expensive technological or human asset preparation to obtain, can now be accessed inventoried and stolen with comparative ease using computer network operations tools. The return on present investment for targeting sensitive US information in this way (the intelligence gain) can be extraordinarily high while the barriers to entry (the skills and technologies required to implement an operation) are comparatively low… China is most frequently cited as the primary actor behind much of the activity noted in media reporting, and US officials are increasingly willing to publicly acknowledge that China’s network exploitation and intelligence collection activities are one this country’s most consuming counterintelligence challenges… [China] has successfully exfilterated at least 10 to 20 terabytes of data from US Government networks as of 2007… - Capability of the People’s Republic of China to Conduct Cyber Warfare and Computer Network Exploitation. Prepared for The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Project Manager Steve DeWeese, Principal Author Bryan Krekel, Subject Matter Experts George Bakos and Christopher Barnett, October 9, 2009, page 51

The problem is compounded by the fact that US businesses design, manufacture, and distribute very complex technically challenging products.  With this in mind, US business operations conducted in China are at particular risk.


"...The growing amount of R&R conducted in China by foreign multinational corporations provides a potentially more promising avenue for the PRC to obtain technological know-how..." - China’s Program for Science and Technology Modernization: Implications for American Competitiveness. Prepared for The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission. By Micah Springut, Stephen Schlaikjer, and David Chen. CENTRA Technology, Inc. 4121 Wilson Boulevard, Suite 800, Arlington, VA 22203, pg7


"...The investigation concludes that the risks associated with Huawei’s and ZTE’s provision of equipment to U.S. critical infrastructure could undermine core U.S. national-security interests..." - Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE - A report by Chairman Mike Rogers and Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence - U.S. House of Representatives 112th Congress October 8, 2012


The problem leads naturally to a question of what are the Chinese up to?  What do they want?  What are they going to do with it?

"...Malicious Chinese hardware or software implants would also be a potent espionage tool for penetrating sensitive U.S. national security systems, as well as providing access to the closed American corporate networks that contain the sensitive trade secrets, advanced research and development data, and negotiating or litigation positions that China would find useful in obtaining an unfair diplomatic or commercial advantage over the United States..." - Investigative Report on the U.S. National Security Issues Posed by Chinese Telecommunications Companies Huawei and ZTE - A report by Chairman Mike Rogers and Ranking Member C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence - U.S. House of Representatives 112th Congress October 8, 2012


"...The Chinese government and Chinese companies have developed joint strategies to influence future developments to the advantage of Chinese ICT products. China’s role in setting international technology standards is likely to increase, and similar strategies are likely to be used in the future in fields beyond ICT, such as pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical technology, nanotechnology, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence. Until U.S. leadership takes this vulnerability seriously, it will remain an ‘easy button’ for our adversaries..." - Testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission Hearing on “China, the United States, and Next Generation Connectivity” March 8, 2018 Jennifer Bisceglie CEO and President of Interos Solutions, Inc.


Now it is revealed that Facebook shares data with Huawei and ZTE (as well as with other Chinese manufacturers and service providers).  The Chinese didn't have to dig for the data.  They didn't have to steal it.  They were given the data by Facebook.

It would be a real stretch of the imagination to believe that the same three letter agencies that visited the company I used to work for do not on a regular basis pay similar visits to Facebook to increase Facebook's awareness of national and corporate security risk areas that needed to be addressed.  After the Chinese hack of Google chased the huge search engine out of China, Google changed its corporate approach to how it dealt with the PRC.

The Russian influenced outcome of the last US election used, in part, Facebook to achieve their goals.  In similar time, Facebook allowed an English firm, Cambridge Analytica, to analyze data and to target users in Cambridge Analytica support of the Trump campaign.  And Facebook has now admitted to be working with China state-actors.  In the face of national security threats, it appears that Facebook has changed little to nothing in the way it conducts its business.

What else has Facebook done?  What other access has Facebook granted to state or private entities that work to shape our minds, ideas, decisions?  How much damage has been done to US democracy, US government institutions, US businesses, and public thinking/feeling on a wide range of topics?

On the face of things I can't help but feel that Facebook requires close regulation, if not outright closure.

We can't just throw up our hands and say there's nothing to be done since the cat is out of the bag anyway.  That, to me, would be a defeatist, non-American approach to a very real and very serious problem.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The Great War and how France came to love jazz

I find the history of black Americans fighting in Europe during the Great War (WWI) and World War Two to be a fascinating topic.  Of the many stories and histories, one of the more interesting is about how a regiment of US military men brought a uniquely American music to France.

After the American Civil War and before the Great War in Europe the 15th New York National Guard Regiment had been formed around freed slaves who were looking for a way to contribute to the security and safety of America.  The unit was made up of black Americans and, somewhat later, Puerto Ricans.  The unit became known as the 15th Brooklyn "Rattlesnakes".

In 1917 leaders in the United States knew there weren't enough men to make an effective army and that the nation was edging toward participating in the Great War.  This lead to the Selective Service Act of 1917.  White and black men could register to fight for America.  The 15th New York was folded into the new military structure and became the 369th Infantry Regiment where they received combat training.

Before US military participation in the Great War in 1918, German submariners had been sinking Europe-bound cargo vessels at a frightening rate.  In response, the Navy escorted convoys of cargo ships as they crossed the Atlantic to give protection to the fleet.





President Woodrow Wilson did not want black Americans returning home with combat experience.  He feared they would make trouble for white people.  So the order was given that no black military unit was to see action along the front lines.  It was up to General John "Nigger Jack" (aka "Black Jack") Pershing to see this order was correctly executed.

Instead, black units would be deployed to do the kinds of work and service former slaves did back home.  They built roads, dug ditches, cooked food, and cleaned. 

When the status of the 369th Infantry was changed from support to active service white soldiers refused to fight alongside their black countrymen. Further, deploying them to the front lines would be a direct violation of President Wilson's order against black units in combat. 

Naturally this led to a question about what to do with the Regiment.  To answer the question, on 8 April, 1918, the 369th was reassigned to fight on the side of the French.  They were issued French weapons, helmets and other gear, though they continued to wear their American uniforms.

President Wilson was furious and demanded to know why General Pershing had allowed this to happen.  The General replied that they were on loan to the French and therefore were no longer under US command. The 369th served longer at the front than any American unit, received 170 Croix de Guerre, 2 medals of honor, suffered 1500 casualties and gained the respect of France.

In addition to being filled with capable fighting men, the 369th Regiment had a band and it's leader was a man named James Reese Europe.   There are several interesting things to note about M.Europe and his band.  For one, he studied under John Philip Sousa and adopted the cadence, beat, and rhythm of M.Sousa.  By making a few minor "tweaks" to the musical style and over the years leading up to the Great War, M.Europe has been credited with developing what we now know as "Ragtime".

On 27 December, 1917 the 369th Infantry was bound for Brest, France.  They were all alone and potentially easy prey to German submariners.  M.Europe, his band, and the regiment crossed the ocean unescorted by the US Navy.  Yet they arrived at the French harbor intact.

Upon arrival they debarked, assembled the band, and in celebration of their safe crossing as well as to introduce themselves to the French they started to play.  The French were curious.  As they listened they tried to sort out what they were hearing.  Then it dawned on them. 

What they were listening to was the Marseillaise played in the "Ragtime" style.  The French went crazy.  Here was a new musical form. Here were a bunch of "cool black cats" who could really play.  Here was found a new love.  The music seemed tailored to French sensibilities and style.  They loved it and the roundly welcomed the black Americans who brought them Jazz.

M. Europe, his band, and the 369th returned to home to Jim Crow America.  The year 1919 became known as the Red Summer.  America rose up in riot against the black men who returned from helping liberate France.


[Note: I am from being an expert in this history and only share what I've heard in a conference, heard in talking with Parisians, and learned from reading.  Each and every highlight I shared above is backed by a deep, rich history, filled with interesting and revealing details and stories.  From what I can tell, the band of the 369th Regiment may well have been the first contact the French ever had with what would quickly become a uniquely American musical form.  If the subject interests you, it might be well worth doing a bit of research along these lines.]

[Inspired by a lecture given at Columbia University, Paris, France by Curtis Young]



Sunday, May 27, 2018

Black Americans and the Great War

One of the things we can't help but notice after moving to France is just how many black Americans over the years have become expats, too.  Josephine Baker, Sidney Bechet, Nina Simone, James Baldwin, and Benny Luke come immediately to mind.

Jude and I recently attended a lecture given by Curtis Young at the Columbia University, Paris.  He has added his name to the long list of black American expats who have found a better life here.  His lecture brought up two figures from history who we knew nothing about.

One of the people Curtis Young talked about is a black airman who flew for the French during the Great War (WWI).  His name is Eugene Bullard.  His adventures are the stuff of legend, including shooting down one or two German aircraft, and being referred to as the Black Swallow of Death.  By the end of the first world war the Black Swallow of Death had been decorated ten times.

After General Pershing arrived in France, M. Bullard was required to report for duty.  But he was stopped at the front door by a white guard to told him that blacks were not allowed.  Instead of backing down, M. Bullard took the guard's gun  and demanded to see the man's commanding officer.  The officer must have known of M. Bullard because he was allowed in to the meeting.  But as was standard practice with Jim Crow America he was never allowed to fly for the US.

There is a rather telling memo describing the "Negro Question" and the treatment of black American soldiers.

...Although a citizen of the United States, the black man is regarded by the white American as an inferior being with whom relations of business or service only are possible. The black is constantly being censured for his want of intelligence and discretion, his lack of civic and professional conscience, and for his tendency toward undue familiarity...

The French were appalled and set about collecting every single copy of the memo.  Original copies of the document can be found here in Paris in the National Archives.  They are numbered so they knew when they had collected all of them.

After the war M. Bullard opened a famous nightspot on Montmartre called l'Escradrille.  When the Nazis occupied Paris he spied for the French.  He used his nightclub and good knowledge German to listen in on occupiers conversations.

Later in the war M.Bullard fought alongside the French in the Bordeaux area, but had to escape to Spain and then to Portugal.  Fleeing the Nazis he returned to New York.    After the second world war he had been decorated five more times.

Fame and recognition did not follow him.  Americans seemed to know nothing of the decorated war hero in their midst.  In fact, he was beaten during the Peekskill Riots that had been instigated  by white supremacists.

He tried to return to Paris and his l'Escadrille nightclub.  Since it had been bombed during the war and having little money to rebuild the club he was constrained to remain in New York.  This meant finding work "fit for a black man" as he could.  Late in life he worked as a lift operator at Rockefeller Center.

In 1959 Dave Garaway interviewed Eugene Bullard for the Today Show.  This seems to be the most recognition America ever gave the black man who lived for a time in Paris, France.

The French, however, never forgot Eugene Bullard.  In 1954 he was one of three men invited to rekindle the flame to the unknown soldier under the Arc de Triomphe.


[Inspired and informed by a 2018 lecture given at Columbia University, Paris, France by Curtis Young]

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Eating in Bordeaux

Jude and I went to Bordeaux.  It's been on our list of Things To Do After Moving To France for going on six years.  And we were looking for a way to celebrate our 25th year together.  What could be more romantic than a pretty city, good food, and world renown wine?

Bordeaux ~ 2018
The tram from the gare to our hotel


Paris to Bordeaux takes two hours by TGV.  We couldn't believe how quick the trip is.  From Gare St Jean to our hotel was an easy 20 minute tram ride further.

We settled on a place to eat and were shocked to realize that their food was microwaved.  I expect something like this in Paris where too much food is pre-prepared out at Rungis, but in Bordeaux?  Surely this couldn't be true, could it?  But there it was.  And the wine wasn't worth the price, either.  Stung, we vowed to avoid eateries around the Cathedral.  None of the places we looked in on smelled like they had a real kitchen, either.

Retreating to our hotel room Jude did a bit more research to see if we couldn't find somewhere better.  Sure enough, the next day we had lunch at a fine place called La P'tit Brasserie.  It's located at 127 rue Georges Bonnac.

Bordeaux ~ 2018
Lunch at La P'tit Brasserie


The wait staff are very friendly and the kitchen was the real thing.  It was such a vast improvement over dinner the prior day that it nearly brought tears of joy to our eyes.  The food and the flavors and the wines and the people were all wonderful.

Bordeaux ~ 2018
Dinner at La P'tit Brasserie


Prior to leaving Paris, Jude's art teacher had given her a recommendation for a place he liked to go to in Bordeaux when he visits.  We have heard but couldn't confirm on this visit that more artists can afford to live in the area than can in Paris (which tends to be rather expensive by European standards).

The only wrinkle was that the art teacher's favored resto was Italian.  Who goes to Bordeaux to eat Italian food?  Oh, woe to ye of such little faith.

Bordeaux ~ 2018
Lunch at Pizzeria Peppone


The Pizzeria Peppone is an absolute gas!  It's located at 31 Cours Georges Clemenceau.

Here, too, one can look straight into the kitchen to confirm it's the Real Thing.  The staff are quick and efficient.  The food, oh, the Italian food... words escape me...

Then there is the cave.  Below where we ate rests bottles and bottles of Italian wines lit by candles and attended by statues of the Greats of the Catholic Church.  It's just wonderful.

Bordeaux ~ 2018
Where the business is managed


I explored the cave a little when I went to take a leak.  When I came up and suggested to Jude that she too needed to descend into the cave to have a look around.  And, oh, by the way, if you find a Vin Santo that calls to you, please bring it up and we'll pay for it when we pay for our lunch.

Bless her fuzzy little heart.  Jude brought up not only a good looking bottle of Vin Santo, but also a really nice Valpolicella, too.  Did I mention that we're headed to Rome and Florence in late September?  We travel on our stomachs and this little place in Bordeaux reminds us of why we like Italy nearly as much as we like France.

Bordeaux ~ 2018
The cave... oh... the cave...


There is one more place on our original list of Must Do Things.  After that, we may be back to Bordeaux.  Even if it's nothing more than to take another lunch or two.

Bordeaux ~ 2018
In the cave of Sainted Italian Vino

Friday, May 4, 2018

Short Story ~ Berliners after the second world war

We know from history that at the close of the second world war that the German capital of Berlin fell to both the Allies and Russia.  Russia got the eastern part of the city and the Allies controlled the western side town.  Russia also got a long stretch of land between West Berlin and West Germany.

West Berliners effectively lived on an island that had just three roads leading across East Germany to the democratic side. There was no stopping and getting out to walk through the countryside.  Once you were on one of the three roads you had to keep moving until you reached the other end.

During my years working at Tektronix in Beaverton, Oregon I came across Germans who shared their stories of what it was like living on the cultural geographic Island of West Berlin.  A common thread to their stories was that no big industrial base could be formed there due to the distances of moving goods in and out of the western sector of the city.

Not knowing what else to do, the West German government gave incentives to artists to come and settle in West Berlin.  Many years later when I visited Berlin it was easy to see that the city remained an artist colony.  The creative spirit remains particularly strong there.

The isolation of the western sector, however, was too strong for some artists.  In the late 1950's a sculpture left and made his way to a small village in France called Audelange.  It's in the Jura.  Out in the middle of nowhere.  Where cheap wine flowed and a sleepy Napoleonic-era canal rolled.

He told people he knew back in the Island of West Berlin that France was the place to come to.  Land and housing was very cheap he said.  People came to visit him and confirmed what the ex-patriot had said.  A few Germans joined him in settling the area.

One young person who's Russian husband (yes, Russian, as she wanted to make a point to her parents who still supported the banished regime) dropped dead of a heart attack before he was 35 years old too felt the need to leave Germany.  Tucking her pet cat under one arm and an egg laying hen under the other she headed to France to have a look for herself.

She found a house that was nothing but a shell.  It had no heating, no running water, and came complete with a big hole in the roof.  No doubt the hole in the roof allowed residents to easily check on the weather.  Water poured into the building whenever it rained.  But it had been cheap.  Soon after moving in the roof was patched, making easy weather checks a little more difficult.  No running water nor heat were yet available.

The residence included an old wine cellar that dated from before the Great French Phylloxera Epidemic.  Big casks would be rolled in from the road through the front door and down into the cave.  It still smells musty in spite of not having held a wine cask for at least the past half century.

Three years after fixing the roof our friend met a man who would be her partner for the rest of his life.  He was an interior designer and they set about rebuilding the house into a home.  The place is now a lovely residence, complete with well tended gardens, porches, a covered space for the car, and, of course, heat and running water.

When Jude and I visited our Berliner ex-pat friend she introduced us to a few of the other Berliners who had been part of the small westbound German Artist Exodus.  It surprised us because she knew Germans in nearly every village we passed.

We learned that similar stories of Germans leaving their Homeland to live across France after the second world war are quite common.

Audelange, Jura, France