Secret Agent, Man
A new DC mystery series, Judge Jackson Confirmed
A visually cool, sonically ominous title sequence fades into a new television show's opening scene. Speeding black SUVs screech to a halt and more than a dozen FBI agents rush into a luxury DC apartment building where they arrest Arian Taherzadeh and Haider Ali. Like most series these days, that relatively straightforward opening scene is followed with a string of flashbacks that slowly unravel the mystery of how we got to this point. Flashback 1: The two arrestees pose as members of a Department of Homeland Security special task force. Flashback 2: The fake agents somehow take over several units in the luxury apartment building, occasionally mentioning to other tenants that they're all under surveillance and that their cellphones are being monitored. Flashback 3: The men manage befriend a bunch of Secret Service Agents. Flashback 4: Taherzadeh goes full Secret Santa Agent and begins providing gifts to the real agents — iPhones, surveillance systems, a drone, a flat screen television. "He also offered to let them use a black GMC SUV that he identified as an 'official government vehicle." Flashback 5: Taherzadeh offers to purchase a $2,000 assault rifle for a Secret Service agent. Flashback 6: We see that same Secret Service Agent in action doing his day job: protecting the first lady. Flashback 7: A moving truck is parked in front of the apartment building where some of the Secret Service agents are moving in. Inside, we see that one agent is getting the penthouse. How can Secret Service Agents afford lux housing units on a government salary? They don't need to. Taherzadeh informs the new penthouse resident that the rent is ... zero. The Secret Service Agent lowers his standard issue Secret Service Agent sunglasses, taps his earpiece with his index finger and says, "Oh, I heard that!" The two men share an evil laugh as the camera dolly pulls back, showing them from behind as they stand at a window, taking in the penthouse view. Credits roll. Reviews of the pilot are quite positive, although some suggest that the plot seems too far-fetched, even for a TV show. What they don't realize is that truth is stranger that fiction. Especially in this case. AP: 2 posed as agents, gave gifts to Secret Service officers. Sadly, only one episode has dropped, so we can't binge this to find out what the hell is going on.
+ No reporter has covered the Secret Service more closely than WaPo's Carol Leonnig. I therefore appoint her the official showrunner for this series. I'll be following her on Twitter for the latest plot twists.
2. New Bench Mark
There are few things better than scoring a new job that doesn't start for a few months. The stress of the job search is over, but you don't have to actually start the daily grind and can chill for a while. Ketanji Brown Jackson just hit that jackpot as she was confirmed for the SCOTUS gig by the Senate in a 53-47 vote. After Justice Stephen G. Breyer ends his tenure, Jackson will become the first Black female justice in the court's 233 year history. She'll also become the first Democratic nominee to the high court in 12 years, which is insane, as was the close vote. "The historic resonance of the moment has been tempered by the polarized reception that Jackson received in the Senate, which has been riven by an escalating series of grievances surrounding judicial nominations stretching back four decades. Jackson’s tally is likely to fall well short of those earned by previous trailblazing nominees, such as Thurgood Marshall, the first Black justice, who was confirmed 69-11 in 1967, or Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman, who was confirmed 99-0 in 1981." WaPo: Senate confirms Jackson as first Black woman on Supreme Court.
+ Mitch McConnell won’t commit to hearings for Biden SCOTUS picks if GOP retakes Senate. "Won't commit" is doublespeak for, "There's no way in hell..."
3. Tracks of Our Tears
"On the far side of a stretch of railroad tracks, two elderly women had been killed in their house. One lay in the doorway, another in the kitchen. Both were bundled in heavy winter coats. Neighbors said that they had been sisters, both in their seventies. Their small house was filled with hardcover books, and they did not own a television; it was impossible not to imagine their quiet, literary life together before it was annihilated. In the only bedroom, two narrow mattresses were pushed together and covered by a single blanket." Luke Mogelson in The New Yorker: Collecting Bodies in Bucha.
+ "In two separate communications, Russian soldiers described how they question soldiers as well as civilians and then proceed to shoot them." Germany intercepts Russian conversations on indiscriminate killings in Ukraine" Germany intercepts Russian conversations on indiscriminate killings in Ukraine. (The question isn't whether the truth can be found, it's whether it still matters.)
+ The United Nations General Assembly voted to to suspend Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council. (In other news, Russia was part of the Human Rights Council.)
4. Double Visionary
"Last week, Willis announced that he’s stepping away from acting after being diagnosed with the language disorder aphasia. During the past few years, according to the Los Angeles Times, he has increasingly relied on stunt and body doubles as his ability to work long days on the set reportedly declined. To be clear, this is not that story." WaPo(Gift Article): This is not a story about Bruce Willis. It's just story about a guy who looks just like him and got a career because of it.
5. Extra, Extra
The Coin Flipped: "The blockchain ensures that coins can’t be forged or spent more than once. But it does so by making everyone in the Bitcoin economy a witness to every transaction. Every criminal payment is, in some sense, a smoking gun in broad daylight." Andy Greenberg in Wired: Inside the Bitcoin Bust That Took Down the Web’s Biggest Child Abuse Site. "They thought their payments were untraceable. They couldn’t have been more wrong."
+ The Bit Crowd: "Gwyneth Paltrow and Mila Kunis joined a Zoom in January to encourage 5,000 women in the audience to break into the male-dominated world of crypto. 'We have watched a lot of these bros get together and earn a lot of money,' said Paltrow, sporting a black turtleneck, sun-kissed glow and a disarming smile. 'We deserve to be in this space just as much.'" WaPo (Gift Article): Famous women join the crypto hustle, but it could cost their fans. (If you want to be a billionaire tech bro, the key seems to be dropping out of Stanford.)
+ Darkest Before the Dawn: "The device incorporates a thermoelectric generator, which can pull electricity from the small difference in temperature between the ambient air and the solar cell itself." Solar panels that can generate electricity at night have been developed at Stanford. (This proves Corey Hart was ahead of his time.)
+ We've Got Clearance, Clarence: "If something is goofy enough, if it involves a Sharpie, or an open plea to the Proud Boys, or the blurting out of a crackpot QAnon theory, then it doesn’t rise to the level of real or substantial political discourse. We would likely have taken Ginni Thomas’ texts more seriously if they implicated actual legal theories as opposed to advocating for the immediate release of the Kraken." Slate's Dahlia Lithwick: Why the Clarence and Ginni Thomas Scandal Vanished From the News.
+ Pill Cutters: "The city has received 5,988 doses this year — and had to return nearly 60% of them before they expired, Philip said. That’s roughly 3,500 doses." We've got the drugs to save people from Covid. But people aren't using them. SF Chronicle: Health officials return thousands of life-saving COVID drugs, plead with public to use them.
+ Tiger Balm: "No matter what you think of Tiger — love him or despise him — of all of his achievements and accomplishments, this is the most remarkable. How he recovered so quickly, how he says he is playing golf so well again, how he got himself ready to compete here this week, it’s the stuff of legend." So far, so good.
6. Bottom of the News
"Mathematical analysis of the electrical signals fungi seemingly send to one another has identified patterns that bear a striking structural similarity to human speech." Mushrooms communicate with each other using up to 50 ‘words’, scientist claims. (The professor might be getting high on his own supply.)