Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Cambridge Analytica CEO filmed talking about using bribes, sex workers in political work

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It gets sleazier and sleazier. Luis Sanchez reports in The Hill:

The CEO of the British data firm Cambridge Analytica was filmed saying that his firm used bribes and sex workers to trap politicians in uncompromising situations, an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News in London found.

Alexander Nix, the company’s chief executive, in one exchange talks about sending “some girls around to the candidate’s house” in order to dig up dirt on political opponents.

He also talks of putting information “into the bloodstream of the Internet” and watching to grow.

Nix did not appear to know he was being filmed when he made the statements at what Channel 4 said were a series of hotel meetings. The news organization said its reporter posed as the representative of a client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka.

In another exchange, he speaks of how “we’ll offer a large amount of money to the candidate, to finance his campaign in exchange for land for instance, we’ll have the whole thing recorded, we’ll blank out the face of our guy and we post it on the Internet.”

In a statement, Cambridge Analytica denied using bribes, entrapment “or so-called honey-traps.”

The Trump campaign used Cambridge Analytica in

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2018 at 1:01 pm

The Opening Argument in the Trial of Donald J. Trump

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No, the trial is not yet underway, but based on what we now know, Nick Akerman and Jonalthan Alter thinkthe opening statement could go something like this:

Good prosecutors always have a theory of the case. While much of special counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence remains unknown, the contours of the criminal conspiracy case against President Trump are coming into view. The public might hear it at an impeachment trial in the Senate next year (if the House goes Democratic) or in a jury trial (if the Supreme Court, which has never ruled on the constitutionality of criminally prosecuting a president, allows it). Either way, here is a reasonable approximation of the story the prosecutor would tell the court and the American people in his opening argument:

May it please the court. Ladies and gentlemen: This is a simple case about a plot hatched during the 2016 presidential election. The story begins with close business contacts between the Defendant, Donald John Trump, and Russian oligarchs, including some who obtained and distributed illegally hacked emails belonging to the Democratic Party in order to help Trump win. It continues with Trump and his associates—after receiving stolen goods—promising a major favor to the Russians in return for their criminal activity. And it ends with the Defendant Trump trying to cover up his crimes. Actually, the true end of the story is in your hands—when justice and accountability are restored.

First, a little Latin. I took Latin in high school but remember almost nothing. I have, however, picked up a few Latin phrases over the years. One of them, which will be an important part of this case, is quid pro quo. It literally means, in English, “something for something.” An exchange of favors. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.

Now, all of us engage in favor swapping or quid pro quos every day. Nothing wrong with it most of the time. If you cook dinner, I’ll do the dishes. But when the “quid” is an illegal act, it’s a whole different story. Then the “quo” is often illegal, too, even if it wouldn’t be on its own. If you rob a bank and use the money you stole to help me, and in return I promise to help you out, then I’m in a lot of trouble, too, especially if I try to throw the cops off the scent.

In this case, you will learn that in return for the Russians stealing and releasing emails, the Defendant Trump and members of his staff promised—publicly and privately—that after being sworn in, the new president would drop U.S. government sanctions against the Russian government and Russian oligarchs who are close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The stolen emails and a variety of other illegal Russian efforts to hurt the Clinton campaign were the currency the Russians used to barter for sanctions relief.

That quid pro quo is the criminal conspiracy at the heart of this case. As you will learn, a criminal conspiracy means that the people involved had a mutual agreement, spoken or unspoken, to commit acts that were illegal. They didn’t have to sit in some dark room plotting or tell each other to commit crimes. An informal understanding to break the law constitutes a conspiracy.

What was the motive for the crime?

For Trump, it was to use any edge he could to win the election, even if it was clearly illegal, and to stay on good enough terms with Russian oligarchs to allow himself and his family and associates loan relief and other business deals with them if he lost.

For the Russians, the motive was to harm Hillary Clinton, who as secretary of state under President Obama had been critical of their behavior and pushed successfully for sanctions against the Russian government and oligarchs. They saw a chance to both win sanctions relief and fulfill a longstanding plan to disrupt American elections.

You will hear testimony that Trump and his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, a longtime pro-Russian lobbyist, had extensive financial ties to Russians through the Bank of Cyprus and other banks and a series of real estate investments and golf club developments that offered Russian oligarchs a way to launder their dirty money. Russians lent tens of millions of dollars to both Trump and Manafort, leaving both indebted to criminals who hoped to collect at least partly through new American policies toward oligarchs.

You will learn a lot in this case about how these Russian criminals operated. For decades, Russian intelligence has specialized in what is called kompromat—obtaining compromising information to be used for blackmail or extortion. The information gathered on Trump going back to his visits to the Soviet Union in the 1980s gave the Russians leverage over him in his business activities that extended into his campaign and presidency. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, Trump—by then a declared presidential candidate—continued his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow even after sanctions were imposed on Russia following the annexation of Crimea and military aggression against Ukraine. You will learn that the Trump Organization’s relations with a bank sanctioned by the United States broke the law.

The core of the criminal conspiracy began in  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2018 at 12:49 pm

Lying to oneself is unfortunately easy

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In my list of frequently recommended books is Vital Lies, Simple Truths: The Psychology of Self-Deception, by Daniel Goleman. Olivia Goldhill has an excellent article on how some types of self-deception work—specifically, the self-deception in which a person is confident of their knowledge about something of which they are ignorant: the Dunning-Kruger effect.

This article is particularly good because she recognizes that the problem of the DK effect is not a deficit of intelligence (the very first example is a person who is obviously intelligent) but a deficit of knowledge. It happens when a person’s ignorance is great enough that they cannot evaluate they ignorance: they don’t know enough to evaluate how ignorant they are.

She writes:

In 2008, the psychiatrist Stephen Greenspan published The Annals of Gullibility, a summary of his decades of research into how to avoid being gullible. Two days later, he discovered his financial advisor Bernie Madoff was a fraud, who had caused Greenspan to lose a third of his retirement savings.

This anecdote, from a presentation by University of Michigan social psychologist David Dunning, due to be presented at the 20th Sydney Symposium of Social Psychology in Visegrád, Hungary in July, highlights an unfortunate but inescapable truth: We are always most gullible to ourselves. As Dunning explains it, Greenspan—despite being the expert on gullibility—fell prey to Madoff’s fraudulent behavior not simply because Madoff was some master manipulator, but because Greenspan had, essentially, tricked himself.

“To fall prey to another person you have to fall prey to your belief that you’re a good judge of character, that you know the situation, that you’re on solid ground as opposed to shifty ground,” says Dunning. Greenspan, Dunning notes, failed to follow his own advice and take appropriate cautionary steps before trusting someone in a field he knew little about. Though he wrote the book on how not to be overly confident of your own judgments, Greenspan went against own advice when he handed over his savings without properly interrogating both Madoff’s confidence in himself, and his own sense of confidence in Madoff. Had he followed his own counsel, Greenspan would have recognized he knew little about financial investments, and would have done far more research before deciding to hand over his money to Madoff.

Dunning is an expert on the human tendency to overestimate confidence in our own knowledge and beliefs. In 1999, together with social psychologist Justin Kruger, Dunning identified the co-eponymousDunning-Kruger effect: people who are incompetent and lack knowledge in a field tend to massively overestimate their abilities because, quite simply, they don’t know enough to recognize what they don’t know. So hugely unqualified people erroneously believe that they’re perfectly qualified. (This effect that has an unfortunate tendency to create the worst possible bosses. It’s also the opposite of imposter syndrome, which describes when qualified people worry that they aren’t qualified.)

In his latest presentation, Dunning highlights the studies that collectively show how we repeatedly and consistently fool ourselves into thinking we know more than we do, and so convince ourselves that our opinion or choice is right—even when there’s absolutely no evidence to support this. There are dozens of studies supporting this hypothesis, showing, for example, that British prisoners rate themselves as more ethical and moral than typical citizens, and that people mistakenly believe they’re better than others at reaching unbiased conclusions.

People tend to be just as confident in their false beliefs as their accurate ones. In one 2013 study,  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2018 at 12:45 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Science

What We Know, and Don’t Know, About the Firing of Andrew McCabe

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Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes write at Lawfare:

Anyone who is confidently pronouncing on the merits of Andrew McCabe’s firing Friday night is venturing well beyond the realm of known facts.

We certainly understand the instinct to rally to McCabe’s defense at a time when the president is issuing  and White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders is declaring him a “.” McCabe’s dismissal comes as part of a broader purge of the senior FBI leadership and specifically targets a man who behaved with  in the wake of James Comey’s firing last year. It is only natural for those repulsed by the president’s broader interactions with the FBI to assume the worst.

But on McCabe’s innocence or culpability for some infraction that might justify his dismissal, we will reserve judgment—and we caution others to as well. It is simply not clear at this stage whether or not the record will support his dismissal.

At this stage, all that is available are a general, high-level picture of the process that played out—and the broadest sense of the parameters of the dispute between McCabe and the Justice Department leadership that led to his dismissal. The public has no details. It has no specific facts. We have the broad suggestion that McCabe was not truthful with Justice Department investigators but no sense of what he said or what the specific truth was.

Here’s what we know:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions  in a statement issued at 10 p.m. Friday, just 26 hours before McCabe’s planned retirement:

After an extensive and fair investigation and according to Department of Justice procedure, the Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) provided its report on allegations of misconduct by Andrew McCabe to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

The FBI’s OPR then reviewed the report and underlying documents and issued a disciplinary proposal recommending the dismissal of Mr. McCabe.  Both the OIG and FBI OPR reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor—including under oath—on multiple occasions.

The FBI expects every employee to adhere to the highest standards of honesty, integrity, and accountability.  As the OPR proposal stated, “all FBI employees know that lacking candor under oath results in dismissal and that our integrity is our brand.”

Pursuant to Department Order 1202, and based on the report of the Inspector General, the findings of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility, and the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official, I have terminated the employment of Andrew McCabe effective immediately.

A representative for McCabe stated that , though the Justice Department disputes this.

The FBI takes telling the truth extremely seriously: “lack of candor” from employees is a fireable offense—and people are fired for it. Moreover, it doesn’t take an outright lie to be dismissed. , the bureau fired an agent after he initially gave an ambiguous statement to investigators as to how many times he had picked up his daughter from daycare in an FBI vehicle. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit  when he appealed, finding that “lack of candor is established by showing that the FBI agent did not ‘respond fully and truthfully’ to the questions he was asked.”

Consider also that although Sessions made the ultimate call to fire McCabe, the public record shows that the process resulting in the FBI deputy director’s dismissal involved career Justice Department and FBI officials—rather than political appointees selected by President Trump—at crucial points along the way. To begin with, the charges against McCabe arose out of the broader Justice Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation into the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email investigation. While the inspector general is appointed by the president, the current head of that office, Michael Horowitz, was appointed by President Barack Obama and is himself a former career Justice Department lawyer. , the inspector general has a great deal of statutory independence, which Horowitz has not hesitated to use: Most notably, he produced a highly critical 2012 report into the Justice Department’s “Fast and Furious” program. So a process that begins with Horowitz and his office carries a presumption of fairness and independence.

After investigating McCabe, Horowitz’s office provided a report on McCabe’s conduct to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), which investigates allegations of misconduct against bureau employees. This office is headed by , whom then-FBI Director Robert Mueller appointed to lead the OPR in 2004. According to Sessions, the Office of Professional Responsibility agreed with Horowitz’s assessment that McCabe “lacked candor” in speaking to internal investigators.

Finally, Sessions’s statement references “the recommendation of the Department’s senior career official” in advocating McCabe’s firing on the basis of the OIG and OPR determinations. (The official in question appears to be .)

So while Sessions made the decision to dismiss McCabe, career officials or otherwise independent actors were involved in conducting the investigation into the deputy director and recommending his dismissal on multiple levels.

As Sessions frames it, McCabe was dismissed for lacking candor when speaking to investigators on the matter of an “unauthorized disclosure to the news media.” McCabe denies these allegations. In a  released to the media after his firing, McCabe wrote:

The investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has to be understood in the context of the attacks on my credibility. The investigation flows from my attempt to explain the FBI’s involvement and my supervision of investigations involving Hillary Clinton. I was being portrayed in the media over and over as a political partisan, accused of closing down investigations under political pressure. The FBI was portrayed as caving under that pressure, and making decisions for political rather than law enforcement purposes. Nothing was further from the truth. In fact, this entire investigation stems from my efforts, fully authorized under FBI rules, to set the record straight on behalf of the Bureau, and to make clear that we were continuing an investigation that people in DOJ opposed.

The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continued to do under Director Wray, at his request. The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.

The full inspector general report on the Clinton email investigation, which will presumably include information on McCabe’s conduct, is to be released . Without seeing the report, it’s impossible to know whose story reflects the truth here—Sessions’s or McCabe’s. But at the end of the day, the record will either support McCabe’s dismissal or it will not. On the merits, we should have the discipline to wait and see.

There are, however, at least two features of the action against McCabe that warrant consternation, even if McCabe himself behaved badly enough to justify the sanction. The first is the timing, which is hard to understand. The only factor we can fathom that might justify it is the notion that if McCabe in fact had acted very badly, the window to punish him and thus make an important statement to the bureau workforce was closing.

But we are unaware of prior cases in which authorities rushed through the merits against a long-serving official in a naked and transparent effort to beat the clock of his retirement. Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general who is representing McCabe, described the :

The investigation described in the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report was cleaved off from the larger investigation of which it was a part, its completion expedited, and the disciplinary process completed in a little over a week. Mr. McCabe and his counsel were given limited access to a draft of the OIG report late last month, did not see the final report and the evidence on which it is based until a week ago, and were receiving relevant exculpatory evidence as recently as two days ago. We were given only four days to review a voluminous amount of relevant evidence, prepare a response, and make presentations to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General. With so much at stake, this process has fallen far short of what Mr. McCabe deserved.

Even allowing for a certain degree of lawyerly hyperbole in this account, the process described here seems highly irregular. McCabe, in his statement Friday, suggested one possible reason for the acceleration:

The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens.

In an interview with the New York Times, McCabe said directly that his dismissal “.”

We will refrain from speculating on the reason for the rush to fire McCabe before his retirement. But it is peculiar. Why, one wonders, could the Justice Department not have handled his misconduct—if there was misconduct—the way it usually does: by detailing it in the inspector general’s report and noting that the subject, who has since retired, would otherwise be subject to disciplinary action?

The timing seems particularly irregular in light of a second peculiarity unique to McCabe’s case—one probably singular in the history of the American republic: Trump’s personal intervention in the matter and public demands for the man’s scalp. Trump has not been shy about McCabe. He has tormented him both in public and in private, and he publicly demanded his firing on multiple occasions: . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2018 at 9:05 am

The craft of the miniature staircase

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Photographer: James Hart

Natasha Frost has an interesting article in Atlas Obscura, which includes a number of photos of the tiny staircases. Here’s another:

Staircase model, Paris, France, late 19th century; Carved, bent, joined and veneered cherry and walnut; 31 x 13 x 17.2 cm (12 3/16 x 5 1/8 x 6 3/4 in.); Gift of Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw, 2007-45-8; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum; Photo by James Hart © Smithsonian Institution

She writes:

Since the Middle Ages, France’s “compagnons” have lived idiosyncratic existences, steeped in mystery, ritual, and a devotion to their trades. Even today, these master craftsmen have certain quirks: As young people, they live in boarding houses together in towns across France, where they spend their days learning and training to become the country’s greatest tradespeople. After six months in one place, each tradesman will pack up and move on to another French town, and a new hostel, to learn more skills under a new master.

The name “compagnon” translates to “companion,” relating to the brotherhood between members and the shared identity of a movement that, today, encompasses around 12,000 permanent, active members. Professions usually fall into one of five “groups,” depending on their principal material: stone; wood; metal; leather and textiles; and food. Within these groups are bakers, clog-makers, carpenters, masons, glaziers, and many more. In the past century, new trades have been added and old ones have fallen away. But whatever the craft, the journey from apprentice to “compagnon” is long and highly specific, and culminates in the completion of a “masterwork”: an item that showcases the skills acquired over at least five years of sustained study.

Historically, woodworkers have often chosen to produce a tiny, intricate staircase as their “masterwork.” Over 30 years, the art dealer and collector Eugene V. Thaw, who died at 90 in January 2018, amassed an incredible collection of these staircase models, dating from between the 18th and 20th centuries. Measuring only a few inches in height, they are self-supporting, graceful, and impossibly delicate. Since 2007, they have been part of the permanent collection of New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, and are currently on display alongside craftsmen’s working drawings.

To make these models, craftsmen draw on a variety of different kinds of wood, including pear, ebony, walnut, and mahogany, with extra twiddly bits, like banisters and infinitesimal hand-railings, made of anything from brass to bone. Every minute piece of wood—and there are hundreds in each model—has been painstakingly hand-cut, carved, planed, joined, and inlaid to produce a staggeringly detailed staircase, in miniature. These were sometimes produced for competitions, writes Sarah D. Coffin, author of Made to Scale: Staircase Masterpieces, The Eugene & Clare Thaw Gift, where apprentices vied to be named the master carpenter of a city. “Other times, they might be group works for parade.” In these instances, slightly larger models would be carried through the city by their makers for all to admire. . .

Continue reading, and more photos at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2018 at 8:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

A tubular shave: WP Prince, I Coloniali, ATT S1, and Hermès Eau d’orange verte

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I really like the fragrance (and the lather) of I Coloniali, no longer available. I don’t know that the fragrance is from the rhubarb, but it’s a very nice smell. And the lather is quite thick and good. The Wet Shaving Products Prince is a very nice little brush, and it did its job with aplomb.

Above the Tie’s S1 slant is quite good for me, and here it’s on a UFO handle. Three passes, no problems, very smooth result without trying.

HermèsEau d’orange verte is a wonderful moisturizer that works extremely well as an aftershave balm. It takes but a tiny amount, so the cost per shave is low (even though the price per tube is fairly high).

Altogether a great way to start the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 March 2018 at 8:31 am

Posted in Shaving

Walking: You’re almost certainly doing it wrong. Seriously.

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Self-taught practitioners tend to make common mistakes. Just correcting a few basic problems, with the help of a coach or other instruction, can drastically improve performance. Such improvements will not take you to the top levels—for that you need talent and a lot of time, thought, and work—but it will get to the 80th percentile: a C+, or maybe a B- if you’re good.
Self-taught swimmers tend to try to keep their head out of water; self-taught right-handed golf players tend to bend their left arm in the swing; self-taught decision-makers (i.e., most of us) tend to fall into ten basic traps, easily corrected (see “Decision Traps,” by Russo and Schoemaker); self-taught listeners tend lack a listening strategy, method, and discipline (there was a course on listening put out by Xerox years ago); self-taught fighters tend to draw back their fist before delivering a blow and not put their body behind the blow, driving it just from their shoulder; and even self-taught walkers tend to have common faults easily corrected. I imagine you can think of other examples. Common errors are, after all, common.
Now that I think about it, I taught myself how to tie my shoes (at a young age), but I fell into a common error: I made a granny knot instead of a square knot. It was only in college that I suddenly figured out (or was told) how to tie my shoes correctly. (I wondered why they were constantly coming undone.)


It was pretty easy to learn: I just tied the knot in the way that felt wrong.

I suppose this is a plea to respect and heed expertise. It will get you quickly past the common errors.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2018 at 8:57 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

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