Later On

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

Archive for October 4th, 2018

How Brett Kavanaugh Failed

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Excellent editorial by the Editorial Board of the NY Times:

The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, as much as any development in the challenging era of Donald Trump, is testing America’s politicians and its civic institutions. Few, so far, have met the test.

Not Republican senators, who, after denying one president his legitimate authority to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court, are now rushing their own nominee through, uninterested in the truth, while weeping crocodile tears about other people’s partisanship.

Not Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who tainted the process by bringing forward damaging allegations against Judge Kavanaugh only at the last minute.

Not the F.B.I., which either of its own volition or because of constraints imposed by Republicans failed to interview many of the key witnesses who could speak to the accusations against Judge Kavanaugh.

And not President Trump, to absolutely no one’s surprise.

In this crucible of power politics, of bullying and posturing and rage, no one has been more severely tested than Judge Kavanaugh. If he believes himself innocent of sexual assault — if he is innocent of sexual assault — the test, to him, can only appear monstrous.

Yet unfair as the test might seem to the judge and his supporters, senators who want to preserve the credibility of the Supreme Court cannot now look away from the result: Judge Kavanaugh failed, decisively.

How? First, he gave misleading answers under oath. Judges — particularly Supreme Court justices — must have, and be seen as having, unimpeachable integrity. The knuckleheaded mistakes of a young person — drinking too much, writing offensive things in a high school yearbook — should not in themselves be bars to high office. But deliberately misleading senators about them during a confirmation process has to be. If Judge Kavanaugh will lie about small things, won’t he lie about big ones as well?

Indeed he already has: During the course of his confirmation hearings, he claimed, implausibly, that he was not aware that files he received from a Senate staff member, some labeled “highly confidential” or “intel,” had been stolen from Democratic computers.

Even the small lies, of course, aren’t so small in context, since they relate to drinking or sex and thus prop up his choir-boy-who-indulged-now-and-then defense.

Second, confronted with the accusations against him, Judge Kavanaugh made recourse not to reason and methodical process, but to fury and the rawest partisanship. Judges — particularly Supreme Court justices — must strive to be, and be seen as, above politics. As Judge Kavanaugh said in a 2015 speech, “to be a good judge and a good umpire, it’s important to have the proper demeanor.” He added: “To keep our emotions in check. To be calm amidst the storm. On the bench, to put it in the vernacular, don’t be a jerk.”

Wise words. He wasn’t able to live by them when it mattered. At last week’s hearing, Judge Kavanaugh was a jerk. He spun dark visions of a Democratic conspiracy of vengeance against him. He yelled at Democratic senators, interrupted them frequently, refused to answer questions directly and, at one point, confronted Senator Amy Klobuchar, who had asked him whether he had ever blacked out from drinking.

“I don’t know,” Judge Kavanaugh sneered. “Have you?” This contempt came only moments after Ms. Klobuchar told Judge Kavanaugh about her father’s struggles with alcoholism.

Was Judge Kavanaugh truly out of control, in rage and pain, as he appeared, or had he calculated that a partisan attack would rally President Trump and Republican senators to his side, as it did? (We all know he was capable of a more temperate response to the accusations: He’d demonstrated that just a couple of nights earlier, in his interview with Fox News.) For purposes of Senate confirmation, it shouldn’t matter. Such a lack of self-control, or such open and radical partisanship, ought to be unacceptable in a judge.

And indeed, on Thursday, the retired Justice John Paul Stevens, who was appointed by a Republican president, took the astonishing step of saying that Judge Kavanaugh’s performance before the Judiciary Committee should disqualify him from the court. “Senators should really pay attention to it,” he said.

Judges are human beings, not ideological blank slates, but the American legal system depends on their being fair and open-minded to all who come before them. Judge Kavanaugh failed to show that he can do this, or that he even would want to.

That’s a disappointment, but maybe not a surprise to anyone who knew of his life before he joined the bench. He was a fierce Republican warrior in some of the most politically charged battles of the past two decades — including the investigation that led to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, in which he sought to expose the most intimate details of Mr. Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky. He also played a role in the most controversial policies of the George W. Bush administration, including the torture of detainees and warrantless wiretapping. (How much of a role we may never learn, since Senate Republicans still refuse to release more than 90 percent of the documents related to Judge Kavanaugh’s work in the Bush administration.)

While many of Judge Kavanaugh’s defenders leapt to exonerate him of sexual assault or excused his rage-bender as understandable, virtually no one has tried to deny his rank partisanship. Yet after last week’s testimony, how could any self-identified Democrat, or leftist, or sexual-assault victim, or anyone who is not identifiable as a Republican, expect to get a fair shake from a Justice Kavanaugh? If he is confirmed, that will pose a profound problem for the court.

It is quite a tribute to Christine Blasey Ford that she has presented the one image of dignity and calm in this howling maelstrom. Dr. Blasey testified last week that a drunken Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her at a 1982 party while they were in high school. Her testimony was credible, and the F.B.I. inquiry was too cursory to substantiate or discredit it. Judge Kavanaugh denies the accusations, and in a court of law — and, we hope, in his life as an American citizen — he is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

He is not, however, entitled to a seat on the Supreme Court. Republican senators . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 9:14 pm

Sea Cider’s Witch’s Broom Cider

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Very tasty indeed. Read about it. From that link:

Witch’s Broom combines the best of BC cider apples, cinnamon, orange, nutmeg and ginger. First we mill and juice our BC apples, adding champagne yeast to begin fermentation. Fermentation occurs at cool temperatures to maximize the aromatics of the cider base. Meanwhile, we create pumpkin spice bitters by soaking cinnamon, orange, nutmeg, and ginger in cider eau de vie. This eau de vie is then blended with the BC apple cider base and a precise dose of Oaken Gin from our neighbours at Victoria Spirits. The result is a spicy and spooky concoction surrounded by the nostalgic aura of fall.

More at the link. And, BTW, Victoria Distillers’ Oaken Gin is very nice in itself. (I have a bottle of it.)

Oaken Gin

We’ve taken our flagship Victoria Gin and allowed it to mature gracefully in oak until it is amber in colour and beautifully smooth.

Tasting Notes: Softened vanilla notes from the oak, a full and buttery caramel sweetness.

Accolades: Double Gold, San Francisco World Spirits Competition, 2016

FWIW, Victoria Gin is one of the best gins I’ve ever tasted.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Drinks

Dishing up lies while proclaiming the love of facts, Trump and Sarah Sanders gaslight America

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Margaret Sullivan writes in the Washington Post:

President Trump’s assault on truth — and would-be truthtellers — has hit a new low.

It may not seem possible, considering that this is a president who has misled or lied to the public thousands of times.

But consider what happened in a White House news briefing Wednesday afternoon. Then consider this week’s rushed and restricted FBI investigationof Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh. And, finally, consider the administration’s response to the New York Times’s groundbreaking investigation of Trump family finances that was published this week.

There can be no doubt: We’re in a whole new phase of the Orwellian nightmare in which black is called white, and you’d better not dare object to that.

In White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders’s briefing Wednesday, she blatantly lied in describing her boss’s ridicule, at a rally the night before, of Christine Blasey Ford. (Imagine the volume of lies we’d be subjected to if these “daily” briefings happened more frequently than once every few weeks.)

Anyone who saw Trump’s performance could observe that he was cruelly mocking the California professor who has accused Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were in high school — all to the delight of his laughing and cheering crowd.

Michael Bromwich, one of Ford’s attorneys, aptly described what Trump did as “vicious, vile and soulless.”

But Sanders countered reporters’ repeated questions about it by stating that the president was merely reciting the facts of the case. She ignored the reality that the supposed facts he gave (for example, that Kavanaugh’s accuser didn’t know whether the alleged assault happened upstairs or downstairs) contradicted what Ford had said last week to a global audience under oath.

And — this was rich — Sanders offered the idea that facts, not emotion, should decide whether Kavanaugh should be confirmed.

“A very contemptuous, evasive and unhelpful performance even by Sanders standards,” tweeted Daniel Dale, Washington correspondent for the Toronto Star and one of the straightest shooters among those who cover the White House.

Then — perhaps worse still — there’s the extremely restricted FBI investigation that, according to new reporting in the New Yorker and elsewhere, did not include the testimony of knowledgeable people who wanted to cast light on the allegations against Kavanaugh.

Sanders spouted the GOP line that the White House had given the FBI free rein.

But as The Washington Post reported: “Even before the investigation ended, several people who said they had information that could be useful said they ended up mired in bureaucracy when they tried to get in touch with the FBI.”

And the bureau was even reportedly restricted from exploring whether Kavanaugh had lied under oath about his alcohol use.

The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer wrote that potential witnesses “have been resorting to sending statements, unsolicited, to the Bureau and to senators, in hopes that they would be seen before the inquiry concluded.”

The fact that the report was completed well ahead of the one-week deadline adds to the undeniable conclusion that this was far less a search for truth in a complex and perhaps unknowable situation, and much more an old-fashioned whitewash.

Yet we’re supposed to believe that any questioning of this amounts to “moving the goal posts.”

That’s classic gaslighting, which longtime Trump observer (and “Art of the Deal” ghostwriter) Tony Schwartz once described as “a blend of lying, denial, insistence and intimidation designed to fuel uncertainty and doubt in others about what’s actually true.”

The gaslighting extended, too, to Trump’s reaction to a meticulously reported and far-reaching New York Times investigation of Trump’s crooked family finances.

The report was — according to Trump, his lawyer and Sanders — completely false and defamatory. They haven’t addressed the specifics, except to say that a lawsuit against the Times may be forthcoming.

Add that to the list of things that are best not to believe. (My colleague Paul Farhi wrote about how often Trump threatens to sue, and how little tends to come of those threats.)

Now add in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 3:16 pm

Here’s a list of people the FBI did NOT interview. Okay with this, Flake and Collins?

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The fact is that the GOP is utterly broken as a political party in functioning democracy. It has become very like a band of Soviet apparatchiks, each Republican in Congress closely watched by (and closely watching) the others, each afraid to step out of line. In the Senate Mitch McConnell calls the shots, and allows a few Senators to mouth off so long as they vote as directed—and they do. McCain’s vote saving the Affordable Care Act is likely to be the last sign of independence from any Republican member of Congress for years.

Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

The White House and Republicans have announced that the FBI’s reopened background check investigation into new accusations against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh has been delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Individual senators will now be able to review summaries of the FBI’s interviews under weirdly restrictive conditions, and it remains unclear whether the findings will ever be publicly released.

You’ll be shocked to hear that the White House has already pronounced the FBI report entirely exonerating for Kavanaugh, claiming that it is now “fully confident” Kavanaugh will be confirmed.

But a lot of new reporting has now emerged that starkly illustrates just how much about the new allegations was not investigated by the FBI. It’s important to note that this probably was not a failing on the FBI’s part but rather was the result of restrictions the White House placed on the probe, a process that itself remains shrouded in disingenuous rhetorical games.

The New York Times reports that as part of the inquiry, the FBI interviewed nine people, and The Post reports that it could confirm interviews with only six people. It appears clear that the FBI did interview Mark Judge, who was named by Christine Blasey Ford as an accomplice in the alleged sexual attack; Patrick Smyth and Leland Keyser, who may have been present downstairs; Chris Garrett, who may have dated Ford at one point; and Tim Gaudette, whose house was the site of a July 1982 gathering noted on Kavanaugh’s calendar.

Here’s a list of the people who we know have not been interviewed:

  • A suitemate of Kavanaugh’s has now told the New Yorker he remembers hearing at the time about the incident Deborah Ramirez has recounted. Ramirez, who has been interviewed, had claimed that Kavanaugh exposed himself to her during a dorm party at Yale. The suitemate, Kenneth G. Appold, now says he is “one-hundred-per-cent certain” that he was told the culprit was Kavanaugh. He does say he never discussed this with Ramirez, but he claims an eyewitness described the episode to him at the time. Appold has tried to share this story with the FBI, but there’s no indication the FBI is willing to hear from him.
  • A classmate of Kavanaugh’s at Georgetown Prep now strongly challenges one of Kavanaugh’s assertions under oath. The person told the New Yorker that he heard Kavanaugh talk repeatedly about Renate Dolphin as someone “that everyone passed around for sex” (the witness’ words), and even heard Kavanaugh singing a rhyme that included the words “you wanna get laid, you can make it with REE-NATE.” Kavanaugh (and many others) described themselves in their yearbook as a “Renate Alumnius,” but Kavanaugh has denied under oath that this was a sexual reference, claiming, ludicrously, that it was intended to show “affection.”
  • This classmate is not named by the New Yorker. But he put his name on a statement to the FBI and Judiciary Committee that makes this claim, and he is prepared to talk to the FBI. There is no indication this happened.
  • James Roche, one of Kavanaugh’s roommates at Yale, has written a piece for Slate that claims Kavanaugh lied under oath about his use of slang and his drinking. Roche claims that Kavanaugh “regularly” blacked out. Roche has offered to talk to the FBI, but there’s no indication this happened.
  • Roche also pointedly added of Kavanaugh: “He said that ‘boofing’ was farting and the ‘Devil’s Triangle’ was a drinking game. ‘Boofing’ and ‘Devil’s Triangle’ are sexual references. I know this because I heard Brett and his friends using these terms on multiple occasions.” Roche concluded that Kavanaugh “has demonstrated a willingness to be untruthful under oath about easily verified information.”
  • NBC News reports that the FBI has not contacted dozens of people who could potentially corroborate the allegations against Kavanaugh or testify to his behavior at the time. This includes many people who knew either Ford or Ramirez at the time, and people who actually approached the FBI offering information.
  • The Post reports that Ramirez’s lawyers provided the FBI with a list of more than 20 people who might have relevant information, but “as of Wednesday, Ramirez’s team had no indication that the bureau had interviewed any of them.”
  • Blasey Ford’s legal team today put out a list of additional people who have not been contacted by the FBI, some of whom were prepared to corroborate that she had in the past discussed being the victim of a sexual assault by a federal jude.
  • Neither Ford nor Kavanaugh have been interviewed by the FBI. As the Brookings Institution’s Susan Hennessey points out: “It is inconceivable they could close a real investigation without re-interviewing Kavanaugh.”

We’ll have to wait to hear from individual senators to learn what the FBI findings, such as they are, tell us about the sexual assault allegations. But whatever that is to be, are the undecided senators — Republicans Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, and Democrats Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp — really going to brush off all these new claims, and the restrictions the White House placed on the FBI, lightly?

Kavanaugh’s bad-faith defenders have tried to frame the question about Kavanaugh’s drinking as: Are you really saying his youthful excesses are disqualifying? True, many of those excesses are trivial. But that’s not the right question. Rather, it’s whether Kavanaugh has shown a level of candorin the present about all this stuff (never mind the angry partisanship and openly displayed contempt for the critical role that opposition lawmakers play in this process) that we expect in a Supreme Court justice.

Kavanaugh defenders who have addressed that question point out that he admitted to drinking “too many beers” at times and to doing things that now leave him “cringing.” But this doesn’t get Kavanaugh off that particular hook: All of this new information, on top of other things we’ve already learned, credibly indicate that he blatantly falsified multiple aspects of his conduct in a highly specific way. An admission of general cringeworthiness doesn’t mitigate that. Undecided senators need to decide whether Kavanaugh has really demonstrated the integrity — and respect for the vetting process — that this position, with all the influence it wields over American life, and all the judiciousness and deliberative qualities we expectfrom those on the high court, demands.

Hundreds of law professors have now added their names to a letter arguing that he has not. And then there’s the process itself. When Flake courageously insisted on a reopened FBI inquiry, he stated that this was necessary to prevent the country from tearing itself apart. The threshold for Flake, then, is that treating these allegations with a seriousness of purpose commensurate with the gravity that millions of Americans across the country accord to sexual assault — many of them being survivors themselves — is the necessary precondition for healing the country, and thus for getting his vote. In this, he was joined by Collins and Murkowski.

But given everything we’ve seen so far — and given what we now are learning — about this process, can any of these undecided senators really claim with a straight face that this standard has been met? If not,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 1:14 pm

Russian trolls and bots are flooding Twitter with Ford-Kavanaugh disinformationMax de Haldevang

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Max de Haldevang reports in Quartz:

Bot and troll networks are flooding Twitter with disinformation tied to Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged assault of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, researchers and analytics services tell Quartz.

The subject has produced unprecedented levels of falsehoods and conspiracy theories on Twitter—working on both sides of the political spectrum, says Ben Decker, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center.

The disinformation is coming from accounts both in the US and abroad.

Russian-linked Twitter accounts

Online Twitter accounts tied to Russia are heavily involved in discussing the Supreme Court nominee and allegations against him online.

Hamilton68, a project run by the German Marshall Fund think tank that tracks tweets “tied to Russia-linked influence networks,” listed Kavanaugh, Trump, the FBI, and Ford as the top four topics mentioned by Russia-linked accounts on the evening of Oct. 1.

The Russia-linked accounts are largely lending their support to Kavanaugh, says Jonathon Morgan, CEO of New Knowledge, the company that built the software behind Hamilton68. Morgan, who is currently tracking a set of around 1,000 accounts he believes are tied to Russia, says the Kavanaugh hearings have unleashed more US domestic-focused propaganda from foreign-linked networks than his firm has seen in months.

However, it’s difficult to say what percentage of online activity is being spread by foreign or domestic actors, or by bots or accounts run by actual humans who use artificial methods to boost their reach. That’s largely because the sheer quantity of tweets—Morgan is tracking just one subset of a larger network and it tweets tens of thousands of times per week—makes it impossible to track them all down.

Personal attacks and disinformation

Posts about Ford and Kavanaugh are “really cluttered and confused,” with various pieces of clear fabrication from both sides, says Decker.

Pro-Kavanaugh accounts have pushed out false smears aimed at discrediting Ford. One notable anti-Kavanaugh post picked up more than 11,000 retweets while purporting to to cite a Wall Street Journal article that in fact didn’t exist. The tweet (screenshot below) was quickly taken down, Decker says, but the account is still active. . .

Continue reading.

Interesting that Russia backs Kavanaugh. They backed Trump, too.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 8:54 am

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies

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Perhaps having our computers that we use in business and government and daily life be manufactured in foreign countries is not a good idea. Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley report in Bloomberg Businesweek:

In 2015, Inc. began quietly evaluating a startup called Elemental Technologies, a potential acquisition to help with a major expansion of its streaming video service, known today as Amazon Prime Video. Based in Portland, Ore., Elemental made software for compressing massive video files and formatting them for different devices. Its technology had helped stream the Olympic Games online, communicate with the International Space Station, and funnel drone footage to the Central Intelligence Agency. Elemental’s national security contracts weren’t the main reason for the proposed acquisition, but they fit nicely with Amazon’s government businesses, such as the highly secure cloud that Amazon Web Services (AWS) was building for the CIA.

To help with due diligence, AWS, which was overseeing the prospective acquisition, hired a third-party company to scrutinize Elemental’s security, according to one person familiar with the process. The first pass uncovered troubling issues, prompting AWS to take a closer look at Elemental’s main product: the expensive servers that customers installed in their networks to handle the video compression. These servers were assembled for Elemental by Super Micro Computer Inc., a San Jose-based company (commonly known as Supermicro) that’s also one of the world’s biggest suppliers of server motherboards, the fiberglass-mounted clusters of chips and capacitors that act as the neurons of data centers large and small. In late spring of 2015, Elemental’s staff boxed up several servers and sent them to Ontario, Canada, for the third-party security company to test, the person says.

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

During the ensuing top-secret probe, which remains open more than three years later, investigators determined that the chips allowed the attackers to create a stealth doorway into any network that included the altered machines. Multiple people familiar with the matter say investigators found that the chips had been inserted at factories run by manufacturing subcontractors in China.

This attack was something graver than the software-based incidents the world has grown accustomed to seeing. Hardware hacks are more difficult to pull off and potentially more devastating, promising the kind of long-term, stealth access that spy agencies are willing to invest millions of dollars and many years to get.

There are two ways for spies to alter the guts of computer equipment. One, known as interdiction, consists of manipulating devices as they’re in transit from manufacturer to customer. This approach is favored by U.S. spy agencies, according to documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. The other method involves seeding changes from the very beginning.

One country in particular has an advantage executing this kind of attack: China, which by some estimates makes 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs. Still, to actually accomplish a seeding attack would mean developing a deep understanding of a product’s design, manipulating components at the factory, and ensuring that the doctored devices made it through the global logistics chain to the desired location—a feat akin to throwing a stick in the Yangtze River upstream from Shanghai and ensuring that it washes ashore in Seattle. “Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow,” says Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc. “Hardware is just so far off the radar, it’s almost treated like black magic.”

But that’s just what U.S. investigators found: The chips had been inserted during the manufacturing process, two officials say, by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.

One official says investigators found that it eventually affected almost 30 companies, including a major bank, government contractors, and the world’s most valuable company, Apple Inc. Apple was an important Supermicro customer and had planned to order more than 30,000 of its servers in two years for a new global network of data centers. Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons.

In emailed statements, Amazon (which announced its acquisition of Elemental in September 2015), Apple, and Supermicro disputed summaries of Bloomberg Businessweek’s reporting. “It’s untrue that AWS knew about a supply chain compromise, an issue with malicious chips, or hardware modifications when acquiring Elemental,” Amazon wrote. “On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, ‘hardware manipulations’ or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server,” Apple wrote. “We remain unaware of any such investigation,” wrote a spokesman for Supermicro, Perry Hayes. The Chinese government didn’t directly address questions about manipulation of Supermicro servers, issuing a statement that read, in part, “Supply chain safety in cyberspace is an issue of common concern, and China is also a victim.” The FBI and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, representing the CIA and NSA, declined to comment.

Read: Statements from Amazon, Apple, Supermicro and Beijing

The companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who—in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration—detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation. One of those officials and two people inside AWS provided extensive information on how the attack played out at Elemental and Amazon; the official and one of the insiders also described Amazon’s cooperation with the government investigation. In addition to the three Apple insiders, four of the six U.S. officials confirmed that Apple was a victim. In all, 17 people confirmed the manipulation of Supermicro’s hardware and other elements of the attacks. The sources were granted anonymity because of the sensitive, and in some cases classified, nature of the information.

One government official says China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks. No consumer data is known to have been stolen.

The ramifications of the attack continue to play out. The Trump administration has made computer and networking hardware, including motherboards, a focus of its latest round of trade sanctions against China, and White House officials have made it clear they think companies will begin shifting their supply chains to other countries as a result. Such a shift might assuage officials who have been warning for years about the security of the supply chain—even though they’ve never disclosed a major reason for their concerns.

Back in 2006, three engineers in Oregon had a clever idea. Demand for mobile video was about to explode, and they predicted that broadcasters would be desperate to transform programs designed to fit TV screens into the various formats needed for viewing on smartphones, laptops, and other devices. To meet the anticipated demand, the engineers started Elemental Technologies, assembling what one former adviser to the company calls a genius team to write code that would adapt the superfast graphics chips being produced for high-end video-gaming machines. The resulting software dramatically reduced the time it took to process large video files. Elemental then loaded the software onto custom-built servers emblazoned with its leprechaun-green logos.

Elemental servers sold for as much as $100,000 each, at profit margins of as high as 70 percent, according to a former adviser to the company. Two of Elemental’s biggest early clients were the Mormon church, which used the technology to beam sermons to congregations around the world, and the adult film industry, which did not.

Elemental also started working with American spy agencies. In 2009 the company announced a development partnership with In-Q-Tel Inc., the CIA’s investment arm, a deal that paved the way for Elemental servers to be used in national security missions across the U.S. government. Public documents, including the company’s own promotional materials, show that the servers have been used inside Department of Defense data centers to process drone and surveillance-camera footage, on Navy warships to transmit feeds of airborne missions, and inside government buildings to enable secure videoconferencing. NASA, both houses of Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security have also been customers. This portfolio made Elemental a target for foreign adversaries.

Supermicro had been an obvious choice to build Elemental’s servers. Headquartered north of San Jose’s airport, up a smoggy stretch of Interstate 880, the company was founded by Charles Liang, a Taiwanese engineer who attended graduate school in Texas and then moved west to start Supermicro with his wife in 1993. Silicon Valley was then embracing outsourcing, forging a pathway from Taiwanese, and later Chinese, factories to American consumers, and Liang added a comforting advantage: Supermicro’s motherboards would be engineered mostly in San Jose, close to the company’s biggest clients, even if the products were manufactured overseas.

Today, Supermicro sells more server motherboards than almost anyone else. It also dominates the $1 billion market for boards used in special-purpose computers, from MRI machines to weapons systems. Its motherboards can be found in made-to-order server setups at banks, hedge funds, cloud computing providers, and web-hosting services, among other places. Supermicro has assembly facilities in California, the Netherlands, and Taiwan, but its motherboards—its core product—are nearly all manufactured by contractors in China. . .

Continue reading.

There’s a lot more, and it’s very disturbing. The US is being hollowed out.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 8:31 am

The unbearable dishonesty of Brett Kavanaugh

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Briahna Gray and Camille Baker report in the Intercept:

MANY OF US who watched Thursday’s Senate hearing spent much of the time cataloguing Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s lies. After hours of testimony, during which Christine Blasey Ford answered questions about her alleged sexual assault, the financing behind her lie detector test, and whether she was really afraid of flying, viewers were treated to more hours of testimony from Kavanaugh, a federal judge who struggled to give a single straight answer.

Kavanaugh strained credulity when he argued before the Senate Judiciary Committee that the “Devil’s Triangle” — a phrase that appeared on his high school yearbook page — referred to a drinking game, a definition which, before Thursday, you’d have a hard time finding anywhere. (It actually refers to a sex act involving two men and a woman). He also unabashedly claimed that the term “boof” is a reference to “flatulence,” rather than other butt stuff, and that “ralph,” which means to vomit —implicitly from the overconsumption of alcohol — was a reference to Kavanaugh’s weak stomach.

Kavanaugh claimed references to “Renate Alumnius” in his yearbook were allusions to his friendship with classmate Renate Schroeder Dolphin, and not, as many understood, a sexist smear about her promiscuity. (Dolphin told the New York Times days before the hearing: “I can’t begin to comprehend what goes through the minds of 17-year-old boys who write such things, but the insinuation is horrible, hurtful and simply untrue.”) Kavanaugh even claimed to not really know Ford at all, despite her testimony that she “went out with” one of his close friends —someone whose name appeared in his now notorious calendar 13 times.

Kavanaugh’s choice to lie about things that are easily disproved speaks to a kind of hubris, or entitlement, that befits someone of his pedigree. He insinuated that he was of drinking age during the summer of 1982 because, back then, in Maryland, 18-year-olds could legally imbibe. With artful wording, he testified that drinking was “legal for seniors,” even though it was decidedly illegal for him — a rising senior who wouldn’t turn 18 until the following year. At other moments, he claimed ignorance about the consequence of plainly relevant evidence — railing against the suggestion that his high school yearbook, a totem to debauchery and sexual frustration, could be relevant to the issue of whether he committed blacked-out sexual assault in high school. “Have at it, if you want to go through my yearbook,” he told Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., with disdain. As though the inquiry itself was made in bad faith.

In fact, Kavanaugh dissembled about whether he ever drank to excess at all  — an incredible claim given the contents of his yearbook; his friend Mark Judge’s damning memoir, which is titled “Wasted: Tales of a GenX Drunk;” and the sheer number of  times Kavanaugh mentioned “beer” during Thursday’s hearing. Although he admitted in his opening statement that “sometimes I had too many beers,” when pressed on how much was too much, he was evasive again: “I don’t know. You know, we — whatever the chart says, a blood-alcohol chart.”

Perhaps most gallingly, when Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked Kavanaugh whether he had ever blacked out — just after she empathetically offered that her own father had struggled with alcoholism — he turned on her and shot back: “I don’t know, have you?” (Kavanaugh later apologized to Klobuchar.)

He even tried to play off Judge’s memoir as “fictionalized” — this despite the book’s title page, which reads: “This book is based on actual experiences.” No lie, it seems, is too small for Kavanaugh.

AMONG THE MOST consequential of Kavanaugh’s false claims, and the one Senate Democrats pushed back against the least, was his assertion that all of the witnesses who could corroborate Ford’s testimony denied it ever happened.

In true Kavanaugh fashion, that’s not quite right.

Ford testified that in addition to Kavanaugh, at least four other people were in the house on the night of the alleged assault: Mark Judge, who Ford alleges witnessed the assault; and P.J. Smyth, Leland Ingraham Keyser, and an unnamed boy — all of whom Ford said were downstairs when the alleged assault occurred.

Nine times during Thursday’s hearing, Kavanaugh claimed that four of the teenagers, including himself, made statements affirming that Ford’s version of events didn’t happen.

In an exchange with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Kavanaugh argued, “But the core of why we’re here is an allegation for which the four witnesses present have all said it didn’t happen.” Later, in an change with Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., the nominee claimed, “The witnesses who were there say it didn’t happen.”

But, apart from Kavanaugh, who denied the allegations, none of the named witnesses said the allegations didn’t happen. Rather, they stated that they did not recall the house party, or have personal knowledge of the alleged sexual assault.

Kavanaugh specifically argued that Judge had “provided sworn statement saying this didn’t happen.” But in Judge’s letter to the Judiciary Committee, sent on September 18, he wrote that he has “no memory of this alleged incident,” does “not recall the party described,” and “never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.” (On Thursday, after the conclusion of Kavanaugh’s testimony, Judge followed up with a second letter, stating that he did “never saw Brett act in the manner Dr. Ford describes.”)

Moreover, Keyser’s statement, issued by her lawyer over the weekend, says only that she “does not know Mr. Kavanaugh, and she has no recollection of ever being at a party or gathering where he was present, with, or without, Dr. Ford.” Not that the event “didn’t happen.”

Further complicating matters, Ford testified that after Keyser submitted her September 19 statement, she texted Ford “with an apology and good wishes.” And last weekend, the Washington Post reported that Keyser believes Ford’s allegations — hardly the refutation Kavanaugh claimed.

Smyth’s letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee stated only that he has no personal knowledge of what’s alleged to have occurred between Kavanaugh and Ford. “I am issuing this statement,” he wrote, “to make it clear to all involved that I have no knowledge of the party in question; nor do I have any knowledge of the allegations of improper conduct [Ford] has leveled against Brett Kavanaugh.”

Importantly, having “no recollection” of the night in question, or no “knowledge” of the alleged events is not the same as saying it didn’t happen — especially since Ford never alleged that anyone but Kavanaugh and Judge witnessed the assault. So why would a judge, someone presumably familiar with the implications of what it often means when a witness avers they “do not recall,” so grossly mischaracterize the nature of those statements?

KAVANAUGH’S APPARENT WILLINGNESS to perjure himself over accusations of underage drinking or sexual innuendo — which alone don’t necessarily bear on his suitability for the bench — is troubling both because of what it implies about his integrity, and because of what it suggests about his reasoning as an adjudicator. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 8:13 am

If farms are to survive, we need to think about them as tech companies

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Brandon Alexander writes in Quartz:

Growing up on my granddad’s farm—he grows cotton, peanuts, and potatoes in Texas—I often heard that technologies like genetically modified crops were required to scale food production. My granddad believed that organic practices do not scale and will not feed the world at an affordable price point. Given the state of technology then, I believe he was right.

But the industry has changed with much more than the seasons, and we need more than an iterative improvement on past technologies. We are reaching a plateau in food production. According to research published in Nature, about one third of the world’s agricultural lands have maxed out the amount of rice, wheat, and corn farmers can grow.

At the same time, the World Resources Institute suggests we will need to double our food production by 2050 to feed nearly 10 billion people. In order to boost yield, we need to systematically improve the entire grow process and maximize the potential of every plant. To enable this next age of agriculture, we will need to rely on two new advances: machine learning and robotics.

The amount of data available to farmers has skyrocketed. In addition to collecting data at a macro level from satellite or drone imagery, we can also capture data at the micro level, thanks to a combination of cheaper, lower-powered sensors. These sensors provide farmers with insights like hyperlocal measurements on soil conditions, for example.

ut a firehose of data does not equate to insights, and that’s where the newer methods of applied machine learning come in. Companies likeDescartes Labs and FarmLogsare applying machine learning and computer vision to glean insights from these new data streams, providing farmers not just pretty graphs, but actionable information to increase yield.

Machine learning and computer vision enables us to scan each plant in acres of land, detecting plant diseases before they spread and significantly minimizing yield loss and the need for pesticides. For example, traditionally a farmer would inspect parts of a plot of land for plant diseases like powdery mildew or signs of pest pressure like aphids. Because it was physically impossible for them to inspect each plant on acres of land, they would have to extrapolate their findings across the entire plot. Now, modern computer-vision techniques can take multiple images of every plant and stitch them together for a full 3D reconstructed model of the produce.

Data may give us the information we need to improve yield, but something still needs to perform the action. And it’s increasingly not humans.

We are experiencing a growing labor-shortage epidemic. According to the US Census, the average farmer is 58.3 years old, and new generations are not inspired to take on the laborious task that their elders did—even those who have generations of farmers in their family, like myself. This issue isn’t a shortage of food: It’s of people. Crops are rotting on bushes and vinesbecause there aren’t enough staff to maintain and pick them. Considering that one in nine people onEarth aren’t getting adequate nutrition every day, it’s devastating.

This means that though there are more mouths to feed than ever, there will be less land to provide them food, and less calloused hands to tend to the crops that will feed them. So what do you do when you have little land to work with and fewer hands to help? You turn to technology.

Automation allows for a more accurate work environment with little human oversight. It will involve hardware that is more agile than the human eye or hand, and it will be able to give each and every plant the unique attention it needs.

Recent advancements in computing power, dexterity, motion planning, and computer vision are enabling a new generation of robotic applications. Robotics excel at rapidly performing repetitive tasks, but combined with computer vision, robots can start making real-time decisions on a per plant basis, from adjusting the nutrients to pruning. Companies like Blue River have successfully automated tasks like weeding (a manual process for non-GMO crops) to great effect, which is why John Deere bought the company for over $300 million last year.

At Iron Ox, we’ve designed the entire grow process with arobotics-first approach. That means not just adding a robot to an existing process, but designing everything, including our own hydroponic grow system, around the robotics. In an indoor farm, tasks like seeding or harvesting are happening thousands of a times a day. These labor intensive, repetitive tasks are perfect for robotics. And by integrating machine learning and computer vision, we’re able to have the robots respond to an individual plant’s needs. For example, our robot can quarantine a plant if it shows early signs of pest pressure before it contaminates others nearby or change the nutrition recipe for a plant based on phenotyping.

And we don’t even need arable land: By  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 8:08 am

An “Old” shave: Goat and Type

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Sometimes I get the amount of water in the brush exactly right for the soap I’m using. Although that’s my goal, when it happens, it seems to be by chance, but I’ll take the credit. (In Gross Anatomy, Matthew Modine plays a first-year medical student, and he answers a question posed by the instructor (played by Christine Lahti). She asks, “Was that a guess?” “Is it the right answer? ” he responds. “Yes.” “Then it wasn’t a guess.”)

With a perfectly constituted lather, my RazoRock Old Type glided through the stubble, and three passes later, after I rinsed and dried my face, I applied a good splash of Saint Charles Shave Very V EDT. A good start to a sunny morning.

Written by Leisureguy

4 October 2018 at 8:04 am

Posted in Shaving

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