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Archive for October 18th, 2019

The banana-republicizing of the United States: This Governor Still Guides His Billion-Dollar Business Empire, Even Though He Said He Wouldn’t

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A banana republic is a country—prototypically a Latin-American country—whose politics and government are dominated and controlled by business interests—prototypically United Fruit Company. The problem with corporations, which are legal persons and also memeplexes with their own goals and immune systems and the like, is that as persons they are sociopaths and as memeplexes their only goal is growth and protecting themselves. Thus the ideal goal of government—the welfare of the commonwealth and the citizens—is beside the point.

Ken Ward Jr. of The Charleston Gazette-Mail has a report in ProPublica:

Last fall, Gov. Jim Justice called reporters to his office in the West Virginia Capitol for a hastily arranged news conference.

Sitting behind a table and flanked by GOP lawmakers, the governor touted the latest budget surplus and announced a proposed pay raise for teachers and a plan to fix the state’s underfunded public employee health care plan.

But within minutes, he ended the event and dismissed the lawmakers, saying they had pressing state business. The governor took just one question.

“Nobody else? Great,” he said, banging his palms on the desk. “Let’s go.”

Justice had somewhere else to be. Across town, one of his energy companies, Bluestone Coal Corp., was due in federal court. The firm had sued a competitor for $80 million after a drilling accident had flooded a mine. And as Bluestone’s owner, Justice was playing a key role in the settlement talks. The parties spent two days negotiating a deal, and he was there when they gathered in a courtroom to present their agreement to the judge.

“May I say something?” the governor asked at one point, according to a transcript of the hearing.

“Certainly,” U.S. District Judge Thomas E. Johnston responded.

Surrounded by nearly two dozen lawyers, the governor proceeded to explain the finer points of the agreement.

Justice’s involvement in his company’s legal matters is a far cry from what he pledged more than two and a half years ago when he took office as West Virginia’s governor. Back then, the billionaire promised to put his business empire aside and focus on public service. In an arrangement that echoed that of President Donald Trump, Justice said his adult children, Jay and Jill, would run his family’s coal mines, resorts and farms.

“Being governor,” he wrote in a January 2017 note to state employees, “is a full-time responsibility.”

But as his courtroom appearance makes clear, Justice remains deeply enmeshed in his businesses. In fact, he has frequently used official public appearances, and the trappings of his office, to promote them.

Over the past year, he has hosted a news conference at the governor’s office to tout a settlement between his coal companies and his administration’s tax collectors. He has used an interview at the governor’s mansion to press his luxury resort’s $75 million lawsuit against its insurance companies. And he’s turned an appearance at a statewide business gathering — held at that same resort — into breaking news about his family’s plans to reopen a coal mine.

The governor’s dual roles are now fueling complaints and political headaches, just as Justice is seeking a second term as the state’s chief executive. Critics in both parties say that Justice is an absentee governor, often leaving the state without strong leadership at a time when West Virginia faces key challenges, from a painful economic transition as the coal industry declines to the struggle to emerge from the worst drug overdose crisis in the country.

“The governor is running his businesses, and the state of West Virginia gets neglected as a result of it,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, a Democrat who brought a lawsuit against Justice, alleging the governor is violating the state Constitution because he does not “reside” in Charleston. Justice lives in Lewisburg, near his Greenbrier resort, about 110 miles from the capital, but he has opposed the lawsuit. His lawyers say the Constitution’s term — reside — is too “nebulous” a concept for a court to enforce.

On the campaign trail, Republican rival Woody Thrasher is questioning Justice’s commitment to public office. “I think he’s a worker,” Thrasher told a Wheeling newspaper this month. “I just don’t think he works on state government. I think he works on his personal businesses, which quite frankly probably need more help than the State of West Virginia does, if that’s possible.”

Justice declined to be interviewed for this report; however, he issued a statement through a spokesman for his companies.

In it, he acknowledged his ongoing involvement in his businesses but said his interactions are limited, with his adult children running day-to-day operations. “Because the businesses employ thousands of West Virginians, I continue to have an interest in their success and do check in on them from time to time,” he said. “There are also times where I have specific historical knowledge of a particular aspect of one of the businesses, and Jay and Jill will ask me about it.”

His primary interest, he added, is West Virginia.

“Above all,” Justice said, “as I travel from one end of the state to the other, my No. 1 focus is continuing to do everything I can as governor to make sure West Virginia will continue to improve, put people in good-paying jobs and attract industry and tourism to our wonderful state.”

Unlike his recent predecessors, Justice has refused to place most of his holdings into a blind trust, which would put them under the control of an independent manager and shield him from at least the appearance of a conflict. Instead, the governor has retained ownership in 130 corporate entities, and his assets are valued by Forbes magazine at $1.5 billion.

Many of Justice’s businesses, from coal mines to farms to a casino, are regulated by the state, and some of them do business with the administration.

An investigation by the Charleston Gazette-Mail and ProPublica in August found that, despite what the Justice administration called a “moratorium” on state spending at The Greenbrier, state agencies have paid for more than $106,000 in meals and lodging at the luxury resort since Justice became governor.

That report prompted lawmakers to call for an overhaul of the state’s ethics rules. One proposal would make West Virginia the first state to mandate that governors place all of their assets into a blind trust. Separately, federal investigators have issued subpoenas seeking information about the administration’s dealings with Justice’s businesses.

Justice has denied any wrongdoing and has repeatedly dismissed concerns about his business interests. He maintains that they present no conflicts of interest, because he has stepped away from day-to-day management while he’s serving as governor.

Justice’s own actions have undercut that argument.

In August 2018, the governor called reporters to the Capitol to talk about his business empire’s delinquent taxes. Millions of dollars in various state levies tied to Justice’s family coal operations had been overdue for years, providing frequent fodder for his political opponents and the media.

“Today’s a really neat day for me in that I think we can put to bed once and for all this tax issue that’s been looming around forevermore,” Justice said.

Speaking in the reception room just outside the governor’s office — historically used for official government press events — Justice took reporters on a rambling verbal tour of his mining holdings and the challenges of the coal industry. He spoke in detail about how he refused to file bankruptcy to avoid debts, and he outlined the back-and-forth over selling most of his coal operations to the Russian firm Mechel, before buying them back years later.

“It has stretched our companies beyond belief to overcome this situation right here,” the governor said. “It’s been a struggle.”

But when reporters asked for specifics on how much his companies had ultimately paid in taxes — and whether the governor cut a deal with his own tax collectors — Justice was short on details.

“I don’t know what the amount is,” he insisted. “I think that’s a question you would really have to ask my son.” (Justice’s son, Jay, who was not at the news conference, has refused to answer such questions.)

Pressed for more information, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy cited taxpayer confidentiality, but Justice interrupted. “I think you can tell them that it was audited,” the governor told the tax official.

Two months later, Justice was focused on Bluestone Coal and its ongoing lawsuit against Pinnacle Mining Co., the operator that had flooded the mine. The negotiating session was scheduled for 10 a.m. on Oct. 2, 2018, in federal court. Justice’s official calendar informed his staff, “DO NOT SCHEDULE” on that day.

But with tensions rising over the state’s underfunded health care plan for teachers and other public employees, the governor scheduled a news conference to tout Republican accomplishments. . .

Continue reading.

I have to admit that I’m surprised at the forbearance of the citizens. Maybe they simply are ignorant, or if not ignorant, too intimidated to stand up for their rights even in the privacy of the polling booth. Or perhaps it’s something else. I don’t get it.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 5:03 pm

I keep returning to this image

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Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 4:36 pm

“What Teaching Ethics in Appalachia Taught Me About Bridging America’s Partisan Divide”

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Evan Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the author of A Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America, writes in Politico:

BOONE, N.C.—On the first day of my “Justice in America” seminar at Appalachian State University, I offer a deal to a student named Forrest Myers. I explain that I’m a tough grader and that the class average will be around a B-minus. “I’ll give you an A,” I say. “All you have to do is designate someone to get an F.”

The other students laugh nervously while Forrest considers the deal.

I’ve asked this question at the beginning of every semester for over 20 years, mostly to liberal northeasterners at Harvard and the City University of New York. It’s a good starting point because it tends to show commonality. The beginning of ethical thinking is to accept that other people’s interests matter. In all my years of teaching, I’ve never had anyone take me up on my offer.

But I’ve come here seeking difference, not similarity. The 2016 election exposed a national rift so deep that it feels as if even reasonable conversation is impossible. I’m a liberal New Yorker, but I know that plenty of people on both sides of the political spectrum worry that this divide poses an existential threat to the American democratic project. On the most controversial issues—race and immigration, to name just two—we’ve lost the capacity for compromise because we presume the most sinister motives about our opponents. I’ve arrived here in the fall of 2018, hoping to find a wider range of views—not to change anyone’s opinions but rather to see whether there remain principles and a shared language of ethics that bind us together.

So I’m as curious as everyone else in the class about how Forrest is going to answer.

Lean and wearing a red t-shirt, Forrest massages his wire-rimmed glasses as he thinks. “I’d rather get the grade on my own merit,” he says at last. “And I don’t want to have anyone mad at me because I gave them an F.”

The offer’s losing streak intact, I extend it to every student in the class. “Raise your hand,” I say, “and you’ll get an A. All you have to do is point to someone who’ll get an F.” No hands go up. With a young woman named Sienna Lafon, I sweeten the offer: I’ll give everyone in the class an A, including her. She simply has to pick one student to get an F.

Sienna says she won’t do it.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because it’s not fair,” she replies.

“What’s going on?” I ask. If someone accepts the deal, the class as a whole will be better off. In the language we’ll develop during the semester, it’s a utilitarian no-brainer: The class GPA will rise from 2.7 to near 4.0. Still, no one bites.

A student named Jackson says finally, “I think we should just earn what we get.”

These answers, with the exception of some southern accents, sound almost identical to ones that I hear from my typical class at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Of course, we’re still in the realm of hypotheticals. It’ll be several weeks until we get to late-term abortions, gun bans and the death penalty. Donald Trump’s name has yet to be spoken. The conversations will no doubt become more fraught as things get more real.


Finding a place to teach ethics in the South was more difficult than I had imagined. My initial idea was to go to the most remote school that would have me, but most don’t even offer an ethics course. The philosophy department of a community college in rural Tennessee was interested until the administration balked at my qualifications. They’d have accepted a degree in religion, but not one in law. When I stumbled upon Appalachian State, the school immediately seemed like a good fit—open to me and the kind of conversation I wanted to foster.

“App,” as the students call it, was founded in 1899 by the son of a Confederate veteran and his brother in Boone—a remote community in the Blue Ridge Mountain highlands that had been pillaged by Union soldiers, a wound from which its economy never fully recovered. Their ambition was to train public school teachers in the so-called “lost provinces.” Today, the college is part of the University of North Carolina system with 19,208 students, 92 percent of whom are from the state.

On the surface, App possesses all the hallmarks of the American academy—a grassy quad framed by a student union, dining hall and library. Kiosks beckon students to concerts and club meetings. But underground run a pair of pedestrian tunnels, connecting the east and west campuses, that have been designated as free speech havens. These dank passageways are filled with graffiti—most of the messages are positive, but the students tell me that a swastika was painted there last October and then quickly painted over by other students. When I visit, the space feels sinister, but also strangely healthy—a messy marketplace of ideas that I like to think portends open-mindedness.

Boone feels like any other college town. Ambling down the main drag—King Street—wafting incense lures me into the Dancing Moon Earthway Bookstore, where I peruse an impressive collection of paranormal titles and herbal teas. The store hosts Thoughtful Thursdays and a poetry circle. The centerpiece of the “Boone Mall” is Anna Banana’s consignment shop and the place to eat is the F.A.R.M Cafe (Feed All Regardless of Means), a locally-sourced community kitchen where customers pay what they can.

But Boone is a little blue island in a sea of red. You’d have to drive about 30 miles to find another polling district that voted for Hillary Clinton, and there are only a total of five within a 75-miles radius. The district’s eight-term incumbent Congresswoman, Virginia Foxx, opposes abortion, co-sponsored legislation to end birthright citizenship and said the nation had more to fear from Obamacare than from any terrorist.

In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I read widely—and somewhat unsatisfyingly—to try and understand the root causes of polarization. J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy moved me, and it’s impossible to read George Packer’s The Unwinding, which takes place largely in North Carolina after the Great Recession, without being unsettled by the coming apart of bedrock American institutions. But nothing I read fully explains the mistrust—daresay hatred—that has evolved between liberals and conservatives.

Coming in, I assumed some of my students would reflect the conservatism of the surrounding region and others the liberalism generally prevalent among college students. What I didn’t know is whether my students—and young people generally—are predestined to sort themselves into those mutually loathing tribes, or if a shared conversation about foundational ethical beliefs could alter their views of people with whom they disagree.


My class is modeled on one created by Michael Sandel, a charismatic, globetrotting political philosopher who has taught “Justice” to more than 15,000 Harvard undergraduates. It’s the perfect vehicle for learning about people’s political values. The syllabus pairs readings in classic philosophy—John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, Aristotle, John Rawls—with modern policy dilemmas including abortion, affirmative action and hate speech.

But inevitably, all journeys of ethical discovery begin with the trolley problem.

“A trolley is barreling down the tracks to which five people have been tied,” I explain during our second meeting. “You can flip a switch and divert the trolley, but you’d kill someone else who’s been tied to the sidetrack.”

I ask a young woman named Kierstin Davis what she would do. (It’s her real name—all of the students quoted here consented to participate in this article.) “I probably would flip the switch because I know less people would be killed,” she says. Almost all of her fellow students concur, albeit reluctantly. The notable exception is Jackson.

“You kill the one person,” he says without hesitation.

Jackson is wearing jeans, cowboy boots and a Carhartt shirt. His baseball cap, which he got on a trip to Yellowstone, displays the outline of a bison and mountains. In the discussion of grades, Jackson was the one who said that everyone deserved equal opportunity. I remind him of this, but he’s ready with a distinction: “In this situation you don’t have a choice—somebody has to die, so it goes beyond equal opportunity and becomes what this outcome is going to be.” It’s clear that Jackson will be a force. The distinction he’s drawing is smart—no one had to get an F in my first example, but, more importantly, it’s clear that he likes this kind of intellectual jousting.

I return to Kierstin and change the facts. It’s her mom who’s tied to the tracks.

“I’m going to save my mom obviously,” Kierstin replies, “but I would feel bad.”

Utilitarianism can take you to dark places. It certainly has no room to accommodate youthful sentimentality.

Now, I say, the trolley is loaded with nuclear weapons. Five million people will die in a fiery inferno, including innocent babies, unless Kierstin throws the switch. “I probably would save my mom to be honest,” she says.

Most of the students nod their heads in agreement, voting for mothers over cities.

But Jackson once again stands out. He says he’d kill his mom or even a baby if it meant saving more lives. “I mean, someone has to die either way and I’m fine putting my life—even if I had to spend the rest of my life in prison or whatever it is—to save the five versus the one.”

I haven’t known Jackson for long, but I believe that he would sacrifice himself for the greater good, and I can see that his classmates believe it too. Even if they don’t share his willingness to throw the switch on a family member, they see him as principled, not cruel. It’s a type of selflessness and consistency that seems lacking in contemporary discourse, in which people are too willing to prioritize what’s politically expedient over fundamental values. It’s what feels wrong, for example, about liberal intolerance of dissenting speech, especially on campus, or the rush to punish alleged sexual predators without due process. And it’s what feels equally wrong about conservatives who claim to revere life, and yet can display such brazen cruelty to immigrants and prisoners.

My students don’t come to class with signs around their necks announcing their political leanings. None of them were even old enough to vote in the 2016 election. But the near unanimity with which they responded to the trolley question is notable. Over the years, I’ve noticed that most people analyze these sort of dilemmas in more or less the same way.

Indeed, Jesse Graham, a professor at the University of Utah’s business school, says that for all their ideological differences, liberals and conservatives are pretty much identical in how they view trolley-like dilemmas. Graham has conducted a dozen studies on “trolleyology,” which occupies its own niche in social psychology research. “Liberals are a little bit more likely than conservatives to say, ‘OK, yes you can push the guy off the bridge to save the five people,’” Graham says, emphasizing a little. “It’s questionable whether you’d even say there’s a difference there,” he continues. “Overall liberals and conservatives are really similar.”

Libertarians, however, are a different story. We don’t talk much about them—not members of the political party with that name, but rather people who believe in limited government. There are a lot of the latter (estimates range between 7 percent and 22 percent), and they merit greater discussion. Graham and his collaborators, including New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, have collected reams of data on people’s values at One instrument, called the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, measures the extent to which a person is influenced by five moral foundations: harm-care, fairness-reciprocity, ingroup loyalty, authority-respect and purity-sanctity. In a study of 12,000 libertarians, Graham found that libertarian responses to the MFQ differ more from either liberals or conservatives than liberals and conservatives’ answers differ from each other.

Graham explains that the libertarian cognitive style is cerebral rather than emotional. “Libertarians are far and away the most likely to say, ‘Yeah, push the guy off.’ They just see it as a math problem,” he tells me. “They have no squeamishness about having to kill the person.” It’s coldly calculating, but also, arguably, rigorously ethical. As Graham tells me this, I can’t help but think that efforts to unpack what separates red states from blue states haven’t been careful to differentiate between conservatives and libertarians. Venn diagrams of voters generally categorize voters as Republicans and Democrats or liberals and conservatives. But as is becoming increasingly apparent, the cool-headed libertarian in my classroom who’s willing to sacrifice his mother for the greater good doesn’t fit neatly into any of these circles.

It occurs to me that if America is going to come together, it’s going to have to reckon with Jackson Cooter. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s interesting. Later in the article:

Perhaps not surprisingly, when we arrive, five weeks into the semester, at our discussion on the ethics of gun control, Jackson’s is the dominant voice. To prepare, we’ve read Milton and Rose Friedman’s capitalist manifesto, Free to Choose; an ethnography of gun owners; and a brief history of the NRA. The central question is how broadly the right of gun ownership should be construed.

Jackson begins with a historical argument. “Our military fought the British military,” he says, “but the real reason we seceded, at least according to the historical record, is the militia of private citizens that took up arms.” His point is that the Second Amendment exists principally to check government power. Many of the students support the sentiment.

“One of the principles of good government is providing a way in which citizens can topple it when they don’t have faith in its ability to govern justly,” says Cole Cadman. He’s the only Jewish person in the class other than me and is generally a social liberal. It’s clear that the gun issue resonates in a way that transcends political labels.

“What do you think is a condition under which rebellion against the federal government is required?” I ask. “Suppose Trump nationalized The New York Times?”

A couple of students demur, saying they still wouldn’t revolt. But Jackson nods his head vigorously. “The second they undemocratically go against the Constitution,” he says, “is when I’m going to revolt.”

“Can the militia have nuclear weapons?” I ask.

“I’ve actually thought about this a lot,” Jackson replies. In the past, “Cannons were mostly privately owned, and people had far more than muskets to begin with. I think that the intention would have been that as the military develops—let’s say the repeating rifle, then the citizen has that option.”

“So what’s the limit?”

“If we had nukes, it would be chaos,” Jackson answers. “But you have to be able to defend against the government.”

“Your bottom line of justice is very similar to mine,” I tell Jackson, “but how do I know that everyone’s like you? How do I know that group number two won’t say, ‘The government’s allowing abortions,’ or group number three says, ‘They’re allowing black people to vote, so we should nuke Congress?’ Whose conception of government overreach should control?”

“That’s a hard question,” Jackson confesses. He thinks for a long time before adding, “They believe they’re doing right, and I’m not God. I don’t get to say what’s right and what’s wrong. When I say I’m going to revolt, I’m obviously going to think that I’m right.” Recognizing that libertarianism taken to the extreme is anarchy, Jackson asks, “Can I keep thinking about this?”

“Of course,” I answer.

Strikingly, Jackson’s defense of gun ownership never once mentions a love of guns. He’s a “little-d” democrat who wants a super-process in place in case democracy, as his classmate Cole puts it, “fails to work or provide any meaningful benefits.” Resolving the ambiguity of for whom it’s supposed to work and who’s supposed to decide when change within the system is futile might be impossible, but it’s important to recognize the argument for what it is. It’s not about guns for the sake of guns, it’s about protecting civil liberties, and it’s deeply ethical.

And this is where our somewhat fanciful classroom discussion reveals real-world implications. Imagine a gun control debate that avoided an argument over the value and necessity of guns, but instead was framed around how to protect civil liberties and limit gun violence without excessive governmental involvement. Imagine if care were taken to frame the discussion not as outsiders trying to impose their will on people whose culture they did not understand, but rather as one among people with a shared interest in protecting the safety of their children. My suspicion is a conversation like that would reveal useful common ground. It’s an epiphany.

And it leads quickly to epiphany number two, which seems dramatically more important. If Americans are serious about reducing polarization, they’re going to have to start doing some careful listening, because what Jackson is saying has very little to do with what we say he’s saying.

If one looks—and listens—carefully, a consensus reveals itself across a wide diversity of fields on the importance and untapped power of listening. The names and nuances of these approaches to careful listening differ, but they share two basic qualities.

The first is  . . .

This PDF (free) “The Listening Guide method of psychological inquiry” should be of interest.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 3:31 pm

Tempeh Batch 5

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Technical specifications:

3 cups dried dark red kidney beans, cooked
6 tablespoons apple-cider vinegar added for last 10-15 minutes of cooking
3 tablespoons brown-rice vinegar added to drained and dried beans after they cool to 95ºF
1 packet tempeh starter

This post describes in detail how I make tempeh. For this batch I used the open method instead of putting beans in punctured ziplock baggies, and I used  a 9″ x 13″ Pyrex baking dish. As with previous batches, my tempeh incubator was the oven with the light on. Using 3 cups dried beans produced enough cooked beans for a good thick layer in the Pyrex dish. You don’t want it too thick, and this seemed just right.

I notice my tempeh recipes are becoming plainer. Maybe I’ll even try soybeans for the next batch. But I still want to make the peanut (boil raw peanuts with the skin but not the shell for 2 hours) and kamut combo.

The following three photos show how the tempeh developed. First, just after beans (mixed with brown-rice vinegar and starter) were put into the dish:

After 24 hours:

After 48 hours:

I took it out after 3 additional hours, a total of 51 hours, because I needed to use the oven — I might have let it go overnight otherwise. I think the dark band in the 24 hour photo is because the starter was not evenly mixed to begin with.

The photos are all in the same orientation to make it easier to compare progress.

The end result was a fairly solid slab, beans welded together by the mold, with a pleasant nutty aroma. The beans on the surface, particularly the edges, were somewhat tough, having dried in the oven. They softened a bit when stored. On the next batch I’ll use the same dish with an aluminum foil tent with some slits in it to see if that will impede the drying. Because of its chewiness, I’m definitely using some of this tempeh to make a batch of tempeh chili.

I think the perforated baggies will also work well if the beans are sufficiently dried before adding brown-rice vinegar and tempeh starter, but this dish method is a lot easier because you don’t have to puncture baggies (4 sandwich-size baggies for 2 cups dried beans), you don’t have to fill baggies, and you don’t have to cut baggies off the tempeh when it’s done. Instead, you just dump the prepared beans into the dish and spread them out.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 2:30 pm

Text messages show Boeing employees knew in 2016 of problems that turned deadly on the 737 Max

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Michael Laris reports a clear case of corporate nonfeasance in the Washington Post:

Text messages between Boeing employees in 2016 indicate that the company was aware of major problems with an automated feature on the 737 Max jet that made the aircraft difficult to control, the messages show.

Safety investigators say the system, known as MCAS, had repeatedly pushed the noses of planes down in Indonesia and Ethi­o­pia, contributing to crashes that killed 346 people in the past year.

One text message with a misspelling said the feature was engaging “itself like craxy.” Another termed the problem “egregious.”

Another indicated that the Boeing employees misled the Federal Aviation Administration. “So I basically lied to the regulators (unknowingly),” read one message.

“It wasnt a lie, no one told us that was the case,” came the response.

Boeing did not turn the messages over to the FAA until Thursday, federal officials said Friday.

The FAA said in a statement that it “finds the substance of the document concerning. The FAA is also disappointed that Boeing did not bring this document to our attention immediately upon its discovery.”

Long before the Max disasters, Boeing had a history of failing to fix safety problems

FAA administrator Steve Dickson said in a letter to Boeing Friday: “I expect your explanation immediately.”

Boeing said in a statement that it had provided Congress a document “containing statements by a former Boeing employee.” The company said it “will continue to cooperate” with an investigation by the House Transportation Committee and “we will continue to follow the direction of the FAA and other global regulators, as we work to safely return the 737 MAX to service.”

The existence of the text messages was first reported by Reuters. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 11:56 am

At the NY Times, a Resistance to Hyperlink

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Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai and Jason Koebler report at Motherboard:

There’s a joke in the journalism industry: It’s not news until the New York Times says it is. This is because the Times often reports stories that other outlets already have without any acknowledgment that they’re doing so.

Angry journalists regularly tweet (and sometimes write) about the bizarre practice, which comes up all the time. For instance, the Times recently wrote about how Kickstarter is unionizing. This was an important piece about an important topic; the main problem with it was that Slate’s April Glaser wrote an in-depth investigation breaking news about the exact same topic a month earlier, to which the Times didn’t bother linking until after Glaser publicly criticized them for not doing so.

This week it was Slate (and BuzzFeed); at other times it’s been the Guardian and Gawker; several times, it’s been VICE. It goes on and on, with the Times running stories that other people already have and not acknowledging them for seemingly no better reason than the paper’s institutional belief that a thing does not exist until the paper has deemed it noteworthy.

Probably not that many people in the real world care about how the Times’s linking and crediting practices affect the reputations and careers of journalists whose work is scooped up, without credit, by America’s most prestigious news operation. Those practices affect readers of the most important journalistic outlet in the U.S., though, for reasons perhaps best explained in a memo written by the paper’s standards editor, Phil Corbett, and shared with the newsroom in January. The memo, which was obtained by Motherboard from three Times employees and has seemingly been ignored all year, explains why the company’s journalists should always link and credit.

“Linking is the ultimate win-win-win situation. If a reader is interested in the topic of your story, it’s just common sense that she would value a signpost to others’ reporting on the same subject. (Don’t worry about sending readers elsewhere; if we’re consistently providing value, they’ll come back.),” Corbett wrote in the memo, which is still live on one of the company’s internal websites, according to sources at the Times.

“In most cases, though, it’s not a question of ethics or obligation—it’s just good journalism to link. If you’re asking whether we’re obligated to provide a link or other reference in a given story, you’re probably asking the wrong question. Linking should be the default,” he added. “It’s free and easy. Readers like it. It deepens our journalism and may increase our audience. Our journalistic colleagues appreciate it. Why wouldn’t we do it?”

(“I think that memo you mentioned pretty much covers my thoughts on this,” Corbett told Motherboard when asked for comment on this topic.)

As early as 2014, linking was considered a “work in progress” at the Times by then-public editor Margaret Sullivan, who noted several high-profile instances in which the publication didn’t link. For that article, Corbett told Sullivan that “a broader point that we’ve been emphasizing more and more with reporters is the importance and value of linking.” The Times has since eliminated the public editor position.

To be clear, the problem isn’t that the New York Times literally never links; it’s that it somehow manages to continually mess this up. This frustrates a lot of people who work for the paper, according to several current reporters and editors at the Times who spoke to Motherboard. (These people were granted anonymity to discuss newsroom practices.)

“I think that a big problem is that there are still editors who like…do not get the online etiquette of linking,” one employee said. “They didn’t come up in a world where it’s both incredibly easy and just considered the right and normal thing to do to credit early and often. But in my opinion the more insidious thing is the idea that it’s not a story until the Times does it. Not everyone thinks this but from my vantage that still emanates from higher-ups at this place.”

“It’s a disservice to readers to not credit work that other outlets have done,” said another Times employee.

. . .  A Times spokesperson, for their part, offered this explanation of all of this to Motherboard: “Our policy, as described in Phil’s memo, is to credit and link to other outlets on stories they break. The Times publishes around 250 stories a day, many on deadline. Sometimes we make mistakes such as not properly crediting other outlets. When that happens, our staff tries to correct the oversight as soon as they become aware of the issue.”

“Tries” is doing a lot of work here. VICE has had multiple experiences with the Times running stories that we’ve broken without acknowledging us, and mixed experiences with getting them to do so. For example, a Times reporter tweeted that he had published the “*definitive* account of the In-N-Out burger that appeared on a random street in Queens. You’re all very welcome for this act of public service.” But a day earlier, VICE’s Munchies cracked the mystery in a report that went viral.

In that case, the Times added a link after we asked. In others, its staff is much more combative.

Several months after we published an investigation about Facebook’s content moderation practices, the Times published its own article about the same topic, running some of the same internal Facebook documents we had already published, without acknowledging we had done so.

Digging in ground others have is fine—it’s how the internet and journalism work. Glaser’s Kickstarter story built on earlier articles by The VergeGizmodo, and others. Our Facebook story followed previous investigations by The Guardian. By not linking to Slate or the Verge or VICE or BuzzFeed or The Guardian, the Times makes it seem like its own reporting has emerged fully formed from the institution’s forehead. But of course it hasn’t done so, and the Times is essentially lying to readers by pretending it has—a terrible thing for the most important news operation in the U.S. to be doing.

One of the biggest bad-faith criticisms of the Times—and thus journalism as a whole—is that it’s nothing but an ivory tower that doesn’t understand how the world really works. This isn’t true in practice, but at a time when the powerful people of the world have more avenues to attack journalism than ever, the Times’s insistence that the world isn’t real until the Times says so is a legitimately destructive force within the journalism industry—not least because no one within the Times seems to be able to do anything about it, even if they’re willing to acknowledge the problem.

Max Fisher, the reporter who wrote the Times‘s Facebook article, told us in a DM at the time that he “definitely saw [our] story, which was great, no reason you should care about this but we plugged it pretty prominently in our bullshit email newsletter […] I read your story very carefully and learned a ton from it and was really careful to cover different ground in it, which I think I did.”

“I do know that the Times has a well-earned terrible reputation for this kind of thing,” he said, while declining to link to our story. “I’ve only been here 2.5 years and prior to that was on the wrong side of it many, many times.”

After that conversation, we asked the editor of that article for a link to our previous work, after the author of the article acknowledged that he had read our piece while researching his. We were told by the editor in an email that “it’s going to [take] a while to read 9,000 words,” referring to the length of our earlier investigation.

The next day, he said, “We are looking at a way to link. Noting Motherboard explicitly—and I understand why [sic] would want this—is more complicated, however. Are we then obliged to note that The Guardian had some of the documents, too? If half a dozen other publications got a piece of the Facebook material, as well—for ‘internal’ documents, they do seem to get around—would we need note them, too? Where does it end?” The Times never added a link.

Seemingly everyone in journalism has stories like this; as far as anyone can tell, the only thing that does get the Times to link is a good public shaming. After Glaser’s tweet about not getting credited by the Times went viral in journalism circles, it added a link to her story, and links to other journalists in several others. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 11:17 am

Posted in Business, Media, NY Times

“Our Republic Is Under Attack From the President”

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Admiral former commander of the United States Special Operations Command, writes a column with the above title in the NY Times today:

Last week I attended two memorable events that reminded me why we care so very much about this nation and also why our future may be in peril.

The first was a change of command ceremony for a storied Army unit in which one general officer passed authority to another. The second event was an annual gala for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) Society that recognizes past and present members of the intelligence and Special Operations community for their heroism and sacrifice to the nation. What struck me was the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events — and the words and deeds emanating from the White House.

On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment.

They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders. They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families. They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades. They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for — including, if necessary, their lives.

Having served with both officers for the past 20 years, I know that they personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military with genuineness of their humility, their uncompromising integrity, their willingness to sacrifice all for a worthy cause, and the pride they had in their soldiers.

Later that week, at the O.S.S. Society dinner, there were films and testimonials to the valor of the men and women who had fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. We also celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, recognizing those brave Americans and allies who sacrificed so much to fight Nazism and fascism. We were reminded that the Greatest Generation went to war because it believed that we were the good guys — that wherever there was oppression, tyranny or despotism, America would be there. We would be there because freedom mattered. We would be there because the world needed us and if not us, then who?

Also that evening we recognized the incredible sacrifice of a new generation of Americans: an Army Special Forces warrant officer who had been wounded three times, the most recent injury costing him his left leg above the knee. He was still in uniform and still serving. There was an intelligence officer, who embodied the remarkable traits of those men and women who had served in the O.S.S. And a retired Marine general, whose 40 years of service demonstrated all that was honorable about the Corps and public service.

But the most poignant recognition that evening was for a young female sailor who had been killed in Syria serving alongside our allies in the fight against ISIS. Her husband, a former Army Green Beret, accepted the award on her behalf. Like so many that came before her, she had answered the nation’s call and willingly put her life in harm’s way.

For everyone who ever served in uniform, or in the intelligence community, for those diplomats who voice the nation’s principles, for the first responders, for the tellers of truth and the millions of American citizens who were raised believing in American values — you would have seen your reflection in the faces of those we honored last week.

But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events, there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines. The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.

These men and women, of all political persuasions, have seen the assaults on our institutions: on the intelligence and law enforcement community, the State Department and the press. They have seen our leaders stand beside despots and strongmen, preferring their government narrative to our own. They have seen us abandon our allies and have heard the shouts of betrayal from the battlefield. As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, “I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!”

Those words echoed with me throughout the week. It is easy to destroy an organization if you have no appreciation for what makes that organization great. We are not the most powerful nation in the world because of our aircraft carriers, our economy, or our seat at the United Nations Security Council. We are the most powerful nation in the world because we try to be the good guys. We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.

But, if we don’t care about our values, if we don’t care about duty and honor, if we don’t help the weak and stand up against oppression and injustice — what will happen to the Kurds, the Iraqis, the Afghans, the Syrians, the Rohingyas, the South Sudanese and the millions of people under the boot of tyranny or left abandoned by their failing states?

If our promises are meaningless, how will our allies ever trust us? If we can’t have faith in our nation’s principles, why would the men and women of this nation join the military? And if they don’t join, . . .

Continue reading.

And along those same lines, the Washington Post in this morning’s Daily 202 column quotes some others from the military:

Mattis and McRaven are the latest in a string of retired four-star military officers to speak out against Trump in just the past week:

“There is blood on Trump’s hands for abandoning our Kurdish allies,” retired four-star Marine general John Allen said Sunday. The former commander of American forces in Afghanistan and the former special presidential envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS under Barack Obama told CNN that the unfolding crisis in Syria was “completely foreseeable” after Trump “greenlighted it.” The White House denies that Trump did so. “This is what happens when Trump follows his instincts and because of his alignment with autocrats,” said Allen, who opposed Trump during the 2016 campaign. “I said there would be blood but could not have imagined this outcome.”

Trump’s decision to withdraw “could not come at a worse time,” said Joseph Votel, a retired four-star Army general who headed Central Command’s military operations in Syria until last spring. “The decision was made without consulting U.S. allies or senior U.S. military leadership and threatens to affect future partnerships at precisely the time we need them most, given the war-weariness of the American public coupled with ever more sophisticated enemies determined to come after us,” Votel wrote in a piece for the Atlantic last week with Elizabeth Dent, who worked on anti-ISIS efforts at the State Department from 2014 to 2019. “It didn’t have to be this way. The U.S. worked endlessly to placate our Turkish allies … Yet Ankara repeatedly reneged on its agreements with the U.S.”

Votel recalled first meeting Kurdish commander Mazloum Abdi on the ground in May 2016: “From the start, it was obvious he was not only an impressive and thoughtful man, but a fighter who was clearly thinking about the strategic aspects of the campaign against ISIS and aware of the challenges of fighting a formidable enemy. He could see the long-term perils from the civil war, but recognized that the most immediate threat to his people was ISIS. After a fitful start in Syria, I concluded that we had finally found the right partner who could help us defeat ISIS without getting drawn into the murkier conflict against Bashar al-Assad’s regime.”

— Trump populated his inner circle with generals when he took office. He said they looked the part and came “out of central casting.” They’re all gone now: Michael Flynn, H.R. McMaster, John Kelly, Mattis. Others who were never onboard with Trump have drawn the president’s ire. Last November, Trump lashed out at McRaven when “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace asked about his comment that Trump referring to the free press as “the enemy of the people” is the greatest threat to democracy. Rather than respond to the substance of this critique, Trump called McRaven a “Hillary Clinton fan” and an “Obama backer.” Then he said the four-star admiral should have caught bin Laden earlier.

— Mattis closed his speech with a serious tone as he praised America’s “Kurdish allies” and quoted Abraham Lincoln about the danger of “corrosion from within.” The 69-year-old lamented the “national paralysis” that has “supplanted trust and empathy with suspicion and contempt.”

“We have scorched our opponents with language that precludes compromise and we have brushed aside the possibility that the person with whom we disagree might actually sometimes be right,” he said. “We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies.”

— Mattis hinted at Trump’s testy relationship with the brass during the comedy portion of his routine in New York. “I think the only person in the military that Mr. Trump doesn’t think is overrated is Colonel Sanders,” Mattis said, an allusion to the president’s fondness for Kentucky Fried Chicken and other fast food.

It’s worth noting that Trump used his speech at the Al Smith dinner in 2016 to rip into Hillary Clinton. At the time, many in the room expressed surprise that he wasn’t very good natured about the ribbing. Notably, Mattis referred to the president as “Donald Trump” in his speech and didn’t use the honorific “President Trump” that he usually does.

There’s much more in the column.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 9:32 am

De Vergulde Hand and the 102 with another Prospector Co. aftershave

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De Vergulde Hand (The Gold-Plated Hand) is a shave stick from the Netherlands. I didn’t find it at a US store, but it’s readily available in Europe. (The link is to a shop in Cadiz, Spain.) A good lather, and with the Maggard 22mm synthetic brush, easily worked up.

It’s always nice to use the iKon Shavecraft 102, which is the second slant that iKon made, following the stainless steel model used in the previous two shaves (one DLC coated, one uncoated). The shave is always smooth, easy, and trouble-free and always leaves a totally smooth face in its wake.

A good splash Prospector Co.’s K.C. Atwood aftershave finishes the job. Its ingredients:

Hamamelis Virginiana (Witch Hazel) Distillate, Organic Aloe (Barbadensis), Distilled Water, PolySorbate 20, Vegetable Glycerin, Citrus Sinensis (Grapefruit), Melaleuca Alternifolia (Tea Tree), Citrus Sinensis (Sweet Orange), Coriandrum Sativum (Coriander Seed) Oil, Juniperus Communis (Juniper Berry), Lavandula Angustifolia (Lavendar), Vitis Vinifera (Grapefruit Seed Extract), Phenoxyethanol.

The name is from a grapefruit magnate of the 19th century, and the fragrance honors that heritage: “Witch hazel and aloe build a solid foundation for the invigorating grapefruit and sweet orange properties in this aftershave. Citrus and Coriander bring everything together for a crisp, tightening finish.” It’s a very pleasant aftershave.

Both the Prospector Co. aftershaves, lacking alcohol, do not have the instant-cooling effect, but they are nonetheless pleasant, and I know that many men prefer not to use alcohol-based aftershaves on their skin. Tomorrow we’ll continue to explore the witch-hazel world of aftershaves.

Written by Leisureguy

18 October 2019 at 8:52 am

Posted in Shaving

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