Later On

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Archive for November 27th, 2019

Yet another: Multiple Women Recall Sexual Misconduct and Retaliation by Gordon Sondland

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Julia Silverman, Kelly Clarke, and Fiona McCann, Portland Monthly, with Maryam Jameel and Doris Burke report in ProPublica:

Three women say they faced sexual misconduct by Gordon Sondland before he was the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and at the center of the presidential impeachment inquiry. They say he retaliated against them professionally after they rejected his advances.

In one case, a potential business partner recalls that Sondland took her to tour a room in a hotel he owns, only to then grab her face and try to kiss her. After she rejected him, Sondland backtracked on investing in her business.

Another woman, a work associate at the time, says Sondland exposed himself to her during a business interaction. She also recalls falling over the back of a couch trying to get away from him. After she made her lack of interest clear, she says Sondland called her, screaming about her job performance.

A third woman, 27 years Sondland’s junior, met him to discuss a potential job. She says he pushed himself against her and kissed her. She shoved him away. She says his job help stopped.

All three women have agreed to be named in this story. In all the cases, friends, family members or colleagues of the women recall being told about the encounters at the time. The cases span a seven-year period, ending less than a decade ago. Sondland denies the allegations.

“In decades of my career in business and civic affairs, my conduct can be affirmed by hundreds of employees and colleagues with whom I have worked in countless circumstances,” Sondland said in a statement. “These untrue claims of unwanted touching and kissing are concocted and, I believe, coordinated for political purposes. They have no basis in fact, and I categorically deny them.” (Read his statement.)

Sondland’s lawyer added in a letter: “Notably, what each of these three women share in common is that they pursued Ambassador Sondland for financial and personal gain — an investment, a job, and insurance brokerage work — and he declined their proposals.”

The lawyer, Jim McDermott, also wrote that the three women are trying to undermine Sondland’s latest testimony. “Given the timing of your intended story, a reasonable conclusion to be drawn is that you are attempting to affect Ambassador Sondland’s credibility as a fact witness in the pending impeachment inquiry,” McDermott wrote. “Given the politically charged climate in which current events are unfolding, some might consider this to be veiled witness tampering.”

Reporting on this story began in October, around the time of Sondland’s initial impeachment testimony, in which he backed the president’s assertion that there was no quid pro quo involving Ukraine.

The day after Sondland gave that testimony, Nicole Vogel spoke at the Day of the Girl Luncheon in Seattle, an event hosted by a regional nonprofit, Girls Inc., whose mission is to inspire “all girls to be strong, smart, and bold.” Vogel decided to recount her Sondland story and name him.

Vogel also mentioned it to an editor at Portland Monthly, the co-publisher of this story, and she later spoke about it again at a breakfast event in Portland.

[Editor’s note: Vogel is the owner of Portland Monthly. Vogel cooperated with the story as a source. She was not involved in editorial decisions. The magazine’s editorial team decided to partner with ProPublica to independently report her story.]

“There were a lot of indecent proposals when I was raising capital, but none as brazen as his,” Vogel recalls. She encountered Sondland 16 years ago when she was trying to raise money to start her magazine. “I have nothing to say about what he did or didn’t do [involving Ukraine]. But if people are asking what his moral character is, I have one more piece of evidence for them.”

The women had kept their stories to their own circles, even after Sondland was nominated and vetted for an ambassadorship by a president who himself has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women. The women say they were not contacted by the government for any background checks.

In 2003, Vogel had an idea to start a magazine with her journalist brother that would chronicle Portland’s exploding art, culture and food scenes. She was 34 years old and fresh off a job at Move.com. Armed with full mock-ups of the magazine and detailed financial projections, the search for investors led her to Sondland.

Sondland has long been a power player in Portland, where he is one of the region’s most prominent business figures. He owns five hotels in Portland under the umbrella of the company he founded, Provenance Hotel Group. He was once asked at a panel why he got into the business. “It combines all the elements that give me a reason to get up in the morning,” Sondland said. “You have food, you have wine, you have design, you have art, you have intrigue, you have sex. You have everything you can think of.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 3:16 pm

New batch of tempeh chili

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And a pretty good-sized batch: at least 5 quarts, which will last me a while. I used (cooked) kamut for the grain. Roughly this list of ingredients:

1/4 extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped scallions
1 large red  onion, chopped
1/2 cup garlic (chopped small)
2 jalapeños, chopped small
4 Anaheim peppers, seeded and chopped
2 poblano peppers, seeded and chopped
12-14 oz mushrooms, quartered — use crimini mushrooms, not domestic white
4 ancho chiles, cut into small pieces
1 small can chipotles in adobo
3 Tbsp Mexican oregano
3 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground ancho chili
1 Tbsp smoked paprika
1 Tbsp dried marjoram
1 Tbsp dried thyme
2 Tbsp liquid smoke
1 can Aylmer’s Chili tomatoes (540ml ≈ 18 oz)
1 14.5-oz canned diced tomatoes
6 canned tomatillos, chopped
1 small can no-salt-added tomato paste
3 small squares baking chocolate (these seemed small than other squares I’ve seen)
10 oz tempeh, diced — soybean tempeh this time
1.5 cup cooked kamut
2 Tbsp brown-rice vinegar
1/4 cup water
3 lemons, blended after peel removed (I cut it off)

1 bunch cilantro, chopped — when served (added after cooking)

Never twice the same recipe…

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 3:12 pm

Seeing Like a Finite State Machine

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Henry Farrell writes at Crooked Timber:

Reading this tweet by Maciej Ceglowski makes me want to set down a conjecture that I’ve been entertaining for the last couple of years (in part thanks to having read Maciej’s and Kieran’s previous work as well as talking lots to Marion Fourcade).

The conjecture (and it is no more than a plausible conjecture) is simple, but it straightforwardly contradicts the collective wisdom that is emerging in Washington DC, and other places too. This collective wisdom is that China is becoming a kind of all-efficient Technocratic Leviathan thanks to the combination of machine learning and authoritarianism. Authoritarianism has always been plagued with problems of gathering and collating information and of being sufficiently responsive to its citizens’ needs to remain stable. Now, the story goes, a combination of massive data gathering and machine learning will solve the basic authoritarian dilemma. When every transaction that a citizen engages in is recorded by tiny automatons riding on the devices they carry in their hip pockets, when cameras on every corner collect data on who is going where, who is talking to whom, and uses facial recognition technology to distinguish ethnicity and identify enemies of the state, a new and far more powerful form of authoritarianism will emerge. Authoritarianism then, can emerge as a more efficient competitor that can beat democracy at its home game (some fear this; some welcome it).

The theory behind this is one of strength reinforcing strength – the strengths of ubiquitous data gathering and analysis reinforcing the strengths of authoritarian repression to create an unstoppable juggernaut of nearly perfectly efficient oppression. Yet there is another story to be told – of weakness reinforcing weakness. Authoritarian states were always particularly prone to the deficiencies identified in James Scott’s Seeing Like a State – the desire to make citizens and their doings legible to the state, by standardizing and categorizing them, and reorganizing collective life in simplified ways, for example by remaking cities so that they were not organic structures that emerged from the doings of their citizens, but instead grand chessboards with ordered squares and boulevards, reducing all complexities to a square of planed wood. The grand state bureaucracies that were built to carry out these operations were responsible for multitudes of horrors, but also for the crumbling of the Stalinist state into a Brezhnevian desuetude, where everyone pretended to be carrying on as normal because everyone else was carrying on too. The deficiencies of state action, and its need to reduce the world into something simpler that it could comprehend and act upon created a kind of feedback loop, in which imperfections of vision and action repeatedly reinforced each other.

So what might a similar analysis say about the marriage of authoritarianism and machine learning? Something like the following, I think. There are two notable problems with machine learning. One – that while it can do many extraordinary things, it is not nearly as universally effective as the mythology suggests. The other is that it can serve as a magnifier for already existing biases in the data. The patterns that it identifies may be the product of the problematic data that goes in, which is (to the extent that it is accurate) often the product of biased social processes. When this data is then used to make decisions that may plausibly reinforce those processes (by singling e.g. particular groups that are regarded as problematic out for particular police attention, leading them to be more liable to be arrested and so on), the bias may feed upon itself.

This is a substantial problem in democratic societies, but it is a problem where there are at least some counteracting tendencies. The great advantage of democracy is its openness to contrary opinions and divergent perspectives. This opens up democracy to a specific set of destabilizing attacks but it also means that there are countervailing tendencies to self-reinforcing biases. When there are groups that are victimized by such biases, they may mobilize against it (although they will find it harder to mobilize against algorithms than overt discrimination). When there are obvious inefficiencies or social, political or economic problems that result from biases, then there will be ways for people to point out these inefficiencies or problems.

These correction tendencies will be weaker in authoritarian societies; in extreme versions of authoritarianism, they may barely even exist. Groups that are discriminated against will have no obvious recourse. Major mistakes may go uncorrected: they may be nearly invisible to a state whose data is polluted both by the means employed to observe and classify it, and the policies implemented on the basis of this data. A plausible feedback loop would see bias leading to error leading to further bias, and no ready ways to correct it. This of course, will be likely to be reinforced by the ordinary politics of authoritarianism, and the typical reluctance to correct leaders, even when their policies are leading to disaster. The flawed ideology of the leader (We must all study Comrade Xi thought to discover the truth!) and of the algorithm (machine learning is magic!) may reinforce each other in highly unfortunate ways.

In short, there is a very plausible set of mechanisms under which machine learning and related techniques may turn out to be a disaster for authoritarianism, reinforcing its weaknesses rather than its strengths, by increasing its tendency to bad decision making, and reducing further the possibility of negative feedback that could help correct against errors. This disaster would unfold in two ways. The first will involve enormous . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 2:53 pm

Burgess Meredith tells GIs in 1943 how to behave in a pub

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Army, Military, Video

Where Trump Got the Idea That “Some People” Want to Change the Name of Thanksgiving

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At Mother Jones Kevin Drum tries to figure out how Donald Trump comes up with his weird misunderstandings.

At a rally yesterday, President Trump gave his fans the red meat they craved: “You know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving,” he said. “They don’t want to use the term Thanksgiving.”

This confused a lot of people, and we should get something straight right off the bat: no one wants to change the name of Thanksgiving. So where did this come from? Did Trump just make it up out of whole cloth?

Not really. Perhaps you’ve noticed that every year we get flooded with news stories about the “real” story of Thanksgiving? Here’s a small sampling from the past day or two: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 2:46 pm

I sort of want a tungsten cube

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Take a look. Denser than uranium!

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 10:20 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

And I’m cutting back on spinach

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In favor of kale, chard, cabbage, bok choy, and others.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 9:51 am

No star fruit for me, thanks.

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Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 9:44 am

The Qualcomm Case: Why China Uses U.S. Technology Americans Are Locked Out Of

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Apparently I hurt the feelings of DOJ Antitrust chief Makan Delrahim when I pointed out to reporter Nihal Krishan that enforcement actions against Google matter more than speeches about Google. To underscore the point, Google just bought another company, CloudSimple.

Delrahim didn’t like this point. According to Krishan, he said I’m wrong, and that I’m “out there taking unnecessary criticism of the Justice Department’s work.” Look, I’m driven by outcomes, and we have a concentration crisis that is destroying our society. I’m happy to be wrong about Delrahim, and I’ll happily admit I am wrong if he ends up doing something useful. But I’m seeing a a lot of speechifying about enforcement, even as big tech busts out to acquire as much as possible in this lax enforcement environment. In fact, I’m seeing some actively bad things coming out of DOJ, as I’ll go into below.

Today I’m going to write about the most important monopolization case going on today, which is the Federal Trade Commission case against Qualcomm, the U.S. leader in chipsets for 5G wireless technology. The basic issues in this case involve China, the fusion of our national security apparatus with big business, and whether the U.S. will be a nation of monopolies or a nation of liberty.

Qualcomm as John D. Rockefeller or Bill Gates

So let’s start with the background of the case. Qualcomm is a very important corporation, but one you may not have heard of because it doesn’t do consumer-oriented work. The company makes critical components for cell phones, the stuff you don’t see but that goes into the guts of telecom systems. Its technology connects phones to cell networks, and it makes its money by selling chips and by licensing its patents to device makers.

The story of how Qualcomm monopolizes is pretty simple. The corporation does what Bill Gates did to computer manufacturers and what John D. Rockefeller did to railroads, as I wrote a few weeks ago. Rockefeller’s oil was critical to railroads, and Gates’s operating system software was critical to computer makers. Both of them thus forced their dependents to give them a fee not just for every Rockefeller barrel of oil or Microsoft OS license, but a fee for every one of their competitors’ as well. They taxed their competition and made it impossible to compete.

Qualcomm does this as well. As its competitor Intel explained, Qualcomm “refuses to sell [phone makers] any chipsets unless those manufacturers also purchase separate patent licenses that require them to pay exorbitant royalties for every handset they sell, regardless of whether the handset contains a Qualcomm chipset.” In other words, it’s the Gates/Rockefeller playbook. Find an essential chokehold, and use it to control the industry.

Qualcomm uses a few other anti-competitive tactics. It refused to license its patents – essentially standard and necessary for the industry – to competitors. And it cut exclusive deal arrangements with customers to box anyone else out of the market. (You can read the rest of Intel’s amicus brief if you want to hear expensive lawyers accurately whine about being treated unfairly.)

Eventually, probably at the behest of Apple, the FTC sued Qualcomm. This suit is the first major monopolization case since Microsoft back in the 1990s. In the district court, Qualcomm lost, and the judge forced the corporation to change its licensing practices to make them what’s called FRAND, or fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory. Later on, however, in a significant win for Qualcomm, an appeals court put a stay on the judgment.

While the FTC is suing Qualcomm as a monopolist, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division filed a brief on behalf of Qualcomm. The DOJ argument is basically saying, yeah, Qualcomm does all that stuff, but Judge Gorsuch said it’s all legal and efficient, and we don’t want to dissuade the liberty to abuse patents and market power. Two other officials, one at the Department of Defense and another at the Department of Energy, also weighed in. Ellen Lord, a former defense contractor and the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment for the DOD, argued that Qualcomm’s position as a monopolist enables it to support national security and help China. A Department of Energy official Max Everett basically said the same thing.

The DOD’s Ellen Lord has what is effectively the antitrust chief position for the Pentagon. Her tenure has been a quiet disaster. She enabled a merger in the rocket industry that allowed a nuclear missile monopoly, and she’s probably going to allow the UT-Raytheon merger. It’s not a surprise she’s stepping out to defend a monopolist, that’s what she does. I’m not impressed with these pro-monopoly arguments. Neither, incidentally, is former DHS cabinet member Michael Chertoff, who wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal pointing out that monopolies are bad for national security.

In the technology race against China, the U.S. should prefer to let competition drive innovation rather than support exclusive national champions. Apart from the economic inefficiency, a single-source national champion creates an unacceptable risk to American security—artificially concentrating vulnerability in a single point. The government’s argument in support of Qualcomm isn’t prudent, and if courts accept it, the result would be a self-inflicted wound to U.S. national interests. We need competition and multiple providers, not a potentially vulnerable technological monoculture.

While Chertoff is working for corporate clients who are opposed to Qualcomm, he’s not wrong on the merits. We need look no further than Boeing, which is a “national champion” in aerospace. That’s not working out so well for us, is it?

There’s one other argument that I think matters on the monopolization and security front, especially as it relates to intellectual property like patents and copyrights. And this has to do with the innovation ecosystem, and how strict IP laws that promote concentration in the West actively contribute to Chinese technological dominance.

It starts with some history.

China Is Living in 1950s America

From the 1950s to the 1970s, the U.S. had a fairly open patent regime, spurred not so much by changes to patent law as antitrust suits. Lawsuits against RCA, IBM, Dupont, AT&T, and others forced large dominant firms to license their technology to domestic firms.

In my book – Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy – which is by the way a tremendous Christmas gift for all your politically interested friends and families – I go over how this regime worked. The short story is that the scientists at those giants developed great stuff, but the suits in those corporations didn’t get it. It took innovative small businesses to deploy what monopolists wouldn’t.

This open regime, along with government spending, is the origin of Silicon Valley, because small firms ended up commercializing the technology. But from the 1980s onward, we closed off innovation by tightening IP laws and enabling monopoly. This older regime disappeared, and even its memory evaporated. Open IP regimes and markets are now alien to American lawyers. I found a law review article written by a former FTC lawyer in the early 2000s on a suit antitrust suits with Xerox involving patent divestment. It was, he wrote, like finding a “previously undiscovered ancient culture.” He also found the suit unsettling, he argued, because the FTC’s remedy “seems to have done a world of good.”

Today, American intellectual property is locked into dominant firms, who spend large amounts of money making sure no one else can use it. Apple for instance spends $1 billion a year on its legal division, and Disney is right now suing people online for using Baby Yoda memes. China, however, has a way around our IP laws; it just hacks our corporations or legally forces technology transfer, and then moves this knowledge throughout its technology sector. Thus American know-how floods into China, while Americans are locked out of the wisdom we developed and paid for.

More than just the transfer is the ecosystem of business development and investment. China is innovating on top of our knowledge, which the America government has legally blocked Americans from using. Our venture capitalists and entrepreneurs shy away from competing with giants or accidentally stepping on patents. In other words, China is de facto living in the incredibly productive legal environment America had for our own technology sector from the 1950s to the 1970s. Their ability to innovate on top of our technology, combined with our inability to deploy that same technology, is now a huge national security vulnerability.

There are two ways to address this problem. The first is to try and stop Chinese tech development. The Commerce Department is rolling out new rules to engage in far more granular examination of supply chains, which is probably good. But U.S. tech giants are already moving key facilities to Switzerland so they can evade American jurisdiction. The reality is that our strategy of blocking the diffusion of knowledge will require a large number of policy choices, from finance to trade, for which we are unprepared. We’ll have to take those steps, but it’ll take a lot of time and political battling to do so. It’s also not clear that we can stop the development of Chinese technology, nor is it necessarily desirable to do so. If the Chinese come up with a cure for cancer, that’s a good thing for humanity.

The second strategy is to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 9:38 am

Marlborough aftershave success — plus the Gillette Heritage

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“If at first you don’t succeed, try again,” and this morning I tried again for the D.R. Harris complete Marlborough experience — i.e., not only the shaving soap but also (critically) the aftershave.

The brush, a Strop Shoppe purchase with a snakewood handle, is only the second brush in this series of using natural-bristle brushes to be a natural brush: handle and bristles of natural materials. This is a soft knot, but it did a fine job with the soap from the shave stick and I did experience again the wonder of D.R. Harris lather.

This is the Gillette Heritage, which arrived yesterday in a presentation box that is clearly aimed at the Christmas gift market. It’s quite handsome, but…

a. The head is a bog-standard Edwin Jagger/Mühle head, with the two companies designed together a decade ago (roughly) to replace and supersede the Merkur 34 design head they had been using. The new EJ/Mühle head is indeed better (for most) than the 34 head — no surprise, since obviously EJ/Mühle wanted an improvement and they had a fixed reference point to surpass. Still, this razor, in terms of feel and performance is like the EJ/Mühle models and countless clones: nothing special.

b. The handle is attractive but the design perversely not only eliminates the knob at the base (very helpful in the against-the-grain pass in offering a secure grip — cf. the RazoRock Barberpole Handle for an excellent example: note that the knob has a larger diameter than the handle) but in addition polishes the place where you want a secure grip for that pass. Looks good, acts bad.

Still, I achieved a good result, and the shave ended, happily, with a good splash of Marlborough aftershave. I was determined to rectify yesterday’s oversight, so it was an added pleasure to get it right at last. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

27 November 2019 at 7:57 am

Posted in Shaving

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