Later On

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

Archive for October 2021

Spider vision

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Betsy Mason writes in Science News:

Imagine that the world is shades of gray and a little blurry, almost as if your lousy peripheral vision has taken over. This fuzzy field of view extends so far that you can make out dim shapes and motion behind you as well; no need to turn your head. The one bright spot is an X-shaped splash of color that moves with your gaze. At the center of this splash, everything is crisp and clear — a small window of sharp, colorful detail in a gauzy grayscape. 

Add some blades of grass the size of redwood trees, and you’ve got an inkling of what the world looks like through the eight eyes of a jumping spider. It might be a bit like watching a poorly focused black-and-white movie on a 3-D IMAX screen that wraps around the room, while you hold a spotlight shining high-definition color wherever you point it. In other words, it’s really, really strange, at least compared with our two-eyed human perspective. 

Jumping spiders, which are the family Salticidae, are best known for their hilariously flamboyant mating dances, their large front eyes that make for adorable close-ups and their itty-bitty size — some of the more than 6,000 known species of jumping spiders are smaller than a sesame seed. 

But scientists are discovering that there’s much more to these diminutive arachnids. Researchers are getting a sense of what it’s like to be another animal by doing innovative experiments to go deeper into these spiders’ lives, probing their ability to see, feel and taste.

“Part of why I study insects and spiders is this act of imagination that is required to really try to get into the completely alien world and mind and perceptual reality of these animals,” says visual ecologist Nathan Morehouse of the University of Cincinnati. 

Eye of the spider 

Unlike bees and flies, which have compound eyes that merge information from hundreds or thousands of lenses into a single, pixelated mosaic image, the jumping spider has camera-type eyes, similar to those of humans and most other vertebrates. Each of the spider’s eyes has a single lens that focuses light onto a retina. 

The principal eyes — the big forward-facing ones that just beg us to anthropomorphize — have incredibly high resolution for creatures that are usually between 2 and 20 millimeters long. Their eyesight is sharper than any other spider’s and is the secret behind their ability to stalk and pounce on prey with impressive precision. Their sight is comparable to that of much larger animals like pigeons, cats and elephants. In fact, human visual acuity is only about five to 10 times better than a jumping spider’s. . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, including more images and a video showing spider vision.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2021 at 2:52 pm

Posted in Science

Dizzy Gillespie – A Night in Tunisia

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Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2021 at 10:38 am

Posted in Jazz, Video

3-D-view interactive mannequin for drawing

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This is pretty cool. You can tilt and rotate figure, move parts of the body, move it up and down, etc.

Written by Leisureguy

31 October 2021 at 6:14 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Techie toys

Pork à la Stroganoff

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I was idly daydreaming about food, and this idea came to me, which I might try.

knob of butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped — might substitute 1 bunch of thick scallions
• crushed dried or fresh rosemary (in mortar with pestle) – probably dried
• pinch of salt
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
10-12 domestic white mushrooms, sliced on the thick side

I’ll probably use my All-Clad Stainless 2-qt sauté pan. Melt butter in pan, add onion, rosemary, and salt. Cook until onion is translucent, then add garlic and mushrooms.

My first thought was one thick-cut pork chop, but my local supermarket doesn’t do thick cut. However, they do have pork tenderloin, and that would work. I first thought of cutting thick medallions, but then I though of cutting the medallions into strips, à la beef stroganoff. In fact, as I look at that recipe, I see where I got the ideas for this variation.

I want to brown the pork a little — might do that separately, in a cast-iron skillet. Then once it’s browned, add it to the skillet with the already-cooked onions and mushrooms, and add:

• 1/2 cup or so heavy cream
1 tablespoon of sherry or Shaoxing wine
pinch of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon white pepper
pinch of dry mustard

Cover simmer over low heat (burner set to 200ªF) until pork is done.

I think I’ll server over cooked whole-grain spelt.

I’m still not sure about the pork. Medallions might be the way to go. I’ll update after I make and eat it. And now that I read the other recipe I might modify the above (e.g., sour cream instead of heavy cream).

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 10:48 pm

Posted in Food, Recipes & Cooking

Republican disengagement

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Heather Cox Richardson:

The Republican Party has long ceased to offer policy ideas and is focusing on culture wars and obstruction. Their big statement this week has been to throw “Let’s go, Brandon” into speeches and, in the case of Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), into a rap video in which she stars. The phrase means “F**k Joe Biden,” for those in the know; they use it because social media moderators do not flag it.

The press secretary for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tweeted it out on Thursday morning, just after the president announced a framework for the Build Back Better bill, the larger infrastructure package the Democrats intend to propose alongside the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill. Congress has been negotiating this larger package intensely for months, and it appears to be reaching a final form.

But while the media has followed every twist and turn of Democratic disagreements over the measure, suggesting those normal disagreements are somehow a sign of dysfunction, the big story of the negotiations has gone largely unnoticed. That big story is that Republican lawmakers simply refused to participate in discussions over a series of proposals that as a whole are backed by 57% of the American people and that have even higher approval rates individually: one poll found 83% of Americans eager to give the government the power to negotiate lower drug prices. (In contrast, only 33% of the American people liked the Trump tax cuts passed without Democratic votes in 2017.)

A refusal to join debate on such a popular issue is dysfunction, indeed.

Instead of participating in the democratic system, Republicans turned over to conservative Democrats, especially Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the job of making conservative changes to the measure, while they simply fired insults at the president.

Republicans are frustrated in part because Biden and the Democrats are remaking the nation. After forty years in which lawmakers rolled back government action, the Democrats under Biden are investing again in the American people.

In his remarks about the Build Back Better plan on Thursday, Biden noted that for most of the twentieth century, we invested in ourselves, and that investment in our families and children, including through education, was key to our prosperity and international standing.

In the 1980s, though, we abandoned that investment, handing the task of developing the country to private interests. It didn’t work. From being first in the world for infrastructure, the World Economic Forum now lists us 13th. From leading the world in educational achievement, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now ranks us 35th out of 37 major countries for investment in childhood education and care.

“We need to build America from the bottom up and the middle out, not from top down with the trickle-down economics that’s always failed us,” Biden said. “I can’t think of a single time when the middle class has done well but the wealthy haven’t done very well. I can think of many times, including now, when the wealthy and the super-wealthy do very well and the middle class don’t do well.”

While outlining the details of the Build Back Better plan can wait until there is a final bill, we do know that the final blueprint provides a massive investment in childcare and eldercare, families, and education, and it uses the need to address climate change to produce good jobs. The government will serve the American public, not a small group of business leaders.

“Any single element of this framework would fundamentally be viewed as a fundamental change in America,” Biden said accurately on Thursday. “Taken together, they’re truly consequential.”

The Biden administration announced another major investment in the American people this week.

On Wednesday, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 3:13 pm

RIP Mihály Csíkszentmihályi

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Mihály Csíkszentmihályi looms large for me. I first read one of his books when I had no idea of who he was — or, really, what he was writing about. I had picked up his book Creative Thinking in Art Students: An Exploratory Study (1964) just because it looked interesting. I strongly suspect that the book was his PhD dissertation somewhat reworked.

In the book, he reports on his findings from a longitudinal study of a class of students as they began studies at the Chicago Art Institute. Some things still stick with me. For example, one important predictor of success as an artist was throwing parties. The reason: people came to the party and saw a lot of the artist’s work — finished pieces and those in progress — and (a) gave feedback to the artist and (b) carried away knowledge about the artist and his work.

Another observation was when students were given a bowl of fruit and a vase and asked to do a still life. Some students rather quickly completed their work, which was sound in terms of composition and color and the like. The best artists among them, however, took much more time. He mentioned one who held a grapefruit, turning it this way and that, asking himself “What is going on with a grapefruit?” The students who finished quickly were looking for a solution (which they quickly found); the better artists spent time looking for a question or a problem, and only later worked to solve it.

There was also a student who all the others said was the best among them, who didn’t make it. There’s a trope about comedians in night clubs who make the band laugh but leave the patrons cold — too hip for the paying customers, but the band loves it. That was the story of this student, who ultimately left school and art. An artist’s artist, like a writer’s writer, has too small a potential audience.

At any rate, that book put him firmly on my radar (and I later bought a copy of the book and gave it to The Son), and so when Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience came out, I leapt on it. (It’s listed among the titles of books I find myself repeatedly recommending.)

Csíkszentmihályi recently passed away, in the fullness of years. In Medium Jules Evans has an interview with him that begins:

Professor Mihályi Csikszentmihályi, who died this week aged 84, was one of the world’s best-known psychologists, famous for developing the concept of ‘flow’. Inspired by the creative process of artists and musicians, Csikszentmihályi spent decades researching the ‘flow’ states of consciousness that people can achieve when they’re totally absorbed in doing what they’re best at. They lose self-consciousness and a sense of time, and ‘zone in’ to their activity, sometimes achieving things that are ‘almost impossible’. I interviewed Csikszentmihályi over the phone about his latest essay, ‘The Politics of Consciousness’, published in a new collection of essays called Well-Being and Beyond.

JE: You say in your essay that psychology does not yet have an adequate idea of consciousness. What do you mean?

MC: The theory that most psychologists would ascribe to does not take account of the autonomy of consciousness and people’s ability to come up with plans, purpose and motivation that are not inherent. The usual definition of consciousness is that it’s awareness of what is already in the mind. Consciousness is simply a repository or collection of impulses and stimuli that have been experienced by the person. I think the question of what consciousness actually does as an agent, as a director or controller of the mind — that hasn’t been well formulated.

JE: You talk about the politics of consciousness — the social, economic and cultural conditions that allow consciousness to flourish, and you name three essential conditions for that flourishing — freedom, hope and flow.

MC: Yes. For example, if the freedom of consciousness is restricted by political dictatorship or lack of opportunity, then consciousness is itself restricted and has no opportunities to go beyond the direction in which external forces push it.

That’s why I was saying that the Soviet system corrupts, because eventually people can’t suffer any more the fact they weren’t free to use their energy in ways that are more truth-orientated than people allow them to be. Behavioural psychologists might have predicted that the Soviet system would have successfully re-programmed people into subservient robots. That’s because psychologists were not able to come to terms with the existence of consciousness, which allows people to imagine and choose alternatives to existing reality.

JE: In terms of hope — I suppose for centuries the basis of people’s hope was hope in the afterlife, while for the last 200 years it’s been more hope in humanist progress. Do you think we’re becoming less hopeful about the future because of economic stagnation and the looming prospect of dramatic climate change?

MC: That’s certainly a danger, that as progress falters, that will undermine hope not just for progress but for life itself. I think that is a real problem, and that’s why I hope psychology could begin to help to find reasons for existence and for going on with life that are more reliable than progress.

JE: And your third essential constituent for flourishing consciousness is flow. You say in your essay that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 2:01 pm

A look at Mark Zuckerberg

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It seems like the root cause of the problems with Facebook is that Mark Zuckerberg has a lot of power to affect things in the world, but his education is narrow and limited, so that he lacks both knowledge and experience and is not capable of thinking deeply. St. John’s College would have done him a world of good.

In New York magazine, James Walsh interview Kara Swisher.

No journalist may know Zuckerberg better than Kara Swisher. In 2010, she and the former Wall Street Journal technology columnist Walt Mossberg made him literally sweat over questions about user privacy. Since then, Swisher has spoken to Zuckerberg many times, including during an infamous interview in 2018, when he said Facebook should not take down posts denying the Holocaust. Intelligencer spoke to Swisher, who co-hosts New York Magazine’s Pivot podcast, about Zuckerberg as revealed in the Facebook Papers and the moment of crisis for the company he built.

This section from the interview seemed particularly relevant:

. . . You’ve previously said that one thing you admire about him is that he is a “learning organism.” But your mentor, Walt Mossberg, has said that he doesn’t think Zuckerberg has evolved at all.

Yes, we disagree on that. I think Mark has tried to learn. I just think he’s not up to the task, so it doesn’t really matter if he’s tried to learn. He’s bitten off more than he can chew. That’s one of the main problems — that what he needs to be is a nearly impossible job for anyone and he is particularly ill-suited given his lack of communication skills. He’s undereducated for the job he has because he’s not just a technologist; he’s a social engineer. And a very powerful one with no accountability. He’s like an emperor that he so admires; he was a fanboy of Augustus Caesar. That was his hero. But Augustus Caesar wasn’t really equipped to be emperor either, right? So much pain and suffering. Nobody can do what Mark is doing unless you have an ability to not worry about consequences.

How do you think he has learned?

Apparently, he has dinners. He reads a lot. He apparently calls famous people. One year, he’ll decide to learn everything he can about killing animals. It’s very earnest and poignant in a weird way, trying all kinds of different things to educate himself. He tried a podcast for a New York minute where he had discussions with smart people. He hasn’t posted in months and months. A lot of Silicon Valley people do that kind of bullshit. They style themselves as journalists or intellectuals, neither of which they are, but whatever. He’s tried all manner of things to try to educate himself. He wouldn’t say this, but I suspect he feels slightly insecure that he didn’t finish school.

Do you think his learning applies to the way he runs Facebook? 

Yes, he’s learning on the job, except it’s the world. You know what I mean? That’s the problem. In the case of making an app, that’s one thing. But in the case of dealing with significantly difficult social and political issues, honestly, do we want him making the decisions? I don’t know of almost anyone who can make those decisions. He’s just ill-equipped for the task ahead of him.

Another thing that Mossberg has said is he thinks Zuckerberg sets himself apart from other tech CEOs because he doesn’t have any principles and no red lines. 

I don’t think that’s quite right. If you listen to my 2018 interview with him, I’m like, “Well, how do you feel that something you created played a role in these killings in Myanmar?” And he said, “Well, I just want to get in there and fix it.” And I’m like, “Well, you caused it.” And he said, “Like any engineer, I want to fix it.” I’m like, Yeah, but you’re like the arsonist. You broke it. Don’t you want to know how you did it? He’s just not a small-talk person, but he’s not a big-talk person, either.

In the 2018 interview, he said that his philosophy about running a company was understanding what you’re willing to tolerate. Have you noticed any change in what he or Facebook tolerates? 

He doesn’t think like you and me. When they were debuting Facebook Live, I had a million questions about abuse. And they were like, “What are you talking about?” It was so typical. It wasn’t him, but it was his people — people who were like him who just reflect him. They were like, “You’re such a bummer, Kara.” And I’m like, “Okay, I’m a bummer, I guess, but I think someone’s going to kill someone on this thing and broadcast it.” And it didn’t take long before there was a mass murder on it. The idea of consequences seems to escape them almost entirely because most of them have never had an unsafe day in their lives. Truly. Why would he? He lived in a very, very expensive suburb of New York. He was treated like a prince by his parents. He went to Harvard. What’s his difficulty? What’s his challenge? I’d like to know. . . 

OTOH, Kevin Drum has an interesting post in which he lists positive things about Facebook, among them:

  • Number 1 by far: The vast, vast majority of Facebook has nothing to do with politics. As my mother puts it, “It’s puppies and kittens.” People get a great deal of pleasure from this.
  • Facebook has a lot of users. Does this give them a lot of power? Yes indeed. It also gives them a lot of reach, which most people find very useful. If you want to catch up with an old friend, Facebook’s size makes it more likely that you’ll find them.
  • There is no evidence that Facebook or Instagram are bad for teenage girls. Just the opposite. On a wide variety of topics, teens say that Facebook and Instagram have been very helpful.
  • If you want to organize a group to fight breast cancer or racism or loud leaf blowers, Facebook is a great platform. People do this a lot!
  • On a more political topic, Facebook is great for organizing GOTV operations. Research has confirmed this.
  • Facebook has focused a very public spotlight on the kind of pathological extremism that’s existed for many decades (at least) in the United States. You may not like seeing this, just as you might be queasy about watching a surgeon at work, but the alternative is to remain in blissful ignorance about what’s going on out there. I’ll vote for knowing about this stuff so it can be fought, thank you very much.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 1:37 pm

Scramble Eggs Inside Their Shell

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This looks intriguing.

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30 October 2021 at 12:29 pm

Traditions of the season: Who’s on first?

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I had never before seen Abbot and Costello’s vaudeville routine in its entirety, on an abbreviated version, trimmed down for audiences who had not come to a vaudeville theater to be entertained for an evening. Here’s the whole enchilada, filmed as it would have been seen back in the days before vaudeville died.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 11:21 am

Posted in Games, Humor, Video

The Ivermectin Train Cannot Stop

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. . . history holds a long record of scientists who were right about one thing and utterly wrong about another.

Jonathan Jarry writes in The Conversation:

It started with a laboratory study on African green monkey kidney cells. While the dose used was much higher than what doctors would prescribe, the results were promising. Ivermectin could stop the new coronavirus from making copies of itself.

This drug, ivermectin, has acquired political overtones in some circles. It is a quasi-religious shibboleth, a belief that identifies the tribe you belong to. But underneath all of this modern baggage, ivermectin is simply a very useful drug. As a lotion, it can treat head lice. In a cream, it treats rosacea. When taken by mouth, it treats infections caused by worms, like river blindness and strongyloidiasis. Its discovery from soil bacteria and its application in medicine resulted in a Nobel Prize win, and it is listed as an essential medicine by the World Health Organization. And, yes, it comes in a horse paste for the treatment of livestock.

On the heels of ivermectin’s one-time win over the coronavirus in the laboratory, some critical care doctors started to administer it to hospitalized patients who were fighting against complications from COVID-19. And the drug, according to those stunned doctors, seemed to be working. Study results trickled in backing up their real-life experiences. Ivermectin was picking up speed. It was starting to look like the future.

But a year and a half later, this train, still ploughing ahead, is now riddled with holes. Scientists and physicians have pointed out that it is falling apart, that it should stop for repair or even be retired. But the train keeps on rattling along. Why? Why won’t the ivermectin train stop?

Trust facilitates fraud

Those holes were not spotted by your typical train inspectors. Rather, they were detected by volunteer scientists spending unpaid time to scrutinize data sets and pick up what would politely be called “inconsistencies.” Patients who had died before the trial to test ivermectin began. Hospitals that were claimed to have participated but which stated they had no record of the study. Data that looked to have been copied and pasted multiple times from one patient to the next. The smell of fraud is hard to ignore when you have the nose for it.

These data detectives—in this case Jack Lawrence, Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, Nick Brown, Kyle Sheldrick, and James Heathers—have learned a hard lesson: the apparatus of scientific research is built on trust, which hinders the detection of fraud. As Richard Smith, a former editor of The British Medical Journal, wrote in a sobering opinion piece last July, “it may be time to move from assuming that research has been honestly conducted and reported to assuming it to be untrustworthy until there is some evidence to the contrary.”

In a recent Atlantic piece, Heathers, one of the data detectives, stated that, “in our opinion, a bare minimum of five ivermectin papers are either misconceived, inaccurate, or otherwise based on studies that cannot exist as described.” That’s at least five out of 30 randomized or influential ivermectin studies the group has looked at. One of them, a paper coming out of Egypt, reported such a large effect that when it was withdrawn due to “ethical concerns,” a meta-analysis of the ivermectin literature that had once concluded the drug saved lives, once re-analyzed, showed no significant survival benefit. The Egyptian study, which appears fraudulent, had swayed the entire body of evidence one way. With further studies removed due to a high risk of bias or concerns as to how they were reported, the benefit grows in insignificance. “At a certain point,” Meyerowitz-Katz wrote in a blog post, “you have to accept that the evidence-base is so corrupted that the message that has been pushed for months by eager promoters of the drug is very unlikely to be true.”

The loudest of these eager promoters may be the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance or FLCCC, with Dr. Pierre Kory serving as their president and best-known spokesperson. Their website, to this day, is pro-ivermectin. The first sentence of their ivermectin section is that “these pages contain the scientific rationale that justifies the use of ivermectin in COVID-19.” Their founding members are not quacks. They are not naturopaths who believe “chemicals” are bad and Mother Nature can heal all things. They are not unqualified men with a pseudoscientific understanding of health, peddling supplements. They are critical care doctors. Kory himself has treated many patients with COVID-19.

So how do these educated physicians, with real-life experience of the disease, who take COVID-19 seriously, not change their mind as the ivermectin body of evidence collapses? Why is the train they operate still moving forward?

The idea overcomes the process

What follows are speculations. It is impossible to know for sure what goes on inside someone else’s head. Asking them to explain what their blind spots are is oxymoronic. I have no idea what my own blind spots are, by definition. But paying attention to what the ivermectin promoters say and knowing a bit about how our brain can deceive us can help us understand what may be happening and how to avoid these pitfalls for ourselves.

In a June 2021 appearance on Joe Rogan’s massively popular podcast, Pierre Kory said of ivermectin for COVID-19 that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s quite good.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 11:12 am

Hallowe’en-ish shave: Organism 46-B

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I don’t have any specifically Hallowe’en shaving soaps, but Organism 46-B might qualify:

Organism 46-B was an enormous 33ft (10m) long, 14-tentacled squid-like creature which lived in Lake Vostok, a subglacial lake located under two miles of ice beneath Vostok Station in the Antarctic. The animal had limbs that were animate and aggressive even after amputation, could release a toxin into the water to immobilize its prey from a distance of up to 150 feet, displayed an astonishing degree of shapeshifting, and showed a considerable degree of both hostility and intelligence.

At the link you will find reports of “sightings,” though Organism 46-B, like Bigfoot and folksongs, is but a creation of human culture.

Still, it’s a damn fine soap, and with my trusty and beloved Omega Pro 48 I throughly enjoyed lathering. The fragrance of Organism 46-B (the soap, not the creature) is wonderful.

Three passes of the Edwin Jagger razor left my face smooth and undamaged, and a splash of Organism 46-B aftershave finished the job. Best of all, the day is sunny and cloudless.

Written by Leisureguy

30 October 2021 at 10:32 am

Posted in Shaving

The Kyle Rittenhouse Judge

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Zak Cheney-Rice writes in New York magazine:

Imagine for a second that you’re a diligent citizen, the kind who shows up on Election Day with a checklist. You’re in Wisconsin, so state politics are a mess. The Republican-held legislature has nothing but contempt for majority rule, which means your preferences matter about as much as their last gerrymander lets them. You’ve realized your better bet is to influence local issues. People got angry about a police shooting last summer and set fire to a car dealership near the town center, so you’re especially interested in who’s getting jailed and put on trial in your area. You know that some judges are elected at the county level, but in contrast to the cheesing glad-handers whose faces flood your mailbox around this time of year, your research hasn’t turned up anything useful about who’s banging the nearest gavel.

Bruce Schroeder is here to help. On Monday, the Kenosha County circuit court judge did something that circuit court judges don’t usually do, in Kenosha County or anywhere: He made national news. Schroeder is presiding over the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot and killed two people, and injured a third, using an AR-15-style assault rifle during the unrest in Kenosha that followed the police shooting of Jacob Blake in the summer of 2020.

By most accounts, Rittenhouse was living out a fantasy. He was 17 years old and fawned over cops on social media. He had attended several police cadet programs before self-deputizing last August and driving from his hometown of Antioch, Illinois — half an hour away — to patrol Kenosha. He was filmed two weeks before the killings saying he wanted to “start shooting rounds” at people who looted stores, and was greeted warmly by cops when he arrived in Wisconsin, one of whom was filmed thanking him.

Judge Schroeder’s ruling that made the news was, on its surface, boringly semantic, and apparently standard for him when self-defense claims are being disputed. He said in a pretrial hearing that he wouldn’t let the attorneys refer to the dead (Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber) or injured (Gaige Grosskreuz) as “victims” — partly because the jury might later decide they were assailants whom Rittenhouse was justified in shooting. What caused a stir was that Schroeder also said he might let the attorneys call them “rioters” or “looters” if evidence of either behavior was presented. His explanation for allowing those and not the other was that “‘victim’ is a loaded, loaded word” — a term that could unfairly influence the jury’s feelings about the men who were shot, and thus its feelings about whether it was okay for Rittenhouse to shoot them.

Terms “such as ‘rioters,’ ‘looters,’ ‘arsonists,’ are as loaded, if not more loaded, than the term ‘victim,’” retorted Thomas Binger, one of the prosecutors. Whatever you make of his reasoning, Schroeder’s ruling was flagrantly political. It set up a clear hierarchy of permissible terms that was rooted in a clearly biased logic of who should get the benefit of the doubt in the case of a boy who crossed state lines with a firearm so he could play vigilante against anti-cop demonstrators.

Schroeder knows how this looks. He was appointed to his seat in 1983, officially elected for the first time in 1984, and has won all of his elections in the intervening 37 years. At age 75, he’s been a judge in Kenosha County for most of his professional life, and understands that when the media spotlight is on during one of his trials, rulings like the one he made on Monday could be — for better or worse — the closest thing voters get to a campaign ad.

The notion of a politicized judiciary has become a source of escalating glee for conservatives, panic for progressives, and furious denial for many of the judges themselves and their flacks in the punditocracy. This is especially clear with the U.S. Supreme Court. Some of its justices have become so invested in dispelling the obviously true perception that the country’s highest judicial body has become, in its current makeup, an organ of the conservative movement, that they’ve started writing delusional books and making whiny and defensive speeches at college campuses to plead their case.

But unless some dramatic structural revamp is around the corner, this isn’t something the average person can do much about. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life and can only be replaced, if they die or retire, by whichever president’s in office at the time — and only then if a Senate majority permits it. Not so at the local level. Circuit court judges might seem like a fact of life because nobody knows what they’re doing most of the time, and because they often run for reelection unopposed, but the typically clandestine nature of their work is actually, and incongruously, beholden to democratic will.

That doesn’t mean when . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 8:31 pm

Dave Troy’s Situation Report for 29 Oct 2021

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Dave Troy writes:

Crypto bros continuing to try to make ‘fetch’ happen. If you’re trying to get a trend going, a good way to do it is to get people with a lot of influence to keep going on about it. We keep seeing this among a certain class of tech bro, this week from Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey who incorrectly proclaimed that “hyperinflation” is happening in the US, and soon would be affecting the whole world. This is, of course, nonsense; we are seeing some mild inflation in certain classes of goods. Economists generally agree that this is due to supply chain disruptions imposed by the global pandemic, and that prices for most things will likely drop once those conditions are eased. Hyperinflation by contrast is a condition where currency is devalued in a runaway vicious cycle of 50% per month over time, and, well, that is not happening.

Dorsey seems to have fallen victim to the same cult of cryptocurrency promoted by the likes of the John Birch Society, and has been convinced that he should be part of a growing chorus to try to take down the US dollar. That, of course, is insane, and the forces mounted against him in that endeavor are bigger than he can possibly imagine.

But that’s not stopping him, or others, from trying, it seems. Couple this with the lingering uncertainty over the pending infrastructure bill and the debt ceiling which must be raised on December 3rd, and it’s clear there are people who would like to try to take down the dollar. And like January 6th, which was not successful, any attempt along these lines could be incredibly damaging and costly, even as it is likely to fail. This all needs to stop. Now.

Facebook changes name to Meta; the world yawns. If there’s one thing that’s becoming clear, it’s that people are increasingly not interested in buying anything that Mark Zuckerberg is selling. People don’t trust him and they don’t trust his company to put societal or individual interests above profits.

This is going to become an increasing strategic bind for the company. As he is the majority shareholder, he controls the board and so thus can’t be “fired,” and if he were to step aside and install non-sociopathic leadership, he would still own a majority of voting shares. A reckoning is coming: he is creating negative value for the company.

In the meantime, we can rest assured they have done no work with ethicists or sociologists to consider how to promote a healthier society with their platform designs, just as he did not consult with ethicists when scheming about how to rate women via web browser from his dorm room. The intention seems to be to divert attention from an increasingly frail business model towards heavy cap-ex and bets on future products no one is sure anyone wants.

Libertarian blockchain-tech types are suggesting that we should want ‘decentralized’ versions of this stuff, which also has not been considered from an ethical or sociological perspective. We don’t really know how to reconcile ‘free speech’ with the tendency for humans to form cults and commit genocide, which is what is likely to happen if we pursue unregulated or self-moderated social media architectures. We know from experiences with structures like Facebook Groups that this is a possible if not likely outcome.

Koch Foundation behind Critical Race Theory assault. We’ve known that the Council for National Policy has coordinated an attack on local school boards. This week The Nation reports that Charles Koch has helped fund that assault. The US Senate hearing this week with Attorney General Merrick Garland was a bit like a horror film; while he was spuriously attacked by senators like Tom Cotton, no one would dare utter a word about the coordinated attack coordinated by CNP and Charles Koch. Why? Who knows. Ignorance? Are they beholden in some way? Hard to say. But reality has yet to poke its nose into the Congressional discourse.

Yale Law School working with disinformation purveyors, Wikileaks, and Russia. A network of people linked to Wikileaks is pushing a distributed blockchain-based social media platform called PanQuake. (The idea is that it can’t be controlled or regulated by governments.) Sean O’Brien, founder of the Yale Law School Privacy Lab, seems to be serving as a chief technical architect. Suzie Dawson, a self-described citizen journalist who had been involved with Occupy Auckland in 2011–2012 and with Wikileaks is leading the effort from Moscow, where she has apparently been in exile since 2017. The group also produces a blog and video series called Talk Liberation, which has promoted noted provocateur Laura Loomer as well as COVID conspiracist anti-vax activist Naomi Wolf. I don’t know why Yale is affiliated with this group, just as I don’t know why the Stanford Internet Observatory and Harvard Kennedy School are taking money from the Koch organization. But it’s worth understanding better what’s going on here. Do Yale Law alumni think this is appropriate? I find it troubling.

Rep. Mo Brooks has a lot of explaining to do—about Space Command and January 6th. Rolling Stone’s Hunter Walker reported this week that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. We live in a time rich in event.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 5:33 pm

How the US fails to take away guns from domestic abusers: ‘These deaths are preventable’

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The US values guns more than it values lives — especially women’s lives. Jennifer Gollan for Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting reports in the Guardian:

Editor’s note: This story was produced by the non-profit newsroom Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. Get its investigations emailed directly to you.

Paige Mitchell and Bradley Gray forged a bond over tragedy. Late one Sunday in October 2009, Mitchell’s husband borrowed a motorcycle from a neighbor on a whim, rumbled down a back road in rural Moundville, Alabama, and careened to his death. Almost exactly a year later, at almost precisely the same time of night, Gray’s wife died on the same county byway when her car crashed into a tree. Fate seemed to push Mitchell and Gray together, making their relationship hard to sever even as it descended into dysfunction.

Mitchell treated Gray’s son, Bradley Jr, like one of her own children, bringing him on outings with her daughters, Kayla and Kaci. Gray, who worked for a construction company, mowed Mitchell’s lawn and did repairs around her house. They went to concerts and cruised the Black Warrior River in Gray’s boat. Mitchell, a hairdresser with a gregarious personality, was glad to have someone to laugh with. But a darkness hovered over their relationship. Gray drank – a lot. And when he drank, his temper exploded. After beating a friend with a baseball bat in 2014, he was charged with felony assault, though the case was eventually dismissed.

Gray tried rehab, but he couldn’t stay sober, Mitchell’s family said. Many of the people who loved him gave up. Mitchell felt sorry for him, her family said; like the German shepherd she rescued and the foster children with disabilities she took in, she thought she could help him heal.

After Gray hit her in the chin with a metal hand-grip exerciser, bruising her face and and leaving her worried she would lose her tooth, Mitchell began to give up, too. But Moundville is tiny, and they kept running into each other. On the night of 9 July 2015, she went to Gray’s home to pick up her car and collect her belongings after another split. This time, according to the police, he showed her a Glock in a holster and threatened to use it: “I will blow you away.” Police arrested Gray at his house and confiscated his gun, evidence of a potential crime. Prosecutors charged him with third-degree domestic violence, punishable by up to a year in jail.

Then Gray bumped into Moundville’s police chief, Ken Robertson, in a convenience store and started “really ranting”, Robertson recounted in a deposition five years later. Gray called Robertson and his officers “you sons of bitches” and demanded that they return his gun. “Let me see what’s going on and we will rectify the situation,” Robertson told him.

Back at the station, Robertson read Gray’s arrest report – and, over the objections of another officer, he handed back the gun. The former police chief, who is now a sheriff’s deputy for Hale county, didn’t respond to requests for an interview. But in his deposition, he offered an explanation of sorts: police didn’t have a search warrant for the weapon, he said. In his view, “there was zero legal reason to keep it”.

In fact, under Alabama law, police could have – and should have – sought a court order to retain the gun through a process known as condemnation, said the Hale county district attorney, Michael Jackson, whose jurisdiction includes most of Moundville. Giving back the gun, Jackson told Reveal, “was a big mistake”.

That error was compounded a few weeks later after Gray pleaded guilty to the domestic violence charge. Along with a 30-day suspended jail sentence and a year’s probation, he was ordered to enroll in anger management classes. The timing was crucial: under a state law that had taken effect the previous week, on 1 September 2015, Gray’s domestic violence misdemeanor conviction meant he was no longer allowed to possess a firearm or have one “under [his] control”. As a convicted abuser, Gray was now also permanently barred from possessing a firearm under federal law.

If Robertson’s department had held on to the Glock, the rest of the story might have been different. But Gray had his gun – and the new Alabama statute didn’t spell out a procedure for him to surrender it. Nor was there any requirement for law enforcement to seize it. In his deposition, Robertson acknowledged that Gray was no longer allowed to have a firearm, but he said he didn’t follow up on the case: “We don’t have the authority to go and start checking everybody that’s been convicted.” He also admitted that he’d never notified Mitchell that he’d given back the Glock. The law didn’t require it.

A little more than a year later, Mitchell, then 37, ran into Gray unexpectedly at a friend’s place and made it clear one more time that the relationship was over. “Brad was trying to convince her otherwise, and she was moving on,” said Sylvia Ray, Mitchell’s aunt and adoptive mother.

Hours later, just before dawn on 26 January 2017, Gray broke in to Mitchell’s house through the back door, according to her family. When Mitchell’s foster child woke and went to check on the noise, Gray told her to go back to bed. In the living room, he found 14-year-old Kaci, who had been asleep on a couch by the front door, and shot her in the neck, according to her autopsy.

Next he turned the Glock on Mitchell, firing a single bullet into the back of her head.

The shooting was over so quickly that 10-year-old Kayla slept through it. She discovered the bodies of her mother and sister when she woke the next morning to get ready for school.

As officers waited on his front porch soon after to question him, Gray fired one last shot with the gun he wasn’t supposed to have. He died at a hospital three days later.

Preventable deaths

Every 16 hours somewhere in the US, a woman is fatally shot by a current or former intimate partner. The numbers have been soaring: gun homicides by intimate partners jumped 58% over the last decade, according to never-before-published FBI data analyzed for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting by James Alan Fox, a professor and criminologist at Northeastern University. The pandemic has been an especially lethal period for abuse victims, Fox found; gun homicides involving intimate partners rose a stunning 25% in 2020 compared with the previous year, to the highest level in almost three decades. Women accounted for more than two-thirds of the victims shot and killed by intimate partners last year.

Many of these killings involve . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 3:07 pm

This is the state of American justice: Federal judges working on behalf of corporations

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Isabella Grullón Paz reports in the NY Times:

Steven Donziger, the environmental and human rights lawyer who won a $9.5 billion settlement against Chevron over oil dumped in Indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest, surrendered himself to the federal authorities on Wednesday to begin a six-month prison sentence.

Mr. Donziger was found guilty in July of six counts of criminal contempt of court for withholding evidence in a long, complex legal fight with Chevron, which claims that Mr. Donziger fabricated evidence in the 1990s to win a lawsuit he filed against the oil giant on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people in Ecuador. The convictions were preceded by Mr. Donziger’s disbarment last year.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Donziger turned himself in to a federal prison in Danbury, Conn., where he will serve his six-month sentence. He had already spent more than 800 days under home detention after the court cited flight-risk concerns, his lawyer, Ronald L. Kuby, said on Wednesday.

“After 100 pages of legal briefing, the appellate court today denied my release in 10 words,” Mr. Donziger said on Twitter on Tuesday. “This is not due process of law. Nor is it justice.”

“We will get through this,” he added.

Representatives for Chevron did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

On July 31, 2019, Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, a former corporate lawyer, tried to charge Mr. Donziger with contempt of court based on his refusals in 2014 to give the court access to decades of client communications on devices like his phone and his computer. That year, Judge Kaplan supported Chevron’s complaint in a 500-page ruling finding that Mr. Donziger and his associates had engaged in a conspiracy and criminal conduct by ghostwriting an environmental report used as a crucial piece of evidence and bribing a judge in Ecuador.

After the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York declined to prosecute the case, Judge Kaplan took the rare step of appointing a private law firm, Seward & Kissel, to prosecute Mr. Donziger in the name of the U.S. government, Mr. Kuby said.

Seward & Kissel has represented many oil and gas companies throughout the years, including Chevron in 2018.

Misdemeanor criminal contempt carries a maximum sentence of one year. If the penalty is more than six months for this type of charge, Mr. Kuby said, a defendant would get a trial by jury. Even after multiple objections by Mr. Donziger, Judge Loretta A. Preska lowered the sentencing to six months — it had previously been set to a year — and denied Mr. Donziger’s request for a jury trial.

In July, Judge Preska found Mr. Donziger guilty of all charges. On Oct. 1, Mr. Donziger was sentenced to six months in prison, a day after he asked the court to consider an opinion by independent United Nations experts that found his court-ordered home confinement of more than two years a violation of international human rights law.

Judge Preska agreed to not incarcerate Mr. Donziger immediately, giving him a chance to appeal the conditions of his bail. In a court order on Oct. 12, Judge Preska declared that if Mr. Donziger’s appeal failed, he would have to surrender himself within 24 hours of the decision.

In 1993, Mr. Donziger sued the Chevron Corporation for oil spills that had a detrimental effect on the Amazonian region of Ecuador. Mr. Donziger has argued that Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, cut through the Amazon, spilled oil into pristine rain forests and left behind a toxic mess.

At the time, Chevron said  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. And it stinks. The judge put his thumb on the scale, big time.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 2:53 pm

Rise of the war machines: Charting the evolution of military technologies from the Neolithic to the Industrial Revolution

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I immediately thought of The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force, and Society Since 1000 A.D., by William H. MacNeill, included in my list of repeatedly recommended books. This, however, is a paper in PLOS ONE by Peter Turchin, Daniel Hoyer, Andrey Korotayev, Nikolay Kradin, Sergey Nefedov, Gary Feinman, Jill Levine, Jenny Reddish, Enrico Cioni, Chelsea Thorpe, James S. Bennett, Pieter Francois, and Harvey Whitehouse. The abstract:

What have been the causes and consequences of technological evolution in world history? In particular, what propels innovation and diffusion of military technologies, details of which are comparatively well preserved and which are often seen as drivers of broad socio-cultural processes? Here we analyze the evolution of key military technologies in a sample of pre-industrial societies world-wide covering almost 10,000 years of history using SeshatGlobal History Databank. We empirically test previously speculative theories that proposed world population size, connectivity between geographical areas of innovation and adoption, and critical enabling technological advances, such as iron metallurgy and horse riding, as central drivers of military technological evolution. We find that all of these factors are strong predictors of change in military technology, whereas state-level factors such as polity population, territorial size, or governance sophistication play no major role. We discuss how our approach can be extended to explore technological change more generally, and how our results carry important ramifications for understanding major drivers of evolution of social complexity.

The paper itself begins:


From simple sharpened stone projectiles in the Paleolithic to the weapons of mass destruction in the modern world, what have been the main factors driving the evolution of military technology? Many have argued that the evolution of military technologies is just one aspect of a much broader pattern of technological evolution driven by increasing size and interconnectedness among human societies [13]. Several cultural evolutionary theories, conversely, highlight military technologies as a special case, arguing that steep improvements in both offensive and defensive capabilities of technologies along with accompanying tactical and organizational innovations resulted in “Military Revolutions” (note the plural), which in turn had major ramifications on the rise and, of particular concern here, the spread of state formations globally [48] and the evolution of religion and other cultural phenomena [9,10]. But the evolutionary mechanisms underlying general technological innovation, adoption, and transmission (especially in pre-industrial societies) are not well understood. Moreover, available theories have drawn on evidence that is limited both in geographical scope and temporal depth and deployed in ways that are subject to selection bias. Here we explore a variety of factors that previous scholarship suggests may have played a role in the evolution of military technologies by systematically quantifying the effects of those factors for thousands of years of world history.

Earlier efforts to quantify levels of technological complexity in eastern and western ends of Eurasia [11,12] have been criticized for being unduly subjective [13], especially when it comes to measuring rates of innovation in military technology, and are obviously limited in spatial coverage. Here we propose an alternative methodology for quantifying technological evolution and expand the geographic scope from just these two broad regions to 35 “Natural Geographic Areas” across all ten major world regions, using SeshatGlobal History Databank, a major resource for studying patterns of sociocultural evolution in world history (see Materials and Methods below).

This article has two related goals. The first is to establish broad spatio-temporal patterns in the evolution of military technologies in pre-industrial societies. By technological evolution we mean here the dynamics of uptake (and possible loss) of technologies used by societies at significant scale (rather than simply whether the technology was known at all), regardless of how that society came to acquire that technology (indigenous innovation or adoption from another culture). For those interested in the study of technological evolution in general, focusing specifically on military technologies in pre-industrial societies has many practical benefits. Warfare was one of the most intensive activities of human societies, leaving abundant traces in the archaeological and historical record.

The second goal is to explore why these important military technologies developed or were adopted in the places, at the times, and as part of the technological packages as we observe in the historical and archaeological record. There have been several theoretical conjectures (discussed below) about the main causal drivers of technological innovation that we test. As our approach will show, the pattern of military technological evolution shows great variation in time and space, with different regions assuming a leading role in innovation at different moments in time.

Delineating the possible causes and observed consequences of changes in levels of military technologies will have far-reaching implications for understanding the evolution of technology broadly. To encourage further progress towards that ultimate goal, we present here a detailed methodology for testing theories about technological change in human history. This paper serves as a crucial step along this path.

Theoretical background

Here, we review several competing theoretical perspectives on the evolution of technologies offered in the past. Technological change is one of the fundamental drivers in social and cultural evolution and of long-term economic growth [1417]. Many have pointed to . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 2:07 pm

I suppose not shaving can also be fun

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Participant Norbert Dopf from Austria arrives for the German Moustache and Beard Championships 2021 at Pullman City Western Theme Park in Eging am See, Germany, October 23, 2021. REUTERS/Lukas Barth

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 1:36 pm

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

Hearing back from the hearing-aid industry

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Matt Stoller’s piece on hearing aids stirred up quite a storm. He describes some of the aftermath:

When I write about market power in specific industries, it often generates massive discussion within the industry. The cheer world, for instance, exploded in dialogue when I exposed how Varsity controls cheerleading, because I offered the moral framework of monopoly to show that their frustration wasn’t just whiny complaints but was situated in exploitative use of market power.

Similarly, my piece on the hearing aid cartel ricocheted inside the audiology world. A bunch of hearing aid users and audiologists contacted me privately with both praise and anger. As usual, several of the people saying ‘you got this right’ also said ‘don’t mention my name publicly I’m afraid of retaliation,’ which is, sadly, too common in American business. Here’s Johns Hopkins professor and hearing loss expert.

Clearly the analysis resonated, with leading hearing aid expert Dr. Abram Bailey saying on LinkedIn that it will “create quite the sh** storm.” In fact, the whole thread of comments from practitioners in the industry is interesting.

Manufacturing Costs Are $40 to $80

Frede Jensen, an engineer in the UK, noted the manufacturing costs are between $40 to $80 for hearing aids, though it’s important to note that production costs are only one part of the process of selling a hearing aid, and the actual device cost doesn’t include the critical services of a trained audiologist. Still, that amount is far lower than what people in the U.S., and other nations with similar setups like Australia, pay:

Regarding the NHS. Public data shows they, with their approved agents, buy 1 million+ mid-range hearing aids p.a. at an average price of USD78 each (to which they must add their own fitting overheads). This reflects the unit manufacturing costs of USD40 for basic to USD80 for advanced wireless models, including direct and R&D overheads.

The NHS contract hundreds of thousand basic hearing fittings (to the gold standard protocol, with REM, follow-up and 3 years patient management) to the private sector, including to Specsavers, at around USD450 for a single or USD600 for a binaural referral – although this can vary slightly between different local health authorities. This includes the cost of the hearing aid(s).

Jensen’s observations are confirmed by this market analysis by the Global Partnership for Assistive Technologies on the worldwide market for hearing aids. Some remarkable stats: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the stats are quite interesting.

I’m glad President Biden kicked the FDA into acting on hearing aids (after the FDA ignored for four years the law passed by Congress). 

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:57 am

Enough is Enough: The Criminal Case Against Mark Zuckerberg

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

The rule of law does not apply to the powerful. It should. And Facebook is a good place to start.

Today I want to use Facebook’s recent scandals to go over the case for criminal charges against Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook insiders. Behind this essay is a basic question. Does the rule of law apply to the powerful?

First, some house-keeping. I got incredible feedback on my piece on the hearing aid cartel, including a bunch of tidbits on just how dirty the firms are. As one expert in the industry noted, it caused a ‘shit storm’ among audiologists. I’ll be doing more reporting here, as the U.S. government might start paying for hearing treatment in Medicare or Medicaid.

Also, I’ve been looking into ports, ocean carriers, and containers, but I still don’t have a clear theory of what’s happening. Consolidation is certainly a big part of the story. What I will say is that the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 1998 was an extremely bad piece of legislation, and lots of people in the 1990s warned about what tossing out 80 years of shipping regulation would do. I’ll write up what I’ve found.

Finally, this week, I wrote a piece for the Guardian on why Facebook’s litany of scandals is actually a function of a broader breakdown of governance.

And now…

The Metaverse, the Facebook Whistleblower, and Corporate Crime

This week, there were three important events involving Facebook. The first was a bevy of documents coming out about Facebook’s business methods from ‘Facebook whistleblower’ Frances Haugen, revealing deceit towards advertisers, investors, and the public. I’m not a fan of Haugen’s ideas, and the documents she offered, while helpful, are overstated. I mean three years ago, Louisiana Senator John Kennedy confronted Facebook officials about micro-targeting emotionally vulnerable teens. So none of what we are learning is remotely surprising. But still, details from these documents are useful.

The second happened yesterday, when Mark Zuckerberg abruptly announced that Facebook’s name would be changed to Meta. The firm, he alleges, will now focus on building a virtual reality world in which all of us will work, play, and live, a vision ripped from 1990s dystopian science fiction writing. That this is a PR ploy to distract from Facebook’s myriad scandals is obvious, but I was struck by something else. Standing in a minimalist house presenting his vision of connecting people through a Ready Player One style virtual world, Zuckerberg seemed totally unchastened and unaffected by criticism of his corporation. He just doesn’t care about public anger. He sees himself as a builder, and builders build.

The third significant event also happened yesterday, and doesn’t immediately seem to involve Facebook. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco spoke to the American Bar Association’s National Institute on White Collar Crime to announce a new more aggressive take on corporate malfeasance, encouraging prosecutors to take on tough cases against corporate executives. “Accountability starts with the individuals responsible for criminal conduct,” she said. “A corporate culture that fails to hold individuals accountable, or fails to invest in compliance — or worse, that thumbs its nose at compliance — leads to bad results.”

As part of this shift, Monaco asserted that the Department of Justice would change its approach to corporate crime. Rather than only examining specific instances, prosecutors would look at “the full range of prior misconduct, not just a narrower subset of similar misconduct,” which includes “their whole criminal, civil and regulatory record.” In other words, if your company is full of scandals, then those scandals are a factor in whether the DOJ will come after you.

Well I’m going to connect the dots, because it is hard to imagine a corporation beset with more publicly exposed problems than Facebook.

Why Is Mark Zuckerberg Still Worth $100 Billion?

In fact, this scandal-ridden nature of the firm is *why* Zuckerberg doesn’t care about criticism. Getting criticized vehemently for most of us is unusual, but for Zuckerberg, it’s actually what he’s used to. From the very beginning, when Zuckerberg dismissed the privacy needs of Harvard students, through the controversies over surveillance in 2007 to the first Federal Trade Commission consent decree in 2011, to its $5 billion fine for violating that decree in 2019, all the way to this week’s revelations, Facebook has been mired in trouble, often revealed as skirting or flouting the law. Yet, over the last ten years, despite multiple antitrust suits, fines from regulators, and investigations worldwide, the only constant has been Mark Zuckerberg’s dominance, more market power for the firm, and a rising stock price.

It’s arguable that the scandals, rather than damaging the firm, are actually the reason that Facebook is the powerhouse it is today. It is Zuckerberg’s ruthlessness and willingness to grab market share through whatever means necessary that shows why he, and not the founders of Instagram or any of the hundreds of other companies Facebook bought, won the race to monopolize the social media industry, and why he is worth $100 billion and some other founder isn’t.

Such corporate dominance isn’t innate to a market system. Had social networking emerged in the 1960s, it would have turned out very differently, because much of what Zuckerberg did – such as buying competitors to monopolize an industry – would have been considered illegal. But dominance is innate to our current public policy framework, which has de facto legalized monopolization. (We don’t need to guess on counterfactuals; email, which is very similar to social networking, did emerge in the 1960s, and it is not monopolized.)

In other words, Facebook is a creature of public policy, specifically lax antitrust enforcement and a failure to regulate privacy. But Zuckerberg’s nonchalance about inducing harm is also a function of public policy. The causal factor here is our refusal to use criminal law against powerful individuals who have political and market power. The result is that Mark Zuckerberg and the various executives in his orbit may have committed multiple criminal activities, but he, and they, are unchastened and unbothered by public concern.

If we want to address this problem, then authorities must . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:49 am

The Kayak’s Cultural Journey

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Simon Morris has a fascinating article in Craftsmanship magazine about a Welsh artisan, Mike Morgan. The article begins:

1. A Disastrous Experiment   
2. Tuning a Boat     
3. The Magic of Symmetry    
4. The Kayak’s Comeback    
5. Who Owns the Kayak Story?   

What is the sound of a well-made kayak? The question might sound like an attempt at a Zen koan, but for the man at the center of this story—Mike Morgan, who makes skin boats as well as musical instruments—the question is a practical guide. Like those Zen puzzles, it’s also a productive question, pointing to a series of others: about the twists and turns that craft traditions often take, and whether a modern maker has any responsibility to knowledge that’s travelled a long way since it left the hands of the people who first generated it.

The town where Morgan lives and works—the hilltop community of Llantrisant, which sits a few miles northwest of Cardiff, the Welsh capital—is fertile ground for cultural explorations of this sort. Llantrisant’s history goes back to at least the Iron Age. The remains of a castle implicated in the 13th-century, Anglo-Norman conquest of Wales speaks of the town’s strategic position at the southern end of the valleys. Across the 19th century, this landscape was transformed from rugged pastoral into a begrimed engine room of Britain’s industrial revolution. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 October 2021 at 11:31 am

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