Later On

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Archive for November 21st, 2022

The Judge and the Case That Came Back to Haunt Him

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Jesse Barron reports in the NY Times (no paywall):

None of Anthony Kline’s colleagues had ever seen it happen. The most senior justice on California’s First District Court of Appeal, Kline was asking to be transferred to the juvenile bench, at the advanced age of 83. Juvenile was the scrappy place you started a career, not the triumphant place you ended one. But after four decades in appeals, Kline was feeling estranged from real life. He wanted to spend a year in juvie before retiring.

The First District was in a Beaux-Arts building next to San Francisco’s City Hall, with stone archways framed by lanterns. The juvenile court occupied a rundown 1950s building on Woodside Avenue next to a gas station, high on an isolated hill. Kline’s new courtroom was on the ground floor and had wood-laminate walls, hulking silver air-conditioners and mismatched office chairs. Forty years earlier, in 1981, he spent a year presiding over this same courtroom — one of his first judicial assignments.

Before arriving back at Woodside, Kline was given a one-week training course, meant for judges who were starting in juvenile for the first time. In a way, he was. Juvie had softened in the intervening years. In the 1980s, juvenile judges tended to track minors into detention, but today, the instructor explained, juvenile judges try to divert defendants into drug treatment, mental-health counseling or family therapy. A progressive throughout his career, Kline thought the changes were an enormous improvement.

On Kline’s docket, the cases looked like the ones he confronted 40 years earlier. Foster kids accused of stealing cars. Eighth graders caught in school with knives. A 15-year-old from the Potrero Hill projects who had somehow gotten his hands on a high-capacity weapon. If Kline had been looking for real life, he found it. The downstairs courtroom of Woodside Avenue was about as far from the abstract world of the appeals court as you could get.

Five weeks into his new role, Kline learned about a case coming his way, one in which the defendant was not a minor at all. She was a 58-year-old woman. When Kline sought an explanation, he learned that California had recently passed a bill to help reduce the state’s prison population through resentencing. Now, an inmate serving an inordinately long sentence for a crime committed as a minor could return to juvenile court and have the case reconsidered, once, by a juvenile judge. The defendant coming to Kline had served 41 years for a crime she committed at 17. Her name was Jamesetta Guy.

Kline recognized it. In 1981, during his year in juvenile court, he presided over the trial of a 15-year-old girl named Sharon Wright, who had participated in a botched robbery attempt in which a taxi driver was shot and killed. In the taxi with Wright there had been another girl: Jamesetta Guy. Kline sentenced Wright to eight years in juvenile custody, but he never learned what happened to Guy. Now he had the answer. Forty-one years. A staggering term, especially for someone convicted as a minor. Some adults with the same conviction would have paroled out 20 years ago. What led to this sentence, Kline saw, was almost everything that could go wrong for a juvenile defendant. She had no criminal history; the gun wasn’t hers; she grew up in a violently abusive home. The evidence didn’t show premeditated murder. And yet a judge in 1981 declared her “unfit” to be tried as a juvenile and tracked her into the adult system. By the time her name appeared on Kline’s calendar in 2022, Guy had been in prison as long as he had been a judge.

Guy’s ordeal seemed to confirm all of Kline’s theories about the California judicial system. His heroes were men like Brandeis and Marshall, the 20th-century liberal lions. He kept up with The New York Review of Books. A Black Lives Matter poster hung in the window of his Victorian home in Lower Pacific Heights. In 2019, Kline wrote the opinion in a First District case in which a prisoner serving life for a crime committed as a juvenile was suing the parole board for denying his release. Having failed to give “great weight” to the “diminished culpability of youth,” Kline wrote, the board had violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Kline noticed that the parole board denied Guy’s release in 2015, which gave him a grim kind of validation. And the fact that a judge had tracked her into the adult system in the first place only confirmed his nascent view that juveniles belonged in diversion whenever possible.

A few days before Guy’s new hearing, a public defender named Emily Goldman walked into Kline’s chambers to catch up. The public defender had offices in the same building as the courtrooms, so Goldman was a familiar presence. She settled into a chair in front of Kline’s desk. She said that her colleagues had been working on Guy’s case at the main office downtown. Looking through the file, they figured out the name of the judge who diverted Guy from juvenile court into the adult system. It was Kline.

He tried to make sense of this disorienting news. At the beginning of his career, he had closed the first link of the chain that ultimately sent away a 17-year-old for four decades. It cut against everything he believed in, yet he had done it. He couldn’t remember the details. The hearing would have lasted an hour, if that, on a busy morning at the very beginning of a long and rich career that came to involve hundreds and hundreds of cases, probably more than a thousand. As for the transcript, Goldman did not have it. Kline thought that maybe it was sealed because Guy was a minor. It could also have been lost. The California courts were not required to preserve the files in every run-of-the-mill case in which all appeals had been exhausted, as Guy’s had been in 1986.

At 9 a.m. on the appointed Monday, Guy walked into the downstairs courtroom and took her seat at the table. Kline ascended the steps to the bench. The last time they saw each other, in this same courtroom, she was a skinny, baby-faced teenager. He was a young judge — not a father yet, hair still black. Four decades had left their mark, adding pounds around their middles, flecking Guy’s eyebrows with gray. Kline’s blue eyes, under their bushy white eyebrows, peered down at Guy through his red-rimmed glasses.

“Do you remember me?” he said. . .

Continue reading. (no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 6:47 pm

Uh-oh. This looks bad: Monopolies and Cybersecurity Disasters

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

Today I’m writing about an ID software management roll-up, where the private equity billionaire responsible for the worst software hack in American history is trying to get into even more sensitive territory.

One common theme of this newsletter is how a finance-first mentality creates hidden risk, particularly in areas of opacity and interconnection, like in enterprise software, the systems that manage the flow of information throughout big corporations.

The guts of corporate America runs on this stuff, large bloated software packages tied together with duct tape and run by ornery techies nagging their superiors about potential problems. Microsoft has built a somehow-unnoticed set of giant monopolies here, but there are an endless number of parasites – from software integrators to management consultants – who feed at this trough. And why shouldn’t they? Most CEOs of big companies don’t care if they spend a few more pennies per seat on some random network access security feature. They have IT departments for that, or CTOs they can ignore. And so enterprise software is often vastly overpriced and of poor quality. But it’s a rounding error on the profit-and-loss statement, it just doesn’t matter.

Only, sometimes it does.

SolarWinds is one of these innumerable enterprise software parasites, it makes a cheap and ubiquitous network management service called Orion. As the CEO put it, “We manage everyone’s network gear.” And he wasn’t, as we would find out later, joking. In late 2020, SolarWinds, and as it turns out every major corporation, was at the center of a devastating Russian hack. The victims were the most important American institutions, from the FBI to the Department of Treasury to Cisco Systems, Intel, Nvidia, California hospitals, etc. Russians got access to Microsoft’s source code and into the Federal agency overseeing America’s nuclear stockpile.

Hackers put malware into updates that SolarWinds sent to clients. Since SolarWinds was everywhere, the malware went everywhere. We hear a lot about how difficult it is to avoid cybersecurity problems, but this particular catastrophe wasn’t some unavoidable natural disaster. SolarWind’s security practices were not, shall we say, top quality. One researcher had previously alerted the company that “anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123.’” It wasn’t just one instance of Spaceballs-style Dark Helmet idiocy, either. Lax security practices were common and systemic, so bad that the key advisor at the firm told them a security breach would be catastrophic, and eventually quit in frustration. For days after the firm was hacked SolarWinds continued to offer its software.

Why was SolarWinds such a poor quality software provider? The firm chose to underinvest in security, a result of a specific business model, which is designed to maximize cash flow while offloading risks, like vulnerabilities to hacking, onto others.. SolarWinds is owned by Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm which scoops up software companies in obscure areas where customers are locked in. In a puff piece in 2020, the Wall Street Journal covered the basic business model.

Thoma Bravo identifies software companies with a loyal customer base but middling profits and transforms them into moneymaking engines by retooling pricing, shutting down unprofitable business lines and adding employees in cheaper labor markets.

The firm then guides its companies to use the profits they generate to do add-on acquisitions, snapping up smaller rivals with offerings that they could spend months and millions of dollars trying to replicate.

Typically Thoma Bravo raises prices and cuts quality, but the affected constituency group – corporate IT managers – don’t have a lot of power or agency. Their superiors don’t want to think about a high-cost but low-probability event, especially if every other big institution would be hit as well. CEOs, ever since the turn to monopoly and finance in the early 1980s, have become bankers, not engineers. So the Thoma Bravo model works, because no one with power listens to the IT nerds offering sage warnings about software quality and risk.

What makes SolarWinds more than a catastrophe, and turns it into a scandal, is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 6:42 pm

Protect your dog from Thanksgiving dangers

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Medical

‘Golden billion,’ Putin’s favorite conspiracy, explains his worldview and strategy

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Charles Maynes reports at NPR:

As the war in Ukraine approaches the nine-month mark, Western governments have repeatedly accused Russia of imperialist expansionism, nuclear blackmail, weaponizing food, energy and winter — and a host of other hostilities that put the welfare of millions at risk.

Yet there’s an increasingly common counternarrative in Moscow that argues it is the West instead that intends to subject the masses to misery.

Welcome to the “golden billion.”

An idea that first emerged in the twilight years of the Soviet Union, the golden billion is a conspiracy theory that posits a cabal of 1 billion global elites seeks to hoard the world’s wealth and resources, leaving the rest of the planet to suffer and starve.

For years a fringe theory in Russia, the idea has been increasingly espoused by President Vladimir Putin and other top Kremlin officials as an attack line against the West amid a breakdown in relations over the conflict in Ukraine.

“The model of total domination of the so-called golden billion is unfair. Why should this golden billion of the globe dominate over everyone and impose its own rules of behavior?” Putin asked in a speech last July.

Putin went on to describe the alleged plot as “racist and neocolonial in its essence” — a way for the West to divide the world into superior and “second-rate” nations.

The Kremlin dusts off an old plot

Theories — and conspiracies — about economic inequality and the cut-throat competition for global wealth and resources are nothing new.

But analysts say the Kremlin has increasingly exploited the golden billion theory to deflect the notion of Russia as isolated and alone amid what Moscow calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Instead of Russia facing international condemnation over its actions in Ukraine, the theory attempts to place Moscow at the center of . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 5:05 pm

Source of the problem

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 4:48 pm

Amy Coney Barrett urged to step away from gay rights case because of faith affiliation

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The US Supreme Court has some serious problems, which it is working hard to avoid recognizing or doing anything about. Stephanie Kirchgaessner writes in the Guardian:

Former members of Amy Coney Barrett’s secretive faith group, the People of Praise, are calling on the US supreme court justice to recuse herself from an upcoming case involving gay rights, saying Barrett’s continued affiliation with the Christian group means she has participated in discriminatory policies against LGBTQ+ people.

The former members are part of a network of “survivors” of the controversial charismatic group who say Barrett’s “lifelong and continued” membership in the People of Praise make her too biased to fairly adjudicate an upcoming case that will decide whether private business owners have a right to decline services to potential clients based on their sexual orientation.

They point to Barrett’s former role on the board of Trinity Schools Inc, a private group of Christian schools that is affiliated with the People of Praise and, in effect, barred children of same-sex parents from attending the school.

A faculty guide published in 2015, the year Barrett joined the board, said “blatant sexual immorality” – which the guide said included “homosexual acts” – had “no place in the culture of Trinity Schools”. The discriminatory policies were in place before and after Barrett joined.

The schools’ attitude, the former People of Praise members said, reflect the Christian group’s staunchly anti-gay beliefs and adherence to traditional family values, including – they say – expelling or ostracizing members of the People of Praise “community” who came out as gay later in life or their gay children.

“I don’t believe that someone in her position, who is a member of this group, could put those biases aside, especially in a decision like the one coming up,” said Maura Sullivan, a 46-year-old who was raised in the People of Praise community in South Bend, Indiana. Sullivan identifies as bisexual and recalls coming out to her parents, who were members of the People of Praise, when she was 19.

“They decided that I wasn’t allowed to be around my sister, who was 13 at the time, without them around, because I could ‘influence’ her in bad ways. Stuff like that. So I had a tenuous relationship with my family,” she said. “To be cut off from my family was the ultimate loss of community.” Sullivan and her parents, who are no longer members of the faith group, have since repaired their relationship, she said.

Questions about the People of Praise’s attitude toward LGBTQ+ members and their families, and Trinity Schools’ policies, have resurfaced because the supreme court will hear oral arguments on 5 December in the case of 303 Creative LLC v Elenis.

It centers on a Christian website developer, Lori Smith, who has claimed an anti-discrimination law in Colorado has violated her right to free speech over same-sex marriage, which she says goes against her religious faith. Smith has said the Colorado law has forced her to “create messages that go against my deeply held beliefs” since she cannot legally turn away gay couples seeking her website services.

Barrett said in her confirmation hearing that her personal religious beliefs would not interfere with her abilities to be an unbiased judge. Conservatives have also lashed out against any suggestion that her affiliation with a Christian sect could compromise her independence.

But some former members of the faith group say . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 4:04 pm

Narcissism and Fraudulence

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Anthony Eagan, a research fellow at the Santa Fe Institute, where he studies aesthetics and epistemology, has an interesting article (which includes a couple of videos) in Quillette that at certain points brought Elon Musk to mind:

The phrase “confidence man,” or “con man,” was coined on the morning of July 8th, 1849, in the “Police Intelligence” section of the New York Herald. A short article there, entitled “Arrest of the Confidence Man,” detailed the apprehension of a crook named William Thompson, whose swindle involved approaching well-to-do individuals and engaging them in friendly conversation. After developing some rapport, Thompson would ask: “Have you confidence enough in me to trust me with your watch until tomorrow?” As the Herald article has it, Thompson’s target, “at this novel request, supposing him to be some old acquaintance not at that moment recollected, allows him to take the watch, thus placing ‘confidence’ in the honesty of the stranger.”

Thompson was arrested when one of his former marks spotted him on the street and summoned a nearby police officer. After serving a sentence for larceny, Thompson fled Manhattan and reappeared in Albany, calling himself Samuel Willis, and resuming his confidence games. News of his exploits occasioned Herman Melville’s final novel, The Confidence Manwhich takes place on April Fool’s Day, 1857. The setting is a Mississippi riverboat called The Fidele, and the action centers on an extensive scammer who, under a variety of disguises and assumed identities, tries to fleece a whole spectrum of characters from American life. It seems that something more fundamental than money is at stake for the Confidence Man. The game is trust, a concept whose role is ambiguous: society cannot function without it, and yet it is the precondition for deception. Given this dilemma, one of Melville’s purposes is to show how the swindle is a relationship—that it takes two to tango—and that the greed and vanity of a swindler’s victim are like an invitation to dance. But above all else, Melville’s novel raises the question of what motivates the con artist aside from opportunism and the chance to make a few dollars. As the narrator puts it, “Was the man a trickster, it must be more for the love than the lucre. Two or three dirty dollars the motive to so many wiles?”

No doubt many con artists believe themselves justified in their deceit because of the hypocrisy and greed of their intended victims. Often an integral motivational element for con artists is hostility towards the corrupt structures of society, either because of the manner in which it excludes or neglects them, or because its power structures exploit and waste their potential with little reciprocal reward. If a loophole can be found, then why not exploit it in return? Resentment and contempt can be as catalyzing as greed, ambition, and intellectual pride. Clearly, when all of these are active within a single individual who sees an opportunity to fleece a society’s enthusiasts or adherents, no further justification is needed. For victimized minds, two wrongs make a right.

But such swindlers are of considerably less psychological interest than the even more pathological types who appear to bear no resentment towards those they wish to fleece—and who acquire no wealth from their deceptive activities. Whereas traditional confidence artists appear to play the game consciously, with a view to revenge, exposure, or wily one-upmanship, there is a category of deceiver whose imposture appears to be motivated by the will to deceive themselves more so than others. In such cases, self-resentment and self-loathing may be more dominant than a vengeful or Socratic social attitude.

One of the strangest examples of this more pathological type of con artist is Tania Head, the woman who claimed to have been in the Sky Lobby on the 76th floor of the South World Trade Center Tower when the second plane struck. Together with an actual 9/11 survivor named Gerry Bogacz, Tania Head formed the WTC Survivors Network, a sort of trauma-support system. Eventually, she squeezed Bogacz from the board and maneuvered herself to the position of president. She gave guided tours at ground zero, telling groups and even the media of her harrowing experience: how she was thrown across the room from the explosive impact; how she emerged from unconsciousness to find Welles Crowther, the famous man in the red bandana, patting out the fire scorching her arm; how she was carried to safety just before the second tower collapsed; how a fireman guided her under a truck to avoid the falling rubble; and how she slipped into a coma only to awaken five days later in a hospital bed. She also told of how her husband, Dave, had been killed when the first tower collapsed, making her a double-victim.

The documentary The Woman Who Wasn’t There chronicles Head’s rise to prominence in the world of 9/11 survivors and her fall from fraudulent grace. In many of the film’s interviews, we see her former friends and companions discussing how integral she had been in comforting them and helping them through the trauma, how compassionate she was, how strong and supportive and admirable. Over time, however, as Head grew more ruthless in her victimhood, her façade began to crack. Bogacz and others grew increasingly suspicious, and a series of

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 4:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Psychology

Best Mashed Potatoes

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Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 1:59 pm

Twitter’s continuing meltdown as Elon Musk makes a fool of himself in public

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The French head of Twitter, who’s been with the company for seven years, quit this morning, saying, “It’s over.” And Robert Reich has an interesting piece in the Guardian, pointing out the different meaning of “assets” in (say) a steel-making plant and a software company. Reich writes:

When Elon Musk bought Twitter for $44bn, he clearly didn’t know that the key assets he was buying lay in Twitter’s 7,500 workers’ heads.

On corporate balance sheets, the assets of a corporation are its factories, equipment, patents and brand name.

Workers aren’t considered assets. They appear as costs. In fact, payrolls are typically two-thirds of a corporation’s total costs. Which is why companies often cut payrolls to increase profits.

The reason for this is corporations have traditionally been viewed as production systems. Assets are things that corporations own, which turn inputs – labor, raw materials and components – into marketable products.

Reduce the costs of these inputs, and – presto – each product generates more profit. Or that’s been the traditional view.

Yet today, increasingly, corporations aren’t just production systems. They’re systems for directing the know-howknow-whatknow-where and know-why of the people who work within them.

A large and growing part of the value of a corporation now lies in the heads of its workers – heads that know how to innovate, know what needs improvement, know where the company’s strengths and vulnerabilities are found, and know why the corporation succeeds (or doesn’t).

These are becoming the key assets of today’s corporations – human assets that can’t be owned, as are factories, equipment, patents and brands. They must be motivated.

So when Musk fired half of Twitter’s workers, then threatened to fire any remaining dissenters and demanded that the rest pledge to accept “long hours at high intensity” – leading to the resignations last week of an estimated 1,200 additional Twitter employees – he began to destroy what he bought.

Now he’s panicking. Last week he tried to hire back some of the people he fired. On Friday he sent emails to Twitter employees asking that “anyone who actually writes software” report in, and that he wanted to learn about Twitter’s “tech stack” (its software and related systems).

But even if Musk gets this information, he probably won’t be able to save Twitter.

With most of Twitter’s employees gone, most of its know-how to prevent outages and failures during high-traffic events is also gone, as is most of its know-what is necessary to maintain and enhance computing architecture, most of its know-where to guard against cyber-attacks, and most of its know-why hate speech (and other awful stuff advertisers want to avoid) is getting through its filters and what to do about it.

Without this knowledge and talent, Twitter . . .

Continue reading.

And another look at Musk as a person and a boss — a withering look, I would say.

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 12:59 pm

Extro, a new-to-me shaving soap, and the Parker Semi-Slant

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Shaving set-up, left to right: Monarch silvertip badger brush, tub of Extro shaving soap with a label being a drawing of two WW I era pilots looking directly at the viewer, and Barrister & Mann Reserve Classic aftershave. In front, on its side, a double-edge razor with blue handle.

I had never heard of the brand Extro, but it looked intriguing. New England Shaving Company offers a variety. I decided to buy a tub of 17 Stormo:

Woody, aromatic fragrance that boldly contrasts mysterious, erotic, and warm aromas with top notes of black pepper and with hints of heliotropies, resins, and coffee and with a background of incense, oudh, amber, musk, and red pepper. 

The fragrance sounds interesting, but the clincher was the look those two guys were giving me, if they were coolly appraising me, deciding whether I passed must. Also, I was intrigued by what little was said about the ingredients:

100% vegetable based and free from parabens/harsh alcohols, the shaving creams are enriched with Q10, Royal Jelly, Calendula Oil, and other natural ingredients.

Top view of an open jar of shaving soap, gray in color, the word EXTRO stamped into the soap.

Unfortunately, there is not a simple ingredient list, but that sounded promising. The soap comes in a thick, heavy glass tub (like RazoRock’s The Dead Sea or Martin de Candre or Meißner Tremonia). The top of the soap was stamped (shown at right), much as Tallow + Steel once was, and Meißner Tremonia. It’s a finishing touch that appeals to me: the maker putting their mark on the product.

So how does the soap perform? Extremely well. It provides a rich and thick lather that feels very nice on my skin and provides excellent glide, and the fragrance did prove to be present and pleasing. Altogether, it was a pleasure, and I think I’ll buy another tub of this at some point. You can’t have too many shaving soaps, right?

My Parker Semi-Slant, mounted here on a Yaqi handle, quickly and easily stripped away the weekend stubble, and a splash of Barrister & Mann’s Classic Reserve aftershave finished the job. A great way to start the week.

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Queen Victoria: “First blended in honour of Queen Victoria, this is one of Murchie’s oldest blends: rich Darjeeling and Ceylon, smoky Lapsang Souchong, and sweet Jasmine.”

Written by Leisureguy

21 November 2022 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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