22 June 2024

Today In Experimental Archeology

A relatively rare bronze armor has been shown to be effective in combat.

It had been thought to be purely ceremonial, but this (admittedly quite expensive) looks to be quite effective:

The Dendra armor, one of the oldest suits of bronze armor ever found, had been considered a purely ceremonial piece. It seemed impossible to use in battle due to its cumbersome design.

It took over a decade of research, elaborate numerical models, and 13 Greek marines fighting in it from dawn till dusk to prove it was surprisingly good at its job, despite its odd appearance. “This made the Mycenaean warriors some of the best equipped in the Eastern Mediterranean in the Late Bronze Age,” says professor Andreas Flouris, a researcher at the University of Thessaly, who led the study.

………

“The Mycenaeans were an ancient Greek civilization that flourished during the late Bronze Age, roughly from 1600 BC to 1100 BC,” explains Ken Wardle, an archeologist at the University of Birmingham and co-author of the study. With their power centered around major cities like Mycenae, Thebes, Tiryns, and Pylos, the Mycenaeans peaked between 1400 BCE and 1200 BCE, when they occupied much of mainland Greece and gained influence over Aegean islands and Asia Minor.

The Dendra armor, a full-body bronze plate suit made by the Mycenaeans in 1450 BCE, was found in a tomb in the early 1960s in the village of Dendra, in southern Greece, just a few kilometers from the ancient city of Mycenae. Right off the bat, it caused a lot of turmoil in the research community.

 

The first step Flouris’ team took to design an experiment was to figure out what the daily ordeal of Greek soldiers fighting in the Trojan War looked like. Here, Homeric epics, properly filtered, proved quite helpful. “We analyzed Homer’s Iliad and combined the information that we extracted with physiological and biometeorological knowledge to create an 11-hour combat simulation replicating activities performed by elite warriors in the Late Bronze Age,” Flouris explains.

His team assumed the Trojan War happened in June between 1300 BCE and 1200 BCE, south of the southwest mouth of the Dardanelles Strait and northwest of Mount Ida. Given that, it was possible to figure out the conditions in which it was fought: sunrise was at 4:37 am, and the sunset was at 7:37 pm. The temperature ranged from 23.8° to 29.1° Celsius, and the humidity fell between 69.6 and 85.1 percent. The armies moved out of their camps after breakfast, performed weapons checks, and held commanders’ meetings, being ready for battle by roughly 2.5 hours after sunrise. Then, the Greeks marched roughly four kilometers to reach the walls of Troy, where the fighting happened.

The battle formations included the “promachoi”—the foremost fighters who formed the first line—and the “plithos,” men that were staying in the rear. The warriors took turns in the first line and then retreated to the rear to rest. Toward the end of the day, the armies disengaged and returned to their camps. The army operations lasted 11 hours each day.

During those 11 hours, a typical warrior in Homeric tales would go through 31 one-versus-one duels, 10 encounters with the enemy on a chariot, two chariot-versus-chariot engagements, and one chariot-versus-warrior-on-ship encounter (a ranged battle where the warrior defended beached ships from charging chariots). The composition of this ordeal was inferred from statistical analysis of fights in The Iliad. Each of those scenarios included a fair share of spear throws, sword strikes, shooting arrows, and spear strikes, all performed in full body armor. Overall, the whole day was effectively a long, high-intensity interval exercise.

“So, we asked a group of special-armed forces personnel wearing a replica of the Dendra armor to complete this protocol,” says Flouris. The 13 marines who volunteered were trained in historical combat, fitted with sensors that monitored their performance, and fed roughly 4,500 calories worth of goat cheese, roasted meat, olives, bread, water, wine, and other Bronze Age culinary delicacies. And then they had a go at it. 

………

All 13 soldiers were able to complete the protocol. They found it exhausting but doable. Their heart rates remained normal; their blood glucose concentration, blood lactate levels, reaction times to visual and auditory stimuli, core body temperatures, and other metrics all turned out okay. The armor did not hinder their performance too much, and it did a good job of protecting vital body parts. The research team also did numerical modeling that simulated heat dissipation at fighting intensities that were impossible to do with human participants due to safety reasons; this also confirmed the Dendra armor worked.

“We demonstrated that armor of this type was suitable for use in battle, not just purely ceremonial. The efficacy and variety of Mycenaean swords and spears have long been recognized. The addition of heavy armor [would have] given elite Mycenaean warriors considerable advantage over those with a shield only for defense or with the lighter scale armor in use in the Middle East,” Flouris says. Moreover, the elite fighting force wearing Dendra-style armor would have been brought to the front lines on chariots, which meant they were coming in well-rested.

Seriously neat.

This Sounds an Awful Like the Height of the Dotcom Boom

Do you remember the search engine that rolled out in the late 1990s iWon.com?

Their special sauce, and they literally called it that, was that they were going to have a raffle for all the folks who did searches every month.

If that sounds insane, it was, but they got funding, because ……… Internet.

Well now, Wells Fargo just lost its shirt on an equally bonkers concept, a a rewards credit card that people can use to pay the rent.

As you may be aware, landlords generally do not take credit cards, because they have no interest in paying credit card fees.

The trick that Wells Fargo bought into, proposed by fintech startup Bilt Technologies, is that they eat the various interchange fees, and frequently charge the card and send the landlord a check.

They offered rewards on the card as well, in order to lure in consumers.

They figured that people would keep large balances on their cards, and they would make money from the interest payments.

It turns out that people don't want to go into debt to pay the rent:

Bilt CEO Ankur Jain two years ago helped launch the Bilt credit card issued by Wells Fargo. Photo: Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images

When Charlie Scharf took over as CEO of Wells Fargo, one of his priorities was to expand the bank’s credit-card business. Now, a flashy partnership with a startup is complicating a high-profile part of that strategy.

In 2022, Wells launched a credit card with Bilt Technologies, a fintech startup with big-name backers including Blackstone and Mastercard. The co-branded card came with a rare perk: Users can pay for rent with it without incurring fees from their landlords while also earning rewards points. More than one million accounts were activated in the first 18 months, many by young adults.

But Wells is losing as much as $10 million every month on the program as savvy customers flock to the card, according to current and former employees. Executives made internal projections on key revenue drivers, such as the likelihood that cardholders would carry balances, that turned out to be inaccurate.

………

The credit-card program helped catapult Bilt’s valuation to $3.1 billion in a January fundraising round, up from $1.5 billion in late 2022. Ken Chenault, the former longtime American Express chief executive officer, joined Bilt’s board this year. Wells itself has invested at least $20 million in Bilt, according to people familiar with the matter, an unusual arrangement in the world of credit cards.

The partnership has helped lift 34-year-old Bilt CEO Ankur Jain to billionaire status.

Of course Mr. Jain came out of this with over a billion dollars.  

People are buying his bullsh%$.

………

About six months after the credit card was launched, Wells began paying Bilt a fee of about 0.80% of each rent transaction, even though the bank isn’t collecting interchange fees from landlords.

So Wells Fargo was paying Bilt to lose them money.

………

Some Wells employees thought the proposition was crazy, but the bank needed a win and figured Bilt would garner buzz and help attract younger customers. A deal also presented mortgage cross-selling opportunities. Bilt’s cardholders will ultimately want to become homeowners, the thought process at Wells went, and the bank would be well-positioned to give them mortgages.

That hasn’t come to pass, and at any rate, Wells has pulled back from mortgage lending.

Few projections that Wells had for the card have panned out. The bank assumed around 65% of card-purchase volume would be nonrent, generating interchange-fee revenue. The reality is inverted.

Wells expected that around half to three-fourths of dollars charged to the card would carry over from month to month, generating interest charges. The reality ranges between around 15% and 25%.

Many customers would pay their rent off within a few days of charging it to their cards, weeks before their statements arrived—a strategy savvy cardholders use just to earn points.

Gee, no one could have predicted that!

Also, fraud and money laundering, because that's an integral feature of most fintech:

………

The program has also been hit by fraud. Random account numbers and expiration dates are generated when new cards are given to customers, but the process for the Bilt card wasn’t so random, which opened the door to swindlers. Last summer, they created fake Bilt card accounts and went shopping with them, leading to losses for Wells.

The partnership also poses money-laundering risk, which the companies have worked to address. When consumers charge rent to their cards, a third-party company sends a check for that amount to the person or entity the cardholder says is the landlord. 

Of course they did.  Fintech ignores the centuries of experience, because, "It's different this time!"

It's never different. 

One Down, Two to Go

Robert Winnett, the ethically compromised "Journalist" who was selected by Washington Post CEO and Publisher, ethically compromised "Journalist" Will Lewis to be the executive editor, has decided not to take the position, and to remain inn London at The Daily Telegraph.

Hopefully, Lewis and the final member of Lewis' troika Matt Murray, will be out shortly as well:

Robert Winnett, the British journalist recently tapped to become editor of The Washington Post later this year, will not take the job and will remain at the Daily Telegraph in London, according to a company email sent to Post employees Friday morning.

The change of plans comes after days of turmoil surrounding The Post, triggered by the abrupt exit of executive editor Sally Buzbee on June 2 and questions about past journalistic practices of both Winnett and William Lewis, The Post’s CEO and publisher.

Lewis had announced Winnett’s hiring when Buzbee departed just 2½ weeks ago, along with plans for a “third newsroom” that would be tasked with attracting new audiences. Under the plan, former Wall Street Journal editor Matt Murray came on board to run news coverage until Winnett’s arrival, at which point Murray would have handed the reins to Winnett and run the new division in November after the election.

Murray took over June 3 and was introduced to the newsroom; Winnett, who oversees news coverage at the Telegraph as a deputy editor, had not yet met The Post staff and was almost entirely unknown in American media circles.

What is going on here is very simple:  Jeff Bezos is trying to re-imagine the Washington Post in his own image.

Unfortunately, that means turning it into an Amazon "Fulfillment Center".

No

It is fairly clear now that Boeing violated the settlement relating to the B-737 MAX crashes, which means that they could be charged criminally for this behavior, but it appears that the Department of Justice will give them another chance.

No.  Just no.

You need a criminal prosecution with senior executives in personal criminal jeopardy: 

The Justice Department is considering allowing Boeing to avoid criminal prosecution for violating the terms of a 2021 settlement related to problems with the company’s 737 Max 8 model that led to two deadly plane crashes in 2018 and 2019, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The department is expected to make a decision on the case by the end of the month. Prosecutors have not made a final call, nor have they ruled out bringing charges against Boeing or negotiating a possible plea deal in which the company admits some culpability, the people said.

It is possible that any negotiated resolution — either in the form of an agreement to defer prosecution or a plea deal in which the company would admit wrongdoing — would include the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee the company’s safety protocols.

Yes, it is possible that if Boeing is tried criminally they may be found not guilty. 

That does not matter.  If prosecutors never file a criminal case because they fear losing, any deterrent effect is lost.

………

Federal prosecutors said in May that Boeing had violated a previous deferred prosecution agreement by failing to set up and maintain a program to detect and prevent violations of U.S. anti-fraud laws. The settlement was reached in 2021, after Boeing admitted in court that two of its employees had misled federal air safety regulators about a part that was at fault in the two crashes.

The aircraft manufacturer’s violation of that settlement allowed the Justice Department to file criminal charges. But some department officials have expressed concern that bringing criminal charges against Boeing would be too legally risky. Officials see the appointment of an independent watchdog as a quicker, more efficient way to ensure that the troubled company improves safety, manufacturing and quality control procedures.

Officials are chicken sh%$s.  You need to convict them, which, in addition to opening up the aerospace manufacturer to additional civil liability, would make criminal prosecutions of the executives responsible for this more, well, responsible.

Also, any settlement, or judgement for that matter, which allows Boeing to continue to execute stock buy-backs should be a complete non-starter as well.

Now There is a Surprise

It turns out that the the favorite scholar for pro-gun jurists to turn to, one William English, Ph.D., political economist is bought and paid for by the gun lobby.

Now there is a shocker:

In the battle to dismantle gun restrictions, raging in America’s courts even as mass shootings become commonplace, one name keeps turning up in the legal briefs and judges’ rulings: William English, Ph.D.

A little-known political economist at Georgetown University, Dr. English conducted a largest-of-its-kind national survey that found gun owners frequently used their weapons for self-defense. That finding has been deployed by gun rights activists to notch legal victories with far-reaching consequences.

He has been cited in a landmark Supreme Court case that invalidated many restrictions on guns, and in scores of lawsuits around the country to overturn limits on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and the carrying of firearms. His findings were also offered in another Supreme Court case this term, with a decision expected this month.

Dr. English seems at first glance to be an impartial researcher interested in data-driven insights. He has said his “scholarly arc” focuses on good public policy, and his lack of apparent ties to the gun lobby has lent credibility to his work.

But Dr. English’s interest in firearms is more than academic: He has received tens of thousands of dollars as a paid expert for gun rights advocates, and his survey work, which he says was part of a book project, originated as research for a National Rifle Association-backed lawsuit, The New York Times has found.

He has also increasingly drawn scrutiny in some courts over the reliability and integrity of his unpublished survey, which is the core of his research, and his refusal to disclose who paid for it. Other researchers say that the wording of some questions could elicit answers overstating defensive gun use, and that he cherry-picked pro-gun responses.

What? The NRA accused of commissioning a corrupt study?  I would not expect that the organization, having already lost one corruption trial, could possibly be beyond such a thing.

Dr. English’s National Firearms Survey has figured prominently in a broad gun rights campaign that has transformed the law. The effort is driven by litigation and sometimes questionable scholarship, backed with millions of dollars in dark money flowing through nonprofits that often exist only on paper.

The lofty-sounding Center for Human Liberty, created just in time to file a 2021 pro-gun Supreme Court brief jointly with Dr. English, has no staff and uses a rent-by-the-hour office provider in Las Vegas. The Constitutional Defense Fund, with a UPS Store in Virginia as its address, has served as a conduit for anonymous donations to Second Amendment groups, law firms and Dr. English.

Based on the full listing of questions provided in the article, it appears that his study was deliberately deceptive, and whether or not this was motivated by pecuniary interests, this behavior does appear to be sloppy at best, and more likely unethical.

It appears that Dr. English does not (yet) have tenure at Georgetown.  

Perhaps alumni and potential donors might suggest to the school that a deeper dive into his oeuvre  might be justified.

Headline of the Day

GOP Michigan Rep and Gun-Rights Supporter Neil Friske Accused of Chasing a Stripper While Firing a Gun
New York Post

Normally, I am loath to quote the New York Post, but credit where is credit is due, they do GREAT headlines.

You probably want to go with this report of the incident, because it's is both more informative, better written, and it shows a real life example of the, "He got drunk and fell out of a guard tower," joke.

Nothing good happens in Lansing Michigan at 2:45 AM. Probably three extra words in that sentence.

I’m friends with one of the police officers who was on the scene. ALLEGEDLY, Friske solicited a local stripper and brought her home. They had a fight in his room, and he fired a gun toward her. She called the cops and ran. Cops intercepted them both separately on the street.

A friend who works for the Michigan legislature fills in a few details:

– he succeeded former Speaker Lee Chatfield in the 107th. Lee was often seen at a different Lansing strip club and had issues with handguns too. Friske decided to combine the two

– Friske has a serious primary challenger who has legit endorsements and funding

– Friske’s immigrant father was a former state rep (for one term in 1971-72, he lost in the 72 primary). His father was a Bircher and later in life donated to David Duke. His father noted on his campaign literature that he was a World War II veteran. Without mentioning that he was in the Luftwaffe. Dad also said former Governor Bill Milliken was part of an international satanic conspiracy.

– recently the younger Friske was one of the few to vote against legislation banning deep fake celeb porn

For those of you who don't know the original joke, here it is:

Person 1: My grandfather died at Auschwitz.

Person 2: I'm so sorry for you.

Person 1: Yeah, he got drunk and fell out of the guard tower.

I never thought that I would see a real life example of this, but it appears that the Fiske family has gone above and beyond to do this.

 

21 June 2024

Learning Nothing

Once again, the public health establishment, with an assist from the USDA, is completely fumbling tracking of a new deadly disease, in this case, Avian flu, which, in case I have not mentioned it, currently has a mortality rate of about 50% among humans.

They aren't tracking it, because it's voluntary for farmers, because the Department of Agriculture is more interested in protecting farmers, particularly the large corporate megafarms, than it is in protecting the population from the next catastrophic pandemic:

Reliance on individual dairy farmers to help track the spread of avian flu is leaving the federal government without the data necessary to understand — and slow — the virus’ spread in the U.S.

The biggest challenge for the federal response, agriculture and public health officials told POLITICO, is that the more the virus spreads among dairy cows, the more opportunity it has to mutate and become easier to jump to additional humans. The number of documented infected dairy herds in recent weeks has risen rapidly — and several other states have confirmed initial infections in cows.

But many dairy farmers are declining to test their cows, leaving the nation vulnerable to a situation in which federal officials won’t have adequate warning if the virus evolves and poses a greater risk of infection to people. 

“The longer this is prevalent in animal farms and livestock operations across the state, the greater the opportunity is for future mutations in animals or human risks in different ways going forward,” said Tim Boring, who heads the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Michigan, a state with two confirmed human cases to date as it deals with a major bird flu outbreak among poultry and now dairy herds.

The federal response is largely focusing on voluntary efforts by farmers to help track and contain the outbreak. But many farms still have not signed up for USDA efforts to boost surveillance and testing for the virus. To date, 94 herds across 12 states have tested positive for bird flu, but the testing has covered a mere fraction of the nation’s nine million dairy cattle. Only about 45 exposed and symptomatic humans have been tested for avian flu, CDC Principal Deputy Director Nirav Shah said in a Thursday briefing with reporters.

Mark Lyons, a senior USDA animal health official, said federal officials are “still working closely to understand the breadth” of the bird flu outbreak in the nation’s dairy herds.

No they are not working closely to understand the breadth of the outbreak, they are doing their best to avoid a situation where farmers will be forced to cull herds because of the infection.

The solution is simple, mandate testing, develop criteria for culling herds, and provide restitution to the farmers who lose their herds in this way.

Of course, they will never do that.  That would be communism.

7 Fat Years, then 7 Lean Years

Economist Isabella Weber, best known as one of the first people to point out the phenomenon of  "Greedflation" is now saying that significant caches of grain should stockpiled to account for anthropogenic climate change driven agricultural collapse.

If this sounds familiar, that's because it sounds like Joseph's interpretations of Pharaoh's dreams in the bible:

Isabella Weber, the economist who ignited controversy with a bold proposal to implement strategic price controls at the peak of inflation and identified corporate profits as a driver of high prices, has proposed a new measure that could prevent food shortages and price gouging in the wake of another disruption of the global supply chains.

Weber’s new paper, published on Thursday, looks at how grain prices spiked in 2022 as Covid snagged supply chains and Russia invaded Ukraine. The price hikes helped to drive record profits for corporations while pushing inflation higher and increasing global hunger. In the paper, Weber and colleagues call for the creation of buffer stocks of grain that could be released during shortages or emergencies to ease price pressures.

Such a system would quell the volatility that is a hallmark of the grain market and keep food prices down, said Weber, the paper’s lead author and an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts.

My alma mater, but whatever.

………

Weber’s previous work on inflation went viral after the Guardian published her opinion piece. Her views were pilloried by some leading economists and rightwing media but have since gained support from policymakers and other economists.

A new entity proposed by Weber and her co-author, Merle Schulken, would work similarly to how the Biden administration has wielded the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to limit price spikes and collapses in the oil market. When demand for oil is strong and prices climb, the government can use its oil reserves to help bring prices down. When demand is weak and prices fall so low that pumping more oil becomes unprofitable, the government buys and stores barrels in its reserve.

In effect, a grain reserve could set a ceiling on prices to protect consumers, while establishing a floor to shield farmers when grain prices collapse.

Though the concept could work for most commodities, Weber focused on grains because they are easy to store and their prices affect other foods, like meat.

Her mouth to God's ear, I guess, or maybe it's the other way around.

20 June 2024

Ecch (Tweet) Of the Day

If one looks at cryptocurrency, the only efficient use of the technology is for money laundering.

We can also see social media companies steadfastly refusing to make the smallest attempts to address criminal conduct on their platform, things like Snapchat becoming a favorite platform for dope dealing, or Facebook blithely facilitating genocide, it is pretty clear that tech companies are knowingly acting as support infrastructure from criminality, because that is where the money is

Bullsh%$

So I came across this story about the adoption of electronic shelf labels, which allows for price changes to be changed in a matter of seconds.

The technology is fairly simple, but the application of this technology is concerning.

Basically this technology is tailor made for price gouging (they like to call it surge pricing).

Of course, they claim that they would never do that:

Grocery store prices are changing faster than ever before — literally. This month, Walmart became the latest retailer to announce it’s replacing the price stickers in its aisles with electronic shelf labels. The new labels allow employees to change prices as often as every ten seconds.

“If it’s hot outside, we can raise the price of water and ice cream. If there's something that’s close to the expiration date, we can lower the price — that’s the good news,” said Phil Lempert, a grocery industry analyst.
No, Mr. Lempert, it is not good news, it is evidence that you have no human decency.

It's price gouging, and it is a contemptible and morally indefensible business practice, and I guarantee you that it will be used to adjust prices based on things like protected demographic status, i.e. race, because that is already what happens in things like the Gypsy cab companies and vacation rental apps.

………

As higher wages make labor more expensive, retailers big and small can benefit from the increased productivity that digitized shelf labels enable, said Santiago Gallino, a professor specializing in retail management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

That is a legitimate reason to adopt a system, there will be significant labor savings, at least if the systems are sufficiently reliable and have sufficient battery life,  The application looks very well suited to something like E-Ink, which only draws power when the display is changed.

But then, Mr. Gallino veers into the realm of corporate ass-kissing bullsh%$:

While the labels give retailers the ability to increase prices suddenly, Gallino doubts companies like Walmart will take advantage of the technology in that way.

“To be honest, I don’t think that’s the underlying main driver of this,” Gallino said. “These are companies that tend to have a long-term relationship with their customers and I think the risk of frustrating them could be too risky, so I would be surprised if they try to do that.”
No. Mr. Gallino.  If a technology gives the business an opportunity to generate a few more pennies of profit from abusing their customer, business will use this to abuse their customer.

Just look at the interminable automated voice mail systems.

They turn customer service into agony, but it saves some money, but it reduces customer support costs, and reduces the number of customers who make claims or make refunds, so it's everywhere.

Well, Ain't That a F%$# You

Like many firms, Dell has been pushing to get its employees back into the office.

They recently announced that if employees do not return to the office at least 3 days a week, they will not be eligible for promotions or to apply for different jobs at the PC manufacturer.

The response of ½ of those remoter workers has been to tell Michael Dell to go Cheney himself:

Big tech companies are still trying to rally workers back into physical offices, and many workers are still not having it. Based on a recent report, computer-maker Dell has stumbled even more than most.

Dell announced a new return-to-office initiative earlier this year. In the new plan, workers had to classify themselves as remote or hybrid.

Those who classified themselves as hybrid are subject to a tracking system that ensures they are in a physical office 39 days a quarter, which works out to close to three days per work week.

Alternatively, by classifying themselves as remote, workers agree they can no longer be promoted or hired into new roles within the company.

Business Insider claims it has seen internal Dell tracking data that reveals nearly 50 percent of the workforce opted to accept the consequences of staying remote, undermining Dell's plan to restore its in-office culture.

The publication spoke with a dozen Dell employees to hear their stories as to why they chose to stay remote, and a variety of reasons came up. Some said they enjoyed more free time and less strain on their finances after going remote, and nothing could convince them to give that up now. Others said their local offices had closed since the pandemic or that they weren't interested in promotions.

Others still noted that it seemed pointless to go in to an in-person office when the teams they worked on were already distributed across multiple offices around the world, so they'd mostly still be on Zoom calls anyway.

………

Many interviewed admitted they were looking for work at other companies that aren't trying to corral employees back into the office.
The pandemic has engendered a major change in the relationship between employers and employers.

Employees have come to the realization that sacrificing their finances and well being for the demands of an employer are a sucker bet.

I don't think that we will see a return to the attitudes of the before times.  Companies have been sucking the marrow out of residual employee loyalty for over 40 years, but that well is empty.

 

Headline of the Day

I Will F%$#ing Piledrive You If You Mention AI Again

Ludicity (%$# mine)

The author, Nikhil Suresh is a, data scientist, and knows about AI, and he is sick to death of the dishonest hype surrounding the field:

The recent innovations in the AI space, most notably those such as GPT-4, obviously have far-reaching implications for society, ranging from the utopian eliminating of drudgery, to the dystopian damage to the livelihood of artists in a capitalist society, to existential threats to humanity itself.

I myself have formal training as a data scientist, going so far as to dominate a competitive machine learning event at one of Australia's top universities and writing a Master's thesis where I wrote all my own libraries from scratch in MATLAB. I'm not God's gift to the field, but I am clearly better than most of my competition - that is, practitioners like myself who haven't put in the reps to build their own C libraries in a cave with scraps, but can read textbooks, implement known solutions in high-level languages, and use libraries written by elite institutions.

So it is with great regret that I announce that the next person to talk about rolling out AI is going to receive a complimentary chiropractic adjustment in the style of Dr. Bourne, i.e, I am going to f%$#ing break your neck. I am truly, deeply, sorry.

………

I started working as a data scientist in 2019, and by 2021 I had realized that while the field was large, it was also largely fraudulent. Most of the leaders that I was working with clearly had not gotten as far as reading about it for thirty minutes despite insisting that things like, I dunno, the next five years of a ten thousand person non-tech organization should be entirely AI focused. The number of companies launching AI initiatives far outstripped the number of actual use cases. Most of the market was simply grifters and incompetents (sometimes both!) leveraging the hype to inflate their headcount so they could get promoted, or be seen as thought leaders. 

It goes on from here, but I really cannot summarize it.

It is a cogent description of what I have called, "An overgrown Eliza program," along with a far more sophisticated and technically astute than any take I might supply.

Go read.

Thursday ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So initial unemployment claims from last week's 10 month high, to 238,000 but still fell less than forecast, while continuing claims rose slightly, remaining at 1.82 million:

Initial applications for US unemployment benefits pulled back from a 10-month high last week, in data that tend to be volatile around holidays and school breaks.

Initial claims decreased by 5,000 to 238,000 in the week ended June 15, after reaching a 10-month high the previous week, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 235,000.

Continuing claims, a proxy for the number of people receiving unemployment benefits, rose for a seventh straight week to 1.82 million as of June 8, just 1,000 shy of the highest level since the end of 2021.

Initial applications for US unemployment benefits pulled back from a 10-month high last week, in data that tend to be volatile around holidays and school breaks.

Initial claims decreased by 5,000 to 238,000 in the week ended June 15, after reaching a 10-month high the previous week, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of economists called for 235,000.

Continuing claims, a proxy for the number of people receiving unemployment benefits, rose for a seventh straight week to 1.82 million as of June 8, just 1,000 shy of the highest level since the end of 2021.

I think that we are seeing a trend of a slowdown in the economy in general, and in employment in particular.

 

19 June 2024

The House Always Wins

Numerous pension funds piled into private equity funds, lured by the promise of good returns.

Of course, PE has never delivered, particularly when you count their fees, but if you clap loudly enough, Tinkerbell will survive.

Now these funds are discovering that once they needc the money, they cannot get their money out:

Private-equity and pension funds seemed like a match made in heaven. U.S. companies and states handed over control of some worker retirement savings. In exchange, they got a promise of high returns after a decade—and often received healthy cash payouts in the years before that.
Yes, they got a promise. They never got the returns.

Now the honeymoon is over. The payouts have dried up, creating an expensive problem for investment managers overseeing the savings of workers retired from big corporations and state and city governments. 

To keep benefit checks coming on time, those managers are unloading investments on the cheap or turning to borrowing—costly measures that eat into returns. California’s worker pension, the nation’s largest, will be paying more money into its private-equity portfolio than it receives from those investments for eight years in a row. The engine maker Cummins took a 4.4% loss in its U.K. pension last year, in large part because it sold private assets at a discount.

………

Pensions, sovereign-wealth funds, university endowments and other institutions often promise their money to private-equity managers for a decade or so. Over that time, the managers draw down the cash and use it to buy companies, then overhaul and sell them. Those sales and the resulting cash distributions to investors have slowed markedly as high interest rates have made buying and owning companies more complicated and expensive.

Unable to sell without denting returns, private-equity managers are keeping workers’ retirement savings locked up for longer—sometimes past the promised maturity date. Nearly half of private-equity investors surveyed by the investment firm Coller Capital earlier this year said they had money tied up in so-called zombie funds—private-equity funds that didn’t pay out on the expected timetable,leaving investors in limbo. 

So pension funds are selling private-equity fund stakes secondhand—often taking a financial hit in the process. Secondary-market buyers last year paid an average of 85% of the value the assets were assigned three to six months before the sale, according to Jefferies Financial Group. Secondhand sales by private-equity investors increased 7% to $60 billion last year.

This was foreseeable, but the people working the investment side of pension funds know that if they play ball with PE, they can get a very good paying job with PE firms.

It's corrupt, but that is a feature, not a bug.

They Hate Him, They Really Hate Him!

Given the current state of affairs in the House of Representatives, there is very little that I would expect Democrats and Republicans to work together on, particularly on the House Ethics Committee, where weaponizing investigations has become far more common.

That being said, they found a consensus, the belief that Matt Gaetz is a corrupt son-of-a-bitch.

The House Ethics Committee is still investigating allegations against Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), including that he may have engaged in sexual misconduct and illegal drug use, and accepted improper gifts. It has opened up new lines of inquiry into the Florida lawmaker, according to a statement released by the bipartisan panel on Tuesday.

The 10-member committee, which rarely discloses information about ongoing investigations, clarified the status of its review of Gaetz in the lengthy statement. The panel wrote that since initiating its investigation in April 2021, it has “determined that certain of the allegations merit continued review” and that the committee has identified additional allegations that “merit review,” while at the same time dispensing with other charges.

The committee detailed the new avenues of investigation, including whether Gaetz “dispensed special privileges and favors to individuals with whom he had a personal relationship, and sought to obstruct government investigations of his conduct.” The committee added that it will “take no further action at the time on the allegations that [Gaetz] may have shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe or improper gratuity.”

The update was released the morning after Gaetz took to X, the website formerly known as Twitter, to criticize the House Ethics Committee for “opening new frivolous investigations” into his activities, castigating the committee as “Soviet” and working at the behest of former speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), whom Gaetz last year helped oust from the speakership.

Who amongst us does not hate Matt Gaetz.

Drip, Drip, Drip

We now have reports that implicated-in-the-UK-phone-hacking-scandal Washington Post publisher Will Lewis told former Prime Minister Boris Johnson to "clean up" his phones in response to the Partygate scanal.

I described the phone hacking scandal here, a nadir in journalistic ethics in the UK, even by the standard of the UK tabloids.

Partygate was the scandal that pushed Johnson out of 10 Downings Street.  Basically, he was holding alcohol fueled parties while public gatherings were prohibited.

Yeah, Chris "Fredo" Cuomo was fired from CNN for providing far more anodyne advice to his brother, former New York Governor Andrew "Rat-Faced Andy" Cuomo.

Why Will Lewis still works at the Post, is beyond me.

Will Lewis, the Washington Post publisher, advised Boris Johnson and senior officials at 10 Downing Street to “clean up” their phones in the midst of a Covid-era political scandal, according to claims by three people familiar with the operations inside No 10 at the time.

The advice is alleged to have been given in December 2021 and January 2022 as top officials were under scrutiny for potential violations of pandemic restrictions, a scandal which was known as “Partygate”.

The claims suggest Lewis’s advice contradicted an email sent to staff at No 10 in December 2021 which instructed them not to destroy any material that could be relevant to an investigation into the flagrant breaking of Covid lockdown rules by Johnson and officials who worked for him.

Sources said they understood they were being advised to remove photos and messages from their phones that could be damaging in any investigations.

Lewis, the sources alleged, made some of the requests personally as he was carrying out work as an informal adviser to Johnson from late 2021 to July 2022.

This is the second time that Lewis has been reported as an active participant in a coverup.

………

Lewis was a member of a so-called “brain trust” of Johnson’s close political allies who were leading an effort – codenamed Operation Save Big Dog – that tried but ultimately failed to salvage Johnson’s premiership. Lewis was awarded a knighthood in 2023 for his political service to the conservative prime minister.

The allegations regarding Lewis’s advice relate to a period covered by a civil service investigation and before the Partygate scandal became a police matter. The Metropolitan police launched its investigation on 25 January 2022.

A spokesperson for Lewis said: “This story is categorically untrue.”

Yeah, Lewis get a knighthood because he did nothing at all.

Bezos, just fire him already.

Extinct Pachyderm Social Media Post of the Day

It appears that the stall in EV sales is a myth. 

The EV market continues to grow, except for Tesla Sales, which are falling off a cliff.

I guess that the typical EV buyer is put off by the antics of the white supremacist fail-son Apartheid Era Emerald Heir Pedo Guy™.

That, and the fact that the Cyber Truck is a stupider car design than the one that Homer Simpson designed in the episode, "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" 

But still the shareholders just gave him $42 billion:

After an underwhelming start to the year for US electric-vehicle sales, it might seem easy to conclude that the boom times are over. Sales were flat in the first quarter, Ford dramatically scaled back expansion plans and Tesla laid off 10% of its global workforce. But these dismal indicators only tell part of the story.

For every sign of an EV slowdown, another suggests an adolescent industry on the verge of its next growth spurt. In fact, for most automakers, even the first quarter was a blockbuster. Six of the 10 biggest EV makers in the US saw sales grow at a scorching pace compared to a year ago — up anywhere from 56% at Hyundai-Kia to 86% at Ford. A sampling of April sales similarly came in hot.

It’s a tale of two EV markets, where consumers are flocking to some brands in record numbers while turning their backs on those with inferior battery range, slower charging and high prices, said Stephanie Valdez-Streaty, director of industry insights at Cox Automotive. Delays of new vehicles, though temporary, added to the perception of a market running out of steam.

“We’re still seeing growth in demand, just not at the same pace for every brand,” Valdez-Streaty said. “Right now Tesla doesn’t have new models, Ford doesn’t have a lot in the pipeline. But Hyundai, BMW, Kia, Cadillac — they’re really moving the needle forward.”

GM sees 300% growth for 2024

The two companies with the worst start to the year were General Motors and Tesla — both victims, in part, of their own product cycles. This year GM discontinued its most popular EV, the Chevy Bolt, before its replacements were ready, while Tesla Model 3 production was interrupted for a long-planned facelift to the car’s design. Excluding those two models, US EV sales in the first quarter grew a respectable 23% over a year ago, matching pace with global EV sales for the same period

For the rest of 2024, GM appears to be on the brink of becoming the biggest driver of EV growth in the US. The Detroit automaker has committed to electrifying some of its biggest brands, which are finally reaching production after years of delays. That includes a $35,000 Equinox SUV and its sibling Blazer, as well as Silverado and GMC Sierra electric pickups with up to 450 miles of range. 

The penultimate paragraph is inaccurate with regards to Tesla.

They have so many unsold Teslas in parking lots that are visible from space.  They have cars to sell, but people are not buying them.

In addition to the toxicity of Musk, who has consciously made himself the face of the car company, there is also the issue of depreciation, where the value of the cars plunge once driven off the lot.

Depreciation is particularly bad for Tesla because of the panicked price drops rolled out by Tesla, which have screwed earlier buyers big time..

18 June 2024

Yeah, About that AI

There is a stereotype that unskilled people end up taking jobs where they ask, "Do you want fries with that?"

Having worked in food service as a dishwasher at a seafood place, (my cats loved me after work) and delivering pizzas, (only mugged once) I have to say that there is a lot more this work than many people think there is.

In any case, it appears that asking, "Do you want fries with that?" is too difficult for large language models (AI) to do, as McDonalds has decided to shut down its attempt at AI drive through attendants:

If your local McDonald’s has been getting your order confidently wrong with an AI chatbot at the drive-thru, I have good news for you: The company is ending the program for now. The company told franchisees that it’s winding down an AI drive-thru ordering partnership with IBM “no later than July 26th, 2024,” according to trade publication Restaurant Business.

The company will reportedly remove the tech from the over 100 restaurants it’s been testing the system in after partnering with IBM in 2021. It’s not clear why the company is ending the IBM deal, though. It told Restaurant Business it was testing whether the voice ordering chatbot could speed up service and that the test left it confident “that a voice-ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future.”

This entire AI frenzy appears to be a lot like the Dot Com mania of the late 20th century or the Tulip Mania of the 17th century.

Seriously, this is even more transparently a fraud than anything at the top of the Dot Com Bubble.

It's like the second coming of Razorfish.

FTC Sues Adobe Software Roach Motel Licensing

Adobe, which become more and more reprehensible as time goes on, has attracted a lawsuit from the Federal Trade Commission for use of a myriad of hidden fees, including a positively larcenous account cancellation fee:

Adobe prioritized profits while spending years ignoring numerous complaints from users struggling to cancel costly subscriptions without incurring hefty hidden fees, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleged in a lawsuit Monday.

According to the FTC, Adobe knew that canceling subscriptions was hard but determined that it would hurt revenue to make canceling any easier, so Adobe never changed the "convoluted" process. Even when the FTC launched a probe in 2022 specifically indicating that Adobe's practices may be illegal, Adobe did nothing to address the alleged harm to consumers, the FTC complaint noted. Adobe also "provides no refunds or only partial refunds to some subscribers who incur charges after an attempted, unsuccessful cancellation."

Adobe "repeatedly decided against rectifying some of Adobe’s unlawful practices because of the revenue implications," the FTC alleged, asking a jury to permanently block Adobe from continuing the seemingly deceptive practices.

Dana Rao, Adobe's general counsel and chief trust officer, provided a statement confirming to Ars that Adobe plans to defend its business practices against the FTC's claims.

Of course they will aggressively defend themselves. 

Monopoly rents and cheating your customers are the only way to make money in software today.

To lock subscribers into recurring monthly payments, Adobe would typically pre-select by default its most popular "annual paid monthly" plan, the FTC alleged. That subscription option locked users into an annual plan despite paying month to month. If they canceled after a two-week period, they'd owe Adobe an early termination fee (ETF) that costs 50 percent of their remaining annual subscription. The "material terms" of this fee are hidden during enrollment, the FTC claimed, only appearing in "disclosures that are designed to go unnoticed and that most consumers never see."

For individual users, accessing Adobe’s suite of apps can cost more than $700 annually, Bloomberg reported. For many users suddenly faced with paying an ETF worth hundreds while losing access to services instantly, the decision to cancel is not as straightforward as it might be without the hidden fee. the FTC alleged.

Because Adobe allegedly only alerted users to the ETF in fine print—by hovering over a small icon or clicking a hyperlink in small text—while the company's cancellation flows made it hard to end recurring payments, the FTC is suing and accusing Adobe of deceptive practices under the FTC Act.

Additionally, Adobe's "stealth ETF" may violate the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act (ROSCA), the FTC alleged.

"May" violate ROSCA?  Very charitable of the FTC.

………

Adobe subscribers have long complained on social media and in submissions to the Better Business Bureau (BBB). They've detailed what the FTC said was "a range of difficulties consumers have encountered when attempting to cancel an Adobe subscription." Most frequent complaints suggest that the self-cancellation process sends customers in an unending loop and that support calls or chats are routinely dropped.

"During the phone call, they put me on hold, and when they came back the connection kept blanking out, until the line was silent, but they were still connected," an Adobe subscriber, Vicky K., wrote in a review posted on BBB last week. "I couldn't hear anything. I [feel] trapped in this subscription."

"Horrible, predatory," another reviewer named Seth L. wrote. "Never, ever sign up for a free trial. I've been on the hook an entire year with multiple calls to customer service. Insanely high cancellation fee. Awful."

The FTC believes that instead of acknowledging that customers were confused about the ETFs, Adobe knowingly used the ETFs as a "retention tool" to prevent or delay cancellations.

The FTC is also including two senior Adobe execs in the suit, which is good, but they should be talking to the DoJ about criminal charges, because frog marching these jamokes out of their offices in handcuffs would be a good thing.

Damn

Willie Mays, arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, has has died at the age of 93.

We will not see his like for a very long time.

Wanna Go Halfsies on a Guillotine?

Here's a depressing data point, pay rates for senior management in the United States are skyrocketing.

I guess running businesses into the ground, enforcing insane return to office mandates, and looting requires substantial remuneration, because ……… The Aristocrats!

US bosses’ pay is increasing at the fastest rate for at least 14 years, according to figures that critics say illustrate how ballooning reward packages such as Elon Musk’s risk exacerbating social inequality.

In 2024, median chief executive pay at S&P 500 companies has risen by 12 per cent, according to ISS Corporate, part of proxy adviser Institutional Shareholder Services. That compares with a 4.1 per cent year-on-year increase in US wage growth, according to official figures.

………

Executive pay “has gotten out of control”, [Former Exxon compensation committee chair William] George said. “This is going to cause a further split in our country between the haves and the have-nots. This is a grave concern to me because I think there will be a loss of trust [in companies].”

………


Peloton, Nikola, LendingTree and Paycom Software are among a handful of companies that have offered their chief executives mega stock grants only to see their share prices sink.

Of course they sunk.  Excessive pay actually reduces performance according to studies done by Dan Ariely.

George said he was “disappointed” by major investors, such as BlackRock and Vanguard, that “don’t step up” against excessive executive pay awards.

This is insane and unsustainable.

The only question is whether this ends with regulation, or a gravity assisted French chopping center.

Linkage

How the East Germans invented Gorilla Glass in 1977:

17 June 2024

Dad Humor and Father's Day







Hippo, birdie, two gnus

So, yesterday was fathers day, and today was NJ's birthday, so I sent them these images.

When they asked for an explanation, I replied, "Hippo, Birdie, Two Gnus."

Dad joke.

Dishonest Article of the Day

And what a surprise, it leans on immunity debt to explain the explosion in other diseases post Covid.

This is dishonest crap.

There are literally hundreds of articles that show that Covid-19 is associated with immune dysregulation, here are articles from Memorial Sloan Kettering, the CDC, and Nature and these are literally the first three articles of a Google search.

Immunity debt was made-up by anti-mask nut jobs.

Covid causes immunity issues in people who get the disease.

The length and severity of this may vary from person to person, and how long it takes for someone's immune system to recover is still unclear, but Covid f%$#s up your immunity system.

Depressing Headline of the Day

To Respond to the Threat of Avian Influenza, Look back at Lessons Learned from COVID-19

—Headline of an editorial in Nature Medicine

I beg to differ.  To quote Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, "They have forgotten nothing, and they have learned nothing."

There are lessons to be learned from the pandemic, lessons that the editorial lists as, aggressive surveillance, protecting agricultureal and food workers, widespread availability of tests, masking, and open communications, would no longer be a part of the public health establishment.

There have been no lessons learned from COVID-19, because anyone in the public health establishment who attempts to learn lessons and develop strategies from these lessons will find themselves without a job, because, because of the aggressive push by various power centers in society to return to normalcy, regardless of the reality of the biology.

To quote Upton Sinclair, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

16 June 2024

Have Fun Timmy

I guess that Apples whole malicious compliance strategy to comply with EU law are not going well.

At least this is implied by the decision by EU authorities to charge the iPhone maker with violating EU competition law.

It's been that clear that Apple has been violating the Bull Durham rule, calling the umpire a c%$# sucker, since the new EU competition regime was enacted, and this response from the authorities is completely justified:

Brussels is set to charge Apple over allegedly stifling competition on its mobile app store, the first time EU regulators have used new digital rules to target a Big Tech group.

The European Commission has determined that the iPhone maker is not complying with obligations to allow app developers to “steer” users to offers outside its App Store without imposing fees on them, according to three people with close knowledge of its investigation.

The charges would be the first brought against a tech company under the Digital Markets Act, landmark legislation designed to force powerful “online gatekeepers” to open up their businesses to competition in the EU.

………

These people said regulators have only made preliminary findings, and Apple could still take actions to correct its practices, which could then lead regulators to reassess any final decision. They added the timing of any announcement could also shift.

………

If found to be breaking the DMA, Apple faces daily penalties for non-compliance of up to 5 percent of its average daily worldwide turnover, which is currently just over $1 billion.

I've always felt that the Apple's walled garden approach, while remunerative for the company, has never served its users. 

I think that this potential action by European authorities is a very good thing.™

Cue Inspector Renault


I'm shocked! Shocked, I tell you! To find that gambling is going on this establishment
What a surprise. The US Chamber of Commerce sold an endorsement in a Congressional race for a donation. The only thing that surprises me is how small the donation was, only $800,000.00.

Truth be told, the price of corruption has always seemed shockingly low to me:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce received an $800,000 wire transfer from billionaire donor Hank Meijer days after it endorsed his son, then-Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Mich.), in a contentious 2022 primary, according to previously unreported internal emails reviewed by The Hill.

FYI, Meijer lost the primary anyway.

Within days of the transfer, the Chamber spent $381,000 on “Media Advertisement – Energy and Taxes – Mentioning Rep. Peter Meijer,” according to a report filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC). 

But because the ad — titled “Thank you, Rep. Peter Meijer” — does not explicitly advocate for his election or defeat, the pro-business lobbying giant did not have to legally disclose the donation from Hank Meijer, the co-chair and CEO of the Meijer chain of superstores. It also did not have to disclose any other potential contributions behind the $1.8 million it told the FEC it spent on “electioneering communications” that cycle.

Emails obtained by The Hill lay out the timeline of the endorsement, donation and ad buy just weeks before the Aug. 2, 2022, House GOP primary in Michigan. Campaign finance experts told The Hill that the emails pull back the curtain on a surge of “dark money” in U.S. elections, spending where the ultimate source of the money is not publicly disclosed.

“They’re exploiting a legal loophole to help them conceal the sources of election spending in this race,” said Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the nonprofit watchdog Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which filed a complaint during the 2020 cycle alleging an individual later identified as Hank Meijer tried to obscure separate donations by using a limited liability corporation (LLC) to donate to another super PAC supporting his son.

“And they’re doing it in a very sophisticated way, but ultimately the voters suffer as a result,” Ghosh added. 

Like Meijer and his billionaire dad give a flying f%$# in a rolling doughnut about whether or not the voters suffer.

Unless and until we start criminally charging people who engage in this behavior and tossing their asses in jail, this will not stop.

Ecch (Tweet) of the Day


H/t Naked Capitalism.

This is, to quote Charles Dickens, "Truer than Taxes."

15 June 2024

A Feature, Not a Bug

One of the features of the criminal enterprise formerly known as Facebook™ is that they allow advertisers to discriminate on the basis of protected class because of the enormous amount of data that they collect.

They have been caught doing this time and time again, the latest case being serving advertisements for more expensive colleges to Black and Latino users:

Meta's algorithms for presenting educational ads show signs of racial bias, according to researchers from Princeton University and the University of Southern California.

This finding is described in a paper titled "Auditing for Racial Discrimination in the Delivery of Education Ads," by Basileal Imana, a postdoctoral researcher at Princeton University; Aleksandra Korolova, assistant professor of computer science and public affairs at Princeton University; and John Heidemann, research professor of computer science at University of Southern California.

The paper, provided to The Register, is scheduled to be presented this week at the ACM Conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (ACM FAccT) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"We find that Meta’s algorithms steer ads to for-profit universities and universities with historically predatory marketing practices to relatively more Black users than the ads for public universities," Korolova told The Register.

"Our work thus demonstrates yet another domain for which Meta shapes access to important life opportunities in a racially biased manner, and shows concerns of discrimination extend beyond the current scope of solutions, which have been limited to housing, employment and credit."

Meta, when it was known as Facebook, was sued in 2017 by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) following a 2016 report by non-profit ProPublica about how the internet goliath's ad platform allowed housing advertisers to avoid showing ads to people of a particular race. The US Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, among other characteristics.

As I have noted, much of internet commerce, whether it be Facebook, Uber, or Airbnb seems to have a sales pitch that implies, "You won't have to serve black people," as part of their marketing.

This sh%$ needs to stop.

Ethics, Schmethics!

Republicans in the Senate successfully filibustered an ethics bill for the Supreme Court.

Of course they did.  Republicans view ethics in the same way that Osama bin Laden viewed a fried pork chop.

They don't care, so long as it's their corrupt bastards on the Supreme Court:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked an effort by Democrats to quickly pass Supreme Court ethics and transparency legislation they had pushed forward in the wake of disclosures about justices taking unreported gifts and travel and other ethical issues surrounding the high court.

The unsuccessful outcome was predetermined, but represented an effort by Senate Democrats to show they were pressing the case against the court. It was also aimed at demonstrating the limits of their power given the narrow divide in the Senate and deep Republican opposition to Congress taking action to impose stricter ethics rules on the justices.

“The ethics crisis at the Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, is unacceptable,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, the Illinois Democrat who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said in calling for the measure to be approved. “It is unsustainable and it’s unworthy of the highest court in the land.”

Republicans assailed the bill as a naked effort by Democrats to undercut the court because of ideological disagreements with its decisions, particularly with major rulings about to be handed down. They accused Democrats of trying to intimidate the justices.

Clarence Thomas has taken over $4 million in gifts, Alito is into 6 figures.

There is a very real problem.

Still Can't Make Planes

We have yet another major safety failure by Boeing.  In this case, Boeing used titanium lacking proper documentation in its aircraft

It's yet another case where Boeing outsourced key areas, and paid the price:

Federal regulators are investigating how parts made with titanium that was sold with falsified quality documentation wound up in Boeing and Airbus passenger jets that were built in recent years.

Boeing and Airbus said Friday that planes containing the parts are safe to fly, but Boeing said it was removing affected parts from planes that haven’t been delivered yet to airline customers.

It will be up to regulators including the Federal Aviation Administration to decide whether any work needs to be done to planes that are already carrying passengers.

The FAA said it is “investigating the scope and impact of the issue.” The agency said Boeing reported the problem covering material from a distributor “who may have falsified or provided incorrect records.” The FAA did not name the distributor.

Boeing and Airbus declined to say how many planes were flying with parts made from the undocumented titanium. 

………

The New York Times first reported the FAA investigation. The newspaper said a parts supplier found small holes in the material from corrosion.

The aerospace supply chain is a global one. The titanium came from a supplier in China starting around 2019 and was sold to several companies that make components that Spirit Aerosystems uses in its work for Boeing and Airbus, according to two people familiar with the situation. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation.

If Boeing to survive, I think that senior management needs to be frog marched out of their offices in handcuffs.

Support Your Local Police (Horrible Web Design Edition)

The Washington Post has three articles about sexual abuse by police, Hundreds of police have sexually abused kids. How do they avoid prison time?, An officer sexually abused a teen in his police car. How will he be punished?, and How The Post investigated police officers accused of sexually abusing kids

From the headlines, it's pretty clear what the story is, that some cops regularly sexually abuse kids, and more often than not (about 90% of the time) these cops avoid jail time.

It took me almost an hour to read these articles, because the designs of the web pages are so bad, particularly the first one, which has most of the content was so profoundly awful.

Between moving windows, animated graphics, and the like, I had to read the articles repeatedly, because I could not actually the information off of the page.

Thinking about this, I'm wondering if this is just a web designer going crazy, or if the someone made a conscious decision to make the pages difficult to read.

It's probably the former, but the design is that bad.


Yeah, About that New Publisher

Jeff Bezos chose Will Lewis to be the new publisher of the Washington Post.

To say that Mr. Lewis has a "colorful" career would be a profound understatement, as he was hip deep into what was known as the, "Phone Hacking Scandal," where they broke into the voice mails of various prominent individuals as well as the phone of 13 year old girl's voice mail.

It appears that he was involved in the original actions as well as the coverup.

Some new developments seemed to confirm that, and when the managing editor of the Washington Post, Sally Buzbee, looked into this, he pressured her to drop the story, and then forced her out when she refused.

The most basic rule for editors and publishers is that you don't tell the newsroom what to do if you have a personal conflict of interest.

And this guy is who Jeff Bezos picked to save the paper:

Washington Post publisher Will Lewis pressured former top editor Sally Buzbee not to run a story about his involvement in a decade-old British phone-hacking scandal, and forced her out after she defied him.

Doing what he did violates a core doctrine of American journalism: that editors and publishers are not supposed to interfere with their own newsrooms’ coverage of issues in which they have a personal conflict of interest.

It’s really about as basic as it gets.

And having crossed that line, Lewis should hand in his resignation. Or Post owner Jeff Bezos should fire him.

Lewis reportedly said Buzbee’s decision to run the story over his objections was a “lapse in judgement.” But the lapse was all his. 

And it’s a lapse that casts into doubt the credibility of the entire news operation. What other coverage will Lewis interfere with next: News about Amazon, and its owner Jeff Bezos – who gave Lewis his job? News about his former boss, right-wing media titan  Rupert Murdoch?

Once the line has been crossed, all bets are off.

The lapse also reflects terribly on the two (white male fellow former Murdoch henchmen) friends Lewis hired to replace Buzbee.

Matt Murray, a former Wall Street Journal executive, is serving as interim editor of the newsroom through the November election, when he takes the helm of a new as-yet-undefined “second” newsroom. Robert Winnett, who currently edits a conservative British broadsheet, the Telegraph, will take over the main newsroom after the election.

He also leaned on NPR reporter David Folkenflik to spike his work on the same story.

This story has hit the New York Times as well

In 2011, Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, News Corporation, faced a grave threat in Britain. Reporters at one of his tabloid newspapers were exposed for hacking the phones of celebrities, private citizens and, in one case, a murdered child for information.

Other misdeeds soon emerged, including the revelation that for years, tabloid reporters had paid for information from police officers and government officials.

Desperate to stop the scandal and appease prosecutors in Britain and abroad, News Corp chose Will Lewis, a former editor of The Daily Telegraph, to clean up the mess.

He did just that. In his telling, he cooperated with the authorities, revealed wrongdoing and helped set the operation on a new course. Some former colleagues and hacking victims, though, long believed that he helped News Corp cover up the extent of the wrongdoing.

………

Last month, while Mr. Lewis prepared to restructure the Post newsroom, a judge in London ruled that victims of phone hacking could press ahead with more allegations in their wide-ranging lawsuit. Though Mr. Lewis is not a defendant, the lawsuit asserts that his cleanup was in part a cover-up to protect News Corp leaders. 

 This week, Mr. Lewis was caught off guard when The Post’s executive editor quit ahead of his reorganization. Then, The New York Times reported that Mr. Lewis had told her that covering the legal developments in the hacking case represented a lapse in judgment.

………

In court documents, phone-hacking victims say that Mr. Lewis allowed the deletion of huge volumes of emails that could have implicated senior News Corp figures in the scandal. The lawsuit claims that, on his watch, eight filing cabinets full of potential evidence disappeared.


The plaintiffs say that, rather than turning over everything to the authorities, he ignored information that could have implicated senior executives. They assert that he was part of a scheme to fabricate a security threat to justify deleting emails.

………

The phone-hacking scandal might have been old news had it not been for a shake-up at The Post.

The newspaper’s owner, Jeff Bezos, appointed Mr. Lewis to be publisher late last year, and he began laying plans to split the paper into three sections: core news, which would include business and politics coverage; opinion; and a new, reader-friendly section focused on service journalism.

The Post’s executive editor, Sally Buzbee, urged him not to make such a drastic change before the election in November. Mr. Lewis went ahead with it and offered Ms. Buzbee a job running the paper’s new section, an apparent demotion.

She abruptly quit last Sunday.

As a result, people, and in particular the Gray Lady, have looked more deeply into this affair and Mr. Lewis role in it, and it appears that he authorized stories that he knew that he were derived from the phone hacking.

Oh, snap:

The publisher and incoming editor of The Washington Post used fraudulently obtained phone and company records in newspaper articles as journalists in London, according to a former colleague, the published account of a private investigator and an analysis of newspaper archives.

Will Lewis, The Post’s publisher, assigned one of the articles in 2004 as business editor of The Sunday Times. Another was written by Robert Winnett, whom Mr. Lewis recently announced as The Post’s next executive editor.

Yeah, remember Robert Winnett from earlier?

The use of deception, hacking and fraud is at the heart of a long-running British newspaper scandal, one that toppled a major tabloid in 2010 and led to years of lawsuits by celebrities who said that reporters improperly obtained their personal documents and voice mail messages.

Mr. Lewis has maintained that his only involvement in the controversy was helping to root out problematic behavior after the fact, while working for Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.


But a former Sunday Times reporter said on Friday that Mr. Lewis had personally assigned him to write an article in 2004 using phone records that the reporter understood to have been obtained through hacking.

A second article in 2002 carried Mr. Winnett’s byline, and a private investigator who worked for The Sunday Times later publicly acknowledged using deception to land the materials.

Both articles were produced during a period when the newspaper has acknowledged paying the private detective explicitly to obtain material surreptitiously. That would violate the ethics codes of The Post and most American news organizations. The Sunday Times has said repeatedly that it has never paid anyone to act illegally.

After that story broke, a British businessman who was the subject of the article said publicly that his records had been stolen. The reporter, Peter Koenig, described Mr. Lewis as a talented editor — one of the best he had worked with. But as time went on, he said Mr. Lewis changed.

“His ambition outran his ethics,” Mr. Koenig said.

A second article in 2002 carried Mr. Winnett’s byline, and a private investigator who worked for The Sunday Times later publicly acknowledged using deception to land the materials.

………

In a meeting with Post journalists in November, Mr. Lewis defended the payments, saying that the money had been put into an escrow account to protect a source. But the consultant who brokered the deal said in a recent interview that there had been no escrow account and that he had doled out the money to sources himself.

I'm beginning to figure that Bezos hired this guy because of his lack of ethics and a his record of intervening to protect his superiors, and not in spite of this.