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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Vigilante surveillance of women for profit after Dobbs.

The Federal Trade Commission sued an Idaho-based data company Monday, accusing it of selling location data from hundreds of millions of mobile devices that could be used to track people at abortion clinics and other sensitive locations.

The FTC, the government’s main privacy watchdog, said in the lawsuit filed in federal court in Idaho that the company, Kochava Inc., was unfairly selling sensitive data in violation of federal law.

“The FTC is taking Kochava to court to protect people’s privacy and halt the sale of their sensitive geolocation information,” Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

The lawsuit asks the court for a permanent injunction and any additional relief the court determines proper.

Sandpoint, Idaho-based Kochava said that the suit had no merit. It said the company complies with all laws, and that the FTC had a fundamental misunderstanding of its business.

“Real progress to improve data privacy for consumers will not be reached through flamboyant press releases and frivolous litigation,” Brian Cox, general manager of the company’s online data marketplace known as the Kochava Collective, said in a statement.

Cox accused the FTC of spreading “misinformation” about data privacy and circumventing Congress, which is weighing a federal data protection law. He said, though, that the company was open to settlement talks if they resulted in “effective solutions.”…

"Congress, which is weighing a federal data protection law..."
That would be the ADPPA ("American Data Privacy and Protection Act"). Just an early-stage bill in the House at this point. HR 8152. The private data broker market is not amused.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 28, 2022

The kids head back to school this week;

 If you see something, say something.

Sorry to even bring it up. I cannot help but worry, given our chronic and elevating nutcase environment. See something, say something.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

President Trump Responds Angrily

DOJ will now release the redacted information pertaining to the Mar-a-Lago search affadavit.
38 pages, probably 90% redacted. Key highlight screen grab snips below.

Plenty of probable cause to authorize the search warrant. Prosecution? We shall see.

More popcorn, please... 

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Theft of classified documents and obstruction of justice.

This correspondence was just made public today.
May 10, 2022

Evan Corcoran
Silverman Thompson
400 East Pratt Street, Suite 900
Baltimore, MD 21202

By Email

Dear Mr. Corcoran:

I write in response to your letters of April 29, 2022, and May 1, 2022, requesting that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) further delay the disclosure to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) of the records that were the subject of our April 12, 2022 notification to an authorized representative of former President Trump.

As you are no doubt aware, NARA had ongoing communications with the former President’s representatives throughout 2021 about what appeared to be missing Presidential records, which resulted in the transfer of 15 boxes of records to NARA in January 2022. In its initial review of materials within those boxes, NARA identified items marked as classified national security information, up to the level of Top Secret and including Sensitive Compartmented Information and Special Access Program materials. NARA informed the Department of Justice about that discovery, which prompted the Department to ask the President to request that NARA provide the FBI with access to the boxes at issue so that the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community could examine them. On April 11, 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office—affirming a request from the Department of Justice supported by an FBI letterhead memorandum—formally transmitted a request that NARA provide the FBI access to the 15 boxes for its review within seven days, with the possibility that the FBI might request copies of specific documents following its review of the boxes.

Although the Presidential Records Act (PRA) generally restricts access to Presidential records in NARA’s custody for several years after the conclusion of a President’s tenure in office, the statute further provides that, “subject to any rights, defenses, or privileges which the United States or any agency or person may invoke,” such records “shall be made available . . . to an incumbent President if such records contain information that is needed for the conduct of current business of the incumbent President’s office and that is not otherwise available.” 44 U.S.C. § 2205(2)(B). Those conditions are satisfied here. As the Department of Justice’s National Security Division explained to you on April 29, 2022: There are important national security interests in the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community getting access to these materials. According to NARA, among the materials in the boxes are over 100 documents with classification markings, comprising more than 700 pages. Some include the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) materials. Access to the materials is not only necessary for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation, but the Executive Branch must also conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps. Accordingly, we are seeking immediate access to these materials so as to facilitate the necessary assessments that need to be conducted within the Executive Branch.

We advised you in writing on April 12 that, “in light of the urgency of this request,” we planned to “provid[e] access to the FBI next week,” i.e., the week of April 18. See Exec. Order No. 13,489, § 2(b), 74 Fed. Reg. 4,669 (Jan. 21, 2009) (providing a 30-day default before disclosure but authorizing the Archivist to specify “a shorter period of time” if “required under the circumstances”); accord 36 C.F.R. § 1270.44(g) (“The Archivist may adjust any time period or deadline under this subpart, as appropriate, to accommodate records requested under this section.”). In response to a request from another representative of the former President, the White House Counsel’s Office acquiesced in an extension of the production date to April 29, and so advised NARA. In accord with that agreement, we had not yet provided the FBI with access to the records when we received your letter on April 29, and we have continued to refrain from providing such access to date.

It has now been four weeks since we first informed you of our intent to provide the FBI access to the boxes so that it and others in the Intelligence Community can conduct their reviews. Notwithstanding the urgency conveyed by the Department of Justice and the reasonable extension afforded to the former President, your April 29 letter asks for additional time for you to review the materials in the boxes “in order to ascertain whether any specific document is subject to privilege,” and then to consult with the former President “so that he may personally make any decision to assert a claim of constitutionally based privilege.” Your April 29 letter further states that in the event we do not afford you further time to review the records before NARA discloses them in response to the request, we should consider your letter to be “a protective assertion of executive privilege made by counsel for the former President.”

The Counsel to the President has informed me that, in light of the particular circumstances presented here, President Biden defers to my determination, in consultation with the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, regarding whether or not I should uphold the former President’s purported “protective assertion of executive privilege.” See 36 C.F.R. § 1270.44(f)(3). Accordingly, I have consulted with the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel to inform my “determination as to whether to honor the former President’s claim of privilege or instead to disclose the Presidential records notwithstanding the claim of privilege.” Exec. Order No. 13,489, § 4(a).

The Assistant Attorney General has advised me that there is no precedent for an assertion of executive privilege by a former President against an incumbent President to prevent the latter from obtaining from NARA Presidential records belonging to the Federal Government where “such records contain information that is needed for the conduct of current business of the incumbent President’s office and that is not otherwise available.” 44 U.S.C. § 2205(2)(B).

To the contrary, the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), strongly suggests that a former President may not successfully assert executive privilege “against the very Executive Branch in whose name the privilege is invoked.” Id. at 447-48. In Nixon v. GSA, the Court rejected former President Nixon’s argument that a statute requiring that Presidential records from his term in office be maintained in the custody of, and screened by, NARA’s predecessor agency—a “very limited intrusion by personnel in the Executive Branch sensitive to executive concerns”—would “impermissibly interfere with candid communication of views by Presidential advisers.” Id. at 451; see also id. at 455 (rejecting the claim). The Court specifically noted that an “incumbent President should not be dependent on happenstance or the whim of a prior President when he seeks access to records of past decisions that define or channel current governmental obligations.” Id. at 452; see also id. at 441-46 (emphasizing, in the course of rejecting a separation-of-powers challenge to a provision of a federal statute governing the disposition of former President Nixon’s tape recordings, papers, and other historical materials “within the Executive Branch,” where the “employees of that branch [would] have access to the materials only ‘for lawful Government use,’” that “[t]he Executive Branch remains in full control of the Presidential materials, and the Act facially is designed to ensure that the materials can be released only when release is not barred by some applicable privilege inherent in that branch”; and concluding that “nothing contained in the Act renders it unduly disruptive of the Executive Branch”).

It is not necessary that I decide whether there might be any circumstances in which a former President could successfully assert a claim of executive privilege to prevent an Executive Branch agency from having access to Presidential records for the performance of valid executive functions. The question in this case is not a close one. The Executive Branch here is seeking access to records belonging to, and in the custody of, the Federal Government itself, not only in order to investigate whether those records were handled in an unlawful manner but also, as the National Security Division explained, to “conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps.” These reviews will be conducted by current government personnel who, like the archival officials in Nixon v. GSA, are “sensitive to executive concerns.” Id. at 451. And on the other side of the balance, there is no reason to believe such reviews could “adversely affect the ability of future Presidents to obtain the candid advice necessary for effective decisionmaking.” Id. at 450. To the contrary: Ensuring that classified information is appropriately protected, and taking any necessary remedial action if it was not, are steps essential to preserving the ability of future Presidents to “receive the full and frank submissions of facts and opinions upon which effective discharge of [their] duties depends.” Id. at 449.

Because an assertion of executive privilege against the incumbent President under these circumstances would not be viable, it follows that there is no basis for the former President to make a “protective assertion of executive privilege,” which the Assistant Attorney General informs me has never been made outside the context of a congressional demand for information from the Executive Branch. Even assuming for the sake of argument that a former President may under some circumstances make such a “protective assertion of executive privilege” to preclude the Archivist from complying with a disclosure otherwise prescribed by 44 U.S.C. § 2205(2), there is no predicate for such a “protective” assertion here, where there is no realistic basis that the requested delay would result in a viable assertion of executive privilege against the incumbent President that would prevent disclosure of records for the purposes of the reviews described above. Accordingly, the only end that would be served by upholding the “protective” assertion here would be to delay those very important reviews.

I have therefore decided not to honor the former President’s “protective” claim of privilege. See Exec. Order No. 13,489, § 4(a); see also 36 C.F.R. 1270.44(f)(3) (providing that unless the incumbent President “uphold[s]” the claim asserted by the former President, “the Archivist discloses the Presidential record”). For the same reasons, I have concluded that there is no reason to grant your request for a further delay before the FBI and others in the Intelligence Community begin their reviews. Accordingly, NARA will provide the FBI access to the records in question , as requested by the incumbent President, beginning as early as Thursday, May 12, 2022.

Please note that, in accordance with the PRA, 44 U.S.C. § 2205(3), the former President’s designated representatives can review the records, subject to obtaining the appropriate level of security clearance. Please contact my General Counsel, Gary M. Stern, if you would like to discuss the details of such a review, such as you proposed in your letter of May 5, 2022, particularly with respect to any unclassified materials.


Acting Archivist of the United States 
Several months have ensued since this letter was delivered. The former President continues to dodge and weave. This is not funny.

This is the most serious episode of public corruption in my 76+ years.
Lordy Mercy...


Saturday, August 20, 2022

Dr. Justin Gregg: Some new unsparing thinking on human "intelligence."

“Human, all too human”: It’s a thought that occurred to me a few times while reading Justin Gregg’s “If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal,” and not just because the phrase also happens to be the title of a work by Nietzsche himself. Gregg’s clever and provocative book is full of irreverent notions and funny anecdotes — the creative upside to being a human animal. But our ability to abstract from our immediate experience means we can take that creativity too far.

“If Nietzsche had been born a narwhal,” Gregg writes, “the world might never have had to endure the horrors of the Second World War or the Holocaust.” Say what? This seems to be a sterling example of what Gregg calls our species-specific penchant for “unexpected ludicrousness.”

Such rhetorical contortions are probably the consequence of what he derides as our obsession with causal inference. Nonhuman animals get by just fine on “learned associations.” They link actions with results, without having to understand why something is happening. Humans, though, are “why specialists.” We need to look for causal connections — leading to some incredible achievements but also to some bizarre practices...

From a NY Times review. I bought the book forthwith, and the world subsequently went on "pause" 'til I finished it. I found it riveting. Do yourselves a favor and read it ASAP.

OK, then: "fixed, canonical, and binding." Uh, "paradigms," anyone?

Humans are unlike other animals when it comes to our capacity for deception. Because we are why specialists, we have minds overflowing with ideas—dead facts—about how the world works, which gives us an infinite number of subjects about which we could lie. We are also in possession of a communication medium—language—that allows us to transform these dead facts into words that slither into the minds of other people with ease. What’s more, we have the capacity to understand that other people have minds in the first place; minds that hold beliefs about how the world is (i.e., what’s true), and thus minds that can be fooled into believing false information. As Levine points out, we’re also particularly bad at spotting false information. This sets up a scenario where, as we will see in this section, being a lying bullshit artist in a world filled with gullible victims can be a path to success...

Gregg, Justin. If Nietzsche Were a Narwhal (pp. 69-70). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
"A path to success?" Well, yeah, in the short run. "He who dies with the most toys wins."

And dies nonetheless.

Recall my Exigencies rant? 
The world is experiencing multiple crises all at once. Russia's war in Ukraine is the first such large-scale conventional conflict in Europe since the end of World War II. China's power and reach are increasing, not just in the Pacific but around the world. The United States is reorienting its military, diplomatic and economic resources in response to China's rising superpower status. Some type of clash seems inevitable.

The COVID pandemic has receded somewhat in the U.S., although hundreds of people continue to die every day. The pandemic continues to cause death and misery around the world, with an estimated death toll of 6.5 million and an incalculable amount of personal, societal and economic suffering.

Extreme wealth and income inequality grows largely unabated. Many of the world's richest people have exploited this period of crisis and challenge to expand their power rather than to improve the human condition. Global democracy is in retreat around the world as fascist, authoritarian and other illiberal forces, operating under the banner of "populism," continue to expand their power and influence.

Here in the U.S., Donald Trump's political cult and a Republican Party dominated by fascists are attempting to end multiracial democracy. This is a revolutionary struggle whose goal is to create a new American society, that in practical terms will be an apartheid Christian fascist plutocracy ruled without challenge or accountability by a small number of rich white men. As seen on Jan. 6, 2021, and throughout the Age of Trump, right-wing political violence, including acts of terrorism, is now integral to the neofascist campaign against democracy.

The existential danger of global climate disaster looms over all the world's crises and challenges. Humanity has faced many great challenges before. But the world is now hyperconnected through digital media and other technologies with such speed and immediacy that our ability to properly process and understand these challenges has been greatly impaired…
Chauncey Devega
Are we gonna be able to "reason" our ways outa these looming existential catastrophes? e.g., via "Delberation Science?" My dubiety iteratively waxes and wanes.
"Human intelligence is not the miracle of evolution we like to think it it."
Lots more to unpack here. Justin Gregg, thank you, sir. Helluva a fine read.
The future of human intelligence

The human mind is exceptional. We have a capacity that all other species lack: the ability to intentionally produce more pleasure for other minds. As why specialists with episodic foresight and theory of mind, we understand that our actions can generate pleasure and misery in the minds of other creatures, be it human or animal. We understand that child soldiers and battery cage hens are miserable. We know these things, and we have the ability to change them. We have the cognitive and technological capacity to create a world that maximizes pleasure for all humans, as well as nonhuman animals. We could flood the world in pleasure qualia, if we wanted to. And this would elevate the value of human intelligence to something beyond that of other species, who cannot conceive of a pleasure-maxed world. If there is one way in which human minds are superior to those of animals in terms of worth, it is our capacity for understanding that pleasure is important and wanting to spread it as far and wide as possible. Paradoxically though, we don’t.

One of the reasons I love Star Trek is because it envisions a kind of techno-dork utopia like this, where humans live somewhat harmoniously with one another and have eliminated much of the day-to-day suffering that we currently experience. Is Star Trek’s pleasure-maximization world a fantasy?

There are two schools of thought on the future of the human species when it comes to creating a pleasure-maxed utopia. In one corner, you have Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist and linguist who has written extensively about why there is hope for our species when it comes to bettering ourselves. Pinker points out that humans have been doing a bang-up job of improving our lot in life thanks to the kind of Enlightenment thinking (i.e., “reason applied to human betterment”) that has doubled our average life span in just two hundred years, and reduced global poverty to its current levels (an all-time low). When asked to speculate on the future of our species, Pinker is somewhat optimistic, arguing that “problems are inevitable, but problems are solvable, and solutions create new problems that can be solved in their turn. It’s not a promise of an inevitable utopia, but it’s got a Star Trek ring to it that smacks more of optimism than extinction.

In the other corner you have the philosopher John Gray, who has written many books on humanity’s place in the natural world. Gray acknowledges the lovely boost that comes with Enlightenment style–thinking that has given us modern technology and medicine and everything else, but does not seem to have much hope that these advantages will be enough to free humans of the endless cycle of self-destructive prognostic myopia. In his book Straw Dogs he writes:
The growth of knowledge is real and—barring a world-wide catastrophe—it is now irreversible. Improvements in government and society are no less real, but they are temporary. Not only can they be lost, they are sure to be. History is not progress or decline, but recurring gain and loss. The advance of knowledge deludes us into thinking we are different from other animals, but our history shows that we are not.
Yes, it’s possible we will break this cycle of inevitable loss and live in a technologically beautiful future like in Star Trek, with adamantine cities floating in the sky above lush, untouched rain forests blanketing a rejuvenated Earth. Where biodiversity has been restored, and humans get their food from sustainably grown farming that doesn’t require as much land or water usage, and where we have eliminated the animal misery created by current farming practices… [Justin Gregg, pp. 204-206].

apropos of the overall topic (human "vs" lower animal cognition), I've been studying Ed Yong's new book for a while. Also excellent. Not sure there's gonna be much overlap with Justin's principal thrust, though. Worthy in it's own right nonetheless.
to wit,
Through centuries of effort, people have learned much about the sensory worlds of other species. But in a fraction of the time, we have upended those worlds. We now live in the Anthropocene—a geological epoch defined and dominated by the deeds of our species. We have changed the climate and acidified the oceans by releasing titanic amounts of greenhouse gases. We have shuffled wildlife across continents, replacing indigenous species with invasive ones. We have instigated what some scientists have called an era of “biological annihilation,” comparable to the five great mass extinction events of prehistory. And amid this already dispiriting ledger of ecological sins, there is one that should be especially easy to appreciate and yet is often ignored—sensory pollution. Instead of stepping into the Umwelten of other animals, we have forced them to live in ours by barraging them with stimuli of our own making. We have filled the night with light, the silence with noise, and the soil and water with unfamiliar molecules. We have distracted animals from what they actually need to sense, drowned out the cues they depend upon, and lured them, like moths to a flame, into sensory traps.

Many flying insects are fatally attracted to streetlights, mistaking them for celestial lights and hovering below them until they succumb to exhaustion. Some bats exploit their confusion, feasting on the disoriented swarms. Other, slow-moving species, like the little brown bats that Barber tagged, stay clear of the light, perhaps because it makes them easier prey for owls. Lights reshape the animal communities around them, drawing some in and pushing others away, with consequences that are hard to predict. Could the light-averse bats do badly because their habitable zones have shrunk and their insect prey have been pulled away? Might the light-attracted bats temporarily benefit but eventually suffer as the local insect populations crash?

Yong, Ed. An Immense World (pp. 336-337). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

So far I may have given the impression that the ability to organize our knowledge of the world into causes and effects was monolithic and acquired all at once. In fact, my research on machine learning has taught me that a causal learner must master at least three distinct levels of cognitive ability: seeing, doing, and imagining.

The first, seeing or observing, entails detection of regularities in our environment and is shared by many animals as well as early humans before the Cognitive Revolution. The second, doing, entails predicting the effect(s) of deliberate alterations of the environment and choosing among these alterations to produce a desired outcome. Only a small handful of species have demonstrated elements of this skill. Use of tools, provided it is intentional and not just accidental or copied from ancestors, could be taken as a sign of reaching this second level. Yet even tool users do not necessarily possess a “theory” of their tool that tells them why it works and what to do when it doesn’t. For that, you need to have achieved a level of understanding that permits imagining. It was primarily this third level that prepared us for further revolutions in agriculture and science and led to a sudden and drastic change in our species’ impact on the planet.

I cannot prove this, but I can prove mathematically that the three levels differ fundamentally, each unleashing capabilities that the ones below it do not. The framework I use to show this goes back to Alan Turing, the pioneer of research in artificial intelligence (AI), who proposed to classify a cognitive system in terms of the queries it can answer. This approach is exceptionally fruitful when we are talking about causality because it bypasses long and unproductive discussions of what exactly causality is and focuses instead on the concrete and answerable question “What can a causal reasoner do?” Or more precisely, what can an organism possessing a causal model compute that one lacking such a model cannot?

Pearl, Judea; Mackenzie, Dana. The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect (p. 27). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
More to come...

Wednesday, August 17, 2022


Ok, sometimes you gotta torture Fair Use until it cries out "Uncle!"
Regular readers know that I study, cite, extensively quote, and review a ton of books, papers, and articles on this blog. Readers don’t need my interpretations, I trust they can understand the authors’ writings themselves. I don't do any of this for money, never have, and I am scrupulous to accord credit and provide links (apropos of the intent of “fair use”). 

I got onto this NY Times review of Jared Kushner's ghostwritten "memoir" via a friend on Twitter.
I think I pulled some abdominal muscles laughing. It is fabulous. Forgive my “excess” here. You gotta read all of this.
Jared Kushner’s ‘Breaking History’ Is a Soulless and Very Selective Memoir
In this lengthy book, Kushner recounts the time he spent in the White House during his father-in-law’s term.

By Dwight Garner
Aug. 17, 2022, 5:00 a.m. ET

A White House Memoir
By Jared Kushner
492 pages. Broadside Books. $35

The United States Secret Service isn’t known for its sense of humor, but when it gave Jared Kushner the code name “mechanic,” was someone betting that he’d call his memoir “Breaking History”?

It’s a title that, in its thoroughgoing lack of self-awareness, matches this book’s contents. Kushner writes as if he believes foreign dignitaries (and less-than dignitaries) prized him in the White House because he was the fresh ideas guy, the starting point guard, the dimpled go-getter.

He betrays little cognizance that he was in demand because, as a landslide of other reporting has demonstrated, he was in over his head, unable to curb his avarice, a cocky young real estate heir who happened to unwrap a lot of Big Macs beside his father-in-law, the erratic and misinformed and similarly mercenary leader of the free world. Jared was a soft touch.

“Breaking History” is an earnest and soulless — Kushner looks like a mannequin, and he writes like one — and peculiarly selective appraisal of Donald J. Trump’s term in office. Kushner almost entirely ignores the chaos, the alienation of allies, the breaking of laws and norms, the flirtations with dictators, the comprehensive loss of America’s moral leadership, and so on, ad infinitum, to speak about his boyish tinkering (the “mechanic”) with issues he was interested in.

This book is like a tour of a once majestic 18th-century wooden house, now burned to its foundations, that focuses solely on, and rejoices in, what’s left amid the ashes: the two singed bathtubs, the gravel driveway and the mailbox. Kushner’s fealty to Trump remains absolute. Reading this book reminded me of watching a cat lick a dog’s eye goo.

The tone is college admissions essay. Typical sentence: “In an environment of maximum pressure, I learned to ignore the noise and distractions and instead to push for results that would improve lives.”

Every political cliché gets a fresh shampooing. “Even in a starkly divided country, there are always opportunities to build bridges,” Kushner writes. And, quoting the former White House deputy chief of staff Chris Liddell: “Every day here is sand through an hourglass, and we have to make it count.” So true, for these are the days of our lives.

Kushner, poignantly, repeatedly beats his own drum. He recalls every drop of praise he’s ever received; he brings these home and he leaves them on the doorstep. You turn the pages and find, almost at random, colleagues, some of them famous, trying to be kind, uttering things like:
  • It’s really not fair how the press is beating you up. You made a very positive contribution
  • I don’t know how you do this every day on so many topics. That was really hard! You deserve an award for all you’ve done.
  • I’ve said before, and I’ll say again. This agreement would not have happened if it wasn’t for Jared.
  • Jared did an amazing job working with Bob Lighthizer on the incredible USMCA trade deal we signed yesterday.
  • Jared’s a genius. People complain about nepotism — I’m the one who got the steal here.
  • I’ve been in Washington a long time, and I must say, Jared is one of the best lobbyists I’ve ever seen.
A therapist might call these cries for help.

“Breaking History” opens with the story of Kushner’s father, the real estate tycoon Charles Kushner, who was imprisoned after hiring a prostitute to seduce his brother-in-law, having the encounter filmed and sending the tape to his sister. He was a good man who did a bad thing, Jared says, and Chris Christie, while serving as the United States attorney for New Jersey, was cruel to prosecute him so mercilessly.

There is a flashback to Kushner’s grandparents, Holocaust survivors who settled in New Jersey and did well. There’s a page or two about Kushner’s time at Harvard. He omits the fact that he was admitted after his father pledged $2.5 million to the college.

If Kushner can recall a professor or a book that influenced him while in Cambridge, he doesn’t say. Instead, he recalls doing his first real estate deals while there. He moved to New York, and bought and ruined a great newspaper (The New York Observer) by dumbing it down and feting his friends in its pages.

His wooing of Ivanka Trump included a good deal of jet-setting. Kushner briefly broke up with her, he writes, because she wasn’t Jewish. (She would later convert.) Wendi Murdoch, Rupert’s wife, reunited them on Rupert’s yacht. Kushner describes the power scene:
On that Sunday, we were having lunch at Bono’s house in the town of Eze on the French Riviera, when Rupert stepped out to take a call. He came back and whispered in my ear, “They blinked, they agreed to our terms, we have The Wall Street Journal.” After lunch, Billy Joel, who had also been with us on the boat, played the piano while Bono sang with the Irish singer-songwriter Bob Geldof.
With or without you, Bono.

Once in the White House, Kushner became Little Jack Horner, placing a thumb in everyone else’s pie, and he wonders why he was disliked. He read Sun Tzu and imagined he was becoming a warrior. It was because he had Trump’s ear, however, that he won nearly every time he locked antlers with a rival. Corey Lewandowski — out. Steve Bannon — out.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who begged Kushner to stop meddling internationally  — out. (Kushner cites Tillerson’s “reclusive approach” to foreign policy.) By the end, Tillerson was like a dead animal someone needed to pull a tarpaulin over.

Kushner was pleased that the other adults in the room, including the White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the White House counsel Don McGahn and the later chief of staff John Kelly, left or were ejected because they tried, patriotically, to exclude him from meetings he shouldn’t have been in. The fact that he was initially denied security clearance, he writes, was much ado about nothing.

The bulk of “Breaking History” — at nearly 500 pages, it’s a slog — goes deeply into the weeds (Kushner, in his acknowledgments, credits a ghostwriter, the speechwriter Brittany Baldwin) on the issues he cared most about, including prison reform, the Covid response and the Middle East, where he had a win with the Abraham Accords.

This book ends with Kushner suggesting he was unaware of the events of Jan. 6 until late in the day. He mostly sidesteps talking about spurious claims of election fraud. He seems to have no beliefs beyond carefully managed appearances and the art of the deal. He wants to stay on top of things, this manager, but doesn’t want to get to the bottom of anything.

You finish “Breaking History” wondering: Who is this book for? There’s not enough red meat for the MAGA crowd, and Kushner has never appealed to them anyway. Political wonks will be interested — maybe, to a limited degree — but this material is more thoroughly and reliably covered elsewhere. He’s a pair of dimples without a demographic.

What a queasy-making book to have in your hands. Once someone has happily worked alongside one of the most flagrant and systematic and powerful liars in this country’s history, how can anyone be expected to believe a word they say?

It makes a kind of sense that Kushner is likely to remain exiled in Florida. “The whole peninsula of Florida was weighted down with regret,” as Cynthia Ozick put it in “The Shawl.” “Everyone had left behind a real life.”

Dwight Garner has been a book critic for The Times since 2008. His most recent book is “Garner’s Quotations: A Modern Miscellany.”

Also noteworthy is this NY Times review of a novel about medical training, A History of Present Illness.

In the opening pages of “A History of Present Illness,” Anna DeForest’s novel about medical training, the unnamed narrator finds herself with two groups of people — her colleagues, who are future doctors, and the cadavers they are assigned to dissect.

Her sympathies, it is fair to say, lie with the cadavers. The residents are rich kids, for the most part, raised with ski trips and country houses, who brag about the financial sacrifice they are making by going into medicine instead of finance or consulting.

Most of the residents, our narrator reports, have never held a real job, though “sometimes had a brief employ as a barback or a clerk in a dessert shop, each role a kind of ruse or joke, the visors and poly-blend polos some sort of poor-kid disguise.”...
Having worked for a long time in the health care sector as an analyst in the ongoing company of physicians, nurses, and allied clinical personnel, this reflexively resonates with me.

I will not be reading the Kushner book, but I will likely buy and read Anna Deforest's novel.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Espionage+? 18 U.S. Code § 793, 2071, 1519

What a week, 'eh?

Anxious republicans have mostly been elbowing each other aside to to claim at the microphones that what Mr. Trump had done was no big deal. I have to emphatically disagree, and said so on Twitter.
Mr. Trump should certainly be accorded the due process going forward owed to any citizen under criminal scrutiny. I have every confidence that such will be the case, notwithstanding my long-running disdain for him.


The former president gave his first interview since investigators executing a search warrant seized 11 sets of classified materials from his private resort, which he called a "sneak attack," and he told Fox News Digital that his supporters had every right to be angry at law enforcement officials.

"The country is in a very dangerous position," Trump said. "There is tremendous anger like I've never seen before over all of the scams, and this new one — years of scams and witch hunts, and now this."

Law enforcement officials have seen an explosion of violent threats since the search, and a Trump supporter was shot and killed by police in Ohio after attacking an FBI field office in Cincinnati, but the former president offered to help cool their anger -- while justifying those passions and sending what sounded like a warning.

"People are so angry at what is taking place," Trump said. "Whatever we can do to help — because the temperature has to be brought down in the country. If it isn’t, terrible things are going to happen."

"The people of this country are not going to stand for another scam," he added.

Trump said he hadn't heard whether the Department of Justice had accepted his offer to help, but he then suggested that FBI agents had planted evidence during the search and called the investigation a politically motivated "hoax."

"I’ve never seen anything like this," Trump said. "It is a very dangerous time for our country. I will do whatever I can to help the country."
"Years of fake witch hunts and phony Russia, Russia, Russia schemes and scams," he added. "Nothing happens to those people who perpetuate that — nothing happens with them, ad then they break into a president’s house — a sneak attack where it was totally — no one ever thought a thing like this would happen."RawStory
The best in-depth investigative/analytic reporting on this stuff is here.


Tuesday, August 9, 2022

#MAGApox Meltdown

Mainstream, alt, and "social" media are all in total hyperbolic freakout mode.

Pass the popcorn...
Likely to be an "interesting" week. One wherein a few actual facts may manage to slip through.

apropos of the escalating rhetoric this week:
...Clearly, at this early stage, the responsible reaction to what the FBI did is to withhold judgment, to wait and see, to base one’s assessment on the facts and the evidence as they become known. But such an approach is alien to the modern-day GOP. The entire incentive structure is to use language that is intemperate, belligerent, conspiratorial, even crazed. This week has once again proved that there’s no rhetorical line Trump Republicans won’t cross, no outlandish charge they won’t make. It’s now all about one-upmanship, with each person trying to make a more freakish claim than the next.

This debasement of language comes at a considerable cost. George Orwell believed that political language mattered because politics mattered, and that the corruption of one leads to the corruption of the other. And in some cases, the misuse of words can lead to political violence. We saw that on January 6, 2021. My fear is we’re edging ever closer to that. Some people on the right—enraged and inflamed, caught in an echo chamber of undiluted anger and massive lies—clearly hope for it. They are perpetually frenzied and hyper-agitated, convinced they are in an existential struggle against a wicked foe… [Peter Wehner]
Recall my up-the-ante analogy?

"If it bleeds, it leads."
A week of wild media speculation (the word "espionage" is in the air), GOP denials, and few facts. This afternoon, though, we may get details on the Mar-a-lago search warrant and results thereof. Maybe.

Interesting discussion. Good way to spend an hour.
Very good.Wish there was a text transcript.
@50:46: “Point me to a time or place in history where one side has had a monopoly on the truth and been right 100% of the time. I can’t think of one.”Josh Zseps

Monday, August 1, 2022

Some worthy new reads,

based on recent news...
When future historians come to chronicle the early 21st century, one curious paradox may epitomize the era in which we now live. The advent of the internet in the final decade of the 20th century promised the entire repository of the world’s information at our very fingertips, and a new dawn of mutual understanding that would transcend the confines of geography or politics. Fewer sages foresaw, however, that the same technology would enable the propagation of falsehood at staggering velocity to huge, receptive audiences. Fewer still predicted this would leave us more polarized and divided than ever before. The upheaval and division that define our current epoch will no doubt intrigue those future historians. Navigating our way now, without the benefit of hindsight, is an abiding challenge. With such a confluence of contradictory aspects, it is small wonder we’re frequently left feeling overwhelmed…

Grimes, David Robert. Good Thinking (p. xi). The Experiment. Kindle Edition

This book makes an unconventional claim about democracy. In almost every major work on the subject, democracy is reduced to a body of institutions and practices. We are told, time and again, that the touchstone of any democratic society is the universal right to vote and a government that enshrines the law. This description isn’t wrong so much as narrow; it identifies the core features of democracy, but it doesn’t capture the constitutive condition of this type of society. Moreover, it’s better to think of democracy less as a government type and more as an open communicative culture. Democracies can be liberal or illiberal, populist or consensus based, but those are potential outcomes that emerge from this open culture. And the direction any democracy takes largely depends on its tools of communication and the passions they promote. This is more than an academic distinction. To see democracy as a culture of free expression is to foreground its susceptibility to endless evolution, even danger.

We call this the paradox of democracy: a free and open communication environment that, because of its openness, invites exploitation and subversion from within. This tension sits at the core of every democracy, and it can’t be resolved or circumnavigated. To put it another way, the essential democratic freedom—the freedom of expression—is both ingrained in and potentially harmful to democracy…

Gershberg, Zac; Illing, Sean (2022-06-15T23:58:59.000). The Paradox of Democracy. University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
Stay tuned, a lot to unpack, analyze, and evaluate. Goes to my episodic Jones for so-called "Deliberation Science." Both of these books are eminently worthy of your time. Up to my eyeballs in reading, as always (you have no idea), but, I've been slackin' a bit lately, binge-watching a bunch of Netflix and Amazon Prime with my wife ("Bosch," "The Americans," "Borgen," "The Gray Man," etc), staying out of the Baltimore heat.


For scientists, publication in Nature is a career high-water mark. To make its pages, work must be deemed exceptionally important, with potentially transformative impact on scientific understanding. In 2006, a study of Alzheimer’s disease by the lead author Sylvain Lesné met those criteria: It suggested a new culprit for the illness, a molecule called Aβ*56, which seemingly caused dementia symptoms in rats. The study has since accrued more than 2,300 citations in the scientific literature and inspired years of follow-up work. But an investigation of the original paper and many others by Lesné, described last week in Science, identified numerous red flags indicating the possibility of data fraud… 

Science is an enterprise built on trust, and in general, scientists do not attribute to malice what could be equally well explained by ineptitude. Peer review is far from perfect, often failing utterly to do its job, and journals have a well-established bias toward publishing positive results. Errors in published works are legion, from errant inferences to inappropriate statistics. Voicing concerns over suspect results, however, is fraught with peril. Careers in academia are precarious, research communities can be small, and open criticism may garner enmity from colleagues who evaluate submitted papers and grant proposals. Scientists may even cite research they do not believe or trust, for the sake of appeasing publishers, funders, and potential reviewers...

Science may be self-correcting, but only in the long term...
That was in The Atlantic. It referred me to an article I'd seen in Science Magazine, but had not studied closely (an oversight now corrected).

In August 2021, Matthew Schrag, a neuroscientist and physician at Vanderbilt University, got a call that would plunge him into a maelstrom of possible scientific misconduct. A colleague wanted to connect him with an attorney investigating an experimental drug for Alzheimer’s disease called Simufilam. The drug’s developer, Cassava Sciences, claimed it improved cognition, partly by repairing a protein that can block sticky brain deposits of the protein amyloid beta (Aβ), a hallmark of Alzheimer’s. The attorney’s clients—two prominent neuroscientists who are also short sellers who profit if the company’s stock falls—believed some research related to Simufilam may have been “fraudulent,” according to a petition later filed on their behalf with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Schrag, 37, a softspoken, nonchalantly rumpled junior professor, had already gained some notoriety by publicly criticizing the controversial FDA approval of the anti-Aβ drug Aduhelm. His own research also contradicted some of Cassava’s claims. He feared volunteers in ongoing Simufilam trials faced risks of side effects with no chance of benefit.

So he applied his technical and medical knowledge to interrogate published images about the drug and its underlying science—for which the attorney paid him $18,000. He identified apparently altered or duplicated images in dozens of journal articles. The attorney reported many of the discoveries in the FDA petition, and Schrag sent all of them to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which had invested tens of millions of dollars in the work.

But Schrag’s sleuthing drew him into a different episode of possible misconduct, leading to findings that threaten one of the most cited Alzheimer’s studies of this century and numerous related experiments...

Yeah... What a doozy, that dustup.

See also the Ezra Klein NY Times interview.
“At the very heart of democracy is a contradiction that cannot be resolved, one that has affected free societies from ancient Greece to contemporary America,” write Zac Gershberg and Sean Illing in their new book, “The Paradox of Democracy.” In order to live up to its name, democracy must be open to free communication and expression; yet that very feature opens democracies up to the forces of chaos, fragmentation and demagoguery that undermine them. Historically, this paradox becomes particularly profound during transitions between different communication technologies. “We see this time and again,” Gershberg and Illing write, “media continually evolve faster than politics, resulting in recurring patterns of democratic instability.”
Lots to digest and ponder. Stay tuned...

My email to the authors:

OK, y'all. Permit me an apology.

I just finished your new book. I saw/heard/read the interview podcasts & transcripts, then downloaded the (very generous) Amazon Preview, then downloaded the full Kindle edition. It's pre-empted everything else since I got it.

Have to admit, I was a bit put off by the Kindle ed price. This old coot SS retiree reads 8-10 ebooks a month, so my annual book budget is not trivial.

But, Chapter 8 alone was worth the entire price.

This is one important-assed read. Multiple awards-worthy.

You are two impressive dudes.

96 days to Nov 8th. Shit.

Were I still teaching Critical Thinking & Argument Analysis, this book would be a required text. Recommended triangulation, just for starters...
As the autocratic Hungarian White Christian Nationalist President Orban gets a Standing-O while addressing the GOP CPAC Conference in Dallas:

Now, onto Dr. Grimes...


Finished "Good Thinking." Also marvelous. Very accessible and timely. Very witty as well.

Very good trip through deductive/syllogistic "formal fallacies," as well as inductive/statistical methods and caveats. Also notable, the pitfalls of cognitive "heuristics" and a tour of the major types of "rhetorical/informal fallacies." Additionally, a pretty good treatment of Bayesian stats.

Having taught collegiate "critical thinking" and "argument analysis," this stuff was a great trip down memory lane for me. Dr. Grimes would also be on my Required Reading list.
The author concludes:
Society itself is a fragile fabric, easily torn apart by misconception or fearmongering. We share a glorious world, and our fates are intertwined with bonds that cannot be severed. If this world burns, so do we all. We cannot hope to improve things if we labor under delusion and unthinking tribalism. Those who would subvert our thinking can make us deny reality, creating a vacuum that tyrants and charlatans fill with hatred and falsehood. Voltaire’s warning that those who can make us believe absurdities can drive us to atrocity remains true, but the corollary to this dictum is equally important: Those who can erode human trust and cast doubt on shared truths can make us malleable to all evils. Whether this is propaganda that aims to sow discord, or misinformation propagated by those ideologically blind to reality, the net effect is societal division and distrust. Divided, we are weak and ineffectual, drifting toward disaster, incapable of collaborating on the truly global problems we face.

To allow facts, evidence, and reason to be disavowed is to stand on the precipice of tragedy. Berlin is home to many harrowing memorials marking the barbarity of the Nazi era. To me, the most unsettling one is the most understated. In beautiful Bebelplatz, there is a transparent floor plate in the center of the square. It commemorates the first Nazi book burnings, on May 10, 1933, where works deemed contrary to Nazi teachings were put to the flame. Today, this plate serves as a reminder of that madness; to glance downward is to be greeted by the haunting sight of row upon row of barren shelves, devoid of a single book. Inscribed close by are the words of poet Heinrich Heine: Das war ein Vorspiel nur, dort wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen (“That was only a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people”).

That monument in Berlin is a potent reminder of what dark consequences can arise when truth is sidelined and destroyed. Heine’s words were written more than a century before Hitler seized power. He couldn’t have envisaged the brutality of the Third Reich, nor how percipient his sentiment would prove. But he alluded to a fundamental darkness in those who would seek to erase truth rather than embrace it. There will always be those who would render us pliant with confusion and lies, but we are more resilient than we know. Even in this era where falsehoods perpetuate faster and further than ever before, our capacity for analytical thought is the blade that cleaves the reliable from the ridiculous. This can seem overwhelming, making a retreat into apathy tempting. But apathy is the enemy; we cannot challenge falsehood if we are disengaged, nor strive toward a better world if stricken by inertia. Only our willingness to question–to ask “why?” and “why not?”–shields against those who would mislead or manipulate us, a compass to steer us toward viable solutions to the challenges we face together.

These challenges are truly daunting, from climate change to antibiotic resistance to global pandemics and geopolitical instability. To meet them and endure, we need to think like scientists, reflecting before we react, guided by evidence over emotion, and always self-correcting. Striving toward a better future for all of us requires bravery and compassion as much as intellect. For, although we might start as mere irrational apes, we are endowed with the ability to be so much more. We must be unafraid to let go of poor ideas or embrace new ones. We must be forgiving not only of the errors of others, but also of our own. Ultimately, whether we prosper or perish comes down to whether we choose to learn from our mistakes or succumb to them.
[Good Thinking, pp. 362-364]
142 bucks! 816 pages. Lordy.
...As we bring this Handbook to fruition, the world at large appears to be moving in some disconcerting anti-deliberative and anti-democratic directions. Post-truth politics is the antithesis of deliberative democracy. Resurgent authoritarian and populist leaders in many countries have little interest in deliberation—except to suppress it. Even where deliberation is not repressed, we too often see levels of political polarization that signal inabilities to listen to the other side and reflect upon what they may have to say.

We hope that these sorts of trends can and will be reversed, and that the ideas and practices of deliberative democracy can play a key role in their reversal. In the meantime, however, these trends feed the cynicism of those who believe that deliberative democracy is a pipe dream. A long tradition in political science deploys empirical evidence and analysis to show that ordinary people are not up to the task of competent participation in democracy...

(2018-08-22T23:58:59.000). The Oxford Handbook of Deliberative Democracy (Oxford Handbooks). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.