Corporate irresponsibility, Facebook-style

From a powerful piece in today’s Guardian:

When Facebook invited journalists for a phone briefing on Tuesday evening to talk about its progress in tackling hate speech in Myanmar, it seemed like a proactive, well-intentioned move from a company that is typically fighting PR fires on several fronts.

But the publication of a bombshell Reuters investigation on Wednesday morning suggested otherwise: the press briefing was an ass-covering exercise.

This is the latest in a series of strategic mishaps as the social network blunders its way through the world like a giant, uncoordinated toddler that repeatedly soils its diaper and then wonders where the stench is coming from. It enters markets with wide-eyed innocence and a mission to “build [and monetise] communities”, but ends up tripping over democracies and landing in a pile of ethnic cleansing. Oopsie!

What’s truly revolting about Facebook is the moral infantilism of its senior executives. They’ve been warned about what was happening in Myanmar for years.

How to turn the M20 into a truck-park

Simple, just opt for the wrong kind of Brexit — one that involves new customs checks at the UK’s borders. Interesting research at Imperial College, London is simulating the likely impact of different assumptions of how long it takes to do the checks at the Channel ports.

The BBC report of the research says:

The research, led by Dr Ke Han, assistant professor in transport, found the current vehicle check time is about two minutes, which can lead to queues of almost 10 miles during peak times, between 16:00 and 19:00.

Queues on the M20 and A20 between Maidstone and Dover would reach 29.3 miles if checks took an average of four minutes, they found.

This would leave drivers waiting almost five hours on the route.

“An extra 10 miles concentrated on local streets resulting from motorway deadlock is entirely possible,” they added.

Figures were compiled using traffic simulations for the area, using data from official sources such as Highways England, the Department for Transport, the Port of Dover and maps.

The research also took into account different kinds of vehicles such as passenger vehicles, light goods vehicles, heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and coaches.

These simulations look plausible to me. Two years ago, we were coming back from France in August when there were delays at Folkestone because some migrants had got into the tunnel at Calais, which led to the Europe-bound tunnel being closed. We disembarked from the shuttle at about 16:30 and then drove at 70mph for 15 minutes, during which time the France-bound carriageway of the M20 was blocked by three lanes of stationary trucks. That’s a parking lot 17.5 miles long.

The madness of neoliberalism

This is from the front page of today’s Financial Times. It’s a vivid demonstration of what happens to governments when they have imbided an ideology that says that when there is a choice between the state providing a service or outsourcing it to a private company, then it’s always best to do the latter.

Here’s the nub of this particular act of folly:

As a result, fire services at 69 RAF bases will be outsourced to the riskiest company available.

Confirms my definition of ideology as “what determines how you think when you don’t know you’re thinking”.

US diplomacy, 2018-style

From the Washington Post:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who spoke with Trump as he flew home from Singapore on Air Force One, said the president was simply being his natural “salesman” self.

“He is selling condos, that’s what he is doing,” Graham said. “He’s approaching North Korea as a distressed property with a cash-flow problem. Here’s how we can fix it.”

In a news conference Tuesday before departing Singapore, Trump hinted at his dreams of real estate diplomacy, noting that he had played Kim a video — derided by some as more akin to North Korean propaganda than the work of the president’s National Security Council — to show him the possibilities of a deal with the West.

“As an example, they have great beaches,” Trump said. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean, right? I said, ‘Boy, look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo behind?’ ”

So what will Trump’s Presidential Library be like?

Sometimes, one comes on stuff that you really could not make up. Like this piece in Politico. Excerpt:

Armed with rolls of clear Scotch tape, Lartey and his colleagues would sift through large piles of shredded paper and put them back together, he said, “like a jigsaw puzzle.” Sometimes the papers would just be split down the middle, but other times they would be torn into pieces so small they looked like confetti.

It was a painstaking process that was the result of a clash between legal requirements to preserve White House records and President Donald Trump’s odd and enduring habit of ripping up papers when he’s done with them — what some people described as his unofficial “filing system.”

Under the Presidential Records Act, the White House must preserve all memos, letters, emails and papers that the president touches, sending them to the National Archives for safekeeping as historical records.

Tech-driven wealth is the new aphrodisiac

This morning’s Observer column:

It’s a quintessential Silicon Valley story. A smart, attractive 19-year-old American woman who has taught herself Mandarin while in high school is studying chemical engineering at Stanford, where she is a president’s scholar. Her name is Elizabeth Holmes. In her first year as an undergraduate she persuades her professor to allow her to attend the seminars he runs with his PhD students. Then one day she drops into his office to tell him that she’s dropping out of college because she has a “big idea” and wants to found a company that will revolutionise a huge part of the healthcare system – the market for blood testing services. Her company will be called Theranos.

Holmes’s big idea was for a way to perform multiple tests at once on a tiny drop of blood, and to deliver the results wirelessly to doctors. So she set about pitching to investors…

Read on

L’affaire Thorpe

I’ve been watching — and enjoying — A Very English Scandal, an astonishingly good BBC mini-series about the Thorpe affair, distinguished by a truly masterful performance by Hugh Grant (above) as Jeremy Thorpe, the creepy politician at the heart of the story. This was a quintessentially English political and sex scandal in the 1970s that ended Thorpe’s career as leader of the Liberal Party after he was accused of conspiracy to murder one of his former homosexual lovers, Norman Scott. It culminated in a farcical trial, presided over by Sir Joseph Cantley, (not perhaps the sharpest knife in the judicial canteen) in which Thorpe and his alleged accomplices, were acquitted. (The exception was Andrew Newman, one of the most incompetent hit-men of all time — who succeeded only in shooting Scott’s dog and had earlier been convicted of possessing a firearm with intent to endanger life.)

Shortly after the trial, the great comedian Peter Cook did a wonderful parody of Cantley’s summing-up:

UPDATE It seems that the case may be re-opened because of new evidence that Newton may still be alive. (A previous police investigation was terminated because it was believed that he had died.)

The infantilism of Mark Zuckerberg

Sometimes, one has to marvel at the naïveté and ignorance of the Facebook boss. Yesterday, he gave an off-the-record talk to a group of selected journalists, one of whom (thankfully) was Adrienne LaFrance. Here’s an excerpt from her report:

According to Zuckerberg, the way you find common ground—a common set of facts—is not through professional news outlets, but via individuals. And Facebook, with its 2 billion or so users, has plenty of individuals. But while Zuckerberg said Facebook has begun ranking news outlets by trustworthiness, in person, he didn’t seem to distinguish among the quality of opinions.

“I do think that in general within a news organization there is an opinion,” he said. “I do think that a lot of what you all do is have an opinion and have a view.”

And Facebook, he says, simply “has more opinions.” Show users more opinions, and you give them more options. “It’s not about saying here’s one view; here’s the other side,” Zuckerberg said when I asked him to reconcile the contradiction. “You should decide where you want to be.”

Deciding what to believe based on other people’s opinions is not only not journalistic, it’s arguably hostile to the press as a democratic institution. The truth may be nuanced, but reportable facts are often quite straightforward. As any journalist can tell you, the best answer to the question “what happened?” is not why don’t you ask a bunch of your friends what they think, organize their views along a spectrum, and then decide where to plant yourself.

The Windrush scandal

Can’t think of a better summing-up of this astonishing and infuriating fiasco than this commentary from eiDigest (a daily newsletter I get every morning):

The Daily Mail‘s Sarah Vine thinks that as a saga of government and civil service incompetence, of ineptitude bordering on cruelty, of ingratitude, ignorance and failure, the Home Office’s disastrous misjudgment in relation to the children of Windrush arrivals from the Commonwealth countries takes some beating. That said, it’s not the first time we’ve been here: a decade ago, Gurkha veterans — natives of Nepal who have served alongside British soldiers for almost 200 years, with more than 50,000 dying in service and 13 receiving the Victoria Cross — were forced to take the Labour government of the day to the High Court in order to win the automatic right to settle here. And now, we’ve let it happen again.

In The Guardian Tanja Bueltmann says that when even the Daily Mail – usually the anti-immigration cheerleader – lambasts the government for mistreating immigrants, calling it a “fiasco that shames Britain”, it is clear that the situation really is very bad indeed. The treatment of the Windrush generation is as shameful as shameful gets, and no apology or U-turn can undo the harm already done to people’s lives. The extent of that harm remains somewhat unclear, however. Although we can get an idea from the many devastating personal accounts, the full reach is not yet known. While the immigration minister, Caroline Nokes, noted on Monday that Windrush-era citizens had been wrongly removed from the UK, it now transpires that the government does not actually know what has happened. Only now is the Home Office checking whether anyone has actually been deported.

The i‘s Oliver Duff notes it is only through campaigning reporting (from newspapers across the political spectrum) that ministers have belatedly been stirred to action. The Windrush scandal is a shameful chapter for a government that wants​, ​and needs​,​ to open Britain to the world. Immigration can never be reduced to numbers, despite Mrs May’s obsession: it is about people, and we are a richer nation for many of those who have chosen to make their lives on these islands.

How to leave an incriminating paper trail using Microsoft Word

This from the Mueller indictment of Paul Manafort:

Manafort and Gates made numerous false and fraudulent representations to secure the loans. For example, Manafort provided the bank with doctored [profit and loss statements] for [Davis Manafort Inc.] for both 2015 and 2016, overstating its income by millions of dollars. The doctored 2015 DMI P&L submitted to Lender D was the same false statement previously submitted to Lender C, which overstated DMI’s income by more than $4 million. The doctored 2016 DMI P&L was inflated by Manafort by more than $3.5 million. To create the false 2016 P&L, on or about October 21, 2016, Manafort emailed Gates a .pdf version of the real 2016 DMI P&L, which showed a loss of more than $600,000. Gates converted that .pdf into a “Word” document so that it could be edited, which Gates sent back to Manafort. Manafort altered that “Word” document by adding more than $3.5 million in income. He then sent this falsified P&L to Gates and asked that the “Word” document be converted back to a .pdf, which Gates did and returned to Manafort. Manafort then sent the falsified 2016 DMI P&L .pdf to Lender D.

And here’s Jacob Brogan’s summary in Slate:

So here’s the essence of what went wrong for Manafort and Gates, according to Mueller’s investigation: Manafort allegedly wanted to falsify his company’s income, but he couldn’t figure out how to edit the PDF. He therefore had Gates turn it into a Microsoft Word document for him, which led the two to bounce the documents back-and-forth over email. As attorney and blogger Susan Simpson notes on Twitter, Manafort’s inability to complete a basic task on his own seems to have effectively “created an incriminating paper trail.”