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.”

Social media are performative spaces – even when you’re torturing your kids

Social media are performative spaces in which people try — and succeed — to project images of themselves as they want to be seen by others. We also see this in schools and even elite universities — where students are reluctant to meet face-to-face with their tutors. They want to communicate via electronic messaging — email, WhatsApp, FB Messenger, whatever. Why? Because they are scared of F2F encounters which will reveal their doubts, insecurities, failings, ignorance. Instead they want always to project their ‘edited selves’.

None of this is new. What is really extraordinary, though, about the case of the Californian parents who imprisoned their 13 children (and shackled three of them to furniture) is that they managed to project happy-clappy images of their family on social media.

Selfie macht frei

This is the kind of thing you really couldn’t make up. From the BBC:

A life-size model of Adolf Hitler used for “selfies” by visitors to an Indonesian museum has been removed.

Pictures shared on social media show people grinning as they pose with the Nazi leader in front of an image of the gates of Auschwitz concentration camp.

It was only when the international community reacted with outrage that the De ARCA Statue Art Museum realised it had caused any offence.

The museum, in Jogjakarta, Java, said it had only wanted to educate.

The selfies show the smartphone owner with the Führer in front of a huge photograph of the front gate of Auschwitz, complete with the Arbeit Macht Frei arch.

The camera always lies

Lovely photograph of Abe, looking statesmanlike. It was taken by Mathew Brady, a celebrated photographer of the Civil War era. I found it in Errol Morris’s review of Peter Manseau’s The Apparitionists: A Tale of Phantoms, Fraud, Photography, and the Man Who Captured Lincoln’s Ghost. Here’s what Morris writes about the picture:

“Lincoln did not look much like a statesman as he stood in Brady’s posing room. The photographer drew up Lincoln’s collar to shorten the appearance of his neck, and determined that he could put his artists to work taming Lincoln’s hair after the image had been developed. They also might smooth the crags in his face — whatever might be done to make him appear more presidential. As a final touch, Brady placed Lincoln’s hand on a book, as if the senator were already taking the oath of office.”

Now, of what does this remind me? Oh yes, Emmanuel Macron and the care he took over his presidential portrait (the one that hangs in every Mairie in France.

Lovely analysis of the semiotics of this photograph here.

How to be smart and clueless at the same time

Mark Zuckerberg’s ‘defence’ of Facebook’s role in the election of Trump provides a vivid demonstration of how someone can have a very high IQ and yet be completely clueless — as Zeynep Tufecki points out in a splendid NYT OpEd piece:

Mr. Zuckerberg’s preposterous defense of Facebook’s failure in the 2016 presidential campaign is a reminder of a structural asymmetry in American politics. It’s true that mainstream news outlets employ many liberals, and that this creates some systemic distortions in coverage (effects of trade policies on lower-income workers and the plight of rural America tend to be underreported, for example). But bias in the digital sphere is structurally different from that in mass media, and a lot more complicated than what programmers believe.

In a largely automated platform like Facebook, what matters most is not the political beliefs of the employees but the structures, algorithms and incentives they set up, as well as what oversight, if any, they employ to guard against deception, misinformation and illegitimate meddling. And the unfortunate truth is that by design, business model and algorithm, Facebook has made it easy for it to be weaponized to spread misinformation and fraudulent content. Sadly, this business model is also lucrative, especially during elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, called the 2016 election “a big deal in terms of ad spend” for the company, and it was. No wonder there has been increasing scrutiny of the platform.

One rule for big data, another for the rest of us…

This morning’s Observer column:

Last week, much of the tech world was temporarily unhinged by a circus in Cupertino, where a group of ageing hipster billionaires unveiled some impressive technology while miming the argot of teenage fandom (incredible, amazing, awesome, etc) and pretending that they were changing the world. Meanwhile, over in the real world, another tech story was unfolding. Except that this is not just a tech story: it’s a morality tale about how we have come to inhabit a world in which corporate irresponsibility, incompetence and greed goes unpunished, while little people can’t get a loan because they have an incorrect blemish on their credit records, which is almost impossible to detect and correct.

This story concerns Equifax, an outfit of which I’m guessing you’ve never heard. Nor had I. It’s one of the three largest American credit agencies (the others are Experian and TransUnion). Its business – its only business – is to collect, securely store and aggregate information on more than 800 million individual consumers and nearly 90m businesses worldwide…

Read on

Oh, and there’s a UK angle on this…

Now here’s a good Freedom of Information request

CREW [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] have lodged a Freedom of Information request with the US Treasury Department. They are seeking:

  • copies of all records concerning authorization for and the costs of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of a government plane to travel to Lexington, Kentucky on Monday, August 21, accompanied by his wife Louise Linton.
  • copies of all records concerning authorization for and the costs of Secretary Mnuchin’s use of a government plane for any purpose since his appointment as Treasury Secretary.

The rationale

On August 21, 2017, Secretary Mnuchin and his wife Louise Linton travelled to Lexington, Kentucky, purportedly for the Secretary to present remarks along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at a luncheon sponsored by the Louisville chamber of commerce, Greater Louisville Inc. Afterward, Secretary Mnuchin and his wife “headed to Fort Know…to tour the bullion reserve at the Army post and view the eclipse.”

The requested records would shed light on the justification for Secretary Mnuchin’s use of a government plane, rather than a commercial flight, for a trip that seems to have been planned around the solar eclipse and to enable the Secretary to secure a viewpoint in the path of the eclipse’s totality. At a time of expected deep cuts to the federal budget, the taxpayers have a significant interest in learning the extent to which Secretary Mnuchin has used government planes for travel in lieu of commercial planes, and the justification for that use.

Footnote This all stems from a spectacular own goal by Mrs Mnuchin (aka Louise Linton).

Americans’ promiscuous addiction to the untrue

From How America Went Haywire by Kurt Andersen.

How many Americans now inhabit alternate realities? Any given survey of beliefs is only a sketch of what people in general really think. But reams of survey research from the past 20 years reveal a rough, useful census of American credulity and delusion. By my reckoning, the solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Only a third of us, for instance, don’t believe that the tale of creation in Genesis is the word of God. Only a third strongly disbelieve in telepathy and ghosts. Two-thirds of Americans believe that “angels and demons are active in the world.” More than half say they’re absolutely certain heaven exists, and just as many are sure of the existence of a personal God — not a vague force or universal spirit or higher power, but some guy. A third of us believe not only that global warming is no big deal but that it’s a hoax perpetrated by scientists, the government, and journalists. A third believe that our earliest ancestors were humans just like us; that the government has, in league with the pharmaceutical industry, hidden evidence of natural cancer cures; that extraterrestrials have visited or are visiting Earth. Almost a quarter believe that vaccines cause autism, and that Donald Trump won the popular vote in 2016. A quarter believe that our previous president maybe or definitely was (or is?) the anti-Christ. According to a survey by Public Policy Polling, 15 percent believe that the “media or the government adds secret mind-controlling technology to television broadcast signals,” and another 15 percent think that’s possible. A quarter of Americans believe in witches. Remarkably, the same fraction, or maybe less, believes that the Bible consists mainly of legends and fables — the same proportion that believes U.S. officials were complicit in the 9/11 attacks.

Russian hacking — what’s getting lost in the fuss about Trump

Good Editorial in the NYT.

So let’s take a moment to recall the sheer scope and audacity of the Russian efforts.

Under direct orders from President Vladimir Putin, hackers connected to Russian military intelligence broke into the email accounts of senior officials at the Democratic National Committee and of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. They passed tens of thousands of emails to the website WikiLeaks, which posted them throughout the last months of the campaign in an attempt to damage the Clinton campaign.

Even more disturbing, hackers sought access to voter databases in at least 39 states, and in some cases tried to alter or delete voter data. They also appear to have tried to take over the computers of more than 100 local election officials in the days before the Nov. 8 vote.

But the only part of this that appears to interest Trump is the threat it poses to the perceived legitimacy of his electoral win. He’s a narcissist, remember.