15 September 2019

Bond 26 Leak

After Daniel Craig actually steps away from the role, for realz this time, following the 2020 release of Bond 25, the producers are going to need to come up with a new Bond — and new international conspiracies to fight. In the past, they've had one, but it's obsolete (all too much like British intelligence/counterintelligence primacy, even without considering Brexit).

From Russia With Love (1963)First, of course, there was the SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion, better known as SPECTRE. Starting with From Russia With Love (1963), during the Connery phase, SPECTRE was in essence an evil multinational corporation before knowledge of multinational corporations had really sunk in to popular culture. After all, in 1963 English automobile manufacturers were owned in England (and made their Minis there), almost everyone took the Royal Navy seriously as an instrument for worldwide power projection, and fixed exchange rates meant that Sterling was still a widely accepted reserve currency. SPECTRE had several chairpeople over the years, ranging from the forgettable Morzeny (pictured here) onward. One unifying thread, though, has been that the putative head of SPECTRE has seldom been the actual, direct villain with whom Bond interacts. In From Russia With Love, Bond is primarily concerned not with Morzeny, but with Grant; similarly, in the most-recent outing, Bond's direct adversary was less "Blofeld" (his "brother") than it was Moriarty Fleabag's latest lust interest C. But SPECTRE today is a tired, and indeed insufficient, adversary for a social-media-age Bond. The attempts to make SPECTRE a creature of contemporary information culture, constant kneejerk communications, and engagement with not just governments but with everyone, have failed. Even the name is inappropriate, because it refers to something that's purely imaginary.

For franchise credibility, there needs to be a new overarching organization of selfishness and villainy for the twenty-first century. Fortunately, the real world has provided a much more credible, much more menacing villainous organization, with an acronym that refers to a real threat:


Zuckerberg walking in to evade questions from the US Senate, 10 Apr 2018which sounds much more threatening. Unfortunately, one obvious actor for portraying this member of FAANG's Central Committee has already played a Bond villain — Andrew Scott's appearance, ability to sneer, and skill at portraying narcissistic opportunism underneath a not-very-thick-or-opaque veneer of projected earnestness mixed with nerdishness, have been preempted by his performance as C in 2015's Spectre… and a repeat performance (so to speak) from Jesse Eisenberg would be too unsubtle for even a Bond film. No matter; there are other possibilities, and a distinctly white-male-obscenely-wealthy-and-American villain representing US-based tech giants Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and/or Google is probably more appropriate anyway.

We already know (or at least infer) that will require a new Bond. Since Daniel Craig has already said he's leaving — and leaks indicate that the 007 moniker has already been passed on — the field is wide open. It should be someone who can handle suave, or at least socially smooth; who can play at someone engaging both in and against extralegal conspiracies; and, above all, who is credible portraying a high-powered player with information technology — both a hacker and an exploiter. I'd also like to see slightly more diversity. So here's one possibility; there are certainly others (such as, at least potentially, the Bond-25 007, but there's little market data on or critical/media evaluation of her performance yet!). I sort of like this one because Parker would be an interesting 21st-century take on a Bond girl.

Standard Poodle (no apologies to J.K. Rowling, because HER Fang is a complete coward)That still leaves portraying the putative chair of FAANG. Inspired by a neighborhood dog of that name and breed, I offer this possibility. Which, frankly, is more threatening in appearance than the original Blofeld… or, for that matter, Zuckerberg (or Cook, or Bezos, or Hastings, or…).

No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to sync all of your social media accounts.

14 September 2019

Houhinyms and Yahoo(s)

I've been offered yet more worthless "credit monitoring" to settle a massive privacy breach! Yay!

Most people (or, at least, most people who might read this blawg) know about the Equifax data breach settlement, which essentially offers ten years of free credit monitoring — a "prize" with an implied (but not actual) retail value of $125, but whose actual cost to the vendor is somewhere around $9. I already intend to object to this settlement as inadequate because it improperly devalues the privacy interests at stake… and allows the miscreant to evade substantial responsibility for its acts and omissions that actually caused the privacy breach.

Yesterday's e-mail included a notice regarding a proposed settlement of the Yahoo data breach. On the one hand, it was "only" an e-mail provider. On the other hand, it is offering only two years of credit monitoring… without regard to, and on its face not stackable with, the Equifax monitoring. So my potentially breached privacy at Yahoo1 will cost less than $2 for Yahoo to "fix," without regard to whether someone else is already "paying" the $2 for the identical "fix."

What this reflects, more than anything else, is a failure of will on the part of the plaintiffs'-side class-action bar, combined with scorched-earth litigation tactics and an utter absence of ethics2 on the part of defense counsel. This is a particularly poorly-considered coupon settlement.3 The fundamental problem with coupon settlements (and their various equivalents) is that they actually evade responsibility. It's one thing to assert that the victims are getting "full compensation" for the wrongs inflicted on them, which is no where near factually accurate in the first place. It's another thing entirely to allow corporate actors — and only corporate actors — to take such a severe discount on the cost of that compensation that it's reduced to a cost of doing business. <SARCASM> Presuming that the two sides of the equation are supposed to balance, one must wonder who's paying for the difference. </SARCASM> It's ok to drive a negligent driver into bankruptcy when the victim's damages exceed the driver's policy limits (and even if the victim's claim can't be discharged, it leaves nothing for the driver to deal with anything else), but we almost never do the same with corporations any more (without even considering veil-piercing).

  1. I am carefully omitting the exclamation point at the end of this mark, because an exclamation point is meaningful in all established search systems, specifically including all search systems (and regular-expression systems) in existence at the time Yet Another Heirarchical Object Organizer was first made available to the public. This is my "F*ck you!" to Yahoo's marketing moronsgeniuses, and more generally to assholes who establish trademarks and brand identity without regard to their actual meaning, usage, or perhaps-unintended-but-excrutiatingly-obvious consequences. In short, the mark should be disrespected — and perhaps even cancelled — due to bad faith in its selection and registration.

    There's no contempt issue here. The underlying conduct, and carelessness in preventing, detecting, and responding to it, was beneath contempt.

  2. Cf., e.g., R. Prof. Cond. 4.1:

    In the course of representing a client a lawyer shall not knowingly:
       (b) fail to disclose a material fact to a third person when disclosure is necessary to avoid assisting a criminal or fraudulent act by a client, unless disclosure is prohibited by Rule 1.6.

    Cf. also R. Prof. Cond. 3.4, 4.3, 4.4. Leaving aside value or anything else, there is no disclosure on the notice that this proposed settlement overlaps with another proposed settlement, thereby substantially reducing and/or potentially completely eliminating its value to significant numbers of members of the class. And defining that overlap is incredibly easy and obvious:

    {all persons members of the Equifax settlement class}

    {all persons members of this settlement class}

    which is obviously not an empty set. There is at least one member: Me. More to the point, it was predictable that there are at least enough other members (25–40) to create an independently-certifiable class on its own.

  3. I have substantial experience as counsel on the plaintiffs' side of class actions. See, e.g., Gibson v. Bob Watson Chevrolet-Geo, Inc., 112 F.3d 283 (7th Cir. 1997) (Posner, J.) (which one should ponder regarding note 2 above, and specifically its relationship to R. Prof. Cond 4.1(b)), and more than a dozen other reported opinions. That said, I've never been in favor of coupon settlements and their functional equivalents for the simple reason that they directly, or at best indirectly-at-one-remove, tie victims to continuing to do business with miscreants after the miscreant has been found out… even if, and perhaps especially when, the miscreant continues to maintain that it has done nothing wrong and won't do it again.

10 September 2019

End Times?

It almost lends credence to the nutcases holding "The End Is Nigh" signs down by the park when:

05 September 2019

Mixed-Species Link Sausage Platter

Terrestrial origin (and even terrestrial phylogenetic classification) not guaranteed.

  • Consider, on the one hand, normalizing website blocking, versus Cloudflare's refusal to even consider blocking of pirate sites… but willingness to take actions far closer to "free speech" (especially the third sausage). That those managers will reluctantly stop support of speech (that is arguably, but not uniformly or inherently, inciting violence but is unarguably political in nature) while not interdicting unlawful distribution of unauthorized copies of copyrighted material tells you all you need to know about the respective revenue flows. In short, piracy pays… someone. The hypocrisy is a little bit too much to take while pondering emoluments. "Follow the money" indeed.
  • Speaking of unearned benefits, consider what it takes to become the First Squeeze. And worse yet, consider what that can do; I was less than enthusiastic about Al Gore due to his then-wife, because I remembered the utter hypocrisy of PMRC (ponder what's missing from that list). "It's an act, lady!" indeed. But at least she wasn't comforted by all the "beautiful white people" in the audience
  • Reminder to check your Equifax data breach status, because you can't make a decision unless you know your status.

    I think the settlement is wholly unsatisfactory, inadequate, and inappropriate for a very simple reason: It is a "limited fund" settlement, which is not appropriate. It reduces the exposure of the miscreant to a cost of doing business based on the miscreant having accurately reported matters to the other side… when carelessness with its own data by the miscreant is the cause of the problem in the first place. The other fundamental problem with this settlement is that it does not deal with the core "bad data" issues that actually harm consumers; along with any such settlement should come a requirement that during the period a consumer is challenging the accuracy of an item, that item not be reported — especially if the challenge is based on identity theft.

    I also recommend that as many people as are eligible take the money, not the "free" credit monitoring… because the credit monitoring costs the vendors somewhere under $1 per customer per year, but the "award" implies a retail price of $12.50 per year. The credit-reporting industry is built on memes and data analyses that openly wear their legacy of discrimination, so cutting into its profit margins appeals to me.

  • And then there's the mythology of "access" and the corresponding abuses (beginning with conflicts of interest and going downhill from there — rapidly).
  • Last, and far from least: The US Women's National Team just got some evidence that it deserves equal pay with the men. There are fourteen US women nominated for world Best XI. There are zero US men on the lists (and less than five this century). So which group is being underpaid on merit?

28 August 2019

Let's Be Worse!


I'm your host, Zombie Dag Hammarskjöld. On today's episode of Let's Be Worse! world leaders try to show that they're worse than Idi Amin! Let's meet today's contestants, in Roman-alphabetical order:

So let's have a warm round of applause for our contestants, because when they win — we all lose! [canned audience applause] At least so far, none of today's contestants have actually eaten any of their opponents — but there's still time to try! [canned audience applause, 4 sec. longer]

I'm so disappointed that we don't have a stage as big as the Democratic presidential debates, because there are potential candidates from Austria through Brazil to Zuckerbergistan, and every letter in between! So, Johnny, what do we have for the losers today?

[announcer's voice, off camera] Dag, everyone in the audience gets a free dose of apocalyptic fear — and like you said, they're the real losers!


23 August 2019

That Bizarre Object Over There

ELI: That bizarre object over there is the one and only Dusenberg we have in stock. When it goes into the river, hopefully we shall not see its like again. So, once the action starts, no matter what happens, keep film rolling. We must have this shot. I therefore order that no camera shall jam, and no cloud pass before the sun.

The Stunt Man (1979), a marvelous performance by Peter O'Toole that garnered an Oscar nomination but had the misfortune to be up against... umm... a make-up award vehicle.

The echoes of Our Dear Leader's latest piece of performance art, in both the rhetoric and the dubious reality orientation, are a bit disturbing. If God could do the tweets we can do, he'd be a happy man.

18 August 2019

Clockwork Orange Skull

So Megan Rapinoe stuck it to Orange Skull again. She clearly has a better understanding of reality — and more, better words — than he does. Of course, Ms Rapinoe appears to have actually worked for her undergraduate degree and taken some of that knowledge with her into the outside world.

Orange Skull? Just ask the creator of Maus. Or, more likely, try to suppress it claiming "we're not political", which really opens things up for discussion. Compare to, for example, "With great power comes great responsibility."; "I came to realize that I had more to offer this world than just making things that blow up."; "Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so that people could be free. This isn't freedom, this is fear."; "The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude." OK, that last one isn't from a Marvel product, but it rather sums things up well… and makes clear (if only by implication) that censorship by the marketplace, or by market actors, is still a form of censorship. As a recently deceased should-have-been-a-Nobel-laureate noted back in the 70s,

Recently I read in Giovanni Grazzini’s fascinating book on Solzhenitsyn the following passage:

The cultural industry, vanity, the resentment felt by intellectuals at seeing power slipping from their hands, have so obscured the vision of Western writers as to make them believe that not being persecuted by the police is a privilege.

I am very slow indeed. I puzzled over that sentence for three days before I understood what Grazzini meant. He meant, of course, that it is not a privilege, but a right.

Ursula K. Le Guin.

13 August 2019

Headline-Evading Link Sausage Platter

Disturbingly closely related link sausages that carefully avoid the issues dominating the headlines… because you don't need me to tell you that the headlines, and the stories behind them, are ridiculous.

  • One of the fundamental problems with performance arts is that nobody pays much attention to infrastructure — either its needs or its costs. At the moment, this is obvious with symphony orchestras. Forty miles from each other, the Baltimore Symphony and the National Philharmonic are going through a crisis of inability to pay their large staffs. Part of the problem is that the public (and, for that matter, the trust-fundies who attend all of those wine-and-cheese parties) has little, if any, conception of just how many highly trained people it takes to put on a musical performance. One of the problems with classical music is the meme that no multipurpose facility is adequate, so there must be dedicated (and expensive) buildings ranging from La Scala to the Sydney Opera House that can really only do one thing: Unamplified group-ensemble performances lasting between 90 and 150 minutes. That meme isn't entirely wrong; an unstated consequence, however, is that nothing else can contribute to the construction, the upkeep, the staffing, etc.

    More to the point (especially in Baltimore), though, is the disdain for the back-office staff, especially in contrast to the never-ending conflict between front-office staff pay and musician pay. Bluntly, with most orchestras there's no excuse whatsoever for front-office staff, especially at the management level, being paid comparably to the musicians — it's orthogonal. But show me a symphony, anywhere in the world, where the top beggars fundraisers/party MCs make less than the concertmaster (ordinarily a violinist with three-decades-plus of experience, and usually at least a dozen years at that orchestra); care to guess who is actually more important to any particular performance? I'm not saying "don't reward the nonperforming staff at all"; I'm saying that the contests for who "deserves" more have got to stop.

    And the less said about the median remuneration for artists versus gallery owners and museum management, the better.

  • Which leads to the fascinating dispute between the repeat-World-Cup-champion US women's football (soccer) team and the US soccer federation — the counterpart of the USOC and USA Gymnastics — over the pay rate offered to the women, especially compared to the men (who didn't even qualify for the last World Cup and have never made it beyond the quarterfinals in the modern (1958 and thereafter) competitions). The underlying numbers simply are not comparable (as the men's team players note, in support of the women's team players!), but are nonetheless all that we've been given. All of this rather ignores the self-fulfilling-prophecy and confirmation bias problems resulting when women's teams (or sports) are put into fourth-rate facilities with fourth-rate infrastructure against historically-not-competitive opposition with a backdrop of gender-based pay inequality. Let's put it this way: I wouldn't pay the same price for a ticket to a Reign FC match at Starfire as I would to a Sounders match at CenturyLink (or whatever its official name is these days, which is part of the point, too); my back can't handle bleacher-like seating!

    The comparison to the preceding item (especially given the overwhelming inherited-wealth nature of "management" in both areas) is a bit too much before coffee. For that matter, it's a bit too much before a couple of twelve-year-old single malts at the end of the day, in a dark-wood-appointed lounge with… damn, that's my point, isn't it?

  • Confirmation bias also works the opposite direction in the arts, too, especially for anyone who is not the beneficiary of an organizational copyright holder. This piece at BoingBoing epitomizes the problem, primarily because its dataset is so badly conceived and lumps disparate populations — not just samples — together for a statistically indefensible analysis. The conclusion that is implied — that outright piracy of material that failed of formalities disfavored by governing international treaties and standards, particularly since those formalities were imposed on people (authors and, especially, their heirs) with no expertise and at a future-discounted non-volume-related cost of several times the unfair-competition-dominated market value, is ok because "nobody" cared about it in the first place — improperly treats disparate works and holders/authors alike to draw that conclusion. The example of L. Frank Baum illustrates it rather well. Baum wrote a helluva lot more than just the Oz books; indeed, the Oz books represent well under 30% of his copyrightable output. Only the Oz books were ever renewed, though. Commercially, this made sense — after 28 years, nobody wanted old chicken-farming manuals. But the conclusion that renewal is therefore somehow "disfavored" or "irrelevant" for the Oz books on that basis — as implied by both the article and the dataset chosen for misanalysis — does not follow. Indeed, looking at the universe of the types of books (because the pecularities of periodicals and registrations make the datasets internally discontinuous) that were renewed, at least on the sample basis that I did in 2005, leads to almost the opposite conclusion for several types of books. And in turn, that is inconsistent with "one size fits all" copyright, something that is almost required by the Bleistein Problem.

    None of which does a very good job, at the next level of implication, of explaining why Cloudflare is willing to take its platform away from political speech (however reprehensible) but, as a policy matter, won't even consider taking it away from thieves and pirates — not even when given a site analysis demonstrating that 90% of a given site's content consists of less-than-20-year-old pirated copyrightable material. Oh, wait: Confirmation bias again. Not to mention money-in-the-pocket bias again.

  • And, unfortunately, medical "replication" issues fall prey to the same flaws, especially when applied to nonmedical circumstances. The irony that that article doesn't see its own confirmation bias as an issue is just a bonus: Bayesian statistical analysis has its own problems with boundary conditions.

03 August 2019

Catching Up With the Future

At 3:57a.m.on Sunday, August 3, 2019, James Connor Quinn pulled off his headset and sat back in his chair, sweating and sucking air, sure now, but hardly able to believe what he alone in all his world knew.

"Jesus Christ," Jimmy breathed, meeting the future by turning to the ancient past. "Holy Mother of God."

He rubbed his eyes and combed his fingers through his tangled, scribbly hair and sat, staring blankly, for a few moments longer. Then he called Anne.

Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow (1996). Now if we could only find intelligent life inside the Beltway…

01 August 2019

Master Debaters

Let's get one thing out of the way first. The last two nights on CNN (and the preceding iteration) were not a "debate." They were a bloody talent show all too similar to the Miss USA pageant, with just about as much relationship to reality, to merit, and/or to elections. Bluntly: Policy decisions are not made on a stage under lights in response to questions from marginally informed reporters whose primary job is to enhance network ratings. Neither, for that matter, are voting decisions… something that the thing on Drumpf's head demonstrated that it understood all too well in 2016. This wasn't even a three-penny opera; it lacked Macheath as a moderator, and in place of the Queen's intervention at the end we had "we've run out of time."

The fundamental problem with public charades of this nature is that reality doesn't present chief executives with problems that have neat, simple, boundaries and neat, simple, one-dimensional solutions… that don't overlap with anything else, that never require balancing of different priorities and side effects (anticipated or otherwise), that are never undermined by opposing personal interests (or institutional interests, let alone historical imperatives). No moderator has ever asked even so simple a follow-up question as this:

How would you implement a policy concerning the opioid crisis of addiction while simultaneously acknowledging the need for pain relief and low availability of continuing medical care in the regions most hurt by opioids?

And that doesn't even get into "OK, now how do you implement that in the face of strong moral objections from really noisy objectors, especially any in Congress?" or "OK, now how is it going to be paid for?" or "OK, what's your medical evidence that strategy could work?" All too often, the candidates were talking to themselves, running down prepared points of what they (and their handlers) wanted to hear instead of even engaging with difficulties… let alone opposing viewpoints.

Worse, though, is this possibility — a question that, so far as I've been able to determine, has not been asked of a presidential candidate in a public debate since they were first telecast over half a century ago:

This is a follow-up to the previous question. [An outside force of some kind] absolutely prevents you from implementing that policy. Tell me how you would respond.

Because Napoleon was an optimist. It is not just "the enemy" that kills off plans — it is reality. An unexpected hurricane or earthquake that results in lots of orthopedic and soft-tissue injuries, for example, putting additional stress on the medical system while also increasing the demand for long-term pain relief, would be an obvious possibility, and is precisely the sort of thing that actually faces chief executives.

* * *

I am carefully refraining from comment about how Boris the Spider is trying to demonstrate that Anglophone executives "elected" through a combination of voter suppression, voter deception, and restricted voting populations invariably turn into clowns, when they weren't clowns to start with. Except, of course, this one.

21 July 2019

Landlocked Moby Dick

I suffered a minor parking-lot collision today at a grocery store. A selfish jerk driving a pristine-white 4x4 pickup was in a hurry to get out of the lot, clipped the rear of my parked car (which is old enough to have its own driver's license), and drove off — no doubt hoping he hadn't been seen. He put a minor crack in the rear brakelight cover.

It was a business truck, so I've got a good idea how to contact him. I won't be doing so, however, on the basis of two things: The NRA sticker on his bumper and the license-plate frame asking "Who Is John Galt?" Not exactly who I expect to take personal responsibility for anything…

But that leads to another observation. Over all the decades I've been driving, I've learned in each area what kind of vehicles to avoid because they're disproportionately dangerous to other traffic. Back in the Iron Age, it was Caddys and Lincolns and taxicabs. Now, it's Beamers… and white whales. White SUVs, pickups, and vans seem to have a disproportionate share of road ownership interests, not to mention being difficult to see around in parking lots, and the cleaner and shinier they are the more arrogant the driving. Maybe I should get a personalized plate P3QU0D; or maybe not, given the Pequod's fate.

20 July 2019

Magnificent Desolation

One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.

I remember wondering whether it was supposed to be "a man." And I'm immensely disappointed that we've barely been back since, so the singular/plural issue has taken on a disturbing, almost sardonic, unintentionally ironic tone. But then, he was an engineer, not an English major, dammit!

Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.