Thursday, December 13, 2018

All In The Family

No one else left.

First, We Do All The Crimes

You gotta admire the way they think. Sort of.

Manhattan-based federal prosecutors are investigating whether some of the $107 million in donations to then-President elect Donald Trump's inaugural committee were misspent, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

The Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, said the investigation arose in part from the slew of materials seized in April raids on Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, by federal prosecutors.

Rediscovering The Deficit


Team D

Donald Trump might be the greatest president in the history of the universe, and all the Mueller stuff might be JUST SO UNFAIR, but who the hell would be dumb enough walk into that legal buzzsaw and work for this administration now?

It isn't as if I think Donald's gonna be hauled off in chains tomorrow... but everybody around him is going to continue to pay for lawyers, if nothing else.



Washington (CNN)Alleged Russian spy Maria Butina pleaded guilty in federal court Thursday for conspiracy to act as an illegal foreign agent in the United States.

Butina, 30, was accused of working to infiltrate Republican political circles through groups such as the National Rifle Association to bolster Russian interests.

Bet it's a nonstop party at NRA headquarters these days.

Youtube is a Sewer

I basically don't use Youtube for anything except watching music of various kinds. At some point - I dunno, a couple of years ago - those "recommended videos" (gotta keep fighting to turn the damn autoplay next video off!) started getting really weird. Often nothing to do with whatever crappy music I happened to be listening to. Basically a click or two (or autoplay) away from crazy racist conspiracy stuff.

The humans who run YouTube (and run its algorithms) aren’t exactly proud of the fact that their product showcases misogynist rants or pseudoscientific nonsense or apocalyptic conspiracy theories. But their position is that what happens inside their black box is extremely hard to correct or regulate, and on the scale at which YouTube operates, it’s impossible to apply human judgment to every case. They wish there was a way to serve up video recommendations without poisoning people’s minds till someone believes it’s necessary to invade a pizza parlor with an assault rifle, but that’s a real tough computational challenge.

What this line of defense leaves out is a very basic, obvious fact: YouTube already has access to an algorithm that can sort through videos without promoting unhinged fringe material. It’s called Google. YouTube is part of Google. When and if Google’s search algorithms start giving Google users fringe results, Google treats that as a failure and tries to fix the algorithms.


And so YouTube doesn’t have to pick out Pizzagaters or MRAs or neo-phrenologists. It has the power to send viewers in the opposite direction. The people who run YouTube made the choice to teach its algorithms to value trash—even if they thought they were teaching the system to value something more neutral, like viewing time. There was a time, in living memory, when the YouTube recommendation system was less aggressive and it acted like Google: stacking up more and more songs by the same band you were listening to, say, or the same subject you were watching a clip about, until you’d had all you wanted and were done.

Morning Thread

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Disgraced Former Speaker Gingrich To Be Chief Of Staff?

That'll at least be good for laughs for the 20 days or so it lasts.

More Days of May

She survives the vote. Brexit's like pulling a tooth .00001mm per day.

Witch Hunted

To be fair, it is a long commute.

3 Years Sounds Like Forever

3 years in prison is a long time. 3 years in prison is a long time (to me) for any crime short of rape or murder or something with a similar level of violence and harm to others. When educated white guys go to prison for that long there's always a brief collective "whoa, whoa, isn't that a pretty harsh punishment?" even as similar or greater sentences get dished out for drug and property crimes which basically harm no one.

Still I'd like to settle on the new normal that 3 years in an American prison is actually a pretty harsh punishment, for almost every crime.

Like A Taxi, But It Always Shows Up in 30 Seconds, And Cheaper

This is the self-driving robotaxi fantasy. More profitable for businesses and cheaper for consumers. I don't know if Lyft and Uber are viable continuing business models at their current prices but I really doubt that robotaxis, even if they worked, would really be able to go much below those prices. I mean, their current business model is making labor provide its own capital and barely paying them enough. I'm not sure how removing labor but adding more expensive capital (with a lot of backend labor, also, too) really changes this much.

My general point is that Lyft and Uber have pretty good coverage and pretty good prices even in many suburban areas. You can already replace a lot of non-commuting trips with them at reasonable prices. One barrier to this is the marginal costs of driving are hidden so when you own a car a trip seems almost "free," but many households with one or more adults who don't need cars for commuting could probably subtract one and fill the gap with Lyft trips and save money.

If these services aren't replacing private cars, I'm not sure why robotaxis would. Just how cheap can a 4 mile trip to the grocery store be, and if it's $8 instead of $12 (numbers entirely made up) is that really going to make the difference to people? And I do think in urban hellholes like mine Lyft/Uber have made getting around without using a private vehicle more appealing, but I don't see how robotaxis improve that...

The Money Primary

We think of the "money primary" as the race to prove that candidates can actually raise money.

I think it's more the race to see who can get a paycheck.


Effort by Tories to bring down Theresa May. Vote this afternoon (Americuh time). If she doesn't win, Tories pick a new PM. Well, a new leader. The full parliament doesn't have to vote to approve, but in theory the queen can refuse based on the notion that the full parliament wouldn't vote to approve. All very confusing.

Morning Thread

Tuesday, December 11, 2018


I despair somewhat because the "politics-show-as-wrestling" presentation of everything really does keep getting slowly worse. Like everything else we see as a part of politics, of course that's a part of politics, but the more it's emphasized the more people think it's the important part of politics instead of the dumb part.

A Hero For Every Generation

Happy Hour Thread

Get happy.

I Think They Do

I Should Be Donald Trump's Chief Of Staff

Not really, but the man should listen to me! I could tell him how to be reasonably popular. More popular than Obummer! As popular as any president is likely to be these days absent a rally around the flag event.

The economy is "good" by the standards of these things (No overall trends in our horrible system are in many ways not good, but that's more complicated. The headlines are good). Many Democrats are forgiving totebagger types, and desperately "want" to like the president. Dial back the worst of the shit - you know, stop putting babies in cages and generally stop going after the most marginalized groups in terms of actual policy. Keep the crazy tweets and the MAGA rallies going! MAGAs love that shit and don't know or care about policy, really. Keep screaming that the immigrants are going to steal babies out of incubators, or whatever, but just stop putting the babies in cages. Theater for the MAGAs, reality for the non-MAGAs. Trump would be quite popular! As I said, more popular than Obummer at least!


It shouldn't be called that, this is dangerously irresponsible.

Autopilot feature, which lets it change lanes by itself. Stahl’s wowed reaction—“Oh my goodness”—matches that of many people when they first see the Tesla take control of its steering and speed. But her questioning, trying to gauge Musk’s involvement in the driving process, highlights a significant issue Tesla faces as it rolls out ever more advanced Autopilot features.

A growing body of evidence makes clear that many drivers are confused about what the car can and can’t do. Tesla has repeatedly insisted—with spokesperson statements, driver manuals, and on-screen warnings in the car—that Autopilot is not an autonomous system. It doesn’t even see stopped firetrucks. The human is always responsible, and should keep their hands on the wheel. Yet, on one of the country’s most popular news programs, Musk risked compounding the confusion by clearly not even touching the steering wheel, and agreeing that he wasn’t driving. As he put it: “I’m not doing anything.”

Musk has explicitly said the cars have the necessary hardware to be genuinely self-driving (they don't even in some fantasy), that they just need a software update (always around the corner), and that unspecified regulators and regulations are really the barrier. When an accident happens they'll say the driver is at fault for not obeying the fine print.

I get hyping your product, but this goes beyond that. Something is not right with this guy.

My Car

Aside from the general "not gonna work" thing, I get so puzzled about the faith people have in the idea that when self-driving cars exist all we will need are robo-taxis and then things like parking requirements can just disappear.

First, peak commute time doesn't go away. Sure most cars sit there doing nothing most of the time, but a lot of people need them between 6-9 and 4-7 (or so) every weekday. Got match that demand somehow.

Second, the idea that people can just summon a car so we don't need massive amounts of parking in front of every location ignores a lot of things. All those empty cars being summoned to pick up drivers are going to add a lot of congestion to roads, which to some degree will become mobile parking lots (perhaps literally, with enough congestion). People used to walking out the door and into their own car really really hate waiting. 5 minute wait to pick you up at Target while your kid is screaming? Sure. Also, too, in general "pick up lines" are going to be a big source of congestion, as anyone who has ever made a school run knows.

Third, kids again. People use their cars to store all kinds of things, including of course car seats for the kids. Also bottles of water. And blankets and binkies and random things to entertain them and... Also, not just kids, people in general use their cars to store lots of things that might be useful to them.

None of this says, "oh sorry self-driving cars won't work" (they won't, but that's a different issue). They just won't provide the fantasy urban transformation and comfort/convenience enhancement that people imagine. The things still gotta park somewhere, peak demand at commute time isn't going to go away, and for good reasons people who regularly use cars will want their own car. Maybe it'll be self-driving, but it won't be a robotaxi.