A Stunning Tally of War

The price tag, which includes the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and increased spending on veterans’ care, will reach $5.9 trillion by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to the Costs of War project at Brown University. Since nearly all of that money has been borrowed, the total cost with interest will be substantially higher.

. . . . .

Nearly 7,000 service members — and nearly 8,000 private contractors— have been killed. More than 53,700 people returned home bearing physical wounds, and numberless more carry psychological injuries. 

End the War in Afghanistan

How is it that through 17 years and three administrations, we are still at a point where we have not defined victory? It is a shocking failure of civilian leadership and an outright abuse of our military.

I’m not sure we should exit Afghanistan, but it is long overdue to ask, “if not now, when?”

Population Equilibrium

This is a great paragraph:

It is unlikely that the trend towards lower fertility will reverse. “Once having one or two children becomes the norm, it stays the norm,” write Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson in “Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline”. “Couples no longer see having children as a duty…to their families or their god. Rather, they choose to raise a child as an act of personal fulfilment. And they are quickly fulfilled.”

Thanks to education, global fertility could fall faster than expected

This Atlantic article is now 20 years old. I still remember it because it blew me away and I have believed its premise ever since: “Fifty years from now the world’s population will be declining, with no end in sight.”

Our long-term problem may indeed be maintaining a stable population, not managing a growing one.

Corporate Gatekeepers

This is not sustainable:

During the midterm elections in the United States last year, Twitter added, most of the false content on its site came from within the country itself. Many of the misleading messages focused on voter suppression, with the company deleting almost 6,000 tweets that included incorrect dates for the election or that falsely claimed that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement was patrolling polling stations.

Twitter Says False Content Is Evolving, and More Comes From the U.S.

It is both dangerous and ineffective to rely on big corporations to curate messages so that only “good messages” are seen. We can’t even decide whether we want this. On the one hand, it scares us that big companies have this power. On the hand, we insist that they use it.

It will get worse. Deepfakes are coming to the political space. (This one is amazing.) And videos do not have to be fake to be taken out of context.

So what to do? Facebook/Twitter/Apple/Google are not the solution. Corporate decision making is not immune from bias, mistake, and poor policy. But it is less transparent and less aligned with our social goals.

We need to slow down and stop making snap judgments. We need a renewed emphasis on the legitimacy / authority of the source. The good news is that we might get better at this over time.

Facebook Privacy Noise

Following up on my post yesterday (ugh privacy):

In a recent Wall Street Journal commentary, Mark Zuckerberg claimed that Facebook users want to see ads tailored to their interests. But the data show the opposite is true. With the help of major polling firms, we conducted two large national telephone surveys of Americans in 2012 and 2009. When we asked people whether they wanted websites they visit to show them commercial ads, news or political ads “tailored to your interests,” a substantial majority said no. Around half did say they wanted discounts tailored to their interests. But that too changed after we told them how companies gathered the information that enables tailoring, such as following you on a website.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Delusion of Consumer Consent

Survey responses depend greatly on how questions are phrased and contextualized, and I’m not even sure how I’d answer this question myself.

I feel like I want relevant ads. But maybe not too relevant? There’s a line between, “get the most durable baby swing on the market!” (no thanks, go away!) and “buy that genetic test you’ve been researching!” (how did you know that??)

All we really know is that if there is a “right balance” between personalized ads and privacy, Facebook is obviously not incentivized to find it. But… who is? What is the right balance? I see precious little commentary on that.

Lawyers, make your decisions early in the day

This is in the world of finance, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t apply to legal decision making.

We find that forecast accuracy declines over the course of a day as the number of forecasts the analyst has already issued increases. Also consistent with decision fatigue, we find that the more forecasts an analyst issues, the higher the likelihood the analyst resorts to more heuristic decisions by herding more closely with the consensus forecast, by self-herding (i.e., reissuing their own previous outstanding forecasts), and by issuing a rounded forecast

Perhaps more interesting is that the market abides.

Finally, we find that the stock market understands these effects and discounts for analyst decision fatigue.

Hirshleifer, David A. and Levi, Yaron and Lourie, Ben and Teoh, Siew Hong, Decision Fatigue and Heuristic Analyst Forecasts (February 2018). NBER Working Paper No. w24293. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3131034

Stories that deserve more analysis

Yes, I know PG&E has been in the newsalot. For not great things. But I feel like this is like a boiling the frog issue. This is all very bad – it’d be great to see an overall data visualization of all of this – because I actually think PG&E’s behavior is even worse than we realize. I don’t have time (or ability!) to do this, but it’d be super interesting and is a story that needs to be told.

Culture of Theft

Hot on the news of the Huawei indictment is this story about about the second Chinese national accused of stealing autonomous vehicle trade secrets from Apple.

And from the China Law Blog, a bit of disheartening commentary:

What can happen to the Chinese employees of your WFOE [Wholly Foreign-Owned Enterprise] in China is exactly what allegedly happened to the Chinese employees of Huawei’s U.S. subsidiary. The local Chinese government will give your employees a detailed list of exactly what your employees must take from the WFOE and the timeframe in which they must complete the task. Though your Chinese employees may formally work for your WFOE, the Chinese government is essentially their ultimate “boss,” in the same way Huawei China is alleged to have been the ultimate boss of the employees of their U.S. subsidiary.

What though if your WFOE employee is an honest person and resists following the local government’s instructions? Or perhaps the employee is not so honest but resists simply because he or she does not want to risk losing his or her job if caught. The local government responds: your spouse works as a nurse in the local hospital and it would be too bad if she lost her job. Your father lives on a pension from the local government and it would be too bad if he lost his pension. Your daughter is applying for admission to the local high school and it would be too bad if she is denied entry. On the other hand, if you provide what we [the local government] have requested, we will ensure none of this happens. Moreover, you and your family will receive benefits. If you lose your job, we will find you another job. Don’t worry about it. Just do what you are told and help YOUR country. The pressure to comply is overwhelming and your Chinese employee complies. Your employee really has no choice.

This is the practice in China.

The Huawei Indictments are the New Normal

The point is that this has always been true, and now we’re seeing more aggressive U.S. action.

Huawei Indictment

It will be noted many other places, but this is a remarkable basis for alleging criminal theft of trade secrets:

At least at the time of the events in the indictment, Tappy was apparently the envy of other mobile companies, and only T-Mobile employees were allowed to operate Tappy. But eventually the company allowed employees from its phone suppliers to access and operate the robot – so long as they signed nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements. Those agreements specifically barred suppliers’ employees from attempting to reverse engineer Tappy, or to take photos or videos of it.

Meanwhile, Huawei China was reportedly trying to build its own device-testing robot — named, less cutely, “xDeviceRobot” — and it was not finding much success. And Huawei’s devices weren’t faring well on T-Mobile’s Tappy tests, failing more often than devices made by competitors.

In May 2012, Huawei USA asked if Huawei China could license the Tappy technology, and T-Mobile said no. 

That’s when Huawei began attempting to steal the design secrets of Tappy, according to the indictment.

A Robot Named ‘Tappy’: Huawei Conspired To Steal T-Mobile’s Trade Secrets, Says DOJ

And too good not to quote verbatim:

Then, in May 2013, [Huawei employee] A.X. allegedly made a very bold move, removing Tappy’s arm and putting it in his laptop bag. T-Mobile employees confronted him about the missing arm. He denied having it, and that night he and F.W. measured and photographed the arm. The next day, A.X. said he had “found” Tappy’s arm in his bag. It was then that T-Mobile finally revoked A.X.’s credential to the lab.


I dunno. Criminal masterminds? Or just a culture of stealing? I guess either way you get indicted.