Monday, July 31, 2023

The biggest automotive scandal since VW's Dieselgate and guess who's behind it...

 On some level, everyone who has been following the auto industry knew there was something like this going on. Pretty much every time an independent outfit like Edmunds tested EVs, Tesla not only under-performed but did so by a far worse margin than anyone else. The details, however, tell a story far more wide spread and egregious than all but the most jaded Elon watcher was expecting.

From  Tesla created secret team to suppress thousands of driving range complaints

                      by Steve Stecklow and Norihiko Shirouzu

Tesla years ago began exaggerating its vehicles’ potential driving distance – by rigging their range-estimating software. The company decided about a decade ago, for marketing purposes, to write algorithms for its range meter that would show drivers “rosy” projections for the distance it could travel on a full battery, according to a person familiar with an early design of the software for its in-dash readouts.

Then, when the battery fell below 50% of its maximum charge, the algorithm would show drivers more realistic projections for their remaining driving range, this person said. To prevent drivers from getting stranded as their predicted range started declining more quickly, Teslas were designed with a “safety buffer,” allowing about 15 miles (24 km) of additional range even after the dash readout showed an empty battery, the source said.


Tesla was fined earlier this year by South Korean regulators who found the cars delivered as little as half their advertised range in cold weather. Another recent study found that three Tesla models averaged 26% below their advertised ranges.


Such advisors handled a variety of issues, including range complaints. But last summer, Tesla created the Las Vegas “Diversion Team” to handle only range cases, according to the people familiar with the matter.

The office atmosphere at times resembled that of a telemarketing boiler room. A supervisor had purchased the metallophone – a xylophone with metal keys – that employees struck to celebrate appointment cancellations, according to the people familiar with the office’s operations.

Advisers would normally run remote diagnostics on customers’ cars and try to call them, the people said. They were trained to tell customers that the EPA-approved range estimates were just a prediction, not an actual measurement, and that batteries degrade over time, which can reduce range. Advisors would offer tips on extending range by changing driving habits.

If the remote diagnostics found anything else wrong with the vehicle that was not related to driving range, advisors were instructed not to tell the customer, one of the sources said. Managers told them to close the cases.

Tesla also updated its phone app so that any customer who complained about range could no longer book service appointments, one of the sources said. Instead, they could request that someone from Tesla contact them. It often took several days before owners were contacted because of the large backlog of range complaints, the source said.


The team was expected to close about 750 cases a week. To accomplish that, office supervisors told advisers to call a customer once and, if there was no answer, to close the case as unresponsive, the source said. When customers did respond, advisers were told to try to complete the call in no more than five minutes.

In late 2022, managers aiming to quickly close cases told advisors to stop running remote diagnostic tests on the vehicles of owners who had reported range problems, according to one of the people familiar with the diversion team’s operations.

“Thousands of customers were told there is nothing wrong with their car” by advisors who had never run diagnostics, the person said.

Normally, this kind of news would devastate a  high flying stock like Tesla (P/E ratio 75.64, more than ten times that of VW, GM, or BMW), particularly in a week that also saw evidence that yet another company had passed Tesla in the robotaxi race, but there was nothing more than a quick drop which was gone by the afternoon.

Yet another reminder, the market can stay irrational...

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Joe Biden redux

This is Joseph.

On a lazy Sunday, I want to point you to a column by Josh Marshall. It has a lot of good points about how the best person to be making the decision about whether Joe Biden should run in 2024 is . . . Joe Biden. I disagree that the only time to have done this was at the beginning, but the window for a contrary decision is closing fast. Furthermore, Donald Trump, an exceptionally challenging figure as president, is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee.

Now there are some possibilities left to prevent this outcome. But there really isn't a strong challenger arising that can beat the core of Trump's support. Indictments never help a candidate, but they also are unlikely to lead to convictions before the election (if ever). There is an old joke that an incompetent lawyer will add a year to the length of a trial. A competent one will add much more. It is possible that Aileen Cannon will force a speedy trial but so far she looks like she is treating his Florida prosecution as bog standard normal, which inclines towards a long trial. Reality Winner was a much less complex case, and it took from June 3, 2017 to June 28, 2018 for a conviction (which included her changing her plea to guilty). 

So you will have a current incumbent president who has beat his challenger before. The challenger is battered by indictments but beat a previous Democrat candidate. Even worse, the alternatives include some really odd choices: RFK Jr. is surging among Republicans.  It would be an odd choice to pick a candidate with support primary among the opposition, especially since one possible source of his popularity could be a perception he will be easy for Donald Trump to beat. 

So the Joe Biden question comes down to two things. Is he willing. Uh, yes, obviously yes. Is the Republican candidate likely to be able to play a major weakness against him. Well, it at this point, it looks pretty obvious to me that the most probable match-up advantages Biden.

And Marshall has a great piece on why, given these facts, it's time to stop speculating about primaries and start planning for the next election. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

How did the 2023 New York Times become the 1973 National Enquirer?


 Don't get me wrong, the gray lady is still as stuffy and arrogant as ever, but in terms of gullibility, it is edging ever closer to "I had a space alien's baby." (That's more of a Weekly World News headline, but you get my drift.)

 When I say 'debunked' I mean now less credible than Uri Geller. For one thing, Geller put some real effort into fooling people. Remigio (Reme) Baca and Joseph Lopez (Jose) Padilla, two childhood friends from New Mexico, just started telling stories about how fifty years earlier they had encountered a crashed alien spaceship with both living and dead crew. Their only evidence was a part from a pump obviously of terrestrial manufacture. Their story kept changing and yet none of the versions checked out. They were both caught in numerous transparent lies. The claims that can't be checked are to incredible to treat seriously. After the story started making the rounds, the son of an army air corps pilot claimed that his father had transported the aliens' bodies from the crash site. The story was completely unsupported, changed from telling to telling, and followed attempts to insert his father into two other well known tales of UFO sightings. 

That is the tl;dr version of the Trinity incident. If you have the time, you should read all of Johnson's posts on the subject -- it's a hell of a story -- but the paragraph above is what you need to know. Keep that in mind as you the NYT article mentioned in the tweet.

From Did Aliens Land on Earth in 1945? A Defense Bill Seeks Answers.

 Remy Tumin --  2023/01/13

An amendment tucked into this year’s $858 billion National Defense Authorization Act, which funds the Defense Department’s annual operating budget, requires the department to review historical documents related to unidentified aerial phenomena — government lingo for U.F.O.s — dating to 1945. That is the year that, according to one account, a large, avocado-shaped object struck a communication tower in a patch of New Mexico desert now known as the Trinity Site, where the world’s first atomic bomb was detonated that July.

Experts said the bill, which President Biden signed into law in December, could be a game changer for studying unidentified phenomena.

“The American public can reasonably expect to get some answers to questions that have been burning in the minds of millions of Americans for many years,” said Christopher Mellon, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense for intelligence. “If nothing else, this should either clear up something that’s been a cloud hanging over the Air Force and Department of Defense for decades or it might lead in another direction, which could be truly incredible. There’s a lot at stake.”


“This is what all scientists and my colleagues have always dreamed of,” said Dr. Vallée, who has helped study reports of U.F.O.s for the Centre National d’Études Spatiales, the French space agency. He said that the U.S. government’s agreement to dig into the past meant “the stigma has been removed.”

Dr. Vallée began studying the Trinity incident several years ago alongside a journalist, Paola Harris, and interviewed people who claimed to have witnessed the crash. Dr. Vallée and Ms. Harris chronicled their research in a book, “Trinity: The Best-Kept Secret,” including the details of the avocado-shaped object. They also spoke to witnesses who said they came across the object as children and found what they described as “little creatures.”

In the United States, Dr. Vallée said, “there has always been, on the part of the government, especially the Pentagon,” a sense that civilian sightings are unreliable. “The reason,” he said, “is that civilians don’t have the technology to really document what happens, and of course the Pentagon does.”

At the risk of repeating myself, but other than a metal part that even Vallée and Harris admit was made on earth, the only evidence of the "Trinity incident" are fifty-plus year old, contradiction filled accounts (one second hand) from three serial liars. It is of interest only as a study of how people let themselves be fooled.

 And the federal government is about to spend valuable time and money pretending this is real.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Thursday Tweets -- X marks the spot where $44 billion used to be.

From the WP:

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter began removing its name from its corporate headquarters Monday, blocking two lanes of traffic as a large crane plucked letters off the sign. The crane departed by midafternoon leaving the task half-finished — only the blue bird logo and the “er” remained, next to a ghostly outline reading “@twitt.”

Some will see that as an apt metaphor for state of business at the social media platform. In changing Twitter’s famous blue logo to a black-and-white “X,” part of a sweeping rebrand that has alienated longtime users and left marketing experts perplexed, owner Elon Musk is trading a bird in the hand for the promise of a wide-ranging “everything app,” one analysts say may never materialize.

He is leaving behind a symbol of silliness, outrage and celebrity that meant something to hundreds of millions, even earworming its way into the dictionary.

“It has become a verb. That’s the holy grail,” said Forrester research director Mike Proulx. “This is a brand that has secured a place in our cultural lexicon. Musk has wiped out over 15 years of brand equity in the Twitter name.”


For more background, check out this thread. (Best line: "He's doing the tech equivalent of drunk-DMing his highschool girlfriend to tell her she's still hot.")

If you haven't paid the rent, is it actually your headquarters?


That looks like a good place for a political segue.

I am as surprised as anyone to say that I'm looking forward to the Barbie Movie. Great reviews, first rate talent in front and behind the camera, amazing art design, and these guys freaking out in the background.

I know they say campaigns can be a strain on marriages, but this is definitely an extreme case.

As we've said before, the own-the-libs mentality lead to some strange choices.

Even if I hadn't liked the tweet (which I did), I would have had to post it just because of the name, Joe Btfsplk.

"this war in Ukraine against Russia."

Tells us more about prediction markets, conventional wisdom, and the overweighting of the unlikely (Obama ?!?), but still interesting in those terms.

Those last five seconds...


A few years ago, I got into the habit of looking up the Wiki pages of people with mediocre abilities who had somehow achieved great success at an early age. Prestigious prep schools showed up a lot.

Closing with some cool stuff.

Wednesday, July 26, 2023

" [T]he Zelig of unproven supernatural and UFO speculation"

 Art Levine writing for the Washington Spectator.

In 2017, DeLonge’s company claimed it was engaging in rigorous research led by Elizondo and the TTSA co-founder, physicist Hal Puthoff, gathering alien “metamaterial” they asserted could be genuine. These findings were touted as coming from the Roswell, N.M., “alien” crash site that has long been considered foundational to modern UFO mythology but which the U.S Air Force reports was actually the location of a 1947 crash of a high-altitude spy balloon. In any case, part of the metamaterial was exposed as industrial slag in the 1990s. Some of the metal scraps were then passed off to the Army as part of its nearly $1 million 2019 contract with TTSA.

Puthoff may not be as well known to the general public as today’s other UFO influencers, but he is the Zelig of unproven supernatural and UFO speculation. An ex-Scientologist involved in over 40 years of fruitless research, he led the failed $20 million, 23-year CIA psychic “remote viewing” project. One viewer he tested was fellow Scientologist Ingo Swann, who claimed to provide a detailed view of Mars and Jupiter with his mind. Puthoff also endorsed the powers of spoon-bending “psychic” Uri Geller; Geller’s mind over matter powers were called into question in a cringe-inducing segment in 1973 on The Johnny Carson Show.

 Between the NYT/UFO and the Uri Geller threads we've been working on lately, I've been reading waaaay too much about the paranormal and Hal Puthoff has come up three times: remote viewing; the Geller fiasco; and To the Stars. Levine does not do the man credit saying he "endorsed" Geller. Puthoff was the lead researcher on the disastrous SRI study and co-authored the infamous Nature paper (both eviscerated by James Randi in the Magic of Uri Geller), but the Zelig line is perfect.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

One way to beat the heat...

Just another reminder of how strange this year has been here in California.

Cari Spencer writing for the LA Times.

While much of the Southwestern U.S. endures sweltering heat that continues to topple daily records, historic snowfall has brought an unusually extended ski season to Mammoth Mountain, where snowboarders and skiers continue to soar down the slopes in shorts and sunglasses.

“Even though it’s July 21, it seems like summer is just starting and winter is just barely ending,” said Ashley Strauss, a recreational snowboarder who has lived in Mammoth Lakes since 2010.

Visitors have until Aug. 6 to shred the snowpack, according to an announcement Thursday. This will be only the third season in the resort’s nearly seven-decade history that has extended into August — joining 1995 and 2017.

Monday, July 24, 2023

Tony Bennett RIP -- a historical footnote

In the NPR tribute to Bennett, his long time pianist, Ralph Sharon, mentioned he had first performed his signature tune in Hot Springs, Arkansas. That's true, but there's more to the story.

The club was the Vapors, the most popular and successful of the town's many illegal casinos.

 Sean Clancy writing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

At one time, though gambling was illegal in Arkansas, the city of 28,000 had four major gambling clubs and 70 more casinos, bookmaker shops and establishments with some form of gambling, writes Hot Springs native David Hill in his new book, "The Vapors" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28).

"On a per capita basis, Hot Springs was perhaps the most sinful little city in the world," Hill, 42, writes.

In the world? Maybe that's a stretch, but Hill certainly makes a case that skirting the law was de rigueur in Hot Springs. This is the place, after all, where a stunned New York detective, in town picking up another suspect, ran into mobster Lucky Luciano, the most wanted man in America, strolling along Bathhouse Row with the Hot Springs chief of detectives. 


There's Owen "Owney" Madden, the suave, English-born gangster, killer and owner of the famed Cotton Club in New York who moved to Hot Springs in 1934, married the postmaster's daughter and became a sort of benevolent crime-world kingpin.

Dane Harris, the quiet, ambitious son of a Cherokee bootlegger, became Madden's protege, eventually rising to the role of Hot Springs' boss gambler and who in 1960 opened The Vapors, the dazzling nightclub and gambling operation that rivaled those in Las Vegas and that was bombed on Jan. 4, 1963.

And Hazel Hill, David Hill's paternal grandmother, who was a teenager when she came to Hot Springs from Ohio in 1935 with her father, a diabetic, down-on-his-luck horse trainer and was left there by him as part of a used-car deal. Hazel's life would become entwined with Madden and Harris as she grew up and the bright lights and allure of the gambling halls became too powerful to ignore.

And there are appearances throughout from Robert Kennedy, Al Capone, Mickey Rooney, Virginia Clinton, Tony Bennett and others, including prizefighters, B-list starlets and various and sundry Arkansas politicians, many of whom are on the take. And Hill also addresses how religion and race played a crucial part in the town's history of vice.

Back many years ago when I was teaching math and English in the Delta , my principal told me a story of living in Hot Springs many years before that. It's unverified, but I have no reason to doubt it. 

One night at one of the town's casinos (probably one smaller than the Vapors), the manager stepped out and said everyone would have to take a break. The staff and some of the male customers gathered up the gambling equipment and loaded it into a storeroom in the back which the manager then padlocked and covered with a screen. Drinks were passed around and about five minutes later there was a knock on the door. It was the sheriff's department conducting a raid. The sheriff and the deputies stepped in looked around, and declared there was obviously no gambling going on. They shook hands with the manager and left, at which point the manager unlocked the back room and the staff quickly set up the tables and everyone picked up where they had let off.

Orval Faubus's corruption was as much of an open secret as was the gambling in the Vapors, and over his time in office, millions of dollars (and, that's pre-inflation) made its way from Hot Springs to the governor's mansion. According to the definitive biography, Faubus's fear of losing his office and the cash that came with it gave the hard-line segregationist/white supremacist "Justice Jim" Johnson leverage to push the governor to take increasingly extreme positions with famously tragic results.

(The national press corps would eventually be willing to overlook "Justice Jim"s bigotry and general evil, even elevate him to elder statesman status thanks to his supplying rumor and innuendo on Bill Clinton during the Whitewater years, but that's a rant for another day.)

Friday, July 21, 2023

Columbo vs. Uri Geller

OK, not quite, but close. The military had been looking into the supposed abilities of Geller and other "psychics" in the decade before this episode ("Columbo Goes to the Guillotine") aired. They were particularly interested in the idea of remote viewing, which involved tests very much like this (probably in more ways than one).  

The writer of this episode, the multi-talented William Read Woodfield, had a background in magic and was certainly aware of Randi's book, The Magic of Uri Geller (available from the Internet Archive's lending library), and it's possible he read the notorious Nature paper about the Stanford Research Institute's disastrous research into the paranormal. The details about the actual test are murky,so Woodfield's trick probably wouldn't have worked, but he's probably not that far off.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Thursday Tweets -- Dark Brandon approved this message

Brilliant political jujutsu with a subtle echo of LBJ's 1964 KKK ad, touting his commitment to popular programs while accurately portraying the GOP as extreme and out of touch.
Here's the source.


Perhaps the most evil of the bunch.

 This is very much playing a long shot, but if MAGA bolts for a third party at the insistence of Trump (an unlikely but not that unlikely scenario), Asa is well positioned and he has also evaded the dignity loss that has hit almost every other prominent Republican.

Alfalfa-gate continues.

Let's have a tech bro weigh in...

Fair weather fascists.


Checking in with the PayPal mafia.

We have a long running Roose file.

I didn't.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Ten years ago at the blog -- the topic remains relevant and I really like this title

Friday, July 19, 2013

First assume a fairy godmother...

This is one of those stories illustrates just how bad journalists have gotten at covering life in the bottom quartile. Here, from Marketplace, is the set-up:
The fast food chain teamed up with Visa to create an online budget guide for its employees. And most of the criticism is directed at the fact that the company's budget doesn't list 'food' or 'heat' as monthly budget items. 
"Helping you succeed financially is one of the many ways McDonald's is creating a satisfying and rewarding work environment," the McDonald's site's about page states. "So you can take the next step towards financial freedom." 
To do that, the guide suggests journaling daily expenses, setting up a budget and outling a savings goal. Sound reasonable? 
One problem: the sample budget offered by McDonald's (below) doesn't mention money for basic necessities like food, heat, gas and clothing. 
The budget also assumes a worker will need to maintain two jobs in order to make roughly $24,500 a year.

[The original post had a copy of the actual document, but that one seems to have fallen into an internet wormhole. -- MP]

A heated debate has broken out over whether it's possible to live on $24,500 a year. This is not a question that would perplex a group pulled at random from the general populace. People do it all the time. I've done it myself (and yes, I'm adjusting for inflation). I even have a musician friend in New York City who's doing it now.

You eat lots of beans and potatoes. You get a prepaid phone. You buy a set of rabbit ears (which, as mentioned before, would actually give you more channels and better picture than the basic cable the WP article suggests). You live day-to-day. You constantly worry about money. You're one one bad break away from disaster but with exception of the health insurance and heating items, nothing in expenses, including rent, is that unreasonable.

There is, in fact, only one completely unrealistic item here:

Second job: $955

Angry Bear, which does get it, explains just how much work we're talking about.
Besides skipping certain expenses and skimping on others; to meet the income levels portrayed in the budget, McDonalds suggests associates to work not one but two jobs. A full time job at McDonalds and a part time job elsewhere totally 62 hours per week (if the worker resides in Illinois where the minimum wage is $8.25/hour). If perchance, the worker resides in one of the other 48 states; the total hours needed to hit the suggested income level jumps to 74 hours/week due to a lower minimum wage (the equivalent of a second full time job). 
And Marketplace explains how unlikely that 74 is:
At the same time, there’s been a sharp drop in the number of people who are holding down multiple jobs, and most of those are likely to be part-time, since there are only so many hours in a day. The number of multiple job-holders is down by more than 500,000 since 2007.  So, there are more people in part-time jobs, but fewer people able to cobble together two or more of those jobs to make ends meet.
This trend to more part-time work could be permanent. Employers like the flexibility, and the low cost. Benefits in many part-time jobs -- health care, retirement -- are slim to none.

But there’s a complication. For job-seekers, it’s now harder to find and keep multiple part-time jobs. “Among low-wage employers -- retail, hospitality, food service -- employers are requiring their employees to say they’re available for a full-time schedule, even when they know they’re never going to schedule them for full-time,” says Stephanie Luce at the City University of New York’s Murphy Institute.

Luce is a labor sociologist who studies union movements around the world. She co-authored, with the Retail Action Network, a study based on surveys of retail workers in New York, Discounted Jobs: How Retailers Sell Workers Short. “Managers are asked to schedule based on customer-flow, on weather, on trends in the economy, and to change the schedule day-to-day,” says Luce. “They don’t want employees that are going to say ‘I can’t come in, I have another job.’ They want employees that’ll say, ‘OK, I’ll come in if you need me. I won’t come in if you don’t need me.’” 


Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Psychologists run more rigorous experiments than physicists*

*when the experiments are about psychology.

OK, I'll admit n = 1, but you have to admit it's a striking example.

From APA's Monitor Vol 5, No 2 (as excepted by James Randi in the Magic of Uri Geller):

by Jules Asher

About that last point, Randi adds:

The person who drops into an entirely new field can often come up with some new insights, but they are seldom worth anything without curiosity and a strong dose of humility.

In these situations you constantly have to remind yourself that relevant expertise is, you know, relevant and that while you (an economist, or a physicist, or a tech bro who stumbled onto a fortune in Silicon Valley) might know something those experts don't, they certainly know things that you don't.

Targ and Puthoff (both still living) are highly intelligent and extraordinarily accomplished in their original  fields, but as Randi points out, these are often the easiest people to fool, in part because they have so much confidence in their own perceptions. Add to that a strong predisposition to believe and you are basically asking for disaster.

Monday, July 17, 2023

There was a time when serious people took Uri Geller seriously

Picking up from here.

One key element most 21st Century articles on Uri Geller miss is just how much belief in Geller had become respectable by 1973. Researchers and sober intellectuals were treating his supposed powers as a valid area of scientific inquiry. Word of successful RCTs was getting out. Papers were being submitted to major journals. 

When you hear about winning the battle against the debunkers, remember that Randi and company took Geller from this to punch line in the space of three or four years. The "mystifier" continued to make money, but his critics had discredited not only him but, to a large degree, the entire field of para-psychology. 

From NATURE Volume 246  12/7/1973 [emphasis and, yes, double emphasis added.]

It needs to be said, however, that not everyone is convinced that Mr Geller is other than a great illusionist and that there seems to be somewhat more scepticism in Israel and the United States than has yet developed in Britain. For a fairly cool assessment Time of March 12, 1973, should be read. Nevertheless he has clearly created a prima facie case for further investigation and it is to be hoped that the proposal by the New Scientist that he submit to examination by its panel will be taken up, even though he has already been examined extensively by a team at Stanford Research Institute. 


The second challenge to scientists will arise if investigations continue to turn up signs of psycho-kinetic powers, and with the present evidence this certainly cannot be ruled out. It would then be urgently necessary for the scientific community to come to terms with something totally beyond its powers of explanation-indeed something which in a religious context would be called a miracle. Just as the public wants scientists to validate Mr Geller, it would also want them to explain him and, however awkward this question may be, it should not be avoided. If Mr Geller indeed possesses extraordinary abilities it is immaterial whether he is an isolated unrepeatable phenomenon or whether a large number of people can be taught the skills, and it is immaterial that he manifests the abilities in ways up to now better known to music-hall illusionists than to scientific investigators. The challenge would still exist-that well established scientific laws as apparent to laymen as to scientists are not inviolate under the influence of some presumed mental process. 

It is difficult to see how research into the causes of such extraordinary happenings could proceed. One suspects that any approach which involved extensive instrumentation would end unsuccessfully. Technology has an unerring ability to suppress human skills. [The idea that true psychics might be unable to function as well in clinical settings was one of the standard excuses used by Geller supporters to explain away failure. It's a bit surprising seeing it used in a Nature editorial -- MP] Nevertheless a boost for psychical research would be very welcome. There are too many loose ends lying around for comfort, and psychical research has not yet been able to shake off its mildly eccentric character and its ability to attract fierce criticism. 


Friday, July 14, 2023

Deferred Thursday Tweets -- in appreciation of the New York Times Pitchbot

If anything Marshall undersells his point. As far as I can tell, no one in a similar position has ever gotten anywhere near the early build-up  that DeSantis did from both the right wing and the mainstream press.


This is an oversimplification, but not by that much.

Fallows' tic analogy is remarkably perceptive.

As is this.

 For those who just walked in, Elon really does talk like this...

And like this...

(The Wire is on my short list for greatest show, period.)


"In the West, whiskey's for drinking, water's for fighting over."