• How Many Threats Can the FBI Evaluate on a Daily Basis?

    FBI Director Christopher Wray.Ron Sachs/CNP via ZUMA

    The FBI has taken a lot of criticism for failing to follow up on a warning about the teenager who killed 17 schoolchildren in Florida last Wednesday. Here’s the BBC’s report:

    On 5 January a person close to the teenager contacted the FBI tipline to provide “information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behaviour, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting”, said an FBI press release….In 2016, the FBI received about 1,300 tips a day through its website, which is staffed around the clock by two dozen people. In addition to online tips, FBI field offices receive dozens of calls. About 100 of the tips are considered “actionable”.

    This means that in January the FBI received something on the order of 50,000 tips. If they spend an average of, say, an hour on each one, that’s about 300 agents working full time doing nothing but investigating tips. Or, perhaps it means a thousand agents spending a quarter of their time on tips. Are they staffed to do that? What exactly is the protocol for responding to this tidal wave of tips?

    But even that isn’t the real question. Suppose they had investigated Cruz more thoroughly. What could they have done? It’s not illegal to own a bunch of high-powered guns. It’s not illegal to rant on Twitter or Facebook. The FBI could have interviewed the guy, but unless he’s broken the law that’s about the end of it. It’s not clear to me what the FBI could have done here even if they had followed every protocol to the letter.

    I’m genuinely curious about this. How well staffed is the FBI to handle tips? What can they do against a motivated attacker aside from an interview? To the extent that conservatives are using this failure as a handy excuse to attack FBI Director Christopher Wray, I don’t care what happened. These scattershot attempts to suck up to Donald Trump are too patently phony to worry about. But to the extent there might truly be something we can do better, I do care. Has anyone made any concrete suggestions on this score?

  • Wall Street Journal Says Silicon Valley Is Too Liberal, But Cites Not a Single Bit of Evidence

    Conformity? What conformity?Christoph Dernbach/DPA via ZUMA

    The Wall Street Journal reports today that Peter Thiel is right: Silicon Valley is a liberal echo chamber and that’s prompting a lot of people to move away. Here’s the evidence:

    “I think the politics of San Francisco have gotten a little bit crazy,” said Tom McInerney, an angel investor who moved a decade ago to Los Angeles from the Bay Area. “The Trump election was super polarizing and it definitely illustrated—and Peter [Thiel] said this—how out of touch Silicon Valley was,” said Mr. McInerney, who describes himself as fiscally conservative, but socially liberal. Tim Ferriss, the tech investor and best-selling author of the “4 Hour Workweek,” moved to Austin, Texas, in December, after living in the Bay Area for 17 years, partly because he felt people there penalized anyone who didn’t conform to a hyper liberal credo.

    OK. One guy who moved to LA a decade ago and another who’s a famous entrepreneur/part-time crank—and who listed the echo chamber as one reason out of ten for moving to Austin. (Reason #1: He’s wanted to live in Austin ever since he graduated from college.) What else?

    Sometimes Silicon Valley venture-capital investors and startup founders “have a certain way of thinking, and if you don’t fit into that way of thinking you’re not in the cool club,” said [Preethi] Kasireddy, who declined to state her political beliefs but said they didn’t influence her decision to move. She also said she realized many of the resources she needed to build her next project—a blockchain startup—didn’t require her to be in Silicon Valley.

    Nothing here. In fact, less than nothing: Kasireddy says politics had nothing to with her move. What else?

    According to a recent survey by Lincoln Network, an advocacy group for conservatives and libertarians in the tech sector, 31% of the 387 tech workers polled said they know someone who didn’t pursue or left a career in tech because they saw a conflict in viewpoints with their employer or colleagues.

    Hmmm. A tiny poll by a group with an axe to grind. And even at that, all it shows is that about a third of Silicon Valley tech workers “know someone” who left tech—not Silicon Valley—due to “a conflict in viewpoints,” which could be anything. Knowing techies, this is more likely to be a religious dispute over the future of lightweight network protocols than a problem with #MeToo.

    Aside from that, the story quotes a guy who left Google—not Silicon Valley—after the Damore memo affair, and another guy who moved to Utah to be with his Mormon girlfriend. Oh, and there’s also this brief aside:

    Many are being driven away from the Bay Area by soaring housing costs and increasing traffic congestion, a 2016 survey by the Bay Area Council suggested. Of the 1,000 registered voters from the nine counties making up the Bay Area, 40% said they were considering leaving the region, citing the cost of living, traffic and a lack of availability of housing.

    This might set a new record: there is literally not a single bit of evidence in this piece, either anecdotal or otherwise, that tech workers are moving out of Silicon Valley because it’s too liberal and intolerant. This is especially odd since I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Silicon Valley is too liberal and intolerant. Still, if that’s the case, surely it shouldn’t be hard to find at least one or two facts to back that up?

  • Yet Another Russiagate Witness Flips

    Rick Gates and his pal Donald Trump back in happier times.Mark Reinstein via ZUMA

    Why was Donald Trump so irritable this weekend? Was it because his advisors told him that playing golf would make him look insensitive after Wednesday’s school massacre in Florida? Maybe. Or maybe he had some idea beforehand of this report from the LA Times:

    A former top aide to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign will plead guilty to fraud-related charges within days – and has made clear to prosecutors that he would testify against Paul J. Manafort Jr., the lawyer-lobbyist who once managed the campaign. The change of heart by Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Richard W. Gates III, who had pleaded not guilty after being indicted in October on charges similar to Manafort’s, was described in interviews by people familiar with the case.

    This is all part of the money laundering charges against Manafort, and Gates may not have any inside dope to offer beyond that. Then again, maybe he does. Trump can bellow “NO COLLUSION!” as many times as he wants, but that doesn’t mean it’s so until and unless Robert Mueller closes the books on his investigation with no charges filed. Needless to say, Trump knows this perfectly well.

  • Pay No Attention to the Tweeter Behind the Curtain

    It’s a weekend, and that means Donald Trump is bored. Here are this morning’s top stories in the Washington Post:

    I wish the Post and other newspapers would take the advice of these “top U.S. officials.” I don’t mind that they report on Trump’s tweets. He is the president, after all. But after 2+ years of these ragetweets, it’s obvious they’re just a way for Trump to blow off steam and get attention. They mean next to nothing in terms of actual policy, so why keep up the pretense that they’re important? Take them off the front page and put them on the digital equivalent of A12, where they belong.

    UPDATE: Screenshot updated to show afternoon home page with not one, not two, but three articles about Trump’s tweets.

  • A Tale of Three Tweets

    Noted without comment. Rob Goldman is the vice president of advertising at Facebook.

  • At Yosemite, It’s All About the Light

    As anyone who’s been there can tell you, Yosemite is all about the light. Since I took a few hundred pictures of Half Dome, I thought it might be fun to use a series of them to illustrate this. First up, here is Half Dome in basic gray, its morning and early afternoon color:

    Here it is in late afternoon, when the sun is still high enough to be bright and white, but low enough to be shining directly onto the rock face:

    Here it is just before sunset, bathed in a warm golden glow:

    And if you’re lucky, here it is right at sunset, a deep ruddy red:

    Here’s an interesting thing: Half Dome at sunset looks redder in a photo than in real life. It’s not hugely different, but it’s noticeable—and it’s not just my camera, either. I noticed this while I was shooting from Tunnel View, so I started looking around at other people’s cameras. They were all the same. This is probably because the white balance of the camera is set to sunlight, so it interprets the sunset as a little redder than it really is. This could be adjusted, but I’m not sure precisely what setting would be best.

    Three of these pictures are from the exact same spot because I happened to pass by Tunnel View several times during our visit. However, I wasn’t there in late afternoon, so that picture is from the Valley floor, somewhere along the Merced River.

    We had terrific light during this trip. The sky was clear, temps were in the 40s, the morning sun was bright and sharp, and the evening sun was a gorgeous red. From a photographer’s point of view, we got really lucky. Naturally you’ll see the results, scattered amongst the lunchtime photos for the next few months.

  • Here’s What Really Matters

    I spent the day on the road yesterday, so I’m a little behind on things. I hope I get this right.

    • The special prosecutor indicted 13 Russian nationals for illegally interfering in US elections. Donald Trump’s response was to say that what really matters is that he wasn’t indicted.
    • Seventeen schoolchildren were massacred in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott’s response was to say that what really matters is that the FBI made a mistake, and that means Trump nemesis Christopher Wray should be fired as its director.
    • Back on the Russians, the White House apparently decided Trump’s personal response wasn’t enough. What really matters, said the deputy press secretary, is that Democrats are even worse than Russians. Oh, and the media too.

    Welcome to Donald Trump’s America.

  • Pot Biz Demands More Pot Busts

    Deleigh Hermes/zReportage.com via ZUMA

    This cracks me up:

    Six weeks after the state began licensing marijuana farming and sales, officials have received a flood of complaints about illegal pot operations and demands for a start to tough enforcement….”We really need enforcement in California given that the local licensees are really having to fight against the black market,” Stephanie Hopper, a representative of the firm Canndescent, which grows and sells marijuana in California, told the panel.

    Hopper said illicit businesses are driving down the price of marijuana. Enforcement is needed “to make sure that we actually stand up this industry and that the regulated people actually have an opportunity to thrive.”

    It’s no longer the drug warriors demanding strict enforcement of the law, it’s pot sellers. Times sure change, don’t they?

    (And yes, I’m easily amused.)

  • Friday Cat Blogging – 16 February 2018

    This is Hopper up on the patio cover, with our Australian Willow in the background. The willow just got its winter pruning, so it will be a while before I can take another picture like this. It’s also apparently suffering from some kind of tree disease, like every other tree in Southern California. At least, that’s how it seems these days. But whatever the disease is, it’s something very slow moving, so our willow will probably be with us for quite a while longer.

  • Here Are Your School Shooting Options

    Carolyn Cole/TNS via ZUMA

    After Wednesday’s school massacre in Florida, I see that we’re being presented with our usual options:

    • We can ban certain kinds of weapons that have no real use except as mass-killing machines.
    • Or we can turn our schools into armed camps.

    Unfortunately, one of these is fascism.