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Archive for June 11th, 2017

Transcript of Preet Bharara’s interview about Trump and Comey: A must-read

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Here it is. From the transcript (but there’s a lot more—this is just a bit in the middle):

. . . .STEPHANOPOULOS: One other thing on James Comey. He talked about that encounter with Loretta Lynch and the email investigation. She wanted it described as a “matter.” He wanted it described as an investigation.

He said that made him queasy.

Does that make you queasy, too?

BHARARA: Well, it wasn’t said to me. I think if you’re — if it’s true and you’re listening to it as a third party, it’s not the greatest instruction in the world.

But if I could just say one other point on this issue of whether or not Donald Trump knew what he was doing, and I saw, I think, over the weekend, that Paul Ryan, who is, I think, in line to be president of the United States — he’s in the succession line — has been trying to excuse this behavior — again, putting aside whether it’s obstruction or impeachable — that the president of the United States is new to this and he’s new to protocols makes very, very little sense when the president became the president, in part, by campaigning at rally after rally after rally that I saw and Americans saw, on the issue of whether or not it was appropriate for the former attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to have a meeting on a tarmac with Bill Clinton.

So he very well knew what the optics of that were and what the protocols were. And even though there is no evidence and no one has come forward to say anything untoward was discussed on that airplane at the tarmac, when an ongoing investigation was underway with respect to Hillary Clinton, he nevertheless said this is a reason why you should vote for me and not for that person.

And for people to turn around and say now that there is evidence that the president of the United States himself had a private conversation, after kicking other high officials out of the room and told his FBI director confidentiality to do something about a criminal case that’s pending, I think that’s a big deal. And it can’t be excused as simply being a novice or new.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The president’s defenders, like Alan Dershowitz, say there’s no grounds for obstruction. You talked about that. And he, in fact, says that presidents have the constitutional right to fire FBI directors and investigations as much as they want.

One of the president’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, is coming up next. He says there’s no there there, no basis for obstruction.

You are a former prosecutor. Is there evidence there that — to begin a case for obstruction?

BHARARA: I think there’s absolutely evidence to begin a case. I think it’s very important for all sorts of armchair speculators in the law to be clear that no one knows right now whether there is a provable case of obstruction. It’s also true I think from based on what I see as a third party and out of government that there’s no basis to say there’s no obstruction.

And this point on whether or not the president has legal authority to fire or to direct an investigation, I don’t really get it. It’s a little silly to me. The fact that you have authority to remove someone from office doesn’t automatically immunize that act from criminal responsibility.

And I’ll give you an example of something from a different context . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 8:22 pm

Olivier Ward recommends the best books on Gin

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Yesterday was World Gin Day and I failed to celebrate, so I’ll have a Martini tonight. Five Books interviews Oliver Ward on gin books:

It’s World Gin Day on June 10th, a celebration of a centuries old drink that is seeing fast growth and lots of innovation. Olivier Ward, editor and co-founder of gin appreciation website, Gin Foundry, recommends the best books on Gin — the medicinal drink that came to define the British Empire.

I think of gin, or a gin and tonic, as the most traditionally English drink imaginable. But, like so many great things, it actually came from the Low Countries. Is that right?

Most people will just tell you ‘yes’ and then not caveat it. Yes, it came from the Low Countries—Belgium, probably—but they weren’t making gin there, they were making ‘jenever.’ Gin has always been a British thing in that it was the Brits’ attempt to make their own version of jenever.

It was very different, in that the Brits did not have the distilling heritage or prowess or knowledge. Right at the start, and certainly in the 1600s, it was far inferior to jenever. But they were trying to replicate it and so they created their own version that became known—just reduced to that one monosyllable—as ‘gin.’

The Low Countries never made gin, but they certainly were the forefathers.

Is it made from juniper berries?

It’s made from barley and wheat and rye as the base spirit. Then it’s distilled with juniper berries as the flavour added to it. The base spirit always used to be cereal—though no longer, because you can make it from grape and all sorts of weird and wonderful things, even whey.

But certainly back then it was wheat, barley, or rye that was the base alcohol. Because that base alcohol was shockingly bad, they needed a pungent spice or herb and maybe something that had medicinal properties. Juniper fitted the bill.

Explain.

You’ve got to remember that back then—and even before then, we’re talking about the 12th and 13th centuries—juniper had this ridiculous, medicinal, all-curing, all-conquering folklore about it. It didn’t matter what you had as an ailment, juniper was the answer. Whether you were wanting to cure gout or stomach problems, that was it. If you wanted to prevent becoming pregnant, you would ingest juniper. Other people would rub juniper over themselves to increase their virility.

Juniper was this magic botanical. The medicinal properties of it were so potent that when people were creating alcohol and creating what started off as medicinal tinctures, juniper was always going to be a huge part of it. The inherent thought was that it could do no wrong—it could only fix and cure.

So what is the difference between jenever and gin?

Today, jenever is geographically protected. The way that they distil it is using a high percentage of barley. A lot of that base spirit comes through into the end product. If you distilled any alcohol all the way through to 96/97% ABV, you’d have vodka. If you did it to 60% or 70%, you’d have what is called, in the industry, ‘new make spirit.’ That’s the kind of stuff you’d put in barrels for whisky or Armagnac or Cognac or brandy. Jenever is that.

Gin is a neutral spirit that is then redistilled with botanicals. It’s a neutral spirit that’s been rectified.

The difference could be explained like this: imagine painting on a beige canvas as opposed to painting on a white one. Jenever has a grainy, more cereally undertone, whereas gin should or ought to have a very clean start. Which, of course, they couldn’t do back then.

 

Let’s go through the books you’ve chosen. The first one on the list is Craze: Gin and Debauchery in an Age of Reason (2002) by Jessica Warner. It’s an illustrated history about the gin craze in the 18th century. It’s quite ironic because, these days, gin and tonic has slightly posh connotations—but it started off as a drink of the poor.

Gin as a neat spirit, very much so. Gin and tonic as a cocktail is slightly different in that it has its roots in the colonial era, when they were mixing gin with quinine for the troops. But yes, the irony is that gin and oysters was the poor man’s dish. Like pie and ale shops, they would have gin shops that would also serve up oysters because it was considered poor people’s food.

What Jessica’s book does really well is show that the gin craze wasn’t just about this sudden attraction to cheap spirit. It was about policing what the poor drank so that the gentry weren’t affected by it and keeping that debauchery away from the upper class. It wasn’t that they actually cared, they just didn’t want to see it on their doorstep.

Is it about the Hogarth print, Gin Lane?

Yes. The Hogarth print is from 1751. Jessica presents the lead up to it. The gin craze is essentially over by the time that this famous depiction comes along. What people don’t really talk about with ‘Gin Lane’—this illustration of a debauched, broken society—is the fact that it was commissioned by the beer industry.

It was part of a twin set: ‘Gin Lane’ and ‘Beer Street’. In ‘Beer Street’ there’s prosperous industry and everyone’s getting along, the streets are clean and everyone is looking a bit portly and well-fed. Whereas ‘Gin Lane’ has a baby being skewered in the corner.

It was propaganda. That’s not to say it wasn’t true at the time but it was about fear-mongering around this spirit so that it would shock the gentry of society into acting in favour of, basically, the beer breweries and farmers that supplied the breweries.

But gin was incredibly popular, wasn’t it? There were thousands of gin houses around London.

Certainly in East London, one in four doors would have had some form of gin still. There were patches. In Whitechapel, and Holborn to a certain extent, and around Seven Dials, there would have been quite a lot. And I suppose around St Paul’s, going east.

You can still see it in the street names. In Camden, there’s Juniper Crescent. So there are remnants in today’s London—even though there’s no hawker on the side of the street flinging gin at you as you walk past.

And the popularity stemmed from the fact it was a nice, strong drink and affordable?

Yes. It became incredibly cheap through various different acts of legislation. It didn’t happen overnight—it happened over 100 years. At the time, they thought of it as a way of raising money through taxes. They felt that by legislating it in specific ways, they could raise money for the war coffers against the French.

So it developed and grew. The thirst developed not just through a natural thirst for it, but a flood in the market of widely available, relatively cheap, booze. I’ve never really seen any evidence to say that it was cheaper than beer, which was widely commented on at the time. Having said that, it was probably almost as cheap.

As she explains very well in the book, even in the first couple of years, people just didn’t know how to deal with it. People were literally drinking pints of gin because they thought that was okay and that’s how you drink alcohol, isn’t it? And then falling over dead.

It was much more akin to a crack cocaine epidemic than a drinking epidemic. People were being excused for crimes. I think one lady was excused for killing her husband and throwing him down the stairs because she had been made so senselessly drunk that it therefore incapacitated her ability to judge what was right and wrong. Ridiculous crimes were being attributed to being so drunk.

It was an amazing time of discovery, not just of alcohol but the effects of alcohol in a pre-police society. There were no police and the only way that society was kept together was by everyone trying to force people into thinking that they had a very set class and were not allowed to move out of that. That was what got the gentry so upset—because if people don’t know their place, then we might get challenged.

Jessica’s book is extremely well-researched. She articulates all these points and really delves into the facts of the matter. And, also, the human element. You hear these amazing statistics—of the birth-rate being lower than the death rate but also the human stories of these outrageous acts that were going on at the time. Some of them are senseless and some of them are just unbelievably shocking.

The one depicted in ‘Gin Lane’ was an allusion to ‘mother’s ruin’ and Judith Dufour. She worked as a seamstress in one of the washhouses. She went out on a lunch break with her child, killed it, took his clothes, and sold them in order to buy gin. She then came back blind drunk to work later that evening. These human stories wouldn’t have emerged without Jessica’s research.

It’s a good read? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 4:59 pm

Posted in Books, Drinks

Kevin Drum fights with facts the fake news from Donald Trump

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Very good post with several charts. One example:

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 4:49 pm

We need an antidote for fake news

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Fake news infects and pollutes cooperation and productive discussion, and thus acts as a disease in the body politic, weakening it and making it vulnerable to attack. For a strong community and country, we must find an effective antibody to fake news. Leon Derczynski reports in Medium:

The accuracy of our media has been placed under constant question, with many claims being called out as false, or fake. Sometimes, this is done because someone doesn’t like a story or fact in the media; other times, the news really is fake.

pathology n.: the study of diseases and of the changes that they cause –Merriam

This post shows a story originating in the Middle East, about Russian soldiers clearing up bombs left in Syria by Obama’s troops. The story was related using first-hand video and personal accounts, and was picked up by major outlets. However, the truth was that this story was completely false — fabricated and framed in such a way that it looked like real news. We’ll pull on threads behind this fake news, and find just one small part of what may well be a large, international network that is feeding our Western media.

I’ve been working on rumors, fake news and so on for a long time. In 2012, we proposed a multinational project on truth in online media, Pheme, which was funded with €4.3M by the European Commission. The project lasted a little over three years, finishing Spring 2017. We spent the time building definitions of fake news, models of rumors, and tools for picking up untrue claims (a tough project!). We even ran an evaluation where teams from all over the world tried to pick out fake stories from real ones, RumorEval. This was perfect timing, with 2016 being the explosive year that it was and “fake news” becoming a hot term just as our project reached its peak.

In the project, we take in huge amounts of data from the web, streaming in various social media sites, news sites, and so on. These need to be linked and grouped so that our journalists (from Swissinfo.ch) can readily digest content and see what claims and stories are emerging. This grouping and linking is tough, and to understand how to do it, you have to look at the data really close up. And when you do that, you start to see recurring patterns and behaviors in the tweets and stories on the web.

Let’s start with one story. This is, as it goes, a fairly neutral bit of data; it’s video footage from the destroyed Syrian city of Aleppo, of soldiers in Russian uniforms operating a piece of equipment in the streets. The caption tells us that these are Russian soldiers, using a bomb-disposal device to make the streets safer. This footage is captured and relayed by Ruptly TV, a German-based media organisation, on January 4, 2017. . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more. The story evolves, but by artificial selection rather than natural selection (cf. breeding of animals in captivity vs. animals breeding in the wild).

The problem in using AI as the clean-up agent is, I imagine, that it is extremely difficult to distinguish fake news and advertising.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 3:59 pm

The construction industry is short on human workers and ripe for a robotic takeover

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So it’s not just millions of truck-driving jobs that will be eliminated by technology (autonomous vehicles0, it looks as though millions of construction jobs may go out the window. April Glaser and Rani Molla report at Recode:

Construction is a $10 trillion global industry. It’s also mired by waste, severe worker shortages and weak productivity growth — all of which mean the business of building is ripe for a robotic takeover.

Productivity — the total economic output per worker — in the construction industry has remained flat, partly because of the slow adoption of new technologies across the industry.

Since 1945, productivity in manufacturing, retail and agriculture has grown 1,500 percent, while it has barely gone up in construction, according to a McKinsey report from earlier this year.

McKinsey compared U.S. industries in 27 criteria, including how much a sector spends on technology and how extensively they use computers in their operations, to create a digitization index of 1 to 100, with 100 being the most digitized.

Below we chart select industries by their digitization score and annual productivity gains.: . . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole article. It’s quite fascinating. In that connection,

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 3:05 pm

AI Detects Autism in Infants (Again)

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Megan Scudellari reports in IEEE Spectrum:

Back in February, we brought you news of a deep-learning algorithm able to predict autism in two-year-olds based on structural brain changes beginning at six months of age.

Now, the same group at the University of North Carolina has again applied machine learning to the goal of predicting autism, with equally impressive results. This time, instead of structural changes, they were able to detect changes in brain function of six-month-olds that predicted if the children would later develop autism.

The study is notable because there were no false positives—that is, all the children predicted to develop autism did.

There were a few misses, however. Of 59 6-month-old infants at high-risk for autism—meaning they had at least one sibling with autism—the algorithm correctly predicted 9 of 11 who later received a positive diagnosis.

By combining this functional analysis with the earlier structural results, it is very possible one could create a highly sensitive and accurate early diagnostic test for autism, says first author Robert Emerson of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at UNC. And AI is going to be key to making that happen, he adds.

“It’s going to be really important to use machine learning in the future to pull all these pieces of information together,” says Emerson. In addition to brain scan data, researchers could gather behavioral results, environmental exposures, and more. Once that is done, “we’re going to have a very good shot at really nailing this early prediction.” The paper is published today in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

The team, led by UNC’s Joseph Piven and John Pruett at the Washington University School of Medicine, scanned the brains of infants while they slept. The children were again scanned at age two and completed behavioral and clinical assessments. Each functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI) scan measured the activity of 26,335 brain connections among 230 brain regions.

Using that data, a machine-learning algorithm analyzed how the activity of each piece of the brain was synchronized with other pieces of the brain. The team focused on brain regions associated with key features of autism, such as language skills and repetitive behaviors. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Medical, Science

Bike-sharing is so popular in China that ride-sharing can’t get traction

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Bikes are better for much city transportation than cars, in many ways: traffic jams don’t affect them, they don’t have to look so hard for a parking spot and when they are parked they take up less room, they are non-polluting, they build cardio exercise into the daily routine and increase fitness overall, and there are some very cool bikes. I just  (very reluctantly) parted with this one:

Of course, there are drawbikes. For example, bike thieves (a worry with a bike such as the above or any really desirable bike) are more common than car thieves (in part because cars have better anti-theft technology). Bike sharing gets around the bike-theft problem (or diverts it to a benign form of “theft” like “borrowing”) but it does not address weather concerns. Moreover, modern cars are highly protective of driver—substantially more protective than bicycles.

Li Tao reports in South China Morning Post:

Didi Chuxing last year beat the car-sharing business model’s pioneer Uber Technologies at its own game, and bought out the New York company’s China business to become the dominant app for hailing taxis or sharing a ride in the world’s most populous country.

Less than a year on, Didi’s dominance is being challenged by an unlikely source — about 40 smartphone apps that have sprouted in major Chinese cities since late 2016 for commuters to share bicycles.

Yes, bicycles. The two-wheel conveyance has become the most popular means of last-mile transportation from subway stations and bus terminals to final destinations. Users can pick them up anywhere, leave them anywhere, often for as little as 1 yuan per hour, sometimes for free, and occasionally — depending on promotions — receive cash prizes.

The change in transportation means monthly savings of 500 yuan (US$73), about 5 per cent of the salary of Freddie Tian, who works at an office in Futian district in Shenzhen.

He’s taken to using the city’s subway again, as the easy availability of shared bicycles lets him cover the 10 minutes from his apartment to the subway with ease. Formerly a frequent Didi user, Tian said he no longer takes the taxi

“I can get up a little later in the morning as I don’t need to worry about traffic jams anymore,” he said.

Tian is hardly alone in ditching taxis or shared car rides for the bicycle. Bicycles as a mode of transportation has doubled to 11.6 per cent of total transportation within a year, from 5.5 per cent, while the ratio by cars has fallen to 29.8 per cent from 26.6 per cent in the same period, according to an April report by Beijing Mobike Technology Co. and Tsinghua University.

The growth trend is explosive. The number of shared bicycle users will more than double to 50 million by the end of 2017, from 18 million at the end of 2016, according to Big Data Research, a Chinese consultancy.

To meet the demand, . . .

Continue reading.

Via the very interesting newsletter Exponential View.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 June 2017 at 2:58 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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