Later On

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Archive for December 2018

I was living in California during this: Jerry Brown’s Greatest Legacy Is Proving California Is Governable

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A really excellent retrospective of an unusual and highly productive life. Todd Purdum writes in the Atlantic:

When Jerry Brown first took the oath as governor of California on January 6, 1975, he succeeded Ronald Reagan, who was still six years away from the White House. Gerald Ford was president, Paul VI was pope, the Watergate conspirators John Mitchell, H. R. Haldeman, and John Ehrlichman had just been convicted, the Khmer Rouge was beginning its bloody rise to power in Cambodia, the Dow Jones Industrial Average stood at around 600 points, and Bradley Cooper had been born the day before.

It is no exaggeration to say that Brown’s tenure as governor of the Golden State—two disparate tours, separated by nearly 30 years, four terms and16 years in all—bookends virtually the entire modern history of California. He is both the youngest and oldest man in modern times to preside over his state, and five years ago he surpassed Earl Warren’s tenure as the longest-serving California governor. He leaves office next month, at 80, at the top of his game, California’s once-depleted coffers bursting with surplus, his flaky youthful reputation as “Governor Moonbeam” long since supplanted by his stature as perhaps the most successful politician in contemporary America.

A onetime seminarian who has never lost his quirky asceticism—in his first term, he slept on a mattress in a small apartment in Sacramento and rode around in a modest blue Plymouth instead of a limousine—he is fond of quoting poets and obscure philosophers and has lived by the Jesuit maxim “Age quod agis”“Do what you are doing.” He famously dated Linda Ronstadt, but could be clueless about pop culture; in the summer of 1980, when billboards and T-shirts all over America were demanding, “Who shot J. R.?”—the smiling, so-bad-he’s-good villain of TV’s Dallas—Brown asked his press secretary, “Who’s J. R.?”

He was a dedicated environmentalist, promoting wind and geothermal energy before those technologies were in vogue, and a visionary when that quality was mocked in politics; indeed, the Chicago columnist Mike Royko, who tagged Brown with his lunar nickname (the governor had suggested California might launch its own communications satellite), could never have imagined that Brown would announce just this fall that the state was contracting for the launch of “our own damn satellite” to monitor global climate change. He was a socially liberal Democrat who embraced diversity when gay marriage was no more than a dream, but he was also wary of partisan orthodoxy and famously tight with a buck.

When he took office for the second time eight years ago, the state had a $27 billion deficit; now it has a dedicated rainy-day fund more than half that size, and a like amount in another one-time discretionary surplus for the coming budget year. In the past eight years, the state has added roughly 3 million jobs, refuting the canard that its tough environmental and labor regulations are impediments to growth. When he signed his last budget last summer, Brown was joined by legislative leaders—the oldest of whom was only 12 when he was first elected.

“There are so many things that are going on all the time, even as we speak, that it’s hard to pick out ‘This is the one,’ or ‘That is the one,’” he told me in a telephone conversation the other day when asked to name his proudest legacy, nevertheless ticking off more than a few of those listed in the previous paragraphs. “I think it’s just a privilege to be in California, and to have been the governor these many years. It’s an unusual experience and very exciting, and, I think most people would agree, fairly productive and innovative. So I don’t know. I’m not one to sit around watching the movie of my own life as a source of pleasure. I can tell you, I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing.”

Raphael Sonenshein, the executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University in Los Angeles (named for Brown’s father, who served two terms as governor from 1959 to 1967), said that the younger Brown’s greatest legacy was “proving that California was governable at a time when California’s image was under assault as the next Greece.”

“That’s a big deal in many ways,” Sonenshein adds. “Because it also plays into the partisan politics of the country, since the state was being held up as the poster child of what was wrong with progressive government. And it’s pretty hard to be a punching bag when you’ve got two reserve funds that are pretty gigantic, and a state that’s doing pretty darn well. It might not be the legacy he started out with 40 years ago, or that he necessarily wanted to have, but it’s a pretty big deal.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it’s worth reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2018 at 12:32 pm

Some good news: 6 Young Men, Given Adult Sentences for “Minor” Infractions, Are Freed in Illinois

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Duaa Eldeib reports in ProPublica:

Six young men who had been sentenced to lengthy adult prison terms for committing what were described as minor infractions at a southern Illinois youth correctional facility went free Friday after outgoing Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, in an unannounced move, commuted their sentences.

The young men, whose cases were documented in a ProPublica Illinois investigation last year, had only learned they would be released the day before. By Friday afternoon, all had walked out of the prisons where they were being held.

“It feels good to be out,” Kaleb Martin said in a phone call, after leaving the Pinckneyville Correctional Center in southern Illinois, where he was met by his sister. Martin had been sentenced to six years in adult prison for biting a guard he claimed put him in a chokehold that blocked his breathing.

He and the other five young men had been imprisoned for assaulting guards or other employees at the Illinois Youth Center at Harrisburg, though internal Department of Juvenile Justice records described some of the incidents as “minor.” Juvenile justice advocates and some state officials criticized Harrisburg officials for pressing charges, saying the incidents, which included biting, striking or spitting on workers, typically would have been handled through internal discipline.

“On the one hand, today is a real victory for justice. I am thrilled that these young men are getting out early,” said Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the prison watchdog group John Howard Association. “On the other hand, the fact that it came to this is really unfortunate. The system failure that led to these young men being in adult state custody is enormous.”

The commutations were not publicly announced by the governor’s office. A spokeswoman for Rauner, who has made criminal justice reform a key initiative, declined a request for comment.

After Martin’s sister, Brittany, picked him up, he met his 2-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew for the first time, and the family drove to her home in Peoria. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, not all of it good.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2018 at 12:20 pm

Interesting analysis of possible Democrat directions

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Greg Sargent writes in the Washington Post:

The near-total lack of GOP congressional oversight on the Trump administration hasn’t merely let President Trump’s corruption and authoritarianism run rampant. It has also allowed Trump’s bottomless dishonesty, bad faith and megalomaniacal delusions to fester unchecked when it comes to major governing decisions — and one glaring example is the government shutdown over his wall.

Democrats have a big opportunity to begin changing this. When they take over the House, they can use the oversight process not just to investigate Trumpian corruption and abuses, but also to try to restore facts, empiricism and good-faith information-gathering to a place in governing processes and debates.

The latest reports indicate that Trump won’t back off his demand for his wall, ensuring that the shutdown fight will drag into next year. Even if a short-term deal is reached to keep the government open, Trump will continue demanding wall money, meaning that will remain a sticking point. So restoring facts and empiricism to the debate over immigration will be particularly pressing.

First and foremost, Democrats must use their majority to restore a reality-based conversation around the topic of how secure the southern border really is. Over the weekend, two senior members of Trump’s orbit — his outgoing chief of staff and his border chief — gave interviews that help illuminate the direction in which Democrats can take this effort.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, White House chief of staff John Kelly refused to answer directly when asked whether there is a border security crisis, only saying: “We have an immigration problem.” This directly undercuts Trump’s nonstop lie that the border is overrun by invading hordes, justifying the wall.

Kelly also asserted that the administration had abandoned the push for a “solid concrete wall” after asking Customs and Border Protection officials “what they needed and where they needed it.” Trump just rage-tweeted that he hasn’t abandoned his concrete wall at all, though he hedged a bit, but what really matters here is that Kelly flatly asserted that border officials have said they don’t need it, again undercutting Trump’s demand.

Democrats have an opening. They should formally request that the Congressional Research Service do a comprehensive report on the current state of border security. This is exactly what the CRS is for. As CRS has explained, it provides lawmakers with detailed empirical information at all stages of the process, including helping them “better understand the existing situation” so they can “assess whether there is a problem requiring a legislative remedy.”

CRS would likely conclude that we’ve already dramatically beefed up border security, and that this has worked, with illegal border crossings now at historically relative lows. A 2016 CRS report hinted at such conclusions, but we need an updated and more comprehensive version.

“This would be quite valuable, because it would come with the imprimatur of the U.S. government,” Josh Chafetz, a law professor at Cornell who wrote a good book on how Congress can use its powers in hidden ways, told me. “Part of the goal here is to give journalists something they can report,” Chafetz noted, and CRS reports are an underappreciated resource for the public as well, given that they are particularly “reader friendly.”

Public theater for the benefit of the public

Democrats can also hold hearings at which Homeland Security officials are directly asked to testify to the state of border security. As it happens, a 2017 Homeland Security report foundthat the border is more secure than it has ever been, which also undercuts Trump’s wall rage-fantasies. Democrats could bring in the authors of that report and ask them to reiterate and explain this conclusion and justify “why we need to spend X dollars on a wall,” Chafetz noted, which “itself would make good television.”

Democrats can also press border officials directly on whether they want Trump’s wall, now that Kelly has suggested that they do not. On ABC’s “This Week,” Customs and Border Protection commissioner Kevin McAleenan was pressed on Trump’s wall, and he proceeded carefully, noting that in some places more barriers would help, while also stressing that technology and manpower are more suited to handling the particular security problems officials face. More intensive congressional questioning of officials on the utility of the wall as Trump envisions it would be illuminating.

McAleenan also said something else on ABC that hints at how Democrats should proceed. He repeatedly stressed that increased economic development aid to the Northern Triangle countries, something the State Department is advocating, would help mitigate the migrant crisis, since many asylum seekers are motivated by desperate poverty at home.

This puts him at odds with Trump’s threats to cut off aid to those countries — and more deeply, is premised on a completely different narrative of the crisis than the falsehood-riddled cartoon version that Trump has adopted as part of his wall push. Getting officials on the record in more detail on these deeper differences would also be useful.

“If congressional Democrats want to establish concrete factual narratives around policy issues, the public dimension of hearings may be an important tool,” Molly Reynolds, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, told me. She said Democrats might use them to get officials to “make public commitments” and to “build a public record.”

Lies can go viral. But so can the truth.

In his book on Congress, Chafetz posited that such public communications constitute an important, if underappreciated, way that representatives exercise their powers and responsibilities. When members of Congress responsibly inform the public, it enhances the legislative branch’s power, reveals to voters what the executive branch has sought to mislead them upon, and ideally offers a competing view of what is actually in the national interest and what is not.

That mission may seem . ..

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2018 at 11:57 am

House Democrats ready strategy to reopen government, deny Trump wall money

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Erica Werner and Seung Min Kim report in the Washington Post:

Democrats have settled on a strategy for attempting to reopen the government when they take control of the House on Thursday, aimed at ending the partial shutdown quickly — but denying President Trump the new money he wants for a border wall.

Democrats plan to pass a stopgap spending bill to fund the Homeland Security Department through Feb. 8. The bill would extend the existing $1.3 billion spending level on border fencing and other security measures, far short of the $5 billion Trump has sought to build new walls along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The GOP-controlled Senate passed that same measure earlier this month, but Trump subsequently rejected it. It’s unclear how the Senate would respond if presented with the plan again.

Under Democrats’ plan, the House would also pass a package of six other spending bills to fund an array of federal agencies that have been shuttered since Dec. 22, including the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice Departments. Hundreds of thousands of workers at those agencies and others are home on furlough, facing the possibility of missing paychecks depending on how long the shutdown lasts.

Those six spending bills would be passed through Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year, at levels already embraced on a bipartisan basis in the Senate — an approach aimed at pressuring the Senate to go along.

The bills to reopen government will be among the first votes cast by Democrats when they take control of the House and open the 116th Congress. The legislation was expected to be made public later Monday. Details were confirmed by two House Democratic aides speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement. . .

Continue reading.

If Mitch McConnell won’t advance a bill along the same lines, then the shutdown is clearly due not only to Trump but also to the Senate Republicans.

Right now it is Trump who has proved unable to keep the government running. If McConnell jumps in it becomes the GOP in general.

Trump may be “proud” of what he’s done, but it is so far a disaster.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2018 at 9:30 am

Last shave of the year, with The Dead Sea and the German 37

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The year ends on a good note, shave-wise: The Dead Sea is an excellent shaving soap with an unusual fragrance (cannabis is included, along with lemon, rosemary, saffron, and sandalwood). This soap doesn’t do well if the brush is too wet, but I have learned to shake the brush to mere dampness before loading—and this is a new brush, BTW: a Maggard Razors synthetic that is quite nice. I would say that shaving brushes have been solved, with superb and inexpensive brushes readily available.

Three passes with RazoRock’s German 37—a big improvement on the Merkur 37, IMO, by being a three-piece design. The result was perfectly smooth, and then a splash of Hâttric finished the job.

And we’re set for the evening: Steller’s Jay Sparkling Rosé, lox, salmon caviar, ciabatta and crostini, and mascarpone cheese. Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy, and prosperous new year.

Written by Leisureguy

31 December 2018 at 7:53 am

Posted in Shaving

“I filed one of the 83 dismissed misconduct complaints against Brett Kavanaugh. Here’s why.”

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Charles Grassley and the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had a big fail in confirming Brett Kavanaugh. They deliberately avoided working to find the truth.

Larry Behrendt, who has practiced law for more than 30 years in New York and California, writes in the Washington Post:

Two weeks ago, the Judicial Council of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit dismissed 83 judicial misconduct complaints filed against Brett M. Kavanaugh in connection with his nomination to the Supreme Court. The identities of the complainers have been kept secret, but nothing prevents them from coming forward. I am coming forward. I’m one of those 83 complainers.

I’m a retired attorney who is on no one’s short list to serve on the Supreme Court. But I listened on Sept. 27 while Kavanaugh peppered two hours of Senate testimony with attacks against people and groups he associated with Democrats. Kavanaugh alleged (without factual basis) that he was the victim of a vast, secret, left-wing cabal, masterminded by senators such as Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and motivated by “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” I was shocked to hear a Supreme Court nominee carry on like a crazed conspiracy theorist.

Turns out, there’s a rule against federal judges behaving like this. Congress passed the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act in 1980, and the rules under that act state that it’s misconduct for a federal judge to make “inappropriately partisan statements.” I may be retired, but I think I know an inappropriately partisan statement when I hear one.

So a few days later, I filed a complaint against Kavanaugh under the 1980 act. It ended up before Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who punted it, among others, to the Judicial Council of the 10th Circuit in Denver. The complaints varied in quality: Some were written like formal briefs, and others were submitted on postcards. They accumulated in Denver for more than two months. Meanwhile, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court and President Trump proclaimed that Kavanaugh had been the victim of a Democratic Party “hoax.” There’s no rule against a president making inappropriately partisan statements.

The 10th Circuit Judicial Council finally announced its dismissal of the 83 complaints on Dec. 18, explaining its decision roughly as follows: (1) The 1980 act applies to circuit judges but not Supreme Court justices, (2) Kavanaugh was a D.C. Circuit Court judge during his confirmation hearings and when I filed my complaint, but (3) he’s a Supreme Court justice now. Evidently a circuit judge nominated to the Supreme Court can be held responsible for his partisan misconduct before the Senate, so long as the Senate fails to confirm the nominee. But if the nominee wins the approval of a partisan Senate, then his inappropriate partisanship is excused. This reasoning doesn’t make sense to me. It’s like saying we can prosecute a safecracker only if the safe proved to be empty.

You may not agree with the substance of my complaint. And given the political divide in the present Senate, you may think Kavanaugh’s partisanship was unavoidable. But I should have had the chance to argue my point.

Granted, the 1980 act does not apply to the conduct of Supreme Court justices. But the act fails to say what to do when a judge engages in misconduct before becoming a Supreme Court justice. Here, the Judicial Council argued that Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court was an “intervening event” under the 1980 act and its accompanying rules, and that “a misconduct proceeding can be concluded because of ‘intervening events.’ ” Unfortunately, the Judicial Council truncated the relevant rule, which allows for a complaint to be dismissed if “intervening events render some or all of the allegations moot or make remedial action impossible.” Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court did not render moot the questionable behavior that helped win him that seat. Nor is remedial action impossible now that Judge Kavanaugh is Justice Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh can still issue the kind of full apology he has avoided up until now, and he can recuse himself from highly partisan cases (those with Trump as a party, for example).

In order to let Kavanaugh off the hook, the Judicial Council skipped around relevant commentary stating that “as long as the subject of a complaint performs judicial duties, a complaint alleging judicial conduct must be addressed.” Here, the Judicial Council interpreted “judicial duties” to refer only to duties of judges covered under the 1980 act — leading the council to the strained conclusion that a Supreme Court justice does not perform “judicial duties.” Instead of this tortured reasoning, I’d say we’ve appended yet another exception to the adage that no one is above the law. The 1980 act assigned to the courts a responsibility to address judges who engage in misconduct, and the 10th Circuit Judicial Council read the act looking for a way out. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2018 at 8:35 pm

New Jersey AG has obtained evidence of possible crimes at Trump’s golf club — and Mueller, FBI are involved in probe

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The problem is that when you’re constantly involved in scams and frauds and dishonest behavior, once law enforcement officials start to look, they discover a target-rich environment. Chris Sommerfeldt reports in the Daily News:

New Jersey prosecutors have collected evidence that supervisors at President Trump’s Garden State golf club may have committed federal immigration crimes — and the FBI as well as special counsel Robert Mueller have played part in the inquiry, the Daily News has learned.

Anibal Romero, a Newark attorney who represents several undocumented immigrants who used to work at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, said Friday he recently met with investigators from the state attorney general’s office and handed over fraudulent green cards and Social Security numbers that management at the club allegedly procured and gave his clients, Victorina Morales and Sandra Diaz.

Before he met with the state prosecutors, Romero said he reached out to Mueller’s office because, while he wanted to contact federal authorities, he was concerned about looping in the Justice Department, which was headed by Jeff Sessions at the time.

“I wasn’t sure, one, if they’d take me seriously and, two, if this could backfire on my clients,” Romero told The News, referencing the Trump administration’s aggressive immigration agenda.

Mueller’s office, which is separately investigating Trump’s campaign for possible collusion with Russians during the 2016 election, made contact and informed Romero the matter was not within their jurisdiction.

A few weeks later, an FBI agent in New Jersey called Romero.

“He said to me that he had received a referral from Robert Mueller’s office and that he already knew the specifics and that he wanted to meet with me in person,” Romero said.

Romero then met with two agents at a federal office in Branchburg, N.J., and outlined the same evidence he had already given the AG prosecutors. The agents said they would “coordinate” with the AG’s office, according to Romero. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

30 December 2018 at 8:02 am

We’re well into the endgame: What was going on.

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Martin Longman writes in the Washington Monthly:

On Sunday, April 15, 2018, I wrote, “If Michael Cohen went to Prague, then Donald Trump will be impeached, convicted, and removed from office, assuming he doesn’t resign.” The piece was in response to a Thursday evening article Peter Stone and Greg Gordon had written for McClatchy that claimed that the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) had evidence that, contrary to his repeated denials, Michael Cohen actually had traveled to Prague in the late summer of 2016 just as he was alleged to have done in the Steele Dossier. Obviously, I had no way to independently verify Stone and Gordon’s reporting, so I focused on the consequences of what they claimed to have learned assuming it were true. As for the veracity of their piece, I only noted that they were serious and well-respected reporters and that I knew that they were convinced they had the story right or they would never have gone to print with it.

As the months went by and there was no corroboration of their scoop, I began to wonder if they were going to wind up with egg on their faces. Lanny Davis began representing Michael Cohen and continued to deny that the Prague trip ever took place even as it became apparent that Cohen was cooperating with the OSC. Cohen was arrested, pleaded guilty and was convicted, and yet there was still no hint that he had verified a trip to Prague.

As a refresher, the claim that Michael Cohen went to Prague in late August or early September 2016 was the single most damning allegation in the Steele Dossier. Among the alleged purposes of the trip were to coordinate with Kremlin officials in an effort to manage the fallout from the mid-August firing of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, to find an innocent explanation for Carter Page’s recent trip to Moscow, and to develop a plan to compensate Romanian hackers who had supposedly played a role in the DNC hacks.

According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven.”

COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted], the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

Obviously, if Cohen had actually gone to Prague and then chose to deny it after the Steele Dossier was published in January 2017, that would go a long way to verify the allegations.

Today, Stone and Gordon are back with a new piece that explains how the OSC knows that Cohen actually did travel to Prague.

A mobile phone traced to President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen briefly sent signals ricocheting off cell towers in the Prague area in late summer 2016, at the height of the presidential campaign, leaving an electronic record to support claims that Cohen met secretly there with Russian officials, four people with knowledge of the matter say.

During the same period of late August or early September, electronic eavesdropping by an Eastern European intelligence agency picked up a conversation among Russians, one of whom remarked that Cohen was in Prague, two people familiar with the incident said.

These are two pieces of strong evidence. The cell phone is the harder one to explain away.

Four people spoke with McClatchy on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of information shared by their foreign intelligence connections. Each obtained their information independently from foreign intelligence connections…

…The cell phone evidence, the sources said, was discovered sometime after Cohen apparently made his way to the Czech Republic.

The records show that the brief activation from Cohen’s phone near Prague sent beacons that left a traceable electronic signature, said the four sources.

The brief activation could have occurred when Cohen made a WiFi connection to check his email or while using an application on his phone. If so, it was poor tradecraft – but his phone could have been detected even if he never turned it on.

Jan Neumann, the assumed name of a former Russian intelligence officer who defected to the United States years ago, said that Cohen’s electronic cell tower trail appears to reflect sloppy “tradecraft.”

“You can monitor and control cell phones in Europe same as you do it here in US,” Neumann told McClatchy. “As long as the battery is physically located in the phone, even when it’s turned off, the mobile phone’s approximate location can be detected and tracked. Any attempt to use an app, to get mail, send texts, connect to a Wifi network, your phone and your location will be detected.”

“It would not be very professional to take your phone to a secret meeting,” said Neumann, who has consulted for the U.S. intelligence community. In this case, he said, “it would be more logical to leave it turned on and connected to a WIFI network in a hotel in Germany.”

The second piece of evidence comes from the unspecified Eastern European intelligence service that overheard Russians discussing Cohen’s presence in Prague.

It was during the same late August-early September time span in 2016 that an Eastern European intelligence agency eavesdropped on a conversation in which a Russian official advised another that Cohen was in Prague, two of the sources said. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it is serious stuff.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 1:43 pm

The real way to do a detox or cleanse

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One does get tired of celebrities pretending to be experts in fields in which they are ignorant. Rosie Schwartz, R.D., writes in Canadian Living:

Popular cleanses could be harming your health. Here are better ways to detox your colon and liver, and lose weight.

So, your friend says a cleanse is just what you need to get back on track after a few extra-indulgent weeks—it seems to work for stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Beyoncé. But beware: Celebrities may endorse cleanses, detoxes and ultralow-calorie food plans, but science doesn’t back these diets.

Just ask Timothy Caulfield, author of Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash and professor in the school of public health at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. “Virtually every science-informed expert I contacted said the same thing: People should forget about cleanses and trendy diets,” says Caulfield. “You will lose weight temporarily on a cleanse, but it has nothing to do with the removal of toxins.”

Instead, explains Dr. Rhonda Low, a Vancouver family physician, “because the regimens are usually very restrictive and very low in calories, weight loss occurs because of initial water loss and the extreme caloric restriction—not from flushing toxins from our bodies.” In addition to water loss, you may lose some lean body tissue or muscle and just a small amount of fat. While the water can be regained almost overnight, the muscle loss can lead to a slower metabolism—which may make you more apt to gain weight in the long run.

Finally, buying into a fad eating plan can be dangerous. “Some cleanse supplements may contain herbs and other ingredients that, like medications, you can be sensitive to,” says Dr. Low. “Natural does not mean safe.”

The good news is that you can safely reboot your body— no special supplements, strange foods or liquids-only plans required. Here’s how.

For a healthier colon
Instead of herbal laxatives, such as senna and cascara, or commercial products like the 7-Day Miracle Cleanse…

Try this: 
– Up your fibre intake with whole grain cereals that contain at least five grams of fibre per serving. Choose high-fibre fruit and vegetables, such as apples, pears, berries, broccoli, green peas and spinach. And be sure to drink plenty of water to help your bowels flush out waste regularly.

– Look for colon-friendly live-culture dairy products, such as kefir and live-culture yogurt, which deliver healthy bacteria.

Because… Bowel regularity is key for eliminating waste from your body. But unless you’re prepping for a medical procedure, skip the colonics and laxative supplements, as they can disrupt the balance of the bacteria in your gut—your microbiota. Healthy bacteria in your colon not only promote regularity but also help you fight infections, manage your weight and even improve emotional health. The watery and looser stools associated with cleanses are not a sign of detoxification; instead, they may indicate dehydration.

To avoid water retention
Instead of clear-liquids-only plans, diuretic supplements with herbs (such as dandelion leaf and juniper berries), water detox drinks or commercial products such as IsaFlush…

Try this:
Bring on the potassium with a balanced diet that includes milk and yogurt, citrus fruit, melons and berries, dark leafy greens and root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and beets.

Because… Eating a lot of processed foods can lead to excess sodium in your system, making you retain water. Potassium-rich foods can counteract sodium sensitivity, allowing your kidneys to get rid of excess water.

For a healthy liver
Instead of The Master Cleanse, which includes a concoction of lemon juice, maple syrup and cayenne pepper to “detox” your digestive system

Try this:
– Eat plenty of whole grains and fibre-rich fruit and vegetables, such as apples, bananas, oranges, artichokes and brussels sprouts.

– Choose healthy fats, such as extra-virgin olive oil and canola oil.

– Keep your alcohol consumption to one drink—wine, beer or liquor—per day.

– Get physical activity—try a daily 15-minute walk.

Because… An increasingly common condition known as fatty liver disease is linked to being obese. While the exact cause is unknown, fast weight loss and malnutrition are also related to the disease. In some cases, this can result in scarring of the liver (a key organ for detoxification) and, ultimately, liver failure. The good news is that exercise and a healthful diet that includes fibre-rich foods can prevent and even reverse this fat accumulation.

To lose weight
Instead of extreme low-calorie diets and liquid-only fasts such as The Master Cleanse and Clean Cleanse…

Try this:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 12:50 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Science

Trump Administration Tells Furloughed Workers To Barter with Landlords

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Is the idea that the Trump Administration cares about the workers harmed by the shutdown? If so, since the shutdown is totally due to Trump, why doesn’t he simply end the shutdown? Inae Oh writes in Mother Jones:

While President Donald Trump continues to hurl insults at Democrats and rage-tweet his way through the partial government shutdown, the US Office of Personnel Management has provided furloughed workers with sample letters they can send to creditors, landlords, and mortgage companies outlining why they might not be able to cover payments they owe because of the shutdown. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 12:47 pm

Should Donald Trump brag about wage growth, as Rich Lowry suggests?

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Kevin Drum has a post worth reading. It begins:

A “friend” brings to my attention the latest column from Rich Lowry, editor of National Review. With the stock market tanking, he has some advice for Donald Trump:

For a president who underlined the increasing importance of working-class whites to the GOP coalition and who trampled so much bipartisan economic orthodoxy during the campaign, to be so overtly obsessed with the stock market is a strange disconnect….This isn’t how he should view it, and it was shortsighted to be so boastful about the good times.

….Wages would be a worthy new object of his attention. Trump has the ability to shift the public conversation onto ground of his choosing, and it’d be better if wages didn’t often take a back seat to the stock market and GDP growth. Trump has a story to tell here. A historically low unemployment rate is having an effect. Wages grew at a 3.1 percent rate year over year in October and November, the highest level since 2009.

This illustrates the problem with economics and the right: they believe their own nonsense too often. Lowry is trying to make a purely political point here, namely that if the stock market is going down, the president should start boasting about something that’s going up. Obviously that makes a kind of hardnosed pragmatic sense, but the problem is that wages aren’t exactly kicking ass these days.

Here’s a simple chart showing three difference measures of wage growth over the past few years: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 10:47 am

The Secrets of an Italian Gelato Master

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Eria Zwingle has an interesting article in Craftsmanship magazine:

It’s like food from a fable – beguiling, irresistible, working its charms in countries and cultures around the world. Somebody might still be trying to find the secret of turning straw into gold, but transforming milk into bliss is happening every day—a work that seems like magic. \Seeing that it’s everywhere in Italy, it seemed fair to conclude that gelato’s magic is well understood here by at least a few people. So I went hunting for a bona fide gelato virtuoso.

“It’s the fault of gelato that I was born,” says Andrea Soban. We were sitting in his family’s gelateria in Valenza, Italy, in the Piemonte Region halfway between Milan and Torino, and he was smiling as he spoke. “My parents met when they were teenagers working in a gelateria in Germany.” Those two years he spent studying law? Futile. Gelato was in his blood.

This little moment introduces the basic keywords to Andrea’s life: “Gelato,” which is not exactly the same thing as ice cream; “Italy,” which is gelato’s homeland; and “family.” Other Italian families might make gelato, but Andrea’s mother comes from the Zoldo valley in the Italian Dolomites. And for reasons that will soon be explained, you can thank the gelatieri of Zoldo that you’ve got that quart on hand at midnight when you learn that your boyfriend cheated on you.

I forgot to include “smiling” on this list. Andrea works hard to make his gelato, and he and his parents work even harder dishing it up when school lets out. I’ve seen confusion in my time, but it’s not often so happy. I watched it for two days. People smiled at the mere sight of the Soban gelato case. A very little girl came in and just began to yell from excitement. “It’s one of the few foods that make you smile instantly,” Andrea says.

There are competitions and prizes, of course, and lots of “best” lists come out every year. Andrea usually figures prominently among them. He is understandably pleased to have won second place in 2014 and 2015 at the annual “Sherbeth International Festival of Artisanal Gelato,” a big event in the gelato world, and second place in 2014 and 2015 on the “100 Best Artisanal Gelaterie” list sifted out by the food magazine Dissapore. And in February, 2016, Andrea completed an innovative course in tasting which has essentially made him a sommelier of gelato.

The ingredients to his particular form of \genius are ridiculously simple: Frozen milk, cream, sugar and, if you like, some sort of flavoring. That’s it. Traditional gelato is so elementary that conflicting claims persist as to who thought it up; it seems to have developed by steps over the years, in the hands of many people. (For the whole history, see our sidebar to the right, “The Quest for Cool.”) It’s beyond dispute, though, that the apotheosis of this humble mixture was achieved several hundred years ago by the Italians, who gave it an equally simple name: “Gelato.” “Frozen.”

Gelato and ice cream are close cousins, but they are not twins; the main difference is their amount of fat, sugar and air (strange as it may seem, your exquisitely creamy cup of gelato has less of all three). Gelato is also softer and even slightly warmer than ice cream. But the biggest difference may be their emotional payload. In America, ice cream somehow carries a vague atmosphere of sin – calories! Fat! Self-indulgence! Bad, but I’m going to eat it anyway! In Italy, artisanal gelato is practically a health food. Articles come out in the paper every summer citing studies that confirm how good it is for you. “Eat more!” they say. “You need it!” . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 8:51 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Food

As a grocery chain is dismantled, investors recover their money. Worker pensions are short millions.

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Bankruptcy laws need reform: before investors recover any money, outstanding corporate debts should be paid. Peter Whoriskey reports in the Washington Post:

Once the Marsh Supermarkets chain began to falter a few years ago, its owner, a private-equity firm, began selling off the vast retail empire, piece by piece. The company sold more than 100 convenience stores. It sold the pharmacies. It closed some of the 115 grocery stores, having previously auctioned off their real estate. Then, in May 2017, the company announced the closure of the remaining 44 stores.

Marsh Supermarkets, founded in 1931, had at last filed for bankruptcy.

“It was a long, slow decline,” said Amy Gerken, formerly an assistant office manager at one of the stores. Sun Capital Partners, the private-equity firm that owned Marsh, “didn’t really know how grocery stores work. We’d joke about them being on a yacht without even knowing what a UPC code is. But they didn’t treat employees right, and since the bankruptcy, everyone is out for their blood.”

The anger arises because although the sell-off allowed Sun Capital and its investors to recover their money and then some, the company entered bankruptcy leaving unpaid more than $80 million in debts to workers’ severance and pensions.

For Sun Capital, this process of buying companies, seeking profits and leaving pensions unpaid is a familiar one. Over the past 10 years, it has taken five companies into bankruptcy while leaving behind debts of about $280 million owed to employee pensions.

The unpaid pension debts mean that some retirees will get smaller checks. Much of the tab will be picked up by the government’s pension insurer, a federal agency facing its own budget shortfalls.

“They did everyone dirty,” said Kilby Baker, 70, a retired warehouse worker whose pension check was cut by about 25 percent after Marsh Supermarkets withdrew from the pension. “We all gave up wage increases so we could have a better pension. Then they just took it away from us.”

Founded by two onetime colleagues at Lehman Brothers, Marc Leder and Rodger R. Krouse, Sun Capital manages billions in private-equity investments, buying and selling companies for profit. The public face of the firm is Leder, a co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team and the New Jersey Devils hockey team. Noted for his extravagant parties and yachting expeditions, he has been dubbed by tabloids as “the Hugh Hefner of the Hamptons.”

Politically, he may be best known for hosting the Boca Raton, Fla., dinner where presidential candidate Mitt Romney made what became infamous comments about the “47 percent of the people . . . who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims.”

In a statement for this report, Sun Capital said: “Marsh was a struggling business that we worked hard to save. Our investment kept the company alive and provided jobs for its employees for 11 years.”

Over that period, the company invested $150 million in improving some stores and building others, Sun said, and contributed $30 million to pensions for Marsh workers.

“Despite these efforts, and in the face of declining revenues and massive spending by national competitors, Marsh was unfortunately forced to declare bankruptcy and we lost money on our investment,” the statement said.

Regarding the unpaid pensions at the other companies, Leder said in a statement: “You can’t reach a meaningful conclusion by examining such a small percentage of our investments. We’ve done 365 deals in our history and the vast majority have grown and been successful.”

When a company fails, it is sometimes impossible to pay everyone who is owed money. The trouble, according to some critics, is that financial firms often extract money from losing bets to reward themselves and then, through bankruptcy, leave obligations to workers unpaid. Companies owned by private-equity firms have used bankruptcy to leave behind hundreds of millions of dollars in pension debts, according to a government estimate.

“These private-equity firms buy a company, plunder it of any assets, and then send it into bankruptcy without paying employees,” said Eileen Appelbaum, an economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research who studies private-equity transactions. “To anyone but a bankruptcy court, this looks like a swindle.”

In recent years, some in Congress have sought to change the bankruptcy laws to prevent companies from ditching pension debts through bankruptcy. Last year, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) introduced a bill that would give pensions higher priority in bankruptcy payouts. He said that in 2016 alone, 146,000 pensioners overall had seen cuts to their benefits. It did not win passage.

“There’s this idea that pensions are a giveaway,” said Ryan, who expects to reintroduce the legislation in 2019. But “it’s their money. Through negotiations, workers have deferred wages for a pension down the line. For them not to get that money is theft — in a lot of ways. The workers are a pawn in the game.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 8:47 am

The Maggard travel brush and Wholly Kaw’s King of Bourbon

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That little travel brush from Maggard is quite nice and the handle offers a secure grip. The fine synthetic feels as nice as the Wee Scot, and it makes and holds lather like a champ. And Wholly Kaw’s King of Bourbon shaving soap responded well, with a generous, thick, and fragrant lather. Of that soap:

Well blended notes of Tobacco, Bourbon Vanilla from Madagascar, Ginger, Vetiver, Cypriol, Ylang-ylang and Cassie absolute.

Gingery vanilla gives off boozy notes without being too sweet on the drydown. Tobacco comes into play in the middle notes. Woody and earthy notes from Cypriol and Vetiver tone down the sweetness.

A blend of essential oils, resins, and aroma chemicals creating a symphony of notes appropriate for Fall and Winter.

Hops Extract is added to provide biological activities such as anti-inflammatory, anti-angiogenic providing relief for inflammation and prevention of spider veins.

Omega-6 Linoleic Acid and Omega-3 Linolenic Acid, the only long chain fatty acid which the body needs but cannot synthesize have long been recognized as essentials for healthy looking skin.

The ingredients:

Potassium Stearate, Sodium Stearate, Aqua, Donkey Milk, Water Buffalo Milk, Glycerin, Potassium Tallowate, Sodium Tallowate, Potassium Ricinoleate, Sodium Ricinoleate, Potassium Shea Butterate, Sodium Shea Butterate, Garcinia Indica (Kokum) Butter, Theobroma Cacao (Cocoa) Butter, Water Buffalo Whey, Linoleic Acid, Linolenic Acid, Humulus Lupulus (Hops) Extract, Lanolin, Fragrance, Benzyl Benzoate, Cinnamyl Alcohol, Linalool

Three passes with RazoRock’s Old Type razor left my face perfectly smooth and undamaged, and then a splash of Floris JF finished the job.

A great way to start the weekend.

Written by Leisureguy

29 December 2018 at 8:37 am

Posted in Shaving

“I Know Brett Kavanaugh, but I Wouldn’t Confirm Him”

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Benjamin Wittes wrote in the Atlantic back in October:

If I were a senator, I would not vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh.

These are words I write with no pleasure, but with deep sadness. Unlike many people who will read them with glee—as validating preexisting political, philosophical, or jurisprudential opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination—I have no hostility to or particular fear of conservative jurisprudence. I have a long relationship with Kavanaugh, and I have always liked him. I have admired his career on the D.C. Circuit. I have spoken warmly of him. I have published him. I have vouched publicly for his character—more than once—and taken a fair bit of heat for doing so. I have also spent a substantial portion of my adult life defending the proposition that judicial nominees are entitled to a measure of decency from the Senate and that there should be norms of civility within a process that showed Kavanaugh none even before the current allegations arose.

This is an article I never imagined myself writing, that I never wanted to write, that I wish I could not write.

I am also keenly aware that rejecting Kavanaugh on the record currently before the Senate will set a dangerous precedent. The allegations against him remain unproven. They arose publicly late in the process and, by their nature, are not amenable to decisive factual rebuttal. It is a real possibility that Kavanaugh is telling the truth and that he has had his life turned upside down over a falsehood. Even assuming that Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations are entirely accurate, rejecting him on the current record could incentivize not merely other sexual-assault victims to come forward—which would be a salutary thing—but also other late-stage allegations of a non-falsifiable nature by people who are not acting in good faith. We are on a dangerous road, and the judicial confirmation wars are going to get a lot worse for our traveling down it.

Despite all of that, if I were a senator, I would vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. I would do it both because of Ford’s testimony and because of Kavanaugh’s. For reasons I will describe, I find her account more believable than his. I would also do it because whatever the truth of what happened in the summer of 1982, Thursday’s hearing left Kavanaugh nonviable as a justice.

A few days before the hearing, I detailed on this site the advice I would give to Kavanaugh if he asked me. He should, I argued, withdraw from consideration for elevation unless able to defend himself to a high degree of factual certainty without attacking Ford. He should remain a nominee, I argued, only if his defense would be sufficiently convincing that it would meet what we might term the “no asterisks” standard—that is, that it would plausibly convince even people who vociferously disagree with his jurisprudential views that he could serve credibly as a justice. His defense needed to make it possible for a reasonable pro-choice woman to find it a legitimate and acceptable prospect, if not an attractive or appealing one, that he might sit on a case reconsidering Roe v. Wade.

Kavanaugh, needless to say, did not take my advice. He stayed in, and he delivered on Thursday, by way of defense, a howl of rage. He went on the attack not against Ford—for that we can be grateful—but against Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee and beyond. His opening statement was an unprecedentedly partisan outburst of emotion from a would-be justice. I do not begrudge him the emotion, even the anger. He has been through a kind of hell that would leave any person gasping for air. But I cannot condone the partisanship—which was raw, undisguised, naked, and conspiratorial—from someone who asks for public faith as a dispassionate and impartial judicial actor. His performance was wholly inconsistent with the conduct we should expect from a member of the judiciary.

Consider the judicial function as described by Kavanaugh himself at his first hearing. That Brett Kavanaugh described a “good judge [as] an umpire—a neutral and impartial arbiter who favors no litigant or policy.” That Brett Kavanaugh reminded us that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2018 at 5:15 pm

How the Artificial-Intelligence Program AlphaZero Mastered Its Games

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James Somers writes in the New Yorker:

A few weeks ago, a group of researchers from Google’s artificial-intelligence subsidiary, DeepMind, published a paper in the journal Science that described an A.I. for playing games. While their system is general-purpose enough to work for many two-person games, the researchers had adapted it specifically for Go, chess, and shogi (“Japanese chess”); it was given no knowledge beyond the rules of each game. At first it made random moves. Then it started learning through self-play. Over the course of nine hours, the chess version of the program played forty-four million games against itself on a massive cluster of specialized Google hardware. After two hours, it began performing better than human players; after four, it was beating the best chess engine in the world.

The program, called AlphaZero, descends from AlphaGo, an A.I. that became known for defeating Lee Sedol, the world’s best Go player, in March of 2016. Sedol’s defeat was a stunning upset. In “AlphaGo,” a documentary released earlier this year on Netflix, the filmmakers follow both the team that developed the A.I. and its human opponents, who have devoted their lives to the game. We watch as these humans experience the stages of a new kind of grief. At first, they don’t see how they can lose to a machine: “I believe that human intuition is still too advanced for A.I. to have caught up,” Sedol says, the day before his five-game match with AlphaGo. Then, when the machine starts winning, a kind of panic sets in. In one particularly poignant moment, Sedol, under pressure after having lost his first game, gets up from the table and, leaving his clock running, walks outside for a cigarette. He looks out over the rooftops of Seoul. (On the Internet, more than fifty million people were watching the match.) Meanwhile, the A.I., unaware that its opponent has gone anywhere, plays a move that commentators called creative, surprising, and beautiful. In the end, Sedol lost, 1-4. Before there could be acceptance, there was depression. “I want to apologize for being so powerless,” he said in a press conference. Eventually, Sedol, along with the rest of the Go community, came to appreciate the machine. “I think this will bring a new paradigm to Go,” he said. Fan Hui, the European champion, agreed. “Maybe it can show humans something we’ve never discovered. Maybe it’s beautiful.”

AlphaGo was a triumph for its creators, but still unsatisfying, because it depended so much on human Go expertise. The A.I. learned which moves it should make, in part, by trying to mimic world-class players. It also used a set of hand-coded heuristics to avoid the worst blunders when looking ahead in games. To the researchers building AlphaGo, this knowledge felt like a crutch. They set out to build a new version of the A.I. that learned on its own, as a “tabula rasa.”

The result, AlphaGo Zero, detailed in a paper published in October, 2017, was so called because it had zero knowledge of Go beyond the rules. This new program was much less well-known; perhaps you can ask for the world’s attention only so many times. But in a way it was the more remarkable achievement, one that no longer had much to do with Go at all. In fact, less than two months later, DeepMind published a preprint of a third paper, showing that the algorithm behind AlphaGo Zero could be generalized to any two-person, zero-sum game of perfect information (that is, a game in which there are no hidden elements, such as face-down cards in poker). DeepMind dropped the “Go” from the name and christened its new system AlphaZero. At its core was an algorithm so powerful that you could give it the rules of humanity’s richest and most studied games and, later that day, it would become the best player there has ever been. Perhaps more surprising, this iteration of the system was also by far the simplest.

A typical chess engine is a hodgepodge of tweaks and shims made over decades of trial and error. The best engine in the world, Stockfish, is open source, and it gets better by a kind of Darwinian selection: someone suggests an idea; tens of thousands of games are played between the version with the idea and the version without it; the best version wins. As a result, it is not a particularly elegant program, and it can be hard for coders to understand. Many of the changes programmers make to Stockfish are best formulated in terms of chess, not computer science, and concern how to evaluate a given situation on the board: Should a knight be worth 2.1 points or 2.2? What if it’s on the third rank, and the opponent has an opposite-colored bishop? To illustrate this point, David Silver, the head of research at DeepMind, once listed the moving parts in Stockfish. There are more than fifty of them, each requiring a significant amount of code, each a bit of hard-won chess arcana: the Counter Move Heuristic; databases of known endgames; evaluation modules for Doubled Pawns, Trapped Pieces, Rooks on (Semi) Open Files, and so on; strategies for searching the tree of possible moves, like “aspiration windows” and “iterative deepening.”

AlphaZero, by contrast, has only two parts: a neural network and an algorithm called Monte Carlo Tree Search. (In a nod to the gaming mecca, mathematicians refer to approaches that involve some randomness as “Monte Carlo methods.”) The idea behind M.C.T.S., as it’s often known, is that a game like chess is really a tree of possibilities. If I move my rook to d8, you could capture it or let it be, at which point I could push a pawn or move my bishop or protect my queen. . . . The trouble is that this tree gets incredibly large incredibly quickly. No amount of computing power would be enough to search it exhaustively. An expert human player is an expert precisely because her mind automatically identifies the essential parts of the tree and focusses its attention there. Computers, if they are to compete, must somehow do the same.

This is where the neural network comes in. AlphaZero’s neural network receives, as input, the layout of the board for the last few moves of the game. As output, it estimates how likely the current player is to win and predicts which of the currently available moves are likely to work best. The M.C.T.S. algorithm uses these predictions to decide where to focus in the tree. If the network guesses that ‘knight-takes-bishop’ is likely to be a good move, for example, then the M.C.T.S. will devote more of its time to exploring the consequences of that move. But it balances this “exploitation” of promising moves with a little “exploration”: it sometimes picks moves it thinks are unlikely to bear fruit, just in case they do.

At first, the neural network guiding this search is fairly stupid: it makes its predictions more or less at random. As a result, the Monte Carlo Tree Search starts out doing a pretty bad job of focussing on the important parts of the tree. But the genius of AlphaZero is in how it learns. It takes these two half-working parts and has them hone each other. Even when a dumb neural network does a bad job of predicting which moves will work, it’s still useful to look ahead in the game tree: toward the end of the game, for instance, the M.C.T.S. can still learn which positions actually lead to victory, at least some of the time. This knowledge can then be used to improve the neural network. When a game is done, and you know the outcome, you look at what the neural network predicted for each position (say, that there’s an 80.2 per cent chance that castling is the best move) and compare that to what actually happened (say, that the percentage is more like 60.5); you can then “correct” your neural network by tuning its synaptic connections until it prefers winning moves. In essence, all of the M.C.T.S.’s searching is distilled into new weights for the neural network.

With a slightly better network, of course, the search gets slightly less misguided—and this allows it to search better, thereby extracting better information for training the network. On and on it goes, in a feedback loop that ratchets up, very quickly, toward the plateau of known ability.

When the AlphaGo Zero and AlphaZero papers were published, a small army of enthusiasts began describing the systems in blog posts and YouTube videos and building their own copycat versions. Most of this work was explanatory—it flowed from the amateur urge to learn and share that gave rise to the Web in the first place. But a couple of efforts also sprung up to replicate the work at a large scale. The DeepMind papers, after all, had merely described the greatest Go- and chess-playing programs in the world—they hadn’t contained the source code, and the company hadn’t made the programs themselves available to players. Having declared victory, its engineers had departed the field.

Gian-Carlo Pascutto, a computer programmer who works at the Mozilla Corporation, had a track record of building competitive game engines, first in chess, then in Go. He followed the latest research. As the combination of Monte Carlo Tree Search and a neural network became the state of the art in Go A.I.s, Pascutto built the world’s most successful open-source Go engines—first Leela, then LeelaZero—which mirrored the advances made by DeepMind. The trouble was that DeepMind had access to Google’s vast cloud and Pascutto didn’t. To train its Go engine, DeepMind used five thousand of Google’s “Tensor Processing Units”—chips specifically designed for neural-network calculations—for thirteen days. To do the same work on his desktop system, Pascutto would have to run it for seventeen hundred years.

To compensate for his lack of computing power, Pascutto distributed the effort. LeelaZero is a federated system: anyone who wants to participate can download the latest version, donate whatever computing power he has to it, and upload the data he generates so that the system can be slightly improved. The distributed LeelaZero community has had their system play more than ten million games against itself—a little more than AlphaGo Zero. It is now one of the strongest existing Go engines.

It wasn’t long before the idea was extended to chess. In December of last year, when the AlphaZero preprint was published, “it was like a bomb hit the community,” Gary Linscott said. Linscott, a computer scientist who had worked on Stockfish, used the existing LeelaZero code base, and the new ideas in the AlphaZero paper, to create Leela Chess Zero. (For Stockfish, he had developed a testing framework so that new ideas for the engine could be distributed to a fleet of volunteers, and thus vetted more quickly; distributing the training for a neural network was a natural next step.) There were kinks to sort out, and educated guesses to make about details that the DeepMind team had left out of their papers, but within a few months the neural network began improving. The chess world was already obsessed with AlphaZero: posts on celebrated the engine; commentators and grandmasters pored over the handful of AlphaZero games that DeepMind had released with their paper, declaring that this was “how chess ought to be played,” that the engine “plays like a human on fire.” Quickly, Lc0, as Leela Chess Zero became known, attracted hundreds of volunteers. As they contributed their computer power and improvements to the source code, the engine got even better. Today, one core contributor suspects that it is just a few months away from overtaking Stockfish. Not long after, it may become better than AlphaZero itself.

When we spoke over the phone, Linscott marvelled that a project like his, which would once have taken a talented doctoral student several years, could now be done by an interested amateur in a couple of months. Software libraries for neural networks allow for the replication of a world-beating design using only a few dozen lines of code; the tools already exist for distributing computation among a set of volunteers, and chipmakers such as Nvidia have put cheap and powerful G.P.U.s—graphics-processing chips, which are perfect for training neural networks—into the hands of millions of ordinary computer users. An algorithm like M.C.T.S. is simple enough to be implemented in an afternoon or two. You don’t even need to be an expert in the game for which you’re building an engine. When he built LeelaZero, Pascutto hadn’t played Go for about twenty years.

David Silver, the head of research at DeepMind, has pointed out a seeming paradox at the heart of his company’s recent work with games:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2018 at 11:10 am

Above the Tie S1 and the death of a soap

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I take the photo before I shave (which explains why the brush is always dry in the photos), and today when I opened the tub of soap, it smelled rancid and thus I had to discard it. It’s too bad, since I can’t replace it, Strop Shoppe having discontinued operations, but those things happen. I used another soap, a soap I’ll use tomorrow.

The brush did its usual excellent job, and the Above the Tie S1 is a truly wonderful (albeit expensive) razor, one of the best I have. This particular UFO handle seems to suit it to a T, and the three-pass shaved smoothed my face perfectly.

A splash of Stirling Soap Company’s Executive Man aftershave, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

28 December 2018 at 7:26 am

Posted in Shaving

More than 4 million children endured lockdowns last school year. The experience left many traumatized. Something is seriously wrong with the US.

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This should not be normal, but it is. That’s a sign of a serious and deep problem. Is anyone looking for a solution? Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox write in the Washington Post:

Locked behind their green classroom door, MaKenzie Woody and 25 other first-graders huddled in the darkness. She sat on the vinyl tile floor against a far wall, beneath a taped-up list of phrases the kids were encouraged to say to each other: “I like you,” “You’re a rainbow,” “Are you ok?”

In that moment, though, the 6-year-old didn’t say anything at all, because she believed that a man with a gun was stalking the hallways of her school in the nation’s capital, and MaKenzie feared what he might do to her.

Three times between September and November, bursts of gunfire near MaKenzie’s public charter elementary school led DC Prep to seal off its Southeast Washington campus and sequester its students. During the last one, on Nov. 16, a silver sedan parked just around the corner at 10:42 a.m., then the men inside stepped out and fired more than 40 rounds. As MaKenzie’s class hid upstairs, teachers frantically rushed three dozen preschoolers off the playground and back into the building.

“The lockdowns,” as MaKenzie calls them, have changed her, because the little girl with long braids and chocolate-brown eyes remembers what it was like before them, when she always felt safe at her Anacostia school, and she knows what it’s been like afterward, when that feeling disappeared.

School shootings remain rare, even after 2018, a year of historic carnage on K-12 campuses. What’s not rare are lockdowns, which have become a hallmark of American education and a byproduct of this country’s inability to curb its gun violence epidemic. Lockdowns save lives during real attacks, but even when there is no gunman stalking the hallways, the procedures can inflict immense psychological damage on children convinced that they’re in danger. And the number of kids who have experienced these ordeals is extraordinary.

More than 4.1 million students endured at least one lockdown in the 2017-2018 school year alone, according to a first-of-its-kind analysis by The Washington Post that included a review of 20,000 news stories and data from school districts in 31 of the country’s largest cities.

The number of students affected eclipsed the populations of Maine, Rhode Island, Delaware and Vermont combined. But the total figure is likely much higher because many school districts — including in Detroit and Chicago — do not track them and hundreds never make the news, particularly when they happen at urban schools attended primarily by children of color.

Still, on a typical day last school year, at least 16 campuses locked down, with nine related to gun violence or the threat of it. The Post’s final tally of lockdowns exceeded 6,200.

The sudden order to hunker down can overwhelm students, who have wept and soiled themselves, written farewell messages to family members and wills explaining what should be done with their bicycles and PlayStations. The terror can feel especially acute right after school shootings like the one in Parkland, Fla., when kids are inundated with details from massacres that have taken the lives of students just like them.

In New York City earlier this year, rumors of a firearm on campus sparked panic at a Staten Island high school, where teens desperately texted and called their parents, begging for help, telling them, “I love you.”

In Fremont, Neb., students sobbed as they hid for nearly two hours in a girls’ locker room with the lights turned off after a teenager was spotted with a gun. When armed officers barged in, they ordered the kids to put their hands up.

In Pensacola, Fla., a sixth-grader messaged his grandmother, certain a shooter was in the building after social media threats triggered a lockdown. “Please check me out before I doe,” he wrote her, then corrected his misspelling: “die.”

And then there are the kids like MaKenzie, who have never heard of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine but have heard the sound of gunshots on the streets where they live and play and learn. . .

Continue reading.

This is America today.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2018 at 5:40 pm

Wow!! And there’s a video of her saying it: Republican Senators think Trump is “nuts.”

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Owen Daughtery reports in The Hill:

Outgoing Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) did not hold back when giving a scathing assessment of the Republican Party and President Trump, saying GOP senators privately say Trump is “nuts.”

McCaskill in November lost her reelection bid to Republican Josh Hawleyand will be leaving Washington in less than two weeks.

In an exit interview with CNN, she said when she speaks privately with Republican senators they tell her how they really feel about Trump.

“Now they’ll tell you, if it’s just the two of you, ‘The guy is nuts, he doesn’t have a grasp of the issues, he’s making rash decisions, he’s not listening to people who know the subject matter,’ ” she told CNN. “But in public if they go after him … they know they get a primary [challenger], and they know that’s tough.”

While McCaskill declined to name any specific senators, she did mention Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), saying, “I don’t know what happened with Lindsey.”

Graham has aligned himself with Trump on many issues but has recently rebuked the president on his handling of foreign diplomacy decisions, including Trump’s move to pull U.S. troops from Syria.

However, McCaskill acknowledged that the GOP has largely molded itself around Trump. . .

Continue reading, and click to watch the video of her coming right out and saying it.

We’re on some sort of cusp, folks.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2018 at 4:32 pm

Things have changed: Fortnite’s Fashion Industry Makes As Much Money As Amazon

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Times are different now—faster. Jake Swearingen in New York.

Written by Leisureguy

27 December 2018 at 3:43 pm

Posted in Business, Daily life

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