Thursday, May 10th, 2018


Singapore Some Sugar on Me

Scheduling note: On the road tomorrow, back at you Monday.

"We want to thank Kim Jong Un. I really think he wants to do something ... and bring his country into the real world. I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful." So said President Trump as he welcomed home three American detainees freed from North Korea.

+ The freeing the detainees is the latest step towards the much anticipated (and until recently, highly unlikely) meeting between two men who have infamously referred to each other as Little Rocket Man and Mentally Deranged US Dotard. And that meeting now has a time and place. June 12th in Singapore. In keeping with very recent tradition, the meeting details were shared first on Twitter, and with an exclamation point. "We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!"

+ "Some security analysts had been concerned North Korea may not have a plane capable of flying to a distant location." That and other reasons why Singapore makes sense.


Swamp and Circumstance

"An entrepreneur always understands their opportunities. And Michael has always been an entrepreneur." I suppose that's one way to put it. The fallout from our view into the flow of money in and out of Michael Cohen's Essential Consultants continues. From WaPo: 'I'm crushing it': How Michael Cohen, touting his access to President Trump, convinced companies to pay millions.

+ We're just hearing about it now. Mueller has been talking to witnesses since November. From the NYT: How Michael Cohen, Denied Job in White House, Was Seen as Its Gatekeeper.

+ And from the excellent Adam Davidson, a silver lining: We're all learning a lot about the law. "The Trump Administration has inspired a national crash course in a host of legal issues. We are all learning a great deal about the formal and informal rules governing the Presidency, the relationship between the White House and the Department of Justice, the emoluments clause of the Constitution, and the political and legal constraints of impeachment. Many of us have also become far more acquainted with the ins and outs of money laundering and the anti-bribery Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. We might now be entering the section of the course called Legal Entities: How to Hide Everything You Do Behind Shell Companies." (If we get through this, there will be a quiz...)


Do Not Pass Golan

Within hours of Trump pulling out of the Iran nuke deal, things got more complicated. From CNN: "Israel claims it has destroyed almost all of Iran's military capabilities in Syria after what it says was an Iranian missile attack on the Golan Heights."

+ AP: Trump's move likely to worsen Mideast proxy battles.

+ And while we're in the neighborhood ... "One week before the planned May 14 inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, the city's mayor, climbed up a ladder and grandly installed a sign reading 'US Embassy' in English, Arabic and Hebrew."


Waterboard of Appeals

"I would not allow CIA to undertake activity that I thought was immoral — even if it was technically legal." That was one of many answers CIA director nominee Gina Haspel gave to her critics and backers on the Senate intel committee. In contrast to he who appointed her, she also said, "I don't believe that torture works."

+ John McCain: "I believe Gina Haspel is a patriot who loves our country and has devoted her professional life to its service and defense. However, Ms. Haspel's role in overseeing the use of torture by Americans is disturbing. Her refusal to acknowledge torture's immorality is disqualifying."

+ From the archives, that time Chris Hitchens let himself get waterboarded. Believe Me, It's Torture.


Glasses is the Case They Gave Me

"Between them, Essilor and Luxottica play a central, intimate role in the lives of a remarkable number of people. Around 1.4 billion of us rely on their products to drive to work, read on the beach, follow the whiteboard in biology lessons, type text messages to our grandchildren, land aircraft, watch old movies, write dissertations and glance across restaurants, hoping to look slightly more intelligent and interesting than we actually are. Last year, the two companies had a combined customer base that is somewhere between Apple's and Facebook's, but with none of the hassle and scrutiny of being as well known." From prescription specs to stylish shades, there's a very good chance you're a customer of one or both of the two companies that fully dominate the eyeglasses market. And they're about to be one company. The Guardian: The Spectacular Power of Big Lens.


Wipe, Out

"Wet wipes are behind 93% of blockages in UK sewers, a key element of the infamous giant obstacles known as fatbergs, according to Water UK, the trade body representing all of the main water and sewerage companies in the country." Now, the UK government is working to clean up plastic. And part of that could be a ban on wet wipes.


Sounds of Silence

"These deceptions illustrate how artificial intelligence — even as it is making great strides — can still be tricked and manipulated. Computers can be fooled into identifying an airplane as a cat just by changing a few pixels of a digital image, while researchers can make a self-driving car swerve or speed up simply by pasting small stickers on road signs and confusing the vehicle's computer vision system." NYT: Alexa and Siri Can Hear This Hidden Command. You Can't. (This is the opposite of my kids. They can't seem to hear any command...)

+ The above story is about a bug in the system. As per usual, the system's features offer as much intrigue as the bugs. NPR: Google's New Voice Bot Sounds, Um, Maybe Too Real.

+ "It was a classic moment of Silicon Valley keynote magic — a display of technology that feels equal parts unbelievable, transformative, and terrifying." Charlie Warzel: Make Google Do It... And Then What?

+ NY Mag: Does Alexa know I'm gay?


Dog Years

"The world's most influential synthetic biologist is behind a new company that plans to rejuvenate dogs using gene therapy. If it works, he plans to try the same approach in people, and he might be one of the first volunteers." A stealthy Harvard startup wants to reverse aging in dogs. (From my experience with my own dogs, it's not really necessary to operate in stealth mode.)


Best Side Story

"Even the motto is a playground attempt to one-up 'Be better,' the catchphrase that Michelle Obama delivered to a rapturous live audience during an interview with Oprah Winfrey." The New Yorker: The Childlike Strangeness of Melania Trump's 'Be Best' Campaign. (Yes, it's a small story in the grand scheme of things. But the pattern it follows is consistent and often incredibly weird.)


Bottom of the News

"If a million pounds sounds like a lot of pot, that's because it is: last year, Oregonians smoked, vaped or otherwise consumed just under 340,000lb of legal bud. That means Oregon farmers have grown three times what their clientele can smoke in a year." That brings up a question: How do you move mountains of unwanted weed? (As a Californian, I'm getting pretty damn sick of always picking up the slack for Oregon. But I'll do this one last time...)

+ And a feel-good, pre-Mother's Day piece from Vice: I Went to a Flat Earth Convention to Meet Flat Earthers Like My Mom.