July 15, 2018 in 3,985 words

I Was Robert Mueller’s Undergraduate Thesis Adviser—and What He Wrote Gives Some Hints About What He’ll Do as Special Counsel

What makes Mueller’s thesis relevant for today is that the core of his inquiry is how a judge should interpret a legal document.

Pictured above: Robert Mueller speaks before the US Senate Judiciary Committee in 2013.


Not long ago a journalist approached me out of the blue to do an interview about my impressions of Robert Mueller. At first the name didn’t ring a bell; it never crossed my mind that he might be referring to the Robert Mueller. You can imagine my surprise when this same journalist told me not only that he was referring to the special counsel appointed to investigate wrongdoing during the Trump presidential campaign but that Mueller had been my thesis advisee at Princeton 52 years ago.

The now-eminent Mueller had indeed been my advisee, normally a rather close and somewhat collaborative relationship. The senior thesis is usually the crowning experience for Princeton undergraduates majoring in the social sciences. To have zero recollections of the man was surprising, especially as the subject of his thesis coincided with my central interests at the time.


His essay addressed a seemingly technical issue: the authority of the World Court to decide a case involving the extension of South African apartheid to South West Africa (Namibia).


Mueller’s thesis was an unusually perceptive analysis of a controversial judicial decision by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), commonly known as the World Court. Mueller approached the law and its political context in a sophisticated manner that would have been impressive if done by a law-school graduate, let alone a college student who, as far as I know, had not yet opened a law book.

His long analytical essay addressed a seemingly technical issue: the authority of the ICJ to decide a case involving the extension of South African apartheid to South West Africa, a territory then administered by Pretoria.


Why can’t the US make any progress in relations with Russia?

HOT PEACE


Mike McFaul’s experience as ambassador to Russia doesn’t bode well for the Trump-Putin summit.

Michael McFaul has been optimistic about US-Russia relations before. In the heady days of the fall of the Soviet Union, he was a technocratic activist, advising many in the halls of power on what they hoped would become Russia’s transition into a democracy. It ended with disappointment; president Boris Yeltsin’s government spluttered through eight years of chaos, until Putin took over. He quickly began curtailing freedoms, ushering the country into the autocracy it is now.

Nearly 20 years on in 2009, McFaul found himself with much more power to mend relations: As Obama’s Russia chief on the National Security Council and then ambassador in Moscow, McFaul was the architect of a diplomatic “reset” between the two powers. As he writes in From Cold War to Hot Peace, a memoir published in May, the rapprochement worked for a while; just over a year after the reset’s launch, Obama and then-president Dmitry Medvedev were drinking champagne together in Prague. They had agreed to reduce nuclear arms, were collaborating on pressuring Iran to do the same, and both committed to the war in Afghanistan.

But despite Trump’s avowals of friendship—and allegations of Trump associates’ collusion with Russia around the US presidential election—today’s relations are far colder. How did we get from that heady day in Prague to a nadir of acrimony and sanctions that matches the depths of the Cold War?

Put crudely, McFaul’s argument boils down to two words: Blame Putin. “Our policy towards Russia did not change,” he told Quartz in a phone interview. “It was Putin that moved to a different policy; him that decided we needed to be portrayed as the enemy, to shore up his supporters, and marginalize his detractors.” The shift was spurred, he argues, by the pro-democracy protests that exploded in Russia’s big cities when Putin decided to return to the presidency in 2011. These ratcheted up the Russian president’s paranoia, as he became convinced that Washington was behind the demonstrations.


Days before Trump meets Putin, Russia is cozying up to Iran in a big way

NEW FRIENDS


My enemy’s enemy.

On May 7, a day before the president Donald Trump announced that the US would withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, a former US ambassador to Russia gave a prescient warning, telling Quartz that the withdrawal would play straight into president Vladimir Putin’s hands.

And that’s what’s happened. “Russia is ready to invest $50 billion in Iran’s oil and gas sectors,” Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, told the Financial Times (paywall) on Friday. “Military and technical co-operation with Russia is of major importance to Iran.”

It’s one of the biggest steps the two countries have taken to counter the threat of US sanctions. Before the US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, there was little, if any, energy or economic co-operation between the two countries, according to the FT.

The investment decision was confirmed by a Russian official. And it follows from an earlier announcement Putin made on his visit to Tehran, signing an agreement to invest up to $30 billion (paywall) in Iran’s energy sector.


5 People Who Elevated Laziness To An Art Form

We’re so lazy that we’d outsource going to the bathroom if we could, but until science figures that one out, we’re stuck with this Mountain Dew bottle. That’s pretty lazy, but while we like to think we’re artistes in the field of blowing stuff off, there are some true elite masters out there who put our own skills to shame. Like …

5. A Government Employee Blew Off Work For Six Years, And Nobody Noticed


Joaquin Garcia, a Spanish civil servant tasked with supervising a wastewater treatment plant, was fined one year’s salary ($30,000) after officials noticed that he hadn’t showed up to work for “at least six years.” The water company thought local authorities were supervising him, and local authorities thought the water company was supervising him, so no one noticed that he wasn’t showing up at all until, ironically, he became eligible to receive a plaque for his 20 years of civil service.

Officials didn’t comment on whether they rescinded the plaque or just scribbled out 20 and wrote in “around 14-ish.”

People close to Garcia claimed that he arrived at the plant and found “no work to do there,” but didn’t want to give up a chance to provide for his family, so he never said anything. Given that the plant didn’t explode and no one noticed he was gone for six years, he was probably right? Spanish newspapers dubbed Garcia “el funcionario fantasma” — “the phantom official” — which feels like way too badass of a moniker for a dude who did nothing but sleep in a bunch.


Why identity politics benefits the right more than the left

The left needs to help citizens see what unites them, instead of focusing on their differences.


‘Understanding why Trump found it easy to trigger these reactions requires examining broader changes in American society.’

Over a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, commentators are still trying to understand the election and the explosion of intolerance following it. One common view is that Trump’s victory was a consequence of pervasive racism in American society.

Studies make clear, however, that racism has been decreasing over time, among Republicans and Democrats. (Views of immigration have also grown more favorable.) Moreover, since racism is deep-seated and longstanding, reference to it alone makes it difficult to understand the election of Barack Obama and Trump, the differences between Trump and the two previous Republican nominees on race and immigration, and the dramatic breakdown of social norms and civility following the elections. (Social scientists call this the “constant can’t explain a variable” problem.)

This does not mean racism is irrelevant; it matters, but social science suggests it does in more complicated ways than much commentary suggests.

Perhaps because straightforward bigotry has declined precipitously while more subtle, complex resentments remain, understanding how intolerance shapes politics requires examining not just beliefs, but also the relationship between beliefs and the environments people find themselves in. This distinction has important implications for how we interpret and address contemporary social and political problems.

Rather than being directly translated into behavior, psychologists tell us beliefs can remain latent until “triggered.”


Why going cashless is discriminatory – and what’s being done to stop it

Not accepting cash excludes service to those without access to credit cards, but a new bill would make it illegal for restaurants to refuse paper money.

Mobile payments. Credit cards. Digital currencies. Going cashless seems to be a worldwide trend. In Belgium, it is illegal to buy real estate with cash. Some banks in Australia have eliminated cash from their branches. Sweden has seen its use of cash drop to less than 2% of all transactions, and the number could be heading even lower in the next few years.

However, one city in the US is resisting that trend: Washington DC. In the nation’s capital cash is still king, and a new bill introduced this week wants to keep it that way. The Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2018 would make it illegal for restaurants and retailers not to accept cash or charge a different price to customers depending on the type of payment they use.

City councilmember David Grasso, and five other councilmembers who co-introduced the bill, are responding to the recent tide of retailers in their city and around the country – like the salad chain Sweetgreen – who are no longer accepting cash. These retailers, which mostly serve upscale customers, say that going cashless speeds up transactions, improves customer service and makes for more accurate accounting. They also argue that having less cash lying around also minimizes the risk of crime and contributes to a safer environment for both their customers and employees.

But to some, not accepting cash is discriminatory. A report last year by the Washington City Paper found that 27% of people in the US would have trouble using only a credit card to purchase products, and that the percentage in Washington DC is even higher. “I’m concerned with more and more restaurants, businesses and shops going cashless because you’re systematically excluding a group of people who are already disadvantaged and disenfranchised,” Linnea Lassiter, an analyst at the DC Fiscal Policy Institute, told the paper. “And now they can’t have access to this restaurant?”


The Marijuana Industry’s Love-Hate Relationship With Jeff Sessions

Sessions’ war on weed is derailing medical research, as well as inciting calls for reform at the federal level that might otherwise not be heard.

Don’t blink, or you might miss some incredible changes occurring in the legal cannabis space. To our north, Canada became the first industrialized country in the world to pass a law legalizing recreational marijuana last month, while to our south, Mexico gave the green light to medical cannabis in June 2017.

Marijuana in the U.S.: Progress, but with some big caveats

Within the U.S., we have 30 states that’ve legalized marijuana in some capacity since 1996, with deeply red state Oklahoma being the latest to grant its OK to medical weed. Nine of these 30 have also OK’d the recreational use of pot, including Vermont, which earlier this year became the first state ever to legalize the adult-use of marijuana entirely through the legislative process (i.e., without putting it to vote on a ballot).

We’ve also witnessed a marked shift in the way the American public views cannabis. During the height of the War on Drugs, favorability toward weed was low. In 1995, just a quarter of the respondents in Gallup’s annual poll favored the idea of legalizing marijuana. By comparison, an all-time high 64% of survey-takers in Gallup’s October 2017 preferred the idea of legalizing pot nationally.

Yet for as far as the legal cannabis industry has come in the United States, it firmly remains a Schedule I substance at the federal level. This classification, in plainer terms, puts marijuana on par with heroin and LSD, and deems it entirely illegal, highly prone to abuse, with no recognized medical benefits.

This classification is also responsible for a host of headaches.


Taxpayers Still On The Hook For Millions To Clean Up After Mike Pence’s Family Gas Station Business: Report

Vice President Pence’s family gas station business, Kiel Bros. Oil Co., went belly-up back around 2004. But now, 14 years and over $21 million in government cleanup costs later, the Associated Press reports that much of the environmental aftermath of that company’s operations remains.

Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana (vice president Pence’s home state) still have to spend millions to clean “more than 85 contaminated sites across the three states,” AP reports in its deep-dive into the environmental damage remaining from the Kiel Bros. gas station business. That damage includes “underground tanks that leaked toxic chemicals into soil, streams and wells.”

Apparently the contamination hasn’t exactly been minor thus far, with AP writing:


Indiana alone has spent at least $21 million on the cleanup thus far, or an average of about $500,000 per site, according an analysis of records by The Associated Press. And the work is nowhere near complete.

The federal government, meanwhile, plans to clean up a plume of cancer-causing solvent discovered beneath a former Kiel Bros. station that threatens drinking water near the Pence family’s hometown.


6 Self-Defense Gadgets That Seem Like A Terrible Idea

In these uncertain times, which see our streets crawling with threats like rogue FBI agents and nose-ring-wearing youngsters searching for invisible Pokemon, the modern citizen must always be properly prepared for the worst. And if you’re truly committed to protecting yourself, you must be willing to not just face but be the danger (to yourself as well as others), with the help of products like …

6. Why Shouldn’t Senior Citizens Have Electrified Canes?


Having trouble figuring out what to get Grandma this upcoming holiday season? Are the consarned scruffy-haired teenagers on her block getting lippy as she shuffles back from the IHOB? Is her gossipy neighbor’s leg-lifting Pomeranian encroaching on her prize petunias? Sounds like Nana could use a good zappin’ cane.

The three settings are “Lordamighty,” “Land O’ Goshen,” and “Heavens to Betsy.”

Weaponized canes, usually with a hidden shanking blade, have been popular among the cunning and fancy for hundreds of years. There are even some that can let loose with lethal ordnance. But for those who don’t wish to spend their remaining golden years in the clink over a coupon dispute at Kroger, there’s the less deadly alternative (unless there’s a pacemaker involved) of electricity. The Zap Cane uses a rechargeable battery that’s good for 50 zaps of million-volt justice. Which, considering the patience level of the average septuagenarian, should last about a month or so.


Intelligence is the Red-Herring of AI

One of the most contentious aspects of AI is the meaning of ‘intelligence.’ No one debates the meaning of the word ‘strength,’ or belittles the idea that machines can be stronger than humans, or even tries to re-define mechanical strength to mean some mysterious physico-spiritual capability that is unique to humans.

The debate around the meaning of intelligence when it crops up in any conversation on AI is extremely baffling – until we take into account the fragile psychology of humans. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that cognitive abilities are the sole province of the human brain, while we grudgingly cede the physical realm to the machines.

Every encroachment on human cognitive abilities is fiercely contested. The first such encroachments by calculators somehow managed to sneak by the detractors of AI. These little electronic devices at first did basic mathematical operations faster and more reliably than humans. Schools still insisted, with some justification, that kids continue to learn the multiplication table on the grounds that calculators aren’t readily available.

Whenever we put pen to paper to perform any arithmetic calculation beyond our unaided mental capacity, we now pull out our smartphone or call on Siri or Alexa! Have we lost our mental ‘manhood’? How about algebra? Not only does my smartphone perform some algebra, but there are many online calculators that do it even better. Are we threatened by all this? Not me!


The Simple Art of Not Being Miserable

In Herman Hesse’s novel Siddhartha, the title character and his friend leave home, disowning all possessions, to seek spiritual enlightenment.

They decide to live on the road, homeless, journeying away from the known towards the unknown. It’s not a life of ease, but it is one they embrace.

When they are hungry, they fast. When they are unoccupied, the meditate. When they are looking for answers, they wait. And as they move from place to place, they get more and more fixated on their goal.

Eventually, however, they separate — it occurs due to their meeting with the Buddha himself. After hearing the legends about the Enlightened One and then seeking him out, they are both impressed with his calm poise and the simple profundity of his teachings. The friend, Govinda, stays behind to become his student, while Siddhartha — although appreciating what he has learned — decides to continue on a more individualistic pursuit.

This pursuit takes him through both space and time: He settles down in a city, falls for a woman, and over the years, becomes a successful businessman. This, of course, doesn’t fulfill him either, so he leaves. His next stop, his final stop, is a small home by a river where he lives with a ferryman.

The ferryman is a simple, quiet man, but he possess an unspoken wisdom that entrances anyone who meets him. Living in his presence, after many more years of unrest and suffering from all the seeking, Siddhartha eventually, in a sudden moment, finds himself at peace.


It’s impossible to lead a totally ethical life—but it’s fun to try

DO GOODER


You can juggle all the complex questions that present every day.

You want to do the right thing. But in a world where it often seems impossible to eat, shop, drive, travel, or pretty much do anything without causing some measure of harm to others and the planet, leading an ethical life seems like a very tall order indeed.

It’s true that practically everything we do in life has ethical repercussions. “Any decision that has an impact on others now or in the future is an ethical choice,” explains ethicist Christopher Gilbert, author of the new book There’s No Right Way To Do the Wrong Thing. Gilbert says it’s useful to consider ethics like a moral ladder. On the lowest rung, you think only of yourself. Past the middle rung, you’re thinking of the decision’s influence on some. And on the highest rungs, you’re wondering how every choice impacts all affected by it. “When we step up that ladder and consistently strive to stay at the top rung, we are living an ethical life,” he says.

Will we be at the top rung all of the time? Almost certainly not. But the answer isn’t to throw up our hands. Rather, we can keep on trying, every day and throughout our lives, to approach the world thoughtfully and consider the implications of our individual actions on others.


THE BIZARRE STORY OF THE SEATTLE MYSTERY VENDING MACHINE

In the city of Seattle, Washington there exists a vending machine that over the years has become something of a local landmark amongst residents who are familiar with its mysterious history. Situated on the corner the John Street and 10th Avenue East in the bustling Capitol Hill neighbourhood, the seemingly ancient machine is well known for dispensing random, sometimes rare, cans of soda- a fact that’s made all the more intriguing when you consider that nobody seems to know who stocks the machine or where it came from.

Covered in Coca Cola livery and a smattering of graffiti, the machine’s most notable feature, other than its age, is the fact that there’s no option to order a specific drink from it. Instead, after putting the requisite amount of change into the machine, you are given the option of pressing one of six buttons, each of which sports an apparently custom-made (and heavily faded) label that simply reads “?MYSTERY”. Pressing one of these buttons will then cause the machine to spit out a random can of soda.

Exactly how many different kinds of soda are stored inside of the machine at any one time isn’t known and there are reports of people dropping tens of dollars into it at once in an attempt to discern what, if any, pattern there is to the kinds of soda dispensed. The result is invariably the person walking away with dozens of cans of weird tasting soda, but no answer.

What makes the whole thing weirder is that a a small percentage of the sodas the machine dispenses are incredibly rare, if not otherwise impossible to acquire via conventional means due to them being discontinued or only available for sale outside the United States.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The Guardian spends the day getting to know the people Donald Trump tried to avoid during his visit to the UK. More than 100,000 people travelled to London from around the country to protest against the US president, according to the organisers of the two marches that converged on Trafalgar Square.


Relationships come and go, but a franchise is forever.


暑い夏の暑苦しい動画。Maru&Hana are good friends.


CAUTION: Some language may not be appropriate for work or children.

Here’s me commentary on that thrilling race between Donald Trump and the Queen at Windsor Castle.


2 clips. One of Max in the morning and one from the evening of the same day. You can see how his moods change yet birdy butt rubs are always wanted.


FINALLY . . .

Hot-Air Balloons Are Useless

When they were invented, the vessels promised to revolutionize travel and industry. But they soon settled into life as an entertaining diversion. An Object Lesson.


The first hot-air balloons drew huge crowds, inspiring onlookers to cry, laugh, even faint. One witness wrote, “Since these exhibitions, there seems to prevail a kind of aerial phrenzy among us. The term ‘balloon’ is not only in the mouth of everyone, but all our world seems to be in the clouds.” For some, the new invention was the culmination of Enlightenment science, the pinnacle of human ingenuity. Grand schemes abounded: using balloons to carry mail, to improve cartography, to bombard enemy fortifications. Then, almost overnight, the fervor subsided as everyone sobered to the fact that these vehicles, which couldn’t be steered, were largely useless.

Balloons have always moved minds better than they’ve moved bodies. The upward lift mimics the feeling of ideas drifting into the mind. The haphazard flight path suggests the possibility of being whisked to some faraway world—to Oz, for instance. But today, people are far less likely to have ridden in a balloon than to have read about one in fiction.

____________

The weather was propitious on November 21, 1783, when Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes climbed aboard a smoke-filled balloon and rose into the air over a growing Parisian crowd. The two Frenchmen forked straw into the burner and marveled at the scene underneath. Benjamin Franklin observed the flight from his terrace: a beautiful, blue-and-gold ovoid, like a giant Fabergé egg, floating above the Seine. As Franklin recollected, “Someone asked me, ‘What’s the use of a balloon?’ I replied, ‘What’s the use of a newborn baby?’”

Others were less philosophical. People ran and shouted in the streets. Some were so disturbed they got sick and vomited. Two weeks later, 400,000 spectators—more than half the population of Paris at the time—watched the ascension of the first hydrogen balloon. The restless audience would have rioted in the event of failure, but success, too, caused mayhem. People scrambled up walls, trees, and poles to get a better look at the candy-striped globe soaring in the distance. On such occasions, the rules of decorum, like the laws of nature, seemed no longer to apply.


Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?