Archive for Russia

Отцы и дети [Fathers and Children]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2019 by xi'an
Following a mention made of this book on the French National Public radio, I read Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons for the first time last month. This is a fabulous novel, reflecting about the failed modernisation of Russia after the abolishing of serfdom and the rise of nihilism in the younger generation. Having re-read Dostoievski’s Demons a few years ago, I appreciate the earlier Fathers and Sons and its role in shaping Dostoievski’s book, maybe in a less magistral way but also with a much more humane feeling in Fathers and Sons, while pretty much everyone sounds like an idiot in Demons. The plot of the nihilist attitudes of the sons being gradually swept away when falling in love may sound like a cheap trick, aggravated by the tragic and rather absurd ending of the most extreme character, but this is a more balanced image of the rural Russian society at the time, still exposing the shortcomings of a agrarian system that could not survive the (limited) emancipation of the serfs but also reflecting on the atemporal love of the parents for their prodigal sons!

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2019 by xi'an

” A recent survey by Bankrate.com found that just 40% of US households have enough money to cover a $1,000 in emergency expenses.” The Guardian, Feb 2, 2019

““Until we heard those cheers coming from Albany, we thought states were moving beyond such barbaric practices.” Mr. Pence offered his argument as a litmus test of morality; he described the new abortion legislation as a “shameless embrace of a culture of death.” But among conservatives, the White House’s outrage was also greeted as a clear and shrewd political strategy” The New York Times, Feb 1, 2019

“When Senator Elizabeth Warren formally announced her 2020 presidential bid this weekend, President Trump responded with a familiar line of attack. He mocked Ms. Warren for her claims to Native American ancestry, again calling her by the slur “Pocahontas.” Mr. Trump then appeared to refer to the Trail of Tears, the infamously cruel forced relocation of Native Americans in the 19th century that caused thousands of deaths.” The New York Times, Feb 10, 2019

“The United States is suspending one of the last major nuclear arms control treaties with Russia after heated conversations between the two powers recently failed to resolve a long-running accusation that Moscow is violating the Reagan-era treaty. Mr. Pompeo acknowledged a risk of a new arms race if the treaty is ultimately scrapped after the six-month window.” The New York Times, Feb 1, 2019

“In some states, lawmakers have sought to pass laws that would ban or severely restrict abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is eventually overturned or effectively gutted (…) The court is likely to confront other abortion cases, too, as several state legislatures have recently enacted laws that seem calculated to try to force the Supreme Court to consider overruling Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a constitutional right to abortion.” The New York Times, Feb 8, 2019

“Mr. Trump’s willingness to invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress is likely to go down as an extraordinary violation of constitutional norms — setting a precedent that future presidents of both parties may emulate to unilaterally achieve their own policy goals.” The New York Times, Feb 15, 2019

Nature Outlook on AI

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 13, 2019 by xi'an

The 29 November 2018 issue of Nature had a series of papers on AIs (in its Outlook section). At the general public (awareness) level than in-depth machine-learning article. Including one on the forecasted consequences of ever-growing automation on jobs, quoting from a 2013 paper by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne [of probabilistic numerics fame!] that up to 47% of US jobs could become automated. The paper is inconclusive on how taxations could help in or deter from transfering jobs to other branches, although mentioning the cascading effect of taxing labour and subsidizing capital. Another article covers the progresses in digital government, with Estonia as a role model, including the risks of hacking (but not mentioning Russia’s state driven attacks). Differential privacy is discussed as a way to keep data “secure” (but not cryptography à la Louis Aslett!). With another surprising entry that COBOL is still in use in some administrative systems. Followed by a paper on the apparently limited impact of digital technologies on mental health, despite the advertising efforts of big tech companies being described as a “race to the bottom of the brain stem”! And another one on (overblown) public expectations on AIs, although the New York Time had an entry yesterday on people in Arizona attacking self-driving cars with stones and pipes… Plus a paper on the growing difficulties of saving online documents and culture for the future (although saving all tweets ever published does not sound like a major priority to me!).

Interesting (?) aside, the same issue contains a general public article on the use of AIs for peer reviews (of submitted papers). The claim being that “peer review by artificial intelligence (AI) is promising to improve the process, boost the quality of published papers — and save reviewers time.” A wee bit over-optimistic, I would say, as the developed AI’s are at best “that statistics and methods in manuscripts are sound”. For instance, producing “key concepts to summarize what the paper is about” is not particularly useful. A degree of innovation compared with the existing would be. Or an automated way to adapt the paper style to the strict and somewhat elusive Biometrika style!

and it only gets worse…

Posted in Kids, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 2, 2017 by xi'an

“You know, the saddest thing is that because I’m the president of the United States, I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” Mr. Trump said in a radio interview on Thursday on the “Larry O’Connor Show.” “I am not supposed to be involved with the F.B.I. I’m not supposed to be doing the kind of things that I would love to be doing. And I’m very frustrated by it.” NYT, Nov 03, 2017

“Two former US intelligence chiefs have said Donald Trump poses “a peril” to the US because he is vulnerable to being “played” by Russia, after the president said on Saturday he believed Vladimir Putin’s denials of Russian interference in the 2016 election.” The Guardian, Nov 12, 2017

“As a result [of the 44% of vacant seats in the appeal courts], Mr. Trump is poised to bring the conservative legal movement, which took shape in the 1980s in reaction to decades of liberal rulings on issues like the rights of criminal suspects and of women who want abortions, to a new peak of influence over American law and society.” NYT, Nov 11, 2017

“Hunting interests have scored a major victory with the Trump administration’s decision to allow Americans to bring home body parts of elephants shot for sport in Africa. Another totemic species now looks set to follow suit – lions.”  The Guardian, Nov 16, 2017

“Like everything else Trump touches, he hijacks it with his chronic dishonesty and childishness,” said Mark Salter, a longtime adviser to Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. “The intense, angry and largely ignorant tribalism afflicting our politics predates Trump’s arrival on the scene. But he has infused it with a psychopath’s inability to accept that social norms apply to him.” NYT, November  18, 2017

“We represent a much larger number of concerned mental health professionals who have come forward to warn against the president’s psychological instability and the dangers it poses. We now number in the thousands.” NYT, November 31, 2017

God save the Queen, the fascist Marine [hopefully the last quotes!]

Posted in Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2017 by xi'an

«I want to destroy the EU, not Europe! The EU is deeply harmful, it is an anti-democratic monster. I want to prevent it from becoming fatter, from continuing to breathe, from grabbing everything with its paws and from extending its tentacles into all areas of our legislation.» M. Le Pen, 3 June 2014

« …the European flag, the one I will banish from official buildings.» M. Le Pen, 18 April 2017

«The issue of [the existence of] gas chambers [in Nazi concentration camps], I think we should be allowed to also discuss this issue.» Jean-François Jalkh [temporary president of Front National] April 2000

«But you think that there is real freedom of the press in France [when compared with Putin’s Russia]? Ninety-nine percent of the journalists are leftists!.» M. Le Pen, 3 June 2014

Бесы [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 4, 2016 by xi'an

Demons (or The Possessed) is a book of Dostoevsky I read many (many) years ago.  Thirty-five years, maybe more. I remember finding this old nrf edition of the book in a local fair (local as deep inside the Norman countryside!). With pages roughly cut and a definitely yellow paper. And reading the book then with some degree of disappointment about the shallowness exhibited by the revolutionaries. Hence ranking it [in my personal hit list] of lesser importance than the masterpiece Brothers Karamazov. I took the book with me on my August travel(s) thinking it would be a perfect read for long plane trips, but ended up reading it rather quickly over the first week of vacations.

This second and more recent read of The Possessed led me to reconsider and opt for a much more balanced perspective on the book, which as I remembered does show the local revolutionaries as shallow dupes, their leader as a cynical crowd manipulator, and the few deep thinkers in the group set aside and eliminated. But Dostoevsky actually draws a very bleak picture of the entire Russian society in this book, with no group or category escaping shallowness and pettiness. No one seems to escape Dostoevsky’s cruel depiction, including the liberal elites represented by  Stepan Trofimovich and Varvara Petrovna, which are depicted as ready to cater to any revolutionary group to keep their influence, while still living on serfdom revenues. And the governor circle, which is essentially clueless. The only character escaping this dreadful condition is Nikolai Stavrogin, whose quest beyond good and evil turns him into a fascinating (and monstrous) anti-hero. The tension around belief and nihilism, the rejection of the influence of the West and a return to the roots of the Russian soul, a prescience of the incoming dictatorial follow-up to a revolution Dostoevsky saw as inevitable, all those threads make The Possessed a major book I should have re-read years ago…

the Grisha trilogy [book review]

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , , , , , on July 3, 2016 by xi'an

And yet another series [suggested by Amazon] I chose at random after reading the summary… The Grisha trilogy was written by Leigh Bardugo and is told by Alina Starkov, a teenage orphan from the fantasy land of Ravka [sounds like Russia, doesn’t it?!] who suddenly discovers powers she did not suspect when fighting supernatural forces. And embarks on a bleak adventure with her childhood friend to safe their country from dark forces. A rather standard trope for the fantasy literature.. The books read well, in a light sense (or mind candy variety, to borrow from the Three-Toed Sloth blog) if addictive. I went over the first one, Shadow and Bone, within a travel day to München and back. Certainly not a major trilogy. And still, those books attracted massive and enthusiastic reviews (one for each book, from different young readers) in The Guardian! And another one in the NYT, nothing less… The explanation is that what I did not get before starting the trilogy [but started suspecting well into the first volume] this is a young adult (or teenager) series. Or even a children’s book, according to The Guardian! So do not expect any level of subtlety or elaborate plots or clever connections with our own world history. Even the Russian environment is caricaturesque with an annoying flow of kvas and tea and caftans. One character is closely related to Rasputin, the ruling family reminds me of the Romanovs, old and grumpy babushkas pop in now and then, the heroes hunt a firebird, &tc.  And still the addiction operates to some level. [Try at your own risk and give the books to younger readers if it does not work!]