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Dinyar Rabady
Works at CERN
Attends University of Vienna
Lives in Geneva, Switzerland
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Dinyar Rabady

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Something interesting that we can finally talk about: the AIs are controlling their own datacenters, and it knocks about 15% off our power usage. More specifically, we designed a deep learning system to control things like cooling fans, windows, and other things related to power and cooling, with the objective of minimizing power needs. It turned out that this sort of system reliably outperformed manual control by a lot - enough that we've gradually transitioned datacenters to fully automatic operation.

This is one of those examples of how machine learning can be really useful; at any given instant, its decisions may be roughly as good as a human's would be, but it can make those decisions every few milliseconds and continually adjust things in a way a person couldn't. I expect to see technologies like these greatly increasing the efficiency of all sorts of infrastructure, from power to transport, over the next few years - with corresponding savings in both money and resource usage. 
Google just paid for part of its acquisition of DeepMind in a surprising way.
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My voice is the white voice you'd expect: concerned, sympathetic, liberal in the way that members of the majority have been taught to be. But I don't pay a price for speaking out. I never will; all I get are plaudits from mostly the white people standing next to me.

Voices from unexpected quarters, under the worst circumstances -- the people who will genuinely pay a price for what they're saying, and when they're saying it -- are more valuable than mine. Even if they come from people I don't like. Even if they come from people who, in other respects, believe in things that I think are monstrous. Even if the words are weaker than mine. Because I can't speak to the people that Paul Ryan speaks to. I can't convince anyone who isn't already half-convinced. I can't evoke doubt.

So it's the unexpected voices that I'm most glad about today: the police chief who vocally spoke out against police militarization on the day after his officers were murdered, the right-wing pundits saying no, this is a problem; we have to speak out; the pastor who organized the rally and resisted the lure of retaliatory violence at a time when it seems so compelling.

Not because they're good people, though some of them are. Because they're speaking to people whom I can't speak to. And it's only when those people are convinced that there will finally be an end to the violence.
He said this is a moment "for thought, for prayer, for justice, for action."
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I want to quickly knock off a bit of American-left mythologizing with some unpleasant facts:

There's a common trope going around that Democrats lost Congress in the 1994 because they abandoned their working-class principles. It's arguable whether they abandoned those principles, but that's not why they lost Congress. They lost Congress because they lost the South.

In American-left mythology, the Civil Rights Act passed, then the Republicans launched the Southern Strategy, and then Democrats were permanently cleared of the stain of racism. End of story. But while that's a truth-adjacent story for the presidency, where the deep South flipped in 1968, it's absolutely untrue for Congress.

The number of Republican House seats in the South didn't cross the 50% mark until 1994. And there are still a lot of white, Southern Democrats. They exist, and they're common. You know how Bernie won the West Virginia Democratic primary? You know how many of those voters said they'd vote for Trump even if Bernie won the primary?

Hillary supporters claim that Republicans were meddling in the primary by voting for Bernie, and that the Bernie supporters who prefer Trump are really just Republican plants. Bernie supporters claim that the Bernie-or-Trump movement is just proof that populism can broaden the base. Neither narrative is true: both sides subscribe to the mythology that the Democrats finally burned out the racism in their electorate.

You know what group persistently shows the highest levels of racial animus in America? Not Republicans. White Democrats who vote for Republicans in statewide elections. They're not liberals. They're populist white supremacists, cut from the same cloth as the Dixiecrats of every previous generation: economic populists with a deep, abiding racist streak.

And, yes, the South was was that important, in both senses: it both enabled economically populist policy and prevented any sort of meaningful action on issues affecting black Americans. You know how FDR passed the New Deal? By preventing any action on roving terrorist gangs which were murdering black folks. He said it himself: "I did not choose the tools with which I must work. Had I been permitted to choose them I would have selected quite different ones. But I've got to get legislation passed by Congress to save America…If I come out for the anti-lynching bill now, they will block every bill I ask Congress to pass to keep America from collapsing. I just can't take that risk."

This was monstrous. It was also true. And the lack of populist white racists in the Democratic coalition has made it persistently difficult to pass anything similar.

Progressives criticize the DLC -- now, gladly, defunct -- as being a clearinghouse for corporate corruption. It was, in a sense, but where do you think the DLC came from? It was an attempt to win seats in the northeast. Which is full of rich white people. And it succeeded. Which converted a lot of Republican strongholds -- California, Connecticut, Rhode Island -- to Democratic strongholds.

Which means that the median Democratic district has been getting richer, and the median Republican district has been getting poorer. That means that the Democrats are driven toward weirdly incoherent factional politics: identity politics, neoliberal trade policy, tinkering with white-collar middle class policies, environmentalism. (All while ignoring, more or less, issues relevant to the blue-collar middle-class.)

That's what the Democratic party paid for the Civil Rights Act. That's why saying "race issues are just obfuscated class issues" is wrong. And that's why the Sanders' camp's jubilation about broadening the Democratic base to include Appalachian white voters makes me apprehensive, not excited.

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One of the ideas that has stuck with me from The Dispossessed is the way that the idea of people being deserving (or not deserving) complicates ideas around basic human well being.

Yes, if we stop caring about whether the people who qualify to receive help are "good" and whether they do the "right" things with what they receive, there will be some misuse of resources. But the increase in overall good and the decrease in complexity that comes along with that will likely more than make up for that.

But the practicality perspective is really the less interesting one. The more interesting perspective is looking in ourselves and trying to figure out why we think some people deserve to be hungry, endangered, and trapped. 

(Note that ignoring whether or not someone is deserving doesn't mean that there cannot be requirements, the most basic of which may be showing up. It just means getting rid of requirements that are extrinsic to the benefit at hand, especially those that evaluate a person's value on some scale.)
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I don't think I can add anything to this..
 
One of the ideas that has stuck with me from The Dispossessed is the way that the idea of people being deserving (or not deserving) complicates ideas around basic human well being.

Yes, if we stop caring about whether the people who qualify to receive help are "good" and whether they do the "right" things with what they receive, there will be some misuse of resources. But the increase in overall good and the decrease in complexity that comes along with that will likely more than make up for that.

But the practicality perspective is really the less interesting one. The more interesting perspective is looking in ourselves and trying to figure out why we think some people deserve to be hungry, endangered, and trapped. 

(Note that ignoring whether or not someone is deserving doesn't mean that there cannot be requirements, the most basic of which may be showing up. It just means getting rid of requirements that are extrinsic to the benefit at hand, especially those that evaluate a person's value on some scale.)
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Dinyar Rabady

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"I have been pulled over by the police. I have had a broken tail light. I have complied with police instructions. And while I don’t travel with a firearm in my car on most days, if I had one in the car and was pulled over, you’re damn right I’d let the cop know about it, especially if it was on my person. Why wouldn’t I? I don’t want to give the cop any surprises. And I am just about 99.9% certain, in that situation, if I were doing all those things, I wouldn’t suddenly find myself shot, dying in that car.

But then, I’m white, and Philando Castile wasn’t."
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Warning: The video below shows a man being executed. The post below contains graphic details and discussion.

Early this morning, Baton Rouge police arrested a local man named Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old father of five, for selling CD's outside a local food mart. In the video, you can watch two officers throw him to the ground and pin him with their bodies; then one of them draws his weapon, places it inches from his head, and fires twice. After the camera turns, you can hear three more shots fired.

According to the coroner's initial report, Sterling was killed by "multiple shots to the chest and back." (See: http://www.msnewsnow.com/story/32371223/coroner-man-shot-by-brpd-multiple-times-to-chest-back-2-officers-placed-on-leave)


I'm deleting the rest of what I wrote here – a quite lengthy, second-by-second analysis of the video – because trying to do this highlighted a more important point for me.

I've been in lots of hand-to-hand fights. I've been in fights at this range involving lethal weapons, and I can imagine this fight from any of the three perspectives. I can tell that at 0:18 – when officer #1 has Sterling's legs pinned, officer #2 has his upper body pinned, and officer #1 yells that he has a gun – officer #2 has no way of knowing whether #1 means that Sterling has a gun on his person, or whether he's drawing and trying to fire. I can tell that drawing a gun, pointing it at someone's head, and threatening them is exactly what I would have done from 0:19 to 0:21. I can feel in an internal rhythm exactly how long those last three seconds would have lasted during a fight – the exact sort of pause that normally leads to a fight ending.

And I can also tell that what happened at 0:22 – firing twice, pausing five seconds, firing three times – is not something I would have done unless my intention were to kill. I can work out exactly three ways it could happen. One is if Sterling suddenly tried to escape; but the video shows nothing like that. The second is if I panicked in the heat of a first real fight. I could easily see someone untrained and inexperienced doing precisely that – and even continuing to shoot later, after they staggered back. That's the exact sort of reason why untrained and inexperienced people shouldn't walk around with guns. But nothing suggests these cops were like that.

The third, and the only one I can't work around, is if officer #2 – I can't imagine myself in this position anymore, but I've seen other people do it – was in an unstoppable escalation mode from the time he drew his gun. The sort of situation where you aren't really seeing anything around you, just responding to your own adrenaline and impulses. But if that's what happened, that explains the first two shots, not the last three. The last three were making sure he was dead.

But what I realized when writing the much more detailed analysis was how little of this matters. I was trying to write out a second-by-second analysis, deliberately taking the officers' position to see how it would look from there, and realizing that there would be some shred of doubt, absolutely.

And if I imagine prosecuting this case, I realize that it turns entirely on the characterization of the people.

If this had been a fight between three civilians, with two of them having – let's just assume – a very good reason to be tackling and immobilizing the third, then I would feel confident that I could get a conviction. The video clearly shows the shooting; they would have to prove self-defense, which would mean convincing a jury that Sterling was about to kill them. There's nothing on the video showing it; you would have to convince them that he was the sort of dedicated killer who, even pinned by two people and with a gun to his head, and even in the fog of a fight, could quietly and calmly draw and aim.

Being brutally realistic: race would matter to a jury in a case like that. If three white people had been in a fight like this, it would be all about establishing the character of the people, who was likely to be telling the truth. If three black people had been involved, the jury would have enough doubts in their hearts about the self-defense argument that they would convict, especially on lesser charges. If two black people had attacked a white person like this, the trial would last ten minutes. If two white people attacked a black person, it would be touch-and-go; anything bad in the victim's history would get the killers off.

The fact that it was police officers in this case simply makes things far more extreme. Even leaving aside the tremendous procedural obstacles to ever prosecuting a cop – they can't legally even be questioned in Louisiana until they have both a lawyer and a union rep, and are allowed thirty days to get that – or the even more tremendous political obstacles – that a prosecutor depends on the police, and vice-versa – any shred of doubt will weigh on their side, as otherwise you're trying to stop police from doing their jobs. Any indication that the victim was less than an angel will be more than enough. You'd be a fool to go to trial.

And more importantly, what I realized when trying to write out the detailed analysis was that I was trying to defend my conclusions, very carefully, from the inevitable response of people who could watch the same video and extract reasonable doubt from it.

The fact is this: if the players in this story were three different people, nobody would be trying to extract every even vaguely credible hypothesis to defend them. That's exactly the same issue as I mentioned for a jury, above; there will be enough people who watch this video, wanting to find that doubt, that even as I tried to simply write an analysis which didn't exonerate them I realized that I was reaching infinitely far for justifications, which I would never do in other circumstances.

That's the thing: "reasonable doubt" is a dangerous creature. The way I normally explain it is, if you can come up with a story for what happened that explains what you saw in court and doesn't make you immediately say "oh, bull shit," that's what a reasonable doubt is. It doesn't have to be the defense's story of what happened, although they may give you such a story. If you can tell a story that explains what you just saw where the defendant isn't guilty, that's reasonable doubt. And if you can't, if every attempt to explain the evidence otherwise makes you think someone is pulling your leg, that's when you can convict.

But real trials don't work that way, for two reasons. The first is that if the jury is predisposed to believe one side or the other, they will stretch their definition of bullshit one way or the other. (The second, less relevant here, is that all evidence indicates that juries don't actually understand "reasonable doubt;" they really vote on "do we think he's guilty?," which is a very different question. For more on that, see Kozinski's famous essay "Criminal Law 2.0:" http://georgetownlawjournal.org/files/2015/06/Kozinski_Preface.pdf)
And I was seeing the same thing, trying to explain what I saw in this video, which I knew any prosecutor would see trying to explain this to a jury. Enough people will want to believe that the officers did the right thing that you could never convict. And that has nothing to do with what's on camera here; it has everything to do with the stories people want to tell about the people.

The fact is, Alton Sterling was a black man. He very likely did not have a perfect angel's background; I don't know yet, but almost nobody actually does. The people who shot him were police officers. They most likely don't have a perfect angel's background either, but that won't matter; any argument I have to make here, and any argument a prosecutor would have to make in front of a jury, would be about their characters, whether you want to live in a world where a cop might execute a man in a fit of anger or whether you want to live in a world where he probably deserved it. And I know what kind of world most people want to live in.

This sort of thing is exactly why we say that black lives matter. Because if we were talking about a white man who had died, especially a nice, respectable one, maybe someone middle-class from a life like we imagine ourselves having or wanting, we would be looking at it intuitively from that victim's point of view, and looking for a reason why such a horrible thing would have happened to them – and blaming the cops. And if we are looking at a black man who has died, maybe someone who feels very different, even dangerous, then we look at it intuitively from the police officers' point of view, or from the point of view of someone who might have been scared of that man, and look for a reason why such a thing made sense.

It's when we start to make arguments like those to ourselves that we lose track of the fact that this was a fight where two people took on one person, pinned him to the ground, and shot him five times.

And no matter who it was, we should be frightened. Because if they can do this to them, one day they'll feel OK doing it to other people, too. There's no sense in which there's a danger only to black people, or Latino people, or to Jews, or to women; when there is a danger to the person standing next to you, there is a danger to you. You are never safe when your neighbor's house is on fire.

This is why – even if there were no other reason to, even if there were no morals or ethics in this world at all – I would say, Black Lives Matter. I would say, we cannot allow ourselves to look at this video and come up with justifications for why it was okay that we would not do if the person who was shot had looked exactly like us, or our spouses, or our children. That is the plain and simple thing which that sentence means: not that black lives matter more than others', but that they do not matter less, that we can never justify a black death in a way that we would not apply to our own.

And I know, with a stone in my heart, that this is not what many people are going to say. It will be hard to convince people that Alton Sterling's death was wrong – it will be hard to even have the conversation with people – because many people will jump, in their hearts, to explain why it was right. Because they will see themselves only in the police officers, not in Alton Sterling's eyes, and they will reach for justifications as though they were justifying themselves.

I do not ask you to see this only through Alton Sterling's eyes.

I ask you to see it through all three sets of eyes, to watch this video and understand how it happened from each perspective, and to use that to make your conclusions, to have your discussions. To know that you could have been any one of those people, not just one or another.

I see myself through two sets of eyes here, and they make me afraid.
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With dear gratitude to Chadling for this.
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Geneva, Switzerland
Previously
Vienna, Austria
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CERN Building 40-3-B01 1211 Genève 23 Switzerland
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PhD student at the CMS Experiment at CERN
Employment
  • CERN
    PhD student, 2012 - present
    Work on the upgrade for the CMS Level-1 trigger.
  • Catalysts
    Java developer, 2012 - 2012
    Work on a anti-phishing mail server acting as a relay between customers on Austria's biggest platform for classified ads.
  • Institute of High Energy Physics of the Austrian Academy of Sciences
    Undergrad working on the Trigger of the CMS Experiment, 2011 - 2012
    Development of a protocol buffer-based communications protocol on top of TCP/IP.
  • University of Vienna
    2008 - 2011
    Teaching assistant for the Physics for Biologists lab course.
  • Caritas Vienna
    2005 - 2008
Education
  • University of Vienna
    Physics, 2012 - present
    Work on upgrading parts of the Level-1 Trigger of the CMS Experiment. This involves development in VHDL as well as C++.
  • University of Vienna
    Physics, 2006 - 2012
    Emphasis on software in high energy physics with some courses taken in Computational Physics.
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Dinyar Rabady's +1's are the things they like, agree with, or want to recommend.
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Public - a month ago
reviewed a month ago
We had a delicious stockfish bruscetta here for lunch. The pizzas were very good too and service was friendly!
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Very nice place for an aperitivo in the evening. Cocktails are good and the snacks are plenty and decent. Gets quite full.
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Excellent food with extremely nice service for a very reasonable price. Big recommendation!
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151 reviews
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Very friendly service at the reception desk, the rooms were clean and modern. It's quite loud outside, but one doesn't notice much with the windows closed.
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Cappuccino and chocolate croissants were good, however quite expensive for Italian standards..
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Very nice views of the castle!
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