April 24, 2014

President Barack Obama met a robot today in Japan and left confused and perhaps a bit intimidated. While visiting Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, the president played soccer with a humanoid robot named Asimo.

At first, the president was cautious around the gizmo, and he even exchanged bows with it, but eventually he warmed up to him. "It's nice to meet you," the robot said, before approaching him with a soccer ball. "Okay, come on," the president replied. The robot lightly kicked the ball at the perplexed president. "I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike," the president told the Washington Post. "They were amazing." --Jordan Valinsky

10:28 a.m. ET

While it's now hard to think of Al Gore without his documentary An Inconvenient Truth coming to mind, the one-time presidential candidate admits he almost didn't make the famous film. In an interview with Wired — published 10 years after Gore transformed a slideshow he'd compiled on the threats of climate change into the documentary — Gore confesses that, initially, he "did not want to do a documentary":

It's a dumb reason. I didn't think a slide­show could translate into a movie. I thought back to my days in school, when I tried to take a shortcut studying Shakespeare by watching filmed versions of the plays, where they just set up a camera and filmed the stage. It didn't translate. Participant Media and Davis Guggenheim had to convince me it was a good idea, and I'm so glad they found ways to reveal to me the depths of my ignorance about moviemaking. It's a message that has to be heard. Sorry to risk sounding grandiose, but the future of human civilization is at stake. [Wired]

The documentary went on to win two Oscars and, as NPR puts it, "politicized global warming to an unprecedented level."

Read Gore's full reflections on the battle against climate change — and how he thinks he might finally be "winning" it — over at Wired. Becca Stanek

10:15 a.m. ET
Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Ancient Chinese beer drinkers weren't so different from you and me, at least according to evidence found on 5,000-year-old pottery fragments in the Shaanxi province. Thanks to a discovery by Stanford University researcher Jiajing Wang and her team, it appears that Chinese beer-makers actually mastered many modern brewing techniques long before they were thought to have been adopted in the region, The Washington Post reports.

By scraping yellowish residue out of pots, Wang concluded that Chinese brewers had been combining Eastern and Western traditions by taking "barley from the West, millet, Job's tears, and tubers from China" to create their sweet-ish suds. And while rice fermentation has been dated back to 9,000 years ago, Wang and her team have reason to believe that the Shaanxi site is the oldest known beer brewery in China; barley beer had originally been considered a newer invention in Chinese culture, but it now appears to have much older roots.

"It is possible that when barley was introduced from western Eurasia into the Central Plain of China, it came with the knowledge that the grain was a good ingredient for beer brewing. So it was not only the introduction of a new crop, but also the knowledge associated with the crop," Wang said.

Here's the only bummer: You won't be able to drink the ancient beer anytime soon. Despite knowing what went into the beer, Wang and her team aren't able to tell the exact ratio of ingredients. Jeva Lange

9:37 a.m. ET
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Representatives from the nation's largest financial institutions are holding off on questioning Donald Trump's economic agenda — but it's not because they don't have any questions. At a private meeting last week in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg reports that financiers decided the cons of inquiring into Trump's plans just might outweigh the pros:

A few key questions emerged: Would Trump's agenda be aligned with the forthcoming proposal from Hensarling and House Speaker Paul Ryan? And should they reach out to Trump's campaign staff to inquire about his economic agenda?

According to two people who attended the meeting, the group decided against reaching out after several representatives expressed fears that Trump could criticize them on social media if talks took a bad turn. [Bloomberg]

Yes, that's right. The nation's largest financial institutions are apparently avoiding the Republican Party's presumptive nominee because they're afraid of what he might tweet.

Instead, the banking representatives have decided to just hold off on forming any opinion at all on Trump, or his economic agenda. "It's hands off, for now," one of the meeting attendees told Bloomberg. "We're not 'Never Trump,' we're just not ready yet."

As Trump would say: "Sad!" Becca Stanek

9:37 a.m. ET

As Donald Trump ramps up his attacks against his likely general election rival, Hillary Clinton, he is increasingly zeroing in on her husband, former President Bill Clinton, for his alleged sexual transgressions. "Is Hillary Clinton really protecting women?" Trump has blasted.

But now even one of Bill Clinton's biggest critics is backpedaling from that sort of talk. Kenneth W. Starr helped pursue the impeachment of Clinton in the 1990s, but in a startling about-face now praises him for being "the most gifted politician of the baby boomer generation," The New York Times reports.

"[Bill Clinton's] genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear. It is powerful, it is palpable and the folks of Arkansas really understood that about him — that he genuinely cared. The 'I feel your pain' is absolutely genuine," Starr said during a panel discussion at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. "There are certain tragic dimensions which we all lament," Starr added.

Starr also expressed concern about "the transnational emergence of almost radical populism, deep anger, a sense of dislocation" — an apparent reference to Trump, although none of the current presidential candidates were mentioned by name. Jeva Lange

8:49 a.m. ET
KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

You know it's bad when North Korea calls you out for propagandizing, but that's exactly what a senior official said Monday when slamming Donald Trump's suggestion that the mogul would meet with leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump said last week that he would be willing to meet with Kim to try to halt Pyongyang's nuclear program, Reuters reports. However, North Korea said Trump's proposal was a "kind of propaganda or advertisement" in his election race.

"It is up to the decision of my Supreme Leader whether he decides to meet or not, but I think [Trump's] idea or talk is nonsense," North Korea's ambassador to the U.N. So Se Pyong said. "This is useless, just a gesture for the presidential election. There is no meaning, no sincerity." Jeva Lange

8:46 a.m. ET
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Roughly 100 French investigators raided Google's headquarters in Paris Tuesday morning as part of an ongoing tax fraud investigation, Reuters reports. A source close to France's finance ministry has confirmed the raid, but Google has yet to make a comment. The French state is accusing the tech company of owing $1.8 billion in back-taxes, following a close scrutinization of international companies' tax arrangements.

Google, along with other large digital companies, has been accused of using "legal methods to minimize their tax bills," BBC reports. While Google, for instance, generates large profits in France and the UK, its tax base is in Ireland, where corporate tax rates are lower.

In January, the company agreed to pay $185.39 million in back taxes to the UK and higher taxes in the future. Becca Stanek

8:26 a.m. ET
AFP/Getty Images

SeaTac, Washington, City Manager James Payne plotted to create a "tactical map" of Muslims in the neighborhoods around Seattle's SeaTac airport, apparently due to terrorism concerns, The Seattle Times has learned. Payne, who has since resigned, reportedly "stated an interest in knowing with a great deal of specificity (to the neighborhood, house, and even person) where Sunni and Shiite Muslim residents lived," an investigator in the case found.

Payne justified his map, which never came to be, as necessary in case he "needed to go into the neighborhoods to 'make the peace,'" the report said. It further concluded that "Mr. Payne's concerns about Muslims committing acts of terrorism seem to be the main motivation for his GIS mapping request."

Payne defended himself against accusations of ethnic profiling by saying he was "trying to provide good governance to a diverse population."

"This is what is so outrageous to me: Because it was a white male asking for this information, suddenly people jumped to the conclusion that I must be out to get certain people. I'm deeply offended by that," Payne said. Jeva Lange

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