September 23, 2017 in 3,156 words

Development and disasters

A deadly combination well beyond the recent hurricanes


The consequences of Houston’s historic inundation, in deaths and dollars, are nowhere near fully tallied.

Indeed, the economic costs — which will include everything from thousands of ruined and uninsured homes to higher national gasoline prices to lost business activity in the country’s fourth-largest city — will take months to calculate, and years to overcome, said Kevin Simmons, an economist at Austin College focused on storm impacts.

“In the Houston metro area alone, there is more than $325 billion in residential value at risk,” Simmons said in an interview. “Most damage to residential property will be flooding and if people don’t have flood insurance they are on their own.” (Most don’t, in part because the floodwaters reached so far beyond established danger zones.)

Add in damaged cars, commercial property, lost business and the damage outside of Houston, “The bottom line will likely exceed Katrina,” he said. Other economists surveyed by The New York Times earlier this week projected somewhat lower losses, but it is still early.

While some aspects of Houston’s agony are likely anomalous, a similar set of risk factors threatens hundreds of communities from coast to coast and in between. The natural hazards and geography vary, but the dominant dynamic leading to unnatural disasters is the same everywhere: Growth and development continue to put people and property at risk, from overdeveloped inland floodplains to fire-prone Western woodlands, to crowding coastlines, to homes and businesses built in America’s Tornado Alley.

Think Paul Manafort is about to tank the White House? Hold your horses

In legal terms, maybe all that Trump is guilty of is terrible taste in campaign advisers and bad luck with his son-in-law


There is only one problem with these liberal fantasies – suggestive incidents do not automatically add up to unequivocal evidence.

When Paul Manafort, a Ronald Reagan veteran, moved to take charge of the amateur-hour Donald Trump campaign in early April 2016, the press coverage was respectful, even a bit fawning.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was quoted in the New York Times calling Manafort’s ascension “a step in the right direction” and in the same story Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio hailed the move as welcome evidence that Trump knew that he needs to hire “experienced and seasoned hands.”

Since campaign reporters are suckers for sage political hands, Manafort’s career as an international influence peddler only attracted intermittent interest. A May 2016 Wall Street Journal story on lobbyists in presidential politics devoted just one sentence to Manafort “whose firm in the past represented a number of foreign governments”.

That bland statement was the equivalent of describing the first world war as a small territorial misunderstanding among European nations. This week we learned, through a series of leaks, that Manafort’s foreign entanglements appear to be a central target of Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Kim Jong-un, the NFL and ‘screaming at senators’: Trump’s Strange night in Alabama

President heads to Alabama to rally support for incumbent senator Luther Strange who is facing a runoff election on Tuesday

Donald Trump gave one of his signature stream of consciousness speeches in Hunstville on Friday night as he tried to get out the vote for embattled Alabama Republican senator Luther Strange.

During an address inside the Wernher Von Braun Center that lasted an hour and 20 minutes, the president called North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un “Little Rocket Man”, said NFL owners should cut players who kneel for the national anthem and returned to familiar targets like John McCain and Hillary Clinton.

Strange is facing a runoff election on Tuesday for the GOP nomination to hold the seat he was appointed to in February. The former state attorney general was handed the seat after former senator Jeff Sessions was appointed attorney general by Trump. Strange is currently trailing in the polls against Roy Moore, an ardent social conservative who has twice been removed as chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

The race has become a top priority for Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and a superPAC affiliated with him will spend over $9m on Strange’s behalf. The Alabama senator is seen as reliable vote for Republican priorities while Moore has mused about making “homosexual conduct” illegal and suggested that the terrorist attacks of 11 September may have been divine retribution for the United States turning away from God.

Why John McCain Killed Obamacare Repeal—Again

McCain’s disdain for Donald Trump—and support for a bipartisan legislative process—prompted him to deliver a likely fatal blow to the most radical Obamacare repeal-and-replace effort.

John McCain’s disdain for Donald Trump was stronger than his love of Lindsey Graham. That’s at least one sensible conclusion after the Arizona senator today came out against the Graham-Cassidy bill, the third serious attempt by Republicans this year to replace the Affordable Care Act with a new system. It’s also likely the last attempt for this Congress. The budget vehicle that Republicans planned to use to pass the bill—in order to circumvent a Senate filibuster—will expire on September 30th. Their long-standing plan has been to use the next budget vehicle to pass tax reform. Senator Rand Paul was already firmly against Graham-Cassidy, and Susan Collins said she was leaning toward a no vote, leaving the G.O.P., which has fifty-two senators, with room for just one more defection if it relied on Mike Pence to break a tie. Unlike last time, when McCain delivered the blow to Trump with a dramatic thumbs-down on the Senate floor, this time he sent out a press release.

In some ways, the Graham-Cassidy bill was the most radical of the repeal-and-replace attempts. The legislation would have rescinded Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, sent federal health dollars to the states, and allowed them to create their own health-insurance spending and regulatory systems. The bill was never analyzed by the Congressional Budget Office, a shocking violation of the normal legislative process, but outside studies made two things clear: the over-all pot of federal money for health insurance would dramatically decline, and regulations barring the worst excesses of the pre-Obamacare era would be relaxed in many places. The regulation that received the most attention was the rule requiring insurance companies to cover patients—at normal rates—with preëxisting conditions, something that Trump promised he would keep in any reform effort. Graham-Cassidy allowed the states to weaken or eliminate that provision. The parade of Republicans denying this, including the President, was one of the most shocking and shameful aspects of this week’s debate.

The bill also would have allowed states wide latitude over what to do with the federal money, which is why a few Republicans hated it—because they believed that some deep-blue states might use the dollars to create a single-payer system. Likewise, one reason Democrats hated Graham-Cassidy was because red states could use the money for purposes other than health insurance. Every serious study of the bill predicted enormous declines—by many millions—in the over-all number of Americans with insurance coverage.

But nobody really understood the full effects of the bill, because it was written by a handful of senators, had no public hearings, had no official C.B.O. score, and was being rushed to passage because of an artificial deadline declared by the Senate parliamentarian.

Poll: Majority supports single-payer health care

A slim majority of Americans support a single-payer health-care system that is funded and administrated by the government and eliminates private insurers, according to a new poll.

The latest Harvard-Harris Poll survey found 52 percent favor a single-payer system against 48 who oppose it. A strong majority of Democrats — 69 percent — back the idea. Republicans oppose single-payer, 65-35, and independents are split, with 51 percent opposing and 49 supporting.

“Given all of the discontent with health care and desire for coverage, single-payer has more support than I have seen in the past, with the country split down the middle,” said Harvard-Harris Poll co-director Mark Penn. “But health-care questions like this are before there has been a public debate on the costs and the effect of a single source for plans and we have often seen support disappear after that kind of debate.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a “Medicare for all” bill earlier this year to much acclaim from the left.

Wires Don’t Cut Heads Off: 5 Movie Deaths That Can’t Happen

Movies speak to the very essence of the human experience. Or, barring that, they at least show us 6,000 different ways to kill a bad guy. And yet, you may be shocked to learn that some of our most beloved movie murder methods wouldn’t work in the real world. For example …

#5. You Can’t Freeze Somebody With Liquid Nitrogen, Much Less Shatter Them


According to movies, liquid nitrogen is the coldest thing in the Universe. If you come into contact with it, you’re a human popsicle. Get hit while frozen, and you’ll shatter into a million pieces like an ice sculpture at a rowdy wedding. Side note: Probably don’t invite us to your wedding.

A canister of the stuff breaks and freezes Christian Slater to death in Mindhunters. Jason uses it to shatter a woman’s head in Jason X. Liquid nitrogen is so dangerous it even stops the T-1000 in Terminator 2.

This GIF is also a perfect representation of what happens to the franchise after this film.

Why It Wouldn’t Work:

Liquid nitrogen is definitely dangerous. If you come across some, try not to stick your genitals in it, no matter how much Space-Jason pressures you. But it isn’t nearly as dangerous as movies would have you believe. If you briefly come into contact with the gas, you’ll feel a bit chilly … as you calmly walk out of its range. As for the liquid, well, here’s a guy throwing cups of it into his own face for fun:

It is so mild, in fact, that some businesses use it in freezing chambers, as a form of therapy to help cure people of their free time and disposable income.

The dystopian vision that Westerners have about China is pretty backward

New Narratives

Earlier this summer, a Chinese woman named Shuping Yang gave a commencement speech at the University of Maryland, comparing life in her home country to the life she had discovered in the US. In her opinion, the US came out way ahead. She criticized China’s smog and implied that it was far behind in terms of democracy and individual freedom. As a result, she was instantly attacked as a traitor by many of her Chinese peers.

As a former Chinese student at an American university who currently works as a journalist at a US publication, I watched Yang’s speech—and the fallout—closely. Personally, I share Shuping’s admiration for democracy and freedom in the US. But I also noticed that the way she narrated her experience in the US followed a typical formula. It’s the kind of “China story” that Westerners often like. In it, an emerging Chinese freedom fighter, educated in the US, rejects her homeland after the American way of life opens her eyes to the failures of the system back home.

This story confirms what an American audience already thinks about China and makes them feel comfortable. That’s not the story I want to tell—at least, not entirely.

Don’t overthink your exercise: just 2.5 hours per week of any kind could help you live longer

Walking to work and cleaning your house both qualify.


In 1970, only 20 percent of Americans had jobs that required little physical activity (and lots of sitting around). By 2000, that number climbed to 40 percent.

With the explosion of boutique gyms and spin classes and ultramarathons, it can feel like exercise should be both expensive and extreme. But researchers are finding that it really doesn’t seem to matter what kind of physical activity you do to reap great health rewards.

In one of largest global studies ever published on the heart health benefits of physical activity, researchers found that 150 minutes spent exercising per week could cut a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and death. And, most importantly, the Lancet paper demonstrated that all kinds of physical activity were equally good for the heart.

“I would dispel the notion of having to put out money to be active,” said Dr. Scott Lear, the study lead author and a professor at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences in Canada, in an email. “Our findings indicate that nonrecreational activity — work, housework, active transportation — is just as beneficial in reducing the risk for premature death and heart disease.”

So, yes, even vacuuming your house or walking on your lunch hour for a solid 30 minutes can help avert an early death and chronic disease.

A cofounder of Google’s moonshot factory doesn’t like to fire people, so he ‘liberates’ them instead

Project Freedom


Showing the softer side of management.

Sebastian Thrun, a cofounder of Google’s moonshot factory, has been testing a management theory inside his online education startup Udacity: If people aren’t happy, make them leave.

“If you are unhappy, and you and I both recognize that’s the case, I never fire you. I liberate you. Liberation is different from firing,” Thrun tells Quartz. “I tell people, look, you’re not engaged and able to work at your peak performance level and I know that too, and we tried to resolve this and failed. Why don’t you find yourself a new job, and when you’ve found this job, go to the company and announce your departure on your own terms.” (Thrun didn’t say how long they had to find a new job.)

He calls the idea Project Freedom, and says it’s a method that spares an employee’s dignity while giving them time to find a better fit for their skills. But there are also benefits for the employer: Thrun says if companies hired and “liberated” more often, they could take more risks when hiring.

Mysterious Apocalyptic Message Interrupts TV Broadcasts in California: ‘Violent Times Will Come’


The mushroom cloud from “Ivy Mike” rises above in the Marshall Islands in 1952.

Many Californians’ regularly scheduled broadcasts were interrupted Thursday morning with strange emergency messages warning of extraterrestrial invasions and the beginning of Armageddon. The bizarre warnings aired on TVs in the Orange County area, affecting Cox and Spectrum cable users, according to the Orange County Register.

One video of the broadcast uploaded to YouTube includes a terrified, breathless voice saying: “The space program made contact with… They are not what they claim to be. They have infiltrated a lot of, uh, a lot of aspects of military establishment, particularly Area 51. The disasters that are coming—the military—I’m sorry the government knows about them…”

Gizmodo found that the audio comes from a call that Art Bell, the host of the conspiracy theory-themed radio show Coast to Coast AM, received in 1997 from a man claiming to be a former Area 51 employee.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Trevor looks at President Trump’s “Nambia” gaffe from the African perspective.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

A firm message for the erratic leader of North Korea: making fun of the President is Stephen’s thing.

Visits from Emma Stone, Jeff Bridges and Hillary Rodham Clinton were the bright spots in a week otherwise dominated by talk of Russian collusion and the dismantling of healthcare coverage.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

MS-13 has long been known as one of the deadliest street gangs in the world, but under the Trump administration, the fight against this criminal network of mostly Salvadoran young men, many of whom are immigrants, has ramped up dramatically.

MS-13 (or Mara Salvatrucha) wasn’t created in El Salvador; it was born in Los Angeles in the 1980s, founded by refugees from El Salvador’s civil war. In the 1980s, many of those gang members were deported back to El Salvador, where they quickly took advantage of the war-torn nation.

Now, with the Trump administration vowing to eliminate the gang at all costs, VICE News gained rare access inside the MS-13 underworld in El Salvador as they are hunted by police and rival gangs. Members told VICE News that the rhetoric from the White House has struck a nerve and warned there will be deadly consequences to the crackdown.

THANKS to HBO and VICE News for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth takes a closer look at the revelation that President Trump’s former campaign chief offered private briefings on Trump’s campaign to a Russian billionaire.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

Bill dishes on Donald Trump’s dealings with Democrats in his Real Time monologue.

In his editorial New Rule, Bill Maher says President Trump feels more comfortable around cosmopolitan Democrats than his own rural base.

THANKS to HBO and Real Time with Bill Maher for making this program available on YouTube.

This is just another Max fit when he doesn’t get the attention he wants. You cover your ears and sit on the floor and let him go.

FINALLY . . .

The true color of a leaf


A few weeks ago, just as the first leaves were starting to change, I got an invitation to the backyard of an Airbnb for a gathering of old college friends. Once upon a time, I knew the people well, although I was always just a fringe to their crew. After more than a decade of passing time, I was delighted they remembered me enough to call me at all.

The barbecue was rather, shall we say, polite, and unexpectedly so. Sure, people tossed around stories from the good old days, but they were all tastefully cast in the sweet white hue of nostalgia. One-by-one people talked about the ways they’d become more themselves over the years — finding their hidden passions, getting married, having children, figuring a niche in their various careers.

Becoming… it’s an enchanting idea isn’t it? We all know change is inevitable; how we ride it is up to us. The comparison inherent in such reunions of people makes me wonder if there’s a right way to grow up and a wrong one.

In this country at least, it seems best to self-actualize, which requires a relentless effort in self-improvement. It’s the old “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” technique to life, the kind that rewards activities that keep our sense of self intact and preserve our identities as we improve them.

And so, eventually, someone asked, “What are you up to?” And I answered, rather bluntly, about having spent quite a bit of time immersing myself in the world of drugs, specifically in cannabis and psychedelics. Before I could fill in the blanks, a look of horror struck my friend’s face. At first I thought it was concern, but as the conversation suddenly fell to silence, I realized it was something else — we didn’t know each other anymore.

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