October 10, 2017 in 4,545 words

California Transplants Wake Up in Horror to Their First Snowstorm

This is not an Onion article. Rather, this morning I had the hilarious experience of witnessing two California transplants go through an absolute freakout over their first Colorado snowstorm.

Like many of you, I woke up this morning, saw the first snow of the season flurrying outside my bedroom windows, and was excited. Sure, October 9 is pretty early in the year to be getting snow, but like anyone who’s been through Denver winters, I know this snow dump will melt in no time.

My two newest housemates, however, were having quite a different reaction.

“I’m like a cross between, ‘Oh, winter wonderland!’ and ‘What the fuckety fuck?’” Ross said with grave concern.

Katie was standing at our kitchen window, gazing forlornly at the foreign white landscape like a sad puppy left at home by its owner.

“I’m waiting for the sun to come back,” she said.

Is the American Idea Doomed?

Not yet—but it has precious few supporters on either the left or the right.

On May 5, 1857, eight men sat down to dinner at Boston’s Parker House hotel. They had gathered to plan a magazine, but by the time they stood up five hours later, they had laid the intellectual groundwork for a second American revolution.

These men were among the leading literary lights of their day, but they had more in mind that night than literary pursuits. The magazine they envisioned would, its prospectus later promised, “honestly endeavor to be the exponent of what its conductors believe to be the American idea.”

That prospectus bore the unmistakable stamp of The Atlantic’s founding editor, James Russell Lowell, but “the American idea” had been popularized by Theodore Parker, the radical preacher and abolitionist. The American idea, Parker declared in an 1850 speech, comprised three elements: that all people are created equal, that all possess unalienable rights, and that all should have the opportunity to develop and enjoy those rights. Securing them required “a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people,” Parker said.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, another Atlantic founder, put the matter more concisely. There was, he observed, a single phrase, offered by the little republicans of the schoolyard, that summed the whole thing up: “I’m as good as you be.”

As a vision, it was bold and improbable—but the magazine these men launched that November, 160 years ago, helped spur the nation to redefine itself around the pursuit of the American idea. And as the United States grew and prospered, other peoples around the globe were attracted to its success, and the idea that produced it.

Now, though, the idea they articulated is in doubt. America no longer serves as a model for the world as it once did; its influence is receding. At home, critics on the left reject the notion that the U.S. has a special role to play; on the right, nationalists push to define American identity around culture, not principles. Is the American idea obsolete?

Trump’s Fight With Corker Jeopardizes His Legislative Agenda

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee during a news conference on Capitol Hill last month.

President Trump’s latest rupture with a Republican senator has widened the schism with his own party on Capitol Hill, potentially jeopardizing the future of his legislative agenda even as he presses lawmakers to approve deep tax cuts, according to veteran Republicans and independent analysts.

The caustic exchange with Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee on Sunday came at a time when Mr. Trump could ill afford to lose the support of even one more Republican, given his repeated failures to hold together his party on high-drama votes on health care. And as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Corker has significant influence over appointments and legislation important to the White House.

White House officials seethed on Monday, privately accusing Mr. Corker of intentionally picking a fight with the president to draw attention to his new crusade against raising the deficit in any tax overhaul. But Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and his allies were incredulous that the president would anger a senator just a week before a budget vote that is critical to tax cuts when the party’s 52-vote majority can be thwarted by just three defections.

“Under the normal, traditional rules of politics of the last 40 years of my life, a president would not poke a senator in the eye when he has a two-seat majority and a major legislative agenda needing to be accomplished,” said former Representative Thomas M. Reynolds, Republican of New York, who is now a lobbyist in the capital.

Trump’s targeting of Revolutionary Guards is a step too far for Iran

Tehran has promised crushing response if US president makes ‘strategic mistake’ of listing elite force as terrorist entity.

The Revolutionary Guards has been accused of supporting Hamas and Hezbollah.

In the 11 months since Donald Trump’s election, Tehran has been at pains to avoid kneejerk reactions. In a country of a thousand Friday prayer podiums, the measured responses to the US president’s pronouncements on Iranian activities have revealed much effort behind the scenes to grapple with changed circumstances.

But Tehran’s response this week to reports that the US is working to designate the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group is an indication that there is a limit to its patience. It is also ratcheting up tensions in an already tense week, which could lead to the undoing of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Trump faces a congressional deadline of the end of this week to certify Tehran’s compliance under the agreement. He has threatened to decertify it, which could unravel the accord despite the wishes of Washington’s European allies, the majority of the international community and the US military.

There is uncertainty over the extent to which the president will go to show his disdain for the agreement, which was a major foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration. Trump could announce some symbolic new sanctions or restore nuclear-related sanctions in blatant violation of the agreement.

Republicans privately admit defeat on Obamacare repeal

Lawmakers vow to try again, but many acknowledge they may be unable to scrap the law.

Anytime you fumble twice, there’s the anticipation that you’ll fumble for the third time,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. Do Senate Republicans have “credibility? Yes. Believability? Perhaps no.”

For the first time, rank-and-file Republicans are acknowledging Obamacare may never be repealed.

After multiple failures to repeal the law, the White House and many GOP lawmakers are publicly promising to try again in early 2018. But privately, both House and Senate Republicans acknowledge they may never be able to deliver on their seven-year vow to scrap the law.

“Personally, I don’t” see it, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said. “I just don’t know how you can reconcile a bill you’ve taken two whiffs at already and couldn’t get the votes.”

Some sound almost resigned to the new reality. “I’d say it’s 50-50,” Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said of the prospect the law will remain in place.

Republicans are torn between the potency of their longtime rallying cry against Obamacare — so popular with GOP donors and their base that it helped flip both houses of Congress and the White House — and the reality they’ve wasted nine months of what is supposed to be the most productive time of a new administration failing to get it done. With few legislative accomplishments so far to show voters, failure on Obamacare repeal could prove to be a major liability in the 2018 midterm elections.

29 states have legal pot. Jeff Sessions wants to stamp it out, and he’s closer than you think

The 885 words almost seemed an afterthought when Congress hurriedly crammed them into a massive budget bill late in the Obama administration, as if lawmakers wanted to acknowledge America’s outlook on marijuana had changed, but not make a big deal of it.

Almost three years later, a multibillion-dollar industry and the freedom of millions to openly partake in its products without fear of federal prosecution hinge on that obscure budget clause.

But now, Congress may throw it overboard amid pressure from an attorney general who views marijuana as a dangerous menace.

What has become known as the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment constitutes a single paragraph of federal law. It prohibits the Justice Department from spending even a cent to prosecute medical marijuana users and sellers operating legally under state laws. Since its passage, it has largely shut down efforts by federal prosecutors or drug enforcement officials to interfere with otherwise legal sales of marijuana in 29 states and the District of Columbia that have passed legalization measures.

This European comedy sketch explains how the world sees America’s gun problem

From the outside, it’s just baffling.

When the rest of the world looks at America’s gun problem, it’s often with bafflement.

Sunday with Lubach, which is sort of like the Dutch version of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, looked at guns — specifically, the US’s love of firearms. And it’s very telling.

For one, the satirical Dutch video describes America’s love of guns as so bad that it is an illness: Nonsensical Rifle Addiction, or NRA — a reference to the biggest gun lobby group in the country.

“Dear fellow Europeans,” the video’s narrator begins, “a devastating humanitarian crisis is threatening a small country on the coast of North America: the United States of America.”

The video goes on to list some of the statistics related to America’s gun homicides and accidents from Gun Violence Archive: 24,000 injuries and 11,000 deaths so far this year, culminating to roughly 40 deaths a day. The video pins this on “a terrible epidemic.”

5 Everyday Things That Have Awesome Secrets (Nobody Notices)

You definitely notice design fuck-ups in your everyday life. Every time you open your fridge and the door swings into the cabinets, you curse the eyes of the fool who placed it. But it doesn’t always work the other way. There are tons of ingenious little design quirks which improve our lives in small but meaningful ways, and we hardly ever notice them. It’s time to change that. Stop for a moment and appreciate how …

#5. Sidewalk Bumps Are Road Signs For The Blind

Have you ever noticed that the texture of the sidewalk changes as you approach a crosswalk? There’s a series of rigid bumps just before the sidewalk meets the road. But why? To hilariously trip up rollerbladers, who absolutely deserve it? Not quite. Those bumps warn people with visual impairments that they are rapidly approaching an asphalt river of death.

Unintentional bonus: freaking out people with trypophobia.

The bumps originated in 1960s Japan as tenji blocks, then spread throughout the world. Tactile paving is now the default means most cities use to assist blind or partially sighted pedestrians. Nowhere are they taken more seriously than in the UK, where officials have developed a veritable novel of guidelines on how and where to install them.

Street measles still warn of an upcoming pedestrian crossing, but those same bumps immediately followed by a horizontal groove pattern mean that you’re about to step off of a subway platform and straight into an abyss. As a general rule, as long as the grooves in a sidewalk are aligned in the direction you’re walking, it’s safe to keep on a-truckin’, whereas a sudden 90-degree shift in the pattern translates to “Stop now or die horribly.” And now that you know that, feel free to never take your eyes off your smartphone ever again.

The flaws a Nobel Prize-winning economist wants you to know about yourself

Only Human

Nobel thinking.

Sorry to say it, but you’re not perfect. We like to believe that we are smart, rational creatures, always acting in our best interests. In fact, dominant economic theory these days often makes that assumption.

What was left of this illusion was further dismantled by the The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, who awarded the Nobel prize in economics to Richard Thaler, an American economist at the University of Chicago, for his pioneering work in behavioral economics, which examines humanity’s flaws—namely, why we don’t make rational economic decisions.

In 2008, Thaler co-authored the influential book Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness with Cass Sunstein. In this and his other research, Thaler explains the flaws and biases that influence our actions. This led to the theory that you can use subtle nudges to encourage people to make better decisions, particularly when planning for the long term, such as saving for retirement.

Here are some of the main ways behavioral economists like Thaler say we let ourselves down.

Meet the nocebo effect, the placebo effect’s evil twin that makes you feel pain

A fascinating new study finds patients report worse side effects when a drug costs more money.

The placebo effect is one of the most mystifying phenomena in medicine. When we expect a pill to make us feel better, it does. If we see others get better while using a medicine, we will too.

Doctors even see a placebo response in patients who are told they are on a placebo. And the more invasive, expensive, and drastic the placebo intervention, the greater the healing effect. Fake surgeries — where doctors make some incisions but don’t actually change anything — make people feel better than placebo pills alone.

But the placebo effect has an evil twin: the nocebo. It can kick in when negative expectations steer our experience of symptoms and create side effects where none should occur.

This means, incredibly, that you can get side effects from a sugar pill. And sometimes these side effects are so severe that patients drop out of clinical trials, as a 2013 paper in Nature Reviews explains. A review of fibromyalgia drug trials revealed that 72 percent of people who left the trial did so because they felt severe side effects while on placebo.


Why are flat Earth truthers having such a huge year online?

If you feel like flat Earth theory has gotten unaccountably popular recently, you’re right. According to Google Trends, search interest in the flat Earth conspiracy theory has already had several distinct peaks in the last year. (“The last year” was 2017, not 1519, just to be clear.) It’s funny, weird, and while it’s certainly not at the top of our list of problems as a society, it’s not entirely innocent either.

Interest surged in February and March, then again in May, then again in August and September. These jumps are mostly tied to a couple of strange outbursts by celebrities, notably 2010’s favorite cheeseball rapper and Gossip Girl backing vocalist B.o.B. and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving. But interest in the topic has been climbing steadily since late 2014, shortly after a faction of Daniel Shenton’s “Flat Earth Society” broke away to create its own website and forum. The FAQ page for Flat Earth Society is the third Google search result for “flat Earth,” and encourages people to distrust science completely, as the best way to experience reality is “by relying on one’s own senses to discern the true nature of the world around us.”

News outlets contribute, too, because explainers about the flat Earth conspiracy do incredible traffic. They’re capitalizing on a basic human interest in mysteries and the strange behavior of others, and they’re also wading into an online environment where it’s impossible to differentiate a joke from a deeply held belief. That’s a recipe for one viral hit, then another. It’s been a huge, thrilling year for flat Earth truthers.

Facebook can’t bring us together, but culture can. That’s why Unesco is vital.

Audrey Azoulay, the French former culture minister, understands how the internet has changed the arts: she is the perfect candidate to head Unesco.

‘Films are not designed to serve as schools or teach lessons.’ Costa-Gavras (right) filming in Algeria with cinematographer Raoul Coutard.

The Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg made headlines when he said earlier this year that the social media giant wants to bring together communities and help people “find a sense of purpose and support”. As a film-maker, I know that cinema is an ideal medium for opening minds and, in Zuckerberg’s words, “expanding our horizons”. Films are not designed to serve as schools or teach lessons. They are spectacles. Even so, those spectacles can have profoundly political dimensions. Through cinema, distant countries have got to know one another and powerful taboos have been overcome.

Politicians rightly fear and respect these powers. This is why authoritarians have always sought to subjugate them. History shows us that fascists and Stalinists have little patience for dissenting views – especially when those views are immortalised in the form of a book, a painting, a play or a film.

The most straightforward way of determining whether a government is democratic is to ask: does it allow cultural life to proceed independently, or does it seek to bend culture to its own purposes?

These same impulses towards control extend to the business world. Corporations tell us not just what we should think about them, but how we should see the world around us. They sponsor art and culture that serves their purposes. The rise of new media channels should mean more freedom, but the fundamental constraint – funding – remains.

Sex, disease, and extinction: what ancient DNA tells us about humans and Neanderthals

Three new studies uncover details about the sex lives of human ancestors, and the DNA modern humans inherited.

A modern human and a Neanderthal skull facing each other.

Two new genetic analyses help explain the unexpected roles Neanderthals play in modern human life — influencing everything from hair color to mental health. The new research also adds to evidence that Neanderthals lived in small, isolated communities, while a third study suggests that early modern humans may have developed large social networks that facilitated the exchange of mates and ideas.

The findings help explain what exactly Neanderthal DNA is doing in many modern human genomes, and how it affects our health. Piecing together the sex lives of our human ancestors may also help us understand how and when these genes were exchanged. All together, the three studies — published in various journals last week — contribute key clues to the mystery of why humans survived to populate the globe, even as our close cousins, the Neanderthals, died out.

Modern humans, or Homo sapiens, and Neanderthals shared a common ancestor roughly half a million years ago. They then split and evolved in parallel: humans in Africa, and Neanderthals on the Eurasian continent. When humans finally ventured to Eurasia, they had sex with Neanderthals, swapping DNA around. Today, people who aren’t of African descent owe roughly 2 percent of their DNA to their Neanderthal ancestors. “The first question that anyone ever asks is ‘Well, what does it do?’” says Janet Kelso, a bioinformatician who studies genome evolution at the Max Planck Institute in Germany.

High school students are missing out on $2 billion in free financial aid

Ecom 101

Money matters.

It’s every parent’s delirious hallucination: free money for college, simply dropping into their laps. Yet not enough of them realize that fantasy can actually come true.

The US government awards federal, state, and institutional money every year to students who fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and meet certain household-income qualifications. But if students don’t complete or submit the form, they don’t stand a chance at getting any of it. According to a new analysis from personal finance site NerdWallet, the high school class of 2017 collectively left $2.3 billion in free federal grant money for college on the table.

By looking at data supplied by the US Education Department and the Florida College Access Network, NerdWallet found that 1,234,249 high school students didn’t fill out the FAFSA in the 2016-2017 academic year—though roughly 50% of students actually qualified for Pell Grants, a type of federal aid awarded to low-income households that does not need to be repaid in the future. Pell’s maximum payout is around $6,000, and Pell-eligible students missed out on an average grant size of $3,583. That brings the total forgotten amount to $2,319,016,315.

Colorado State University Leading the Way in Veterinary CBD Treatment

Pet parents and veterinary professionals throughout the state gathered at the Butterfly Pavilion on Saturday, October 7, for the 2017 Cannabis in Veterinary Medicine Symposium. Seven Colorado doctors at the top of their field gave talks that offered the most current information about using cannabis with animals, which is changing at a fast pace.

Dr. Stephanie McGrath, who specializes in neurology, is leading a Colorado State University study on the efficacy of cannabidiol (CBD) for the treatment of epilepsy and osteoarthritis in dogs. A leading advocate for testing and researching CBD in the veterinary field, McGrath spoke about veterinary CBD trials and the science involved.

“We have diseases that we don’t have treatments for that work, so there’s a problem. A solution to that problem is trying to find a solution that does work, so we are always searching,” she said. “That, along with this drug becoming legalized, prompted a lot more questions from clients and veterinarians. And [with] me being unable to answer their questions, that really bothered me. So the more I started looking, the more I realized what a void there was in cannabis research.”

McGrath has spent her career treating human seizure disorders and inflammatory brain diseases, as well as a variety of spinal cord disorders. So how did she end up pioneering CBD studies and information in the veterinary world?


To most of the approximately 10,000 people packed into Milwaukee Auditorium on October 14, 1912, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the moments before Teddy Roosevelt was scheduled to give what was supposed to be a simple campaign speech. The former President of the United States was running for a near unprecedented third term, this time as the Progressive Party candidate. However, when Roosevelt stepped onto the stage with a sort of wobble, his friend and fellow Progressive Party member, Henry Cochems, felt obligated to tell the audience what had happened – Roosevelt had been shot only moments before.

Most people were stunned, while others couldn’t believe it – one person even reportedly yelled “Fake!”

Chuckling, Roosevelt opened his coat to reveal a bloodied and bullet-pierced shirt. An audible gasp was heard as Roosevelt advanced to the podium. Proving yet again, he was determined to make men everywhere feel a little less manly, he stepped up and started what would become a 90-minute speech, in spite of his injury. He began with, “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.”

So who shot Roosevelt? Why was he so determined to give his speech anyway? And why was the famed Republican president now running under the so-called “Bull Moose” ticket?

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Mike Pence and Donald Trump are disrespecting the flag and the anthem.

The President lashed out at Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker with a trilogy of tweets over the weekend. Corker only needed one for his rebuttal.

The President called for ‘anti-Trump’ late night host(s) to give him ‘equal time’ on their show. Stephen can only think of one person to help play, excuse the phrase, devil’s advocate.

Try not to break down in tears while watching ‘Pussy’ Jon Stewart recount the moment from his childhood when he realize maybe, just maybe, he could achieve the unachievable.

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

Seth takes a closer look at how President Trump whips up racial tensions with transparent political stunts, while the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico continues.

Senator Cory Booker talks to Seth about the worst-kept secret in Washington D.C.: both sides of the aisle are very concerned about President Trump.

Senator Cory Booker breaks down how Americans have to pressure their elected officials if they want gun control.

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

Now that our lives are pretty much inseparable from our smart devices, it would only be the honest and responsible thing for Apple to do to jack up the price on their super fragile phones.

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

Here’s me critical analysis of the new trailer for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Stiffy activated I reckon, mate! Intended as a cheeky work of Fair Dealing – parody, satire, commentary. Please don’t kill me Hollywood. Original trailer here: https://youtu.be/Q0CbN8sfihY

I thought Max was just playing with his new toy till I realized what he was doing.


Blown Forecasts and the Revenge of the Farting Weatherman

Former Denver weather forecaster Chris Dunn before and after releasing a hot air mass.

The National Weather Service forecast for metro Denver in the early hours of October 9 called for heavy snow that might not stick to the roadways became of warm pavement temperatures but could potentially snap limbs from trees. What we’ve gotten instead in most city locations is cold rain and a little bit of sleet. In other words, a classic blown forecast of the sort former Denver weatherman Chris Dunn defended to us when he said the biggest misconception about people of his profession is “the idea that, ‘Oh, you guys are always wrong’ and ‘If I had a job where I was always wrong and still got to keep my job, it’d be the greatest job in the world.'” Which makes it only appropriate that he recently became Internet-famous for apparently blowing a fart on the air.

We’ll get to that in a minute; the video’s on view below. But first, here’s some background on Westword’s coverage about the accuracy, or lack thereof, related to predicting weather conditions in Denver and Colorado.

On April 15, 1992, we published “Storm Warnings,” a pre-Internet article that offered a snapshot of the skills exhibited by the weather personalities at channels 4, 7 and 9. From March 17 until April 2 of that year, their forecasts were tracked using temperatures as a guideline. If the extremes on a given day were within a cumulative ten degrees (for instance, a high off by seven degrees and a low wrong by just three), the prediction was judged correct — or at least correct enough. Anything further awry received a thumbs-down rating.

Back then, all three stations did fairly well one or two days in advance: Channel 4 passed 73 percent of the time; Channel 7 scored with 79 percent; and Channel 9 trailed the field with a still-respectable 64 percent. But things went south more often in the three- to five-day range, with Channel 4 ringing the bell for just 38 percent of its guesses and channels 7 and 9 tying at 48 percent. Simply put, forecasts more than two days in advance were considerably wide of the mark over half the time.

A weatherman in Alabama appears to have expelled gas during a broadcast. In the viral moment, WPMI-TV’s chief meteorologist, Chris Dunn, leans out of frame, toots, and then continues with the weather forecast.


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