December 2, 2017 in 6,088 words

The case for normalizing impeachment

Impeaching an unfit president has consequences. But leaving one in office could be worse.


In recent months, I have grown obsessed with a seemingly simple question: Does the American political system have a remedy if we elect the wrong person to be president? There are clear answers if we elect a criminal, or if the president falls into a coma. But what if we just make a hiring mistake, as companies do all the time? What if we elect someone who proves himself or herself unfit for office — impulsive, conspiratorial, undisciplined, destructive, cruel?

My fixation on this question began with President Donald Trump’s tweets to North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. This was the president of the United States, the man who controls the world’s largest nuclear arsenal, launching deranged, unvetted provocations at the most singularly irrational regime in the world:

This was not even his official policy. The rest of the Trump administration was trying to ratchet down tensions with North Korea. But the president himself was undermining the effort:

Republican Sen. Bob Corker, the widely respected chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, warned that the president was treating his office like “a reality show” and setting the country “on the path to World War III.” In an interview with the New York Times, he said of Trump, “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him.” These concerns, Corker told the Times, “were shared by nearly every Senate Republican.”

It’s not just Senate Republicans who worry over the president’s stability. Carl Bernstein, of Watergate fame, told CNN that his reporting found “a consensus developing in the military, at the highest levels in the intelligence community, among Republicans in Congress, including the leaders in the business community,” that Trump “is unfit to be the president of the United States.” A subsequent poll by the Military Times found only 30 percent of commissioned officers approved of the job Trump was doing.

The 7 Myths of the GOP Tax Bill

It will supercharge growth, help the middle class, and boost workers’ pay. Or will it?


President Trump, before speaking on tax reform in St. Louis, Missouri.

Republicans are making some heady claims about their hastily constructed, historically unpopular tax legislation. “If we do this, then America will win again like never, ever before,” President Trump said in a speech touting the legislation this week. “A vote to cut taxes is a vote to put America first again. We want to do that. We want to put America first again. It’s time to take care of our workers, to protect our communities, and to rebuild our great country.”

But a bipartisan group of leading economists have expressed some deep skepticism about many of the central claims the White House and congressional Republicans are making about the potential effects of the legislation. Below are the top seven myths they have put forward—and the evidence that disproves them.

1. The tax bill will pay for itself.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act remains a moving target, with congressional Republicans horse-trading different provisions into and out of the bill and work not yet done to reconcile differences between the House and the Senate versions. Still, the basic parameters are clear. On the household side, the bill would lower the rates charged in each tax bracket, expand the child tax credit, eliminate personal exemptions, and expand the standard deduction. On the business side, it would lower the corporate income tax rate dramatically, and create a big deduction or a special rate for “pass-through” businesses that pay individual income tax rates. It would also let businesses bring back foreign profits at a very low rate, and likely move the country to a territorial tax system, wherein companies pay taxes on profits generated in the United States, not worldwide.

All those rate reductions would mean that the Treasury would be taking in far less money from individuals and businesses. But Republican officials have insisted that the tax cuts would improve growth so much that they would pay for themselves, offsetting the revenue losses. “Not only will this tax plan pay for itself, but it will pay down debt,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin promised recently.

Not so, one of the country’s most respected, nonpolitical economic scorekeepers has said.

Why the UN is investigating extreme poverty … in America, the world’s richest nation

At the heart of Philip Alston’s special mission will be one question: can Americans enjoy fundamental human rights if they’re unable to meet basic living standards?


Deana Lucion, who lives in McDowell County, West Virginia. Life expectancy for men in McDowell County is 64 years old – the same as for men in Namibia.

The United Nations monitor on extreme poverty and human rights has embarked on a coast-to-coast tour of the US to hold the world’s richest nation – and its president – to account for the hardships endured by America’s most vulnerable citizens.

The tour, which kicked off on Friday morning, will make stops in four states as well as Washington DC and the US territory of Puerto Rico. It will focus on several of the social and economic barriers that render the American dream merely a pipe dream to millions – from homelessness in California to racial discrimination in the Deep South, cumulative neglect in Puerto Rico and the decline of industrial jobs in West Virginia.

With 41 million Americans officially in poverty according to the US Census Bureau (other estimates put that figure much higher), one aim of the UN mission will be to demonstrate that no country, however wealthy, is immune from human suffering induced by growing inequality. Nor is any nation, however powerful, beyond the reach of human rights law – a message that the US government and Donald Trump might find hard to stomach given their tendency to regard internal affairs as sacrosanct.

The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, is a feisty Australian and New York University law professor who has a fearsome track record of holding power to account. He tore a strip off the Saudi Arabian regime for its treatment of women months before the kingdom legalized their right to drive, denounced the Brazilian government for attacking the poor through austerity, and even excoriated the UN itself for importing cholera to Haiti.

The US is no stranger to Alston’s withering tongue, having come under heavy criticism from him for its program of drone strikes on terrorist targets abroad. In his previous role as UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Alston blamed the Obama administration and the CIA for killing many innocent civilians in attacks he said were of dubious international legality.

The Never-Ending Foreclosure

How can the country survive the next economic crash if millions of families still haven’t recovered from the last one?

In retrospect, refinancing their home was a bad idea. But the Santillan family never thought that it would lead them to foreclosure, or that they’d spend years bouncing among hotels and living in their car. The parents, Karina and Juan, never thought it would force three of their four children to leave the schools they’d been attending and take classes online, or require them to postpone college and their careers for years. They did not know they would still be recovering financially today, in 2017. “Having lived through everything I see life differently now,” Karina Santillan, who is now 47, told me. “I’m more cautious—I probably think through financial decisions three, four, five times.”

In the big picture, the U.S. economy has recovered from the Great Recession, which officially began a decade ago, in December of 2007. The current unemployment rate of 4.4 percent is lower than it was before the recession started, and there are more jobs in the economy than there were then (though the population is also bigger). But for some, the recession and its consequences are neverending, felt most strongly by families like the Santillans who lost jobs and homes. Understanding what these families have experienced, and why recovery has been so evasive, is key to assessing the economic risks the nation faces. Despite ever-sunnier economic conditions overall, the Great Recession is still rattling American families. When the next economic crisis hits, the losses could be even more profound. “There are people who still, to this day, are trying to get back on their feet,” Mark Zandi, the chief economist of Moody’s Analytics, told me. “These households are slowly finding their way back, but they’re still on a journey.”

Their struggles are present in the economic data, if you look closely enough. The labor-force participation rate, which measures the share of working-age adults who either have jobs or are looking for them, fell sharply during the recession, and remains at a decades-long low, at 62 percent. Lower-income families aren’t just not doing better; they are actually doing worse: The average household income of the bottom 20 percent of Americans fell $571 between 2006 and 2016, according to Census data, while for the top 20 percent of Americans it grew by $13,749.

The housing market, too, has not fully recovered from the recession. Although population growth means there are 8 million more households in the country than there were in 2006, there now are 400,000 fewer homeowners. Before the recession, the homeownership rate in the United States was 69 percent, according to the Federal Reserve. Now, it’s 63 percent. A drop of six percentage points may seem small, but it represents a tremendous amount of pain and suffering for the millions of families who once had homes and no longer do. These are all families, like the Santillans, who saw the money they had accumulated disappear, who saw their credit scores ruined, who have not caught back up to where they once were.

Perhaps worse, millions of families like the Santillans essentially put their lives on hold for years during the recession, figuring out how to survive rather than how to thrive.

A Nobel laureate explains why we get the bad economic policies we deserve

QZ&A


Economic fights.

Over the past decade, reams of research by economists has been devoted to investigating why they failed to foresee the financial crisis, among other things economics has recently gotten wrong. This soul-searching has produced new theories, models, and policies, but it hasn’t fully repaired the reputation of the field. As time passes and the effects of the crisis fade, people still find it hard to trust economists.

The latest effort to improve public opinion of economics comes from Jean Tirole, winner of the Nobel prize in economics in 2014. The Frenchman’s latest book, Economics for the Common Good (Princeton University Press), is a 560-page manifesto on how the profession can get back on track.

The timing of the book—published in English this month after its original release in French last year—is pertinent. The relationship between economics and politics is starting to unravel. Over the past year, many have sought to explain Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, and the rise of far-right and far-left politics in Europe using economic arguments. But it’s becoming clear that economics alone does not explain the situation. If the questions at the root of public life are no longer answered by the famous political dictum, “It’s the economy, stupid,” where does that leave economists?

The Recruiters: Searching For The Next Generation Of Warfighters In A Divided America

On a muggy Tuesday afternoon in August, Staff Sgt. Justin McDonald, a U.S. Army soldier with the Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Battalion, was piloting a government-issued Dodge minivan through northeast New Jersey, giving me a tour of his sector, when a man suddenly appeared in the road. He was tall and sinewy, wearing a bright red do-rag, and he had a pistol tucked into his waistband. Or at least that’s what I discerned through the fabric of his dirty white tank top. It could’ve been a water gun, or a banana. Whatever it was, he was clutching it with one hand while motioning for us to stop with the other.

“What the fuck does this guy want?” McDonald said to his two colleagues sitting in the back seat, cracking the window as he eased up on the gas. The occasional gesture of hostility goes with the territory — a routine professional liability when you’re trying to induct new Army recruits after 16 years of war, in one of the more economically challenged neighborhoods on the East Coast. But McDonald, a 29-year-old combat vet and native of Arizona, was in a scrappy mood. He repeated the question, but this time to the guy in the road, who responded by using both of his fists to smash the driver’s side mirror, sledgehammer-style.

After driving away, McDonald dutifully reported the incident to the police, and by the time we pulled up to the recruiting center located in a strip mall in East Orange, a city of public housing projects and dilapidated rowhouses in New Jersey’s Essex County, he had cast himself as the fearless hero of the story. “Y’all were so scared,” he teased the two other recruiters in the minivan, trying unsuccessfully to goad them into a friendly game of whose-balls-are-bigger.

I was there to observe McDonald and his colleagues as they went about the delicate business of identifying and enlisting the next generation of America’s war fighters. Despite the challenges, the East Orange arm of the Mid-Atlantic Recruiting Battalion’s Newark Company has quietly emerged as an unlikely success story at a time when the Army is struggling to grow its ranks at a record pace. I wanted to see how they did it. Before our conversation was interrupted by the guy in the red do-rag, McDonald had been letting me in on one of his secrets: playing Pokémon GO as a way to engage local youth in informal settings. “Not to brag or anything,” he said, “but I’m pretty good.”

Don’t be fooled by China’s grand plan to rule the world

Nope


Man with a plan.

China has a master plan to oust the US as preeminent global superpower—and this time it just might work. That’s according to the Washington Post’s David Ignatius (paywall), citing two Pentagon briefs.

“There’s an eerie sense in today’s world that China is racing to capture the commanding heights of technology and trade. Meanwhile, under the banner of ‘America first,’ the Trump administration is protecting coal-mining jobs and questioning climate science,” he concludes. “Sorry, friends, but this is how empires rise and fall.”

One of the studies Ignatius cites pegs funding for China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)—the signature plan of Chinese Communist Party chairman Xi Jinping to rebuild the old Silk Road trade route through central Asia—at $1 trillion. The program will involve at least 64 countries. By comparison, the Marshall Plan, through which the US established power in Europe after World War II, ponied up only around $150 billion in current dollars, primarily flowing to just six countries.

The “China is taking over the world” meme is a perennial one. As usual, this argument overlooks what’s happening within China’s borders. That includes: a credit-driven growth model that has left debt growing faster than the economy, the continued dominance of inefficient state-owned enterprises (SOEs) at the expense of dynamic private firms, and a fiscal system that depends on a housing bubble to sustain it.

True Story: I Was A Hippie In San Francisco In The Sixties

Hippies. Woodstock, marijuana, casual unsanitary sex under picnic tables with people named “Daydream Sunshine” — movies have given us a very specific image of the hippie. But as is so often the case, reality is nothing like the Hollywood version. We spoke with Sam, who lived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco back in 1966. He was a hippie living at the very heart of Hippie-dom. Here’s what he told us …

6. A Lot Of Hippies Were Actually Homophobic


Sam moved to California for the same reason as millions of others before him: There was not a lot going on in the Midwest. He read about “the Haight” in a magazine, and saw an NBC special on the burgeoning hippie movement in the area. He got what he’d expected: “During the first few years, it kept that atmosphere of love and peace. There are movies that show hippies partying in the streets all the time, but it wasn’t like that. Believe it or not, many of us worked. There were some of us who spent all day in the park, playing guitar, but we had odd jobs that felt more like running errands than real work. I helped bring marijuana down from Humboldt [County] a few times.”

Haight-Ashbury was essentially a slum by the early 1960s. It drew in so many hippies because the rent was affordable for people whose resumes included “weed aficionado” and “love.” But while it sure did house a lot of hippies, some were less welcome than others. “A lot of hippies hated the gays. If you ever heard of Harvey Milk, a lot of hippies didn’t like him, solely because he was gay. That whole lifestyle shook hippies as much as any regular person back then. [When the biopic Milk] came out, they got so much wrong with that. One scene had his people cheering that that they could get Haight-Ashbury, but they really couldn’t. Hippies were more on their side than most, but many still hated them. It was just the times. The police hated us, but they hated them more. I clearly remember not once but twice when hippies I knew who lived down the street helped the police try to stop a gay march.”

Yes, hippies helped the cops bash gays. People might reject societal norms about bathing and working a 9-5 gig, but that doesn’t make them “not assholes.” There was a lot of anger and hate behind parts of the hippie movement. “You’ve probably heard of the Weather Underground, but they were more on the extreme side. But go down a few notches, and there were still a lot of hippies willing to destroy things to get their point across. Many of us were peaceful and were seen as harmless, but these kinds gave trouble. Some were communists, which in the ’60s was pretty suspect. Others were antiwar, which meant half the country, including most of the police, were against you. Some others liked the lifestyle, but still wanted to see things explode.”

A Generation in Japan Faces a Lonely Death


A huge government apartment complex in Tokiwadaira, Japan, has become known for lonely deaths.

Cicadas, every Japanese schoolchild knows, lie underground for years before rising to the earth’s surface in summer. They climb up the nearest tree, where they cast off their shells and start their short second lives. During their few days among us, they mate, fly and cry. They cry until their bodies are found on the ground, twitching in their last moments, or on their backs with their legs pointing upward.

Chieko Ito hated the din they made. They had just started shrieking, as they always did in early summer, and the noise would keep getting louder in the weeks to come, invading her third-floor apartment, making any kind of silence impossible. As one species of cicadas quieted down, another’s distinct cry would take over. Then, as the insects peaked in numbers, showers of dead and dying cicadas would rain down on her enormous housing complex, stopping only with the end of summer itself.

“You hear them from morning to evening,” she sighed.

It was the afternoon of her 91st birthday, and unusually hot, part of a heat wave that had community leaders worried. Elderly volunteers had been winding through the labyrinth of footpaths, distributing leaflets on the dangers of heatstroke to the many hundreds of residents like Mrs. Ito who lived alone in 171 nearly identical white buildings. With no families or visitors to speak of, many older tenants spent weeks or months cocooned in their small apartments, offering little hint of their existence to the world outside their doors. And each year, some of them died without anyone knowing, only to be discovered after their neighbors caught the smell.

Awkward eye-contact in my therapist’s waiting room made me a better co-worker

Everyone’s Got Issues


Time to start seeing each other as humans.

The therapy waiting room is one of my favorite places.

True, it can be awkward to sit in a holding pen for people who have issues (though that’s essentially every room ever). If you’re lucky, the waiting area at your therapist’s office is filled with plants, cloth-covered Ikea lamps, and zen bird sounds. If you’re unlucky, you make eye-contact with someone else—literally anyone else—in the room.

I see the same three or four people in the waiting room every week. There’s the couple who arrive separately, but always leave their sessions giggling and hugging. Knowing that their nuptial bliss is imperfect gives me joy. Then there’s the younger woman with straightened hair, endlessly scrolling through Instagram and looking like she came out of a Madewell catalogue. She annoys me the most, probably because she could be my twin. My favorite is the befuddled business man, probably mid-40s, who usually spends at least five minutes signing checks and then reads Love in the Time of Cholera. I’ll be sad when he finishes the book.

Quietly judging people is something of a pastime for me, wherever I am. But there’s something different about the way I judge, and see, my therapy waiting-room cohort. I have nothing to forgive them for, but I forgive them—for tapping their feet; for turning their earphones up too loud; for being genuinely happy; for being unapologetically sad. I do not know their lives, but I have true empathy for them—for their broken relationships; for their loneliness; for the harm they’ve endured; for their fears, anxieties, and attempts to feel better, all communicated through that glance we share as they exit the room, and I enter.

Lately I’ve been trying to bring a similar approach to how I see people at work.

‘Who is the queen?’ And other ways to get talking to strangers

Introvert Jessica Pan was advised to overcome her fear of talking to strangers by asking stupid questions. But would it work?


Jessica Pan: ‘I can’t seem to get past small talk.’

I sit down next to a man at a train station. He’s staring at his phone and doesn’t notice me taking the seat next to him on the platform. I take a deep breath. “Hi,” I say to him. He recoils in surprise. He clutches his bag slightly closer. This has happened a lot in the past month.

A few years ago, I found a box of badges at my local cafe in London. I picked one up. It read: “I Talk To Strangers.” I chucked it back immediately, afraid someone had seen me holding it. It might as well have said: “I Eat Spiders.”

For me, talking to strangers is something you do as a last resort: lost in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, dead phone, broken leg, typhoon – and only if these things happen all at once.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. During rush hour, we all stand squashed on public transport, essentially spooning, in total silence. Sure, I’ll shove my face into your armpit, but talk to you? It’s just not done.

Intrigued, I actually kept one of those I Talk To Strangers badges, though. It had occurred to me that “chatty tourist” would be a great Halloween costume with which to frighten Londoners. Then I forgot about it for years, until I read an article citing surprising research; apparently, when people are forced to talk to strangers, it makes them happier.

Five ways to fix statistics

As debate rumbles on about how and how much poor statistics is to blame for poor reproducibility, Nature asked influential statisticians to recommend one change to improve science. The common theme? The problem is not our maths, but ourselves.

JEFF LEEK: Adjust for human cognition

To use statistics well, researchers must study how scientists analyse and interpret data and then apply that information to prevent cognitive mistakes.

In the past couple of decades, many fields have shifted from data sets with a dozen measurements to data sets with millions. Methods that were developed for a world with sparse and hard-to-collect information have been jury-rigged to handle bigger, more-diverse and more-complex data sets. No wonder the literature is now full of papers that use outdated statistics, misapply statistical tests and misinterpret results. The application of P values to determine whether an analysis is interesting is just one of the most visible of many shortcomings.

It’s not enough to blame a surfeit of data and a lack of training in analysis1. It’s also impractical to say that statistical metrics such as P values should not be used to make decisions. Sometimes a decision (editorial or funding, say) must be made, and clear guidelines are useful.

The root problem is that we know very little about how people analyse and process information. An illustrative exception is graphs. Experiments show that people struggle to compare angles in pie charts yet breeze through comparative lengths and heights in bar charts2. The move from pies to bars has brought better understanding.

We need to appreciate that data analysis is not purely computational and algorithmic — it is a human behaviour. In this case, the behaviour is made worse by training that was developed for a data-poor era. This framing will enable us to address practical problems. For instance, how do we reduce the number of choices an analyst has to make without missing key features in a data set? How do we help researchers to explore data without introducing bias?

The Surprising Evolution of Dinosaur Drawings

Since the 1800s, paleoartists have tried to imagine what prehistoric creatures looked like—with wildly different results.


ndrey Atuchin’s depiction of Deinocheirus mirificus (right) and other dinosaurs in Titan Books’ Dinosaur Art II: The Cutting Edge of Paleoart

Many people visit the fossil hall at Chicago’s Field Museum for the dinosaurs; but a certain kind of art lover goes for the murals. Originally painted by the famed wildlife artist Charles R. Knight in the late 1920s, each of the hall’s 28 murals presents an elegantly composed moment in time: armored squid tossed onto a desolate Ordovician beach, a duel between Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, saber-toothed cats snarling at flocks of giant vulture-like Teratornis. There’s a dreamy quality to the images, impressionistic landscapes blending with vibrant animal figures. It doesn’t quite matter that the renderings are now scientifically out of date; they’re convincingly alive.

Such works of paleoart—a genre that uses fossil evidence to reconstruct vanished worlds—directly shape the way humans imagine the distant past. It’s an easy form to define but a tricky one to work in. Paleontological accuracy is a moving target, with the posture and life appearance of fossil species constantly reshuffled by new discoveries and scientific arguments. Old ideas can linger long after researchers have moved on, while some artists’ wild speculations are proved correct decades after the fact. Depictions of extinct animals exist in the gap between the knowable and the unknowable, and two recent books, Paleoart: Visions of the Prehistoric Past and Dinosaur Art II: The Cutting Edge of Paleoart, probe the different ways creators have tried to bridge that divide.

As The Atlantic’s Ross Andersen wrote in a piece about paleoart in 2015, “To contemplate a dinosaur is to slip from the present, to travel in time, deep into the past, to see the Earth as it was tens, if not hundreds, of millions of years ago.” Paleoart, published by Taschen this fall, is primarily focused on how this past appeared to artists starting in the 19th century, when the genre first took root. A lavishly reproduced gallery of 160 years of prehistory-themed art, the book includes a series of short contextual essays from its author, the journalist Zoë Lescaze. Many of the animals presented in Paleoart may look odd to the modern eye: bloated, skeletal, or dragging their tails in the scientific fashion of the time. Lescaze doesn’t spend much time reflecting on the changing paleontological ideas that informed the drawings and paintings, though. “I came at the artwork through a more cultural lens,” Lescaze told me. “How they might reflect the political events of that period, or events in that artist’s own personal biography, and other techniques that any art historian would bring to a work of fine art.”

The oldest entries in the genre, in particular, illuminate how paleoart can reflect both political and aesthetic movements, Lescaze said. The first formal reconstructions of extinct animals appeared in the 1800s, around the time the first Mesozoic fossils came under scientific study. Europe was in tumult, with empires wrangling over colonial territory, and discoveries around biodiversity, extinction, and evolution were coming at a blinding pace. As such, reconstructions often took on an allegorical cast. The French artist Édouard Riou depicted marine reptiles such as Plesiosaurus and Ichthyosaurus squaring off like warships on the high seas, perhaps reacting to the naval battles of the Napoleonic wars, according to Lescaze. In the apocalyptic watercolors of John Martin, nightmarish beasts writhed and flailed in the antediluvian ooze. The artist Benjamin Waterhouse Hawkins thrilled Victorian Britain with paintings and sculptures of dinosaurs presiding as regal monarchs over tropical kingdoms full of lesser reptiles.

THE STRANGE TALE OF THE LOST CALIFORNIA SPHINX

After nearly a century, the shifting red dunes of California’s Central Coast are giving up their final secrets. For 10 days in November, archaeologists used shovels, horsehair brushes, and gallons of quick-hardening foam to unearth and remove a nearly complete Egyptian sphinx from the sands of Guadalupe, CA.

Rather than the North African limestone that gives the Great Sphinx of Giza its form, however, the Cali sphinx is constructed of plaster.


The partially uncovered head of the sphinx being recovered near Guadalupe, CA.

It’s is also nowhere near as ancient as its Egyptian cousin. The Guadalupe sphinx is likely the last remnant of a colossal movie set constructed here in 1923 by the legendary director Cecil B. DeMille, for his black-and-white silent movie The Ten Commandments. At the time, it was one of the largest movie sets ever built, consisting of a pharaoh’s gate some 12 stories tall and 720 ft long, with 21 sphinxes arrayed down a perpendicular corridor, where hundreds of actors and extras reenacted scenes of Biblical bondage.


The set of the Cecil B. DeMille epic The Ten Commandments (1923)

A team of six archaeologists and restoration experts worked from dawn till dusk, exercising extreme care not to step on any of the federally protected rare plants that grow here. Because of those plants, and the western snowy plover, a small, ecologically threatened bird which also lives here, the dunes have been protected since the 1970s. That’s one reason it took so long for the excavation to occur. It’s also an important area to local indigenous groups. A monitor representing the Northern Chumash watched over the dig, should any tribal artifacts be uncovered. When I visited in November, a sense of extreme urgency had set in. The three-day forecast called for rain, which would likely destroy the sphinx forever.

DOES TAPPING ON A SHAKEN SODA CAN ACTUALLY REDUCE FIZZ?

Michael P. asks: Does tapping on the top of a shaken pop can really prevent it from fizzing up?

For the uninitiated, it’s commonly held that when opening a recently shaken can of soda, you can avoid, or at least reduce, the inevitable shower of sugary carbonated liquid by simply tapping the top or side of the can briskly with your finger a couple dozen times. So does tapping the can actually do anything?

Well, we looked far and wide for a definitive answer to this question and came up empty, so decided to run an experiment ourselves to find out the answer.

Now, to be clear, certainly there are many otherwise reputable sources throwing out an opinion on this one on both sides of the argument, but, outside of Snopes, nobody seems to have bothered to experimentally test whether tapping the can does anything. And as for Snopes, while they technically did do an experiment, this was a reported sample-size of just three runs (although they do allude to “a variety of experiments” not reported).

It is possible one doesn’t need a large sample size here to get meaningful results, so perhaps three runs is a perfectly sufficient sample. However, Snopes gives no hard quantitative data (only anecdotal observations) on this one, and did not necessarily shake each of the cans the exact same way (though did time it and presumably the shaking was approximately the same if they had the same person shaking each time). But needless to say, while Snopes’ conclusion may end up being perfectly correct, we weren’t really comfortable stating it as a definitive answer here given the way the experiment was conducted and lack of hard data.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn just became the fourth — and potentially the most important — person charged in Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s investigation into whether the Trump administration colluded with Russia during and after the election.

Back in February 2016, Flynn, a retired three-star general, was one of the first high-level people to join Trump’s campaign, later making him a senior member of the transition team. And just 10 days after the election, Trump had already named Flynn as national security adviser, a role that would give him nearly unfettered access to White House secrets.

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

Curl up and enjoy the Mike Flynn “Lock Her Up” Yule Log, just in time for the holiday season!

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

Despite his affinity for sitting, some are questioning whether or not the President is off his rocker.

A golf magazine proved that the President has a history of dropping the p-bomb outside of ‘Access Hollywood’ busses.

The authority on anger Lewis Black rants about Trump’s bill and sexual harassment news amid his Joke’s On US Tour.

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

Now that we’re done binging Season 2 of Stranger Things, we turn our attention to the most vital question no one ever asked in Season 1. (Hint: it’s not “What Happened to Barb”)

2 cats + 200 colored balls = lots of FUN!

Max decided he was going to be a tornado of destruction during my lunch break Friday.

FINALLY . . .

Geo-engineering can stop global warming, at least in theory

But doubts persist over the possible risks


An eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines in 1991 cooled the planet by dumping 20 million tons of sulphur dioxide in the stratosphere.


Climate scientists now know that geo-engineering — in principle at least — would halt global warming and keep the world at the temperatures it will reach by 2020.

It is simple: inject millions of tons of sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere at carefully chosen locations, and keep on doing so for as long as humans continue to burn fossil fuels and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

The desired effect: global temperatures will be contained because the pollutants in the upper atmosphere will dim the sun’s light and counteract the greenhouse effect of all the carbon dioxide pumped from power stations, vehicle exhausts, factory chimneys and burning forests.

It won’t be the perfect answer. The oceans will go on becoming more acidic, and the skies will become subtly darker. Rainfall patterns could be affected. Repairs to the ozone layer — an invisible shield against dangerous ultraviolet radiation — would be slowed.

The volumes of sulphate aerosols that would need to be flown to stratospheric heights and released each year would continue to grow as humans went on burning ever more fossil fuels.

The technical and energy demands of such an operation would be colossal. There could be serious geopolitical problems about the impacts and responsibility for such decisions. But, at least in principle, researchers now believe geo-engineering could be made to work.

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