January 7, 2018 in 4,195 words

A question of citizenship


The Trump administration may be about to toss The Resistance a New Year’s hand grenade.

The left-leaning website ProPublica last week reported that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has sent a letter to the U.S. Census Bureau asking that a question be added to the 2020 census: Are you a citizen of the United States? (Exact wording to be determined)

Observers say the addition “could depress participation by immigrants who fear that the government could use information against them,” according to the story.

“That, in turn, could have potentially large ripple effects for everything the once-a-decade census determines — from how congressional seats are distributed around the country to where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent,” the story added.

The letter, which was written by Arthur E. Gary, General Counsel of the DOJ’s Justice Management division and addressed to Ron Jarmin, the Census Bureau’s acting director, said the DOJ wanted the citizenship question included to help it enforce the Voting Rights Act’s “protections against discrimination in voting.”

The ProPublica story was written by Justin Elliott, a reporter with the website whose oeuvre over the past year consists largely of stories critical of the Trump administration.

And the piece on the citizenship question is no exception.

Four things Trump could spend $18 billion on instead of a border wall

Off The Wall


That’s a lot of concrete.

US president Donald Trump announced this week that he wants $18 billion to pay for the first phase of a planned wall along the border of the US and Mexico. Despite insisting throughout his campaign that Mexico would cough up the funds, Trump has outlined the administration’s plans for how much it would cost to build it themselves. (He’s still sticking to the line that Mexico will pay for it “in some form,” however.)

There are lots of reasons why this is a huge waste of money. Apprehensions of migrants trying to cross the border illegally are at an all-time low, while about a quarter of all illegal immigrants in the 12 months ending Sept. 1 were stopped at legal ports of entry, like airports. A wall would do nothing to stop those flows. There’s also no evidence that an unpatrolled barrier would actually deter border crossings in the first place.

There are, however, lots of reasons to use that $18 billion elsewhere. Here are few timely ways it could be spent, ranging from the serious to the fanciful:

End homelessness

Feeling chilly? Few populations suffer the cold more than the roughly 565,000 homeless Americans. Finding housing for them is a complex problem, but it’s not impossible to solve, especially if the solution involves more than simply handing over housing vouchers. If other services were offered, like job training and drug and alcohol treatment, the US could work to minimize the cause of the problem. Permanently addressing homeless could be done for about $20 billion annually, according to a US housing official (paywall)—but given Trump’s self-proclaimed negotiating savvy, he surely could get it down to $18 billion.

Did Jeff Sessions Just Increase the Odds Congress Will Make Marijuana Legal?


The attorney general has created intolerable uncertainty for a growing industry that is now demanding legal protections from Congress. And lawmakers are listening.

When Jeff Sessions announced Thursday morning he had removed the barrier that had held back federal prosecutors from pursuing marijuana cases in states that had made pot legal, he delivered on something he had all but promised when he was nominated as attorney general. Most of the marijuana world saw it coming, but they freaked out anyway.

A fund of marijuana-based stocks dropped more than 9 percent in value and, as a sign of how mainstream marijuana has become, Sessions’ decision to repeal the Cole Memo, an Obama-era protection for states that have legalized marijuana, even affected the stock price of Scotts Miracle-Gro Company, which dropped more than 5 percent. Business leaders in an industry that was worth $7.9 billion in 2017, called Sessions’ action revoking “outrageous” and “economically stupid.”

Capitol Hill screamed just as loudly. And it wasn’t just the Democratic members of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus. It was Republican senators, too. Cory Gardner of Colorado took the Senate floor to issue an ultimatum to Sessions: “I will be putting a hold on every single nomination from the Department of Justice until Attorney General Jeff Sessions lives up to the commitment he made to me in my pre-confirmation meeting with him. The conversation we had that was specifically about this issue of states’ rights in Colorado. Until he lives up to that commitment, I’ll be holding up all nominations of the Department of Justice,” Gardner said. “The people of Colorado deserve answers. The people of Colorado deserve to be respected.” Gardner is no fringe Republican; he’s the chair of the NRSC.

Even members who had been silent on the issue in the past vowed to squeeze the Department of Justice’s budget. Jeanne Shaheen, Democrat from New Hampshire, reminding reporters she’s the lead Democrat on the Department of Justice funding subcommittee, tweeted: “I’ll work to ensure that resources are devoted to opioid response NOT foolish policy of interfering with legal marijuana production.” Most of the Congressional leadership was silent on this issue, but not House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who issued a blistering statement against Sessions, saying that she would push for an amendment in the new spending bill to protect states that had legalized not just medical marijuana but recreational use too, a move that could make ongoing budget negotiations much more tense.

Forget politics—weather is now dividing America into red and blue states

A New Low


A nation divided—by temperature.

The East Coast of the US has been plunged into a deep freeze. Waterfalls are icing over, sharkicles are washing ashore, and frozen iguanas are dropping from the trees. The cold snap is expected to continue this weekend, with temperatures forecast to be nearly 20°F below normal.

Meanwhile, the opposite is taking place out west, with temperatures this weekend predicted to be a toasty 20°F above average. Sudden thaws are bursting pipes in Calgary, warming waters are threatening ice jams in the Missouri River in Montana, and rain, not snow, is falling in Oregon’s mountains, closing ski areas and jeopardizing some of the region’s water supplies.

The contrasting conditions have given rise to a country almost perfectly divided between red and blue states—by temperature. As this Washington Post weather map shows, temperatures are diverging from normal on either end of the country:

The sharp division is a result of the behavior of the polar jet stream, the fast-flowing current of air that moves west to east across the northern hemisphere, and which can serve as a barrier separating weather patterns. Recently the jet stream has been sitting far north above the western half of North America, which allows warm air from the Pacific Ocean to move over the western states before dipping south over the eastern states. On the eastern side of the continent, however, the cold air is being held in place by the so-called bomb-cyclone in the Atlantic.

Macron’s War on ‘Fake News’

The French president wants to ban the spread of misinformation during the country’s election campaigns—but who will decide which news is fake?


French President Emmanuel Macron addresses members of the press corps at the Élysée Palace in Paris on January 3, 2018.

World leaders and information gatekeepers have struggled to determine how best to address the epidemic of “fake news.” French President Emmanuel Macron joined the struggle this week, providing his own solution for how to curb the spread of misinformation online: Make it illegal.

In a Wednesday address to journalists at the Élysée Palace, the French president announced his plan to introduce legislation that would curb the spread of misinformation during the country’s future election campaigns—a lofty goal he said would be made possible by enforcing more media transparency and blocking offending sites. “Thousands of propaganda accounts on social networks are spreading all over the world, in all languages, lies invented to tarnish political officials, personalities, public figures, journalists,” Macron said, adding that “if we want to protect liberal democracies, we must have strong legislation.”

Though the exact details of the proposed bill are not yet known, Macron said the law—which would apply only during campaigns—would boost transparency online by mandating that social media platforms must reveal who is paying for sponsored content, as well as impose a cap on how much can be spent. He said judges would be empowered to take down false content and even block access to websites where such content appears. The country’s media watchdog, the CSA, would be given additional powers to “fight any destabilization attempt by television channels controlled or influenced by foreign states.”

The issue is a personal one for Macron. As a presidential candidate last spring, Macron faced since-debunked rumors that he had a secret offshore bank account in the Caribbean. His campaign also suffered a “massive, coordinated” cyberattack just 48 hours before the final round of the French presidential election. The hack, which resulted in the release of tens of thousands of internal emails and documents, was linked to a group with ties to the Russian government, though Moscow denied involvement in the hack. It wasn’t a denial Macron appeared to believe. During his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin just two weeks into his term, Macron used a joint news conference to blast Russian media outlets Russia Today and Sputnik as “agents of influence and propaganda,” which he accused of spreading “falsehoods about me and my campaign.”

China to move millions of people from homes in anti-poverty drive

Mass relocation from remote rural villages is part of Xi Jinping’s goal of eradicating extreme poverty by 2020.


A child in Padangshang, an isolated hilltop hamlet in south-west China.

Xiao Ercha lives in a tumbledown shanty beside a pigsty, thousands of kilometres and a world away from the awe-inspiring skyscrapers of Beijing and Shanghai.

Tatty mosquito nets hang from the bamboo poles propping up its cracked asbestos roof; kittens and chickens scuttle across the shack’s earthen floor. Xiao shakes his head when asked to name the leader of his nation, the second largest economy on earth.

“Xi Jinping who?” the 57-year-old farmer replies. “I recognise his face from the television – but I don’t know his name.”

That is about to change. For Xiao, who was born and raised in this tiny mountaintop hamlet near China’s southwestern borders with Myanmar and Laos, is one of millions of impoverished Chinese citizens being relocated as part of an ambitious and politically-charged push to “eradicate” extreme poverty in the world’s most populous nation.

Over the next three years Xi Jinping’s anti-poverty crusade – which the Communist party leader has declared one of the key themes of his second five-year term – will see millions of marginalised rural dwellers resettled in new, government-subsidised homes.

5 Boneheaded Conspiracy Theories You Had No Clue Existed

When you ask people what their favorite conspiracy theories are, it’s always the same old songs — the moon landing was fake, the British monarchy are all lizards, Tom Cruise is actually two small border collies in a tall coat, etc. People love tuning out the classics, but what about all the new conspiracies? Here’s a hipster’s guide to the indie darlings that are making their way onto the tinfoil hat scene right now. This is your chance to catch these up-and-comers before they start popping up on pieces of cardboard near you.

#5. Anti-Vaxxers … For Pets


Of all the conspiracy nutjobs, anti-vaxxers are the most dangerous. Sure, Holocaust deniers and 9/11 truthers rant and rave like their skulls got infested by an ant colony that has figured out the tastiest parts of the brain are the ones that govern logic, reason, and how to speak at a normal volume, but words are all they have. Anti-vaccination advocates, however, are often parents who consciously put children in danger, all to prove that they’re smarter than nine out of ten doctors. But what about anti-vaxxers who don’t have children? How can they inflict their irresponsible delusions of superiority on someone too small and stupid to defend themselves?

They get a pet.

“Have you ever noticed that vaccinated dogs never develop verbal skills? Exactly.”

As long as some pet owners treat their domesticated beasts like the children they should never have, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that human medical trends have a tendency to spill over to the world of veterinary medicine. The anti-vaccination panic is no exception. Over the last few years, some vets started noticing an increase in pet owners refusing to inoculate their puppies and kittens against serious illnesses. Dog owners in particular are being overprotective, believing that vaccinating their precious pooches could cause them to develop arthritis, epilepsy, cancer, and even autism. A creature that gladly shits on the floor having a hard time picking up on social cues? How do you even diagnose that?

One of such prominent dogshit spreaders is Catherine O’Driscoll, founder of the Canadian Canine Health Concern nonsense foundation. O’Driscoll keeps an extensive blog in the hopes of convincing other pet owners to let their dogs experience “natural canine healthcare” — which is just Darwinism. She believes firmly that because of wanton injections, her “dogs are becoming allergic to life,” but we’re sure Catherine has that effect on people as well. How else could she explain how her dogs were all dying before their time? Definitely has nothing to do with the fact that her Labrador purebreds are riddled with genetic defects like they’re incestuous Spanish nobles from the 17th century. No, it must be all that medicine that’s making them sick.

How do you treat addiction when abstinence isn’t an option?

Hook, Online, And Sinker


Can’t put it down.

Treating addiction is never easy. Though some psychologists do question whether abstinence is the only option, conventional wisdom dictates that recovery is impossible without going cold turkey. Once they’re sober, recovered alcoholics aim to stay sober. One they’re off drugs, former opioid addicts don’t casually use medicinal marijuana, but instead work to stay clean for life.

However, there are new forms of behavioral addictions in which abstinence is quite simply impossible.

This week, the World Health Organization declared that it would officially recognize “gaming disorder” as a distinct mental health condition in the upcoming 11th International Classification of Diseases. Those who develop an unhealthy relationship with games won’t be able to avoid them entirely if they do try to cut back, as games permeate the internet and crop up quite unexpectedly on various websites.

“It feels like everything bit by bit becomes gamified,” says Richard Graham, a psychiatrist at Nightingale Hospital in London who specializes in technology addiction. “You can’t even shop without it being like a roulette wheel where you’re trying to win your weekly shopping.” When the web devolves into one all-encompassing game you have to play to partake in society, how can you abstain?

Then there’s the related phenomenon of internet addiction, which is not yet formally classified as a distinct disorder, but is increasingly recognized as a behavioral compulsion that impedes the lives of many. Internet addiction is a broad condition that includes an unhealthy relationship with online porn, shopping, and social media. “It becomes absolutely ridiculous to ask people to live without the internet when you do your banking, shopping, communication on it. We have to look at a different model,” Graham says.

The Looming Digital Meltdown

For computer security professionals, 2018 started with a bang. A new class of security vulnerability — a variety of flaws that affect almost all major microprocessor chips, and that could enable hackers to steal information from personal computers as well as cloud computing services — was announced on Wednesday. The news prompted a rush of fixes, ruining the holiday vacations of system administrators worldwide.

For an ordinary computer user, there is not much to panic about right now. Just keep your software updated so you receive the fixes. And consider installing an ad-blocker like uBlock Origin to protect against ads that carry malware that could exploit these vulnerabilities. That is about all you can do.

However, as a citizen of a world in which digital technology is increasingly integrated into all objects — not just phones but also cars, baby monitors and so on — it is past time to panic.

We have built the digital world too rapidly. It was constructed layer upon layer, and many of the early layers were never meant to guard so many valuable things: our personal correspondence, our finances, the very infrastructure of our lives. Design shortcuts and other techniques for optimization — in particular, sacrificing security for speed or memory space — may have made sense when computers played a relatively small role in our lives. But those early layers are now emerging as enormous liabilities. The vulnerabilities announced last week have been around for decades, perhaps lurking unnoticed by anyone or perhaps long exploited.

People have spent centuries trying to prove caffeine is dangerous, but the science suggests otherwise

*sips tea*

When Davis Cripe died in his South Carolina classroom last May, it was a shock to everyone who knew him. He just 16, and healthy. His death made no sense, especially when the coroner said that he’d been killed by a substance most of us consume daily: caffeine.

It’s well-known that caffeine can, in extreme cases, be deadly. About 10 grams of the stuff will kill most people, making caffeine powder an easily accessible (albeit incredibly uncommon and likely painful) choice for suicide. But a typical cup of coffee has less than 100 milligrams—or just 0.1 grams—of caffeine. In other words, you’d need to drink 100 cups of coffee in rapid succession to hit the deadly dose.

For people without underlying medical conditions, it’s exceptionally hard to die from drinking caffeinated beverages because of how (relatively) little caffeine they contain. This is something King Gustav III of Sweden found out in the 18th century, when he conducted an experiment to see whether tea or coffee kills faster. Both test subjects lived well into old age, far outliving King Gustav and the researchers conducting the experiment.

The local coroner said his staff determined Cripe had died from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia.” It wasn’t from downing a succession of caffeine pills; it was, the coroner said, because Cripe drank a combination of a large Mountain Dew, some unknown energy drink, and a cafe latte within a few hours.

Cassette tape sales had their best year since 2012

hanks to the soundtracks for Guardians of the Galaxy and Stranger Things

Nielsen Media Research released its annual Music Year-End Report for 2017. It found that audiences are increasingly turning to on-demand streaming to get their music, while sales in physical media is declining. But some formats are experiencing a boost: sales of cassette tapes have increased, hitting their best year since 2012.

Cassette Tapes are in the midst of a revival: Nielsen reported last year that sales rose 74 percent to 129,000 units sold. That uptick was led by albums such as the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack, which featured the classic cassette tape prominently in the 2014 film. This year, those numbers rose further: Nielsen says that retailers sold 174,000 units, up 35 percent from last year’s numbers.

R.I.P. astronaut John Young, the first man to get yelled at for smuggling a sandwich into space

CNN is reporting that John Young—one of the most celebrated astronauts in the history of American spaceflight—has died today, at the age of 87. It would be hard to overestimate Young’s influence on the NASA program; as the organization’s longest-serving active astronaut, he flew on the Gemini missions, piloted the Space Shuttle, and is one of only three people who’ve ever been to the moon on two separate occasions. Despite those storied accomplishments, Young never got as much name recognition as your Neil Armstrongs or your John Glenns. But he does hold one absolutely amazing record that deserves to be memorialized today, in a spirit of acknowledging the importance of playfulness (and hunger) in humanity’s journey toward the stars: He was the first man to get yelled at by Congress for smuggling a corned beef sandwich into space.

The inciting incident in question occurred on March 23, 1965, while Young and fellow astronaut Gus Grissom were orbiting the Earth as part of the Gemini 3 mission. The duo were meant, in part, to be testing how astronauts might be able to eat in space; hence Grissom’s slight surprise when his co-pilot suddenly pulled an unauthorized corned beef sandwich out of his pocket. Here’s the official NASA transcript, which we can’t believe hasn’t been made into a movie yet:

Grissom: What is it?

Young: Corn beef sandwich.

Grissom: Where did that come from?

Young: I brought it with me. Let’s see how it tastes. Smells, doesn’t it?

Yes, it’s breaking up. I’m going to stick it in my pocket.

Young: Is it?

Young: It was a thought, anyways.

Grissom: Yep.

Not a very good one.

Grissom: Pretty good, though, if it would just hold together.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Concrete water pipes can be turned into temporary apartments in Hong Kong thanks to architect James Law.

He wants to help ease the city’s housing shortage, and calls his design the OPods.

Sabo is a 40-something Los Angeles street artist who doesn’t care if his work is respected or not, but he does want to provoke a strong reaction.

His targets are what he considers the political establishment (albeit, he is a stout Trump supporter) and the entertainment industry.

In the wee hours of Friday morning, VICE News embedded with Sabo and his small street team as he attempted to put up his installations around Beverley Hills, including a “Caution” sign that says “Caution, Pedophiles Ahead,” two days before this Sunday’s Golden Globes.

Sabo is partly responsible for the “They Knew” campaign (showing images of Meryl Streep’s eyes covered with text next to Harvey Weinstein), and has profited off of other creations like posters portraying Trump happily giving two middle fingers, and patches that say “The Deplorables.”

Whereas a renowned street artist like Banksy has successfully hid their identity for decades, Sabo will gladly tell you about himself and the intentions behind his art (which is usually torn down by critics within 1-2 days of installing). A self-described “ 1960’s right leaning liberal,” you could also call him a successful street art troll who plans to irritate anyone who he identifies as a “Leftist,” which is what he deemed us.

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

Michael Kosta learns about communities in central California that are helping to curb gun deaths by offering travel and cash incentives to violent offenders.

California amends its jaywalking law, which Trevor can’t believe was a thing in the first place.

The Daily Show wonders about Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee’s credibility leading up to President Trump’s “Most Dishonest & Corrupt Media Awards of the Year” #TheFakies

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

The President is doing his best to make the Oval Office remind him less of his ex-chief strategist. It’s just hard to get that smell out of the carpet.

Stephen and the team at ‘Real News Tonight’ do their best to keep the President’s finger off the button. No, the literal button.

Former White House Comms Director Anthony Scaramucci is going show-to-show in what appears to be an audition for another job in the Trump administration.

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

新春の酔いねこ。Tipsy Hana and Drunk Maru.

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

Here’s me critical analysis of animals getting involved in pro sport. Cheers ya legends!

Just some crazy talk with Max before he goes to bed on a Saturday night.

FINALLY . . .

WE’VE FORGETTEN WHAT “NATURE” REALLY MEANS

Define Nature


If a bike path, playground, or trailhead is the closest nature to you, then you should take advantage of it.

Places that make you feel “in nature,” such as parks, beaches, and campgrounds, are likely different than those that your parents or grandparents would have cited.

This is what University of Washington psychology professor Peter Kahn calls “environmental generational amnesia”—the idea that each generation perceives the environment into which it’s born, no matter how developed, urbanized, or polluted, as the norm. And so what each generation comes to think of as “nature” is relative, based on what they’re exposed to.

In a new paper in Children, Youth and Environments, Kahn and co-author and doctoral student Thea Weiss argue that more frequent and meaningful interactions with nature can enhance our connection to—and definition of—the natural world.

“There’s a shifting baseline of what we consider the environment, and as that baseline becomes impoverished, we don’t even see it,” Kahn says. “If we just try to teach people the importance of nature, that’s not going to work. They have to interact with it.”

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