February 3, 2018 in 3,723 words

Did you see the showering rat video? It explains why Trump won.

I’ve summed up the week in internet indignation so you can adjust your anger levels accordingly. Enjoy!


The online outrage cycle comes at you fast. One minute, for example, everyone is laughing about an adorable viral video of a rat showering like a human and the next minute you are a horrible person for sharing the video because it turns out the rat is not really showering.

No, actually, the rat is in terrible pain because (it would appear) a DJ from Peru covered it in soap so he could go viral on YouTube. And then, as if your faith in the world hadn’t already plummeted to new lows, rodent experts start weighing in to inform you that it’s not even a rat in the video, it’s a pacarana, which means that you’re not just a terrible person for sharing the video, you’re a terrible person who can’t even get your rodents right.

And then the hot takes start, explaining how the rat/pacarana mix-up demonstrates America’s wildly rat-normative view of rodents and is a metaphor for why Trump won.

It’s exhausting. But it’s also the world we live in; outrage has become ingrained in the economy and it’s basically impossible to opt out. After all, if you don’t get outraged every five minutes on the internet how are people going to know that you’re woke? How will you be able to communicate to people that you are a good person? A much, much better person than the ignorant masses who think a poor pacarana trying to rub soap off its body is cute!

No, if you don’t express the right levels of self-righteousness about the controversy of the moment then, let’s face, it you’re basically irrelevant and probably a racist.



The Nunes memo shows Republicans buy their own conspiracy theories

Ever since Watergate, the standard for any scandal is whether there is a smoking gun left next to a corpse. In the case of the Nunes memo, we lack a body and the gun is a child’s toy pistol.

The Piltdown man – perhaps the most famous fraud in the history of paleontology –combined a 600-year-old skull, an orangutan’s jaw and a chimpanzee’s tooth to feign being the remains of the Missing Link between man and the apes.

Now, more than a century later, the Piltdown man has come to US politics with Friday’s release of a declassified memo by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the misnamed House intelligence committee. The Nunes memo connects mismatched shards to suggest a missing link between Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and the Hillary Clinton campaign’s efforts to discredit Donald Trump.

The triggering event was a 21 October 2016, foreign intelligence surveillance court (Fisa) warrant for electronic surveillance of Carter Page, an energy consultant and sometime Trump adviser who had been under FBI scrutiny since 2013. According to the Nunes memo, a dossier prepared by Christopher Steele and partly funded by the Clinton campaign was “an essential part” of the rationale for the warrant.

We can quibble about what “an essential part” means. Especially since the FBI in an unprecedented Wednesday press release stated: “We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.” Unmentioned by Nunes were all the other documents that the FBI and the justice department presented to the Fisa court to justify eavesdropping on Page.

But even if you accept the world according to the House Republicans (a personal plea: don’t), Page represented a circuitous route to get at Trump. Page had withdrawn from the campaign a month earlier in the wake of news stories about his suspicious meetings in Moscow. And Trump himself later belittled Page as “a very low-level member of I think a committee for a short period of time.”

When Americans save this little, it’s usually a sign that recession is near

DANGER ZONE


What have we done?

Markets are risky and life is uncertain. Most of us will have financial good fortune at some point in our lives, and some setbacks too. The best we can do, then, is save when times are good so we can survive when times are bad.

The thing is, most Americans appear to follow the opposite advice, spending in good times and saving in bad. In December, the US personal saving rate fell to 2.4% of disposable income, the lowest level since 2007, which itself was low by historical standards.

The booming economy is credited for the increased spending. GDP continues to grow at a steady pace, there is finally some wage growth reaching the middle class, the stock market is soaring, and tax cuts are expected to provide a short-term boost. Persistently low interest rates offers little incentive to save—at least in low-risk assets. Given all these factors, it’s no wonder households are emptying their wallets and setting less money aside.

But saving is all about preparing for the unexpected. The economy may be booming now, but there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical it will last. Productivity numbers don’t justify the headline growth figures. Many people think the stock market is overvalued and due for a correction. It has been eight and a half years since the last recession, and the natural oscillation of the business cycle suggests we may be due for another one soon. Low saving rates are often seen before a recession.

Suddenly, everyone is scared about interest rates

CHANGING OF THE GUARD


What now?

US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen is scheduled to step down tomorrow from her eight years at the helm, and for most of her tenure, interest rates remained at historic lows. She finally gave into clamors for tightening in 2015 and raised rates.The Fed has raised rates twice more, and initiated the unwinding of its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. Markets, anticipating these policy changes, stayed calm.

Suddenly today (Feb. 2) the S&P 500 dropped over 2%, and the Dow plunged 666 points, its worst day since Brexit. No one is entirely sure what’s going on. The unemployment rate has continued to fall, as the US adds more jobs each month, and economic growth outlooks are robust. Wages are increasing, too.

It seems that Janet Yellen’s farewell, and the Fed’s more aggressive inflation expectations, have left markets skittish.

In general, business owners like low interest rates. Even President Trump, who nominated Jerome Powell to succeed Yellen, has admitted that her policies have been good for the markets. When the Fed lowers the federal funds rate—the rate at which it loans money to banks—it makes money cheaper.

Banks can borrow from the Fed more easily, which then allows banks to lend to businesses and individuals more cheaply. Other rates, like mortgage rates, auto loan rates, and corporate loan rates, too, fall. In theory, cheaper loans should lead to more business investment. As businesses spend more, company productivity rises, and so do share prices.

Should Trump Nationalize a 5G Network?

No one can accuse the Trump administration of being boring, even when it comes to telecom. According to leaked documents, there is a proposal going around the White House to build a federally owned 5G telecommunications system — the next version of a mobile broadband network — or perhaps even to nationalize the 5G networks that private telecom companies are now building. (5G is the “fifth generation” wireless protocol, which promises to be faster and more secure than its predecessor, 4G, but requires new antennas and cell towers.)

The White House proposal, which at the moment is just an idea, appears driven by concerns about security threats related to China’s development of 5G networks. But the strongest case for building a national network is different. Done right, a national 5G network could save a lot of Americans a lot of money and revive competition in what has become an entrenched oligopoly. Done wrong, on the other hand, it could look like something out of Hugo Chávez’s disastrous economic playbook.

Americans spend an extraordinary amount of money on bandwidth. The cable industry is the worst offender: Since cable providers have little effective competition, cable bills have grown at many times the rate of inflation and can easily reach thousands of dollars per year. Mobile phone service is not exactly a bargain, either. And with plans to connect cars, toasters and pets to the internet, broadband bills may continue to soar.

These bills, collectively, function like a private tax on the whole economy. Could a public 5G network cut that tax?

Cape Town faces Day Zero: what happens when the city turns off the taps?

In 10 weeks engineers will turn off water for a million homes as this South African city reacts to one-in-384-year drought. The rich are digging boreholes, more are panic-buying bottled water, and the army is on standby.
Interactive explainer: How Cape Town is running dry.

The head of Cape Town’s disaster operations centre is drawing up a plan he hopes he never has to implement as this South African city on the frontline of climate change prepares to be the first in the world to turn off the water taps.

“We’ve identified four risks: water shortages, sanitation failures, disease outbreaks and anarchy due to competition for scarce resources,” says Greg Pillay. “We had to go back to the drawing board. We were prepared for disruption of supply, but not a no-water scenario. In my 40 years in emergency services, this is the biggest crisis.”

The plan – being drawn up with the emergency services, the military, epidemiologists and other health experts – is geared towards Day Zero, the apocalyptically named point when water in the six-dam reservoir system falls to 13.5% of capacity.

At this critical level – currently forecast for 16 April – piped supply will be deemed to have failed and the city will dispatch teams of engineers to close the valves to about a million homes – 75% of the city.

“It’s going to be terrifying for many people when they turn on the tap and nothing comes out,” says Christine Colvin, freshwater manager for WWF and a member of the mayor’s advisory board.

In place of piped water, the city will establish 200 water collection points, scattered around the city to ensure the legally guaranteed minimum of 25 litres per person per day within 200 metres of every citizen’s home.

The Board Game ‘Life’ Used To Kill Its Players

If you’ve ever been excruciatingly bored on a rainy day during a statewide blackout, you might have resorted to playing Milton Bradley’s The Game Of Life, a classic board game in which players reenact all of life’s major milestones (buy a car, get a job, etc.) over 45 endless minutes.

More like “bored game,” amirite?

But what you may not realize is that Life dates back to the Civil War — and the game used to be much, much darker.

In 1860, Milton Bradley was a professional lithographer whose business was destroyed when Abraham Lincoln decided to grow a mighty beard, rendering all of his prized prints of a beardless Lincoln unsalable. (Seriously!) And Bradley’s plan to save himself from destitution? A board game called The Checkered Game Of Life, which Bradley described as a “highly moral game … that encourages children to lead exemplary lives and entertains both old and young with the spirit of friendly competition.”

But the actual game was way grimmer than that sales pitch let on. In rules provided to the United States Patent Office, Bradley noted that some squares were fatal. “If a player moves into Prison, under any circumstances, he must lose one move. Whoever moves to Suicide is thrown out of the game.” That’s right, if there were more than two players, anyone who landed on the Suicide square had to quit immediately and wait for the rest of their friends to finish the dreary affair.

I scanned my social media like a potential employer, and the results were scary

UNFILTERED


Under the eye.

I don’t make a habit of swearing on Facebook, but sometimes when a post seems a bit flat, a cuss word or two can add just the right je ne sais quoi to bring it to life.

But my occasional potty mouth may be a problem for potential employers. According to a scan of my social media history from Brand Yourself, my online presence is a liability, and apparently my language is to blame. It’s not just the odd F-bomb, either, but the references to bestiality, orgies, and orgasms that seem to have crept into my posts and comments. (I had no idea I was so interesting.)

Brand Yourself’s reputation tool, introduced last month, is a logical outgrowth of its business, said CEO Patrick Ambron. While the company launched in 2009 to help business and users massage their search results, Ambron says it now focuses on helping job seekers find and repair embarrassing blunders in their online past. Employers are increasingly screening job candidates’ social media history for red flags, and it’s incumbent upon job seekers to scrub their posts of any blemishes, he said. Simply tightening the privacy restrictions may not help when some companies are demanding social media passwords from applicants.

“A lot of time, what (employers) find is someone who doesn’t understand social media,” Ambron said. “The people with the best presence online are the ones trained to have a good online presence.”

Clearly, my training is lacking.

How to Not Die in America

On the second Tuesday in June, I start to feel fluish. If this is 2016 and I’m still a freelance writer, I’m losing money immediately on the assignments I can’t complete because my vision is blurry and my thoughts are erratic. If this is 2013, I am soon taken off the roster at the cafe where I work.

I am out of my mind with anxiety as I hobble to the clinic, sweating, and pay $60 for cough syrup, $300 for the 10-minute visit (if I even have that in the bank; it’s about a week’s worth of my earnings slinging coffee). Once I realize I can’t keep down the cough syrup and start spitting up bile, maybe I’m so feverish and broke I stay in bed without realizing the bacteria I’ve inhaled is more lethal than the flu. So perhaps I just up and die right there.

But let’s say I somehow make it to the hospital. A friend drives me, because a 15-minute ambulance ride can cost nearly $2,000, which I don’t have. I’m struggling financially and I’ve fallen behind on my ACA payments. My friend realizes in the car I’m not making any sense, and that’s because my organs have already begun to shut down. My temperature is well over 100. When the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong, they submit me to a credit check before advanced treatment.

My credit is awful. I have a massive, unpaid bill from a few years back when someone made international calls on my stolen phone. Maybe, because of this, I’m transferred to a public hospital, where there aren’t 20-odd specialists to arrange an “unusual” surgery. Doctors are required to stabilize a patient, but they aren’t required to, say, stabilize a patient just long enough to keep them breathing and take them to another hospital with a full infectious disease wing to do something risky. So maybe that’s when I die, before they even figure out what’s wrong, because I’m not the type of patient whose financial health can support an elaborate, life-saving procedure.

Could Self-Driving Trucks Be Good for Truckers?

That’s what a new study from Uber’s self-driving-truck team says, and a variety of trucking experts think they might be right.


Uber’s prototype self-driving semi-trucks.

The outlook for trucking jobs has been grim of late. Self-driving trucks, several reports and basic logic have suggested, are going to wipe out truckers. Trucking is going to be the next great automation bloodbath.

But a counter-narrative is emerging: No, skeptics in the industry, government, academia are saying, trucking jobs will not be endangered by autonomous driving, and in the brightest scenarios, as in new research by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, there may be an increase in trucking jobs as more self-driving vehicles are introduced.

“We’ve been disappointed over the last year to see a lot of stories about how self-driving trucks are going to be this huge problem for truck drivers,” says Alden Woodrow, the product lead for self-driving trucks at Uber. “That’s not at all what we think the outcome is going to be.”

For one, Uber does not believe that self-driving trucks will be doing “dock to dock” runs for a very long time. They see a future in which self-driving trucks drive highway miles between what they call transfer hubs, where human drivers will take over for the last miles through complex urban and industrial terrain.

For that reason, Woodrow says that he saw their version of self-driving trucks as complementing humans, not replacing them. To make their case, Uber created a model of the industry’s labor market based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Then, they created scenarios that looked at a range of self-driving-truck adoption rates and how often those autonomous trucks would be on the road in comparison to human-driven vehicles.

Sedate a Plant, and It Seems to Lose Consciousness. Is It Conscious?


In an experiment, scientists sedated plants like the Venus fly trap. When the drugs wore off, the plants came back to life, almost as if they were regaining consciousness.

Plants don’t get enough credit.

They move. You know this. Your houseplant salutes the sun each morning. At night, it returns to center.

You probably don’t think much of it. This is simply what plants do: Get light. Photosynthesize. Make food. Live.

But what about all the signs of plant intelligence that have been observed?

Under poor soil conditions, the pea seems to be able to assess risk. The sensitive plant can make memories and learn to stop recoiling if you mess with it enough. The Venus fly trap appears to count when insects trigger its trap. And plants can communicate with one another and with caterpillars.

Now, a study published recently in Annals of Botany has shown that plants can be frozen in place with a range of anesthetics, including the types that are used when you undergo surgery.

Nigel, the world’s loneliest bird, dies next to the concrete decoy he loved


Nigel the gannet and two concrete friends.

Nigel, a handsome gannet bird who lived on a desolate island off the coast of New Zealand, died suddenly this week. Wherever his soul has landed, the singles scene surely cannot be worse.

The bird was lured to Mana Island five years ago by wildlife officials who, in hopes of establishing a gannet colony there, had placed concrete gannet decoys on cliffsides and broadcast the sound of the species’ calls. Nigel accepted the invitation, arriving in 2013 as the island’s first gannet in 40 years. But none of his brethren joined him.

In the absence of a living love interest, Nigel became enamored with one of the 80 faux birds. He built her — it? — a nest. He groomed her “chilly, concrete feathers . . . year after year after year,” the Guardian reported. He died next to her in that unrequited love nest, the vibrant orange-yellow plumage of his head contrasting, as ever, with the weathered, lemony paint of hers.

“Whether or not he was lonely, he certainly never got anything back, and that must have been [a] very strange experience,” conservation ranger Chris Bell, who also lives on the island, told the paper. “I think we all have a lot of empathy for him, because he had this fairly hopeless situation.”

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Robert Reich explains Trump broken promises to his voters.

Providing high-quality affordable healthcare, ridding the country of drugs, coming up with programs that everybody’s happy with. Any one of these might seem like a nearly impossible task to the average citizen, but for the president of the United States these endeavors, and at least 18 more, will be “easy.” At least, according to Donald Trump.

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

Roy Wood Jr. looks back on the history of African-American actors dying in movies and honors LL Cool J for having the best survival record.

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

It’s a battle writs between the Steele dossier and the Nunes memo, using only language pulled from the actual declassified documents.

President Trump continues with his trend of not doing presidential things by skipping out on the Super Bowl interview.

KFC made Reba McEntire the new Colonel Sanders and the sexists had a huge issue.

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

Bill recaps the top stories of the week, including the House GOP’s controversial decision to release “The Memo.”

Bill implores Trump fans to admit that their President has been lying to them about building a border wall.

節分なので太巻きをどうぞ。Maru&Hana bite sushi rolls because it is traditional end of winter today.

Just another afternoon with Max.

FINALLY . . .

INSIDE BARK’S WINNING FORMULA FOR DESIGNING IRRESISTIBLE DOG TOYS

PUN FACTORY


Bark is on a roll. Viagrowl plush pill, Namuttste yoga mat, the Chewniversal remote.

The thriving New York-based start-up best known for their subscription service called BarkBox, has identified the formula for the ideal dog toy. Though many of their chew toys sound totally frivolous designing them is no joke says Bark’s creative lead Mikkel Holm Jensen.

“Designing toys is definitely silly and crazy, but we also have a very serious, almost scientific approach to it,” explains Jensen, a Danish industrial designer who worked at LEGO’s FutureLab before joining Bark in 2015. Jensen left his dream job at LEGO because he was piqued by Bark’s mission to address the lackluster range of pet products available in the US market. “Designing dog toys hasn’t really been a category that industrial designers have been trying to break into. It’s been a boring category and we’re aggressively trying to change that,” he says.

Founded in 2011, Bark has pioneered a series of dog-focused branded programs for the US and Canadian markets. Aside from BarkBox, it has a photo-sharing app BarkCam, a lifestyle site called BarkPost, and a pet adoption platform,” BarkBuddy. Last year, Bark began selling its toys and treats at Target.

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