February 20, 2018 in 4,746 words

After Florida, I had lost hope. Then I saw Emma González.

In a speech on Saturday, the high school student wiped back tears and demanded that US gun laws must change. These kids are fighting for their lives.

It’d Presidents’ Day today. Why not celebrate with a discount on bump stocks? Their manufacturer, Slide Fire, has a special offer on. You don’t know what a bump stock is? What kind of loser are you? It’s the device by which you can make a semi-automatic rifle function as a fully automatic one. Your own machine gun! You just keep your finger on the trigger and can fire between 400 and 800 rounds a minute. The discount code, by the way, is Maga: Make America Great Again.

Bump stocks were found on the Las Vegas shooter’s guns. Of course they were. If you want to kill as many people possible in a short time, they are your friend. Useful for a school shooting.

I barely registered the latest act of terror in the US. Yes, it is terror. Alienated young men; “lone wolves”; individual terrorist cells motivated by racism, misogyny, self-loathing, complete alienation, radicalised by footage of every other mass shooting. Dress it up how you like, but this terrorism has infected US society at every level. When small children are taught what to do when the inevitable “mentally disturbed” man arrives – throw things, hide in cupboards, play dead while their murdered friends’ blood pours on to them – then terror has achieved its aims. Fear. Fear becomes woven into everyday routine in an effort to domesticate it.

The narrative plays out. The aerial footage, the desperate parents, the running children, heroic teachers who throws themselves in front of the pupils. This time Scott Beigel who, when watching coverage of a different school shooting on TV, told his fiancee, Gwen: “Promise me if this ever happens to me, you will tell them the truth – tell them what a jerk I am. Don’t talk about the hero stuff.” He died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school trying to protect the kids from the gunman.

Democrats Should Run on Gun Control All Over the Country

Common-sense reform wouldn’t just be effective, it’s more popular than many candidates realize.

A protest in 2017.

After every mass shooting, the obvious question emerges: Why hasn’t Congress done anything to keep extremely efficient killing machines out of the hands of murders? This is a problem that has been solved by most other rich countries; many blue states have adopted relatively strict gun control laws. Yet national Democrats running for office seem to cower in fear of the NRA and other pro-gun activists, worrying that support for even modest gun regulations can be used as a bludgeon in red districts. But is that fear based on reality, or could Democrats embrace gun control and still take the House?

The evidence suggests yes, even in the toughest districts that Democrats are contesting. National polls indicate strong and durable support for common-sense gun reforms such as banning assault rifles and closing the gun show loophole that allows some gun sales to be conducted without a background check. There is evidence that such laws might help stem mass shootings, though it’s clear that ending gun violence must be addressed by beyond those limited policies.

But national polling may not indicate much at the state or even congressional district level. To see what gun control polling looked like on a district-by-district basis, I asked political scientist Christopher Skovron for some help. Skovron is an expert in a modeling technique designed to estimate district-level opinion called multilevel regression and poststratification (MRP). That technique uses regression modeling that accounts for individual characteristics like race and gender as well as district characteristics like support for Trump.

Using the MRP estimates, I then analyzed support for ending the gun show loophole and banning assault weapons—policies often cited by gun control advocates—in the 98 Republican-held districts that Democrats are targeting. I find that in the average DCCC target district, support for closing the gun show loophole (“background checks for all sales, including at gun shows and over the internet” is how the question is worded) is a whopping 88 percent; support for an assault weapon ban (“ban assault weapons”) is 61 percent. The chart below shows the distribution of support for closing the gun show loophole (the three districts that stand out are Maine’s Second and the at-large districts for Montana and Alaska, all areas with strong gun cultures).

Florida shooting survivors are fighting back. Here’s what they need to know about gun control.

The current battle to reshape gun laws can feel like a stalemate, but there have been victories too. This is what the landscape looks like right now.

The students who survived a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school are aiming to reshape America’s gun control debate.

“You’re either with us or against us,” senior Emma González told politicians on Sunday, following a viral speech to gun control advocates the day before when she promised, “We are going to be the last mass shooting.”

Many people see the American gun control debate as a helpless stalemate dominated by the intransigence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). But there has been more action – and more gun violence prevention victories – than they realize. Here’s the landscape the Parkland students face as they demand new congressional action on gun control laws:

Between 55 million and 75 million Americans own guns, but the NRA only claims 5 million members. That’s less than 10% of America’s total gun owners, according to the best survey estimates.

Just 3% of American adults own half the country’s guns. Most gun owners have just one or two, but a tiny group of super-owners, who have an average of 17 each, collectively own half of the country’s 256m guns.

How The NRA Lost Its Mind

In the wake of last year’s shooting in Las Vegas, which saw 58 concertgoers murdered and 800+ injured, Donald Trump promised that we’d be soon “be talking about gun laws.” It was really easy to call bullshit on that promise, but then … we started talking about gun laws. Namely, a bill to ban “bump stocks,” the modification used by the shooter to up the kill-itude of his weapons. Just as quickly as that happened, however, we stopped talking about gun laws and the bill died with no explanation.

I was going to say something, but then a churchload of people was gunned down in Sutherland Springs. I thought we were then going to start talking about gun laws again. After all, it’d be pretty screwed up of the government to ignore the deadliest and third-most deadliest mass shootings ever … but then Donald Trump said that wasn’t “a gun situation” and everyone stopped talking about it.

We’re now seven weeks into 2018, and we’ve already had 30 mass shooting incidents, including Parkside. It kinda seems like we’re in the middle of a gun situation, you guys.

To hear gun control proponents out, one might think that the best, fastest solution to the mass shootings plaguing our country would be to take a shiny litigatory scalpel and excise the NRA — with their bottomless lobbying coffers, poisonous conspiracy theories, promotion of violence against protesters, and all-around assholery — from politics and wider society. It’s hard to argue against that. We certainly wouldn’t stand for that shit from, say, the dairy industry. But the NRA somehow gets a pass every damn time.

That’s a pretty reductionist view of the problem, though. We don’t need to completely tear down the NRA. But we do need to de-crazy those motherfluffers and take them back to the good ol’ days when they were a force for good in society.

“Yes, we’re serious.

The Flawed Nationalism of Donald Trump

The president can’t grasp that what matters most about the Russia attack is not what it reveals about his political legitimacy but what it reveals about America’s national vulnerability.

The astonishing thing about Donald Trump’s response to Robert Mueller’s recent indictments is his inability to recognize that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election is about something bigger than him. Look closely at Trump’s tweets.

February 16: “Russia started their anti-US campaign in 2014, long before I announced that I would run for President. The results of the election were not impacted. The Trump campaign did nothing wrong – no collusion!”

February 17: “General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems. Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

February 18: “I never said Russia did not meddle in the election, I said “it may be Russia, or China or another country or group, or it may be a 400 pound genius sitting in bed and playing with his computer.” The Russian “hoax” was that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia – it never did!”

Each tweet makes basically the same point: “Sure, Russia may have tried to undermine American democracy. But what really matters is that I never colluded with Putin and won the presidency fair and square.” Even if you believe that Trump is right—that his campaign never assisted Russia’s efforts to swing the election in his favor and that Russia’s efforts had no material effect on its outcome—the narcissism is breathtaking. It’s like Franklin Roosevelt going before a Joint Session of Congress on December 8, 1941, and declaring: “Sure, Japan bombed Hawaii. But there’s no evidence I knew the attack was coming or that my decision to impose oil sanctions on Tokyo contributed in any way.” Or George W. Bush declaring the day after September 11: “Sure, Al Qaeda just took down the Twin Towers. But there’s nothing my administration could have done to stop it. If anyone deserves blame, it’s my sleazy predecessor, Bill.”

Trump can’t grasp that what matters most about the Russia attack is not what it reveals about his political legitimacy but, what it reveals about America’s national vulnerability. He keeps focusing on how Russia’s meddling affects him; not how it affects the country.

Russia’s Election Interference Is Digital Marketing 101

The new Mueller indictment doesn’t get at the root of the problem: the unchecked market power of social-media companies.

A Facebook like button is pictured at the Facebook’s France headquarters in Paris, France, November 27, 2017.

Last Friday, the Justice Department charged 13 Russians with attempting to subvert the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The case presented by Special Counsel Robert Mueller laid out an elaborate scheme of information operations, carried out primarily via the social media websites Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Through the Internet Research Agency, a so-called “troll factory” in St. Petersburg, the Russians created hundreds of fake accounts on these services, which then disseminated fake news and other misleading content about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton to hundreds of thousands of users. They focused their campaign on topics that divide America—race, immigration, and religion—and targeted battleground states. According to figures reported by Facebook and Twitter, the Russian campaign reached more than 125 million Americans on Facebook; over 675,000 people engaged with Russian trolls on Twitter. The Russians’ effort is, of course, ongoing.

Thus far, the media coverage of Mueller’s indictment has fixated on how all this could have happened, and probed whether the Trump campaign was involved. The answers to these questions will all emerge in time. The more troubling question is why it was so easy to make fools out of so many Americans.

Consider two things. First: While the Russians created fake accounts to pose as Americans on social media and buy ads, the technologies they deployed are all commonplace in the digital-marketing industry—this was no 007-style spycraft. Second: These days, Americans live in divisive, partisan information environments, chock-full of incendiary rhetoric. They have very low standards about the sources they accept as accurate, and yet aren’t great at parsing fact from fiction on the Internet. Even “digital natives”— young people most at home in an online information environment—have proven inept at judging credibility. In other words, when the Russians set out to poison American politics, they were pushing on an open door.

How does a ready-made toolbox for digital manipulation already exist? For that, we have the digital-advertising industry to thank.

‘Sloppy and careless’: courts call out Trump blitzkrieg on environmental rules

A cascade of courtroom standoffs are beginning to slow, and even reverse, the EPA rollbacks thanks to the administration’s ‘disregard for the law’.

The EPA’s pro-fossil fuel agenda has rapidly run into a thicket of legal problems.

In its first year in office, the Trump administration introduced a solitary new environmental rule aimed at protecting the public from pollution. It was aimed not at sooty power plants or emissions-intensive trucks, but dentists.

Every year, dentists fill Americans’ tooth cavities with an amalgam that includes mercury. Around 5m tons of mercury, a dangerous toxin that can taint the brain and the nervous system, are washed away from dental offices down drains each year.

In Trump’s first day in the White House, the administration told the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw an Obama-era plan that would require dentists to prevent this mercury from getting into waterways. But in June, the rule was unexpectedly enacted.

This apparent change of heart followed legal action filed by green groups, part of a cascade of courtroom standoffs that are starting to slow and even reverse the Trump administration’s blitzkrieg of environmental regulations.

“The Trump administration has been sloppy and careless, they’ve shown significant disrespect for rule of law and courts have called them on it,” said Richard Revesz, a professor at the New York University school of law.

“I expect we will see a number of further losses for the administration on similar grounds. If they keep showing the same disregard for the law, their attempt to repeal all these environmental regulations will go badly for them.”

It’s time for America to embrace guaranteed income

We should provide a guaranteed income of $500 a month for every working adult who makes less than $50,000. Here’s why.

‘It is the most powerful income support program we have, lifting more people out of poverty than food stamps, unemployment insurance, and housing vouchers combined’

Futurists love to debate when our economy will be thrown into turmoil by self-driving cars and robots taking our jobs. But when it comes to economic disruption, the future is already here.

Record low unemployment and record highs for the stock market don’t tell the full story of what is really happening in today’s economy. For many, a job used to mean stability: 40 hours a week, benefits, vacation days, sick leave, and retirement savings plans. But according to a 2016 study by Princeton economists, nearly all of the jobs created in the preceding decade were part-time, contract, or temporary. Today a job is more often than not just an unreliable gig.

This didn’t happen spontaneously. Our political leaders over the past 40 years lowered taxes on corporations and the wealthy and encouraged globalized trade with few protections for American workers. At the same moment, automation reduced the number of factory jobs and created Lyft drivers and Etsy sellers in their place. We created an economy where median wages haven’t budged in 40 years, and jobs have become increasingly piecemeal. But we have the power to change this.

My own story illustrates how unfair today’s economy can be. I grew up in a middle-class family in a small town in North Carolina, the son of a paper salesman and public school teacher. Financial aid made it possible for me to go to a prestigious boarding school and Harvard. When I told my parents that my roommates, Mark Zuckerberg and Dustin Moskovitz, were dropping out to work on a website the three of us had started, they laughed. I had worked too hard and too long to throw away an Ivy League education. So I stayed one foot in, working on Facebook’s communications and product teams, and one foot out, getting that Harvard degree I had dreamed of.

I’m proud of the work that I did, but the fact that I could make nearly a half billion dollars for three years’ worth of work – while at the same time half of Americans can’t find $400 in case of an emergency – is a testament to what is wrong with our economy.

The same forces that made Facebook’s rise possible have created financial instability in the lives of working Americans. Few people want a handout, but almost all could use an income boost to enable them to go back to school, get the childcare or housing support they need, or move closer to a new job.

Jeff Sessions’ war on legal weed is spooking banks

he Twin City Bank in Longview, Washington has been serving cannabis dispensaries and other marijuana-related business since recreational dispensaries opened there in 2014. But in January, bank president and CEO Neil Zick started getting calls from nervous customers who were suddenly thinking about closing their accounts.

“I have had a few customers who think they should take out their money and put it in a coffee can in the backyard,” he said. “I have been advising them that that is not a good plan.”

His customers were reacting to the January 4 announcement from Attorney General Jeff Sessions that opened the door for federal prosecutors to target marijuana businesses, even if they are in compliance with state laws.

Specifically, Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy called the Cole memo (named for its author, then Deputy Attorney General James Cole) that directed federal prosecutors not to target weed businesses operating in accordance with state law. Though marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the memo allowed companies following state cannabis laws to conduct business relatively free of concern about arrest.

‘People think the deer are lovely. Then they learn more about it’: the deer cull dilemma

The Scottish Highlands have a deer problem. Is shooting tens of thousands of them the only solution?

When we arrive at the cottage, they are already there, watching us from high on the crags overlooking the water. The five of us are still tasting the chill, stale air of the empty building and staking claims on stained mattresses when Julien spots a silhouette through the warped pane of the back window. “They’re up there now,” he says. “Let’s go.”

A minute later we are scrambling up the hillface, gaining height fast. The wind is moving in great currents over the ridge. It comes in waves, smashing against us and then withdrawing, dragging the air from our lungs. Julien and Storm are out in front, goat-footed over the tussocks. I try to copy the way they creep through the heather on their elbows, pressing their abdomens into the mud, all the time scanning the hillside for movement.

After a while they slow to a stop and we bunch together. Storm catches my eye and points hammily beyond the boulder he is using as a windbreak. I nod, coming to rest at his feet, sinking my hands into long dead grass as if it were hair. I wait a beat, then lift my head, bringing my eyes above the stone parapet.

We are close enough to see the deer’s face in detail: her domed, almost Roman, profile. Dark eyes flashing in every direction: suspicious. I drop my head slowly back down behind the rock. Up ahead, Julien cranes forward again from his foxhole then stands up, shaking his head. Gone.

We start picking our way east, towards the narrow gorge, to trace its path back to the house. But then, there they are. Two females and a juvenile on the opposite bank. Like phantoms. They haven’t seen us. Julien twists around and gestures to Adrian: come. They go, crawling across wet earth, and disappear beneath a precipice.

A minute passes, then another. I lie back against the heather, thinking no particular thoughts. A shot rings out, impossibly loud. A moment of confusion. Then Adrian and Julien appear on the ledge below, waving us down. They got her: a crack shot, right through the spine. Dropped straight from the rock face into the water. She’s dead.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Prepare to spend a while; it’s The Long Read.

Our treatment of animals is stalling human progress

Animal Planet

They’re sentient beings, too.

In Steven Pinker’s new book out this month, Enlightenment Now, the Harvard professor catalogs reams of data to show that the world has actually gotten much better over time, despite what you hear on the news. The book looks at increased life spans, decreased inequality, and even a 37-fold reduction in deaths from lightning bolts as cause for optimism in humanity. After more than 500 pages, it’s hard not to be convinced.

But the question remains whether Pinker’s seemingly exhaustive treatment is neglecting some entire category of negative trends, such as the experiences of nonhuman animals who share this planet with us. The human population is around seven billion today, and will perhaps be ten billion by 2050. Yet here are over 100 billion domestic animals (the vast majority of whom are in the food system) and a quadrillion wild vertebrates (with many more invertebrates).

Unfortunately, their current situation is unimaginable suffering.

Over 99% of animals raised for food in the US currently live in factory farms (over 90% globally), many of them enduring horrific conditions like intense confinement in tiny cages so small they can barely turn around. The number of these animals has vastly increased over the past century. It’s even increased over the past decade, mainly due to rising incomes and trends of Westernization in countries like China and India, though US numbers have remained fairly stable.

At the Sentience Institute, a nonprofit think tank focused on the expansion of humanity’s moral circle where I work as research director, we try to better understand the state of affairs for animals (who make up the bulk of excluded sentient beings) and how it can be improved.

Weed Seems to Protect Your Liver From the Effects of Hard Drinking

Though it shouldn’t encourage anyone to start slamming shots after taking a dab​.

In January, the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control issued new rules declaring that intoxicating drinks cannot be infused with marijuana. Of course, that isn’t going to stop many people from simultaneously consuming weed and booze, especially as more states like California roll back cannabis prohibition.

These people might be interested to hear about a string of recent studies suggesting that cannabis can actually have protective benefits for the liver. Still, they should resist the urge to start slamming shots after taking a dab, or vice versa.

The largest study of the bunch found that drinkers who smoke weed had significantly lower odds of developing liver diseases including hepatitis, cirrhosis, steatosis, and even hepatocellular carcinoma, a type of liver cancer. Researchers at the National Institute of Scientific Research at the University of Quebec looked at the discharge records of nearly 320,000 patients who had a past or current history of abusive alcohol use.

“We found that if people are using cannabis in the dependent manner, they actually are much more protected from alcoholic liver disease,” Terence Bukong, a hepatologist and the study’s lead investigator, tells Tonic.

China and Europe love SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket. Does NASA?

Rocket Envy

In awe at the size of this lad.

When SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket debuted this month, China’s aerospace community was mostly envious, noting that their equivalent rocket, the Long March 9, would not be ready for another decade. One story in state media observed that “to put it more bluntly, this time the Americans showed us Chinese with pure power why they are still the strongest country in the world.”

The head of Europe’s space program watched the US company launch its enormous, largely reusable new rocket, and was also inspired.

“Totally new ideas are needed and Europe must now prove it still possesses that traditional strength to surpass itself and break out beyond existing borders,” wrote Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency, on his official blog. He expressed dismay that rockets now being built by Europe’s space company, Arianespace, won’t be reusable, which puts them at a deep cost disadvantage to SpaceX. He called for a re-thinking of Europe’s rocket program.

This attitude didn’t last long. A few days later, Wörner wrote an apologetic sequel to his post, emphasizing that Arianespace’s current rocket plan was correct and would be completed as intended. He was merely exercising his prerogative as head of the continent’s space agency for “turning our minds to systems still far off in the future,” he said.

Too lazy to take the stairs? Beijing elevator charges residents 3 US cents per ride

Pilot scheme set up as way to fund the installation of lifts in old blocks without elevators, newspaper reports.

A pilot scheme has been started in Beijing charging people to use newly installed lifts in older residential blocks, according to a newspaper report.

The first lift was opened last week in Daxing district and 10 more would be installed in older buildings without elevators this year, The Beijing News reported.

It costs 0.2 yuan (3 US cents) to use a lift and customers pay with a top-up card.

It is the first scheme of its kind to operate in the capital, according to the report.

A family of three would spend about 60 yuan to 100 yuan a month to use the lift, the firm that installed the elevator was quoted as saying.

A similar scheme was launched in Beijing’s Haidian district last year, but residents were charged a monthly “subscription” fee to use the lifts.


In this debut episode of our new The BrainFood Show podcast, we discuss the surprising similarities between online commenters and audiences throughout history, as well as how the practice of throwing tomatoes at performers got started. We’ll also be looking at the various ways to monetize on youtube and websites and just generally explaining how all that works. Finally, we cover a little Q&A using some of the most commonly asked questions directed at us on YouTube and the website.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Robert Reich explains your 3 choices in the age of Trump.

Meet Greg Packer, a retired highway maintenance worker and the most quoted man in news media.

“The Most Quoted Man” is directed by Andrew David Watson. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.

These male palm cockatoos have a strange mating ritual. They play the drums to attract a mate. They create their homemade instrument by modifying sticks and seedpods, and then play them in order to impress female cockatoos.

It might sound like just a lot of banging, but the cockatoos actually have distinct drumming styles, and use different rhythms. It’s something scientists have never observed in a non-human species before.

Shoebill storks make some strange noises.

Max loves playing with spray bottles. But I’m not allowed to touch them.


Mystery solved: USA speed skaters’ highlighted crotch uniform design

SKATING-OLY-2018-PYEONGCHANG (L-R) USA’s Heather Bergsma, USA’s Brittany Bowe and USA’s Mia Manganello reacts after the women’s team quarter-final speed skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games.

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed the fashionable design choice of the Olympic speed skaters’ uniforms, specifically the inner thigh region. The majority of the suits are a solid blue color, highlighted by large gray ovals on the area of the body that is, well, an area of anatomy typically only discussed after some serious wining and dining.

The explanation from the uniform design company, Under Armour, is of course science-based: “ArmourGlide”. (insert bad joke here)

“ArmourGlide” is a super slick material that apparently reduces friction up to 65%, which I’m told tops the varnish and lubricant charts made famous by world-renowned expert, Clark W. Griswold (that was bad joke).

So why the “ArmourGlide” development for 2018?

Under Armour was under pressure (see what I did there?) after the 2014 Sochi Olympics speed skater uniform disaster. The uniforms were completely ditched half-way through the 2014 games and Team USA failed to medal in speed skating for the first time in 30 years. The determined reason was the high-tech “skin suit” developed with design assistance from aerospace and defense giant, Lockheed Martin.

The 2018 sequel to the “skin-suit” was “ArmourGlide” or what I’m referring to as “Olympic crotch-pants”.

As you can imagine, twitter’s finest had a few opinions on the matter.

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