March 5, 2018 in 3,975 words

NRA’s influence in Colorado politics is indirect, but powerful

A week after the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, two nonprofit gun-control organizations placed a two-page ad in The New York Times identifying 276 members of Congress who’ve taken money from the National Rifle Association (NRA). Among those names were all four Republicans in Colorado’s House delegation, as well as Sen. Cory Gardner.

At the state level, however, the NRA’s influence is less direct, but equally powerful.

According to filings made with the Secretary of State’s office, the NRA hasn’t made a direct monetary contribution to any member of the Colorado General Assembly since 2010.

But of course, the NRA is still present in Colorado politics. The group’s federal political action committee — bluntly named the Political Victory Fund (PVF) — made contributions from 2012 to 2016 to Colorado’s Senate Majority Fund (“dedicated to retaining a Republican majority in the Colorado Senate,” according to its website). PVF also gave to the NRA Committee to Restore Coloradans’ Rights, which most often received contributions from the NRA’s lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action.

In 2016, PVF contributed nearly $75,000 to its own independent expenditure committee in Colorado, aptly named the NRA Political Victory Fund IE Committee. These “IE” committees can spend in support or opposition of any candidate (or group of candidates), but can’t consult or coordinate with the candidate. In Colorado, IE committees must file with the Secretary of State’s office “detailing candidates, ballot measure numbers, or policy positions” it supports or opposes. Any spending must be reported within two business days after it takes place.

6 Psychotic Gun Accessories (You Can Totally Buy)

Gun enthusiasts and action figure collectors aren’t that different when you think about it. Both spend large amounts of money on objectively ridiculous items that will probably never be used for their intended purpose, mostly just to admire them and appease their inner 14-year-old. The only difference is that when a gun nut spends too long on eBay, instead of paying $50 for the pizza-throwing tank from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they’ll buy something like …

6. A Shell That Allows You To BBQ A Deer With A Single Shot

To a certain demographic, owning a firearm is all about sending a message — not to the government, criminals, or the liberal elites, but to ammunition manufacturers. And that message is: “We’ll happily buy the stupidest crap you can think of, as long as it looks cool as hell.” Behold the “Dragon’s Breath”:

The mannequin doesn’t seem terribly impressed.

These shells — also known as “zirconium pyrotechnic ammunition,” because gun nerds are still nerds, after all — are standard-issue shotgun shells, only packed with magnesium pellets in lieu of buckshot. When the trigger is pulled, the highly flammable magnesium ignites and sprays hellfire in the face of anything or anyone unfortunate enough to be caught inside its range (anywhere between 50 and 300 ft). If you’re lucky enough to survive being shot, congratulations! That deep burning sensation you’re experiencing comes from knowing that some dirtbag is already putting the footage on YouTube … and also the literal deep burning, as magnesium burns at 3,000-4,000 degrees.

How populist uprisings could bring down liberal democracy

Authoritarians are on the rise, and electorates are seduced by extremes. To fight back, mainstream politicians need to grasp the causes of popular discontent and rebuild democracy’s moral foundations.

There are long decades in which history seems to slow to a crawl. Elections are won and lost, laws adopted and repealed, new stars born and legends carried to their graves. But for all the ordinary business of time passing, the lodestars of culture, society and politics remain the same.

Then there are those short years in which everything changes all at once. Political newcomers storm the stage. Voters clamour for policies that were unthinkable until yesterday. Social tensions that had long simmered under the surface erupt into terrifying explosions. A system of government that had seemed immutable looks as though it might come apart.

This is the kind of moment in which we now find ourselves.

Until recently, liberal democracy reigned triumphant. For all its shortcomings, most citizens seemed deeply committed to their form of government. The economy was growing. Radical parties were insignificant. Political scientists thought that democracy in places like France or the United States had long ago been set in stone, and would change little in the years to come. Politically speaking, it seemed, the future would not be much different from the past.

Then the future came – and turned out to be very different indeed. Citizens have long been disillusioned with politics; now, they have grown restless, angry, even disdainful. Party systems have long seemed frozen; now, authoritarian populists are on the rise around the world, from America to Europe, and from Asia to Australia. Voters have long disliked particular parties, politicians or governments; now, many of them have become fed up with liberal democracy itself.

Program helping Ice crack down on immigrants thrives in Texas

Counties partner with Ice, giving officers the right to determine the immigration status and detain suspects for potential deportation.

Donald Trump with the Rockwall County sheriff, Harold Eavenson, at left of president, during a roundtable discussion with members the National Sheriffs’ Association in the White House on 13 February.

It could hardly have a more prosaic name. But the measure known as 287(g) – which allows the federal deportation force to deputize local police officers – has emerged as one of the Trump administration’s most potent tools in the crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

The number of participating forces has fluctuated since 287(g) was introduced in 1996. But the scheme is now enjoying a resurgence boosted by the White House’s hostility towards so-called “sanctuary cities” that refuse to help Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice).

The focus for that resurgence has been Texas, which passed a state law last year enshrining the right of officers to determine the immigration status of suspects and work closely with Ice.

At the end of February, Ice had agreements in 20 states with 75 law enforcement agencies, 24 of them in Texas – and almost all of them confirmed since last year. In the past two months, 17 memorandums of agreement have been signed across the country.

Liberal-leaning Harris county, which includes Houston, terminated its 287(g) agreement in February last year, but several surrounding counties – less populous and heavily Republican – have signed up.

One Democrat Is Running for Congress—but Not Against Trump

In the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, Conor Lamb has split ways with the national party.

Tall and trim, with a square jaw and tidy brown hair, everything about Conor Lamb, the 33-year-old Democrat running for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, is pleasantly inoffensive—like vanilla ice cream or a pair of well-pressed khaki pants. And people at the Giant Eagle grocery store loved him.

“He’s a cutie,” said an older employee, arranging a rack of Stacy’s Pita Chips near the bakery department, as Lamb walked by greeting customers and employees alike. Ann, who declined to give her last name, is a union member who’s worked at the store for 20 years. She told me she usually votes for Democratic candidates, but when I asked her if that’s why she likes Lamb, she raised her eyebrows and asked, “Is he a Democrat?” She didn’t know his party, she just liked him. “He’s clean and he speaks well,” Ann told me. “We need fresh blood. We need to get all those old fogies out.”

Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine, is running against Republican Rick Saccone to fill the congressional seat vacated by Tim Murphy, the district’s longtime Republican representative. Murphy resigned in October after it was revealed that he had an extramarital affair and asked his mistress to get an abortion. Despite having 70,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans, the district—which encompasses parts of Allegheny, Washington, Greene, and Westmoreland Counties—tends to elect Republicans: Trump beat Clinton here by 20 points in the 2016 presidential election, and Romney and McCain both won by similar margins. Murphy, who held the seat for 15 years, ran uncontested in the last two elections.

But for the first time in decades, the race is competitive.

What China’s Xi Jinping wants with all that power


In his heart of hearts.

Chinese president Xi Jinping has amassed so much power that he’s been called the “chairman of everything.” Now China appears set to make a move that would allow Xi, already the most authoritarian Chinese leader in generations, to stay in power perhaps for life.

What does he want with absolute power?

That’s a question many are asking after China’s Communist Party proposed on Feb. 26 to erase the two-term limit for the presidency from the country’s constitution, which the National People’s Congress is expected to ratify as it gathers at the annual Two Sessions meeting.

Xi often speaks of the importance of the “rejuvenation” of the Chinese nation, and of the ambitious and tricky tasks the country must navigate over the next 15 or so years: become more uniformly prosperous, repair the environment, and turn China into the world’s biggest power. To do all that, Xi believes that the party must be at the center of everything, and he himself at the center of the party.

“Taking on responsibilities means fulfilling one’s office diligently,” Xi said in a speech in 2015. “Decisions and plans must be executed in full, and one must see things through from beginning to end, to ensure that no one simply goes through the motions or treats plans as a temporary measure, like a passing gust of wind.”

40 Years of Data Suggests 3 Myths About Globalization

Three beliefs about globalization have propagated since the early 1980s. First, that globalization leads to a reduction in global inequality. Second, that high income growth among the richest will lift the incomes of the poorest. Third, that there is no alternative to rising inequality without turning our backs on trade and technology. The recently released World Inequality Report, the first research study to comprehensively examine wealth and income inequality trends across rich and emerging countries over approximately 40 years, dispels these notions.

Globalization has led to a rise in global income inequality, not a reduction

Inequality between individuals across the world is the result of two competing forces: inequality between countries and inequality within countries. For example, strong growth in China and India contributed to significant global income growth, and therefore, decreased inequality between countries. However, inequality within these countries rose sharply. The top 1% income share rose from 7% to 22% in India, and 6% to 14% in China between 1980 and 2016.

Until recently, it has been impossible to know which of these two forces dominates globally, because of lack of data on inequality trends within countries, which many governments do not release publicly or uniformly. The World Inequality Report 2018 addresses this issue, relying on systematic, comparable, and transparent inequality statistics from high-income and emerging countries.

The conclusion is striking.

5 Ways We’re Fighting Crime (And Making Everything Worse)

Everyone agrees that crime is bad … except some criminals, we suppose. So what can we do about it? Some people believe in rehabilitation, some preach incarceration, while others support systematically murdering billionaire parents and hoping for an army of Batmen down the line. We might have made up that last one, but some of the most common crimefighting techniques in use today are so objectively terrible that they make Batseeding seem practical.

5. Mandatory Minimum Sentences Create Career Criminals

Mandatory minimums are fairly self-explanatory. If someone commits a crime, they get a guaranteed amount of jail time, regardless of the circumstances. For example, any American convicted of trafficking at least 28 grams of crack cocaine serves a minimum of five years. The idea is to deter potential criminals with the threat of tough sentences … because we all know that criminals are purely rational people who thoroughly research all possible repercussions before studiously committing to a crime.

Also, criminals are obviously going to be aware of the arbitrary and extremely inconsistent amounts that trigger a sentence.

But it turns out that prison time makes criminals more likely to reoffend further down the line, because prison is basically school for sociopaths. The longer you spend inside, the less you learn about how to run a Dairy Queen and the more you learn about severing toes and sending them in ransom notes. Australia found that mandatory minimums were associated with increased crime rates, because if you treat people like career criminals, that’s what they become.



Actresses Sally Hawkins, Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie and Meryl Streep embrace.

Every year the Academy Awards give its Oscar nominees a gift bag worth around $100,000. It’s always crammed with luxury trips and items like expensive beauty products and technology. But this year its contents were a nod to the different era that the entertainment industry has entered.

Nestled within the bag that contained vouchers for a holiday in Tanzania for two worth more than $40,000, a six-night trip to Hawaii totaling $3,000, and even a levitating Bluetooth speaker, was a gel pepper spray and a keyring-sized pepper spray.

The inclusion of the products is a significant moment for the entertainment industry—an acknowledgement of the widespread claims of sexual harassment that have dominated headlines over the last six months, ever since allegations of movie producer Harvey Weinstein’s decades of abuse, intimidation, harassment, and rape came to light.

Following the revelations, the #MeToo movement became a loud platform for those calling out harassment and abuse across the entertainment industry, as well as many others. It led to Time magazine anointing those who gave power to the movement as “Person of the Year” as part of the “The Silence Breakers.”

AI will be the art movement of the 21st century


Expanding the capability of human creativity.

Most agree that AI will be the defining technology of our time, but our predictions tend to differ wildly. Either AI will become the perfect servant, ushering in a new era of productivity and leisure one weather report at a time (Hi, Alexa), or it’ll master us, consigning humanity to the ash heap of biological history (I see you, Elon).

But there’s a slice of gray in between we should consider: What if AI became a peer and a collaborator, rather than a servant or an overlord?

Let’s use art as an example. The history of art and the history of technology have always been intertwined. In fact, artists—and whole movements—are often defined by the tools available to make the work. The precision of flint knives (the high technology of the Stone Age) allowed humans to sculpt the first pieces of figurative art out of mammoth ivory. The Old Masters used camera obscura to render scenes of extraordinary depth. In 2018, artists work in every media available to them, such as fluorescence microscopy, 3D bioprinting, and mixed reality, further stretching the possibilities of self-expression and investigation.

The defining art-making technology of our era will be AI. But this won’t be the kind of artificial intelligence of our past imagination—it’ll be the augmented intelligence of the present. While “artificial intelligence” still evokes the idea of autonomous machines that, after a period of algorithmic maturation, will ruthlessly and inevitably surpass their human makers, “augmented intelligence” reflects the pragmatic truth of the situation: sophisticated technologies that enhance our capabilities, but still require human intelligence to define rules and steer the way.

DEGREE POSSIBILITY: Working with AI, artists can harness chaos and complexity to find unexpected signals and beauty in the noise.

Why retail’s artificial intelligence bet is all wrong

What is “AI” really?

Can AI get real?

Everyone seems to be “using” artificial intelligence these days. So is retail. Big players like Amazon and Target are pouring huge amounts of resources into machine learning, and many companies sell “Artificial intelligence” tools for the retail industry.

There’s just one problem. Most of what the retail industry refers to as artificial intelligence isn’t AI. Furthermore, it’s bad for both customers and retailers. Using the “AI” that worked online in physical stores risks making physical stores look increasingly like websites amid a larger trend towards automation and reducing human presence in stores. This is altogether a very poor idea.

I teach at MIT and have worked with artificial intelligence tools to solve problems across several domains for years. AI is a field, but also an aspiration, we’re sold on (or fear) the aspiration, but it’s important for retailers to understand what AI –the field– can deliver today and how it can help (and hinder).

Despite all the hype, there is a place for artificial intelligence in retail for the future.

Retweets Are Trash

A modest proposal to improve Twitter—and perhaps the world.

A couple of months ago, I made a small tweak to my Twitter account that has changed my experience of the platform. It’s calmer. It’s slower. It’s less repetitive, and a little less filled with outrage. All of these improvements came about because I no longer see retweets.

When I joined Twitter, in late 2007, it was still a new medium—and a fun one. I felt as though we early users were discovering its potential, and creating its shared language. At its best, Twitter could feel like your “dream community,” as the writer Kathryn Schulz put it, filled with interesting people who were interested in the same things you were.

The retweet began as a user convention. People would write “Retweet” (or “RT”) and paste in another person’s post. This was cumbersome, but it also meant those words would go out next to your name and photograph. People were selective about what they chose to retweet. When Twitter introduced a retweet button, in 2009, suddenly one click could send a post careening through the network. The automatic retweet took Twitter’s natural tendency for amplification and cranked it up.

Somewhere along the line, the whole system started to go haywire. Twitter began to feel frenetic, unhinged, and—all too often—angry. Some people quit. Others, like Schulz, cut way back. I felt the same urge, but I wanted to do something less extreme, something that would allow me to keep the baby, even as I drained the bathwater. So I began to take note each time I experienced a little hit of outrage or condescension or envy during a Twitter session. What I found was that nearly every time I felt one of these negative emotions, it was triggered by a retweet.

Every man should see a therapist

Just a thought

Talk it out.

I was recently on a date with a guy that had a promising start. The conversation was flowing, and it was clear we were both attracted to each other. But before we’d even had a second drink he’d brought up his debilitating self-esteem issues. And his latent eating disorder. And his rocky relationship with his father. And not because I asked.

As a chronic oversharer, I get it. First dates can be nerve-wracking, and when faced with an empty space in the conversation I’ll say just about anything to diffuse the tension, including stories about my own alcoholic father and many mental illnesses that I find funny but actually aren’t. I’m also not a heartless jerk. I appreciate honesty and vulnerability in a guy I’m interested in romantically, and I don’t recoil at the thought of men expressing their feelings or being transparent. I listened, and I felt for him. But when I brought up the idea of possibly going to therapy, he shrugged and changed the subject. By the end of the night, I felt like I was used as a free (and highly unqualified) therapist, and we didn’t make plans to meet again.

Even for men who aren’t in crisis or experiencing emotional trauma but have the means, seeing a therapist can be incredibly beneficial—for them, for their partners, and I’d argue, society as a whole. Emotionally stifled men who are afraid to sit with their own feelings, let alone someone else’s, can lack the ability to empathize with others. This can not only strain relationships, but can have disastrous and even violent consequences. Those who work to break this pattern by seeking outside emotional counsel can play a significant part in challenging misogyny, rigid definitions of masculinity and gender, and a culture that normalizes sexual violence.



Back to basics, please?

The story is always the same: You get on an airplane. You sit in your seat. You buckle your seatbelt—and keep it buckled throughout the flight. You note the emergency exits. You listen to cabin crew. You don’t smoke in the lavatory. You know the drill.

But the videos displaying this rote advice? They seem to be getting more and more heavily produced, with all the bells and whistles of a Hollywood trailer—and yet none of the plot or payoff.

The latest culprit is Air New Zealand’s new—and overly produced—airline safety bit featuring actor, director, and UN Environment Ambassador Adrian Grenier. In addition to alerting passengers where the nearest emergency exit is, the video—which was filmed in Antarctica—raises awareness for environmental issues.

This is not the first time New Zealand has used the medium of an airline safety video to capture attention both on and off the aircraft. Last year, another one of their videos starring a deity-like Katie Holmes and Cuba Gooding Junior went viral online thanks to its stellar casting and wacky narrative. They’ve also previously done videos themed around The Hobbit and the All Blacks rugby team spoofing Men In Black.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

The NRA’s streaming lifestyle network aims to boost gun sales, often by using an ominous tone that would make just about anything sound terrifying…including muffins.

THANKS to HBO and Last Week Tonight for making this program available on YouTube.

Morning Joe: Trump isn’t joking about becoming president for life — and Republicans should know better.

THANKS to MSNBC and Morning Joe for making this program available to embed.

Ronny Chieng finds out how a professional wrestler named The Progressive Liberal uses broad talking points to advance his left-wing agenda.

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

Playing ball then having a talk with Max.


A supercolony of 1.5 million penguins went unnoticed until now

Extra Pairs

They dropped some hints.

The story of how scientists discovered a massive “supercolony” of Adélie penguins in Antarctica—which they detailed in a study published Friday (March 2)—begins in 2014, with NASA satellite imagery.

Heather Lynch, a professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, in New York, and Mathew Schwaller from NASA, spotted guano stains in images of the Danger Islands, off the northern tip of the continent. Where there are penguin droppings, there are most certainly penguins, and the stains, visible from space, suggested there were a large number of them. But only a trip to the rocky, remote chain of islands could confirm the suspicion.

The duo teamed with ecologists from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and other universities in the US and UK for an expedition in 2015. They found penguins nesting at the landing site, and beyond that a colony of an estimated 1.5 million Adélie penguins, a “hidden metropolis,” writes Science Alert. This meant there were more Adélie penguins in the Danger Islands than in the rest of the Antartica Peninsula combined, as the researchers report in the study, which was published in Scientific Reports. They called the area “a major hotspot of Adélie penguin abundance.”

“When we first got these pixels of guano, I thought it might be a false alarm,” Lynch told The Wall Street Journal (paywall), adding, “It wasn’t. We had massive penguin colonies that had not been known to exist.”

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