June 18, 2018 in 3,778 words

‘It’s not a fucking law!’: John Oliver rains hellfire down on justification for tearing families apart in Jeff Sessions takedown

Pictured above: John Oliver talks about Jeff Sessions / screen capture

As horrific stories of families ripped apart flood the airwaves, late-night comedian John Oliver fact-check President Donald Trump’s decision to blame the Democrats for his own policies.

During his Sunday evening episode of “Last Week Tonight,” Oliver called out Attorney General Jeff Sessions for the policy he knew would mean children would be separated from their parents, who would be incarcerated.

“And that is objectively awful. And yet, Trump argued that Sessions had no choice,” Oliver said before playing a clip of Trump saying Sessions is following laws that are already on the books.

“I want the laws to be beautiful, humane and strong,” Trump told the press.

“OK, so ‘beautiful, humane but strong?’ That is not how you describe a law, that’s how you describe a Viola Davis character in a movie called ‘It Hasn’t Even Been Written Yet But She’ll Still Win The Oscar.’”

He went on to fact-check the president’s claim that Democrats handed the administration those laws.

‘The fool builds walls’: China takes aim at Trump trade war threats

State media attack US president’s actions as selfish and rude after $50bn in tariffs are unveiled.

US president Donald Trump America’s Shithole shakes hand with China’s president Xi Jinping in Beijing in November 2017. Trump’s tariff threats have not been well received in China.

Chinese state media has attacked the White House for escalating the prospect of a trade war, calling the administration of president Donald Trump “selfish” and “rude” and “mundane” in its capriciousness.

“The unpredictability of [the] Trump administration has become mundane, or even boring for China,” an editorial in the state-run tabloid Global Times said on Sunday.

“It reinforces the difference in images of the two countries: one challenges the foundation of global trade through sudden attacks; and one that is prepared to defend itself in a trade war that it cannot avoid.”

After months of negotiations, China and the US are on the brink of an all-out trade war. On Friday, the US unveiled a list of $50bn in Chinese goods to target with 25% tariffs, pledging more duties if China retaliated. Within hours China released its own list of retaliatory tariffs to place on $50bn in US imports.

An editorial in the People’s Daily on Saturday said the latest trade provocations allowed China “to see more clearly the face of the Trump administration, one that is rude, unreasonable, selfish and headstrong”. China’s official Xinhua news agency added: “The wise man builds bridges, the fool builds walls. With economic globalisation there are no secluded and isolated islands.”

The economics case for using Zen to think about trade


Take a deep breath.

Free traders are in pain. The latest protectionist measure they bemoan as a threat to the decades-old free-trade system: 25% tariffs on $50 billion Chinese goods Donald Trump announced today.

The world economy, too, will suffer from uncertainty and the disrupted flow of goods, economists warn. Meanwhile, displaced workers are also hurting as the high-paying jobs promised by protectionists fail to materialize.

As globalization’s critics continue to test their ideas by passing trade restrictions, free-trade advocates need a new strategy. They need to adapt trade rules to the way the world is changing: Cheap fuels, the internet, and robots have upended factories and offices. A tsunami of technological transformation is still to come. And then they need to get off their soap boxes, and think about how to make globalization work for everyone—even for those who think they don’t want it.

To defend globalization, they need to learn the zen of trade.

Cease to cherish your opinions (and the WTO)

These days, globalists have become too focused on old ideas of how the world “should” be. That’s blinding them from the fact that those ideas are losing relevance.

Zen, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, revolves around the practice of meditation in order to grasp the true meaning of things. The only way to achieve that is by letting go of notions of how things should be, to instead accept things as they are. “Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions,” wrote 6th century Zen master Seng-ts’an.

Try it with the World Trade Organization’s rules.

Canada’s best weapon in a US trade-war: invalidating US pharma patents

As the US-Canada trade war heats up, Canada finds itself in an asymmetrical battle, vastly overmatched against a country with an order of magnitude population advantage.

Fighting fair — using tariffs to fight tariffs — is a losing strategy. To win asymmetric fights, you have to target your opponent’s weakest points.

In the case of the USA, that’s pharma patents. US pharma companies hold more patents than any other country’s industry, and the international recognition of these patents is a matter of trade law — the same trade law Trump has just shitcanned in his bizarre war on his northern neighbour.

Moreover, pharma is the most effective and powerful lobbying group in America, with so many Congressjerks bought and paid for that the shenanigans never stop. Just the threat of losing their patents in Canada (which would create a thriving grey market in generic Canadian equivalents being sold into the USA and everywhere else) would send an army of rabid attack-lobbyists to the Capital to get Congress to sit on Trump until he cut that shit out.

Either that, or they’d order Trump to invade. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Millions of Americans pay unnecessary tax filing fees—but they may be able to get a refund


The tax man.

As internet use took off at the turn of the millennium, the Office of Management and Budget asked the Internal Revenue Service to create no-cost electronic tax-filing options for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. The tech-challenged agency turned to the online tax-preparation industry for help and soon struck a deal with companies such as Intuit (the maker of TurboTax) and H&R Block, which had organized as a 12-member consortium called the Free File Alliance.

The Free File Alliance agreed to offer tax-prep service to millions of Americans at no charge. In exchange, the IRS pledged to “not compete with the Consortium in providing free, online tax return preparation and filing services to taxpayers.”

The arrangement went into effect in 2003 and the IRS and the alliance have kept the framework in place ever since. Today the Free File system appears on track to become permanent. In April, the House voted unanimously to enshrine the provision in law, and the Senate is now considering whether to follow suit.

It’s hard to argue with the goal of the program. Free File theoretically allows 70 percent of American taxpayers to prepare and file their taxes at no cost. More than 50 million no-cost returns have been filed using the program over the past 16 years, according to the IRS, saving users about $1.5 billion in fees. Intuit lauds the program as “an example of a public/private partnership that works.” And Tim Hugo, executive director of the Free File Alliance, called Free File “a great product,” adding, “Free File has changed the market.”

But 50 million returns over 16 years represents only about 3 percent of eligible tax returns. By ProPublica’s estimate, that suggests US taxpayers eligible for Free File are spending about $1 billion a year in unnecessary filing fees.

Flooding from sea level rise threatens over 300,000 US coastal homes – study

Climate change study predicts ‘staggering impact’ of swelling oceans on coastal communities within next 30 years

Oceanfront homes in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Houses on the US coastline could risk being flooded every two weeks.

Sea level rise driven by climate change is set to pose an existential crisis to many US coastal communities, with new research finding that as many as 311,000 homes face being flooded every two weeks within the next 30 years.

The swelling oceans are forecast repeatedly to soak coastal residences collectively worth $120bn by 2045 if greenhouse gas emissions are not severely curtailed, experts warn. This will potentially inflict a huge financial and emotional toll on the half a million Americans who live in the properties at risk of having their basements, backyards, garages or living rooms inundated every other week.

“The impact could well be staggering,” said Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “This level of flooding would be a tipping point where people in these communities would think it’s unsustainable.

“Even homes along the Gulf coast that are elevated would be affected, as they’d have to drive through salt water to get to work or face their kids’ school being cut off. You can imagine people walking away from mortgages, away from their homes.”

5 Hilariously Badass Ways You Can Die In Style

Cemeteries can be such depressing places — black suits, boring coffins, crying widows, nary a ball pit to be seen. Just an overall drag. But guess what? Laying your loved ones to rest doesn’t have to be a total bummer. Across the world, there are all sorts of ceremonies that go to truly insane lengths trying to put the “fun” back into funeral. For example …

5. Finally, Your Loved Ones Can Keep Your Memory Alive Inside Them

Sure, we leave behind wills and such to ensure our loved ones are taken care of financially after we pass away, but those won’t keep our soulmates warm during those cold nights without us. And though there’s nothing we can do to fill the hole we’ll leave in their hearts. Fortunately, there are other holes.

“That looks a lot like WALL-E,” you might be saying, before you learn where that’s all going.

This is 21 Grams, a project by Mark Sturkenboom, an artist from the Netherlands. Sturkenboom was inspired to create a more intimate final resting place after seeing the drab urn his neighbor kept her deceased husband in. “She always speaks with so much love about [her husband] but the jar he was in didn’t reflect that at all.” By which he apparently meant that the urn clearly couldn’t fit into her vagina.

The box contains a drawer to keep mementos in, a docking area for your phone to play some music, a scent diffuser containing the deceased’s signature scent, and of course, a glass dildo with a gold-plated urn big enough to ensure nobody feels inadequate in the afterlife.

But slightly more wholesome necrophilia doesn’t come cheaply, so to speak. Getting all up in those 21 grams will cost $8,700. That price tag also includes a beautiful gold-plated brass key that your significant other can wear around their neck for the times they feel the sudden urge to quickly get into your box.

The good men: inside the all-male group taking on modern masculinity

In the hometown of Jordan Peterson, the evangelist of white male resentment, a different and thoughtful men’s movement vies to be heard.

Alex Cameron facilitates a group called The Huddle, where men in Toronto talk about men’s issues.

On a warm Tuesday evening, a dozen men gathered on couches at a Lululemon location in Toronto called The Local. Since last year, as an experiment to reach more male customers, the store has been home to The Huddle, a male bonding group which meets Tuesday nights after closing to work out, run, or meditate.

But once a month, the men circle up to talk about, well, their feelings.

Downtempo jazz and cartons of maple sap water greeted me as I plunked myself down next to a young man who recently quit his job to become a freelance cinematographer. The evening’s facilitator, Alex Cameron, a man with hulking, tattoo-plastered arms and slicked-back salt-and-pepper hair, told us the theme for this session: emotional literacy. Cameron, who is 40, runs a psychotherapy practice nearby.

To start off, Joe, a slight man in a hoodie, volunteered a story about how he came to realize that vulnerability was a strength rather than weakness.

“I’ve never shared this in front of a group before,” said Joe, 34, who told us the story of his mother passing away when he was three; how his dad became hardened and distant; and how, at the age of 27, he found himself in deep depression.

“I was single, in a job I hated, with very few friends I could count on. I felt like we are all going to die anyways, so what’s the purpose of trying?”

Uncovering blocked emotions, Joe told us, saved his life.

The Jeff Bezos Way: How to Design Your Ideal Future

Throughout the years, many people have doubted Jeff Bezos and Amazon.

He’s most famous today for being the richest person alive, and while his image in the media oscillates between both good and bad, one thing is for certain — no one doubts him anymore. Amazon is an absolute giant of a company.

That said, for the first 20 or so years, things were different. They almost never made a profit, they seemed to lack focus, and their corporate valuation was universally acknowledged as being out of touch.

Yet, if you had really, really paid attention to what Bezos was saying during this time, you would have known that none of that criticism mattered.

He had a simple, but very effective decision-making system that almost guaranteed that what he was doing was exactly what he should have been doing. The world was looking at a checker’s board while he was playing chess.

The foundation of his secret is that he was on an entirely different time-horizon. He didn’t care to win over a period defined by someone else, whether that be the media or Wall Street; rather, he was doing his own thing today while being relentlessly focused on tomorrow.

The inside story of how AI got good enough to dominate Silicon Valley


The Alex behind AlexNet.

Alex Krizhevsky didn’t get into the AI business to change the course of history.

Krizhevsky, born in Ukraine but raised in Canada, was just looking to delay getting a coding job when he reached out to Geoff Hinton about doing a computer-science PhD program in AI at the University of Toronto. The fateful moment was when, as a graduate student, Krizhevsky and a fellow student named Ilya Sutskever, decided to enter the ImageNet competition, a test for AI consisting of a huge database of online images.

The competition, open to anyone in the world, was to evaluate algorithms designed for large-scale object detection and image classification. The point wasn’t just to crown a winner, but to test a hypothesis: with the right algorithm, the massive amount data in the ImageNet database could be the key to unlocking AI’s potential. The two grad students, working with Hinton as an advisor, decided to enter the 2012 competition using a fringe idea: an artificial neural network designed by Krizhevsky. The approach dominated the contest, beating every other research lab by a huge 10.8% margin.

Thus, the current AI boom was born. Google hired the three researchers to seed a new, major projects using neural nets; the technology’s decision-making prowess soon put the words “deep learning” on the lips of every founder and Silicon Valley executive. Other tech companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Microsoft started positioning their businesses around the tech.

The Colorado Sun To Launch With Former Denver Post ‘A-Team’ Stars And Tech Cash

Colorado has a new source for news and it was born out of the newsroom spasms of the venerable Denver Post.
The dust had barely settled from the latest round of hedge fund mandated layoffs when the resignations started. Top reporters and editors began announcing on Twitter they were leaving. No one seemed to know where they were going. The answer is an online news startup called The Colorado Sun.

Now, the hard part: “Build something impressive, do great work, and do journalism that people value and that they will want to support,” said co-founding editor Larry Ryckman.

The quick details:

  • Two years of funding, provided as a grant from blockchain venture capitalists
  • Digital-only
  • In-depth news and long-form stories
  • No paywall to start (maybe)
  • Targeting to launch in July, but probably August

The Sun’s reporters and editors are the “A-Team of A-Teams,” said former Post reporter, now Colorado Sun staffer, Jason Blevins. “And when they come knocking, you answer the door.

DEGREE OF OPPORTUNITY: The Colorado Sun will be journalist-owned, but readers can buy tokens in the wider Civil community of publications to financially support and influence what is covered. Those tokens could become more valuable as the news sites become profitable.

Ed. With Sinclair Broadcasting having a huge presence in Colorado’s television news coverage and nearly all front range Colorado newspapers ownd and decimated by vulture capital New York hedge fund Alden Global Capital, it’ll be a breath of fresh air to find in-depth, non-corporate controlled Colorado news.

A new study ranks US states in order of psychopathy


A particularly northeastern trait.

Sometimes, it can feel like there are psychopaths everywhere. If you live in the United States, it’s now possible to move to less psychopathic environs, thanks to new research ranking 48 contiguous states by psychopathy.

Connecticut wins the dubious award of most psychopathic state in the US, followed by California in second, and New Jersey third. New York and Wyoming tie for joint fourth place, followed by Maine. The least psychopathic state is West Virginia, followed by Vermont, Tennessee, North Carolina, and New Mexico.

The psychopathy evaluation for each state is an estimate, notes Ryan Murphy, professor at Southern Methodist University and author of the study, published on Social Science Research Network (SSRN.) The calculation is based in part on previous research that established the levels of big five personality traits (extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to experience) in each state.

Earlier research shows that psychopathy is composed of disinhibition, boldness, and meanness, and a forthcoming paper shows that these characteristics can be translated into the big five traits: “Boldness corresponds to low neuroticism and high extraversion, meanness corresponds to low agreeableness, and disinhibition corresponds to low conscientiousness,” explains Murphy. This finding allowed the researcher to translate analysis of personality in US states to a score for psychopathy.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

In October 2012, Carey Callahan began a course of bimonthly intramuscular testosterone injections. After years of harassment and discomfort in her female body, she had made the decision to transition to being male. In the short term, she was happy. But she soon discovered that life as a transgender man was not what she had expected. Her discomfort persisted, as did the harassment.

Nine months after her first injection, Carey stopped hormone-replacement therapy. A year after that, she made the decision to return to identifying as female. “I regret it,” Carey says of her choice to transition in a new Atlantic documentary.

Recently, Carey began speaking out about her experience, joining a small but vocal group of so-called detransitioners, as profiled in Jesse Singal’s cover story for the July/August issue of The Atlantic.

Chinese president Xi Jinping is amassing an alarming amount of political power. If only his propaganda videos made the idea of unrestricted authority seem as troubling as the concept of singing children.

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

Comedian Hari Kondabolu explains why he doesn’t like to refer to himself as an activist and discusses his Netflix special, “Warn Your Relatives.”

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Opposition with Jordan Klepper for making this program available on YouTube.

Max isn’t happy that I am putting an AC in yhe kitchen window. But we are supposed to be getting hot and humid temps today in the 90’s and heat index in the 100’s so we will need it.


When a Child Says She’s Trans

Hormones? Surgery? The choices are fraught—and there are no easy answers.

Claire is a 14-year-old girl with short auburn hair and a broad smile. She lives outside Philadelphia with her mother and father, both professional scientists. Claire can come across as an introvert, but she quickly opens up, and what seemed like shyness reveals itself to be quiet self-assuredness. Like many kids her age, she is a bit overscheduled. During the course of the evening I spent with Claire and her mother, Heather—these aren’t their real names—theater, guitar, and track tryouts all came up. We also discussed the fact that, until recently, she wasn’t certain she was a girl.

Sixth grade had been difficult for her. She’d struggled to make friends and experienced both anxiety and depression. “I didn’t have any self-confidence at all,” she told me. “I thought there was something wrong with me.” Claire, who was 12 at the time, also felt uncomfortable in her body in a way she couldn’t quite describe. She acknowledged that part of it had to do with puberty, but she felt it was more than the usual preteen woes. “At first, I started eating less,” she said, “but that didn’t really help.”

Around this time, Claire started watching YouTube videos made by transgender young people. She was particularly fascinated by MilesChronicles, the channel of Miles McKenna, a charismatic 22-year-old. His 1 million subscribers have followed along as he came out as a trans boy, went on testosterone, got a double mastectomy, and transformed into a happy, healthy young man. Claire had discovered the videos by accident, or rather by algorithm: They’d showed up in her “recommended” stream. They gave a name to Claire’s discomfort. She began to wonder whether she was transgender, meaning her internal gender identity didn’t match the sex she had been assigned at birth. “Maybe the reason I’m uncomfortable with my body is I’m supposed to be a guy,” she thought at the time.

Claire found in MilesChronicles and similar YouTube videos a clear solution to her unhappiness. “I just wanted to stop feeling bad, so I was like, I should just transition,” she said. In Claire’s case, the first step would be gaining access to drugs that would halt puberty; next, she would start taking testosterone to develop male secondary sex characteristics. “I thought that that was what made you feel better,” she told me.

In Claire’s mind, the plan was concrete, though neither Heather nor her husband, Mike, knew about any of it. Claire initially kept her feelings from her parents, researching steps she could take toward transitioning that wouldn’t require medical interventions, or her parents’ approval. She looked into ways to make her voice sound deeper and into binders to hide her breasts. But one day in August 2016, Mike asked her why she’d seemed so sad lately. She explained to him that she thought she was a boy.

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