December 2, 2018 in 2,443 words

To set my mood • • •

The Observer view on Donald Trump’s growing list of failures

The US president’s renowned ‘base’ will not tolerate many more job losses or fiscal blunders

Above: Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.

It has been a difficult week for Donald Trump. A series of reverses at home was followed in short order by one of the US president’s least favourite things – obligatory participation in an international summit, namely this weekend’s G20 gathering in Buenos Aires, where he is not the sole focus of attention. Personal interaction with fellow national leaders who consider themselves his equals is an evidently problematic proposition.

Trump’s instinct is to dominate the room, push to the front and hold court as others dutifully listen. In policymaking terms, collaboration, co-operation and the very concept of multilateralism appear alien to him. When attending such meetings, Trump typically looks and behaves as though he would much rather be somewhere else, preferably on his golf course in New Jersey.

Trump’s domineering, chief executive style, inimical to open discussion and hostile to challenge, sits uneasily within a democratic system where any president must be answerable to voters, their elected representatives and the media. It also means he must always be right. Many Americans, not least his fabled “base” of predominantly white, working-class and rural voters, seem ready to accept Trump is not always truthful. But they will not accept failure – and Trump’s list of failures is lengthening.

A key Trump promise in the 2016 election was to make America’s factories great again. “My plan includes a pledge to restore manufacturing in the United States,” he declared. That optimistic prospectus tipped the balance in critical midwest states such as Ohio and Michigan. Last week’s announcement by General Motors, a major US company, that it was cutting 14,000 jobs, thus injected a stringent dose of economic reality into Trump’s make-believe world.

In the age of Amazon, it’s time to forget what we know about monopolies


Everyone works for Walgreens.

The specter of monopolies is getting renewed attention in this age of Amazon and massive corporate mergers that once would have been unthinkable. Market concentration is being blamed for almost everything that is wrong today, from stagnating wages to the rise of fascism.

There are now fewer firms in the US economy since the 1980s, and they are big. The Council of Economic Advisors looked at the number of firms and their revenue in various industries and estimated that market concentration increased in 75% of industries since the 1990s. The dominance of a few firms conjures images of robber barons from the gilded age squeezing everyone from consumers to workers, enriching themselves in the process. But this is a new gilded age, powered by a more inter-connected and more global economy. As markets change, so might the ideal structure of companies. With that change comes a new understanding of monopoly power, and a reappraisal of its costs, and even possible benefits.

In the past, the answer to concentrations of corporate power was to break up firms. Some commentators and legal scholars think we need more trust-busting today. That solution worked well to fix the traditional problems like high prices and low wages, posed by monopolies. But if the problems are different, the solution might be too. Before we beat the anti-trust drum, it’s worth considering what damage, if any, monopolies are actually doing to the economy.

What the largest sex-furniture manufacturer in the US can teach America about trade


American manufacturing in action (before it gets some action).

As US president Donald Trump swanned through the fighter jets, Stetson hats, and baseball bats at the White House’s Made in America event in July, one product was absent from the display of patriotic American-made goods: Liberator-brand sex furniture.

Perhaps it would be asking too much for the Trump administration to tout a company that produces crimson foam wedges, chaises, and other furniture pieces that help couples have more pleasurable sex. But Luvu brands, the company that manufactures Liberator furniture, can teach America a lot about trade.

One of Trump’s campaign promises was keeping manufacturing in the US and bringing back factory jobs through bilateral trade policy. So far his policies have helped increased employment in manufacturing. However, GM recently announced that they would cut nearly 15,000 jobs and close three car plants, and the Administration’s tariffs on everything from Chinese-made washing machines to Canadian steel will actually hurt American companies, according to most economists.

If tariffs aren’t the answer, then what is? Luvu could provide a model for how industry and American jobs can be brought back to the US.

5 Unexpected Ways Tourists Ruin Absolutely Everything

Anyone who’s ever lived in a tourist town knows how annoying things get whenever ski season / spring break / Ponycon rolls around. But sometimes the aftermath of an influx of rubbernecking rubes is a lot worse than wrecked hotel rooms, trash-strewn streets, and impregnated Denny’s waitresses. For example …

5. New Zealand Is Drowning In Poop

Most people know New Zealand as “the place that isn’t Australia,” or at best, “where Lord Of The Rings was filmed.” With its gorgeous views and now exceptionally low orc count, New Zealand tourism has shot up over 50 percent since The Fellowship Of The Ring was released back in 2001. While all these tourists have brought sweet, sweet nerd dollars to the economy, they’ve also brought something else: mountains of shit.

In 2017, New Zealand welcomed 3.5 million tourists, a whopping 480,000 more than they had projected a few years before. All those extra tourists have to work out their trail mix and lembas bread somewhere, and it’s becoming a big problem. The government built a “poo tracker” for the sole purpose of determining what national landmarks are closed because of “fecal contamination.” In 2016, ten different beaches were closed so the government could tackle the rising feces levels. We’d hate to be the tourists who arrived at those beaches only a few turds before they closed.

52 hours. That’s how long this video takes to go from the world’s most beautiful scenery to the busiest bathroom at Oktoberfest.

To be clear, the problem isn’t that tourists meandering through Hobbiton are determined to make its streets their personal toilets. It’s more that New Zealand’s sewage systems simply aren’t built to handle this much crap. They’re constantly overflowing, and travel companies are forced to rent out portable chemical toilets to give visitors an option besides flinging their shit about like monkeys. That’s why the country is considering putting a cap on the number of annual tourists … or at least taxing them heavily to lessen the load, as it were.

The neuroscience that shows us what it’s like to be a dog


You can relate to this husky, though you may seem very different.

When Gregory Berns was in medical school in 1990, he killed a dog. He severed the vessels near the animal’s heart according to his anatomy professor’s instructions, in order to end its suffering.

Berns, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, never really recovered from the experience. His regret led him to his life’s work: Understanding the minds of animals.

Informed by his early experience, Berns is an academic and researcher who also advocates for kinder science, doing work that reveals the similarities between people and creatures like dogs, dolphins, sea lions, and more. And while he trains canines to participate in sophisticated research projects meant to illuminate their inner lives, he gives the dogs in his studies options. If a dog chooses not to step up to the MRI for a brain scan, they are free to go.

The neuroscientist’s latest book, What It’s Like to Be a Dog, won a Smithsonian Best Science Book prize in 2017 and was just released in paperback last month. The title is a reference to philosopher Thomas Nagel’s influential 1974 essay “What Is It Like To Be a Bat?” (pdf). Nagel argued that even with huge advances in neuroscience, humans would never understand the subjective experience of animals, using bats as an example, because we’re just too different—we don’t use sonar or fly.

Berns disagrees. He believes that we can understand how animals experience the world and start to make sense of their inner lives—and that we have more in common with our pets and livestock and the creatures of the sea than perhaps we’d like to imagine. After all, if we start to acknowledge that other living things have a rich emotional existence not too different from our own, we will be forced to question how we treat them, and perhaps change our behaviors as well.

The Bootleg Video Vans of the Soviet Union

I learned English—and Western culture—watching American movies in smoky minibuses. An Object Lesson.

In the U.S.S.R. of the 1980s, as Brezhnev’s stagnation mutated into Gorbechev’s perestroika, the Soviet people started peering out from behind the Iron Curtain at the tantalizing opulence of Western popular culture. It wasn’t unusual for a few government-approved (and heavily sanitized) Hollywood movies to show up in local theaters in Mother Russia and her 14 children-states. An occasional 1960s or ’70s classic—like Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather—would even make its way to one of the two central, state-run television stations broadcasting to all 15 republics.

This trend began in the 1960s, under Khrushchev’s “thaw,” the era during which the good people of the U.S.S.R. were allowed to fall in love with Girls Only in Jazz, a black-and-white masterpiece known to most English speakers as Some Like It Hot (Soviet censors found the original title too, well, hot). Even in the ’80s, when I got to see it myself, the American jazz girls of the ’20s, portrayed through the lens of 1950s Hollywood, seemed utterly wild.

But this is not how my peers and I got introduced to our first “real” American movies. Instead of movie theaters or drive-ins, Soviet youth got their Hollywood fix through bootleg video salons hosted in grungy minibuses.

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

‘Becoming’ author and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s conversation with Stephen was too long for TV. When she goes long, we go ‘Enjoy, Internet!’

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

An Australian farmer introduces the world to an unbelievably large cow named Knickers.

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

Many people assume that they perceive the world as it actually is—as if eyes and ears were windows that allow us to access an objective reality. But perception is not an accurate reflection of an externally existing world.

“In fact,” the neuroscientist Anil Seth says, “perception and hallucination have a lot in common. You could say that we’re all hallucinating all of the time, and when we agree about our hallucinations, that’s what we call reality.”

In an animated video from Carolyn Merriman of the Future of StoryTelling, Seth explains how the brain operates on implicit beliefs accumulated over thousands of years of human evolution. These, he explains, are what “turn the raw material of sensory data into our projected perceptual realities.”

Most of the time, we can all agree on these perceptions. But sometimes this consensus breaks down, such as in the case of the Internet phenomena of the white-and-gold versus black-and-blue dress or the “laurel” versus “yanny” audio clip. These are stark reminders of what Seth describes as the “neurological guesswork that happens behind the scenes.” In these moments, the curtain is lifted on the theater—not the window—of our reality.

“Our brain is doing its best to make sense of ambiguous sensory input,” Merriman told The Atlantic. “In some ways, our perception of the world is just the story our brains are telling us based on the sum of our senses.”

The mind’s ability to create this congruous narrative of reality continues to awe Seth. “I am inspired by how such a small biological machine inside my head—inside the head of everyone—can create such a rich inner universe for each of us from the raw material of sensory signals,” he told The Atlantic. “This is a monumental achievement, one that is far outside the scope of any artificial machine or computer we’ve ever constructed.”

“Neuroscience of Perception” was produced by The Future of Storytelling and Carolyn Merriman. It is part of The Atlantic Selects, an online showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.

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

Here’s me commentary on a thrilling kids car race. Cheers to Goodwood Road and Racing for releasing ya copyright claim on this video. Appreciated. Everyone say thanks to ’em on their source video over on their channel:

個性的なそれぞれの後姿。Individual back figures of Maru&Hana.


Portrait of a planet on the verge of climate catastrophe

As the UN sits down for its annual climate conference this week, many experts believe we have passed the point of no return.

How South Beach, Miami, could look if temperatures rise by 2C.

On Sunday morning hundreds of politicians, government officials and scientists will gather in the grandeur of the International Congress Centre in Katowice, Poland. It will be a familiar experience for many. For 24 years the annual UN climate conference has served up a reliable diet of rhetoric, backroom talks and dramatic last-minute deals aimed at halting global warming.

But this year’s will be a grimmer affair – by far. As recent reports have made clear, the world may no longer be hovering at the edge of destruction but has probably staggered beyond a crucial point of no return. Climate catastrophe is now looking inevitable. We have simply left it too late to hold rising global temperatures to under 1.5C and so prevent a future of drowned coasts, ruined coral reefs, spreading deserts and melted glaciers.

One example was provided last week by a UN report that revealed attempts to ensure fossil fuel emissions peak by 2020 will fail. Indeed the target will not even be reached by 2030. Another, by the World Meteorological Organization, said the past four years had been the warmest on record and warned that global temperatures could easily rise by 3-5C by 2100, well above that sought-after goal of 1.5C. The UK will not be exempt either. The Met Office said summer temperatures could now be 5.4C hotter by 2070.

At the same time, prospects of reaching global deals to halt emissions have been weakened by the spread of rightwing populism. Not much to smile about in Katowice.

Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Maybe. Probably Not? Another Groundhog Day.