Today I am thankful for….

I stopped subscribing to cable (aka “cut the cord”) long ago and now rely solely on streaming for my television needs. Which, for me, includes Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon Instant Video. 

Which works out fine. Unless your internet goes out.

Which mine did three days ago after, it turns out, a large tree branch blown by heavy winds into the telephone pole out back disconnected the coax into my house.

After three days and two tries, Cox cable finally made it out to take care of the problem. 

So, today I am thankful I do not have to spend this holiday watching broadcast TV and reruns of old sitcoms that make today’s treacly sitcoms look sophisticated.

Jeez, what a waste land.

I endured two episodes of “The Love Boat” back-to-back, each one with a different Julie Your Cruise Director because the original Julie Your Cruise Director was let go because of her cocaine addiction — which was a novel malady back then, at least in the public consciousness. 

Enjoy the short video below, wherein Oprah talks with Julie #1 and Isaac (the bartender on “The Love Boat”) about how differently Hollywood approached drug addiction back then.

I will add that one of the novel features of MeTV, the broadcast network of old American television, is that it gets the stars of those shows back in the 70s to do appearances today plugging their old shows. 

Jamie Farr (“M*A*S*H”) looks not a whole lot different than he did back in that Korean War dramedy. Hunk Adrian Zmed of “TJ Hooker” fame? Not so much. 

I’m not sure how I feel about these commercials. On the one hand, they are entertaining in a sort of where-are-they-now kind of way. On the other hand, they are a bit jarring. 

Oh, and I am thankful for all my friends and family. And living a nice quiet and normal life. And cake.

Creating a supervirus in your kitchen?

CRISPR gene editing kits can now be mail ordered to your home. Could amateurs create a bug that could destroy civilization?

That is a question examined by a writer for Scientific American who ordered a kit herself.  She details what she did with her kit and the question of whether anyone with an expert knowledge of gene research thinks something useful might come out of any home users and their.  That writer also talks to scientists familiar with CRISPR and asks whether a nightmare scenario of a harmful bug created with CRISPR is possible.

Writer Annie Sneed notes: 

“Honey! Look what I created in the garage with CRISPR!”

As for my bigger question—could untrained DIY-ers actually achieve scientific breakthroughs?—I asked academic researchers what they thought. Dana Carroll, for his part, believes amateurs could make meaningful discoveries. “In the professional science community, people keep coming up with new ways to use this technology—people are really only limited by their imagination,” he explains. “It’s possible that people working in their garages or their kitchens will come up with a novel application or a solution to a problem that professionals just haven’t gotten around to.” And Carroll says it would be easy for a DIY-er to share any discoveries with researchers, by attending their talks or simply by contacting them through their Web sites. Yet he notes that the DIY community faces limitations, because amateur scientists likely would lack the necessary resources. “It’s unlikely they will bring a major application all the way to fruition,” he says, “But they could certainly get started on something.”

As to the possible dangers, Sneed writes:

Finally, what about the nightmare scenario: Is CRISPR so easy to use that we need to worry about biohackers—either accidentally or intentionally—creating dangerous pathogens? Carroll and others think that the danger of putting CRISPR in the hands of the average person is relatively low. “People have imagined scenarios where scientists could use CRISPR to generate a virulent pathogen, ” he says. “How big is the risk? It’s not zero, but it’s fairly small.” Gersbach agrees. “Right now, it’s difficult to imagine how it’d be dangerous in a real way,” he explains, “If you want to do harm, there are much easier and simpler ways than using this highly sophisticated genetic editing technique.”

But that is all at the end of the article. If you are a science nerd at all, the entire article makes for interesting reading. 

I have also included a video from the renowned Broad Institute about CRISPR, which is part of a short FAQ from the Broad about CRISPR.

Election Surprise: Health Care Galvanizes Voters

A voter casts his ballot at Hillsboro Old Stone School on November 7, 2017 in Purcellivlle, Va. (Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Health care appears to have played an unexpectedly robust role in Tuesday’s off-year elections, as Democrats swept statewide races in Virginia and New Jersey and voters told pollsters it was a top concern.

The health headline of the night came in Maine, where voters by a large margin rebuked Republican Gov. Paul LePage and approved a referendum  expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Maine is one of 19 states that has not expanded the program to people with incomes up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $16,600 for an individual. An estimated 70,000 to 90,000 Mainers could gain insurance under the expansion.

The Legislature has passed similar bills five times, but LePage vetoed each one. And despite Tuesday’s outcome, he held firm in his opposition. The governor announced Wednesday that he would not implement the expansion, which he said would be “ruinous” for the state’s budget, unless it is fully funded by the Legislature.

Medicaid expansion might also be back in play in Virginia. Voters there not only elevated Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam to the governorship, they may have steered Democrats to a takeover of the state House of Delegates, which has been the primary source of opposition to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s efforts to expand Medicaid. As of Wednesday morning, Democrats had picked up 15 of the 17 seats they would need to take over the majority with several races too close to call or requiring a recount.

And while it was not a headline issue in the governor’s race, health care proved decisive to Virginia voters, according to exit polls funded by a pool of media organizations.

Health care was by far the top issue for voters, according to the poll, which asked voters which of five issues mattered most to them. Nearly 4 in 10 said health care was the issue most important to their vote, followed by gun policy at 17 percent, taxes at 15 percent, immigration at 12 percent and abortion at 8 percent. Among those voters who cited health care, 77 percent voted for Democrat Northam, making it his strongest issue by a wide margin.

The fallout will depend on who holds which views, said Rodney Whitlock, a former GOP Senate staffer. If health care is a top concern for Democrats, “that doesn’t have a lot of meaning for Republicans,” he said. But if independents are the ones who see health as a salient voting issue, “that means much more.”

But Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard University, said the election results suggest that health care has again become a positive for Democrats. “You don’t have to say you love the ACA, but that you don’t want to drop millions of people” from coverage, he explained.

In New Jersey, voters said they were more concerned with state issues, with property taxes and corruption topping the list of topics they told exit pollsters drove their votes. But health care was third.

Still, the election results likely hinged on a host of concerns, warned Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation. Health issues are still strongly viewed through partisan lenses, he said, and the voting probably was more of a referendum on President Donald Trump than on health care. But the results in the Maine referendum could have repercussions beyond that state, showing that Medicaid expansion is “far more popular” than Republicans have acknowledged. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

In Ohio, voters defeated what some called a confusing ballot measure aimed at limiting prescription drug prices to no more than the amount paid by the Department of Veterans Affairs. A similar measure was voted down in California last year.

Inmates take over asylum at small Oregon college

There is a course called Humanities 101 at Reed College, a small liberal arts institution in Portland. It is described in a Nov. 2 article in The Atlantic this way:

A required year-long course for freshmen, Hum 110 consists of lectures that everyone attends and small break-out classes “where students learn how to discuss, debate, and defend their readings.” It’s the heart of the academic experience at Reed, which ranks second for future Ph.D.s in the humanities and fourth in all subjects. (Reed famously shuns the U.S. News & World Report, as explained in a 2005 Atlantic article by a former Reed president.) As Professor Peter Steinberger details in a 2011 piece for Reed magazine, “What Hum 110 Is All About,” the course is intended to train students whose “primary goal” is “to engage in original, open-ended, critical inquiry.”

All well and good, right? This is what college is supposed to be about. Challenging assumptions and forcing students to learn critical reasoning skills so that they can not only defend that which they think they know, but learn also what they do not know, and how to debate these issues in a civil society — and to further and defend their future academic research, if any.

Except that is not how it is working out at Reed, as writer Chris Bodenner notes in that Atlantic article:

[In Humanties 101], a 39-year-old Saturday Night Live skit recently caused an uproar over cultural appropriation. In the classic Steve Martin skit, he performs a goofy song, “King Tut,” meant to satirize a Tutankhamun exhibit touring the U.S. and to criticize the commercialization of Egyptian culture. You could say that his critique is weak; that his humor is lame; that his dance moves are unintentionally offensive or downright racist. All of that, and more, was debated in a humanities course at Reed.

But many students found the video so egregious that they opposed its very presence in class. “That’s like somebody … making a song just littered with the n-word everywhere,” a member of Reedies Against Racism (RAR) told the student newspaper when asked about Martin’s performance. She told me more: The Egyptian garb of the backup dancers and singers–many of whom are African American–“is racist as well. The gold face of the saxophone dancer leaving its tomb is an exhibition of blackface.”

Such outrage has been increasingly common in the course, Humanities 110, over the past 13 months. On September 26, 2016, the newly formed RAR organized a boycott of all classes in response to a Facebook post from the actor Isaiah Washington, who urged “every single African American in the United States that was really fed up with being angry, sad and disgusted” over police shootings to stay home on Monday. Of the 25 demands issued by RAR that day, the largest section was devoted to reforming Humanities 110.

The article goes on to say:

Beginning on boycott day, RAR protested every single Hum lecture that school year. In-class protests are very rare on college campuses. During the nationwide upsurge of student activism tracing back to 2015, protesters have occupied administrative buildings, stormed into libraries, shut down visiting speakers in auditoriums, and walked out of classrooms–but they hardly ever disrupt the classroom itself. RAR has done so more than 60 times.

A Hum protest is visually striking: Up to several dozen RAR supporters position themselves alongside the professor and quietly hold signs reading “We demand space for students of color,” “We cannot be erased,” “Fuck Hum 110,” “Stop silencing black and brown voices; the rest of society is already standing on their necks,” and so on. The signs are often accompanied by photos of black Americans killed by police.

“Facebook conversations at Reed bring out the extreme aspects of political discourse on campus.”

One of the first Hum professors to request that RAR not occupy the classroom was Lucía Martínez Valdivia, who said her preexisting PTSD would make it difficult to face protesters. In an open letter, RAR offered sympathy to Martínez Valdivia but then accused her of being anti-black, discriminating against those with disabilities, and engaging in gaslighting–without specifying those charges. When someone asked for specifics, a RAR leader replied, “Asking for people to display their trauma so that you feel sufficiently satisfied is a form of violence.”

But another RAR member did offer a specific via Facebook: “The​ ​appropriation​ ​of​ ​AAVE [African American Vernacular English]​ ​on​ ​her​ ​shirt​ ​during​ ​lecture:​ ​‘Poetry​ ​is​ ​lit’ ​is​ ​a​ ​form​ ​of​ ​anti-blackness.”

Oh, brother. 

Liberals like to observe, with good reason, that education has failed American students, from public schools on through college. Any one of us knows people with a college degree who nearly lack the critical reasoning skills necessary to find their way to a cogent position in political arguments.

But it’s not just students at right-wing, religious universities who are asking to be shielded from the real world. Liberal students are asking the same at many institutions. 

Civic-mindedness and the public spirit in which we all share some common values are both dying slow deaths in American culture, not to mention the strangling of nuance. 

No wonder our body politic cannot agree enough to pursue even the most anodyne of common goals now being threatened by a takeover of the poltitical system by American oligarchs.

Put another way: if Steve Martin singing King Tut is enough to send today’s students in search of safe spaces, and create efforts to shut down an entire required freshman class, then even comedy and comedic satire are both on the same intolerant, know-nothing chopping block. 

Blowing up the anti-Brazile narrative

Democratic political operative (and former interim DNC chair) Donna Brazile.

Is Donna Brazile a self-important traitor to the DNC cause? Or has she been smeared by reporting-by-Twitter?

The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald thinks the latter, and has set forth what he says are four falsehoods that have been put forth about Brazile’s  bombshell allegations in her new book that the Clinton campaign had inordinate amounts of control over the key processes during the entirety of the last presidential campaign.

As early as this morning — Sunday, Nov. 5 — CNN is still reporting that Brazile said she had the unilateral power to remove Clinton as the nominee, even though the newspaper that originally reported that claim has had to walk it back (see below). This is important because this claim is  central to some others because it is being used to ridicule Brazile as being an ill-informed megalomaniac with an anti-Clinton agenda. 

Notes Greenwald:

Viral Falsehood #3: Brazile stupidly thought she could unilaterally remove Clinton as the nominee.

[On Nov. 4], the Washington Post published an article reporting on various claims made in Brazile’s new book. The headline, which was widely tweeted, made it seem as though Brazile delusionally believed she had a power which, obviously, she did not in fact possess: “Donna Brazile: I considered replacing Clinton with Biden as 2016 Democratic nominee.” The article said Brazile considered exercising this power after Clinton’s fainting spell made her worry that Clinton was physically debilitated, and her campaign was “anemic” and had taken on “the odor of failure.”

But Brazile – as a result of her stinging criticisms and accusations of Clinton, Obama and the DNC – is currently Public Enemy Number One among Democrats in the media. So they seized on this headline to pretend that she claimed the power to unilaterally remove Clinton on a whim, and then used this claim to mercilessly vilify her – the chair of Al Gore’s 2000 campaign, last year’s interim head of the DNC, and a long-time Democratic Party operative – as a deluded, insane, dishonest, profiteering, ignorant fabulist who lacks all credibility.

But the entire attack on Brazile was false. She did not claim, at least according to the Post article being cited, that she had the power to unilaterally remove Clinton. The original Post article, buried deep down in the article, well after the headline, made clear that she was referencing a complicated process in the DNC charter that allowed for removal of a nominee who had become incapacitated.

The Post then amended its story to reflect that she made no such absurd claim in her book, but rather noted that “the DNC charter empowered her to initiate replacement of the nominee” and that “if a nominee became disabled, she explains, the party chair would oversee a complicated process of filling the vacancy that would include a meeting of the full DNC.” The Post then added this note to the top of the article:

Journalists on Twitter spent hours yesterday mocking, maligning and attacking the reputation of Brazile for a claim that she simply never made – all because a tweeted headline, which they never bothered to read past or evaluate, made them think they were justified in doing so in order to malign someone who has, quickly and bizarrely, become one of the Democrats’ primary enemies.

Greenwald details three other ways he thinks the narrative of the story about Brazile’s claims in her book have been hijacked by credulous reporting of things reporters see on Twitter and then repeat as received wisdom without bothering to check their veracity, including her claim that the DNC agreement  with Clinton  applied to both the primary and general election — a claim that was allegedly debunked and for which Greenwald says requires a debunking of that debunking.

You can read all of it here.

I have my issues with Greenwald and The Intercept. They have been proof, at times, of the danger when people on the Left let their own beliefs get in the way of good reporting. (Witness Greenwald’s one-time insistence that claims of Russian interference were  a smokescreen to cover up Democratic Party ineptitude in the last presidential election — a claim he has had to abandon as evidence mounts of Russian interference happening on many fronts, including planting inflammatory stories supportive of third-party candidate Jill Stein.)

But Greenwald seems to be into something here. It does appear some Clinton loyalists have been fudging the truth in order to discredit Brazile. 

There are lingering questions about whether the agreement between the Clinton campaign and the DNC was an unseemly grab for power meant to exclude Bernie Sanders and others from an honest nominating process and campaign, or simply a wise candidate saying that if she was going to prop up the DNC financially to benefit the party and down-ticket candidates, she expected some control ensuring the money was spent wisely?

Absent further evidence, those are questions to which he may never have sufficient answers because we can’t read the minds of the people involved and those interpretations may largely depend on whom you supported in the presidential election. 

An after-school satan club?

Right-wing and mainstream media have been filled with breathless stories about the After-School Satan Club. The group says it was created to counter the work of the Good News Club, a child evangelism organization that operates in thousands of schools worldwide, many of them public schools. They claim to reach over a million children each year.

They can do this in public schools because they operate after school and parents have to opt-in to the programs because they are not considered official school clubs, but rather function as after-school private clubs.

The After-School Satan Club markets itself as being founded upon “free inquiry and rationalism, the scientific basis for which we know what we know about the world around us. We prefer to give children an appreciation of the natural wonders surrounding them, not a fear of everlasting other-worldly horrors.”

All well and good. Free country and all that.

But as comedian Jim Jeffries points out in the YouTube video below from his eponymous show on Comedy Central, the After-School Satan Club is in zero schools yet still begs for money for doing, well, apparently nothing but stroking the egos of its founders and causing problems for those of us who want to present science in schools as a rational, non-threatening alternative to the know-nothing, anti-education agenda of the most conservative theologies in America.

No matter how any atheist might feel about religion in their own lives, not all people of faith are the enemy. I have a church a few blocks from my home, First United Methodist Church of Omaha (FUMC), that focuses on the goodness and kindness and love that humans can bring to one another while still being believers in a higher being. FUMC does amazing work in the community around social justice issues.

I would rather see these churches built up, instead of insisting on the fool’s errand of trying to rid the world of religion.

After School Satan is doing far more harm than good, but their efforts do illustrate an important point: the progressive side has just as many stubbornly doctrinaire people as does the right-wing side, with one important difference: many of them are people with formal education. That does not, apparently, stop them from doing very stupid things.

On a final note, the National Science Teachers Association has this to say about starting a science club in your own schools without any of that annoying, useless BS about Satan.

Fox News, fingers in ears, screams “la, la, la, la, la!”

I love this tweet so much I had to share it.

The possibilities are endless with the indictment of Manafort, et. al. This signals to every person in Trump’s orbit that anything is fair game.

And whom do you suppose in the Trump rogues’ gallery of grifters has evaded taxes, at the very least?

Bannon? The Trump children? Trump himself?

That’s the thing about a special prosecutor. He is ostensibly looking for collusion with the Russians in the election. But if, in his investigation into that area, he runs across something else against the law? Tough luck, pal. 

You know Donald Trump has something in his closet. This guy can grab pussies with impunity. Who knows what other rules he thought don’t apply to him?

This is eventually gonna push Orange Dear Leader over the edge. You know it will.

Fox News is going to have to queue up a lot of B-roll for shitty stories on America’s favorite candies and laundry detergents to keep everyone’s mind on something else. Good luck with that.

In most other presidential administrations an indictment of a key player would leave us wondering who else is dirty. With these people you have to wonder who isn’t. The lot of them have the faint whiff of grift about them.

The show begins today. Where it will lead is anyone’s guess. 

These are interesting and very dangerous times in which we live.  A federal prosecutor just threw down the gauntlet to a mentally unstable president with access to the nuclear football.

Fox News’ official response to the Manafort indictment.

AZ Congressman is a real nut job

The Charlottesville Nazi march was a false flag operation by liberals. George Soros betrayed and looted from the Jews in Germany. Congressman Paul Gosar goes full InfoWars on CNN.

And he’s a dentist, apparently, which just goes to show you that a formal education is wasted on some people.

Of course he was endorsed by Sarah Palin, the standard-bearer for all things ignorant. 

What is wrong with Arizona that they keep voting for these screwballs? By all means, vote for a fiscal conservative. But why keep putting guys like this in office?

GOP candidate in FLA says she was abducted by aliens

A Republican candidate in Florida (where else?) says she was abducted by aliens:

Among the things she said she found out from the aliens:

▪ There are 30,000 skulls — “different from humans” — in a cave in the Mediterranean island of Malta.

▪ The world’s “energy center” is in Africa.

▪ The Coral Castle, a limestone tourist attraction South Miami-Dade, is actually an ancient Egyptian pyramid.

▪ “God is a universal energy.”

She also said that the aliens had mentioned Isis, though she didn’t clarify if they meant the terrorist organization or the ancient Egyptian goddess.

Big props for the Egyptian goddess reference.

When she debates her electoral challenger it will likely be quite confusing when she starts talking about illegal aliens.

To get along in Trumpland, you have to shame yourself

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, left, and Florida Congressperson Frederica Wilson, whom nobody has apparently told that dressing as a back-up singer in a Garth Brooks cover band harms her credibility.

Vanity Fair notes in a current piece by writer Tina Nguyen how we all knew that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, presented in the media as the straight shooter who is bringing order to the Trump Administration, would eventually have to shame himself in order to keep favor with the mercurial Trump and his loose association with anything resembling the truth:

All senior White House staffers duty-bound to serve President Donald Trump have, at one point in their tenure, stood in front of a crowd of reporters and delivered untruths to cover for their boss—a ritualistic torching of their integrity, as it were. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was forced to dodge accusations that he had called Trump a “moron”; National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, meanwhile, had to defend Trump after the president shared another spy agency’s intel with Russian officials. It was only a matter of time before Chief of Staff John Kelly’s turn arrived, and arrive it did, with Kelly unexpectedly taking the podium during a press briefing Thursday to exculpate Trump after he was accused of mishandling a phone call to a grieving war widow. Standing before the press, Kelly used his position as a four-star general who has lost a son in battle to take Florida Congresswoman Frederica Wilson to task, saying he was “heartbroken” by her comments criticizing the president, and accusing her of bragging about appropriating money for an F.B.I. building—a claim that was disproved hours later, when video of Wilson’s speech was released.

Plenty of Trump staffers have doubled down on more egregious falsehoods (beleaguered former Press Secretary Sean Spicer comes to mind), but to hear the claims coming from the sterling four-star general was a departure. Kelly, after all, entered the White House as part of a contingent of sober grown-ups, and reportedly felt duty-bound to restrain Trump when he supplanted Reince Priebus as chief of staff. Hopes rose that Kelly’s military discipline and love of country would keep the president in line. “He has a lot of credibility,” presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The Washington Post at the time. “Trump better not double-cross him . . . The integrity is so high.”

That reputation held after Trump’s Charlottesville press conference and speech at the United Nations, where Kelly was photographed staring dourly at the ground in apparent shame. As my colleague Gabriel Sherman reported last week, Kelly is “miserable” in his job but has remained out of a sense of duty, while carefully eyeing an eventual exit strategy. But after Wilson told reporters that Trump had upset the widow of slain solder La David Johnson, saying of her late husband, “I’m sure he knew what he was signed up for,” Kelly took it upon himself to defend the president. Rather than delivering boilerplate condemnations, he leaned in to his own experience as a father of a slain soldier to attack Wilson, who had heard Trump call Johnson’s family and relayed his comments to the public.

“I just thought the selfless devotion that brings a man or woman to die on the battlefield, I just thought that might still be sacred,” a visibly emotional Kelly said, describing how his first reaction, upon hearing Wilson’s remarks, was to take refuge at Arlington National Cemetery. “I hope, as you write your stories, let’s not let this last thing that is sacred—a young man or woman giving his or her life for country—let’s somehow keep that sacred. It eroded a great deal yesterday by the selfish behavior of a member of Congress.” Kelly then called Wilson’s integrity into question, saying that, during the dedication ceremony for a building honoring two slain F.B.I. agents, she had bragged in a speech about how “she got the money” for the building.

You have probably seen the video evidence, released soon after Kelly’s comments, showing that Rep. Wilson said no such thing. In fact, she said things that would make any right winger proud in praising two murdered FBI agents and her bipartisan efforts to rush through legislation on Capitol Hill naming a new building after them.

(Of course she was taking some credit for what was an honorable thing to do. That is what politicians do. They transmit to the folks who vote for them that they have done something that warrants continued support. But that is nowhere near falsely claiming to have secured funding to get something built. )

In light of all of this, Kelly’s beatification in the press as one of the lone credible people trying to bring order to a chaotic, dissembling White House begs some questions.

Has he been turned to the dark side, willing to say anything to keep his job and puff up Trump’s fragile ego? Or has he always been there and this episode brought it out?

Perhaps Kelly’s love and dedication to country, the main reason he is rumored to have taken the chief of staff job in the first place, has taught him that he needs to go along to get along and keep an easily distracted and offended Trump from veering off course over an incident that, while certainly important to Wilson and La David Johnson’s family, is only another blip in the President’s continued campaign to bamboozle everyone into not paying attention to the real harm he is doing behind the scenes of the chaos he creates and craves.

It says much that is terrible that we live in a time when we have a presidency wherein the ability to tell, and further, easily disprovable lies is a chief job description for even Marine generals with a long history of rectitude.

 

Just because you want to be informed doesn't mean you can't laugh along the way. Science, politics, religion, pop culture and the law.