Shields and Brooks on the Trump White House

This is from July 21 but it's still relevant. Mark Shields is a moderate liberal and David Brooks is a moderate conservative, which means among other things that they can talk to each other without yelling. I have my disagreements with both, sometimes strong ones, but I still find what they have to say at least interesting.

Here they talk about several things, including Senator John McCain and recent events the White House, and despite their political differences they pretty much agree with each other. They speak with respect for people they disagree with -- albeit with one exception -- but they they do so bluntly and honestly. I'd like to see more discussions like this from sober moderates.


Link: https://youtu.be/C3MXqcoPkMM

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Best of Rahat's robot driver at the drive-thru

This is a best-of compilation of Rahat's robot driver pranks.

Rahat is a magician who has made a long series of videos in which he hides behind a fake seatback to drive his car while the driver's seat is apparently occupied by a robot, a skeleton, a Muppet, the evil puppet from the Saw movies, the animatronic monsters from Five Nights at Freddy's, or nobody at all. In these bits the driver is a robot, and as usual the reactions range from fright to amusement to mild annoyance, but are generally pretty funny.


Link: https://youtu.be/1UxCFo8ribo

Other Rahat videos I particularly liked can be found here, and you can click this link to go to his YouTube channel, which has over five million subscribers.

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Another Beethoven flash mob

You may have seen the flash mob performing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in the Plaza San Roc in Sabadell, Catalonia (in Spain). If you haven't, you can find it here, and it's definitely worth seeing, both for the performance and the delighted reactions of the people present.

Here's a similar performance at a shopping mall in Tokyo:


Link: https://youtu.be/3lNaajK3Scc

The Ninth Symphony is so popular in Japan that it's often just called "Number Nine." Performances on New Year's Day have become traditional. A truly remarkable one takes place in Osaka with one of the largest choruses ever assembled. See this link.

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Marathons and similar events delay hospital transport and cause deaths

Another video from IU professor of pediatrics Aaron Carroll cites research that marathons and similar traffic-disrupting events lead to increased death rates among older people who are delayed in getting to a hospital.


Link: https://youtu.be/owtEDcxW8ik

It seems likely that rush hour traffic would have a similar effect, but by closing roads marathons might be even more dangerous. This doesn't mean that there should never be marathons or parades or the like, only that planners ought to think about how to minimize disrupting emergency services.

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Hans Rosling: Possible good news on population growth

The world's growing population is a legitimate concern because it will strain numerous resources, including food, fresh water, and energy.

However, in this 10-minute video below from 2010, the late Hans Rosling argues that there is good reason to think that greater education, reduced poverty, and the expanded use of family planning can lead to a leveling off of population, something that in fact is already happening.


Link: https://youtu.be/fTznEIZRkLg

Rosling (who died last December) later revised the estimated achievable maximum to a somewhat higher figure, but his basic argument remained the same.

For more detailed and up-to-date information on the subject, including an extended presentation by Rosling lasting nearly an hour, see this link.

More posts from this blog about Hans Rosling can be found at this link. See also Rosling's Gapminder website.

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More on the Paris climate agreement

As usual, John Oliver manages to be entertaining and informative in this piece on why withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement makes no sense.


Link: https://youtu.be/5scez5dqtAc

Meanwhile, Trump's fellow billionaire Sir Richard Branson (a considerably more successful businessman than Trump, in fact), said Friday, "I’ve got a feeling that the president is regretting what he did" in announcing the U.S. with withdraw from the Paris Agreement, calling Trump's decision "a bizarre mistake." As mentioned in a previous post (and Oliver explains in more detail above), Trump's stated complaints about the Paris Climate Agreement were nonsense. The U.S. sets its own targets and faces no penalties if it fails to meet them. Meanwhile major businesses from Apple and Microsoft to major oil companies to Walmart and Target united in opposing withdrawal, saying that the Paris Climate Agreement if anything actually benefits the U.S. economy.

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Governors of both parties oppose repealing Obamacare

Despite the fact that the Senate GOP's healthcare plan is dead in the water, the following is still relevant. The Republican leadership still plans to vote on a straight repeal of the Affordable Care Act (with the actual effect possibly to be postponed until shortly after the midterm election in 2018), and that implies canceling the expansion of Medicaid. This is the main objection raised by governors of both parties at the U.S. National Governors Association’s summer meeting in Providence, Rhode Island. This three-minute report from Sunday's PBS News Hour explains some of their concerns.


Link: https://youtu.be/3dNUJMZ2qoQ

Another problem is that repealing the Affordable Care Act, whether it goes into effect immediately or in the future, is necessarily going to destabilize healthcare markets. It will also cause huge problems for individuals contemplating early retirement, starting a business, or otherwise thinking about leaving a job that gives them health insurance. The Affordable Care Act assures them they can get a policy on the individual market. Without the Affordable Care Act they're taking a gamble.

The ACA has its problems, but every major proposed so far has problems as well, and very possibly worse ones. The only exception would be a true expansion of Medicare to everyone, including Medicare Advantage. That way people would still be able to obtain private insurance if the preferred and they would also be able to buy Medigap policies. That would preserve consumer choice and the private health insurance industry rather than force everyone into a pure single-payer system. (Single-payer has its virtues, but the loss of choice would scare a lot of people.)

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Hans Rosling: The best statistics you've ever seen

A week ago I posted a talk by professor Hans Rosling of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who tragically died of pancreatic cancer earlier in 2017. Here's another talk of his from 2007 that everyone should see. The overall message is that the world has serious problems, but in many respects the world is getting better faster than you probably realize. This doesn't mean we can relax and stop worrying. It means just the opposite: That our efforts are paying off, and we need to keep it up.


Link: https://youtu.be/hVimVzgtD6w

For more see this previous post.

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Libertarian Game of Thrones parody

This is pretty funny, and the possible spoilers are vague enough that even if you're not caught up through the last season of Game of Thrones they probably won't hurt your enjoyment of the series when you get around to it.


Link: https://youtu.be/ojubI-sYwho

I quite enjoyed watching this, but I can't let it pass without some griping.

First, it presents in passing a commonplace but serious misconception about how Social Security is designed to work and predictably mislabels it a "Ponzi scheme." I wrote a post debunking such misconceptions back in 2012 and multiple other posts on the same general topic over the years, so I won't rehash it now.

The video also misleads with respect to the national debt. Debt can certainly be a problem, but it can also be useful when servicing it is affordable and the borrowed sum is spent responsibly on things that save or make money. That's why businesses, individuals, and governments routinely borrow, as any self-respecting pro-business Libertarian really ought to know.

In passing, I like to remind people that the last two presidents to balance the federal budget were Bill Clinton and Lyndon Johnson. Johnson did it at the height of the War in Vietnam, the War on Poverty, and the Apollo Moon program, and Clinton ran surpluses so large during his second term that the national debt was on track to be paid off in a decade or so. In fact, thanks in part to economic growth, almost every president since World War II, from Harry Truman through Barack Obama, reduced the ratio of debt to gross domestic product. The exceptions were Gerald Ford (who held it pretty much steady during his relatively brief time in office) and Ronald Reagan and the two Bushes (who greatly increased it). Look it up.

Finally, I respectfully -- well, not that respectfully -- disagree with the notion that Libertarians advocate maximum individual liberty. My enthusiasm for individual liberty is the reason I'm not a Libertarian. The core fallacy of big-L Libertarianism is the notion that the only threats to liberty come from the government and those who use physical force. Would that things were so simple! This is the view taken to extremes by notorious crank Ayn Rand and the adolescents who haven't outgrown her. (To be fair, most serious Libertarians I know try to distance themselves from Randian extremes. The head of my state's Libertarian Party once told me over lunch that the hardest thing about being a Libertarian was having to deal with Ayn Rand nuts.)

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