In South Africa, a parallel to the Confederate statues debate

In parallel with the recent debate over Confederate statues and other memorials in the U.S., South Africa has its own debate about memorials to the colonial and Apartheid eras. This 9-minute segment from PBS Newshour (broadcast November 10) presents multiple viewpoints, including efforts to relocate and replace older statues but also connect them with a broader set of memorials to the past.


Link: https://youtu.be/sGXmQrJ4GFg

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Jimmy Kimmel tells Trump supporters to sign up for "Trumpcare"

Jimmy Kimmel has lately been urging Donald Trump supporters to sign up for health insurance through Trumpcare, which offers comprehensive coverage at affordable prices. Moreover, it's insurance through private companies, not the government. A lot of Trump fans have taken to Facebook and Twitter to praise Kimmel for finally seeing the light on what a great president Trump is and what a good job he's doing with health insurance, saving people from the evils of Obamacare.

Of course, what Kimmel is doing is sneakily rebranding Healthcare.gov insurance as "Trumpcare" even though it's exactly the same as "Obamacare," though a lot of people seem not to realize this. It's tricky, but if it gets Trump fans to sign up their families for good health insurance, in the end they benefit.

Incidentally, one of Trump's attempts to sabotage Obamacare unintentionally ended up making cheaper and even free policies available to a lot of people. This came as a surprise, but maybe Trump ought to get credit for it anyway. (Hey, penicillin was discovered by accident.) It has to do with something called cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments. Basically, the Affordable Care Act includes two types of subsidies, one to lower monthly premiums and the other to help with out-of-pocket spending in the form of deductibles, coinsurance, and co-pays, collectively known as "cost-sharing" because the individual pays a share of the cost of medical care.

The Affordable Care Act says insurance companies have to cover some of the cost sharing for working people earning up to 250 percent of the poverty level, provided they have a "Silver"-level policy, and it also obligates the government to reimburse the companies for that. But while the ACA requires the reimbursements, it doesn't unambiguously authorize them, at least as some lawyers read the bill. (There's a lawsuit working its way through the courts about this.) Trump used this unintended legal loophole as an excuse to stop making the payments, even though they had hitherto been made since the ACA went into effect.

But this doesn't let the insurance companies off the hook. They still have to reduce cost-sharing for the lower-income insured. So to make up the difference they raised premiums on Silver policies. But remember, premiums are subsidized for about 80 percent of people getting coverage from Healthcare.gov and the state-operated marketplaces. The amount of the subsidy is calculated by taking the cost of second-lowest-cost Silver policy available to the individual or family in question and subtracting it from a percentage of their income. (The exact percentage varies by incomes level.) That subsidy then applies to any policy you sign up for, no matter what the level.

The result is that many people can now get a cheap Bronze policy for free or just a few dollars, or even get a Gold policy (without cost-sharing reductions) for less money than a Silver plan. And the way this works out mathematically, the government is spending a lot more money on subsidies than it saved by ending the CSR reimbursements.

Anyway, here are some examples of Jimmy Kimmel's promotion of the Affordable Care Act as "Trumpcare":


Link: https://youtu.be/vuXwD0NWixM


Link: https://youtu.be/mlZNmtZdTlg


Link: https://youtu.be/zKVxC3sy9Dg

Feel free to share those YouTube links with any Trump fans you know who need health insurance.

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Veterans Day

Depending on whether you observe it on a weekday (as government offices do) or on the traditional November 11, today or yesterday is Veterans Day.

It started as Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice that ended the fighting in World War I, then called the Great War. The armistice went into effect at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. Today we use the date to honor all veterans, and especially war veterans.

I'm a veteran myself (U.S. Navy 1973-1977, plus a little time in the reserve after that), but I was never called upon to fight in a war or suffer more than minor hardships. I salute those who faced danger and sacrifice, including those serving today and those no longer with us. They and their families deserve our gratitude.

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Catalonia

As you're probably aware, the partially autonomous Spanish region of Catalonia has voted in favor of independence and the Spanish central government has intervened to block it. I don't know enough to have a strong opinion either way. On principle I like the idea of self-determination, but I'm also skeptical of fragmentation, and I'm glad the Confederacy lost the U.S. Civil War.

I found Stephen Colbert's November 3 commentary below interesting and thought-provoking, especially for something on a late-night talk show:


Link: https://youtu.be/jyHNcTS_LBo

For something non-political from Catalonia, see this truly entertaining flash-mob-orchestra performance of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" from the city of Sabadell back in 2011.

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Research on abstinence-only sex education

Pediatrician and medical school professor Dr Aaron Carroll summarizes (in eight minutes) the research on abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education:


Link: https://youtu.be/0BkFQ0oUncE

The title at the top of the window above -- "The Evidence for Abstinence-Only Sex Education Is Scant" -- is potentially misleading. There is in fact a great deal of research on the subject, so what the title is meant to convey is that there is not much evidence supporting the use of the abstinence-only over comprehensive sex education. What the research shows is that

  • Abstinence-only is better than nothing at reducing teen sexual activity, but
  • Comprehensive sex education is better at reducing teen sexual activity. In addition, it has better outcomes by multiple other measures as well.

These results are even stronger when considering the best studies, those that make use of randomized controlled trials. RCTs are more reliable because they reduce the chance that the outcome is the result of some confounding variable, such as parental influence.

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A few thoughts on dealing with mass murder

As I don't have to tell you, the first and last days of October saw multiple people murdered in attacks in Las Vegas and New York. The one in New York was carried out by a fanatic radicalized over the Internet by the self-declared "Islamic State." ISIL/ISIS/IS/Daesh or whatever you want to call the group at one point controlled a fair amount of territory in Iraq and Syria but today is near total defeat on the ground. Encouraging individual terrorist attacks suggests its own capabilities are limited.

The motive of the shooter in Las Vegas remains a mystery, though there's no evidence it was political. It might have been a deranged quest for fame. For that matter, terrorists in general are after fame for themselves or their causes.

It's very difficult to prevent these sorts of attacks. The one in New York made use of a truck, and there have been other cases of vehicles employed to run down innocent people in Nice France, Charlottesville Virginia, and Chapel Hill North Carolina among other places.

We can perhaps do something to reduce deaths in mass shootings by limiting magazine capacity and restricting the sale of devices that turn semiautomatic weapons into something closer to a machine gun. There are more of these gizmos on the market than you might imagine, including bump stocks, hellfire triggers, and rotating trigger actuators, with prices as low as $40. The New Yorker website has a good article with animated illustrations, though some might quibble with a few of the technical details. (For example, Gatling guns are characterized more by a rotating assembly of multiple barrels than by a crank-operated firing mechanism.)

However, it's also worth noting that only a tiny fraction of deaths from firearms (about 2 percent) or vehicles (probably an even smaller percentage) involve mass killings or terrorist acts. There's an October 23 article by Ben Hallman on the Columbia Journalism Review website about press coverage of firearms-related news that's worth reading. Mistakes are common, from the technically trivial (such as referring to magazines as "clips") to the seriously substantive (for example, claiming that fully automatic firearms are banned in the U.S. when in reality tens of thousands are legally in private hands; try Googling for "how to buy a machine gun" -- you basically need a background check, approval from your local sheriff, and a pretty good amount of money).

Finally, it's hard to ignore Donald Trump's very different responses to the Las Vegas and New York attacks. In the 48 hours after the attack in Las Vegas President Trump produced only two tweets, both of them the sort of thing you'd expect from a president. (The first was "My warmest condolences and sympathies to the victims and families of the terrible Las Vegas shooting. God bless you!") The New York attack, which killed far fewer people, provoked a barrage of tweets, many of them overheated and poorly thought out, including ridiculing the American justice system. Yesterday The Washington Post published a very good summary of Trump's very different reactions to the two incidents. (See also CNN's timeline of his responses to both incidents and GQ's piece about Trump's inconsistent calls for the death penalty.) Trump suggested he might send the murdered to Guantanamo for a military trial, but apparently someone pointed out to him what should be a well-known fact, namely that prosecutions of terrorism suspects in civilian courts have in practice produced surer, quicker, and often more severe punishment, because the next day he reversed himself.

(As USA Today noted, one or more of Trump's tweets about the New York attack might even end up helping the accused in court.)

At the conservative National Review David French wrote an article October 12 titled "Trump’s Tweets Are Damaging the Republican Character," and this was before the latest examples.

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Pranks: Rahat's Saw puppet sequel plus a magic carpet in the city

Once again I demonstrate that I'm easily amused...

First, Rahat returns to the drive-thru yet again with the second outing of the puppet from the Saw movies (who surely gets hungry for fast food once in a while):


Link: https://youtu.be/-z3qz9FdCG0

(Rahat's previous Saw puppet prank can be viewed here, and for more Rahat see these posts or Rahat's YouTube channel for the full set.)

Next, a prank for once not featuring Rahat: Aladdin flies his magic carpet over the streets of New York at an altitude of a few centimeters:


Link: https://youtu.be/lqlrru1V69E

and also visits San Francisco:


Link: https://youtu.be/7qUJHAS7I5Y

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Mario and Fafa discuss why time travel stinks

From 4 1/2 year in the past (appropriately enough), a Glove & Boots video about time travel:


Link: https://youtu.be/75nBenOWul0

I've long been a fan of Glove & Boots, so I was distressed to learn that their views and revenues have been falling recently for unclear reasons, causing them to suspend posting for a while. Here's their explanatory video:


Link: https://youtu.be/pADmml8Z1Bc

Their main channel is here with a lot of material worth seeing. You might also be interested in their gaming channel where they offer hilarious running commentary while playing video games. My own previous posts on Glove & Boots can be found here.

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