John Green on 2017

The following short video from best-selling novelist and popular vlogger John Green was posted last December 12 and points out that while 2017 had been marred by a continuing opioid crisis in the United States a famine in South Sudan and near-famines elsewhere, murderous ethnic cleansing in Burma/Myanmar, etc, there was also a lot of remarkably good news: a record amount of charitable giving in the United States (even after adjusting for inflation, an approaching total elimination of polio infections (just 16 known cases worldwide at that point in 2017), the lowest percentage of humans living in deep poverty, the highest rate of adult literacy, the biggest percentage of children in school, and record percentages of babies surviving childhood.

Incidentally, as Green takes pains to emphasize, reduced childhood mortality does not lead to population growth. If anything, in practice it seems to have the opposite effect. While he doesn't mention it explicitly, greater availability of contraception is an important factor here as well (despite the opposition of well-intentioned but ignorant religious cranks), as is increased education for women and girls.


Link: https://youtu.be/JiOXpKU7tWc

Here as a bonus is Green talking about his wife's series about cooking and history and his own forthcoming one reviewing various aspects of the anthropocene (the ambiguously timed geological period in which we live), including his favorite soft drink, Diet Dr Pepper.


Link: https://youtu.be/4b_tL3mh-Gw

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Federal funding expires (again) in 3 weeks; who's to blame?

Current funding for the federal government runs out at midnight, March 23, three weeks away, setting up another potential shutdown.

Who's to blame for this? According to Donald Trump, shutdowns and the lack of a budget are always the fault of incompetent presidential leadership. The whole world is looking at us and laughing at us, he says. You can see clips of him saying that at this link, and you only need to watch for a couple of minutes or so.

Of course, these clips are from a few years back, but Trump certainly seemed to be making a general point. Below is the whole segment from the January 22 episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers, right after Congress came up with a temporary continuing resolution to end a two-day shutdown that started on the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration. The Trump quotes can be found from time codes 3:33 to 5:40 (with a few more after that).


Link: https://youtu.be/OWVTtuxW6Fg

I doubt most of us are keeping close track of shutdowns, shutdown threats, and short-term continuing resolutions. (If you really want to refresh your memory, there's a Wikipedia article about them at this link.) The key point is that even now, there's still no deal to keep the government running beyond March 23. Remember, the current fiscal year began last October 1, and the budget was supposed to have been finalized by then. The process of creating it began right after the inauguration. Instead we've had a series of short-term bills keeping things going more or less in keeping with the previous year's budget.

A lot of members of Congress in both houses and from both parties are fed up with these continuing resolutions want to finally pass an actual budget this time, one covering the rest of the fiscal year (which ends September 30).

We'll see.

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School shooting response, Trump versus Obama

Presidents Trump and Obama both had occasion to respond to major school shootings. The Washington Post's opinion section assembled a video contrasting their actions day by day.


Link: https://youtu.be/uHrvODeA8-E

I personally find the music annoying and heavy-handed. The two presidents' responses speak for themselves, and we don't need musical hints to cue what what feelings we should have about them.

Our reactions are also inevitably going to be influenced by what we think of the presidents in question. If you're a fan of Barack Obama, you're likely to find his response to the Newtown shooting far more appropriate and what we tend to think of as "presidential" in comparison with Trump's words and actions following the one in Parkland.

If you're a fan of Donald Trump, my guess is that you won't so much think that he handled it better than Obama as believe that the Post must be treating him unfairly.

To me, the music on the soundtrack helps justify that interpretation, but in the end it's clear enough that Trump's response wasn't what most decent people would think appropriate. I've honestly tried to look at this objectively, and Trump's behavior is just strange. The most charitable thing I can say is that he might simply not feel things the way most of us do. But given Trump's success as a salesman and as a TV star, it's hard not to wonder why Trump isn't better at this. I wasn't a big supporter of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush either (though I admit I liked them more than I do Trump), but both did a vastly better job of fulfilling the president's role in the wake of tragedy, that of a head of state. It's apparent the people around him are trying to help, and when he delivers formal remarks in a controlled setting he's OK. But almost always he soon spouts something offensive or just odd, as when he came to the defense of openly racist nuts in Charlottesville or did a lot of the things referenced in video above.

I suspect many of his supporters would say that he shows a refreshing willingness to speak and tweet in an unfiltered fashion, without regard for political correctness or public opinion. I can see this to an extent, and surely it's why a lot of people in opinion polling have rated Trump more "honest" than, say, Hillary Clinton: because he doesn't come across as scripted the way many other politicians do. Fair enough. The problem is that unfiltered Trump is pretty disturbing. And there's more to honesty than openness. I can't see applying the word "honest" to someone who lies so casually and often.

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Slenderman at the drive-thru

Yet another drive-thru prank video from Rahat:


Link: https://youtu.be/rcBzHgCuEfA

It's clear a lot of drive-thru employees are getting used to these pranks end enjoy them. On the other hand, I can see why some of them would be shocked. After all, working the drive-thru window at a fast-food place, you're much more used to seeing a fat man.

If you're not familiar with the Slenderman urban legend, see the Wikipedia entry here.

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Increased risk isn't necessarily worth worrying about

Pediatrician and medical school professor Aaron Carroll responds to research showing that even light drinking may increase the risk of certain kinds of cancer. He points out that the increased risk appears be tiny and practical terms, and the research also shows a decreased risk of other cancers, as well as other benefits and harms involving diseases other than cancer. This doesn't mean that the studies aren't valid, only that reporting just the bad news and failing to include other relevant information (such as the size of the absolute risk) can be very misleading.


Link: https://youtu.be/lhRqZbvbiq0

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Shots from fifty 2017 movies in 3 minutes

From the French YouTube channel "What's the Mashup?," highlights from 50 of last year's movies (or their trailers anyway) in 3 minutes:


Link: https://youtu.be/kaY8d8R9eF4

(It says something about these being the "best" movies of the year, but there are Smurfs in it, and that makes me skeptical. Then again, Smurfs and naked mole rats appear to be the only two eusocial mammals, so they are not entirely without interest.)

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"LaVar Ball" on SNL

Kenan Thompson's portrayal of celebrity businessman (and father of three basketball players) LaVar Ball on Saturday Night Live I think is hilarious, in part because he reminds me of another celebrity businessman who loves to talk about his own greatness:

From 2017 August 10:


Link: https://youtu.be/3OvJrkc7wgE

From 2017 November 11:


Link: https://youtu.be/xTrJJG_3ow8

From 2018 January 13:


Link: https://youtu.be/3SMAqBSu36w

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Patients thought unreachable respond to music

A large number of non-communicative patients in California nursing homes are involved in an experiment to see how they respond to music. It seems to calm some of those prone to sometimes aggressive behavior, and it may help evaluate degrees of consciousness, which has proven very difficult to do accurately. This report was broadcast January 5 on PBS NewsHour:


Link: https://youtu.be/yFH-fVpuRVU

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