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Here comes the sun

January 15, 2019

ninasimoneherecomesthesunAn article in Outside Online challenges the orthodox view of sun exposure and sun screens. Like many who gravitate to the outdoors, I use sunscreens only at the start of a day when I’m planning to be out almost all of it. Who has the time and discipline to slather them on, every short outing? Purely as a matter of physics, the upper, sometimes horizontal parts of the body — like my bald pate — would get much more sun exposure than the lower, vertical parts. Which is why I long since have followed an alternative they discuss:

Trading your sunscreen for a shirt and a broad-brimmed hat is another. Both have superior safety records.

The article is worth reading for its discussion of the possible benefits to sun exposure.


Indictment and impeachment

January 14, 2019

The crimes that Mueller’s team is investigating are quite technical on the elements that constitute them. The behavior involved was complex and intentionally secret. Unlike many, I hesitate to speculate on what further indictments are coming. If any. Nor do I claim to know whether the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia was fairly shallow or relatively deep.

Andrew Coan righteously defends the Mueller investigation, regardless of what more it produces. And he points correctly to how Trump has launched an assault against the rule of law in response to it:

If Mueller completes his investigation without interference, the norm established by Watergate will remain superficially intact. But Trump will have rendered it far weaker and more fragile than it appeared just two years ago. The next time a president is accused of a crime, this weakened norm may not be enough to restrain him. For this, Trump deserves lasting censure, regardless of the investigation’s outcome.

More than censure, he deserves impeachment. Let’s be clear. It was not an impeachable offense for Trump to fire Comey. It is an impeachable offense that he did so because Comey had started an investigation related to Trump’s campaign. Motive matters. He has the mores of a mobster, arguing they do something terribly wrong when his henchmen “flip” and cooperate with prosecutors. Every time Trump tells the Department of Justice who to prosecute and who not, he crosses the line of proper presidential behavior. Brad Sherman was quite right to file articles of impeachment last year. I’m glad he did so again this year.

And no, it doesn’t seem impeachable that Trump is a habitual liar. That was clear when he was elected. It is no surprise at all that he lied about past presidents supporting his wall. But, yes, a president who declares a faux emergency — either to thwart Congress for not approving his policy, or to distract from other issues — has reached the bar for impeachment.

I don’t pretend to see the future. I don’t know if Mueller has more indictments forthcoming. I don’t know whether his report will be bland, telling little more than we already know, or a bombshell. What already is clear is that we are living through the most visibly corrupt presidency in US history. Based on what we know now.

Photo shows the previous Teflon Don.

Love is all you need

January 10, 2019

University of Texas biologists have done something quite curious. They looked at gene expression differences between closely related pairs of species — one monogamous, one not — in distant parts of the vertebrate branch. And they found commonalities. Evolution seems to be finding repeatedly the same path to make species monogamous or not. For mammals, birds, fish, and amphibians. (Cite.) (And as always with biology, with some interesting exceptions.) The obvious question that follows is whether those differences really are causative and if so, what those differences do to the brain.

One if by air, two if by sea

January 9, 2019

Those on the terrorist watch list caught entering the US overwhelming fly into the US. The next most popular route is by sea. And those few who do enter by land, don’t come from Mexico. That’s not the least surprising to anyone familiar with US entry. Yet Sarah Sanders said they were a reason to build a wall along the southern border.

The Federalist is helping spread the conspiracy theory that one of their reporters, who died of encephalitis after the flu, was murdered for reporting a story. The ordinary conspiracy theories in the right-wing media prepare its audience for the lies from the White House. Not just how to believe, but also how to propagate and how to damage control and otherwise how to handle. Propaganda serves its purpose not just when it is believed, but also when adherents accept that it is a tool that they will use and that they should expect from their leader. So if Sarah Sanders lies and Kellyanne Conway calls it an “unfortunate misstatement,” it still serves its purpose and even gives Conway a veneer of credibility.


January 8, 2019

We are in the middle of — and the cause of — the sixth mass extinction in earth’s history. I worry less about the impending loss of the vaquitas and the northern white rhino than I do about what that signals for the ecosystems where they live. How many plants unknown are we losing along the way? How many insects that only biologists notice? The vertebrates that are lost are like your house power going out during a hurricane. Quite visible, but signaling worse and more extensive damage outside your door.

That ongoing loss is not new this year. It is something we have been doing for decades. In some sense, for centuries. Because the aggregate change happens slowly relative to our short lives, we hardly notice that the nature we are leaving our children is much less than the nature we inherited. While it is inspiring to read what Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua does to save some African animals from drought, conservation efforts are stop-gaps. Most do not address the causes, and so are like bailing water out of a boat while ignoring the loose hose through which it is pouring in.

Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s new populist leader, is giving the agriculture lobby there greater control over Brazil’s nature preserves. Matthew Yglesias correctly identifies the best thing Americans can do to protect the environment: vote against Republicans. You are not green unless that influences your politics.

Photo shows the elusive and likely extinct ivory billed woodpecker, once common in the southern US.

The wall

January 7, 2019

As always, the best place to begin is with the relevant facts. Undocumented immigrants commit crime at a lower rate than native US citizens, and their presence lowers the crime rate here. Immigrants, both documented and not, benefit the economy and pay more in taxes than any public burden they present. Undocumented immigration is lower than it has been in a long time, declining precipitously in the decade prior to the 2016 election. In any case, most undocumented immigrants overstay visas and would not be stopped by any kind of physical barrier at the border.

There is no immigration crisis. There is no border crisis. Not now, not during Trump’s campaign. No more than there was a crime crisis. Nor a trade crisis. Those pretend crises were and are conjured by an authoritarian political movement, propagated by a right-wing media untethered to facts, for the purpose of scaring and enraging its adherents: the racist, the nationalist, the man-child, those frightened by the modern world, and the disgruntled looking for someone else to blame.

You don’t appease a man-child. You don’t negotiate on the basis of his lies. You don’t let his enraptured adherents shift the debate away from the lies on which he has built his policy. You firmly and consistently tell him “no.”

Fraudulent colleges lose in the courts

January 4, 2019

Obama put a rule in place allowing students cheated by fraudulent colleges to apply for student debt relief. Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education, had targeted that rule. Of course. Her boss ran a fraudulent college. She was sued. The courts have ruled for the students.

Career Education Corporation, owner of Colorado Technical University and American InterContinental University, has been pursued in the courts by a several states. It now has agreed to erase $500 million dollars in loans to students it had defrauded.

Fraudulent colleges especially target those who are pursuing vocational education. While they may lose in court, with current judges, they are making headway otherwise. The Trump administration has tried to favor that form of grift, just as it does the payday loan industry, which the CFPB oversees.