James Sheppard

James Sheppard, photo courtesy City Magazine on SmugMug.

I’m sure I’ve been slow-on-the-stick on this score, but it’s only just been made clear to me that James Sheppard, the former Rochester City Police Chief and current candidate for the Democratic nomination to Mayor of Rochester, didn’t vote for 32 consecutive years. Thirty-two years, between 1982 and 2013. Now, he’s asking for your vote. That strikes me as a profoundly cynical political move. He’s asking Rochester residents to exercise their franchise in favour of a man that, for all intents and purposes, has never demonstrated much regard for his own.

To be clear: it’s ok if you vote. It’s ok if you don’t. It’s even ok if, like I suspect a lot of Americans, you vote some years and not others. All of these decisions are yours to make as citizens of these United States. Entering public life however means making a commitment to work on behalf of voters. Having spent three decades of your life not voting for yourself doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. In fact, it seems openly galling.

But how long is 30 years, anyway? Just how much time did he spend not exercising his sovereignty, leaving it for others to decide the issues of the day? Here, then, is an exploration of that span of time, set against other benchmarks. 5 things that won’t last as long as James Sheppard’s non-voting record:

5. All of your pets (except maybe your bird)

Sorry, Fido. But if you were waiting for James Sheppard to vote for stronger protections for your stray brethren, it won’t happen in your lifetime. In fact, not you, nor that asshole cat, nor the weirdo lizard in the cage nor even the damned bird will last long enough to see James Sheppard exercise his right to vote. The average lifespan of a household cat is around 20 years. For a dog, it’s more like 15. So, James might have owned two very healthy dogs that never saw him wear his I Voted sticker.

Maybe an particularly sagacious African Grey Parrot could have seen James Sheppard vote in their wizened latter years. But rumors of the longevity of pet birds is largely overblown, too. Most are dead in plenty of time to miss James’ suffrage.

4. One Saturnian Year

Saturn

Image of Saturn courtesy NASA/CalTech on Flickr.

Our Solar System’s sixth planet lies 9.5 AU (Astronomical Units) from the Sun. That’s nine and a half times the distance between the Sun and Earth, or about 883 million miles (1420km) from the Sun. That’s a long way, and as you might expect, it takes quite a long time for the Kronian giant to make a single trip around the Sun. Twenty nine and a half Earth years, to be exact.

But as long as a year on Saturn is, it’s merely a large fraction of the time since James Sheppard engaged in our national plebiscite. Nor any other election. For a representative. For a County Executive. For County Dog Catcher or even – wait for it – Rochester City Mayor.

3. Your mortgage

Old, tumbled down house

House image courtesy Bambe1964 on Fickr.

I don’t know about you, but I very clearly remember the cold, dread fear that overcame me when I realized I was signing up for 30 years of payments for a home. “My god,” I thought, “What an insane risk I’m taking here. Am I ready,” I wondered?

Had I known there would be a candidate for the Mayorship of Rochester that spent more than thirty years not voting, perhaps I might have rested easier. Surely, if a man can spend that much time ignoring the call to the ballot box and still ask his neighbors for their vote, then thirty years can’t possibly be that big of a deal.

Right?

2. An entire human generation

Newborn Baby

Newborn photo courtesy Josua Rappeneker on Flickr.

Ecologically speaking, a “generation” is the time it takes for an individual of a given species to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. The length of a human generation has increased as the needs of our societies dictate. Currently, a human generation stands at 25 years.

But plenty of women have pumped out a rugrat or two in the time it’s taken James Sheppard to decide to give birth to an act of citizenship. Women born in 1982 have grown old enough to have had their own children. And then some. In fact, a woman born in 1982 and conforming to the generational gap would have a ten year old kid. And perhaps more.

Kinda makes you wonder at what point James decided that the futures of those 1982 babies or the futures of his prospective constituents mattered enough to him to pull a lever for any candidate, anywhere?

1. Twelve consecutive NFL careers

NFL Football game

Football game photo courtesy April Spreeman on Flickr.

We see superstar athletes in the NFL with long careers and think that of course, players last a long time in the game. But it’s simply not true at all. In fact, according to Sports Illustrated, the average span of a career across all positions in the NFL is a paltry 2.66 years. Given the sheer time, effort and parental income it takes to rise to the level of an NFL star, it makes you wonder why anybody anywhere even bothers. You’d be better off finding an indoor football league to play on and stay the hell out of what is obviously an incredibly hot, halcyon spotlight.

Regardless, James Sheppard’s non-voting record actually exceeds the careers of an entire NFL offensive team, consecutively. Twelve professional football players entered the NFL, played a few games and had their hopes and dreams crushed under the grinding boot of corporate indifference. Their jerseys are not available at any NFL outlet. Their names are barely remembered by any but those who know them.

But then, it’s no shame to not be famous. So go we all, but for a few exceptions. Will voters add James Sheppard’s name to the list of Rochester Mayors?

Let’s all remember how we got here.

Before Obamacare, before the Tea Party, before the election of Barack Obama, we had a healthcare crisis. Premiums were skyrocketing. Insurance companies were cutting off access to expensive procedures. The bottom line was: health insurance as we’d enjoyed it for decades was going away with nothing left in it’s wake. Nobody disagreed with this assessment.

Ross Perot once famously quipped of Social Security, “Social Security made sense when the age to collect ws 65 and the average person lived to be 60.” Whatever you think of his or anyone else’s policy prescriptions for SS, the truth of this statement was pretty undeniable. As our lifespans lengthen, it gets more and more expensive to take care of each other.

And as people lost insurance, they didn’t lose their diseases. Which meant people ended up in the most expensive part of the hospital – the Emergency Room – instead of taking care of issues early with a primary care physician. Because hospitals have an ethical responsibility to fix broken people, the cost of those emergency visits was necessarily passed on to the rest of us.

Neither are cost and advanced age the only issues. In the last few decades, we’ve seen a shocking rise in the rate of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and heart disease. It isn’t just that we’re getting older: we’re getting sicker when we’re young. All of this adds up to a pretty incredible burden on a health insurance system. Especially one that is market- and profit-driven.

Obamacare

Obamacare sought to address the fundamental issues of the health insurance industry by bringing more people into the system. Similar to Social Security, the more participants are paying into the system, the more money there is to pay for the more expensive needs of other members. Better still, by bringing people into the health insurance system and giving them access to preventative care, Obamacare sought to lower the overall cost of taking care of sick people.

In exchange for new business and more profit, Obamacare required insurers to adhere to a list of demands like insuring people regardless of their “pre-existing conditions,” which is just a way of saying you know they have potentially expensive issues, but you’re going to cover them anyway. In fact, Obamacare eliminated “insurance underwriting,” which means insurance companies are not allowed to demand a complete medical history to cover you.

Much of what Obamacare was meant to address did work. We got 24m more Americans covered by health care. Insurance companies honored the commitment to cover all comers. But the largest concern of most Middle Americans, the cost, didn’t stop rising. It rose at a much slower pace, but that’s cold comfort to someone already feeling the pinch of rising costs.

I would argue that, given that a big component of Obamacare was wrestling with pre-existing conditions and lack of preventative care, there probably was never a chance that the cost curve could be reversed overnight. Or even in seven years. Sick people don’t stop being sick. A lifetime lack of care doesn’t get that much better right away. Nevertheless, Obamacare promised lower healthcare costs and didn’t deliver fast enough for America’s patience, it seems.

Because if President Obama ran on the promise of Obamacare, to the extent that President Trump’s campaign was “about” anything, it was once again the promise of way better healthcare.

The AHCA

So Republicans are tasked with reversing Obamacare. And they’re tasked with creating a new system that allows health insurance to be a profitable business at a lower cost, because the one thing Obamacare didn’t deliver on was lowered premiums.

Go back and reread the first few paras of this article. Our healthcare crisis is a logical conclusion of living longer and getting sicker as a species. It wasn’t an institutional crisis – it wasn’t that insurance companies were changing policy without reason. We have a genuine crisis of a demand for coverage that drives costs through the roof. Lowering costs, then, can only mean one thing: lowering demand by cutting off access.

If we’re not going to stick it out with Obamacare, then as harsh and cruel as the AHCA is, it is exactly what is necessary. If we’re not going to do our best to increase participation, our only other alternative is to make what insurance companies previously tried to do quietly a matter of national health care policy. We need to decrease demand.

Cruelty isn’t a bug: it’s a feature.

The cruelty of the AHCA is hard to take in. The expansive ways in which Republicans chose – completely on their own – to take a sledgehammer to the very idea of health insurance is breathtaking. As the ACLU points out, the AHCA basically makes being a woman a pre-existing condition. VoteVets points out that it bumps millions of veterans out of the health insurance markets by denying them the tax credits “granted” to the rest of us and shunts them into an already overwhelmed VA system.

Cruel though these things may be, supply and demand economics requires that either there is way more supply or way less demand. No other thing will reduce costs. Democrats essentially tried to buoy supply by increasing participation and in so doing, raise the capital required to expand the supply side. Republicans have now fully bought into the idea that slashing demand will work.

And the worst part of all this is, again, that sick people don’t stop being sick because they don’t have health care. They’re going right back to the emergency rooms. And they’re going to jack up the price of health care. And – brace yourselves – there will be no cost savings. There will be no lowered premiums. And we know this, because we already lived through this once.

But Republicans have spent eight years decrying Obamacare. They can’t just walk away now. And there is absolutely no way of “improving” this bill. The Senate will not be our saviors. Because to alter this bill is self-defeating. The only thing to do is let it die. Do we believe Republicans have the strength to do that alone? Or should we help them come to the logical conclusion?

The fake news got to us. And I suppose the result was obvious.

A wellspring has bubbled up through the blogosphere and is now producing blog articles sounding the alarm: other blogs might be “fake news.” Some of those articles are focused on the left, some on the right. All of them, I’m sure, propose to improve blogging. But as the reality of the Russian hack on our democracy sinks in across the internet, these posts are a symptom of our suspicions, grown louder. Loud enough that bloggers are telling other bloggers not to link to bloggers because credibility.

Wasn’t the great leap forward back in the Web2.0 days the democratization of media? Didn’t RSS, and blogging, and social media, and “sharing,” mean that the analysis, emphasis and direction of news would no longer be dominated by corporate profit motives? Far more importantly, the democratization of media always meant that as bloggers and as news consumers, we asserted credibility in the democratic fashion: collective assent.

That collective assent has been plundered. We as a nation have been had. And as that reality looms larger and larger – as jeers and jabs turn to stunned silence – we’re falling back on the instincts that allow authoritarians to rise to power. Our confidence shrinks and doubt prompts us to “follow the leader.”

So this is how freedom of the press dies: the moment when we decide that certain press is more free than other press. Because it’s safer. Because we have been attacked once. Because the news seems to hit independent media particularly harshly. Because we relent.

Let’s not go quite so gently into that good night. Democracy survives when the good and the wise steel themselves against fear. To that end, I present for you five good ways to protect your democratic franchise in the modern online world and avoid fake news:

5. Understand what happened

The full scope of the Russia’s interference in our elections is still being tallied, at least publicly. But one thing it is important to understand is that much of the hack was on search engines. A user – perhaps you, perhaps someone else – searches Google or Bing for a topic and scans the results. What he finds are links to sources that are intentionally conning him. They arrived in those top few spaces in the search engine’s results because Russian hackers coaxed search engines into paying them undue attention.

All of which is to say that your favourite independent news source didn’t change. Daily Kos didn’t get any more or less credible. Instead, the search engines you use got changed, and as alleged by the Intelligence Community, perhaps your vote as well.

More importantly, the change to search results was targeted. Services like Google use your location to determine the best sources of content. On average, a Rochesterian would probably prefer to read the D&C’s article on Russian hacking than one from the NBC 7 in San Diego. But the hack also took advantage of this fact and, based on the below comments of Senator Mark Warner, may have concentrated their activities on the “firewall states” of Michigan and Pennsylvania. (emphasis mine):

1,000 Paid Russian Trolls Spread Fake News On Hillary Clinton, Senate Intelligence Heads Told || HuffingtonPost.com:

“What really concerns me [are reports] there were upwards of 1,000 paid internet trolls working out of a facility in Russia, … that can generate news down to specific areas,”

In other words: you may never have seen so much as a scrap of fake news, depending on where you live.

4. Verify Your “Fake News”

There is no “exclusive news” anymore and things break quickly. They ricochet across the Internet, getting picked up by a wide variety of sources. Even those of us who spend a significant amount of our time monitoring news and social sometimes find that we’re way behind on a developing story, from time to time.

If the source you’re reading from claims to have content no one else has, chances are better than good that it’s crap. Move on.

There are exceptions to this rule all the time. Momentarily being “exclusive” doesn’t make news “fake news.” But until others verify what your source says it has, there’s no reason to jump to any conclusions. Most of us are not in a position, from moment to moment, to verify someone else’s work as it arrives on the Internet. Rely on the “collective assent” in your network.

Fake news tends to do it’s own ricochet, of course. But it doesn’t last long in reputable sources. See tip #2 for more on that.

3. Ask Yourself: “Are Facts or Opinions In Dispute?”

The great New York State Senator Patrick Moynihan once famously intoned, “You are entitled to your opinion. But you are not entitled to your own facts.” The same holds true for the Internet, and dovetails with tip #4: lots of different news sources and opinion makers differ on the interpretation of facts, but very few legitimate news sources will hold forth “facts” of which they are the exclusive source.

Liberal news sources will interpret news one way, Conservatives the next. Industry insiders or people on the ground will interpret news based on informed, practical knowledge that differs from political takes altogether. And those may still differ from policy makers for whom other priorities are higher. But they all agree on what’s happening.

When a source introduces “facts” for which you can find no other corroborating stories, it might be fake news. If they continue to press ideas for which there is no other evidence, chances are pretty good they’re full of shit. Move on.

2. Be Clear on Your Sources

As wonderful as Google and Bing and other search engines can be, you are always at the mercy of someone else’s algorithms to get your news. Search engines have learned a harsh lesson and will doubtless change as a result of the hack. But they won’t change what they fundamentally are, and what they are is always subject to manipulation.

Learn to recognize your sources. Your favourite websites, Twitter accounts, and journalists. Judge them based on their successes as defined in the last few tips. Do they confirm stories that end up being true? Do they propose ideas you can’t confirm anywhere else? Do they confirm stories with any other sources? And are those sources credible? Are your sources “insiders,” giving you insight you couldn’t have expected anywhere else, or just imaginative frauds, filling your time with “fake news?”

It’s worth having sources you fundamentally disagree with as well. Again: left and right may disagree on the interpretation of facts, but not on the facts. If there’s a difference between your opposing viewpoint sources, is it factual or interpretive?

If you’re not letting the news just fly at you randomly, from the search results on Bing or the most recent tweets in your feed, you’re starting to curate a useful information stream. It won’t be 100%, but it’ll be better than leaving yourself prone before an endless barrage of media.

1. Support What’s Right

This part is really important. Remember that the modern social media news landscape requires our collective, informed assent for its authority and credibility. We need each other for any of us to have either of those two things. The unwritten compact of those early days needs to be restored: that bloggers and the audiences they serve can filter and vet information just as well as people with communications degrees.

We need to be referees. We need to call balls and strikes. We need to allow ourselves to be checked by our audiences and by our peers. Most of all, we need to reform the networks we once had. More and more, social media networks feel less like networks and more like point-to-point noise protocols. They feel like unassociated beams of information, no unifying direction and no point of reference, no particular trust and no special loyalty. We need to rebuild that trust and loyalty by being the worthy readers and bloggers we’ve always been.

Late Update: As of 3:40 this afternoon, the AHCA bill got pulled from the floor and there will be no vote today, if ever. So we can say for sure that environmental pressures elicited a complete reversal of fortune for at least one recessive gene, the Robber gene.

Additionally, Nunes cancelled a public hearing on Russian interference in our elections, so at least one Republican is heavily expressing the T. Stay tuned!

Rare in American politics is a moment as elemental as this. Rarely do the political winds so agonizingly divide a party along such simple lines. But that is the moment we find ourselves in.

It was only just Monday, March 20th when we last through our democracy a sacred and untouchable thing. A thing that, while we may quibble about this and that, many have always seen as an unimpeachable institution of fairness and transparency. Now we know with certainty that our election was hacked and our winning candidate materially helped by that hacking.

Moreover, we have evidence that said candidate – the 45th President of the United States of America, Donald J. Trump – was aided from within by campaign members willing to court Russian interference. If Trump was a willing actor in all of this, he may be courting treason. If he was not, he’s proven himself to be wholly unqualified for the job he finds himself in and utterly stripped of any political capital normally conferred to the highest office in the land.

Republicans need that political capital. For seven years, Republicans have promised their base that they would eliminate Obamacare. The solution presented by Republican leadership is a killing field of cuts, caps and victims. Passing such a bill would be all but impossible without the President’s leadership and the good will that normally accompanies a newly-minted president. The window of opportunity for such a big bill shrinks quickly after Election Day. The more so under the circumstances.

Thus Republicans find themselves faced with two career-deciding questions, inextricably linked. The first is whether or not to support President Trump. Doing so means sheltering under his protection. But in the current context, that shelter doesn’t look very reliable.

The second is whether or not to support a putative “American Health Care Act.” Supporting the AHCA certainly means making a principled stand for the ideal of limited government. Rejecting the AHCA is just as certainly an invitation to an Alt-Right primary challenger. But hanging in the balance are huge core constituencies, potentially left high and dry and spoiling for justice.

Yesterday, I conceived of the problem as a kind of Punnett Square choice. if you don’t remember Punnett Squares, let me refresh your memory.

Reginald Punnett was an early 20th century scientist who described a visual system for determining the relative successes of dominant and recessive genes in sexually reproduced offspring. It is a matrix that puts the dominant and recessive genes for each trait in a separate row or column in a two-dimensional grid. It shows that dominant traits, when expressed together, have the greatest likelihood of being both expressed and passed on to the next generation.

A Punnett Square illustrating the choices facing Republicans. T stands for Traitor (Trump), while R stands for Robber (AHCA).

In my Punnett Square experiment, I took the two primary issues before Republicans as two separate traits. T stands for Trump or Treason if you like. Did my bias just show there? Why would anyone bother to continue reading past such an admission? Shouldn’t I find a more neutral way of speaking about such an important issue? Yes, reasons, and go fuck yourself.

The second trait is R, standing for robbing old people for the benefit of rich people. Again: go fuck yourself.

In deciding what was the dominant and what was the recessive expression of each trait, it boiled down to what I thought the preferred Republican position on each issue would be. It doesn’t take much imagination to recognize that party members generally prefer to keep lined up behind the leader of the party, in this case, Trump. Thus supporting Trump (capital “T”) is the dominant trait. Not supporting the leader, lowercase “t”, is the recessive trait.

On the other hand, Republicans have spent the better part of seven years railing against Obamacare. Voting against any attempt to roll Obamacare back seems like political heresy. Here, the natural, dominant (“R”) course of action is to vote in favour of the AHCA.

It is important to note that the safest possible option seems likely to be opposing both the president and the AHCA. But doing so would mean expressing the two recessive genes in the Republican DNA and not likely to happen.

What we see when we put it together in this way is actually quite interesting. We predict that the most likely outcome for today (if anything happens at all) is that Republicans will end up lining up behind the president and voting for the AHCA. The odds that the dominant traits will be expressed are high. In fact, it’s also possible for a Republican to skirt the line, choosing to support the AHCA but not Trump or vice versa. Because in politics as in life, recessive traits do express themselves from time to time.

What does science tell us about the likelihood of recessive genes expressing themselves? Well, while basic probability would have it that only 25% of all “offspring” would express the recessive traits for both genes, evolution tells us that things can go very differently. Environmental pressures can act on a species, cutting small groups off from the species.

Small groups of isolated genes means necessarily smaller gene pools and the increasing probability of recessive genes gaining the upper hand. In extreme cases, enough recessive genes get introduced into the new gene pool to cause what science calls “speciation,” or the creating of an entirely new species. We see this not only in the fossil record, but happening in real time as global warming forces species into ever-more-isolated pockets.

There is no shortage of environmental pressure on Republicans in this moment. Everything about Russian hacking, health care, the SCOTUS and our economy seems to be coming down to this moment. And as we enter the second day of “now or never” AHCA horsetrading, it certainly seems to be having an effect.

Politicians are indeed facing increasing isolation, avoiding town hall meetings and retreating into their narrow caucuses even within the party. It’s clear that not every pol is going to get what they want out of this new president, in fact, many pols will have to live with significantly less than they had before.

Will the result be a new evolution of Republican politics? Will the Republicans finally embrace evolution at least enough to save their own asses?

Senator Al Franken was just on This Week with Martha Radditz, talking about the Russian hack into our elections and the Trump Campaign’s strange relationship with said. In discussing the hack itself, Franken pointed out that one means of hacking the system was to “mess with Google’s algorithms” to make reports from Russian state-controlled RT or Sputnik show up higher in the rankings.

What he’s referring to, if I understand him correctly, isn’t “messing with” Google’s search ranking algorithms directly. Instead, he’s referring to what most of us call “black hat search engine optimization“: the intentional manipulation of the way setearch engines work to get an illegitimate source to the top of the search results.

Regardless, it seems like our discussion of Russian hacking, collusion with US interests and the rest is greatly confused by not knowing what the “hack” actually was. Right now, we have an idea of Russian hacking, allegations of Trump Camp collusion, discoveries of conversations between principals in this story, potential perjury of our nation’s Attorney General… anything but hard fact on which to base a reasonable decision.

With any other type of crime, there’s a dead body, a missing item, a victim. There is physical proof that something happened, if not what happened or who did it. And for better or worse, our sense of the importance and severity of the crime reflects the physical proof of the act. Here, we have nothing.

It’s hard to imagine the American public continuing to be interested in this story long-term without a lot firmer proof of what went wrong in the first place. What exactly did the Russian hack of our elections look like?

We’re getting closer and closer to defining our politics as a scientific imperative, day by day. A recently-published study tested a couple basic hypothesis aimed at predicting the relative prejudice we show those of opposing views. The result? Economic views hold considerably less prejudice than social ones, and there is literally no evidence to suggest that one side of the political spectrum is automatically more prejudiced against their opposition than the other.

The hypotheses tested included the idea that social and economic differences would elicit different degrees of prejudice, and that social conservatives would naturally be more prejudicial to opposing viewpoints than social liberals. After testing these hypotheses with a wide variety of test subjects and methodologies (how the test is conducted and scored), the first hypothesis showed strong signs of being accurate, while the second did not.

Conservative values quite often dovetail with racial, sexual or other prejudices. Sometimes, they just seem to exist to support those prejudices, which is the case where gendered bathrooms are concerned. It’s easy as Liberals to assume that political prejudice must automatically come with the package. It’s easy to believe that we are open-minded and without a trace of prejudice, because we fight for social justice.

But this study is a good sign that maybe none of those things are true. Our haste to believe that “objective truth” obviates the need for discussion is at least one good sign that this is not at all true.

It isn’t necessary to give up our values in order to acknowledge our faults. And Conservatives can go on being racist as ever. This study just makes clear that not all assumptions go with the others.

What is really interesting is how economic differences seem to elicit less prejudice. That would seem at odds with what Republican and Conservative strategies seem to be, focusing as they do on “tax and spend librulls.” It might be a point worth considering that economic differences aren’t the wedge people believe, according to the data. Demonizing Democrats seems to have worked, but when it come right down to economic issues – or issues framed as such – we’re a lot more likely to listen to one another.

The rolling window of “Trump could have done this better” excuses for the Trump White House’s dick-tripping incompetence is getting tiresome. Three weeks in, and I think everybody could use a vacation, but let’s please not entertain these “simple answers” as the logical choice when describing what we’ve seen so far. Most recently, we now have this Politico puff piece on the putative “gold standard” of White House Chiefs of Staff, James Baker, in which Baker firmly chides Trump on how to be more Republican.

It is a fact that Trump’s Muslim Ban could easily have been implemented with more care and consequently less resistance. The president has pretty wide latitude in deciding who comes in or out of this country. This has been the case since the 70’s. Yes, he can cut off immigration from one, a group or all nations for whatever time he chooses, at least in theory.

Doing so would cause quite a bit of panic no matter the timing, leading to inevitable law suits. Liberals like myself would absolutely argue the constitutionality of ban like Trump’s. It wouldn’t be smooth sailing however they did it. But it could have been done.

It’s also true that, as a rule, Republicans aren’t that into Russia. That certainly describes the attitude of the Reagan White House in which Baker served. American foreign policy has, since early in the Cold War, been built largely on the lead Republicans set. And that lead was very anti-Russia. Even after Glasnost, very few Republicans I’ve ever known have thought highly of or trusted Russia.

A different relationship with Russia, even in present context, doesn’t sound like a terrible idea. A more trusting relationship with Russia is not objectively worse than a less trusting one.

But for chrissakes, come on! Let’s please stop listening to people patiently tell us that what we’re seeing isn’t real.

Trump’s Muslim ban was not badly-planned. It was meant to cause chaos and panic. It was meant to trap the foreign-born at airports. It was meant to put the “enemies” of Trump’s agenda “on notice.” And those enemies were the foreign-born. That was the point. That’s why Trump said the ban was “going very well. You can see it at the airports.” The “news junkie” president did not fail to notice the chaos roiling the airports.

Trump’s ties to Russia aren’t accidental and neither are those shared by an incredible number of his lieutenants. Calls between his National Security Advisor Flynn and the Russian Ambassador before, during and after the election were not innocent even if they contained no relevant information. Throwing him under the bus will change nothing fundamental about the situation in the White House. It is a persistent fact of this administration that they have openly and not-so-openly had ties to the very same nation that our intelligence agencies confirm were responsible for the hacking of our nation’s democratic institutions.

Baker presumably expects these ties to be disappeared by a simple, grandfatherly “tut-tut.” He gravely intones about the need for sanctions against Russia in a way that clearly says “that’s the Republican Way.”

“Come along now, son,” he seems to say, “Let’s get you a flag pin and some photo time at West Point.”

Don’t let Republicans weave this narrative. Everybody in the party wants their Conservative Christmas, and they’ll wait till the tanks roll on Bowling Green to get it. They’ll say anything to stall, to cover, to explain away. Some of them might even believe it. But you can see what is happening. There is nothing subtle about Trump, there is nothing accidental about the chaos he’s created and there is absolutely nothing sincere in Republican pleas for patience.

This, after all, might be the very last election Republicans ever win. Jim Baker’s just trying to get the most out of it.

I’ve been holding onto this article for a week, now, but I’m finally going to flag this for you now. It’s a great article with plenty worth reading in it. And in it, author William Davies asks the question many journalists have been asking since the election: are we living in a post-factual world? He weaves together the history of statistics as a tool of government along with what seems like a highly-energized world-wide rightward shift that seems to intentionally fly in the face of statistical and scientific fact.

I’m generally suspicious of any “grand unifying theory” of politics that blends political winds in the U.S., Britain, Eastern Europe and the Philippines. A general trend is worthy of consideration, but trying to blend them into some singular force evades the real human emotions and political grievances in play in all of those countries. It also highlights the weakness of a political system which recognizes only two diametric poles: any movement in any direction necessarily has to be viewed as either a rightward or leftward movement. Our political polarization has left us bereft of the vocabulary to describe it any other way.

About the best you can probably say about the combined shift in global politics is: “When the going gets tough, the tough take it out on the less-tough.” Regardless of the individual struggles in any one nation, there’s little doubt but that the population of refugees and asylees worldwide has reached the highest recorded levels. The trillions of dollars of global wealth lost in the subprime fiasco of 2008 has continued to trickle down, year over year, emptying bellies among the world’s poorest. Daily reports of terror attacks have eroded the confidence of even the safest people.

People – or at least enough people – in wealthier nations are increasingly saying “no” to pretty much everything. They’re focused on their countries, first. They’re withdrawing from unions. They’re reneging on promises. Yes, they are increasingly “clinging to their guns and their religion.”

But to the central question of whether our current culture is leaning not only rightward, but also away from science and statistics. It’s worth noting that science – yes, science – has already weighed in on this idea. The truth is that our political persuasion has little to nothing to do with our justifications. Our preferred reality has everything to do with an emotional connection to our beliefs. We generally choose to bolster our beliefs with facts that confirm them. And we do so after the fact.

For those whose beliefs swing right as defined by American politics, there is precious little in the way of scientific or statistical information to support their beliefs. And the number of available statistics is getting smaller every day.

The U.S. has actually admitted less refugees last year than it did in many other points in it’s history as recently as 1995. An American is 6 times more likely to die of shark attack than of refugee attack. And we’ve got a 1-in-49,000 chance of dying in a terrorist attack and a 1-in-400 chance of dying of a gunshot wound. An amazing shrinking and increasingly-unqualified pool of scientists believe climate change is either a hoax or attributable to “god” or whatever Conservatives insist on believing.

Americans generally are not with Conservatives on gay marriage. We’re not with Conservatives on marijuana legalization. We’re not impressed by private school vouchers. No one but a damned fool believes Mexico’s paying for the wall. The HPV vaccine will not make your daughter a slut, nor will vaccines cause autism. Obamacare is not the worst thing that’s ever happened to health care.

So pity poor Conservatives who insist on believing things for which there is no support whatsoever. Because their happy-go-angry bullshit train has just elected the man that’s already leaving a lot of them gobsmacked and red-faced. Small wonder, then, that the political right of our country are discarding facts, evidence, science and statistics as hokum. We are not living in a “post-factual world,” just because your beliefs are no longer supported by facts. You’re living in a bubble.

The thing about being a billionaire real estate mogul (real or perceptual) is that there really aren’t any consequences to pissing people off. There are no consequences when you antagonize the media; there are no consequences when you join the WWE and shear someone’s hair off; there are no consequences to a walk-on role in porn. In the end, it’s just one guy signing a deal with another guy. Over and over again. The media and the public play absolutely no role.

Presidents don’t have such luxuries. Presidents make decisions every day, all of which have consequences. Sometimes for the entire world. Presidents need to communicate with their constituents and they need a robust media – even one that thinks of them as an asshole – to do it. Perhaps most critically, presidents have already entered a contract with a population that turns on their perception of you. That perception can turn on a dime, and it’ll never come back.

I’m not foolish enough to believe a 70 year old man who hasn’t figured these things out yet, ever will. In fact, I fully expect this presidency will be an exercise in head-bashing stupidity. More lawsuits, more insults and more sneering on Twitter. More affronts to our civil liberties, our culture and our values. More cogs in the Federal machine on lock-down while they await the coming Tangerine Rapture.

But I hope the rest of us know what we’re heading into, for the next four years. No more excuses about “pivots” or aides who will reign him in. What we have seen for the last week is what we can expect from here on out. You ready?

Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on December 12th, 2006. It has been lightly edited to reflect some changing facts. If you have other updates that should be posted, please contact me

On August 31st of 1999, in the town of Buynaksk in the Dagestan province of southern Russia, a bomb is detonated in an apartment building, killing 64 people including Russian soldiers. This is the second bombing in a week and one of four bombings that will later be known as “The Russian Apartment Bombings.” These attacks will claim more than 300 lives in just under two weeks, and will be blamed on the growing Chechen separatist movement, prompting the Russian military to occupy that disputed territory. Before the dust has settled and the victims removed, the newly-elected President Putin will declare – fully two years before the United States – Russia’s own War on Terror.

Elsewhere, former KGB/FSB agent turned political dissident Alexander Litvinenko sits in prison on charges stemming from an alleged misuse of power in the line of duty in the early nineties. Litvinenko had been working in the Central Staff of the FSB, charged with counter terrorism and infiltration of organized crime. In time, Litvinenko will publish a book charging Vladimir Putin with using the FSB to mastermind the Russian Apartment Bombings. In time, Alexander Litvinenko will die.

Seven years later, as Litvinenko’s body is put to rest, dead of a polonium-210 poisoning – while former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar recuperates from the same poison, while Italian security expert Mario Scaramella recuperates from the same poisoning and while traces of radiation are showing up throughout London and on British Airlines planes – the headlines ring with the echoes of that far-away explosion. The seeds that formed the Chechen conflict have until now registered not a whit on American media radars, but that is changing. Gone are the days when tales of KGB spies filled our prime time television shows, but the truth of the current controversy will prove much stranger than the fiction of our past.

As different media outlets here and abroad report on the developments of the day, they pepper those reports with innuendo and accusations stretching over more than a decade, a parade of Russian spies, business men and politicians, all in a bewildering panoply that leaves our heads whirling. Accounts seem to suggest many connections and relationships from the past, but in this avalanche of information, it is difficult to know what those are. Stitching together news articles, Wikipedia entries and other information, this article seeks to illuminate some of those connections.

Alexander Litvinenko began his career in the KGB in 1986 during the tumultuous days of Perestroika, rising rapidly in the ranks and developing his career in the Counterintelligence department of the KGB, the Third Chief Directorate. A great many other men’s careers were formulating as well, including Yegor Gaidar. Gaidar is an economist and writer for the “Communist” ideological journal who would soon renounce his Communist Party affiliation along with his long-time ally, Anatoly Chubais. Gaidar and Chubais would both go to work for the newly-minted Boris Yeltsin Administration and go on to be known as “The Young Reformers,” ushering in an era of decentralization.

In those formative years, Vladimir Putin was struggling with a less-than-illustrious career in the KGB. After having graduated from the International Department of the Law Faculty in the Leningrad State University, Putin eventually got stuck in what he regarded as a minor post in East Germany. Eventually by 1991, he became the head of the International Committee of the St. Petersburg Mayor’s office, promoting foreign investment, but he would soon resign his post in the KGB entirely.

Litvinenko was meanwhile promoted to his counter-terrorism, mob-busting role in the Central Staff. In the following year, Yegor Gaidar became Russia’s Prime Minister for a brief stint and Litvinenko was promoted to the detail of the Main Directorate charged with protecting Gaidar.

It is in this six-month period of Gaidar’s Prime Ministership that he and his friend, now the Vice Premier of Russia, Anatoly Chubais, become known as “The Young Reformers,” and probably not without a little irony. The Yeltsin Administration generally – and this period specifically – are marked by vast instability, civil unrest and lawlessness. Before long, inexperienced decentralization turned into corporate oligarchy.

And chief among the burgeoning corporatist petitioners to the Yeltsin Administration would be Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky is generally known as the chief proponent and one of the primary benefactors of the new-found Russian economic “liberalism,” working his way into intimate familiarity with Boris Yeltsin and using that influence to land lucrative government contracts. He is also a man familiar enough with the Russian Mafia to have survived several assassination attempts, including a shootout in the middle of Moscow.

Much of the mafia hostility was because of Berezovsky’s closeness to the Chechen mafia. Indeed, Boris Berezovsky is reported to have many ties with Chechens, though apparently nothing proven to connect him with Chechen organized crime, specifically. Ties to Chechnya do not seem to have done anyone good in Russia, and indeed with the Chechen conflict due to flair up again in a few years, Berezovsky and may others would find themselves at the wrong end of Russian government fire.

Russia’s credit problems and wide-spread corruption abounded, the Ruble plummeted on the world market, and public opinion began to shift in the direction of the hard-liner’s old ways. Eventually, while then-Communist Party Leader Mikhail Gorbachev was on vacation, the KGB became emboldened to attempt to force him from power in a coup. This was the famous moment in Russian history when Boris Yeltsin stood on the back of a tank and declared the insurrection defeated. All of us in the West cheered and felt better in that moment, but after the cameras left and the moment was gone, the very real problems that led to the coup remained. It was during this coup attempt that Vladimir Putin resigned from the KGB.

The KGB was formally disbanded and reconstituted as the FSB. Boris Yeltsin’s entire cabinet, including Gaidar and Chubais, were fired. Still, the problem persisted, and probably in no little part this was due to Berezovsky.

In 1996, Forbes Magazine published an article by journalist Paul Klebnikov about Berezovsky entitled “Godfather of the Kremlin,” detailing the close ties Berezovsky had to both organized crime and the heads of state in Moscow. Berezovsky tried to sue Forbes to get the article retracted, but curiously did not pursue that course for the book of the same name that Klebnikov released later that same year.

The following year, Alexander Litvinenko was promoted to Senior Operational Officer of the FSB Seventh Section, this time guarding Boris Berezovsky himself. Berezovsky currently held the post of Secretary to the Security Council and had recently become the chairman of ORT, Russia’s biggest media outlet. He became head of ORT when the post became available; the chair had been vacated by a man who was recently killed in a gangland-style murder. Litvinenko would keep his post as Berezovsky’s protector for another four years, and maintain his relationship with Berezovsky right up to the moment of his polonium intoxication.

In July of 1998, Vladimir Putin returned to the agency he left in ’92, now reformulated into the FSB, to become the first civilian leader of the KGB/FSB in its history. His brief tenure at the FSB must have been a tumultuous one. By November 17th of that same year, Alexander Litvinenko and four other FSB officers would accuse the FSB of returning to a practice of political assassination; specifically, they accused the Director of Analysis of Criminal Organizations of ordering the execution of Boris Berezovsky and also an FSB agent turned attorney Mikhail Trepashkin. His closeness to the Chechen resistance was suspected to be one of the main reasons that he was being targeted.

Two days after the announcement, Galina Starovoitova, leader of the Democratic Russia Party and defender of ethnic minorities in Russia including the Chechens, was shot dead in the entryway to her apartment. Vladimir Putin declared no evidence to suggest that her murder was politically motivated.

Alexander Litvinenko, meanwhile, would be dismissed from the FSB and arrested on charges which twice failed to stick, but not before spending some time in the Moscow prison system. It would be during his third time arrested in 1999 when the Russian Apartment Bombings would commence. After he was released from prison, he and Mikhail Trepashkin began work on an independent investigation of the apartment bombings to find the guilty party, but this investigation went nowhere largely due to Kremlin stonewalling.

In 2001, Litvinenko and fellow former FSB security agent Andrei Lugovoi participated in a jail break of Nikolai Glushkov, business partner of Boris Berezovsky in one of his first companies, Aeroflot. Lugovoi and Litvinenko had worked together in the past, guarding both Yegor Gaidar and Berezovsky as members of the FSB. Glushkov was currently serving time in the pokey for fraud. The attempt failed.

Despite the Kremlin stonewalling and despite their investigation not really producing much evidence according to reports, Litvinenko published a book in 2002 entitled Blowing up Russia : Terror from Within. In it, he charged that it was Vladimir Putin, facilitated by the FSB, who was personally responsible for the Russian Apartment Bombings, and that his objective was to force the Second Chechen Conflict into being and ride that into the Kremlin as the new president. He also writes a second book, The Gang from Lubyanka, which alleges that Putin is personally involved in organized crime.

This is an interesting charge from a former mob-busting KGB cop whose publishing career was funded entirely by his former boss, mob-adjacent Boris Berezovsky. Berezovsky, meanwhile, fled the country in this same year to avoid prosecution by the FSB. Whether the FSB was after him for his criminal associations or because his opinions as a member of the government against the escalation of the Chechen Conflict were not welcome remains in question.

Litvinenko kept up his attack against the Kremlin and his personal nemesis, Vladimir Putin. In an interview held in 2003 for the Australian SBS television network, Litvinenko alleged that two of the terrorists involved in the Moscow theatre crisis were in fact working for the FSB. This allegation was seconded by Mikhail Trepashkin. Also in 2003, Anna Politkovskaya, journalist, activist and friend of Litvinenko’s, released a book entitled A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya. Her book painted a picture for the world of the brutality of the Chechen Conflict and also pinned Putin’s rise to power to the escalation of violence in Chechnya.

During this same time, Boris Berezovsky became an investor in Neil Bush’s Ignite! Learning company while living in London in exile, putting him in the same company as George Herbert Walker Bush and Sun Myung Moon, who together with other investors were paying then Governor of Florida an extra $180,000 annually. In presidential politics elsewhere, Berezovsky was alleged to have participated illegally in funding the presidential candidacy of Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, and a former president produced documents confirming it in 2005.

In July of 2005, Paul Klebnikov, author of the book detailing Boris Berezovsky’s alleged mob connections, was murdered in Moscow. In that same month, Litvinenko spoke to a Polish newspaper and posited that Ayman al-Zawahiri and other al-Qaeda members were trained in Dagastan by the FSB in 1998. Moreover, within the context of the London bombings, Litvinenko told reporters that the KGB/FSB were the main supporters of terrorism worldwide.

By the summer of this year 2006, Alexander Litvinenko was accusing Vladimir Putin of pedophilia. It is hard to say what motivates anyone involved in these twisting, turning corridors of relationships and enmity, but by now, Litvinenko is utterly inscrutable to someone on the outside. Putin the Pedophile seems something of a stretch, and all of his accusations combined start to sound impossible. But while Litvinenko and Berezovsky might be considered the men in black hats by this point in their history, remember that they are the losers in a deadly game of power and murder. Certainly, the winner must be better at the game?

On October 7th, Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead in the elevator of her central Moscow apartment. Litvinenko, Anatoly Chubais and many others lay the blame for the journalist’s death squarely on Vladimir Putin. November 1st, Litvinenko met with a few old friends before eventually succumbing to sickness due to a radioactive poisoning.

One was Andrei Lugovoi, his partner in jailbreaking for Berezovsky. Lugovoi brought with him an associate by the name of Dmitry Kovtun and one other. It is believed by Scotland Yard that this was the moment of his intoxication. But Litvinenko also met with Boris Berezovsky himself.

He also met with an Italian security expert of whom little is known, Mario Scaramella. Scaramella was supposed to have been in possession of documents showing that the Putin government was targeting Russian émigrés to Britain for assassination. Scaramella was also supposed to have had documents proving that Putin was responsible for Politkovskaya’s assassination. None of this evidence has surfaced subsequent to Litvinenko’s death.

So what, exactly, did happen on that day? Even time may never tell, but it is certain that picking a favourite Russian politico based on a moral compass is folly at best. No one seems to hold the high ground. The best that can be said of Litvinenko and Berezovsky is that they fought for an oppressed people, but even that seems like a plausibly justifiable cover for plain-old swindling. Meanwhile, the enemies of the state and of Putin’s ambition keep ending up dead and it seems more and more to Western eyes that nothing really much has changed in Russia.

It has been said that the Soviets killed dissidents and exiles because their continued existence represented an affront to the Kremlin’s power. Perhaps Litvinenko’s continued escalation of rhetoric against Moscow was a mirror image. Perhaps he believed that the purpose of dissidence is to give your expatriate government as many sucker-punches as you can before they eventually take you down. Who knows? Perhaps he was even right.

Looking forward to getting back to the science blogging I love after the election, I decided to tackle a concept many have heard about but few understand. The Higgs Boson was officially discovered in 2013, but it’s theoretical existence has existed as a quirk in the math of quantum physics for nearly 80 years before it’s discovery.

Is it really a “God Particle?” What makes it so god-like? In this quick 4:30 thought experiment, I give you a simple way of understanding what is significant about the Higgs Field, the universal energy field from which the Boson gets it’s name. Please enjoy:

I have a good friend whose name you surely know if you live in the Rochester area: Evan Dawson. I met him when he worked for 13WHAM as a reporter on their nightly news, and he’s now moved on to host his radio show, Connections with Evan Dawson all week on WXXI radio. I mention him because, as you may also know, he wrote a book called Summer in a Glass about Upstate New York’s wine region and the men and women who shape that industry’s fate.

It is a book rich with poetic turns of phrase; it is a book filled with impressions of the country, the people, the history. Very clearly, Evan has a deep and abiding respect for the industry and the products of its labour. It’s a great book and you should definitely read it.

Flash back to a grown-ass adult trying to buy a goddamned bag of weed in the same state: sitting in the cigarette-reeking back of some asshole 20-something’s mini Toyota pickup truck – not the “back seat,” just a subwoofer he never bothered to plug in – waiting patiently among the food wrappers, old clothing and personal hygiene implements for an overpriced bag of agricultural product no more harmful than the stuff Evan waxes poetic about in his book.

With apologies to Evan, we live in a state that doesn’t just allow you to make wine, beer and now hard alcohol: it fetishizes those things as though they were some noble thing. “Uncork New York,” as they say. Every festival in Rochester has a wine tent. There are stores throughout the Finger Lakes that don’t even sell wine, just all the wine accessories you could possibly want including tee shirts, bottle openers, earrings. Evan’s is, as you might suspect, hardly the only written document on the subject.

Matter of fact, there is a comfort care home down the road from me that can’t house more than five people; they’re having a wine tasting in a couple weeks. A home for five people, all of whom must certainly have been told to stop drinking alcohol thirty years ago, and they’re having a wine tasting.

I don’t begrudge the alcohol industry’s success in New York State. Hell, I even used to write a column for (585) Magazine called Over Drinks, dedicated to the topic. But as silly as it’s ever been for weed to be illegal when alcohol is legal, that goes doubly and trebly for a state that makes such a farcically big deal out of hootch. There are those who want or need marijuana for medical use, recreational use and research, but even attempts to make medical weed available have stalled.

If any state in the union ought to have promotions all summer long for it’s Marijuana Region, it is a state as hilly and sunny as New York. We have conditions to make beautiful, award-winning ganja to suit every palate and preference. Setivas. Indikas. Candy bars and sodas. And sure! Why not a weed-themed New York State tee shirt?

“New York State of Mind,” or “We Came, We Saw, We Smoked,” or “My Parents Went to Weed Country, and I Had to Buy This Shirt Online Because They Forgot.” Just as suggestions. Perhaps there could be a “Toke New York” campaign with billboards on the 90?

Either way, while half a dozen other states have a referendum on the ballot this November to legalize weed, our silly-ass pols sit in Albany trying to figure out which universities are going to get weed in pill form. And then get a drink of wine with dinner. Because thank you, New York.