Watching some of the highlights of Marc Zuckerberg’s testimony before Congress, I see lots of Senators asking him yes or no questions such as, “do you believe FaceBook users have a right to download or delete their data.” Zuckerberg’s response was an unequivocal “yes, Senator” in all cases. But when asked questions about allowing users to decide how data accrued on them could be used or corrected, Zuck began to backpedal and attempt to slip back into tech speak.

It’s really important to understand why he pulls short when asked about deleting or correcting erroneous data. One reason is that all the questions asked to that point were about the “user’s data,” which Zuck can very quickly and easily answer in ways that make the Senators happy.

Because those answers were already beaten out of FaceBook a decade ago. Then, the question was about copyright: FaceBook originally claimed copyright ownership over your photos and posts, a notion which was received with howls of condemnation at the time. The result was a change in FaceBook policy which carved out for itself a limited license for that kind of data.

All of which is to say no: FaceBook does not own your “data,” nor does it hold unlimited copyright to it. Yes, you already have a legal right to all of that information, including your posts, comments, likes, photos, uploads and the whole kit-and-caboodle.

But companies like Cambridge Analytica (and Coca-Cola. and Pepsi. and Sony) are really after is the metadata that is created by the pattern your data creates. The fact that you “like” Roseanne is a lot less important than the fact that you watch more FaceBook videos at 3pm than other times of day. You are available to be advertised too and influenced at those times.

Holding on to actual data about any one individual is a waste of server space, even if you think you might want an archive for some reason. What matters is the ability to observe behavior in real time. That’s why “meme” images with sloganesque sayings on them are so important: you can send one out that’s intended to seem racist and watch what happens.

How long does the average person look at that image? The average Republican? The average 4-year degree holder? The average cop? Does the length of time they look at an image correlate to likes and comments? Does it even need to?

None of this data is “yours.” It wouldn’t exist in digital form without FaceBook providing a platform and third-party businesses aggregating it into actionable insights. Which is why “correcting” data about you is so important and so difficult for Zuck to agree to: that would require that companies open up their data operations to allow you to see their assumptions of you.

Doing so would most likely be an infuriating experience for the end user and a nightmare for businesses. Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t allow us to see what their assumptions are. But that’s what I think the line he’s going to try to skirt will be.

Goodie gumdrops. The government is ..de-shutdown, I guess?

No one seems all that happy with the result. Lots of liberals and immigration activists are incandescent with fury. I can’t pretend to share their indignation. All we really ended up with is a government that can only be guaranteed open for another three months. Again. CHIP got reinstated, which is very good. The WaPo makes a passing and deeply-troubling reference to “roll[ing] back several health-care taxes.” That’s not great. And after everything, the two great political furies that brought us to shutdown – DACA and border security – both got shelved.

Liberals had hoped for a clearer victory for our causes and a stronger validation of our momentum. We didn’t get it. But on balance, it’s a win. It’s a win because border security – and more importantly, Stephen Miller and President Donald Trump – were deferred. That’s a place Trump generally regards as intolerable.

Can he stay there all night? Can his tolerance survive a morning watching Fox and Friends? History suggests not. Methinks I spot more turbulence ahead.

As much as I think Officer Jeff McEntee ought to be raked over the coals for whatever the events of Black Friday morning turn out to be, another issue has my attention. According to Bob Lonsberry, the official response to one missing kid was 75 officers and a police helicopter. He doesn’t go on to say, but we may presume there were at least several black-and-whites, one or two special vehicles and maybe police dogs?

All this for a kid they found less than two hours later in bed.

Jeff McEntee will have to answer for his actions, soon enough. But can we talk about how completely unnecessary the police response was? I don’t pretend to know police procedure. Could it be that finding a kid in his own home only takes, say, 20 officers? Less?

I’m not seeing a lot of conversation to that effect in the local media. In fact, the D&C quotes the Greece Police Chief, saying that the incident “required a huge amount of manpower.” I call bullshit on the word required.

Back to Lons and his rambling, defensive blog post. He doesn’t question the response for a second. He praises it. And writing about the leaks he received from officers who were at the scene, he offers this self-conflicting claim:

That is a refutation of the belief that cops cover for each other. It is a demonstration of just the opposite, in fact. Each of these officers was willing to risk trouble from bosses in order to make sure the right thing got done.

I think the Rochester Police Department, whose officers thought to search the father’s home, was standup throughout this matter. RPD officers came in force and quickly when summoned. They worked hard and smart and they got the job done. The RPD has nothing to be ashamed of in this matter.

(emphasis mine) Again, I call bullshit. I’ll happily amend my statement if anyone can show me where a missing person call escalated to 75 cops and a helicopter in less than two hours – and critically, before anyone checked the missing person’s bed.

In fact, the whole affair smacks precisely of “cops covering for each other”. Officer Jeff McEntee kid is in trouble, no less than 75 officers from two precincts swarm to over-respond, McEntee turns out to be a drunk-ass dick, his kid is fine, and everybody goes home with no charges. Even with my limited white person interactions with law enforcement, I’m pretty sure I’d end up in the back of a wagon, bound for the Monroe County Bed and Breakfast were it I who misplaced my progeny.

How much did the people of Rochester and Greece pay for this fiasco? And just what is a normal response to a missing person? How does a person lose track of their kid whilst drinking and end up sleeping in his own bed the same night? And for fuck’s sake, why wouldn’t you check the kid’s bed first?

Louis C.K. is not the first of my comedy heroes to disappoint me. Bill Cosby’s early comedy was so a part of my life and way of thinking that I still catch myself launching into a sketch of his by way of conversation every once in a while. It was and remains a painful revelation to find that, off stage, Bill Cosby’s darker habits made him a monster.

Since the dozens of charges levied against Cosby became the stuff of Internet justice legend, there has been an avalanche of revelations about powerful men with horrific, predatory habits. So many are the stories – and so drearily repetitive – that I feel like any discussion I’ve had about sexual assault in the past was about some completely different, more innocent topic.

And perhaps I’m still in the thrall of that naive concept when I say I just don’t see any reason to get that upset by Louis C.K.’s transgressions. Right and wrong is not a spectrum and we don’t give out points for good intentions. But even the least upsetting story from Harvey Weinstein’s trove of horrors makes Louis jerking off in a hotel room look like a scene from Home Alone.

Home Alone child's face, "It's a wiener!"

Home Alone child’s face, “It’s a wiener!”

Let’s stipulate that what Louis C.K. did was wrong by way of his being a professional and a mentor to fellow comedians. More importantly, making sexual advances on people who work ostensibly for you, like the women on the set of his TV show, is dead wrong. It’s a reckless risk that anyone in a position of authority has to do their best to resist.

But absent that professional prohibition, the dude took his dick out. He took it out.

You or I might choose a different opening move. A woman could be forgiven for never wanting to hang out with the dude again. Then again, maybe another woman would find it fascinating. That’s not for us to judge. But even kissing someone presupposes violating their personal space; you’re not really expected or even encouraged to ask for permission first. If masturbating is your thing, that’s even tougher ice to break.

Louis’s got a kink, in other words. That’s not a crime. It’s not disgusting or morally reprehensible or unhealthy, nor attestation of some deeper insufficiency. It’s a kink.

Let’s hope none of us ever has to live in a world where our kink is on display. Where we’re judged to be in the same bad company as rapists and woman dopers because of a few awkward or cringe-worthy attempts at satisfaction. Let’s hope our world is kinder and more forgiving than that one.

The Republicans are proposing massive tax cuts, including a 15-point decrease in the Corporate tax rate from 35 down to 20, in their new tax code “reform” bill. But to do so, they need to at least have the veneer of those tax cuts being paid for.

There have been a few proposals to do this, but one that has gained steam in the Senate is what is euphemistically being called “Rothization.” In short order, this means capping the amount of pre-tax money you’re allowed to invest in your 401k. You can invest more, but that money will be taxable.

Trump, in his predictably self-harming way, has thrown cold water on this idea. But Trump being Trump, that’s far from saying the idea is dead. So what is Rothization? Like everything else about taxes and tax policy, it’s goddamned confusing. Here’s the basics as I see them:

What is Rothization?

What this really means is a cap on the amount of pre-tax deduction a private individual can invest in their 401k. The cap has been proposed at $2,400. After you’ve invested that $2,400, the rest of your 401k money would move into an investment that is called a Roth IRA. Roth IRAs are investments of post-tax money, meaning you’ll be paying taxes on anything above $2,400. The advantage of Roth IRAs, such as they are, is that when it comes time to withdraw your money, you won’t be required to pay taxes on it.

That doesn’t sound bad to me?

It’s not. Roth IRAs are an excellent investment tool if you have the money to contribute to your retirement above and beyond what your 401k will produce. But they’re not a substitute for 401k investments.

So… what’s the problem?

401k was created specifically to incentivize investment in our futures. By making contributions tax-exempt, 401k investments can reduce your taxable income quite a bit, making them an excellent way to both save for the future and also provide a short-term gain for your family’s pocketbook. Taking this tax incentive away deincentivizes investment and raises your taxes. It’s a double hit on your economic health.

This is a very-specifically targeted Middle Class tax hike

Actually, if your employer matches at 5% and you make 30k a year, you’ll only invest about $1,500 a year. You’re fine.

But if you’re in the middle of our tax brackets, this is going to hit you hard. Anyone making over $48k and contributing at 5% is going to see a tax increase. If you’ve been aggressive until now about saving for retirement, investing more than your employer’s match, you’ll see an even bigger tax increase.

Also, it’s unclear if this $2,400 cap holds for dual-income families. If so, even lower-income families could see a tax hike.

This disincentivizes retirement investment

I guess I thought Republicans were always scolding me about not investing my income. I guess I always thought I heard them justify tax cuts because they “could be invested.” But now, Republicans are telling us that, in order to pay for a corporate tax rate cut, we’re going to need to either invest less or pay more taxes. We have those two choices, under their tax plan. That doesn’t seem like a very good deal to me.

Have you read this article? Of course you have.

What’s weird to me is this: after almost a week of discussion on Twitter, on television and at water coolers everywhere, I have yet to hear anyone state the obvious: in pissing to a reporter about “leaks,” The Mooch, Anthony Scaramucci gave a master class in how leaks work. And without the benefit of speaking on background.

Think about it: regardless of what he’s bent out of shape about, he’s bent. And rather than just vent his frustrations to a friend, he goes after a reporter to find the source of the leaks. In doing so, he unloads a gusher of insider gossip, dinging Reince Preibus and even the Dark Lord, himself: Steve Bannon. That he didn’t ask to speak on the condition of anonymity is just icing on the cake for us spectators; his dick-tripping buffoonery is on display for all to see. But absent that one fact, everything else proceeds exactly as it does every time people leak internal dramas to the media.

The upshot here for us spectators is as follows: leaks are caused by internal frustrations. Whether those frustrations come in the form of one Secretary or one page who feels jilted by the overall Administration, or in the form of a deluge of freaked-out functionaries, the result is the same. And the results are probably not quantifiable in any exact sense, but it’s safe to assume the more and greater the leaks, the worse the situation in the White House.

All of which is to say: this White House easily the least-functional White House in recent memory. That supposition is bearing itself out in the dismay of Congressional Republicans whose own dysfunctions could easily have been overcome with proper leadership.

Those of us who value the health and well-being of our fellow Americans – to say nothing of our own aging relations – can be glad of the dysfunction for now. But as things heat up in the Korean Peninsula, the time to enjoy the opposition’s collective fatuity seems to be fast closing.

Photo: pptbackgrounds.com

By now, you almost certainly have run across an article like this one in the New York Post. A breathless headline about zombie brains eating themselves announces a slightly-less apocalyptic article about brain cells that are indeed eating each other. Some even mention Alzheimer’s, just for the hell of it. Your brain has gone rogue, late night television watcher! Now, brush your teeth and go to sleep, like your mom told you.

Bullshit.

What they’re describing is body’s process of returning the building blocks of life back to a useable state. Cells die all the time. They need to be disposed of, but nature in it’s wisdom leaves no opportunity wasted. Any bit of a dead cell that can be recovered will be recovered and the rest will be washed away.

Because it appeared to early scientists that some cells are “devouring” others, the process was called “phagocytosis” (literally: devouring cells). That’s a very dramatic name for a thing. Something straight out of George Romero’s nightmares. But phagocytosis is far more banal than all that. It is routine. It is a nightly routine.

And therein lies the problem, it seems. Because this research suggests that brains that haven’t been given enough time to perform their nightly routines go a little ape-shit. Microglia, which are the neural cells that are responsible for phagocytosis in the brain, start attacking cells that aren’t either sick or dying.

Since chronic lack of sleep early in life seems to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease, the researchers posit that perhaps this is the exact nexus. Sleepless people’s waste disposal system is on the blink and BOOM they’re getting Alzheimer’s. Well, maybe.

“But,” he intoned solemnly, “correlation is not causation.”

This is great research. There’s no doubt that there is a correlation that needs to be explored. Sleep deprivation may lead to Alzheimer’s, or they may both exist as symptoms of some more fundamental problem. It is even still possible that the two symptoms have nothing to do with one another.

And it’s worth noting that “chronic lack of sleep” is not the same thing as “watching too much late night television.” Sleep deprivation is a condition all it’s own that you’d know if you had. “Normal” late-night activities probably just do a bit of extra pruning, sort of like how a little alcohol is also good for the brain.

Either way, there is nothing zombie-like about what is happening. There is no monster living in your cranium. And getting half an hour’s extra sleep tonight will not cure your impending Alzheimer’s.

And maybe most importantly: the world didn’t change because we’ve discovered a new correlation between two unpleasant conditions. Relax. Have a beer. Watch television. You’re fine.

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?