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Thursday, November 23, 2017
  • Open Thread - Ivanka Welcomed Back To NYC
    by Frances Langum on November 24, 2017 at 4:30 am

    If you think Ivanka's clothing line is marked down, you should see the Trump hotel properties (prices down an average of 36% since he became the so-called president). Thanks Vladimir! Open thread below... […]

  • C&L's Late Nite Music Club With Dee Dee Sharp
    by Dale Merrill on November 24, 2017 at 4:00 am

    This song is a bit of a Thanksgiving tradition in my house. What's the feast like without gravy for the mash potatoes. Be sure you dance with someone this evening. What are you listening to tonight? […]

  • Texas Republicans Concerned That Democrats Are 'Coming For Us!'
    by Juanita Jean on November 24, 2017 at 2:30 am

    Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a man far too concerned about what’s happening in women’s bathrooms than just casual curiosity would deem necessary, has made a proclamation: Patrick: Democrats are 'coming for us' I hate when he steals our super-secret playbook. Pointing to major Democratic wins in Virginia earlier this month, the high-ranking Republican from Houston told fellow party members in Waco Thursday they have a challenging election year ahead of them and the GOP should take nothing for granted, reports the Waco Tribune. “Recently in Virginia, Republicans turned out in record numbers, but it made no differences. A blue wave prevailed,” said Patrick … Patrick takes away health care for Texas children, does the instant bidding of his corporate donors, sucks up to Trump, refuses to even discuss Texas education spending, and wasted an entire legislative session over transgender folks and where they can and cannot take a leak. By the way, has it occurred to Patrick that it would be a whole lot more productive the keep Republican men out of either bathroom? So, huddle up team. Grab some voter registration cards and a clipboard and let’s go get ’em. Nobody tell Dan Patrick what we’re doing, okay?read mor […]

  • Happy Thanksgiving! Michael Flynn Appears To Have Flipped
    by Red Painter on November 24, 2017 at 2:10 am

    It's starting to look like Robert Mueller may have given the Resistance another reason to be thankful this Thanksgiving. The New York Times is reporting that Flynn's lawyers have notified Trump's legal team that they can no longer talk about the Mueller probe. This is the clearest indication that Flynn is either a cooperating witness or is trying to work out a plea deal with prosecutors. This is also potentially awful for news for Trump, as Flynn could only work out a plea deal on the litany of serious charges he personally faces if he had even more incriminating information to share about Trump. Prior to this call, reportedly on Wednesday evening, Flynn's lawyers had been sharing information with Trump's lawyers. Welp, not anymore. And this can't be helping the toddler in chief feel any better. So what does this actually mean? Well, in normal cases with multiple defendants, it is pretty common for defense attorneys to share information. Why would it stop now? If one defendant is cooperating with prosecutors, but the other is still under active investigation, they must cease sharing information. Now just a reminder - this is all still speculation. It is possible that Flynn is not cooperating *yet*, but all indications point to the fact that he probably is.read mor […]

  • Seth Meyers On Jeff Sessions: 'His Standup Special Is Called 'I Don't Recall' '
    by Frances Langum on November 24, 2017 at 1:00 am

    Wednesday Night Seth Meyers showed we all have a lot to be thankful for: * A totally incompetent Trump campaign and White House, so stupid they didn't cover their tracks in meeting with Russian government officials, or cover their lies with anything more than an "I don't recall." * Mueller's ability to indict them for stupidity because covering up **after the fact** is obstruction of justice. Yay! * The Trump people's excuse, “Literally, we were too incompetent to collude." isn't admissible in court. Especially since they covered it up after the fact, or failed to, see above. * The neverending punchline that is Don Jr. * And then there's Jared. Yeah, you also get Jared. “It’s so amazing that these two are the ones who fell ass-backwards into a potential criminal conspiracy.&rdquo […]

  • Activism: Saving The ACA: People We Like
    by Tengrain on November 23, 2017 at 11:30 pm

    The video above shows a constituent losing his temper with Rep. Tom MacArthur over health care, during a town hall meeting in May of 2017. Please note the following bad news: I hate to report Murkowski has flip flopped and now unconditionally supports repeal of the individual mandate. I guess she, and all Republicans, want to own all future damage to the health care system.https://t.co/OpWmo53so7 — Topher Spiro (@TopherSpiro) November 22, 2017 And Alaskans, activate! Murkowski’s contact information for DC and Alaska offices. #resist #healthcare pic.twitter.com/jBZGfTv0Z2 — Rogue NASA (@RogueNASA) November 22, 2017read mor […]

  • Thanksgiving Football Open Thread
    by Frances Langum on November 23, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Times shown are Eastern. How are you celebrating today? What's your pick for the winning team(s)? It's a Thanksgiving Day open thread too. We at Crooks and Liars are SO grateful to you, our readers and commenters, for hanging in there with us as we RESIST in the age of Trump. Thank you. […]

  • Trickle Down Vs. Bottom Up? Easy Choice.
    by Mike Lux on November 23, 2017 at 5:30 pm

    Mike's an old Clinton-ite, so he knows a thing or two about good economic policy. Spoiler alert: trickle down is not it. […]

  • Limbaugh Previews What Your Right-Wing Uncle Will Say On Thanksgiving About Sex Predators
    by Steve M. on November 23, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    If you're wondering what your right-wing uncle is going to say on Thanksgiving about Roy Moore and other headline-grabbing sex predators, let me try to prepare you. He's probably going to tell you that sexual misconduct is exclusively a liberal problem. He's likely to paraphrase what Rush Limbaugh said on the radio today: ... here’s the thing about this, folks, go through names here again. Charlie Rose, Al Franken, Harvey Weinstein, Bill Clinton, Louis C.K., John Conyers, Kevin Spacey, Dustin Hoffman, Jeffrey Tambor, not a conservative among them. Okay, we’ll put Roy Moore on the list, but I’m telling you Roy Moore can’t compete with these people. Roy Moore has got no business being on the same page or in the same league with these people, particularly Clinton, Louis C.K., Spacey, Weinstein, and Charlie Rose.read mor […]

  • Republican On Roy Moore: 'I'd Break His Face' If It Was My Daughter
    by Scarce on November 23, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    The first-term Republican congressman and former Navy SEAL gave some much needed straight talk about the morally bankrupt politics of supporting a man accused of sexually assaulting children. Source: The Hill Republican Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) ripped Alabama GOP Senate candidate Roy Moore on Wednesday, telling CNN he would have physically attacked Moore if he had sexually assaulted his own daughter. "All I know is what I've seen," Taylor said. "I saw the man give his interview. Me personally, I don't think it was sufficient enough." "The 14-year-old girl that was there, I can tell you right now if it was my daughter, I'd break his face, I'd break his fingers, and I'd probably do a lot worse," Taylor told CNN's John Berman, referring to allegations of Moore's sexual misconduct with a 14 year old in the 70s, when he was 32. Taylor, a former Navy SEAL, told Berman that he didn't find Moore's denials to be credible and said he wouldn't be "comfortable" supporting him. "I think that the president has probably looked at raw politics, and the alternative, of course, would jeopardize his agenda in a very close Senate," Taylor said. "The people can have their feelings about that, whether he should do it or not ... but I certainly don't feel comfortable with [Moore's] explanation and everything that happened," he added. […]

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  • Republicans Can’t Govern
    by Jamelle Bouie on November 21, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    Republicans no longer know how to govern. […]

  • “There Is No Such Thing as the Bible”
    by William Saletan on November 21, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Last week, the Museum of the Bible opened in Washington, D.C. When the museum was first conceived, it was intended to “inspire confidence in the absolute authority and reliability of the Bible,” according to documents filed in 2010. But then, scholarship and dialogue intervened. The original vision of Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and an outspoken conservative evangelical, gave ground to the reality that “the” Bible—a single, clear, definitive text—is a myth. […]

  • Trump Picks Another Battle With Black Athletes
    by Jamelle Bouie on November 21, 2017 at 1:03 am

    Puerto Rico still lacks power, millions of children are waiting for Congress to reauthorize a vital health insurance program, and a massive pipeline has leaked more than 200,000 gallons of oil into the American heartland. It’s possible President Trump is focused on these problems, but you wouldn’t know it from his Twitter feed. There, he is again preoccupied with well-known black people and their perceived disrespect. […]

  • Investors in the Panama Trump Tower Included a Notorious Criminal Who Laundered Drug Money
    by April Glaser on November 18, 2017 at 12:48 am

    Donald Trump has made little effort to hide the fact that, as president, he continues to profit off the dozens of properties either that he owns or that bear his name. According to a new report by the anti-corruption organization Global Witness, some of those profits may include money that was laundered by Colombian drug cartels through a Panama property carrying the Trump brand. […]

  • How Doug Jones Can Win
    by Jamelle Bouie on November 17, 2017 at 4:08 pm

    Doug Jones has a chance. Allegations of sexual assault have turned Judge Roy Moore’s already divisive campaign toxic, opening the door to a Democratic Party upset. But to make that happen, the Jones campaign has two major tasks. First, he has to build out his base, i.e., the black voters who form the foundation for Democratic Party performance in the state. Second, he has to win an unprecedented share of white voters. And for as much as the polls show real opportunities for Jones, any effort to win over Alabama whites will be a tremendously difficult uphill battle. […]

  • Al Franken Should Resign Immediately
    by Mark Joseph Stern on November 16, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    On Thursday morning, Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden wrote a disturbing article alleging that Sen. Al Franken sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour. According to Tweeden, Franken coerced her into “rehearsing” a kiss for a skit, then forcefully stuck his tongue in her mouth. She also provided a photograph of Franken appearing to grope her while she slept. […]

  • Democrats Find a Weapon in the Senate Tax Bill
    by Jim Newell on November 16, 2017 at 12:42 am

    A tax reform process that had been moving with relative ease through Congress got much knottier on Wednesday, as complicated bills tend to do when the flashy debuts have receded and the thorny details begin to emerge. For Senate Republicans that meant defending two tough propositions: the sudden inclusion of a provision to eliminate the individual mandate for health care, and the decision to sunset tax cuts for middle-class families, while allowing corporations to keep them in perpetuity. […]

  • Black Voters, Blue Wave
    by Jamelle Bouie on November 14, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    There are two major demographics that helped Ralph Northam and the Democratic ticket win Virginia’s statewide elections: a strong performance with white and suburban voters, which has received considerable attention since last Tuesday, and high black turnout, which has not. […]

  • Democrats Are Sounding the Alarm on the Tax Bill
    by Jim Newell on November 14, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer do not often begin their weeks with urgent, joint press conferences. The two congressional minority leaders did this week, though, delivering grave warnings about the Republican tax plan that is currently barreling its way through Congress despite the best efforts of Democrats. […]

  • Roy Moore Is Lying
    by William Saletan on November 14, 2017 at 6:54 pm

    Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Alabama, swears he’s innocent. “The people of Alabama know me. They know my character. They know what I have stood for in the political world for over 40 years,” Moore declared Monday night, after a fifth woman came forward to accuse him of sexually targeting her while she was a teenager (saying Moore assaulted her when she was 16). “I can tell you without hesitation this is absolutely false.&rdquo […]

  • Diplomats flee Delhi amid worsening smog crisis
    by E.A. Crunden on November 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Delhi’s staggering pollution levels have begun to push out diplomats and spark international upheaval. But experts say diplomatic exodus won’t solve the larger issue facing the developing and heavily industrialized city. Pollution in Delhi has dominated Indian headlines for weeks and attracted the attention of the international community. Costa Rica’s ambassador to India made waves earlier […]

  • These corporations have declared war on Thanksgiving
    by Adam Peck on November 23, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    For the last decade or so, dozens of the world’s largest retailers have shifted the unofficial start date of the holiday shopping season one day forward, from Black Friday — so named because it’s the busiest shopping day of the year and pushes retailers’ bottom lines into the black — to Thanksgiving Day. So instead […]

  • Trump Organization is walking away from its floundering Trump SoHo hotel
    by Rebekah Entralg on November 22, 2017 at 9:40 pm

    The Trump Organization is severing ties with the owner of the struggling Trump SoHo hotel, the New York Times reported Wednesday. It’s the latest in a long list of setbacks for the struggling luxury hotel and marks the second time this year a Trump development has had the family name stripped off; in June, the […]

  • LaVar Ball trumps Trump at his own game
    by Judd Legum on November 22, 2017 at 7:45 pm

    This Thanksgiving, LaVar Ball is thankful for Donald Trump. Ball, the father of three basketball prodigies, is in the business of stoking controversy to generate interest in his company, Big Baller Brand. The elder Ball, for example, once claimed he could have beaten Michael Jordan in a game of one-one-one, said he son Lonzo was […]

  • Russia is taking the lead on Syria, leaving the U.S. on the sidelines
    by D. Parvaz on November 22, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Russia has taken several high-profile meetings with Syria, Iran, and Turkey in the most visible signs that the United States has lost relevancy in the fight shape the future of Syria, if not the region. On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Sochi […]

  • School discipline reforms may be coming to D.C. thanks to new bill
    by Casey Quinlan on November 22, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    D.C. Councilmember David Grosso (I) introduced a bill on Tuesday that would limit the use of suspension and expulsion in kindergarten to eighth grade to more serious infractions, such as attempting or carrying out physical injury. It would also ban suspensions in high school for minor incidents like disobedience and uniform violations. In a statement […]

  • It looks like Kellyanne Conway broke a federal law on national TV again
    by Emily Q. Hazzard on November 22, 2017 at 5:20 pm

    Kellyanne Conway appeared Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends in her capacity as a White House official, but weighed in on the Alabama special election. Doing so appears to violate federal law, according to several legal experts and former ethics officials who served in previous administrations. Conway’s endorsement looks like it violated the Hatch Act, […]

  • Would you buy a 500-mile range electric car that charges in one minute?
    by Joe Romm on November 22, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Electric vehicles will soon be superior to gasoline-powered vehicles in every single respect — with longer range and possibly even faster fueling. That’s the key takeaway from the latest product announcements by Tesla’s Elon Musk and other car companies. Major media coverage in recent days has focused on Musk’s unveiling of a sleek new electric […]

  • Interior watchdog highlights climate challenges as Trump officials suppress research
    by Mark Hand on November 22, 2017 at 5:13 pm

    Climate change is among the “most significant management and performance challenges” facing the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI), according to a new report issued by the department’s inspector general. Interior’s internal watchdog is highlighting the growing challenges caused by climate change at the same time the department, under the leadership of Interior Secretary Ryan […]

  • New York couple set to be deported to different countries, tearing apart family before Thanksgiving
    by Esther Lee on November 22, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Last week, Liany Villacis, a 22-year-old New York resident, accompanied her parents as they both went in for an annual check-in with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Her father Juan Villacis didn’t come back home with her. Federal immigration agents detained him during the visit, later transferring him to the Bergen County […]

  • Human rights group says repatriating Rohingya to Myanmar is “Unthinkable” while Rohingya remain unsafe
    by Sarah Wildman on November 23, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    One day after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally labeled the brutal treatment of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar “ethnic cleansing,” representatives from Bangladesh and Myanmar announced they had inked a preliminary agreement negotiating the possible repatriation of the displaced, persecuted, Rohingya population back to Myanmar. Amnesty International called the news “unthinkable” for a country that has not yet addressed the atrocities committed against this minority population, let alone the system that has oppressed them for decades. Since August 25, when a small insurgent group of Rohingya Muslims attacked border guards in Myanmar, the Buddhist Myanmarese military has engaged in a brutal crackdown on the Muslim minority population. Some 620,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state for Bangladesh since August. They carry with them stories of unfathomable brutality: Whole villages have been burned, men, women and children have been killed, and women report they have been subject to systematic gang rape at the hands of uniformed soldiers. Much of the world has looked to Myanmar’s civilian leader, the Nobel prize winner and celebrated democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi, hoping she would influence her military to stop the random, brutalizing attacks. She has failed to do so. Tillerson’s words were a long awaited acknowledgement by the Trump Administration of the real impact of the world’s fastest growing humanitarian disaster. (The United Nations high comissioner on human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has been using the term for months.) Yet even when Tillerson met with Suu Kyi on November 15, he notably skirted the phrase “ethnic cleansing” which carries with it a responsibility to address the problem more robustly on the part the United States. Finally saying it on Wednesday meant the Administration may be mulling imposing sanctions on the Myanmar military, and government. But the preliminary agreement to begin the process of returning the refugees comes as a surprise to human rights watchers. Given the destruction of Rohingya villages, it is not clear what the Rohingya will be returning to even if the systemized discrimination of and violence against the Rohingya had been properly addressed. It has not been. Back in September, I spoke to Paolo Lubrano, an Oxfam worker in Cox’s Bazar, a town on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border where the majority of refugees have settled down. “We are hearing really horrendous stories of people who have survived by the skin of their teeth,” Lubrano told me by Skype. Lubrano described “dire violence” and an enormous number of very young, and very traumatized, Rohingya refugees. Among those fleeing Myanmar, he added, are many pregnant women who have been walking for three, four, or even five days to find safety. On November 16 the world learned that many of those women have been fleeing gang rape. “Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report, said in a statement on Human Rights Watch’s website. Human rights groups aren’t celebrating the idea of returning refugees. That’s in part why human rights groups met the news of potentially repatriating these refugees with horror, rather than encouragement. “While precise details of this deal have not yet been revealed, talk of returns is clearly premature at a time when Rohingya refugees continue to trickle into Bangladesh on an almost daily basis as they flee ethnic cleansing in Myanmar,” Amnesty International’s Director for Refugee and Migrant Rights, Charmain Mohamed said in a statement emailed to journalists on Thursday afternoon. “There can be no safe or dignified returns of Rohingya to Myanmar while a system of apartheid remains in the country, and thousands are held there in conditions that amount to concentration camps. “Returns in the current climate,” he added. “are simply unthinkable.” Mohamed’s reference to concentration camps wasn’t an idle one: the crackdown on the Rohingya in 2017 may have been the most brutal attacks on this minority population, but Myanmar’s Buddhist military has consistently attacked the Rohingya for years. As I wrote back in September, many reports on Rohingya persecution and marginalization begin with Myanmar’s 1982 citizenship law, which stripped the country’s 1 million Rohingya of citizenship, leaving them without access to health care or education. Waves of violence soon followed. In Myanmar, even the word “Rohingya” itself is taboo: The country’s leaders do not use it, and some have asked the international community not to use the name. The Rohingya are not included among the 135 ethnic minorities officially recognized by the state. A 2013 Harvard Divinity School study concluded: “Today, the Rohingya face discrimination in areas of education, employment, public health, housing, religious activity, movement, and family life.” That includes a mandatory two-child limit per Rohingya household — a restriction that is only applied to the Rohingya. They also suffer from onerous restrictions on freedom of movement and the freedom to marry. Rohingya must request the right to marry from the government, a requirement also not imposed on other groups. In late May 2012, four Muslim men gang-raped and killed a Buddhist woman. That horrific crime became a spark for mass violence between the two religious groups and a brutal government crackdown on the Rohingya. A 2013 Human Rights Watch report found that around 125,000 Rohingya, and some local non-Muslims, had been forced to flee their homes for squalid refugee camps in Rakhine state. Children had been hacked to death. Many thousands of homes were burned. The report’s authors concluded the violence amounted to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In retrospect, the crackdown was a dark harbinger of the military attacks that would take place in 2016, and then again over these past few months. In 2014, New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof visited Myanmar and walked through refugee camps still crammed full with Rohingya. The Times posted a brutal video, narrated by Kristof, titled “21st Century Concentration Camps.” The people he met there had no freedom of movement and little to no access to health care. Their existence hung by a thread. It’s very hard to watch. That same year, Fortify Rights, a human rights advocacy group based in Southeast Asia, published a report that detailed the problem further. “This report,” they wrote, “provides evidence that protracted human rights violations against Rohingya result from official state policies and could amount to the crime against humanity of persecution.” Then in early 2015, researchers from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide visited Myanmar on a fact-finding mission. They reported on the “human rights violations [that] have put this population at grave risk for additional mass atrocities and even genocide.” “We saw firsthand the Rohingya’s physical segregation, which has resulted in a modern form of apartheid, and the devastating impact that official policies of persecution are having on them,” the resulting report from the museum explained. “We left Burma deeply concerned that so many preconditions for genocide are already in place.” But 2017 has been the most brutal year yet. On Wednesday Rex Tillerson finally acknowledged the breadth of the problem. He noted the attack on the border guards in August but said “no provocation can justify the horrendous atrocities that have ensued. These abuses by some among the Burmese military, security forces, and local vigilantes have caused tremendous suffering and forced hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children to flee their homes in Burma to seek refuge in Bangladesh. After a careful and thorough analysis of available facts, it is clear that the situation in northern Rakhine state constitutes ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.&rdquo […]

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder only had one good Thanksgiving in the Little House books
    by Constance Grady on November 23, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    In all of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s immortal Little House books, there are only two Thanksgiving scenes. That seems wrong; the Little House books are obsessed with food and patriotism, and what is Thanksgiving but our national excuse to indulge in both in equal measure? They are designed to codify the myth of the self-sufficient pioneers, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and living off the fat of the land. They take an almost pornographic pleasure in describing butter churning and hog slaughtering and corn harvesting. Thanksgiving should be entirely up their alley. But the Little House books are also about deprivation and hunger, about how for the Ingalls family luxuries are always scarce, and even necessities aren’t exactly abundant. So while Wilder always makes room in her narrative for a Christmas scene or two, the celebration is usually pointedly minimal, the better to set off the Ingallses’ austere morality. Laura and Mary are delighted by tiny Christmas cakes made with pristine white sugar and white flour instead of the everyday brown; they dutifully ask Pa to purchase workhorses for Christmas instead of spending money on buying them presents. There simply isn’t room, in these books about survivalism, for more than one pious feast day a year. So the two Thanksgiving scenes that we do get serve very specific purposes. The first one, in On the Banks of Plum Creek, serves as the calm before the storm: The Ingallses feast on stewed goose with dumplings and give thanks for the bounty of their land, little knowing that a biblical plague of grasshoppers is about to descend upon them and destroy their farm. Christmas that year is a disaster. Thanksgiving is the only reprieve they have. The second Thanksgiving comes in Little Town on the Prairie, toward the end of the series, when the Ingalls family has settled down in the slowly developing town of De Smet, South Dakota. For the first time, they have neighbors living close by; they have an infrastructure to supply them with such perks as surplus food and coal and medical care. For Laura, the town is equal parts exciting and suffocating: she longs to travel further west, to be utterly isolated on the prairie, but she also loves the companionship and sociability of the town, and she knows that her delicate invalid sisters (blind Mary, undernourished Carrie, and baby Grace) need its riches to survive. So when Thanksgiving arrives in this book, it’s not just a family affair. It’s a town event, a New England dinner hosted by the church’s Ladies’ Aid Society. It’s a big, bustling celebration, packed with people and food, at once lavish and exciting and overwhelming: Laura stood stock-still for an instant. Even Pa and Ma almost halted, though they were too grown-up to show surprise. A grown-up person must never let feeling be shown by voice or manner. So Laura only looked, and gently hushed Grace, though she was as excited and overwhelmed as Carrie was. In the very center of one table a pig was standing, roasted brown, and holding in its mouth a beautiful red apple. In all their lives, Laura and Carrie had never seen so much food. Those tables were loaded. There were heaped dishes of mashed potatoes and of mashed turnips, and of mashed yellow squash, all dribbling melted butter down their sides from little hollows in their peaks. There were large bowls of dried corn, soaked soft again and cooked with cream. There were plates piled high with golden squares of corn bread and slices of white bread and of brown, nutty-tasting graham bread. There were cucumber pickles and beet pickles and green tomato pickles, and glass bowls on tall glass stems were full of red tomato preserves and wild-chokecherry jelly. On each table was a long, wide, deep pan of chicken pie, with steam rising through the slits in its flaky crust. Most marvelous of all was the pig. It stood so life-like, propped up by short sticks, above a great pan filled with baked apples. It smelled so good. Better than any smell of any other food was that rich, oily, brown smell of roasted pork, that Laura had not smelled for so long. Laura, overwhelmed by all the people and all the rich food around her, does not get to dive into that roasted pig herself. Instead, she stays busy washing dishes throughout the entire dinner, like a dutiful and responsible young lady. But try as she might, she can’t stop herself from thinking about that pig. She’s only able to eat at the end of the night, when “a pile of bones lay where the pig had been,” although Laura notes optimistically that “plenty of meat remained on them.” That onslaught of sensory detail; the immense, lavish display of table after table of food after so many passages full of deprivation and misery; the longing for luxury that is so intense as to feel almost illicit; the ostentatious choice to turn away from physical pleasures to do one’s duty: Those are the conflicting strains that run through all of the Little House books, that grant them their visceral emotional force. And here, they show us how necessary community is to Thanksgiving. In the Little House books, Christmas happens every year, but Thanksgiving only appears in all its table-groaning glory when the Ingalls family has become part of a town. Thanksgiving means crowds that are both exciting and suffocating; it means piles of food and piles of dirty dishes that have to be cleaned. And most importantly, it means feasting after famine, luxuriating in food after years with almost nothing — even if you’re last in line to eat. […]

  • Let’s obliterate the myth that humans have a bad sense of smell
    by Brian Resnick on November 23, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Humans are the superior animal on planet Earth. We have huge brains that allow us to build skyscrapers and come up with dazzling inventions like pizza and the internet. We’re highly visual, with the ability to pick out the face of a friend in a crowd and paint realistic works of art with our hands and eyes alone. But we’ve long believed these strengths came at a cost: our sense of smell. “People are sometimes taught that because humans developed such a good visual system, we lost a sense of smell as a trade-off,” Rutgers University neurobiologist John McGann says. The myth of poor human olfaction is centuries old. And it is due for a thorough debunking. “The human olfactory system is excellent,” McGann writes in a recent paper in Science that reviews the wide array of evidence on the human sense of smell. “We’re like lots of mammals with a perfectly good sense of smell, and if we paid more attention to it, I think we’d realize how important it is to us,” he tells me. In fact, when you actually test humans on their ability to smell specific compounds, we’re pretty discerning. We can smell particles that are just two atoms large. And we can tell more than a trillion distinct odors apart. But how did the myth get started? And why is it not likely to go away soon? Let’s take a walk through the research. The scientist who started the myth As McGann explains in the new paper, the myth began — as myths often do — with an overconfident male scientist. Paul Broca was a 19th-century anatomist in France who pioneered the study of the roles different brain regions play in speech and perception. In his dissections of the human brain, he noticed an oddity. The olfactory bulb — the region where we process smells — was relatively small in humans compared to other animals. He reasoned that this meant the sense of smell was less important for humans than other animals. (Not without some merit. Humans don’t leave urine markings or other forms of odor as a means of social communication, as many animals do.) “Through a chain of misunderstandings and exaggerations beginning with Broca himself, this conclusion warped into the modern misapprehension that humans have a poor sense of smell,” McGann writes. One reason the myth persisted is confirmation bias. This is often a problem in science: Initial, exciting results that ultimately end up being wrong are hard to dispel. After Broca, any evidence scientists found that contributed to the “humans smell poorly” theory was championed, while evidence to the contrary was dismissed. For instance, when in the 2000s researchers revealed that 390 of the 1,000 odor receptor genes in the human genomes had no apparent function (since they don’t produce proteins), they instantly concluded this was further proof of humans’ disappointing olfaction. But they didn’t stop to think whether these 390 genes actually mattered when it came to actually sniffing out odors. A key paper that helped chip away at the myth appeared in Nature Neuroscience in 2006. In the 2000s, 32 brave human research subjects got on their hands and knees in the middle of a grassy field, put their noses to the ground, and were told to follow a scent trail, like dogs. The scent in this case was a spritz of chocolate oil dragged across the lawn. This wasn’t a prank. It was Serious Science. “Two-thirds of the subjects were capable of following the scent trail,” the researchers wrote. Maybe we weren’t such bad sniffers after all. Recent research reveals that even though the size of the human olfactory bulb is relatively small, it still has about roughly the same number of neurons as the olfactory bulbs of most other mammals. And “there is little support for the notion that physically larger olfactory bulbs predict better olfactory function, regardless of whether bulb size is considered in absolute or relative terms,” McGann writes. And when you actually test out our ability to discern scents, it turns out we’re just as good as — if not sometimes better than — most other mammals. Why we probably shouldn’t compare our sense of smell to a dog’s Getty Creative Images It’s still often hard to directly compare the sense of smell between two animals, because we use them for wildly different tasks and social behaviors. “So dogs like to sniff each other’s butts,” Paul Breslin, a scientist who studies odor perception with the Monell Chemical Senses Center, tells me (as I hold back laughter). “So you could ask the question — are humans not as good at sniffing butts as dogs? I don’t know. I haven’t sniffed that many people’s butts. I haven’t sniffed dogs’ butts, for that matter. Maybe if I sniffed as many butts as my dog does, I would notice they all smell different. So how do you compare them?” For that matter, dogs — if they could talk — might be in awe of our ability to use our sense in cooking. How can we tell, just from sniffing, if certain combination of spices will taste good? It’s an incredibly complicated process. Dogs do have a bit of a leg up on us when it comes to the biomechanics of sniffing. Their noses have what’s called a vomeronasal organ, which acts as a pump that pulls chemicals that are in liquids up into the nose. “That organ has its own receptors, its own nerve, and is processed in its own brain region,” McGann says. It means that dogs can pick up on odors trapped in liquids, whereas humans can only smell odors in the air. But it’s a debate whether the sensations picked up by this organ are “smell” or some other sense that humans don’t have access to. When it comes to sniffing certain chemicals, humans often outperform rodents or monkeys. But then, some of these animals outperform us on other scents. It’s not that some animals are vastly better than others across the board. We’re all adapted to be sensitive to different chemicals, and this is likely driven by evolution. For instance, McGann points out, humans perform poorly smelling the chemical 3-mercapto-3-methylbutan-3-ol. It’s a pheromone commonly found in cat urine. We don’t really need to smell that. Most mammals have roughly the same number of neurons in the olfactory bulb, the region of the brain that processes odor. Science We undervalue our sense of smell We don’t often consciously realize we’re using our sense of smell in decision-making. “How many times in your life have you pulled some old leftovers, some old thing, out of the fridge and decided whether to eat it or not by a sniff?” McGann says. “You probably didn’t stop to think, ‘My sense of smell probably saved my life.’” That’s an obvious example. But there are other ways our sense of smell guides our behaviors perhaps unconsciously. McGann says there’s evidence humans tend to take a whiff of their hands after shaking another’s which suggests “an unexpected olfactory component to this common social interaction,” McGann writes. And kissing? It’s a weird universal human practice that’s not essential for procreation. So why do we do it? Breslin thinks its widespread adoption has something to do with odor. “When you kiss someone, you smell them, you smell their body, you smell their metabolism, because it’s coming out of their lungs when you kiss them; you smell their breath, you smell their disease state — if they’re sick, you’ll smell that,” he says. We use all of that information — consciously or not — when selecting a mate. This all made me wonder what new uses we can put our noses to now that this myth is dispelled. People often train pigs to help find rare, expensive truffles hiding underground. But why bother training the pig? “Do we actually have evidence that a human crawling on the ground couldn’t find a truffle?” McGann says. “It’s difficult to presume that.&rdquo […]

  • Delhi's off-the-charts smog, explained
    by Umair Irfan on November 23, 2017 at 2:14 pm

    Delhi has earned the unenviable distinction of becoming the most polluted city on Earth this month, as air quality has reached epically bad proportions, prompting some residents to flee. On November 8, pollution surged so high that some monitoring stations maxed out their readings, reporting an Air Quality Index of 999, way above the upper limit of the worst category, Hazardous. (An extra-sensitive air quality instrument at the US embassy got a reading of 1,010, as you can see in the chart below.) Javier Zarracina United Airlines canceled its flights to India’s capital because of poor air quality. Visibility was so bad that cars crashed in pileups on highways and trains had to be delayed and canceled. The airborne particles and toxic chemicals that make up the smog have choked the 19 million residents of the metropolitan area, where merely breathing the air was, at its worst, like smoking 50 cigarettes in a day. Hospitals reported a 20 percent surge in patients with pollution-related illnesses, and doctors have declared a public health emergency. Delhi’s chief minister went as far as to call his city a “gas chamber”: “You can’t see very far ahead of you,” Manon Verchot, a former colleague of mine who leads the 20-person video team at the Hindustan Times, told me. “In terms of how it effects people in Delhi, everyone is sick. Half of my team is down right now.” The gray smoke and haze was so terrible that the US State Department, which has its own air quality monitoring stations in India, installed air filters for its staff at in their offices and homes. Costa Rica’s ambassador to India, Mariela Cruz Alvarez, described in a viral blog post how she developed a serious respiratory infection and had to decamp to South India. “I´m used to living in paradise and suddenly India has become a threat to my health and the health of my friends and colleagues,” she wrote. More than an inconvenience, air pollution is indeed a major medical hazard. The Lancet Commission on pollution and health reported 9 million premature deaths stemming from air pollution in 2015. More than 2.5 million of these deaths were in India, the most in any single country. As of November 21, the air quality index was at 326 — far below the peak on November 8, but still in the Hazardous category. Yet Delhi is not out of the woods. The Business Standard reports that Delhi Environment Minister Imran Hussain warned in a letter that “...ambient air quality may once again worsen in the coming weeks.” This is the third year in a row that air pollution in Delhi has become very severe, despite the Indian Supreme Court’s attempt to mitigate it in October with a fireworks sales ban ahead of Diwali, the festival of lights. Comparing Delhi to other cities, however, is difficult. Not everyone tracks pollution as well nor is it tracked by the same metrics. The World Health Organization, for example, ranked Zabol, Iran, as having the worst particulate air pollution in the world, but that was an annual average, the number was from 2012, and it was extrapolated from another measurement. World Health Organization Meanwhile, the highest daily particulate pollution record was set in Shenyang, China, back in 2015. So why did it get so bad in Delhi this year? Turns out this oppressive smog is a pungent combination of an ancient farming technique and the residues of modern urban living. But the Indian government has also failed to find ways to control the well-understood sources of pollution, which has allowed the situation to grow progressively worse over time. How Delhi’s air got so toxic, and why it won’t go away You can see India’s pockets of pollution in this live map from Berkeley Earth, an independent research consortium. The map shows airborne concentrations of particles with diameters of 2.5 microns or less, also known as PM2.5. These particles can come from different sources — diesel exhaust, natural dust, wildfires — and can lead to heart attacks, strokes, breathing difficulties, and cancer as they penetrate deep into lungs. The concentrations are reported as micrograms per cubic meter. According to the US Embassy’s measurements, air in New Delhi reached PM2.5 concentrations of more than 1,200 micrograms per cubic meter, 48 times the guideline value established by the World Health Organization. This is still short of the record set in Shenyang, China, where concentrations topped 1,400 micrograms per cubic meter. You can see in this screenshot from November 8 how Delhi became the epicenter of hazardous air quality in North India: Air quality measurements in India on November 8, 2017.Berkeley Earth “One of the things that’s so fascinating is how the pollution is not contained in the cities and it doesn’t even seem to be coming from the cities,” said Elizabeth Muller, executive director of Berkeley Earth. In fact, much of the pollution is coming from farms in nearby states of Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh. With the rice harvest over, farmers are burning crop stubble — specifically the remnants of the rice crop to prepare the fields to plant wheat and return nutrients to the soil. NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite was also able to capture the crop fires in India and Pakistan creating a plume of gray haze during a flyover in October: The red outlines show the approximate locations of active fires on October 25, 2017.NASA But what’s unique about Delhi’s smog is that the smoke from the burning outside the city is mixing with pollution inside the city — from construction, vehicles, and fires the poor use to cook and keep warm. This mix of rural and urban pollution intensifies in the cooler winter months and this year’s air currents through the region have been unusually slow, allowing the dirty air to linger. North India’s topography also acts as a basin that traps pollution — making it impossible for the millions of people in the region to escape the toxic air. It’s why there are now reports of reverse migration: People retreating from Delhi to rural areas outside the pollution zone so they can breathe cleaner air. The government is failing to control the pollution, which is leading to popular unrest Protests have erupted out of anger with the government for failing to deal with the air pollution. Hundreds of people, including children whose schools were closed, took to the streets earlier in the month. India’s pollution has its roots in politics, as this great piece by four researchers writing in the Washington Post explains. Rural farmers and city dwellers are important constituencies for different parties, and neither side wants to make concessions. Crop burning is often the cheapest way to clear fields, and farmers don’t want to spend more to appease Delhi’s denizens. At the same time, the country’s Nation Green Tribunal ordered construction to stop in the capital for a few days earlier this month, drawing the ire of construction workers. The tribunal also broached and then, after severe criticism, dropped a car rationing scheme that would let cars with odd-numbered registrations drive only on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and even-numbered registrations to drive on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. There are other pollution control laws, but enforcement has been lax for fear of alienating important voting blocs. Government officials from neighboring provinces have held tense, fruitless talks on the causes and liability for the pollution for years, but the atrocious air quality in the capital has added a new sense of urgency. "The country wakes up only if something happens in Delhi," Jairam Ramesh, a member of Parliament and former Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, told the Economic Times. Technology fixes for pollution also remain a tough sell. As Brad Plumer has explained for Vox, there’s been a lot of discussion about cleaner stoves in India, but for now burning wood or coal in traditional stoves is considerably cheaper than the alternatives. Meanwhile India’s environment minister Harsh Vardhan downplayed the risks from Delhi’s dirty air, telling CNN-News 18 that while high levels of particulates could be harmful, "no death certificate has the cause of death as pollution.” In fact, researchers say that the links between reduced air quality and premature death are robust. “There are all kinds of things that have been linked pretty convincingly to high levels of air pollution,” said Jason West, an environmental engineer at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. “There’s pretty good evidence that lower levels of air pollution are still detrimental.” The situation is going to get worse before it gets better West noted that cities in the United States, Western Europe, and Japan have also struggled with deadly air pollution, but the air has cleared as these regions became wealthier, invested in cleaner technologies, and citizens called for stricter regulations on emissions. “Economic development was important, but economic development by itself didn’t solve the problem,” said West. “People demanded cleaner air and cleaner water.” Environmental activism is growing in India, but there are still other factors that make its situation unique. One is the sheer number of people — 1.3 billion and growing — and the staggering patterns of rural to urban migration. More Indians are cramming into smog-shrouded cities, which means more people who need housing, more people buying and driving vehicles with few pollution controls, and more people making fires in the city to cook and keep warm. The increasingly polluted air means people spend more time indoors, which increases energy demand from lighting and air conditioning, leading to more coal and wood use. That creates a feedback loop that exacerbates the whole situation. “All the suggestions are that India will likely get worse before it gets better,” West said. The epicenter of global air pollution is also likely to shift further South, and soon cities in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa may start coughing and wheezing as populations grow and energy consumption ramps up. The World Health Organization projects that air pollution will continue to be a major killer in years to come, and the world’s poorest will be left gasping. But in Delhi, life still sputters on. The Delhi half-marathon had a record turnout over the weekend with some of the 34,000 runners showing up to the starting line wearing masks. Runners wear face masks as they take part in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2017 in New Delhi on November 19, 2017. SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP/Getty Images The air quality, for a moment, was merely “unhealthy,” an improvement from earlier in the month. […]

  • “Motivated ignorance” is ruining our political discourse
    by Brian Resnick on November 23, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    If you ever thought, “You couldn’t pay me to listen to Sean Hannity / Rachael Maddow / insert any television pundit you violently disagree with here” — you are not alone. A study, recently published in the Journal of Experimental and Social Psychology, essentially tested this very question. Two hundred participants were presented with two options. They could either read and answer questions about an opinion they agreed with — the topic was same-sex marriage — or read the opposing viewpoint. Here’s the catch: If the participants chose to read the opinion they agreed with, they were entered into a raffle pool to earn $7. If they selected to read opposing opinion, they had a chance to win $10. You’d think everyone would want to win more money, right? No. A majority — 63 percent — of the participants chose to stick with what they already knew, forgoing the chance to win $10. Both people with pro same-sex marriage beliefs and those against it avoided the opinion hostile to their worldview at similar rates. “They don’t know what’s going on the other side, and they don’t want to know,” Jeremy Frimer, the University of Winnipeg psychologist who led the study, says. This is a key point that many people miss when discussing the “fake news” or “filter bubble” problem in our online media ecosystems. Avoiding facts inconvenient to our worldview isn’t just some passive, unconscious habit we engage in. We do it because we find these facts to be genuinely unpleasant. And as long as this experience remains unpleasant, and easy to avoid, we’re just going to drift further and further apart. Listening to a political opponent is almost as bad as getting a tooth pulled Frimer and his colleagues demonstrated this same effect with several different methodologies in their paper. In another test, they (essentially) asked participants to rate how interested they were in learning about alternative political viewpoints compared to activities like: “watching paint dry,” “sitting quietly,” “going for a walk on a sunny day,” and “having a tooth pulled.” The results: Listening to a political opponent isn’t as awful as getting a tooth pulled, but it’s trending in that direction. It’s certainly a lot more awful than taking a leisurely stroll. Obama voters were uninterested in learning about Romney voters’ political thinking. And vice versa. Frimer et al/ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology Frimer also tested people’s knowledge of the opposing side. Largely, the partisans were unfamiliar with their viewpoints. So it’s not the case that people are avoiding learning about the other side because they’re already familiar. What’s going on here is “motivated ignorance,” as Matt Motyl, one of the study co-authors calls it. Frimer and colleagues also replicated this effect with Canadian samples in the 2015 national election there, and against Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton supporters in the 2016 primaries. (Way back when they were both the frontrunners. Remember that? There’s often a long lag between the collection of scientific data and the publishing of a paper.) Democrats were about as interested in learning about Jeb Bush supporters’ motivations as they were interested in taking out trash. “People on the left and right,” the study concludes, “are motivated to avoid hearing from the other side for some of the same reasons: the anticipation of cognitive dissonance and the undermining of a fundamental need for a shared reality with other people.” Our need for a shared reality is the source of dysfunction in politics This “fundamental need for a shared reality with other people” that Frimer and his colleagues describe all too often overshadows incentives to weigh evidence or to be objective when it comes to political discussions. This is the dark truth that lies at the heart of all partisan politics, and makes me pessimistic that Facebook or any other social networking site can really solve the problem of people filtering into their own content bubbles. We automatically have an easier time remembering information that fits our worldviews. We’re simply quicker to recognize information that confirms what we already know, which makes us blind to facts that discount it. It’s the reason why that — paradoxically — as we learn more about politics and politically charged issues, we tend to become more rigid in our thinking. “People are using their reason to be socially competent actors,” Dan Kahan, a psychologist at Yale, told me earlier this year. Put another way: We have a lot of pressure to live up to our groups’ expectations. And the smarter we are, the more we put our brain power to use for that end. As long as people can curate what they see, and create their own content, there will be a small voice inside motivating us to stick with what we already know. We do this out of love for our in-groups. But also out of fear of the out-groups. “We tend to view the other side as immoral, or evil, or crazy,” Motyl says. “And when we do that, it doesn’t make sense to say, ‘I want to understand immorality, or a crazy person’s perspective, or an ignorant perspective.” It’s too beyond the pale. Why we’re unlikely to escape our filter bubbles And this will continue to happen on both the left and right. A recent (not-yet-published) meta-analysis of 41 experimental studies on partisan bias found that liberals and conservatives “showed nearly identical levels of bias across studies.” All the studies in the meta-analysis used the same basic design: Participants evaluated arguments for a cause, like gun control, that they were either predisposed to believe in or not. They were then asked to rate the quality of the evidence. Oftentimes, this evidence was completely made up. But whether you’re swayed by it or not — and the degree to which you agree with it — corresponds to your predispositions. When it comes to these tasks, both liberals and conservatives failed to be critical. “Together with a growing body of evidence suggesting that increased knowledge and expertise in a topic area exacerbates rather than ameliorates political bias, the prognosis for eradicating partisan bias with harder data and better education does not seem particularly rosy,” the meta-studies authors conclude. (For people who might be thinking — “this is a false equivalence! How can you even compare the topics liberals are biased about to the topics conservatives are bias about!” — know that it is possible to be both biased and correct.) Both liberals and conservatives fail here because the human brain fails here. The answer to “fake news” is not just deleting posts that are factually incorrect. It’s motivating people to be curious, and to seek out information that contradicts what they believe in an open-minded way. Unless Facebook — or any social media — can find a means to make opposing points of view enjoyable to consume, or somehow incentivize seeing the other side, the internet will continue to divide and fracture into competing and alternative understandings of reality. Because right now the conclusion all this research points to is simple: We find interacting with other points of view to be unpleasant. And it’s hard to build a viral consumer product around an unpleasant experience. There are a few theories on how to encourage people to listen to opposing views Overall, psychologists are really good at diagnosing the problem of partisan thinking and partisan reasoning. Solutions to this problem are further afield. But Frimer says there are a few intriguing areas of research. Often, in studies, if participants are warned that their responses need to be absolutely accurate, they won’t show confirmation bias as strongly. In a similar vein, there’s other new work that finds that stoking curiosity could be a means to break the cycle of partisan thinking. (And it could be that the price to get people to at least listen to the other side of an argument is higher than $3 extra.) The upshot: There may be ways to increase incentives for being accurate, or to target a person’s sense of curiosity to facilitate better political dialogue. Overall, Motyl stresses that it’s wrong to think everyone disregards the other side in the same unified way. There’s nuance. Not all of us care about political issues equally. Not all of us are as attached to our political identities. Some personality traits, like agreeableness and openness, might make people better listeners. But — on average — it’s an uphill battle. Because what we’re battling against is the tendencies of the human brain. […]

  • In Vancouver, 50% of trips are by foot, bike, or transit. This video shows how they did it.
    by David Roberts on November 23, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Vancouver, British Columbia, has aggressive aspirations for sustainability. Its goal is to be entirely powered by clean energy by 2050 — not just electricity, but transportation and heating as well. (I talked to city manager Sadhu Johnston about it in July 2016.) As part of that effort, the city adopted the goal of 50 percent “sustainable mode share” by 2020 — half of all trips in the city taken by walking, biking, or transit rather than automobile. Fun fact: The city hit that target in 2015, five years early. The video above, by Clarence Eckerson Jr. of Streetfilms, tells the story of how it happened. As Brent Toderian, a former Vancouver chief planner (who I interviewed at length in June), explains in the film, the city’s success traces all the way back to the 1960s and ’70s, when the extraordinarily prescient citizens of Vancouver rejected a plan to build a network of urban freeways through the city. Walkable Vancouver.(Photo by George Rose/Getty Images) Today, it remains the only major city in North America unmarred by freeways. (My home city of Seattle is tragically bisected by the monstrous scar that is Interstate 5, though there’s recently been talk of burying or even removing it.) In the decades since, progressive political leadership has made alternative transportation modes in Vancouver not just practical but better — “delightful,” as Toderian says. There’s Vancouver’s automated, grade-separated SkyTrain system, with trains that, in peak hours, come every 90 seconds. With the opening of its most recent line just this year, it now has 53 stations and carries more than 100 million passengers a year. It also boasts some of the most stunning views of any transit I’ve ever ridden. The downtown core, along with more and more outlying neighborhoods, is crisscrossed by physically separated bike lanes, making biking substantially safer and more pleasant. Ten percent of all commutes are now done on bicycles, putting the city far ahead of its North American peers. Biking in Vancouver, separated from cars by a physical median.(Flickr, via Jeff Arsenault) All those farsighted decisions in decades past are coming together now. Vancouver is becoming not just a city with some nice walkable areas but a nice walkable city. […]

  • Women surgeons are punished more than men for the exact same mistakes, study finds
    by Julia Belluz on November 23, 2017 at 1:10 pm

    Earlier this year, the BBC sparked an international discussion about pay equity following the release of an embarrassing report on the salaries of its staff. Men at the organization were being paid 9.3 percent more than women on average. What’s more, only a third of the BBC’s highest-paid on-air stars were women, and some 500 female employees earned less than men who had similar roles. Stories like this are becoming familiar, as more evidence piles up that women are less likely to be promoted than men and earn less on average. We see it not just in journalism but in tech and countless other fields — including medicine, a profession that relies mostly on women. Studies have shown that female doctors earn up to 27 percent less than male doctors in the same specialty. But it can be difficult to suss out just how much of these gaps can be explained by bias alone versus differences in rank or productivity. Now a working paper out of Harvard University offers new insight on that question. And it’s a damning indictment of gender bias in the workplace. For the paper, economics PhD candidate Heather Sarsons came up with an ingenious study design to tease out exactly how much more women were punished at work compared to men when you held other factors like their positions or performance stable. Sarsons got Medicare data on referrals by doctors to surgeons, and then looked at what happened to doctors’ referral rates after one of their patients died during a surgery. Would the doctor continue sending patients to that surgeon? It turns out the surgeon’s gender — more than his or her performance — massively swayed that decision. The referring doctors judged female surgeons who had bad patient outcomes much more harshly than male surgeons, and that judgment determined whether they’d send their patients to the surgeon later. “[Doctors] increase their referrals more to a male surgeon than to a female surgeon after a good patient outcome,” Sarsons wrote, “but lower their referrals more to a female surgeon than a male surgeon after a bad outcome.” Referrals dropped by 54 percent after a patient died at the hands of a female surgeon, but when it was a male surgeon whose patient died, there was only a small stagnation in the referrals the surgeon received from the doctor. What’s more, a good patient outcome (i.e., an unanticipated survival) led doctors to become more optimistic about a male surgeon’s ability, again using referral volumes after a surgery as the proxy for the doctors’ views of the surgeons’ talent. The same wasn’t true for female doctors. “I was surprised at how persistent [the effect] was,” Sarsons told Vox. She looked at data for up to a year and a half after a bad event, and found female surgeons were consistently receiving fewer referrals. “Women were being punished more for a bad event,” she added. Perhaps most disturbingly, she also uncovered that the poor performance of one female surgeon later shaped how all female surgeons in the same specialty were viewed by referring physicians afterward. Sarsons found this happening in the context of new referrals for doctors, when they didn’t have long relationships with the surgeons. Again, there were no similar “spillovers” to male surgeons after a negative experience with one new surgeon. “[Doctors] become less likely to form new referral connections with women after a bad experience with one female surgeon,” Sarsons wrote. “A bad experience with one male surgeon does not affect [doctors’] behavior toward other men.” Harvard Medical School professor Anupam Bapu Jena, who has studied the gender wage gaps but was not involved in this paper, said he thought the study was “extraordinarily clever.” Given how difficult it can be to sort out where bias may arise in the work context, Sarsons helped pinpoint it: Gender-biased reactions were the strongest when a doctor was beginning to refer his or her patients and had little other information on which to judge the surgeon. In those cases, a person’s gender became a shorthand for their competence. It’s not a shocker that we can be less forgiving of women and harder on them when they falter. And the study shows we respond more to positive information about a man in the workplace, and more to negative information about a woman. The result is that for the exact same errors as men, women’s careers and earnings might take a much harder hit. (In this case, they didn’t get as many referrals as male doctors — which suggests they undertook fewer cases and earned less.) The bias Sarsons uncovered might just explain “these gaps,” she said, “and why we see these differences: women being promoted less frequently than men, women [not having] as many raises, women being under-rewarded for their successes.&rdquo […]

  • 4 women have now alleged sexual misconduct against Sen. Al Franken
    by Tara Golshan on November 23, 2017 at 1:10 am

    Two more women have accused Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) of sexual misconduct, bringing the total number of women who have come forward with allegations against the lawmaker to four. The Huffington Post reports that two women, both of whom wished to remain anonymous, say Franken groped their behinds during photo ops. Both alleged incidents occurred before the former Saturday Night Live star became a US senator, though Franken had already announced he was running for the seat. One woman, a 38-year-old book editor, said Franken touched her when she posed for a photo with him after a performance at the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus in Minneapolis in June 2007. “I saw him and asked if we could take a photo together for my mother, and we stood next to each other ... and down his hand went,” she told HuffPost. The second woman said she met Franken at a Democratic fundraiser in Minneapolis in the fall of 2008. She recounted that she and a friend approached Franken and asked for a picture. The woman said the then-candidate put his arm around her waist for the photo, then lowered his hand and “cupped” her butt: In order to escape the situation, the woman excused herself to go to the bathroom. At that point, she said, Franken leaned in and suggested that he accompany her. She grabbed her friend and fled to the bathroom without him. Franken, in a statement to HuffPost, denied that part of the story: “I can categorically say that I did not proposition anyone to join me in any bathroom.” As for the allegations that he touched the women, the Minnesota lawmaker said it was “difficult to respond to anonymous accusers, and I don’t remember those campaign events.” Another woman said the senator grabbed her butt — this time while he was a senator The two women who spoke to HuffPost each told a story very similar to what Lindsay Menz recounted earlier this week. Menz was the second woman to come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against Franken — this time while he was serving as senator. Menz, a 33-year-old woman, said the senator grabbed her butt while the two of them were taking a photo at the Minnesota State Fair in 2010, CNN first reported: Then, as her husband held up her phone and got ready to snap a photo of the two of them, Franken "pulled me in really close, like awkward close, and as my husband took the picture, he put his hand full-fledged on my rear," Menz said. "It was wrapped tightly around my butt cheek." Menz said she told family members at the time, and had posted on Facebook about the incident: Menz posted the photo with Franken on Facebook at the time, on August 27, 2010. Her sister, Cari Thunker, commented under the photo: "Sorry, but you two aren't Bibles (sic) width apart" -- a reference, Thunker explained to CNN, to how physically close Menz and Franken were in the photo. Menz responded to her sister on Facebook: "Dude -- Al Franken TOTALLY molested me! Creeper!" (The exchange is visible to Menz's Facebook friends.) Franken has responded to the allegations, saying he doesn’t remember the photograph and that he feels “badly” that the woman felt “disrespected.” "I take thousands of photos at the state fair surrounded by hundreds of people, and I certainly don't remember taking this picture," Franken told CNN in a statement. "I feel badly that Ms. Menz came away from our interaction feeling disrespected." Al Franken has welcomed an ethics investigation into his misconduct. There are now four allegations. Leeann Tweeden, a radio host for KABC in Los Angeles, was the first woman to allege misconduct. She recounted having to perform a skit with Franken, who has served in the US Senate since 2009, and said the then-comedian forcibly kissed her during a rehearsal and then posed in a photograph groping her while she slept. Tweeden wrote her story for the KABC website, at the end of which she addressed Franken directly: Senator Franken, you wrote the script. But there’s nothing funny about sexual assault. You wrote the scene that would include you kissing me and then relentlessly badgered me into “rehearsing” the kiss with you backstage when we were alone. You knew exactly what you were doing. You forcibly kissed me without my consent, grabbed my breasts while I was sleeping and had someone take a photo of you doing it, knowing I would see it later, and be ashamed. In Franken’s initial response to Tweeden’s story, he said he didn’t remember the rehearsal in the same way and chalked up the photograph to a failed attempt at comedy. “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” Franken said. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.” Then the senator released a second statement, and said he is asking for an ethics investigation to be undertaken, with which he would “gladly cooperate.” “I’ve told and written a lot of jokes that I once thought were funny, but later came to realize were just plain offensive,” Franken said in his second statement. “But the intentions behind my actions aren’t the point at all. It’s the impact these jokes had on others that matters. And I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to come to terms with that.” According to Tweeden’s account, Franken, a former Saturday Night Live cast member, wrote a skit with a kissing scene for the two of them while performing for troops in the Middle East. He insisted on the two of them rehearsing the kiss, despite Tweeden’s resistance, at which point she says, “he came at me, put his hand on the back of my head, mashed his lips against mine and aggressively stuck his tongue in my mouth.” “I immediately pushed him away with both of my hands against his chest and told him if he ever did that to me again I wouldn’t be so nice about it the next time,” Tweeden writes. “I walked away. All I could think about was getting to a bathroom as fast as possible to rinse the taste of him out of my mouth. I felt disgusted and violated.” Later on the trip, while she was sleeping in her flak vest and Kevlar helmet, Franken posed in a photograph with his hands on her breasts. Tweeden said she went public with the story after bringing Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), who started a video campaign to encourage women in Congress to come forward with their own sexual harassment experiences last month, on her radio show. Allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein launched a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault, and women across industries have begun coming forward with their stories of assault in recent months on social media, tagging their posts with the hashtag #MeToo. This, Tweeden said, was her #MeToo story — and ultimately one that Menz said inspired her to come forward as well. With Menz’s recounted experience and now the stories of two other women, there are four total allegations of sexual misconduct against the senator — one while he was in office. […]