Weekly Roundup – May 1 – 7, 2017

The Backfire Effect

I love The Oatmeal, a web comic that sometimes has a point and sometimes doesn’t. The author released a comic this week about the Backfire Effect, a subset of strong confirmation bias.

If you do nothing else, please go read the comic and think about it. As the illustrator encourages you, please read all the way to the end – it is worth it.

This is something that we have to battle consciously. We should all be aware that we (humans) are animals and most of our actions are driven by primitive lizard-brain instincts and coasting along based on previous information. Take the time and opportunity to consider new information, debate yourself, debate others, and learn more about the world! It is worth it and you’ll be a better person. Start here!

Geothermal Energy in Iceland

In an effort to move from dirty to clean energy, Iceland completed a energy well in January that reaches nearly three miles into the earth. This is an amazing accomplishment and I love that it is named after Thor.

Unlike solar and wind, the other popular non-destructive renewable energy sources, geothermal energy can provide base-load level power (at least from my understanding) meaning it is a true substitute for fossil fuels. In reading some discussion on this, it was mentioned that geothermal energy costs 4-5 cents per KwH, making it on par with natural gas for shallow wells. This particular well is deeper so the cost in drilling was likely much higher than a shallow well so it is unknown what the cost per KwH is or will be.

That being said, I think we too often get caught up in analyzing the cost of our energy sources. For me, personally, I’d be happy to pay more for power as long as I knew it was certifiably coming from a non-fossil fuel source. Perhaps this is a privileged viewpoint because of the budget that my family works within, but I can’t be certain of that. In my mind, it is just like shopping at Costco instead of Walmart / Sam’s Club. You may occasionally pay more for the same volume of product, but at Costco the workers receive a solid wage and benefits.

Uber in Trouble?

It has been revealed that Uber is facing a criminal probe into their effort to circumvent law enforcement efforts regarding the illegality of their service. I am not an Uber fan – like most “sharing economy” providers, they pass negative externalities onto society as a whole by circumventing regulations that they feel are antiquated. While taxi monopolies are not great, there is a reason that regulations in regards to car service and other personal transportation exists. There should be a concerted effort to revise those regulations rather than decide, as a company, to help bypass the law. AirBNB is another company that engages in these practices and it drives me crazy that they are held up as bastions of capitalism because they encapsulate so many of the negative aspects.

President Trump Quits an Interview

It seems the press is finally attempting to get actual answers rather than vague hand waving from our current POTUS. I’m all for this, and this transcript from CBS News shows what happens when they try.

An Essay on Civil Democracy

While reading an editorial in regards to Trump’s 100th-day rally speech, I encountered a link to an essay by the former President of Czechoslovakia, Václav Havel, entitled Politics, Morality & Civility. It regards the principles of democracy in an open society and necessity of the body politic’s participation in a rational and disciplined way.

I encourage everyone to give it a read, especially those of us who say they value policy over the team sports nature of our current two-party system. The essay by itself is about a dozen pages, but I encourage reading the foreword and thinking through the group discussion questions at the end on your own or with a partner.

Literally vs Seriously – Literally Wins

There was a common meme going around during the election, coined by Peter Thiel, that supporters of Donald Trump took him seriously but not literally, whereas people who opposed him took him literally but not seriously. I guess the latter half were right as I keep reading article filled with regret for Trump doing the things he said he was going to.

First it was stories about people who were upset about a repeal of the ACA, now it is regret from farmers who benefit from NAFTA as Trump readies a pull-out. Who can forget the woman who effectively voted to deport her own husband?

I don’t know why people are surprised – it is like ordering a big beautiful chocolate cake and being surprised when the cocoa deliciousness arrives in front of you instead of a down-home apple pie.

The Comey Letter

On October 28th of last year, FBI Director James Comey sent a letter to Congress which was promptly leaked by Jason Chaffetz. The statisticians at 538 argue that the letter cost Clinton the presidency and I agree. The worst part is there was nothing in the letter that was at all damning, but sensationalist headlines from sources that should have known better (I’m looking at you New York Times) made it seem like it was a stupendous development.

Secretary Clinton stated this plainly in a recent interview and I find it hard to disagree. She knows her campaign made mistakes, and it did and she admitted as much, but she would likely be POTUS without that letter. I wonder if we’ll ever see a single document from an executive agency have such wide ranging effects on the direction of the country again.

Economic Reality and Bernie Sanders

Someone made this comment on Reddit, and I thought it pretty concisely summed up my discomfort with Sanders’ policies and plans and why I thought Hillary Clinton was a better option.

What bugs me about Sanders is that he’s the first Democrat candidate in decades to use fudged numbers in his budget proposals. Republicans have been doing this for two decades- put out a budget where numbers don’t add up, then claim “growth” will fix the shortcomings. Sanders is the first Democrat to do it- both Clintons, Obama, Kerry, etc all put out responsible budget proposals- and he barely got any backlash for it.


The term for what the poster in question is talking about is dynamic scoring which the Republican party is again using to try to justify enormous tax cuts. A magic asterisk with a projection of 4% annual GDP growth does not a realistic budget make.

Bernie Sanders is a Donald Trump style personality who views the world in black and white and used slogans to rile up people who refuse to acknowledge the world is a complicated place. His ideals are admirable, and I believe in a lot of the things he purports to stand for, but his actual ability to accomplish the things he kept saying was always in question.

The AHCA is a Disaster for the Vast Majority of Americans

Shortly after the narrow passage of the AHCA in the house, the New York Times published a winners and losers article briefly discussing who will benefit and who will not from the bill (if it passes the Senate in its current form).

Angela and I fall into almost all of the winner categories, but I can’t see this bill as anything other than an abomination. It gives the most to the people who need it the least and deprives the most dispossessed members society of benefits that have a meaningful impact on their day to day lives. I do not understand how Republican members of the House of Representatives think that this is a win when it will disproportionately affect their constituents negatively.

Healthcare is 1/6 of the national economy and Republicans rushed to pass a bill that would drastically affect nearly everyone and all I’m left to do is wonder why. It is easy to fall into emotional and moral conversations when talking about healthcare, but I think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who can argue in good faith that a healthy and productive populace is bad for society. Now, we’ll be moving back towards people bailing on their insurance and going to the ER everytime they need treatment. Insurance companies will return to a policy of aggressively denying coverage and claims in order to increase profits. What a nightmare for normal people who are just trying to do the right thing.

At least it appears that the Senate is going to be adult about the whole thing.