American exceptionalism on display (again)

US politicians love to boast about how this country is exceptional and unique in its goodness. This is, of course, utter nonsense but there is one area where the claim of uniqueness might be valid in that it seems to be the only country, as far as I am aware, in which prominent politicians and media personalities openly advocate for the invasion of other countries or the murder of their leaders. The latest example of this comes from Ohio governor John Kasich, one of the failed contenders for the Republican nomination in 2016.
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Obama’s big payoff

The liberal commentariat is abuzz over the news that former president Obama is getting paid $400,000 for a speech to the Wall Street firm Cantor Fitzgerald despite earlier calling those firms ‘fat cats’. I don’t know why they are surprised. Obama has always been friendly towards the big banks and anyone who followed his career could see that even before he was first elected. All his talk criticizing them was just talk, the usual populist posturing of Democrats.
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How nature documentaries try to get you interested

Nature documentaries are not easy to make, involving patiently watching for hours, days, and weeks on end in very difficult conditions to get the footage they need. But they cannot simply show the footage. To get people to watch, they need to create some kind of story arc with animal characters and protagonists who seem to play roles within it that the audience can identify with.
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The Trump tax proposals

Desperate to show something, anything, that will deflect criticism that he is a loser who has not achieved anything of substance in his first 100 days and that he has in fact caved on many of his campaign promises and totally stabbed his supporters in the back, Donald Trump has released his tax ‘proposals’, a grandiose name for a vague “one page of double-spaced bullet points with some hefty margins” as Stephen Colbert said. Like with so much of what the Trump administration, it looks like the kind of thing that a middle school student who hasn’t done any research or even reading would come up with. But Derek Thompson does an analysis of it anyway though there is a long way to go before it has any hope of being implemented.
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An interesting argument against creationists

Religious believers tend to talk in vague generalities. I have found that asking believers detailed questions is a good way of responding to their statements. I have written before of my experiences when talking with those who talk glibly of heaven. I ask them whether people eat in heaven and, if so, where the food comes from and whether there are bathrooms and sewage systems to get rid of the waste, what people do all day, and so on. They tend to find the conversation distasteful. I do the same thing with people who say that their god speaks to them. I ask them whether he spoke in English, what kind of accent he had, whether anyone else was around to hear it, and why they did not record the conversation, since having god’s voice on tape would be sensational news. It becomes quickly obvious that they have not thought through their positions, since most people give their pious statements a pass. (For an example of the resulting entertaining conversations involving heaven and evil and free will, see here, here, and here, for some of the fun I had with some Jesus people I met on the street just outside my office. One of them heard about my posts and responded in the comments.)
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The roots of Trump’s deportation policy

Donald Trump is undoubtedly an awful president, a vain, needy, pathological liar and narcissist whose main goal in life seems to be to enrich himself and his family. But we should not let his awfulness result in our viewing his predecessors with rose-tinted glasses and seeing them in retrospect as better than they were. We must never forget, for example, that Barack Obama’s drone killings and policies in Libya and Yemen and other parts of the world were awful and his excessive claims of presidential power laid the foundations that Trump is now taking advantage of.
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Getting rid of the intentional foul in basketball

The NBA basketball championship playoffs are currently underway. Even though the Cleveland home team the Cavaliers are the defending champions, I am not a basketball fan and have not watched any of the games so far. Part of the problem is that it is a very fast moving game (when it is not stopped for timeouts and the like which are the bane of American sports but allow for plenty of commercials) and I do not know the finer points of tactics and strategy to fully appreciate what is going on.
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