Deconstructing the tax cut hoax

I got into a discussion recently with a wealthy Republican supporter about the tax bill. He was arguing that it would benefit everyone by pointing to Republican talking points that focus on the average value of the tax cuts. I tried to tell him that when a distribution is not roughly symmetric about the average value (also called the mean) but is skewed, then the average value is not an accurate reflection of the situation. Since he is a physician, I was surprised to discover that he did not seem to know the difference between the mean and the median.
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Moore, Trump, and the Republican party are all the same

Now that Roy Moore has won the Republican senate primary in Alabama, the chances of the Democratic candidate Doug Jones of winning the election on December 12 have gone up slightly, though they are still not great given that we are talking about Alabama where religious extremism thrives. The question is whether the Democratic party establishment throws its weight and resources behind Jones. Jones has been quietly raising money for his campaign.

Jones has some good credentials but the party has not as yet enthusiastically embraced him.
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Nice optical illusion

I have always been intrigued by optical illusions, seeing them as providing fascinating insights into how the brain works as well as warnings that what we think we see may not accurately represent what is actually there. I found this illusion (via David Pescovitz) to be particularly intriguing because the contradiction is so stark. You know that the four horizontal blue lines must be parallel because the background black and grey objects are all the same size, and yet to my eyes the top and third line unmistakably slope up to the right while the second and bottom lines slope down.
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People who write in library books

As part of the research for my book, I have borrowed a huge number of books from my university library. Many of them are decades old, sometimes going back over a century, and some are quite rare. I am sincerely grateful that my library is stocked with them and that the library staff is so helpful and thus make my life easier. So I get infuriated when I find that people have scribbled all over some books, such as underlining sections and inserting comments and exclamations and other editorializing in the margins. Some have done it in pencil that can in principle be erased, though the extent of scribbles can be daunting. Others have done it in ink.
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Serving 25 years for a crime that never happened

The US media seems to regularly go through periods of hysteria when one particular crime grabs their imagination and suddenly they see widespread evidence of it everywhere. There have been many notorious cases where innocent people were wrongfully prosecuted and convicted for crimes committed by others. But what is even worse is doing so when there was no crime in the first place. This was the case during the period that some of you may remember from a few decades ago when it seemed like there was an epidemic of cases involving children’s day care centers that seemed to be hotbeds of all manner of abuse. It seemed like we saw a parade of day care providers being hauled off in handcuffs and sent to prison.
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Shaming poor children through food

In the US, it seems people believe that we should never let the poor forget that they are not only poor but that it is also their fault for being so. Even children must be made to feel ashamed for essentially having poor parents. For example, about 20 million children in US schools (about 40% of all US students) qualify for free or reduced cost lunches at school because the family income is too low. This is quite a stunning figure for one of the richest countries in the world and is a stark reminder of how skewed wealth and income is here.
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More on the ignored Yemen war

The forgotten war in Yemen where the US and its Saudi Arabian proxy are mercilessly pounding that country because of the belief that the Houthi rebels are backed by Iran continues apace. Iona Craig of The Intercept continues her excellent reporting on that ignored conflict and her latest report provides a capsule summary of the nature of the conflict that led to the latest attack by the US a few days ago on the region of al Adhlan.

One of those killed in the May 23 raid, Al Khader Saleh Salem al Adhal, was a soldier in the Yemeni army currently fighting on the U.S.-supported side in the country’s complex civil war. Yemen’s conflict pits military units loyal to former president and previous U.S. ally, Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with the predominantly Shia Houthi rebels, against a local Yemeni resistance and anti-Houthi military units backed by a Saudi Arabian-led coalition of regional nations. The coalition is in turn aided by the United States, which has been providing weapons and crucial logistical support to the Saudi Kingdom and its allies in their fight against the Houthi-Saleh forces since March 2015. The Saudis, who view the Houthis as an Iranian proxy, have been the main financial backer and weapons supplier to the military and local tribes fighting in Mareb, including in al Adhlan.

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The new ‘arms’ race

It appears that French president Emmanuel Macron’s domination of Donald Trump in the handshake wars was carefully planned by him.

As handshakes go, it was unusually intense: a fierce and protracted mano a mano of white knuckles, crunched bones, tightened jaws and fixed smiles that sent the internet and the world’s media into a spin.

It was also, Emmanuel Macron has revealed, entirely intentional. At his first major appearance on the world stage, the 39-year-old French president displayed a relaxed confidence and steely purpose that altogether belied his youth and inexperience.
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