PRESIDENT SNOWFLAKE

Posted in Rants on March 6th, 2017 by Ed

Every generation succumbs to the urge to criticize those that follow. No generation in history has taken more crap than The Millennials, some deserved and some illogical. Gen X probably had more words spilled on its behalf in the 1990s, but not all of it was negative. The sheer volume of analysis directed at The Boomers has as much to do with the fact that America has been talking about them for six decades at this point. Millennial bashing, though, appears to rank somewhere above college football and below drinking cheap beer in the hierarchy of American likes and dislikes these days.

As is customary, the most complaining comes from the oldest generation, as these people are separated from adolescents and young adults by the greatest amount of time and cultural dissimilarity. Yet the criticism today has taken on an increasingly ironic tone; for all its complaints about the specific faults of Millennials, it is more apparent by the day that the 70 year old they elected acts more like a stereotypical Millennial child-man than any 22 year old Brooklynite with a Journalism degree we could put in the same position.

Narcissistic? Yes. Addicted to social media? Check. Constant self-aggrandizement? Obviously. Vain? Almost pathologically. Short attention span? Inattention to substance and detail? Superficial knowledge paired with lots of buzzwords and image bolstering? Avoids or is incapable of doing hard work? Unable to handle any kind of criticism without going berserk? Believes garbage repeated on the internet? This only scratches the surface. Take any caricature in the media of Americans between high school age and thirty and you will find every last stereotype embodied in the grandfather that a generation of grandparents embraces as its hero. While wagging its finger at The Kids These Days, Americans at or near retirement age today elected a man with the exact personality and behavioral profile of a 17 year old girl who describes herself as an "Instagram Model." The only difference between that kid and Trump is that the kid probably isn't as racist.

The point is not what is or is not true about Millennials as a generation, but that it takes a rich sense of irony to appreciate how older Americans have embraced everything bad that they insist is true about Millennials in a geriatric package. Perhaps the lesson to take from this is that generations are not that different fundamentally, and given enough time to acclimate themselves to the new technology an aging Boomer can use social media to prove how vapid, self centered, and dumb they are just as successfully as any teenager.

NPF: FALCONS vs. PROBABILITY

Posted in No Politics Friday on March 5th, 2017 by Ed

I'm about to get to the segment of my research methods course covering probability, and I have a new favorite example of the cumulative probability of independent events. Too bad I can't use it in class, given that football is a rather culturally biased source for anecdotes.

Super Bowl viewers may recall that despite a furious New England comeback, the Atlanta Falcons were leading 28-20 with four minutes remaining and in a dominant position – first down at New England's 22 yard line. From here, literally all the Falcons had to do was fall down three times (which would either force New England to spend their timeouts or run 2 precious minutes off the clock), kick a simple 40-yard field goal, and return the ball to New England down 11 points with little time left. In other words, a Falcon victory was virtually guaranteed.

How guaranteed? Well, consider if Atlanta ran the simplest of plays on 1st, 2nd, and 3rd down: a run straight up the middle by very excellent running back Devonta Freeman. It didn't matter if he gained yards or not. Running the clock and, crucially, NOT fumbling the ball away were all that mattered. Fortunately for Atlanta, Freeman carried the ball 227 times and caught 54 passes this season with all of one fumble, so we can calculate his odds of running the play without fumbling as 1 – 1/(227+54), or 99.64%. To calculate the odds of running the play three times (independent events) without fumbling, we cube that figure, (0.9964)3 = 98.92%. Assuming that Freeman would actually be trying much harder than usual to avoid fumbling at the expense of trying to gain yards, this is probably a serious underestimate to the likelihood of success. But let's stick with it.

On fourth down, Falcons kicker Matt Bryant would appear to kick a field goal of just under or over 40 yards. This season he made 95% (19/20) of kicks under 40 yards, and 97% (28/29) under 50. The 41 year old veteran has made 300 field goals in the NFL over 15 years, so presumably nerves wouldn't have drastically altered his performance. But for the sake of being conservative, let's say his odds were 92% (his total season average). 98.92% x 92% = 91%. In other words, by doing nothing but what was obvious, the Falcons had at least a 91% chance of taking an 11 point lead and essentially guaranteeing victory.

Instead, Atlanta got too cute. On 1st down Freeman carried the ball for a short loss. On second down, Atlanta passed for baffling reasons. QB Matt Ryan was sacked, losing 12 yards and making a potential field goal very long. Then they passed again, this time drawing a very obvious holding penalty and losing 10 more yards. Now, no field goal attempt was possible. The rest is history.

Consider what they did there. Leave aside for a moment the 30% chance of a pass being incomplete and stopping the clock, which would be bad (helping New England) but not fatal. QB Ryan had 1.3% of his passes intercepted, was sacked 6.5% of the time he attempted to pass, and the Falcons performed near the NFL average of an offensive penalty on 1 of every 10 plays (10%). The sum of those (17.8%) is the probability that something really, really bad could happen on a pass attempt. That leaves an 82.2% chance that things will be alright on a pass attempt. Counting Freeman's first down run (0.9964), we then multiply by (0.822) x (0.822) for the second and third down passes, giving us 67.3% probability of these three plays being run without "something bad" happening. Multiply that by Bryant's 92% chance of making a field goal, and we see that the plays Atlanta actually ran gave them only a 61.94% chance of getting that crucial 11-point lead.

NFL coaches may not be rocket scientists but most could tell you that 91% is greater than about 62%. And remember, 91% is an extremely low, conservative estimate.

We see this all the time in football; coaches get too fancy trying to "outsmart" the odds. When it works, they're praised for being Bold. But math is going to win more regularly than Guts or Boldness or anything else.

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU'RE FOOLING

Posted in Rants on March 1st, 2017 by Ed

Look. I have nothing against Steve Beshear. I have a lot of Louisvillian friends who vouch for him as Not Bad. He's about what one can hope for in the category of Democratic Governor in Red State. Additionally, the Democratic response to Tuesday evening's presidential address won't amount to a pile of dust in the long run. Content-wise it likely left an impression on exactly no one. It was, in that sense, Fine.

It was also a good example of everything wrong with the leadership of the Democratic Party.

Leave aside the terrible message it sends to have a 72 year old ex-elected official in effective retirement in a spot of high, albeit temporary, visibility. Leave aside how awful an impression it creates to include the phrase "I am a Republican" in the first 15 seconds. Consider the setup, conceptually, for what the people responsible for this were trying to do here and you'll see directly to the heart of the problem with Democrats.

With a party at low ebb after losing a presidential election to a joke candidate using a nominee nobody seemed to like all that much and a running mate whose name the country forgot even before the election, you might expect strategists to focus on the most obvious problem: If you can't fire up your base, you're not going to win elections. Republicans are forever hurling red meat at their base – 50 Obamacare repeals that had no chance of passing, 35 Benghazi hearings, etc. – even though they know those measures are futile. They do it because they recognize that if all else fails, they will at least get their core group of voters behind them solidly.

The Beshear thing is evidence of how deeply cynical and unmoored the Democratic Party is right now. The visual of a 72 year old white guy in a creepy diner surrounded by other old white people is exactly, precisely, to the last detail, what some Beltway or New York-San Francisco based consultant would think is going to appeal to the revered White Working Class. This is what someone who has no contact with Normal People thinks Normal People are like. This is cringe-inducing in the same way as the dialogue for black characters in TV shows aimed at (and written by) white people often is. It is at its core a caricature. It is a thing people look at and think, This is some asshole from Harvard's impression of what those dirty people he flies over will like. I'm stunned they didn't have Beshear wear a NASCAR hat and pound a Bud Light.

The insistence that they can "win back" the White Working Class is delusional to begin with, but they extra-certainly will never win them back with transparent cornball shit like this. This isn't outreach; this is pandering. And the most offensive part is that it isn't even good pandering. It's as convincing as John Wayne playing Genghis Khan. This was embarrassing to watch in the same way that is true of messages aimed at kids and written by adults according to their incomplete and outdated sense of what The Kids These Days are into.

I'm not saying the Democratic Party's path to success lies with some sort of hard lurch to the far left, embracing communism and waving a hammer and sickle. What seems very obvious to everyone except the holdover New Democrat people from the 90s who are still in charge is that whatever success the party will achieve will come from reaching out to and motivating the voters who find the GOP terrifying. Women. Young people. Gays and Lesbians. African-Americans. Hispanics. The highly educated. People in big cities. Non-Evangelicals. But for some insane reason they insist that the winning strategy is to find some way to peel away the same voters who clearly and strongly prefer Republicans – and worse, to do it by play-acting a six-figure strategist's impression of economically depressed white people, as though speaking with a little drawl and sitting in a folksy diner is going to convince some pissed off ex-coal miner that he loves the Democrats after all.

It is time to come to grips with the fact that the appeal Democrats had to rural whites is something that died many decades ago. It was already running out of steam by the time Reagan came around, and that was nearly 40 goddamn years ago. Let it go. Low-income rural whites are a rapidly shrinking part of the population. Trump may be their last gasp before they start dying in droves because Republicans rely so heavily on the elderly. Move on. Do something, anything, to communicate the message to the actual, real Democratic base, "You are our priority. We care about you. We need you." Not the base as they might like it to be, full of hard-workin' blue collar white caricatures, but as it is.

The DNC keeps telling us that the future of the party will not be served by a lurch to the far left. Perhaps, perhaps not. We could hear arguments on either side of that. What is absolutely and undeniably certain, though, is that the future of the party is not old white men playing at Rustic Everyman and all but conceding defeat to the mighty forces of conservatism. For those who warn that trying to fire up a progressive base will create a McGovern scenario, I have news: that has already happened. Republicans control the White House, the Senate, the House for what may be an eternity, and 38 state legislatures (!!!). It is difficult to conceive of how much worse things could go if they tried something a little different. But instead they will comfort themselves with what they know and then wonder loudly why old white centrists failed to excite their most important voters.

DENTAL PLAN! LISA NEEDS BRACES. DENTAL PLAN!

Posted in Quick Hits on March 1st, 2017 by Ed

Don't get anyone who likes The Simpsons talking "best episodes" unless you have a couple hours to kill and sufficient devotion to the show to argue fine points like Frank Grimes vs. Hank Scorpio for best one-show cameo. Depending on the context and the definition of "best," there are probably 20 episodes that could plausibly hold the title. For its commentary on organized labor in the United States, though, "Last Exit to Springfield" has to be near the top of the list.

Over the past two weeks the automotive press has been full of stories about Elon Musk's (he of Tesla and PayPal fame) efforts to stave off unionization at his Fremont, California factory. His strategy is to treat his employees like toddlers, apparently, and convince them to forgo unionization in exchange for toys and treats and a trip to Six Flags. If you think that's a metaphor, it isn't: he has offered quite literally to give the factory a frozen yogurt bar and a roller coaster in exchange for a union-free contract. I would like to point out that the year is 2017, and this exact scenario was in the aforementioned Simpsons episode in 1993.

Carl: But seriously, we have to vote on Mr. Burns' new contract. It's basically the same deal, except we get a free keg of beer for our meetings. (crowd cheers) In exchange for that, we have to give up our dental plan. (everyone cheers and rushes over to the beer keg)

Lenny: (pours beer) So long dental plan!

You can't make these things up.

There are arguments to be made (albeit not necessarily equally persuasive ones) for and against unionization. You have to love the cynicism of the ruling class when it doesn't even bother making them and instead jiggles its car keys and a squeaky toy in front of labor, expecting that to convince them to give up rights and long term economic benefits.

And you know what? It'll probably work.

THE ROOT

Posted in Rants on February 27th, 2017 by Ed

The appointment of a person who knows literally nothing about the profession as Secretary of Education reignited interest in our deeply flawed educational system. During her confirmation hearings, this was perhaps the best commentary I saw on an internet that overflowed with them.

The most basic problem with the educational system (K-12 only; colleges have a different set of issues) is that it is increasingly expected to show improvement in a society in which so many of the measurable things affecting educational outcomes are getting worse. When you have students who are basically on their own before the age of ten, or move eight times in three years, or live in violent and impoverished homes, or go days at a time without seeing their substance-abusing parent, or spend evenings trying to decide whether to call the cops because that man is beating up Mom again but you don't want to be taken away into a foster home so what should you do, or have reached adolescence without once seeing an adult set an alarm clock to wake up and go to work, very little in terms of policy is going to matter. Give 'em vouchers, send them to charter schools, public schools, Catholic schools, whatever you want; those kids are not going to succeed. Teachers are expected to extract good test scores from students who are absent 50% of the time or don't have an adult to reliably feed and shelter them.

Teachers are equipped, at their best and in the best environments, to be teachers. They are not prepared to be psychologists, social workers, parents, guardians, and miracle workers. Certainly not every public school draws from a population of students as poor and disadvantaged as what I described here. But it's hardly rare. Increasingly – and vouchers will serve only to worsen this problem – public school systems are a grease trap for the students no other school would take. The kid didn't do well enough on tests for a charter or magnet school, and whatever adult supervisor is responsible for him or her can't shell out for private school. Public schools, in essence, are expected to show constant and near-miraculous improvement with a student population from which the best and most well-supported students have already been plucked out.

So, when people ponder the solutions to the problems of education in this country, feel free to cut off anyone who starts ranting about teacher salaries, classroom sizes, No Child Left Behind, or any other education-specific issue. The problem is poverty. The solution is to mitigate poverty and the other social problems that flow from it. We don't want to face that reality because we don't like doing things that are hard; we want to maintain a delusion that there is some magic policy that will get our schools to start churning out great, well educated students. It does not exist. Teachers and schools have only so much contact with students and no power to solve or even push back meaningfully against the growing pile of problems many of these kids face outside of school. A good teacher will always get the most out of his or her students, and our elected officials will never recognize that many of them are doing exactly that – they are getting the most out of students who have everything stacked against them in life. The unfortunate reality is that sometimes "the most" a teacher can produce with a given child is not much.

We have to stop considering the problems of our schools in a vacuum. Throw all the money you want at schools or enforce whatever "teacher accountability" BS the Koch think tanks are pushing this month – none of that will make a lick of difference in the outcomes of students in communities that are both literally and figuratively falling apart.

NPF: UPON FURTHER REVIEW

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 24th, 2017 by Ed

We aren't at our most observant during childhood and adolescence. And even when we do notice some things that are objectionable, we're likely to think they're funny because we're immature and stupid. Hey, white kids raised by and among white people who casually interject racism into 90% of their conversations are not very likely to listen to a song and think, "Hmm, I find this language Problematic" or "This movie unfairly stereotypes ethnic groups." Maybe I'm projecting and you were Super Woke as a child. I wasn't. I guess you're a better person than me.

Recently I had two experiences with media that I remember from when I was much younger, both of which I remember enjoying quite a bit when they were new. And now, as a 38 year old adult I find myself kind of amazed at how fucked up they seem. First, I pulled up Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom to stream as a background movie while grading exams. I probably haven't seen it in 30 years. I distinctly remember my mom driving me and my sister to my dad's office to pick him up at work, after which we went straight to the theater to see it on its opening day. I must have been less than 8 years old, and I remember loving it. Try watching it now as an adult; tell me you can enjoy it even a little given 1) how totally and stunningly Kate Capshaw is able to act, even a little, and 2) how kind of jaw-droppingly racist it is. I mean. It's hard to expect sensitive treatment of non-Western cultures in action-adventure movies of the present (let alone decades ago) but…come on. There's a limit. I can overlook a sass-quipping Asian sidekick (that actor, it turns out, has had a very successful career in film in non-acting roles) or having a Non Specifically Ethnic Villain, but it's as if the people who made this movie took a lengthy checklist of stereotypes about Indians and Asians and made sure not to miss any of them. Christ.

Second – and this one is more recent, but hear me out – was having DMX "Where the Hood At" pop up on a shuffle. This track (from 2003) came out in my early adulthood, at the point where I should have known better, but if you know anything at all about rap you understand that you're not listening to DMX to listen to his lyrics. He has one of the smallest vocabularies in hip-hop. And that's OK, because, "in last place: DMX. But this shouldn't undermine an artist whose raw energy and honesty were the most memorable qualities of his music." OK. But try listening to "Where the Hood At." Holy balls the first verse of that song is the most brazenly homophobic thing in existence. Most people probably don't even know it's there, because the entire point of DMX (and that track) is to turn it up real loud and yell WHERE THE HOOD WHERE THE HOOD WHERE THE HOOD ATTTTT with a large group of similarly enthusiastic people. Even devoted fans probably don't know the rest of the words to the song. But….damn. You've been warned.

What are some of your favorite examples of shit you thought was awesome and now do a hard cringe at?

PERMISSION SLIP

Posted in Rants on February 22nd, 2017 by Ed

Pay attention the next time you are on foot at an intersection waiting to cross with a group of other pedestrians.

Everyone stands restlessly looking at the orange hand of the "Don't Walk" sign. It's like they want to cross – there's no cross traffic preventing it – but some kind of social surface tension keeps the waiting pedestrians stuck to one another and to the curb. Is this light ever going to change? Finally whichever person is most impatient will start walking. Then, despite the "Don't Walk" signal that had them frozen in place a moment earlier, everyone follows him or her.

Psychologists and sociologists call this a permission effect, or describe the first individual to violate the (in this case minor, obviously) social taboo the "permission giver." Everyone wants to cross, since there's no effective reason not to. The "Don't Walk" sign is intended to keep the flow of traffic moving and to prevent pedestrians from getting hit; since there is no traffic, ignoring the sign will have no practical effect on anyone. But we know it's illegal anyway, and we know that we're supposed to obey signals like red lights and crossing signs regardless of whether they matter in our specific context. Then as soon as we see someone else throw caution to the wind, all those thoughts go out the window and we refocus on, "Well if he's gonna cross, I guess it's OK for all of us to cross."

It doesn't make any logical sense, but if you watch an intersection for a few minutes you'll observe this over and over. Everyone hesitates, one person transgresses, and everyone else follows. Clockwork.

Despite the pained, contorted efforts of old white men to explain how nothing that happens anywhere in the United States has anything to do with racism, anti-semitism, gay-bashing, misogyny, or anything else that has seen a resurgence in the political arena since 2015, we see evidence all around us, every day, that human beings are more likely to do something after they see someone else do it. This is neither a new nor an especially contentious finding. People, particularly more impressionable people like kids and the poorly educated, are more likely to say and do racist things after they watch someone else say and do racist things and – importantly – suffer no consequences. Steve Bannon rode a brief online career of rebranding anti-semitism for the digital age of journalism into the White House; other people will try to follow his lead. Success breeds imitation. As sure as the next few years will produce thousands of bad Chance the Rapper imitators, the internet will spawn a million wannabe Steve Bannons.

When we see racist or anti-semitic graffiti (or see Jewish property vandalized) the people making excuses for it may be right in a technical sense – a lot of it is probably the product of stupid kids, because vandalism tends to come from teenage boys. But the content of the vandalism is not a coincidence. It's a result of watching other people engage in a kind of social transgression (which teenage boys love, because it gets a rise out of people and brings them attention) without consequences. If they thought they would get arrested or go to prison for spraying swastikas on things, it would happen rarely. Now that they see that they can do it without consequences – or even with the potential of benefiting from it – there's no real reason not to do it. If the President says it, other people will naturally follow suit. If powerful people express ideas that were only recently frowned upon without any negative repercussions, others are going to follow their lead. It's not rocket science, but it's amazing the lengths to which people will go to deny it.

"NEVER AGAIN", DEPENDING ON WHAT IT WAS

Posted in Rants on February 20th, 2017 by Ed

This week in one of my courses we're doing Maus. It was something I added to the syllabus at the last minute, after the election in November and before the January deadlines for book orders. I felt that, under present circumstances, it would be…fitting.

Everyone knows about the Holocaust. If you managed to miss it in school, you couldn't help but encounter it in literal thousands of books, movies, TV shows, comics, video games, and more. The question of what we can learn from it is often reduced – not surprisingly – to the simplest, narrowest possible lessons. For all the talk in the United States of World War II (the topic that dwarfs all others in our media, both fiction and non-fiction) and our nation's heroic role in bringing the Nazi menace to a halt, Americans seem to lack a grasp of lessons from the Holocaust beyond "Don't vote for guys with toothbrush mustaches" and "The people waving American flags are good; bad guys have swastikas." In other words, we learn it as a lesson that applies to others but not to ourselves. We could never be the bad guys, because we are the good guys. If nobody's being gassed and thrown in ovens, we're not like the Nazis. QED.

The lesson a sentient being takes away from the Holocaust, and one that this book does an unusually good job of illustrating, is that organized evil unfolds slowly in complex societies. It develops in stages. The Nazis didn't come to power, wake up the next morning, and announce to the country, "Time to kill all the Jews." Like the master propagandists and populists they were, they took a more gradual (and ultimately, for their purposes, more effective) approach. Start with rhetoric separating Real Germans from The Other. Encourage by example stigmatizing The Other. Normalize verbal abuse, prejudice, and petty mistreatment. Ramp up to abusive acts of a more serious nature. Start passing laws – again, small ones initially – to institutionalize separate and unequal treatment. Explicitly legalize violence against the person and property of The Other. Eject Them from positions of social and economic power, to be replaced with Real citizens. Begin physically segregating Them under the pretense of public safety, necessity (especially wartime necessity), or for Their own good. Direct citizens to focus their anger for any privations – economic, military, or social – the nation faces on The Other. Turn a blind eye to public outbreaks of vandalism, assault, and even the occasional dead body. Dehumanize; compare Them to insects, viruses, animals, and so on. By this point the dumber, more obedient, authoritarian-follower types who make up the bottom third of the population will be more than happy to don a uniform and get a paycheck for rounding up and policing the internal "threat."

At this point you're not yet engaged in state-sanctioned ethnic cleansing, but you're certainly within hailing distance of it. You can see it without binoculars. The public as a whole is unlikely to accept that final step, which is why you've carefully segregated the public as a whole from it. You've condensed and defined The Problem, and you've put the borderline intellects and sadists – the kind of people who know how to follow an order, and what how – in charge of carrying out the gruesome parts. Voila. Just say when, Mein Fuhrer. By this point it is too late; having condoned and made excuses for the first 49 steps of the process, any part of the population that wakes up now will find itself powerless to stop Step 50.

That's what people don't get – that a valid analogy can be made to Nazi Germany without extermination camps bellowing human ash into the sky. "Don't be so dramatic" and "You're exaggerating" are appropriate responses if we focus only on the "Final Solution" and ignore the 100 steps that led to it. Nothing happens in a vacuum, and societies never go from placid to monstrous acts of evil overnight. Getting ordinary people to condone genocide, fostering the banality of evil, requires the careful laying of groundwork. It begins with normalizing social deviance toward an Other that is responsible for every aspect of your life that leaves you dissatisfied. It begins when a population is conditioned to read a news story about one of Them being gunned down by someone in a uniform and to react not with human empathy but with satisfaction. It begins when people become convinced that there are Good People like themselves and Bad People like everyone who looks, thinks, or acts differently than themselves. It begins when the oppression of a minority to satisfy the histrionics of a majority (rule of law be damned because I want to feel safe at any cost) is not only tolerated by the political process but becomes one of the products it is most eager to deliver.

Every crime against humanity has humble beginnings. And the kind of people who want to perpetrate them know that they don't grow like weeds. They have to be nurtured, slowly, until the process is so far along that no group, individual, or institution in society can stop it.

UNRELIABLE WITNESS

Posted in Rants on February 19th, 2017 by Ed

For the past three days – Friday through Sunday – the high temperatures (F) here in Chicago have been 65, 70, and 62. It has been spring, essentially. Those numbers might make people in the South want to grab the parka; here they had me and most of the city heading outside in shorts and t-shirts. It was great. It was also, of course, totally bizarre. February is the traditional month for weather that makes you want to drink bleach in Chicago. February is the month during high school in which we could count on a cancellation or two per year because the pipes were frozen. February in Chicago is gray, cold, windy, and miserable. I'm convinced that the term "blustery" was invented by someone standing outside here in February.

Since the winter has been warm as a whole, this weekend alarmed more than a few people. It's great, but…what gives? For giggles, I spent 15 minutes finding old National Weather Service data for Chicago in February dating back to 1990. The year is arbitrary and represents the limit of how much I cared to continue looking up older years. For each year I plotted the highest and lowest temps recorded in February as well as the monthly mean temp. Here's a quick chart followed by a table showing the same data:

This oddly warm weather is definitely on the upper end of normal for the past three decades, but it's hardly unusual. The 2017 data, as the table shows, are almost identical to, for example, 1999. Compared to more recent very cold years like 2014 and 2015, this year is bizarrely warm. It's not the only unusually warm February to be found in the recent past, though.

The point is not that "Climate change is fake, man!" Mountains of data demonstrate that it is a well-supported phenomenon. My point is that our memories are extremely unreliable when it comes to remembering ephemeral things like this. I was alive in 1999 (obviously) and I have zero recollection of that warm winter. None. In my mind, what is happening right now is exceptional because February, as I and most people in this area think, is the bone-chilling cold month. It's the peak of winter misery. When we think things like, "Man, the weather is never like this in February!" we're relying on our perception of something we don't actually remember. Nobody actually remembers the weather, save perhaps some kind of Rain Man-esque savant.

In short, our anecdotal evidence for or against changes in climate are not only irrelevant, but also very likely to be imaginary anyway. It is interesting for me to see just how wrong my recollection was, even as someone who generally pays attention to these things. It's a good reminder to stop giving credence to our own impressions and instead to stick to the actual data.

NPF: IT WAS A SIMPLER TIME

Posted in No Politics Friday on February 16th, 2017 by Ed

No Politics Friday has taken a beating since I moved to Chicago. It made my commute pretty exhausting and by the time I reach the front door on Thursday evenings I rarely have the energy to get a Friday post ready. That said, I'm working on carving out the time. Like this week, for example. This week I carved out the time.

On April 3, 1956 a woman who identified herself as Julia Chase sneaked away from a public tour of the White House. Having joined the tour group alone, without any companion who might notice her absence, nobody knew to look for her or sound an alarm. She made her presence known by spending nearly five hours sneaking around the building starting fires. To recap, then, a 53 year old woman spent half a day committing minor arson around the White House. Here is the front page of the next day's Chicago Tribune to prove it.

It's not just amazing that this happened. What really blows the modern mind is the response.

The woman…was taken into custody by government guards after the fifth fire and was sent to DC General Hospital for observation…Hagerty said the woman appeared to be 'not quite lucid.' She told police she did not know where she had come from…She explained that she 'had a lot of trash and wanted to burn it.'

The story continues to explain that she was released from the hospital into the custody of her family. And White House public visitation continued as normal for the day.

When older people refer to "simpler times" my first reaction is to gag on the sentimentality for a time period in which society was as staggeringly unequal and unjust as it was in the early post-War era. My second reaction is to remember this story and think, I bet it was pretty nice to live in something short of a state of constant fear that encourages law enforcement to overreact without restraint to anything perceived as a threat.

Shit. This got Political. Well, at least it's a Friday post. That's a start.