Archive for the ‘Ranting’ Category

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TrumpWatch, part 7: this time it’s personal

February 28, 2017

Here’s the latest in my 100-part series on Donald Trump getting under my skin.

As a white cis-gender heterosexual American man, I am rarely if ever the victim of prejudice. Thus, when Trump blames American problems on, say, immigrants, my objections are more intellectual than visceral. I don’t personally experience queasiness, sadness, rage, or fear in the way that an immigrant (or a child of immigrants, or a dark-skinned native who might be mistaken for an immigrant) might.

There’s one partial exception, though: the President’s recent comment (on Twitter, since repeated at CPAC) that the news media are “the enemy of the American people!”

When my ten-year-old son asked me about this, I found myself choking up. “My dad spent twenty years of his life working for a newspaper,” I stammered. “He did his best to gather good information and explain it clearly. What’s so horrible about that?!?” My thoughts turned to my dad’s sister, a longtime copy editor at BusinessWeek … to their great uncle (?) Robert J. Bender, who covered the White House for the United Press Bureau around the time of Woodrow Wilson … to my own forays into journalism. A few tears fell. My son patted my leg sympathetically.

At that moment, there was no room in my head for cerebral ideas about Trump’s rhetorical strategies or how they might relate to his policy goals. All I could think was: the President of the United States has insulted my family and our earnest pursuit of knowledge. That’s not really what he did, of course, but that’s exactly what it felt like.

The moment passed fairly quickly for me. Before long I resumed my status as a white cis-gender heterosexual American man shaking his head at Trump with detached bemusement. But my heart goes out to the truly vulnerable targets of Trump’s rants, who may not be able to move on so easily.

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Overthinking the checkout chit-chat

January 15, 2017

The scene: I am buying groceries from Ryan [not the clerk’s actual name] at Albertsons [not the store’s actual name].

Ryan: Blackberries, eh?

Me [aloud]: Yup.

Ryan [struggling to scan the package]: This UPC code is way too small. I’d like to strangle whoever thought this was a good idea.

Me [internally]: I know you’re kidding, but jeez! Even facetious talk of violence makes me kind of queasy these days. Are you aware that a lot of marginalized people feel as though they’re walking around with bull’s-eyes on their backs? On the other hand, you didn’t say that you would actually strangle somebody, just that you felt like doing so. Maybe it’s healthy for you to acknowledge your frustration without intending to act upon it?

Ryan: I could commit murder, but do it with style.

Me [internally]: What? Can we please talk about something else? Or about nothing? Somehow I must register disapproval, however mildly…

Me [aloud]: You know, Ryan, I don’t think that’s possible.

Ryan: That’s true. I’m not British.

Me [aloud]: [polite chuckle]

Ryan: The French could never pull it off. They’d have to make it into a big drama.

Me [internally]: Oh, great, more stereotypes. Yes, let’s pick on the French. Or maybe you’re COMPLIMENTING the French on their inability to kill casually — they know that life is precious — and slamming the British for making murder look cool? What is your heritage, anyway? Is it OK to make fun of one’s own tribe?

Me [aloud]: Did you already scan my card? I can’t remember.

Me [internally]: All this talk of homicide has been slightly distracting, you see…

Ryan: I can’t remember either. I’ll scan it again just in case. Don’t worry, I’ll be normal once I get my second cup of coffee. Have a great day!

Me [aloud]: You too!

Me [internally]: Try not to strangle anyone.

Where it all began
Here’s where it all began.

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Trump is ever so slightly right about media bias

January 3, 2017

It is no secret that I consider Donald Trump unsuited to be president of the United States. But once he was elected, I decided to get to know him a bit better … by following him on Twitter. (Not exactly march-on-Washington activism, I know. But it’s a start.)

Some of his tweets seemed fine: standard rah-rah campaign rhetoric, shout-outs to his friends, etc. Others struck me as outrageous. For example:

Of course, nobody likes to see negative news coverage of oneself, but here Trump is (A) dismissing the work of an entire profession and (B) disingenuously claiming that he tweets largely to correct media distortions. (Why can’t he just admit that tweeting is fun for him?)

In sifting through his media-related tweets, though, I came across two that sounded more like justifiable self-defense.

Trump was presumably referring to a CNN story whose headline was Conway on Trump ‘Apprentice’ role: He’ll do it in his spare time.

For Trump-hating liberals, that headline is pure catnip. I certainly fell for it. “My God,” I thought, “why can’t he let go of his stupid reality TV show and focus on governing the country?”

But the reporting in the article itself is limited to two unremarkable claims by Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway: (1) presidents have some free time in which to pursue non-government interests and (2) Trump is meeting with people who are helping him figure out whether he can or cannot be involved in things like The Apprentice.

In other words, Conway did NOT say that Trump would be working on The Apprentice, yet the clickbaity headline indicates the opposite. In this particular case, Trump’s anger was justified.

In 2017, as we retreat to our respective bubbles and echo chambers, let’s remember that no source is infallible, and that our adversaries are sometimes right.

cnn_trump_apprentice

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My odd son

November 12, 2016

Obviously, there is no single gene “for” math aptitude or punctuality or interest in rainforests. But if Mom and Dad both exhibit a certain trait, shouldn’t the apple fall relatively close to the tree?

That’s what I used to think. Then I became a father.

Two of my defining interests throughout my life, evident from an early age, have been creative writing and competitive sports. My son Phil, now 10, is almost completely indifferent to both.

Here’s me at age 8 or 9, writing about baseball, my favorite sport at the time, while vacationing at my grandparents’ house in Old Lyme, Connecticut.

Marathon base ball poem

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon enjoy the fun,
c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and hit a home run.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon and steal a base,
c’mon, c’mon, let me see that happy face.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon and catch that ball,
c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and catch ’em all.

C’mon, c’mon, even if your average is low,
c’mon, work hard, and you can be a pro.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon and hit that ball,
c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and hit it over the wall.

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon leap high in the air,
c’mon, c’mon, c’mon ‘n catch that ball, it’s fair.

C’mon, c’mon, throw the ball up high,
c’mon, c’mon, throw it way up in the sky.

C’mon, c’mon, throw it right into his glove,
C’mon, baseball, I’m in love!

C’mon, c’mon, c’mon enjoy the game,
c’mon, c’mon, c’mon and be elected to the Hall Of Fame.

While it’s not the work of a young Tennyson, some craftsmanship is evident, for example, in the commitment to the “c’mon, c’mon” cadence and the clean end rhymes. I proudly shared the poem with Grandma Nancy and relished her rave review.

In contrast, here is Phil writing about a summer camping trip that he basically enjoyed:

First we drove to the place. Then we ate lunch. Then we hiked. Then we set up camp. Then we ate dinner. Then we slept. Then we ate breakfast. Then we hiked. Then we drove to lunch. Then we drove home.

When asked to provide more detail about some part of the trip, Phil offered this:

After we set up the camp Leila set up the stove named the dragon fly. Then Leila made macaroni. And we ate it. Then she made a rice dish we ate it. finally we had roasted marshmallows for dessert.

Notice the apparent lack of interest in telling the story with any humor, any intrigue, or any flair whatsoever. Which is fine — LOTS of people find writing more tedious than enjoyable. And Phil is creative in other ways (especially with Legos). Still, I would have expected him to inherit some smidgen of my wordsmithing tendencies.

Likewise, we differ greatly in our attitude toward sports, as encapsulated in this photo from last Sunday’s PNTF cross-country meet (courtesy of Win Van Pelt):

PNTF 2016

Dad kicks fiercely toward the finish while Sonny Boy (in hat) looks away, uninterested.

Again, it’s fine that he is not (currently) a jock — just surprising to me.

Of course, we do have a few things in common: a love of soft blankets and sweat pants, for example. And similar views on Donald Trump.

That’s right — the man who has fractured the country into bitter factions has brought my son and me closer together.

Here’s Phil reacting to Donald Trump during the first presidential debate: “It seems like the only thing that he cares about is money.”

Weeks later, here he is, trying to explain Trump’s plan to make America great again: “It seems like Trump wants to repair America … by bombing it.” (I’m not sure exactly what Phil meant by that, but I took it to mean that “draining the swamp,” Trump-style, might do more harm than good.)

And here’s his response to a classmate’s claim that Trump will do some good things, like lowering taxes: “His tax cuts are for rich people. What about an African family working the entire day for 20 dollars?”

Preach on, Brother Phil!

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Why I’m with her

September 29, 2016

Unlike Donald Trump, I really was against the last Iraq war before it began. I was furious at George W. Bush, and in 2004 I passed out campaign materials for the Democrats.

Then Bush got reelected anyway, and life went on, and I lost what little political attentiveness and acumen I had. Which brings us to 2015-16 and the rise of Donald Trump.

My life is more complicated now, so I’m not knocking on doors as I did in ’04. But I’m writing this for any on-the-fence acquaintances who want to know where I stand and why.

(Please note: I am NOT aiming to change the minds of strong Trump supporters. I am as powerless to persuade you as you are to persuade me. Let’s not argue.)

I have spent my adult life in academia, largely because I identify with and believe in academic values: intellectual curiosity; careful deliberation and discussion; the imperfect but honest pursuit of truth; respect for others different from oneself; and the humility of recognizing one’s limitations, even in one’s chosen field.

In my view, Donald Trump does not live by or promote these values, but Hillary Clinton does.

Much has been said about Trump’s treatment of ethnic and religious minorities and women: his call for a ban on immigration by Muslims, his “Look at that face!” comment on fellow candidate Carly Fiorina, etc. etc. etc. The September 26 debate reminded me just how bad Trump is on this issue. When moderator Lester Holt turned the debate to the topic of racial tensions, Trump’s main points included (1) African Americans should be happy that he vigorously pursued the Obama “birther” controversy, (2) violent crime in Chicago concerns him because he owns property there, (3) he was able to settle a 1973 lawsuit of racial discrimination without admitting guilt, and (4) he recently opened a club in one of Florida’s wealthiest communities that ISN’T RACIST! It was a performance so bereft of compassion that I LOL’ed with incredulity.

I hesitate to call anyone a liar, especially in the realm of politics, where oversimplifications and spin are a necessary part of the game. A hypothetical candidate who was 100% truthful 100% of the time would be an unelectable bore. But Trump has taken distortion and obfuscation to a whole new level. Clinton, while unfortunately evasive, is reasonably truthful, according to independent fact-checkers.

An important corollary to Trump’s chronic inaccuracy is that, while running for president, he has not boned up on the relevant geography, history, constitutional law, science, and so forth. Instead, he simply asserts that his experience as a business CEO will allow him to “make great deals” that benefit the USA. If only it were that simple.

Clinton, in contrast, has tons of experience (as Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady) in using the levers of government to effect change in the United States and elsewhere. She does her homework, stays lucid and level-headed under pressure, and acknowledges nuances and complexities that Trump cannot be bothered with.

To sum up: as they say in reality TV, Trump is “not here for the right reasons.” He is, I think, taking the ultimate ego trip, in which he gets to bellow his supposed wisdom at not only his corporate underlings but the entire country. He is NOT especially interested in the day-to-day operations of the Oval Office, preferring to imagine himself as a “chairman of the board.” Shouldn’t we vote for a candidate who actually wants to do the work?

H is for Hillary!

[Friendly reminder: This post, like the rest of this blog, reflects my opinions as a private citizen and does NOT represent the position of the University of Washington or any other organization with which I am affiliated.]

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Go big or go home?

August 22, 2014

I don’t have a comprehensive solution to the obesity epidemic, but I’m sure ads like this one aren’t helping. Is there really a lot of Washington state pride to be found in the act of collectively eating to the point of discomfort?

not full

I suggest the following modification.

We are what?

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Ultrarunners need to stop stigmatizing DNFs

August 6, 2014

Many ultramarathon runners talk fondly of the “ultrarunning community,” a diverse cohort of individuals united in our enjoyment of running absurdly long distances. We talk with each other, cheer for each other, and console each other, as kindred spirits do. We’re like a big, happy family with an abundance of eccentric, aerobic aunts and uncles.

But there’s at least one issue that brings out our petty, mean-spirited side: dropping out of races. We feel compelled to judge those whose performance is recorded as Did Not Finish (DNF), unless the DNF is attributed to a medical emergency or simply running out of time.

A perfect example is provided by Andy Jones-Wilkins. AJW is widely and perhaps rightly considered an inspiring ambassador for the sport of ultrarunning. I’ve met him; he’s a nice guy. But he once wrote a long blog post making insinuations about 5 elite runners (Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Geoff Roes, Dave Mackey, Dave James) who had the gall to drop out of races.

1. Scott Jurek at Western States: I respect and admire Scott Jurek as I am sure most of the readers of this blog do. However, when he simply stepped off the trail at Devil’s Thumb this year a little of that respect drifted away. I would have thought the 7-time winner of WS would have gone a little further, dug a little deeper, tried a little harder, and given a little more before cutting off his wristband. Not to be. He dropped. Hal won. Game over.

2. Anton Krupicka at Leadville: This guy is an icon in the sport and really has not done a whole lot to deserve that status. But, he has won Leadville twice, torched both Rocky Raccoon and American River and this past year broke the Course Record at White River. Nonetheless, he dropped this year at the Fish Hatchery after leading Leadville for 70 miles. My son Logan, a huge Anton fan, was devastated. I know his quads were thrashed and he couldn’t walk another step. But, I recall another immensely talented, iconic Coloradan facing the same predicament back in 2004 and he struggled to the Finish only to ultimately finish the job the next year with a Course Record.

3. Geoff Roes at Miwok: I can’t really hold this dnf against him too much as his 100 mile Course Records during the balance of the year speak for themselves but in the most competitive sub-100 miler in the country I was quite surprised that Geoff cashed it in while still in the lead. I assume he was suffering mightily but a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes. Maybe next year.

4. Dave Mackey at Western States: Nobody expected this. Nobody. Returning to Western States for the first time since 2004 and seemingly in the best shape of his life most prognosticators saw Dave as the man to beat or certainly a force to be reckoned with. Reduced to a walk on Cal Street he chose to end his day 78 miles from Squaw. I am sure he had his reasons but with Scott dropping at Michigan and Dave at The River, Hal had a cakewalk to the finish. More power to him. And, perhaps, to the rest of us as well.

5. Dave James at Western States: This guy has been incredible this year! On fire, actually. 13:05 100-mile split in Cleveland, a huge Course Record at Javelina, hell, he even did a 14:30 100 miler on New Year’s Eve just for kicks. But, he bailed at the Big Dance, hard. Dropped like a bag of potatoes before he even entered the Canyons. Why? I don’t know. But, to get it right in this sport you need to finish what you start. Hopefully, that’s coming in the year’s ahead.

In the comments, I called out AJW on his judgmentalism:

Losing respect for someone based on a DNF without even knowing (or caring about) the particulars of the situation is just plain silly. AJW, you (and others) make the unfortunate assumption that everyone else should have the same racing goals and values as you (e.g., “dropping out is almost always wrong”). Anton explained in great detail on his blog why he dropped out of Leadville, and if all you can muster in rebuttal is to cite the example of Matt Carpenter, well, that’s exactly the point I’m making. Anton is not Matt Carpenter and should not be expected to behave identically because he has his own goals and his own values.

AJW responded:

I did not intend to pass judgement on Anton for dropping. By all accounts he did the right thing and I know he spent considerable time and energy trying to continue his race…. And, just to be clear, I was not judging Geoff, Dave, Dave or Scott either. I know they all had very good reasons to dnf (stomach, heat, injury, etc…) I was simply saying that, as an observer of the sport and a lover of the sport, I was disappointed that they dnf’d and I was wishing that they hadn’t.

To which I said:

When you say you’re not judging these folks, I’m afraid I don’t quite buy it. “A little of that respect [for Jurek] drifted away” when he dropped out at WS? If you lost respect for him, how can you claim that you’re not judging him? Likewise, regarding Roes at Miwok, “a struggle to the finish and an 8th or 9th place finish would have spoken volumes.” You mean that struggling to the finish would have indicated great things about his character; the obvious implication is that dropping out indicates less-than-great things about his character…. You are indeed judging these people, whether or not you can admit it.

So why am I rehashing a four-year-old argument, aside from being a prisoner of my own ultra-stubbornness and ultra-persistence? Well, irunfar.com (home of a weekly column by AJW, by the way) just posted two pieces on DNFs: Your Ultra-Training Bag Of Tricks: Handling The Dreaded DNF (by Ian Torrence) and To Finish, Or Not (by Jessica Hamel). Both are interesting and well-written, yet both propagate the notion that a DNF is something to be avoided at all costs.

Torrence’s post begins,

Did. Not. Finish. They’re an ultrarunner’s three least-favorite words.

This may well be true. But couldn’t our three least favorite words be … oh, I don’t know … “thunder and lightning”? “Eggplant for dinner”? Sure, dropping out is often a major disappointment, but it’s not always the worst thing that happens at a race.

Hamel writes,

Elite runners are often scrutinized for their decision to DNF, especially when it comes at a time when they appear to be in a decent physical condition. These moments often result in “he/she could’ve walked into the finish” responses from the crowd. If the back of the packers can finish in over double the time and in worse condition, then why can’t elites push through their low moments to avoid a DNF?

The attitude summarized by Hamel is not necessarily her own, but it is prevalent. So I will answer the rhetorical question of why. They can no longer reach their goal of setting a PR. They’re not having fun anymore. They’re saving themselves for another race. They’re saving themselves for a tough upcoming week at the office. There are a million reasons, none requiring validation by a jury of peers. With few exceptions, ultrarunning is not a team sport, and ultrarunners are not professional athletes. The 99% of us who are hobbyists should be free to pursue our hobby in whatever manner gives us the most fulfillment and pleasure. So: can we as a community stop assuming that DNFs are, in general, tragedies of the highest order? Can we as individuals stop feeling so defensive about our decisions to drop out?

I hope so.

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Random thoughts while procrastinating, #2057

May 31, 2014

Whenever I hear “Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree” or “Knock Three Times,” I chafe at the preposterous scenarios therein. How can Tony Orlando & Dawn have not one but TWO #1 hits celebrating convoluted communication strategies? Why can’t their characters just use words?

That thought is often followed by another one, though: given the existence of these two atrocious nonverbal-communication songs, wouldn’t it be nice if TO&D had a third one, just to complete the set?

I’m imagining something like, “If You Can’t Stay Away, Make Me A Soufflé; Otherwise, Pasta Is Fine.”

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A bridge too far

March 20, 2014

A Matter Of Trust – The Bridge To Russia, a CD and video set based on Billy Joel’s 1987 concerts in the Soviet Union, is available for pre-order.

An “Editorial Review” at amazon.com says the following:

Billy has always considered that going to Russia was the most important thing he’d ever done. The freedom and excitement of his presence permanently affected the country and played no small role in the ultimate dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.

I fear that this “Piano Man Diplomacy” hypothesis has not yet had a fair hearing among 20th century historians. Aren’t many of them still naively attributing the Soviet Union’s collapse to economic problems and the like?

the music that toppled an empire

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The wisdom of crowds?

February 9, 2014

From the Seattle Times: 700,000 at Seahawks parade? Doesn’t add up, experts say.

It’s a lighthearted article, but it touches on the methodology of crowd estimation and uses some basic math to show that the number of parade attendees was less than the official estimate of 700,000.

How did readers respond to this dollop of evidence-based analysis? There were several themes, as exemplified by the following online quotes. (My interpretations are in brackets.)

(1) Semians: “Quit trying to overanalyze everything and simply live in the moment.” [We shouldn’t care about this information.]

(2) picklesp: “It sure as heck felt like 700,000 from ground level.” [This information doesn’t match my personal experience.]

(3) Peterkirk: “These guys are just trying to rain on our parade for whatever reason, and well tough, it didn’t rain on the parade on Wednesday and your diatribe (reporting?) isn’t going to make it rain today.” [This information doesn’t make me feel good, so I’ll ignore it.]

(4) Mr. Mytzlplk: “The ‘experts’ vary by 200,000 in their ‘real analysis.’ The fact that they’re so far off from each other tells me that they don’t know what they’re doing.” [Experts disagree about the details, so their analyses are worthless.]

(5) picklesp: “Experts get paid to pontificate.” [Experts have their own biases and agendas — which is true.]

(6) gloryhound: “I’m also skeptical of these two ‘experts” qualifications.” [The “experts” aren’t really experts.]

The above excerpts are from some of readers’ HIGHEST-rated comments. Here are two of the LOWEST-rated ones:

[from dawgsage:]

Actually 2.5 sq. ft /person is a square of almost 19 inches per side. Measuring the width of my body without a coat shows approximately 19 inches shoulder to shoulder, with a coat let’s add an inch making it 20 inches. A 2.5 square foot rectangle, with one side 20 inches would then require the other side to be 16.2 inches, from front to back. Conservatively, my measurement is 10 inches front to back. This means there would be 6.2 inches forward from my front to the back of the body of the person in front, and 6.2 inches in the back of me to the body of the next person, while laterally I am shoulder to shoulder to the adjacent people. So no I do not think it is not like standing in line, you really can’t get more crowded than that unless you were in an Iraqi prison under Saddam. So I believe the basis of the low estimates are credible.

[from CO Dawg:]

Rather than just say “well I don’t believe you!” to the experts, just do this simple experiment: put on a winter jacket (remember, it was cold that day) and stand against the wall with your arms against your side, then have someone mark the wall with chalk at your elbows. Measure that width. Then turn sideways and mark again the two widest points (belly and bottom for me, your points may vary). Measure that width.

Now, grab a calculator and multiply your personal width by personal depth. That is the square footage of space you occupy if you were standing in a crowd elbow to elbow belly to back and back to belly, like at a rock concert, and represents a good indication of the maximum crowd density at the parade.

When i did this with a sweatshirt on i came up with 2.1 feet wide and 1.25 feet deep, for 2.65 square feet, a little above the minimum cited. However, if i put on a winter jacket it adds an inch to all four sides so the measurements jump up to 2.25 by 1.42 feet, or 3.2 square feet. Adding just one more inch to each measurement increases my footprint to 3.8 square feet, and adding 3 inches increases it to 4.7 square feet. I wont presume anything about your personal space requirements, but when someone is 3 inches away from me, i still feel pretty crowded. I can thus conclude that the experts have presented a reasonable range for each person’s footprint

I have no means to measure the overall footprint of the crowd along the route, but had they asked me to do crowd estimates i would have employed the same methodology they use (measurements from an aerial photo), and probably would have come up with numbers similar to their’s. I would have multiplied the overall crowd foot print by an average space per person of 3.5 square feet (generally splitting the difference between my numbers), added 15% to account for people standing outside the footprint or watching from offices, and likely come up with a forecast of somewhere between 350-400k. Which is still a heck of a crowd.

And for those of you dismissing my opinion because of my location, we’re not immune to overly enthusiastic crowd estimates in Denver, too. I was at a presidential campaign speech in Civic Park that supposedly was attended by 100,000 people, and didnt even need to do the math to know that estimate was comically high.

So, to summarize: dismissal of the information for any old reason? Thumbs up! Attempts to check the math and verify its reasonableness? Thumbs down!

While no legislation hinges on this particular estimate, I’m troubled by the attitudes displayed here, i.e., limited interest in the nuances of data and relevant expertise. I submit that, in other arenas, this limited interest has led to the popularity of positions like “evolution is just a theory,” “vaccines cause autism,” “global warming is a hoax,” and “animal testing is unnecessary.”

In response, we scientists can grumpily bemoan an incurious public … or we can recognize that facts alone don’t always move the needle of public opinion, and we can get better at appealing to people’s emotions and imaginations.

comments from a data denialist

do the math!