feibisi / 2018年11月30日

How a small, Trumpy group of House Republicans wants to keep a check on Democrats

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, the committee he wants to be ranking member of.

This is the resistance — to the Resistance.

President Donald Trump likes Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) because Jordan is good at defending Trump on TV. It makes Jordan exactly the kind of person Trump wants in the room as House Democrats look to wield their newfound power.

But not all House Republicans are on board.

Behind the scenes, Republicans have been jockeying for the chance to protect their president in the House’s most powerful oversight committees, Politico reported this week. And Jordan, along with his conservative colleague Rep. Mark Meadows (NC), was among them to take the top minority positions on the House Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform committees — committees that have jurisdiction over Trump’s tax returns, impeachment, the special counsel investigation, and the like. But Jordan, who hasn’t been afraid of bucking his own party in the past, has lost his fight, going up against more widely liked House Republicans.

“He won’t be seeking the position, it has been made clear to him that leadership is going to be selecting someone else,” Jordan’s spokesman Ian Fury told The Hill.

House Democrats have already promised to investigate every aspect of the Trump administration — from the president’s finances and his campaign’s alleged ties to Russian nationals to the Homeland Security Department’s immigration policies. Addressing corruption and government accountability are Democrats’ top priorities going into 2019.

And Trump wants his biggest conservative allies in the House to keep watch. When he congratulated Rep. Kevin McCarthy for claiming the minority leader position, he also encouraged him to pick Jordan as the top Republican in the House Judiciary Committee.

But for McCarthy, that would have meant giving more power to some of the most hardline conservatives in a House Republican conference that has grown smaller and Trumpier after this midterm cycle. This is the fight to be the resistance to the Resistance.

Here are the House conservatives who want to shield Trump

House Judiciary and Oversight Cmtes Interview GPS Fusion Contractor Nellie Ohr Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee member Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) is good at getting press.

Jordan is the kind of Republican who still wants to talk about investigating Hillary Clinton. He loves to echo Trump in calling the Russia investigation a “witch hunt.”

One of the House’s most vocal FBI and Justice Department skeptics, he’s been on the forefront of the conservative fight to oust Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and was pushing to dump Attorney General Jeff Sessions much earlier than even Trump.

Meadows, as the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, has been right alongside him.

Together, they have bent over backward to support Trump through every scandal. They’re good at getting in front of the camera, and it’s put them in good graces with the president, who frequently speaks to the two directly. They’ve used that relationship to lobby Trump to support them on their pet issues, from threatening government shutdowns to restrictive social policy around LGBTQ rights.

But Jordan and Meadows, and the Freedom Caucus more broadly, have ruffled many feathers along the way. They have a reputation, even among Republican colleagues, for being ideological to the point of obstructionist. They vote against Republican leadership, force legislation to move further to the right, and push more moderate lawmakers into difficult votes.

Notably, this happened when Republicans tried to repeal Obamacare and pass immigration reform; Meadows negotiated hardline policies that opened many lawmakers to Democratic attacks in the midterms, retiring Rep. Ryan Costello (R-PA) argued.

House Freedom Caucus members have often been left out of key leadership positions for this reason, serving as a sort of punishment for not being team players. And it’s no secret that they’re not the most loved lawmakers around; just this month, Jordan lost a bid for minority leader against McCarthy by a huge margin.

But now in the minority, and with Trump on their side, Jordan hoped to have more leverage to lobby McCarthy — but apparently that was not enough.

House Republicans are ideologically more conservative now

Democrats made significant gains in the 2018 midterms, winning 39 GOP-held seats. When all is said and done, it’s possible Democrats could win upward of 41 seats this year.

This blue wave not only took away Republicans’ control of the House but also left the slimmed-down Republican conference significantly more conservative — and more Trumpy — than the current Congress.

In the runup to the 2018 midterms, many of the most moderate Republicans in the House announced their retirement. On Election Day, Democrats were most successful in ousting the remaining ones, many of whom sat in suburban, anti-Trump districts.

The most vulnerable Republicans in 2018 proved to be the ones who “sit in blueish districts, who support Trump uneasily, criticize him occasionally, and draw at least some lines he can’t cross,” as Vox’s Ezra Klein put it.

Those who remain are the most bullish on the president. In many ways, that’s a good fit for McCarthy, who has worked to ingratiate himself with conservatives in the House and has always been a stronger political messenger than a policy mastermind.

But it also meant McCarthy was faced with a difficult dilemma: put the Trump-loyal conservatives who drove fissures within the Republican Party, but appear to reflect the tenor of the Republican base, in charge, or reward the team players.

The pressure from conservatives was on:

“Kevin McCarthy has the power to make Jim Jordan the lead Republican on Judiciary,” Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Trumpian conservative who often aligns himself with Jordan and Meadows, told Politico earlier this week. “If he doesn’t, he is actively screwing President Trump. And they both know it.”

Former FBI Counterintelligence Division Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok Testifies At House Hearing On 2016 Election Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte, right, is retiring. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), center, wants to replace him as the top Republican on the committee.

But it looks like Republican leadership is favoring the more consensus-building Republicans like Rep. Doug Collins (GA) and Steve Chabot (OH) who are also running for the top spot on the Judiciary Committee.

There’s going to be a lot of movement on the committee level for Republicans, especially in the Judiciary and Oversight committees, where a significant number of lawmakers are retiring or got ousted.

On Judiciary, Chair Rep. Bob Goodlatte is retiring, along with Reps. Lamar Smith (TX), Ted Poe (TX), Darrell Issa (CA), and Trey Gowdy (SC). Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA) lost her race in November.

Gowdy is also the chair of the Oversight Committee, a position he once used to raise hell about Hillary Clinton’s emails. It’s a history Democrats haven’t forgotten, and with their newfound power, it’s very likely the next two years will serve as a payback. Meadows has less of a fight for the top job there.

Democrats’ promise to hold Trump accountable is spooking conservatives

Congressional Republicans have had to answer for — and have largely gone along with — an unprecedented number of corruption and ethics scandals under the Trump administration, from Cabinet secretary resignations to Trump’s personal lawyer taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from Russian oligarchs and major international corporations in exchange for “insight” into the Trump administration.

They have done their best to keep Trump’s scandals to a minimum in Congress. They’ve quashed Democrats’ every attempt to surface the president’s tax returns and have been less than eager to investigate corruption scandals within the administration. Even what began as a congressional probe into the Trump campaign’s possible foreign ties became an inquiry into possible Democratic bias within the American intelligence community.

Democrats have promised to bring change in the House. The new top Democratic committee lawmakers have expressed interest in more aggressive probes into every level of the Trump administration and the president’s political circle.

“It’s possible that a crisis will unfold any time they have to work together on a bill, that congressional investigators will unearth scandal after scandal, and even that an impeachment effort might be in the future,” Vox’s Andrew Prokop writes.

It’s what the Democratic base wants to see. Corruption and government ethics repeatedly poll as among the highest priorities for Democratic voters. And it’s exactly what conservative lawmakers and Trump’s base fear most.

Protestors In NYC Call For Trump Impeachment For Acts Of Sexual Assault Spencer Platt/Getty Images
There’s a vocal liberal base that wants to see Trump impeached.

Two weeks before the midterms, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that calls to impeach Trump, along with undocumented immigrants crossing the border, were the issues that angered the Republican base most. Republicans tried to use the specter of impeachment on the campaign trail to energize their base.

House Democrats are ready to be the Resistance. And hardline conservatives want their loudest, most Trump-allied voices to protect the president.

feibisi / 2018年11月29日

Ivanka Trump claims her father didn’t authorize “lethal force” at border. He did, on tape.

Good Morning America had receipts.

During an interview with Good Morning America that aired on Wednesday, White House adviser Ivanka Trump seemed confused about her father’s immigration policy — specifically the authorization he gave troops stationed at the border to use lethal force against migrants and asylum seekers.

Good Morning America’s Deborah Roberts asked Trump if she’s concerned that her father gave troops that authorization, which critics argue isn’t necessary because migrants and asylum seekers don’t present a serious threat. She responded by denying her dad did any such thing.

“I don’t believe that that’s what he said, but his primary role as commander in chief is obviously to protect the nation’s borders — he has to protect our country’s security,” Ivanka Trump said. “But I don’t … lethal force in this case would — that is not I think something that anyone is talking about.”

But during a question-and-answer session with reporters on Thanksgiving, President Trump unequivocally said he gave approval for troops he deployed to the border the authorization to use deadly force.

“If they have to, they’re gonna use lethal force. I’ve given the okay,” Trump said. “Yeah, if they have to — I hope they don’t have to … but you’re dealing with rough people.”

Roberts pointed out to Ivanka Trump that her claim is contradicted by comments her father made on camera just days ago. She responded by downplaying it.

“So lethal force under any circumstance would be the last resort, but he is the commander in chief of the armed forces of this country, so he always has to be able to protect the border,” she said. “He is not talking about innocents. He is not talking about innocent asylum seekers.”

Trump’s decision to give troops the authority to use lethal force against a group of migrants and asylum seekers containing many women and children was reportedly more controversial than Ivanka Trump would have you believe.

According to the Daily Beast, Defense Secretary James Mattis objected to the proposal, but the Department of Homeland Security “went above Mattis’ head in order to get Donald Trump’s chief of staff [John Kelly] to secure for them the potentially lethal military force for which immigration hardliners in the administration had clamored.”

While no migrants or asylum seekers have been fired upon by US troops, some women and children were affected by tear gas fired by US Border Patrol agents when a group of people tried to cross the border en masse on Sunday.

“I felt that my face was burning, and my baby fainted. I ran for my life and that of my children,” Cindy Milla, a 23-year-old migrant who traveled from Honduras with her 10-month-old baby and 4-year-old son, told the Wall Street Journal.

As Vox’s Dara Lind detailed, the Trump administration’s policy of making asylum seekers wait for lengthy, indeterminate periods of time in Mexico without any assurance that their claims will even be considered has played a large role in creating crisis conditions at the border.

feibisi / 2018年11月27日

Do you burn more calories exercising in the cold? Here’s what the science says.

Exercising in the cold is refreshing — but it’s not going to burn off many extra calories.

Bodies do burn fuel to stay warm — but, it’s complicated.

As the temperature drops this time of year, the rich, comforting foods of winter seem just right. But as we lay about, full from our heavy winter meals, we may also dream about how to quickly burn off those extra calories.

One idea that gets bandied about is that all you have to do is exercise outside in the cold. You can find it in magazines, newspapers, and maybe your email inbox — we recently got a press release from the University at Albany titled, “Winter Exercise Burns More Calories, Especially for Women.”

It is true that a cold body uses more energy to keep itself warm than a warm body. But alas, exercising in the cold isn’t the fabulous calorie burner you may like to think it is. Before we get to why, let’s look at the reason this idea seems so intuitive and appealing.

The body does use more energy to stay warm when it’s cold out

First consider a process called thermogenesis. Your body creates heat when it’s cold (usually below 32 degrees Fahrenheit but in a person wearing light clothes, it can start at temperatures as high as 70).

One way is by shivering — where the muscles involuntary contract to generate warmth, and defend your body temperature (98.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Or you may begin to activate “brown fat,” the kind of fat tissue whose main function is heat production. Unlike white fat, which stores heat to keep you warm, brown fat burns calories to generate heat.

“The analogy might be a oil tanker that drives on the highway compared to a sports car,” explained Aaron Cypess, a metabolism and brown fat researcher at the National Institutes of Health. “They both have fuel, or fat, but the oil tanker stores it for use later, and that’s the white fat. The sports car stores fuel to burn it, and that’s the brown fat.” The process of breaking down these lipids to release heat, and warm you up is called “non-shivering thermogenesis.”

Both shivering and brown fat activity increase your energy expenditure, causing you to burn more calories in cold temperatures.

“You don’t even know its happening,” explained Herman Pontzer, an associate professor at Hunter College who studies energetics. “It’s below the radar of your conscious thought, but it’s there ticking away.”

Exercise can produce a lot of heat on its own

Now here’s the rub: These processes only kick in to keep you warm when you’re truly cold. But once you start exercising — running or cross-country skiing, for instance — outside, you’re going to start generating heat from the physical activity. And the exercise alone may give you enough heat that your body wouldn’t burn any extra calories through shivering and brown fat.

That’s why you can go running in very cold temperatures wearing a light sweater and pants, but if you were just sitting around outside in the same cold climate, you’d need to bundle up in a heavy jacket and hat, or you’d start to shiver, to stay warm, Pontzer explained.

“The best way to use the cold to burn more calories would be to not exercise while you’re outdoors,” Pontzer added. “You’d get your brown fat cooking and making heat, and might even start shivering, all of which burns calories.”

Now, it is possible to get those energy-burning heating processes going while exercising. Cypess imagined a scenario where a person is exercising in subzero temperatures, and wearing light enough clothes, that the exercise alone isn’t keeping him warm, and thermogenesis kicks in.

But even in that case, you’d only burn a few additional calories at best, Cypess said. In studies where he’s put participants in cold rooms for entire days, they burned off an additional 150 to 200 calories. Again, that’s a full day of cold — not an hour’s worth of outdoor activity.

All physical activity only accounts for a small portion of energy burn

Of course, the most important thing to remember if you’re trying to make up for heavy meals is that physical activity makes up a surprisingly small portion of your total energy burn.

There are three major components to how many calories you burn off in a day: 1) your basal metabolic rate, or the energy used for basic functioning when the body is at rest; 2) the energy used to break down food; and 3) the energy used in physical activity. For most people, the basal metabolic rate accounts for 60 to 80 percent of total energy expenditure. Digesting food accounts for about 10 percent. That leaves only 10 to 30 percent for physical activity, of which exercise is only a subset. Thermogenesis is an even more minor player, Cypess said, usually accounting for less than five or 10 percent of your total energy expenditure (depending on how much time you’ve spent in the cold).

When I asked Cypess if he had any advice about exercising and temperature, he said he’d recommend against the extremes — even extreme heat. In very hot temperatures, during activities like hot yoga, all the sweating you do is simply losing water, and that the sweating process doesn’t burn off extra calories. “Exercise at a temperature where you’re not sweating too much,” he summed up.

So if you overeat, the best thing to do is probably focus on having smaller meals later to make up for your indulgences. Exercising, even in cold weather, isn’t going to cut it alone.

feibisi / 2018年11月26日

Theresa May and the EU have a Brexit deal. What’s next?

Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels on November 25.

The many possible Brexit outcomes, explained.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union have a Brexit deal, a historic agreement that lays out the terms of the United Kingdom’s breakup with the bloc.

The other 27 EU member-states finalized and approved the withdrawal agreement at a summit in Brussels this Sunday. But the process is far from over: May must now get a deeply divided UK Parliament to approve the plan.

Hostility for the deal has been building for nearly two weeks, ever since May first unveiled the proposed agreement.

The most vocal resistance comes from the prime minister’s own Conservative Party, a fractured mess of loyalists and hardline “Brexiteers” who want a more decisive break with the European Union. The opposition Labour Party has also said it will resist the deal. Right now, at least, the withdrawal agreement doesn’t seem to have the votes.

This standstill could push everyone toward a “no deal” Brexit, the “cliff edge” scenario that would be bad for the EU, and likely catastrophic for Britain. Planes would be grounded, ports would be clogged, food would rot, and garbage would pile up, and those are just some of the possible scenarios.

May’s future is riding on the agreement, as well. At a Sunday press conference, she warned that a failed deal would lead to division and uncertainty. That includes her own job, which is far from secure as she faces pushback from all sides.

Amid this political turmoil, Brexit’s March 29, 2019, deadline inches ever closer. Here’s a look at some possible outcomes as May prepares to test her deal in Parliament.

The current state of play in the UK

To recap, May introduced a Brexit proposal on November 14 after months of back-and-forth with EU leaders.

This lengthy agreement tackles some of the critical issues in the forthcoming EU-UK break-up, specifically the divorce settlement (how much the UK must pay the EU, which is likely at least £39 billion, or about $50 billion) and the post-Brexit status of UK citizens and EU nationals living in the EU and UK, respectively. It also includes the Irish “backstop,” ensuring that the politically sensitive border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (an EU country) remains open, even if the UK and EU don’t finalize border details in a post-Brexit deal.

The withdrawal agreement also calls for a 21-month transition period until December 31, 2020, to give the EU and the UK time to figure out their future relationship, the hard details of the trade, security cooperation, and more. (The transition can be renewed one time for up to two years.) A political declaration lays out the broad outlines for this arrangement.

The details of these plan were largely finalized on Sunday, when the 27 EU member states signed off on the deal in Brussels. The European Parliament will also need to formally approve the agreement at some point. But first it’s got to get ratified by the UK Parliament.

And this is promising to be difficult because every political camp within the UK has found something to hate in this agreement.

May’s plan, briefly, is an attempt at a “soft” Brexit compromise, but even those who favor closer alignment with the EU don’t love this deal. They see this deal as severing too many ties to EU, leaving Britain weaker and worse off economically than it was before.

The hardline “Brexiteers” in her party are virulently opposed — though it’s unlikely they’d be pleased by any deal. They see May’s deal as preventing the UK from reclaiming control of its borders and laws, and blocking it from making trade deals with other countries. Under May’s deal, the UK will also still have to follow EU customs rules for a period of time, but will lose its decision-making power in the bloc.

Then there’s Labour, the opposition party led by Jeremy Corbyn. Labour has its own disagreements about Brexit within the party, but it has collectively rejected May’s deal, saying it doesn’t meet their required pillars for a satisfactory Brexit. The party also sees this as an opportunity: If May and her deal implode, it might put them closer to regaining control of the government.

There’s pushback from other corners, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a party from Northern Ireland. The DUP’s partnership with the Tories is keeping May in power. This party has resisted the deal; they object to the Irish border backstop plan because it would apply different rules to Northern Ireland, compared to the rest of the UK.

The bottom line: Few are satisfied with this compromise, because the UK is splintered between those who want out of the EU and those who never wanted to leave in the first place. No side actually “wins” with this deal.

And May’s own government is divided on the plan. After she secured cabinet approval of her draft deal last week, two top Cabinet ministers quit in protest the next day, including her Brexit secretary. (Several other junior members also stepped down.) It’s a sign the divisions within Britain are deep enough to derail whatever May brings home from Brussels.

The UK Parliament could approve the deal … at some point

The UK Parliament will vote on the Brexit deal in mid-December. May needs 320 votes to pass the agreement, but it’s not clear yet if she will have the support.

Back in 2017, May tried to shore up support for Brexit negotiations by calling snap elections. Her plan backfired, and May’s Conservative Party ended up losing the majority, and formed a minority government with the DUP, whose 10 votes it needed to retain power.

The DUP said May has broken her promise on Brexit, and seems unlikely to support the deal.

As many as 51 Conservative party members have said they wouldn’t vote for a previous “soft” Brexit plan, but the number of total defectors right now is unclear. May’s cabinet will try to whip votes, though that won’t likely convince the hardcore Brexiteers.

It seems likely May will need to peel off some Labour votes in order to get her deal passed. (Labour has broadly rejected the deal, but there’s still a chance that some MPs could break off and support it.)

So while it’s too early to say May’s deal is headed for defeat, it’s definitely not looking great.

At least on the first try. Experts say if the Brexit deal gets voted down in December, there’s a chance May might be able to try again, especially if the financial markets or businesses freak out at the prospect no-deal scenario.

In other words: The UK will have to be pushed to the brink to get Parliament to finally act.

Which is why some observers say this deal might eventually pass — but maybe not until the second try. If the markets react severely, members of Parliament may be cowed into going “back and take a second look” at the deal, according to Spencer Boyer, a senior fellow with the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

May could step aside after a leadership challenge from her Conservative party

Pro-Brexit Conservative MPs led the charge to oust May last week. Their efforts have since stalled, but at least 26 Tories confirmed they submitted letters of no confidence against May last week, arguing her handling of Brexit has made her unfit to lead.

At least 48 MPs must turn in letters to the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, the Conservatives’ parliamentary group, to trigger a “no confidence” vote within the party. May needs a majority — 158 Tory MPs — to survive. If she loses, she’d have to step aside. If she defeats the challenge, she can’t be challenged by her party for 12 months.

The rebellion against May fizzled out, as it appeared her opponents overestimated their support and couldn’t reach the 48-letter threshold.

But the threat could be revived now that May has finalized the deal, as the pro-Brexit crowd isn’t likely to stop agitating against her.

Yet the schisms within May’s own Conservative party could ultimately protect her from a leadership challenge. “The reason she’s managed to last has been that there isn’t a clear alternative [to her],” Simon Usherwood, a professor at the University of Surrey and deputy director of an independent Brexit think tank, told me.

In other words, the pro-Brexit and pro-European wings of her party fear May’s replacement could be far more opposed to their positions. “Nobody feels entirely sure that if they got rid of her they would get … someone who’s more favorable and supportive of what they want,” Usherwood added.

The UK manages to get a Brexit deadline extension

In March 2017, May formally triggered Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty. That set off a two-year countdown to the formal Brexit deadline of March 29, 2019.

If her Brexit deal fails in Parliament, that could push the UK closer to the brink of a devastating no-deal Brexit. But the UK might try to finagle an extension, arguing it needs more time to approve a deal, or negotiate more concessions, or buy time in the case of political uncertainty, such as a leadership change.

There’s no guarantee the EU would go for this. The complications are many, including upcoming EU parliamentary elections in May. And European leaders have said it’s this deal or no deal, so it seems highly unlikely they’d consider going back to the negotiating table.

The UK could hold a second referendum

The idea of a second referendum, or a “people’s vote” on Brexit, has been percolating for a while. Perhaps years of Brexit drama has been enough to change some people’s minds, or the public could solve the gridlock in Parliament, the thinking goes.

But how to get a second referendum — or what it would look like — is complicated. May said she would not call for one, so barring any last-minute about face or leadership change, it’s unlikely to happen. It would also be a near-impossible feat to hold a campaign before the March 29, and would probably require begging the EU for an Article 50 extension.

There’s also the fact that a second referendum would likely be messy. It’s not clear what the referendum would ask. Would it be a test of May’s Brexit deal versus no-deal? Would it involve multiple choices — leave, stay, or take the deal? Would it be a do-over of the original 2016 “leave” versus “remain,” which will still disappoint at least half of a bitterly divided country and not necessarily change the outcome?

Some Labour MPs are pushing to have a vote on a second referendum, but Corbyn has declined to come out strongly in favor. “It’s an option for the future, but it’s not an option for today,” Corbyn said over the weekend.

Proponents of the second referendum who see it as a Brexit out might be deluding themselves, too. “The last two national votes we’ve had haven’t gone the way that people thought they would,” Usherwood said. “So do you really want to open up a huge amount of uncertainty?”

May’s government could fall apart

May currently faces a leadership challenge within her own party. But if MPs turn against her in Parliament, that could throw the entire government into turmoil.

The DUP sent a few warning shots, refusing to support Conservative legislation twice last week to pressure May on a better Brexit deal. May needs DUP’s 10 votes to stay in power; if they defect from her government, the Conservatives lose a majority. That could lead to a no-confidence vote in Parliament, potentially triggering general elections.

Labour, meanwhile, has been pushing for new elections — and there’s always a chance they could get them if May’s deal blows up badly enough in Parliament, or her government crumbles. “Labour’s top priority is to get back in power,” Boyer told me.

Nobody really knows what will happen

A second referendum or a new general election seems implausible now. But Brexit’s one promise is to be unpredictable.

What happened in Brussels this weekend means it’s now up to the United Kingdom to decide whether to accept this divorce deal, or not. And European leaders have made clear that it’s this deal, or no deal at all.

“This is the best deal for the UK, the best deal for Europe, this is the only deal possible,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Sunday.

Erik Jones, the director of European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, told me that even if MPs object to this premise, or vote down the deal believing there’s a better one to be had, there’s not much more Europe can give that will sway the ideologues on either side.

“You’re not going to get any significant concessions,” he said. “If you think that there’s any silver bullet that could change the minds of enough members of the British Parliament having voted it down once, it just ain’t there.”

Looming over these debates is the possibility of a no-deal Brexit. The economic and logistical pain of crashing out of the EU may be enough to push MPs to accept an imperfect Brexit deal. “Everyone’s made a lot of noise and has been unhappy about this, that and the other, but they haven’t been able to agree on an alternative plan of action,” Usherwood said.

So, in the end, the current Brexit deal may be the only option. Ultimately, Usherwood said, if everything looks even less attractive than this deal, then that’s what will end up getting signed. “But,” he added, “who knows?”

feibisi / 2018年11月25日

Trump’s reportedly cutting a deal to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico

Incoming Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has agreed to let the US make Central American asylum seekers Mexico’s problem.

The Trump administration has reportedly found a way to force asylum seekers to wait in Mexico during the months — or longer — it takes to apply for protection in the US, making the tens of thousands of Central Americans and others who flee northward to the US each year essentially Mexico’s problem to solve.

On Saturday, Nick Miroff and Joshua Partlow of the Washington Post reported that the Donald Trump administration had made a deal with the incoming president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, to implement a “Remain in Mexico” policy.

Contemplated since the earliest days of the Trump administration — one of the first executive orders the president signed instructed the Department of Homeland Security to look into the prospect — the policy would bar asylum seekers from entering the US until their applications were approved (or until they got deported) unless they had a “reasonable fear” of staying in Mexico.

While the two countries are still hammering out the details, it appears that the biggest question — whether Mexico would cooperate — has now been settled.

The appeal to the Trump administration is clear. The administration is desperate to reduce the number of people entering the US without papers to the anomalously-low levels of Donald Trump’s first few months in office — even if it means asylum seekers face a bevy of human-rights concerns while they remain in Mexico, from criminal victimization to concerns about food and shelter.

The US could start implementing the new policy in the coming days or weeks, likely starting at ports of entry (official border crossings) in San Diego, where thousands of asylum seekers have been waiting on the other side.

There’s a lot we still don’t know about how this is going to work — either because it hasn’t actually been worked out yet, or because details aren’t yet public. As it stands, this could be a temporary inconvenience — or lead to the US essentially creating refugee camps just across the border. Here’s what we do and don’t know.

What we know about the US-Mexico asylum deal and the “Remain in Mexico” policy

  • The Trump administration has negotiated a tentative deal with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, or AMLO, the incoming president of Mexico who takes office December 1. The Washington Post confirmed the tentative deal in an interview with Olga Sanchez Cordero, AMLO’s incoming interior minister. A subsequent statement from Sanchez Cordero’s office said that “There is no agreement of any sort between the future government of Mexico and the one in the US,” but that’s not necessarily inconsistent with a deal currently getting worked out.
  • Under the deal, asylum seekers would have to demonstrate a reasonable fear of remaining in Mexico in order to be allowed to stay in the United States. The initial screening interview for asylum seekers requires them to show a credible fear of persecution if they’re deported to their home countries. If they meet that standard, they’re allowed to stay in the US while their full application for asylum is pending; if they don’t (and they don’t appeal the decision), they’re deported.

    Under the agreement, as the Post describes it, asylum seekers who meet the credible-fear standard would also be asked about the prospects of staying in Mexico. If they couldn’t show a reasonable fear (a higher standard than credible fear) of staying in Mexico, they’d still be allowed to apply for asylum in the US, but they’d wait in Mexico until their case was completed.

  • As a result, in theory, the majority of Central Americans and other asylum seekers who travel through Mexico would be required to stay in Mexico while their asylum cases were pending in the United States. Right now, it can take months — or years — for an asylum seeker who’s not detained in a US immigration detention center to have her asylum case evaluated. It’s not clear whether asylum seekers waiting in Mexico would be processed on an expedited schedule, and, if so, whether that wouldn’t further delay processing for people waiting for asylum in the US.
  • Key details of the plan are still being worked out. According to the Post article, “Senior U.S. officials said they want more assurances on how Mexico intends to keep asylum seekers safe and to ensure they don’t get deported back to Central America before their asylum claims get resolved.” Those are substantial questions, not least because the US is obligated under international law not to send an asylum seeker back to persecution — even if they themselves are not the country doing the deporting.
  • Asylum officers are already being sent to San Diego to prepare for implementing the policy. An email from a senior official at US Citizenship and Immigration Services, sent out late Wednesday, asked for volunteers who might be sent to San Diego “as early as Friday,” though details were scarce. The Post believes the officers are being sent to implement the new policy, as the US will need a lot of asylum officers at ports of entry to conduct the interviews that will ensure they’re not sending anyone back to danger in Mexico.

What we don’t know about the US-Mexico asylum deal and the “Remain in Mexico” policy

  • When the US will start implementing a “Remain in Mexico” policy. Lopez Obrador takes office on December 1, so it’s probable that the US-Mexico agreement will be signed no sooner than that. (And it could take several more days or even weeks to work out remaining details.) But it’s not totally clear that the US is going to wait to have a formal agreement. On Wednesday, the Post reported that Trump senior policy adviser and immigration guru Stephen Miller wanted to start implementing a “Remain in Mexico” policy immediately — even while negotiations with Mexico were ongoing. The Saturday report from the Post doesn’t clarify whether this possibility is still on the table or not.
  • What legal authority the US will use to implement “Remain in Mexico.” There is a provision in US law that allows the US to force applicants for admission to remain in a “contiguous country” while their claims are being processed. But it’s not clear whether they’re using this provision for the “Remain in Mexico” plan. Because that’s ambiguous, there are lots of other unresolved questions, including …
  • Whether the policy will apply to people apprehended by Border Patrol after crossing into the US, or whether it will only apply for people presenting themselves legally at official ports of entry to seek asylum. The “contiguous countries” provision applies to both cases. But the Post’s reporting implies that “Remain in Mexico” will only apply at ports. On the one hand, pushing people back to Mexico after they’ve crossed into the US could run afoul of the statutory US right to seek asylum. On the other hand, allowing people who cross into the US illegally to stay, while barring those who enter legally by presenting themselves at a port of entry, would make it even harder for the Trump administration to argue they’re trying to encourage asylum seekers to come legally. (That’s the argument the White House is currently using to defend the asylum ban in federal court.)
  • Whether the US will need to do anything beyond signing an agreement with Mexico to ratify the policy. In theory, if the policy requires the US to do things differently than the current regulations regarding asylum specify, they’ll have to rewrite those regulations (something the executive branch can do without Congress, as long as it follows proper procedures and doesn’t contradict the law). They could propose a regulation that would take effect immediately, as they did with the asylum ban. Such a change would probably be challenged in court (as the asylum ban was) but might be on firmer legal ground than the asylum ban.
  • How people will be taken care of while waiting in Mexico. Migrant shelters along the border are already overcrowded, and Tijuana is currently struggling to house 5,000 asylum seekers (thousands of whom have arrived in the last week as part of the fall “caravan,” but others of whom have been waiting for weeks or months to be admitted at the port of entry). The Post says the US doesn’t appear to be offering any financial support to Mexico to feed, shelter and care for asylum seekers while they wait. Some business owners in Tijuana have reportedly offered to give jobs to asylum seekers, but it’s not clear how they’d be able to work legally in Mexico without seeking legal status thereand getting legal status in Mexico could make it much harder for them to get asylum in the US.
  • How this will be challenged in court and if it will ultimately be found legal. It is inevitable that advocates will sue to block the “Remain in Mexico” policy. But because so many things about it are still unclear, it’s not clear what exactly their basis for a lawsuit will be. The “Remain in Mexico” policy is another legally aggressive step on asylum, an area of law where Congress has pretty clearly spelled out what’s supposed to happen. On the other hand, the judicial branch tends to extend the executive branch a lot of deference when foreign policy is involved.

Ultimately, the prospects of the Remain in Mexico policy might not be apparent until the policy has already been put in place — and in the meantime, asylum seekers will be the subjects of a binational experiment.

feibisi / 2018年11月24日

Black Friday, explained by 4 social media “hot takes”

Reactions on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram reveal mixed feelings about this very American tradition.

Though the origin of Black Friday is murky, many believe the phrase was first used by the Philadelphia police force in the late 1950s to describe the traffic jams and crowding of downtown Philly stores by hordes of suburbanites the day after Thanksgiving and the Army/Navy football game. Since then, Black Friday has become a national shopping holiday that lasts well beyond one day; this year, an estimated 116 million people will shop online or in stores on Friday alone.

Like all American traditions, Black Friday elicits lots of feelings. And in 2018, when people have lots of feelings, they take to the internet to bless others with their insights. This is why one of the best ways to understand the complicated shopping “holiday” is to look at the different types of people likely flooding your Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feeds with their Black Friday opinions.


The person who shamelessly waits in line

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#BlackFridayLine #BestBuy 40 inch tv for 150 bucks

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This person probably posts a photo of themselves in line every year, and while you may not want to join them, you can’t deny that some of the sales look pretty good (a 40-inch TV for $150? Absolutely.). Dedicated Black Friday shoppers love to post their finds, and while some participate in the holiday out of necessity, others are there for the rush of a deal. Finding things that are usually expensive for a fraction of the cost is fun!

And for some, Black Friday has even won out over Thanksgiving as a family holiday. As one-half of a mother-daughter shopping duo told Goods reporter Rachel Sugar, “This is how we bond. I’ve never been one for Thanksgiving. I don’t like cranberries. I’m not into Thanksgiving food.”

The person who shames Black Friday shoppers

This person believes our society is too materialistic, too reliant on things. They will tell you that your family shouldn’t stand in a line outside of Best Buy, but rather sit around a table, passing mashed potatoes and laughing. This sentiment has only increased as Black Friday hours have spilled into Thanksgiving Day; some even call the entire month Black November. According to a MarketLive study, 65 percent of Americans hate or dislike the trend of retailers opening on Thanksgiving. The looming fear is that Black Friday will soon eclipse Thanksgiving, and that the things Americans claim to hold so dear, like family and tradition, will no longer be.

Even brands are worried. This year, menswear company Noah took one of the more dramatic anti-Black Friday stances, replacing its homepage with a lengthy, all-caps message that reads, “While we’re not trying to say people shouldn’t consume anything, we are saying the current cycle of endless consumption isn’t healthy. We may all be acting like there’s nothing wrong with it, but the fact is plain: we are drowning in stuff.” To be clear, this is a brand that exists solely to sell stuff.

The person shaming the person who shames Black Friday shoppers

Even though Black Friday has come under scrutiny for encouraging rabid consumerism, a more nuanced look shows that Black Friday is a necessary holiday for shoppers who need to do their Christmas shopping when discounts are high. “Black Friday shopping isn’t always based in naked, shameless excesses of consumerism,” Kenneth Rogers, the associate dean of research in York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance, and Design, told Goods reporter Nadra Nittle. “In very financially troubled times, Black Friday might be people’s only chance to have access to certain things, to buy what they need.”

Not to mention, telling shoppers they shouldn’t value products so highly is a classist position in itself. According to a 2017 study of social class and purchase satisfaction, those in lower socioeconomic classes gain more happiness from material purchases than experiential purchases. By shaming those who want to spend their money on things, you may be shaming those with fewer means.

The person camping on a mountain top

This person is so, so proud of their choice to not participate in our consumerist society. They are nowhere close to a mall, and they want everyone to know it. Of course, the cost of experiences like hiking to the top of a mountain often require expensive gear that indeed must be purchased, but that doesn’t matter. Today these people are not part of the vicious cycle, and it’s important that you know that.

While some may be doing it of their own volition, others have perhaps succumbed to a corporate campaign like REI’s #OptOutside, a marketing tactic that aligns the company with the values that concern its customers while helping to solidifying brand loyalty. REI is just one of many anti-Black Friday brands. Everlane is also not offering Black Friday deals, but instead eliminating one pound of plastic from the ocean for every order it receives today. This anti-Black Friday stance isn’t necessarily to get you to buy less, but to charm you into possibly buying more — not now, but soon, and for many years thereafter.

feibisi / 2018年11月23日

Why disaster relief is so hard

Aerial photo of Mexico Beach, Florida, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.

A thousand Americans are missing and tens of thousands homeless after the Camp Fire. What can we do to help?

The devastating Camp Fire has raged for two weeks now, and by the latest estimates killed 81 people and destroyed more than 150,000 acres of land. The entire town of Paradise, home to 26,000 people, was destroyed. Meanwhile, many of the survivors are in limbo, living in overcrowded shelters, tents and temporary housing. Relief organizations across the state are fundraising to support the Camp Fire survivors, but it’s anticipated that it will be a long time before most of them are housed.

Can’t we do better than that? We can, and should, but it’s not easy. Helping after a disaster is logistically complicated, and made moreso by the fact that major disasters usually destroy infrastructure. To some extent, the more severe the disaster and impoverished the victims, the harder it is to help.

Ordinary people are extraordinarily generous in response to tragedies like this one. Almost half of Americans reported donating to Hurricane Katrina relief, and nearly three-quarters gave to charity after 9/11. People also give generously after disasters overseas when they hear about them — though the media covers some tragedies much more extensively than others.

It’s surprisingly challenging to turn this generosity into results for the people affected by disasters. Individual donors can’t typically do much to speed search-and-rescue efforts. (And individuals trying to be rescuers themselves can just add to the number of people in danger.) Roads and airports are often flooded in a disaster situation, making it hard to get supplies to where they’re needed.

Another complication is that the generous response to disasters can bring in an extraordinary flood of money compared to the typical budget of most local charities. Most charities have a small budget and are accustomed to operating within it. They might be able to benefit from 20 percent more money, or even twice as much, but if deluged with several hundred times their typical operating budget, they often don’t know how to move it toward the people who need it most. Waste and corruption are serious concerns in disaster relief operations, spectacularly highlighted by the infamous fake 9/11 charities.

For all of those reasons, disaster relief, especially in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, can be difficult to do effectively. People who donate in those situations may be disappointed to learn that their donations haven’t been especially useful. And because of that track record, donors and charities concerned with most effectively helping people in need often don’t target disaster relief at all, instead opting for donations to areas where there’s no immediate catastrophe and less complexity and uncertainty. Doing so is almost always more cost-effective.

But these problems with disaster relief don’t have to lead to paralysis. For the potential donor, effective giving in response to disasters requires looking at potential charities with an eye for where your money matters.

Donors can’t much affect search-and-rescue. They can affect long-term recovery.

When thinking about disaster aid, we can think about a few separate aspects of disaster recovery, each with their own challenges. Relief work is the immediate disaster response — search and rescue, supply drops, emergency medicine. Relief work is typically hampered by logistical hurdles, not by a lack of funding. In a severe disaster, roads and airports are closed, and victims are often panicked and disorganized.

Right now in California, for example, 870 people are missing in the chaos caused by the fire. That means we don’t even know if they’re alive, much less know their whereabouts so we can deliver aid.

Figuring out how to solve these problems and deliver aid under conditions like these is very important. They aren’t problems caused by a shortage of money or supplies, though, and generosity by donors can’t solve them.

By the time a disaster has struck, it’s largely too late to improve search-and-rescue capabilities or immediate disaster response. Investments in improving those capabilities need to be made before a crisis — not while one is already happening.

Donors are more helpful with the second aspect of disaster response: recovery. Butte County, California shelters are overcrowded, and experiencing disease outbreaks. More money would definitely help there, but much of the difficulty in getting people out of shelters is the distribution of money that already exists. One person, Victor Marino, told NBC that FEMA had offered him aid — and said they were mailing it to the home he’d had to flee. Money and supplies are needed to clear rubble, provide medium-term shelter while homes are rebuilt, keep affected areas supplied until roads and rail systems are repaired, and provide medical care to displaced persons.

More money usually helps — but not always

Charities have for years voiced concerns about people shipping physical supplies — shoes, clothes, and food — to areas affected by disasters, unaware that these supplies can displace more urgent and better-targeted aid shipments and often go to waste. They generally urge the public to donate cash, and let nonprofits buy the needed supplies.

But while it’s intuitive that charities might not always need your old shoes, it’s less intuitive that they might not need your money. Sometimes an organization has all the donations it knows what to do with, and the remaining barriers to effective relief are staff time, expertise, access to affected areas, or limited supplies. Experts call this “room for more funding.” A charity has room for more funding if giving them more money will let them do more of what they’re doing.

Charities will rarely turn donations down, but that doesn’t mean they’re always actively seeking donations. And if a charity is actively seeking donations despite not knowing what to do with them, that’s a bad sign. Charities with room for more funding are more likely to be specific about how the money will be spent — for example, saying “we’ll be building houses” or “we’ll be compensating victims” — and ideally will specify their fundraising targets for each of their programs.

Donations are needed when no one else is giving them

Disaster relief tends to happen in abrupt peaks. Donations happen almost immediately after a disaster occurs, and quickly die down as the news cycle moves on to other things. Eighty percent of donations occur within the first days of a disaster.

Ideally, charities would stockpile the donated money then and spend it as needed over the course of the next months and years as the area rebuilds and recovers. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, and it’s not uncommon for there to be more need six months or a year after a disaster — when the rest of the world has moved on — than immediately after.

The fact that people make their donation decisions so quickly can have grave consequences. Often, it means major disasters get overlooked if the news doesn’t get out about them quickly enough. The 2010 earthquake in Haiti was genuinely one of the worst disasters in recent history, killing an estimated 160,000 people. $13 billion was raised in aid — much of it in the early days of the disaster.

But two years earlier, at least 138,000 people died in Bangladesh and Myanmar of Cyclone Nargis. Only about $300 million was raised, nearly all of it from governments. Thanks to initial reluctance by Myanmar’s authoritarian government to permit aid, as well as concerns that the government was using the money to cement its hold on power, this tragedy missed its first-week rush of donations. By the time the country reluctantly assented to some foreign assistance, the disaster had started to slip from the news. Many Americans didn’t and still don’t know it ever happened.

All this brings up an important concept that charitable donors should be more aware of: neglectedness. If a disaster happened during a busy news cycle, or in a country with few foreign journalists, or if it’s a type of disaster where the death toll will be slow and hard to measure instead of immediate and catastrophic, people may not be paying enough attention. Those are usually the places where money really is desperately needed.

One other thought: Giving money when disaster strikes is a good impulse. But one thing for a donor to consider is to set aside the money and then follow up with charities a few months later to ask what they’re doing on the ground and whether it needs more funding.

In a field without much clarity, charities have to be highly responsible

Disaster relief is a field where there’s a lot of uncertainty about what works. In an uncertain environment, it’s particularly important that charities be transparent about what they’re doing and open to the possibility they’re making mistakes.

A charity should be able to explain what programs they’re in a position to offer, how much money they need to wholly fund those programs, and what they will do with additional money received after they’ve fully funded their programs. Charity evaluators like GiveWell, which try to identify the most promising programs, have found it particularly hard to get the clarity they prize when it comes to disaster relief.

Often, the more urgent and complicated the situation, the less clear and transparent charities feel they are able to be. Unfortunately, that’s when transparency is needed most, so we can develop a better picture of what works for future disasters.

Even better would be a charity that’s aiming at effectiveness, collecting data on what they’re doing, and scaling (or canceling) their programs accordingly. This is challenging in disasters, as no two are the same and it’s hard to know if past successes really predict future ones.

Nonetheless there are good examples of taking a transparent, honest, and results-driven approach to disaster relief. GiveWell has called Doctors Without Borders “a leader in transparency, honesty and integrity in relief organizations,” and this was a big reason for its recommendation of Doctors Without Borders as a disaster relief organization.

Since we still don’t know all that much about the best ways to provide effective aid in the aftermath of a disaster, there’s a lot of room for experimentation. Here, too, it’s important for charities to do things right. Experiments should ideally be announced in advance, have a clear mission statement, and report how the trial went.

Two years ago, GiveDirectly, a charity that does cash transfers to the poorest people in the world, did a good job of venturing into disaster relief while staying focused on results. The organization was curious about whether cash transfers — literally giving people who just suffered through a disaster cash — worked well for disaster relief. There are some reasons to think it might — a cash-transfer program has extremely low overhead, can happen even if roads and airports are damaged or full of high-priority aid, and works remarkably well at improving outcomes for the world’s poorest.

But there are also some reasons for skepticism — maybe giving people money in disasters just results in bidding-up of scarce supplies. GiveDirectly handled this with a small-scale trial offering cash transfers to victims of Hurricane Harvey. It wanted to check whether its cash-transfer based approach worked everywhere, not just in the poor regions of Kenya where it traditionally operated, and that it was as viable for disaster relief as for aid efforts targeting poverty.

In an update, GiveDirectly reported that it could successfully get cash to about 90 percent of the target population who were mostly able to use it — which makes straightforward cash aid look like a promising intervention for disasters in rich countries, though a different host of problems would be expected in poor ones. (In particular, destroyed infrastructure both makes it hard to get cash to affected populations and makes it hard for them to use the money to buy any supplies they may need.)

We need more experiments like that. People are extraordinarily generous and willing to give hundreds of millions in aid to disasters when they can. Right now, there isn’t a clear picture of how to consistently turn that generosity into good results. But careful experimentation is a very valuable step on the road to figuring that out.


Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.

feibisi / 2018年11月22日

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald’s bonkers plot twist, explained

If true, the movie’s biggest revelation contains major implications for the entire Harry Potter universe.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald continues the Harry Potter prequel saga introduced in the first Fantastic Beasts movie, and if you’ve seen the film, you already know that it’s a pretty intense installment. The keeper of the keys to the wizarding kingdom, J.K. Rowling, has not only ramped up the threat from evil Aryan wizard Gellert Grindelwald, but she’s thrown longtime fans of the series for a loop by suggesting a brand-new fact about one of the world’s most well-known characters, Albus Dumbledore.

Is it true? And if so, what does it mean, if anything, for the three planned films that remain in the Fantastic Beasts series? We’ve got answers and more below — but be warned, spoilers follow.

spoiler, ahs apocalypse

The first Fantastic Beasts film added a new character to the Harry Potter universe. The second one made him an even bigger part of the plot — and included him in a major twist.

In the first Fantastic Beasts film, we meet Ezra Miller’s Credence, a cowering, terrified orphan who’s been abused all his life by his witch-fearing guardian — at least until he becomes aware of his own intense magical powers after meeting a disguised Grindelwald. Grindelwald pursues Credence in the hope of forming an alliance, because Credence is an Obscurial: a wizard who carries a powerful symbiotic parasite known as an Obscurus.

The Obscurus is new to the Harry Potter universe, and the explanation for it in the first Fantastic Beasts film is brief and easily missed. Basically, an Obscurial is a wizard who has so fully repressed their magic, mainly because they suffered abuse, that it takes the form of the Obscurus parasite. It may then be later unleashed, causing all sorts of violence and damage.

The typical Obscurial is a young wizard — young because the Obscurus typically destroys its host before the host reaches adulthood. Credence, however, seems to be an exception: someone who’s survived into his teenage years because of his uniquely strong magical ability.

Credence, it’s implied, survives the first Fantastic Beasts film by secretly sneaking away from the scene of his presumed death. When we catch up to him in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, he’s fled New York and landed in Europe, where he’s hunting for clues to his past and his real identity. In the final moments of the new film, Grindelwald reveals a crucial secret to Credence: Credence is the long-lost younger brother of Albus Dumbledore himself — and his real name is Aurelius.

If true, this revelation contains major implications for the entire Harry Potter universe, which has a dense established history full of known facts about many of the wizarding world’s most powerful families, including the Dumbledores. For a secret sibling to be lurking among any family tree would be quite a scandal — especially a family as powerfully magical as Dumbledore’s.

So is it true? Quite possibly — but I have to admit, it’s a stretch.

Is Credence really Dumbledore’s you-know-what? Maybe — but if he is, J.K. Rowling has a lot of explaining to do.

It’s important to note that, while disguised as “Graves” in the first Fantastic Beasts film, Grindelwald shamelessly lies to Credence in order to exploit him. First, Grindelwald lies and says he wants to help Credence learn wizardry, in order to get Credence to help him locate the Obscurial — not realizing that Credence is the Obscurial. Later, he reveals this offer to have been a trick, deeming Credence an unmagical squib and blowing him off completely until realizing his mistake.

Grindelwald clearly has no idea that Credence is even a wizard at this point, let alone which powerful wizarding family he might belong to.

Grindelwald also apparently lies to Credence at the end of The Crimes of Grindelwald by implying that Dumbledore wants him dead (“Your brother is trying to kill you”) — an obvious lie on Grindelwald’s part, since as far as we know, Dumbledore doesn’t even know who Credence is.

So it’s entirely possible that Grindelwald could be lying to Credence when he reveals that Credence is part of Dumbledore’s family. And there are plenty of reasons to think that he is.

The most obvious reason is that we’ve never heard of Professor Albus Dumbledore having a secret sibling before now. He’s well-established as having only two siblings, his brother Aberforth and his unfortunate sister, Ariana. Because of Dumbledore’s historical prominence and cultural importance within the Harry Potter universe, fans are already familiar with unscrupulous wizards like gossip writer Rita Skeeter, who’ve dug extensively into all of his family skeletons before now. It’s unlikely there’s a secret buried so deep that Rita Skeeter hasn’t uncovered it. But of course it’s always possible.

What doesn’t seem possible is that Dumbledore himself doesn’t know he has a long-lost brother, but that Grindelwald — who, again, appeared to have no idea who Credence was in the first film, which takes place just a few months before this one — somehow does.

To buy into this twist, one of two things must be true: 1) we have to believe that Dumbledore knew about his orphaned brother’s existence but didn’t care enough to try to rescue him from horrific physical and emotional abuse, which is highly out of character for him, or 2) we have to believe that Grindelwald recently obtained a secret stash of knowledge from who knows where, about a family of English wizards, all while sitting in a jail cell in New York.

But with all that said, the most damning evidence suggesting that Credence isn’t “Aurelius Dumbledore” is his age. If Credence is Dumbledore’s full blood brother, then the very youngest he could be, according to he established canonical timeline of the Harry Potter universe, is 36 years old.

This is because we know from the seventh Harry Potter book that in 1891, Dumbledore’s sister Ariana was attacked by Muggle boys who permanently disabled her, after which Dumbledore’s father sought revenge on the boys and was sent to Azkaban, the wizarding prison, for life. Assuming conjugal visits aren’t really a thing at Azkaban — and it’s definitely not that kind of prison — then in 1927, when we catch up with Credence, he must be approaching middle age.

But he’s clearly not; he’s presented as a struggling, cowering teenager just coming into his own power. His actor, Ezra Miller, firmly stated that Credence was 18 years old in 1926 during the events of the first film.

So in essence, either Grindelwald is lying, or Rowling is completely voiding the canonical timeline — or else there’s some other plot twist afoot that has to explain this plot twist.

Here are some ways this zany plot twist might work — though again, it’s a huge stretch

It’s always possible that Aurelius is Albus’s half-brother, and that Albus’s mother had an affair with someone we don’t know about. But here, again, we run into the age issue. If Albus’s mother, Kendra Dumbledore, had a baby out of wedlock after her husband’s death, the youngest that kid could be in 1927 is 28.

That’s because it’s well-known that Albus’s mother, Kendra Dumbledore, died in 1899 in a tragic accident caused by her daughter Ariana, whose own magic had been difficult to control since the Muggle attack that left her debilitated and indirectly sent her father to prison. Ariana herself, we should note, later also died tragically in a standoff between Albus, their brother, and Grindelwald. (Dumbledore’s family really is extremely tragic, which might explain why he had Harry live in a closet until he was 11.)

There are some other ways this twist could be finagled: For instance, Credence could actually be 10 years older than he thinks he is by virtue of a lot of handwavey magic. But that’s a lot of trouble to go to in order to explain the timeline discrepancy.

Another possibility is that Kendra Dumbledore didn’t actually die in the 1899 accident, that she could have somehow faked her own death, and gone on to have another kid. But that assumes she’d be willing to leave her children parentless for some as-yet-unknown reason, and also opens up the question of why she’d do that, and what eventually happened to her — and how, again, Dumbledore and a horde of gossip columnists never uncovered this information before.

There’s still a third possibility, but it, too, requires establishing a lot of new magical theory and bastardizing previously established worldbuilding. That’s the possibility that Credence is actually Ariana herself, or some remnant of her soul. Perhaps he’s a Horcrux, or perhaps her own uncontrollable magic, the same destructive energy that killed her mother, somehow became an Obscurial and found a new host in the form of Credence.

The problem with all this theorizing is that it assumes that Rowling would be willing to considerably disrupt her carefully established universe for the sake of a plot twist. But that runs into a larger overarching problem with The Crimes of Grindelwald, which is that it frequently opts for disrupting the world we know in the name of plot twists that don’t seem to yield larger payoffs or contribute to the overall development of the story.

In another example of handwaving the previously established timeline, for example, Professor McGonagall shows up in this movie as a young adult Hogwarts professor. We see her in a flashback that takes place in the 1910s, and it’s cute — except, according to the canonical timeline we’re familiar with, McGonagall wasn’t born until 1935.

So, that’s what we’re looking at: a lot of theories and possibilities that don’t quite square with the previously established facts. And yet, it’s still somehow possible that despite all logic and against all facts, Dumbledore does have a long-lost brother.

So what does that mean for the series?

The most obvious implication for the rest of the Fantastic Beasts series is thematic. J.K. Rowling loves parallelism, so if the Dumbledore connection is true, then she’s likely setting up a bunch of parallels between Credence/Aurelius and Harry himself.

They’re both orphans, both raised by abusive guardians who were extremely paranoid of witches. Both grew up completely separated from the wizarding world, yet both eventually discovered themselves to belong to extremely prominent magical families with hugely important roles to play in the ongoing struggle between light and dark wizards. Both are extremely powerful wizards in their own right — and crucially, both seem to have been scoped out and targeted by dark wizards wanting to exploit them for their own agendas.

Of course, the way their parallel origin stories play out has been quite different for each of them thus far. Credence has been alternately courted and cast aside by Grindelwald, depending on how useful he appears to be. Harry was initially marked for death by Voldemort, and apart from a few moments of tempting him, that pretty much never changed.

Then again, Voldemort was motivated by a famous prophecy that Harry would kill him. And The Crimes of Grindelwald implies strongly that Credence may also be the subject of a previously unknown-to-us set of prophecies that involves brothers fighting one another and impacting the fate of the wizarding world. If that prophecy comes to pass, it suggests that Credence will shove down his doubts and remain loyal to Grindelwald — at least at first, though it’s pretty clear he’s being set up for redemption — and that Dumbledore will have to fight him at some point.

This could also be crucial to explaining the giant lag in the timeline that we’re facing. In the established canonical timeline of the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore doesn’t defeat Grindelwald until 1945, in an obvious World War II parallel. So giving Dumbledore a different obstacle to overcome, like having to first defeat his own brother in order to ultimately defeat his ex-boyfriend, may help to explain why it takes another two decades for this story arc to eventually reach its climax.

However, given that the previously established canonical timeline seems to be rapidly derailing and speeding up, there’s just no telling where we’ll land. Only one thing seems certain: What we know of the wizarding world will probably be very different by the end of Fantastic Beasts than when the franchise began.

feibisi / 2018年11月15日

The world is about to redefine the kilogram

The Kibble balance is the machine that makes the redefinition of the kilogram possible.

It involves complex science, but beautifully simple philosophy.

Forty feet underground in Gaithersburg, Maryland, in a bright white laboratory that requires three separate keys to enter, the United States stores a precious collection of small, shiny metal cylinders that literally define the mass of everything in this country.

They are beautiful, with mirror finishes, and I have to resist the urge to touch them. If I did touch them, I could contaminate them with oil from my skin, and potentially increase their weight. Patrick Abbott, the “keeper of the kilogram” here at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), tells me this would be very bad.

Currently, the kilogram has a very simple definition: It’s the mass of a hunk of platinum-iridium alloy created in 1889 that’s housed at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in Sèvres, France. It’s called the International Prototype Kilogram (aka Big K, or Le Grand K), and it has many copies around the world — including seven copies at NIST in Gaithersburg that are used to calibrate scales and make sure the whole world is on one system of measurement.

Here is one of the copies at NIST, called K4, forged from the same piece of metal from which Big K was created in the 19th century.

At NIST, Patrick Abbott is the “keeper of the kilogram.”
This is K4, a copy of the International Prototype Kilogram, forged from the same platinum-iridium alloy.

Take a good look at it. Because very soon, this 129-year-old standard for the kilogram will change.

On Friday, scientists from around the world are meeting at the General Conference on Weights and Measures in Versailles, France, to vote on a new the definition of a kilogram that ties it to a universal constant in nature.

One important reason for the change is that Big K is not constant. It has lost around 50 micrograms (about the weight of an eyelash) since it was created. But, frustratingly, when Big K loses mass, it’s still exactly one kilogram, per the current definition.

When Big K changes, everything else has to adjust. Or even worse: If Big K were stolen, our world’s system of mass measurement would be thrown into chaos.

With the vote Friday, which is expected to pass, the world’s top measurement scientists are affixing the kilogram to the Planck constant, a fundamental concept in quantum mechanics that can never, ever change — both here on Earth and in the deep reaches of the universe.

This will be more than a scientific victory. It’s a philosophical one too, as I learned from the NIST scientists who have been working for years on the redefinition, and call this moment the most exciting time of their entire careers.

When the definition changes, the General Conference on Weights an Measures will complete the original dream of the metric system, which was embraced amid the French Revolution. The metric system — which evolved into the International System of Units, or SI — was designed to be “for all times, for all people.”

“Objects always change,” says Stephan Schlamminger, a NIST scientist involved with the redefinition. With the new definition, he says, “we go from an object” here on Earth “to the stuff that’s in the heavens.”

And that’s something worth celebrating. In a world where everything always seems to be in flux, these scientists have now made sure the kilogram will never change.

A brief history of the kilogram

How do you know what something weighs? I know, there’s an obvious answer: You put it on a scale.

But when you go to a grocery store and weigh a bundle of apples, how does that scale know what one pound of fruit feels like?

For mass measurements to make sense, we need a fixed point of comparison. Those apples need to weigh more or less than something. To avoid chaos, and to allow our economy to function, that something has to be universally recognized.

The scale at your grocery store was calibrated with a weight that was calibrated with a weight that was calibrated with a weight, and so on. And all those calibrations trace back to right here, in the bowels of NIST. Consistent weights and measures matters for more than groceries: Imagine if Boeing couldn’t figure out, precisely, what an airplane weighs, or if the pharmaceutical industry couldn’t precisely determine the mass of a tiny, potentially lethal, dose of medicine?

 Leon Neal/Getty Images
This weigh scale in Trujillo, Peru, measures units in ounces, pounds, grams, and kilograms.

In the United States, we still use imperial units, a.k.a. pounds and ounces. But really, all our measurements are derived from the International System of Units, or SI, which uses meters and kilograms as the fundamental units of length and mass.

When it comes to mass in the US, everything traces back to these puck-shaped cylinders, which are precisely machined to weigh 1 kilogram. Officially, in the US, one pound is defined as 0.45359237 kilograms. Officially, a foot is defined as 12003937 meters.

But the system wasn’t always so orderly. Before the French Revolution and the invention of the metric system, the systems of weights and measures world over were a chaotic, unruly mess.

“Imagine a world where every time you travelled you had to use different conversions for measurements, as we do for currency,” Madhvi Ramani of the BBC explains. “This was the case before the French Revolution in the late 18th Century, where weights and measures varied not only from nation to nation, but also within nations.”

The French Revolution was about toppling old, archaic, chaotic hierarchies leftover from the feudal era and remaking society with egalitarian principals in mind.

Inspired by the revolution, scientists at the time wanted to start fresh on a new, consistent system of measurement, basing units not on arbitrary mandates from kings, but on nature. The goal was to create a system of measurement “for all time, for all people.”

Thus, when the International Bureau of Weights and Measures was founded in France in the late 1800s, the meter — the standard unit of length — was created to be one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator. The gram takes inspiration from the density of water: It’s roughly equal to the weight of one cubic centimeter of water held at 4°C.

To disseminate these new units — to make sure that everyone in the world understood them — the inventors of the metric system decided to create physical objects to embody and define them. They crafted a metal bar to be exactly one meter long. They created Big K to represent the weight of one kilogram, or 1,000 grams.

Since the 19th century, all of the physical relics of the old metric system have been replaced by measurements affixed to constant forces of nature. The meter was originally defined as a proportion of the size of the Earth. But even the shape of the world isn’t permanent. Heck, the Earth might not even be permanent. So, today, the meter is defined by the speed of light. The second is affixed to the motion of the atoms of the element cesium.

Only the kilogram is still defined by a physical object, for now.

So what is this new definition of the kilogram? Prepare yourself, because it’s a bit of a doozy.

The science of redefining the kilogram in terms of the Planck constant, explained

If Friday’s vote at the General Conference on Weights and Measures passes, the changes won’t take effect until May 2019. But when the change comes, here’s how the kilogram will be defined in the International System of Units:

The kilogram, symbol kg, is the SI unit of mass. It is defined by taking the fixed numerical value of the Planck constant h to be 6.626 070 15 × 10-34 when expressed in the unit J s, which is equal to kg m2 s -1, where the meter and the second are defined in terms of c and ∆νCs.

What the heck?

A lot harder to explain than a lump of metal in France. But let’s try.

Basically, the General Conference on Weights and Measures will be fixing the value of the Planck constant, which describes how the tiniest bits of matter release energy in discrete steps or chunks (called quanta).

With the vote Friday, the Planck constant will now and forever be set as 6.62607015 × 10-34 m2 kg/s. And from this fixed value of the Planck constant, they can derive the weight of a kilogram.

The reason this redefinition effort has taken decades is because the Planck constant is both tiny (it starts with a decimal point and is followed by 34 zeros), and also had to be calculated down to a super tiny margin of error. The work required careful measurements with an incredibly complicated machine called the Kibble balance (more on that below), as well as observations of an extremely round sphere of silicon.

That explanation might seems wonky. And it is. But to better appreciate it, it’s helpful to look at how the meter — the world’s standard unit of length — was redefined in terms of the speed of light as an example of why this was necessary.

The meter was originally defined as the length of a bar at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures in France. (It was then redefined to be equal to a certain wavelength of radiation.) Again, the problem with this definition was its imprecision. It was not based on unchanging properties of the universe.

Lightspeed, on the other hand, is an unchanging 299,792,458 meters per second. No matter where you are, scientists believe, it stays the same. (At least, if it does change, that would upend most everything we know about physics.)

By 1983, physicists had gotten really good at measuring the speed of light. So they used it to fix the length of the meter forever, to make it permanent. Here’s how: They redefined the meter to be equal to the distance light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second. Essentially, the definition of the meter is now baked into the definition of the speed of light.

There’s a poetry to this: Scientists took the meter — an arbitrary length measurement invented by humans — and affixed it to a constant truth of the universe. Our messy human measurements have transcended their messy humanness; they have been melded with an eternal truth. The new, light-defined meter is the same length as the old meter standard in Paris. But unlike the old standard in Paris, now the definition of the meter can never, ever change.

The same thing is happening with the Planck constant. Like the speed of light, the Planck constant is a universal truth. Also like lightspeed, scientists believe the Planck constant will never change.

By setting a final value of the Planck constant — the units of which include the kilogram, much like the units of the speed of light include the meter — the size kilogram is forever stable. You can also think of it like this: The kilogram has been anchored to the Planck constant, where it will rest, forever.

(Perhaps if you’ve been reading closely, you’ve noticed there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem here. How do you seek to define meter in terms the speed of light if your measurements of the speed of light also contain the unit “meter.” It’s the same thing for the Planck constant: It contains kilograms in its units. Short answer: This is why the people working on these problems have PhDs.)

The Kibble balance is the machine that makes this all possible

Redefining the kilogram in terms of the Planck has been an immense challenge, one that’s taken decades to complete.

For one, scientists had to be able to measure the Planck constant to an extremely precise degree. If our estimate of the speed of light had a large margin of error, it wouldn’t be a reliable anchor to measure a meter. Same goes for the Planck.

For decades, the scientists at NIST, as well as a few other labs around the world, have been using a machine called the Kibble balance (sometimes referred to as the watt balance) to precisely measure the Planck constant to a careful enough degree that it can be used to redefine the kilogram.

Like the kilogram standards, the Kibble balance is housed deep underground at NIST. It’s built onto a concrete floor that can literally float above the building’s foundation to better isolate its sensitive equipment from any vibrations from the rest of the facility. I have to wear a plastic net of my hair and shoes to go see it. Any bit of debris could throw it out of calibration.

If the Victorians had built a time machine and parked it in a beer brewery, I’d imagine it would look something like this.

The Kibble balance is an incredibly complicated, beautiful machine that equates mechanical force to electrical force.

The Kibble balance works somewhat like a simple mass balance. Picture the one Lady Justice holds in her hand: It has two pans that balance at a central point. A simple balance compares two weights on each of the pans, with the goal of equating them.

The Kibble balance — named after its late inventor, the British physicist Bryan Kibble — does something similar, but with a quantum mechanical twist. It equates the mechanical energy exerted by the mass of an object with an equivalent amount of electrical energy.

Recall that Albert Einstein’s most famous equation E=mc2 explains that mass and energy can transform into one another, and are essentially different expressions of the same thing. Well, this machine can figure out the energy equivalent of the mass of an object.

The formula that the Kibble balance yields to equate mass and energy is complicated. (The NIST scientists brought me to the whiteboard shown below to explain.)

This is how the Kibble balance works. You may need a few college physics classes to comprehend it.

What’s important is that, in that equation — among all the variables at play, which include mass, velocity, gravitational pull, magnetism, electricity — lies the Planck constant. And using this machine, scientists we able to solve for Planck.

Now you might be thinking: What does the Kibble balance do now that it’s defined the Planck constant?

Well, it replaces the need for Big K in France because it perfectly knows the weight of a kilogram, in terms of both mass and energy. And that will be a perfect measurement, a way to keep ensuring a kilogram is still a kilogram, that can be used to weigh objects, precisely, and determine their mass in terms of the Planck constant.

“Right now our quality assurance on the stability of [Big K] is based on agreement,” Abbott says. “We say it’s not going to change. Our quality assurance on the Kibble balance is that it’s based on a constant of nature that has been measured, rigorously, by the entire world. and we know that it doesn’t change. It’s all the difference in the world.”

The democratization of weights and measures is underway

Still with me?

If you glossed over it all, here’s what all this change boils down to: We’ll no longer need a government — the US, France, whomever — or an international governing body to tell us what a kilogram is. It will be a fundamental truth of the universe, available to anyone with the proper equipment to realize it.

In theory, anyone can build a Kibble balance. (I’m told there are miniaturized ones on the way.) “They can build this experiment, and they can measure any mass they want, any material, just put it on the balance and you get the value of the mass, absolute, in terms of the Planck constant,” Darine El Haddad, who runs the Kibble balance experiment at NIST, says. The Kibble balance allows for an “absolute measurement” she says.

In the future, the manufacturing industry won’t need to send their weights and scales to NIST for calibration. They could have a Kibble balance on their factory floor. In that light, the new definition is more democratic — one that’s free to be used throughout all the world and not kept locked up in case in France.

There are some big drawbacks to the change, however. “People don’t even understand the metric system,” Abbott says. “How are you going to explain a Kibble balance?” The complexity of the definition may be a turn-off to people who want to learn about science. An elementary school child can understand a hunk of metal weighs a kilogram, but quantum mechanics?

Schlamminger argues that while the new definition is more technically complicated, “philosophically, it’s simpler.” The kilogram will soon be defined by the fundamental physics of the universe, not some human machination.

Schlamminger has the founding words of the metric system, “for all times, for all people” tattooed on his arm, alongside the digits of the Planck constant. That’s how strongly he believes in the ideal. He sees this work as “finishing the arc that started with the French revolution.” And it is nearly complete: With Friday’s vote, the kilogram will be forever, for all time, and for all people.

Stephan Schlamminger’s Planck constant tattoo is followed by the founding motto of the metric system: “For all times, for all peoples.”

feibisi / 2018年11月14日

11 facts about gun violence in the United States

Most Americans think that gun laws ought to be stricter, and it’s not hard to see why. A series of high-profile, high-casualty mass shootings from 2016 to 2018 have ensured that regulation of semiautomatic rifles remains a salient political issue. The public outrage is great enough that even the Trump administration has taken mild steps to regulate nearly-automatic weapons.

But the focus on mass shootings can obscure some key facts about gun violence in America, its causes, and how it differs from the rest of the rich world. Guns killed 38,658 people in 2016, of which 59 percent died from suicide. Mental illness is a minor part of the gun problem. And guns are basically the entire reason why the US has an unusually high homicide rate for a rich country.

Read on for more important, sometimes surprising facts about one of America’s most prominent national crises.

Dylan Matthews