Tuesday, April 9th, 2019


Paper or Plastic?

In the past decade or so, more than 240 cities and counties have taxed or banned plastic bags at grocery stores. Yay! Well, sort of. It turns out that people were reusing those plastic bags to take out the trash or pick up after dogs. So their sudden absence triggered an enormous surge in the sales of small garbage bags. According to one expert, "about 30 percent of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags." But at least we switched from plastic to paper at the checkout line, and paper is a lot better than plastic, right? Yes, definitely ... when it comes to nonbiodegradable litter. But when you consider "cutting down and processing trees, which involves lots of water, toxic chemicals, fuel and heavy machinery," and factor in all those additional garbage bags, you begin to understand why some researchers believe "banning plastic shopping bags increases greenhouse gas emissions." No problem, just bring your own tote bag, and the problem is solved. Well, sort of. "The Danish government recently did a study [in which they] estimate you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times more than a plastic grocery bag to make using it better for the environment." So if the answer the age old question, Paper or Plastic is actually Neither; and even public radio approved tote bags are bad for the environment, how are you supposed to get groceries from the store to your house? You can always do what we do in the Bay Area and just use an app that gets a millennial to deliver the groceries to your doorstep (and like other humans, they're almost entirely biodegradable). Planet Money: Are Plastic Bag Bans Garbage?

+ Overall, getting rid of plastic bags is a good thing. "The good news is that consumers in Europe have done a great job curbing their use of plastic bags, and fewer are ending up in waterways around the world. The bad news is that now plastic bottles are clogging oceans and rivers."


When the Levy Breaks

It's almost April 15th. You'll soon be sending in your taxes or filing them using an electronic service. But that service won't be run by the IRS. And if a bipartisan bill passes, it never will be. ProPublica: Congress Is About to Ban the Government From Offering Free Online Tax Filing. Thank TurboTax.


(Redac)Ted Talk

"This process is going along very well and my original timetable of being able to release this by mid-April stands." So said William Barr when answering Congressional questions about when the public can expect to see the Mueller Report. NYT: William Barr Says Mueller Report Will Be Public Within a Week. (Let's hope the heavily redacted version of the Mueller Report ends up at least being longer than the Barr summary.) The committee "pressed Mr. Barr to say whether the White House has seen or been briefed on the contents of the Mueller report beyond what was in his letters about it to Congress. But Mr. Barr refused to answer."


The Inmates are Running the Asylum

"The ruling — a preliminary injunction at least temporarily stopping the program — paralyzes one of the Trump administration's last remaining tools to stem the flow of Central American families trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, an influx that has hit decade-long highs and has infuriated the president." WaPo: Federal judge blocks Trump administration program forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting court hearings.

+ "Her tenure is the plainest example yet of the futility of trying to restrain Trump from inside—and the personal cost to those who try." The Atlantic: Kirstjen Nielsen Shows Why It's Impossible to Restrain Trump. (Or how Trump can make a person's terrible record even worse.)

+ "The directive set off a frantic behind-the scenes push to get Trump to change his mind, and he ultimately relented. But the episode launched a turbulent 12-day stretch that would lead to the eventual resignation of Nielsen , the potential dismissal of much of her agency's top leadership and the beginning of a new phase in which immigration hard-liners at the White House are determined to wield considerably more influence over Homeland Security." AP: Inside 12 days of turmoil that shook Homeland Security.



"Nearly everyone dreams of making history in some way, but aspiring history-makers rarely consider the possibility of being the first to do something truly embarrassing. Virginia made history in 2018. The Cavaliers were the first No. 1 seed in NCAA tournament history to lose to a No. 16 seed. But that wasn't all. Virginia was the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, and the Cavaliers lost to UMBC by 20." It made for a painful offseason. It also set the stage for an epic redemption story. SI on March Madness: How Virginia Turned Torment to Triumph in One Year.

+ The Ringer: "Tony Bennett's Cavaliers long had a reputation as NCAA tournament choke artists. They became champions by excelling in every dramatic, unlikely, and how-did-that-just-happen moment imaginable."

+ On the flipside, The New Yorker on The Cruelty of Chris Davis's Record Hitless Streak.


Moving the Forest Through the Trees

"The world is losing monarch butterflies at a startling rate, as logging, herbicides and other human activities destroy natural habitats. But the biggest threat yet has only recently come into focus. Climate change, with its extreme storms, prolonged droughts and warming temperatures, is poised to eradicate the forest that serves as the butterfly's winter refuge." LA Times: To save the monarch butterfly, Mexican scientists are moving a forest 1,000 feet up a mountain.


Turbo Prop

"We tend to think of drugs that enhance performance — say, sports doping — as bad. Drugs that cure or prevent diseases are good ... When it comes to Klotho, there may be no such line. In theory, such a drug might offer both a way to prevent diseases of the brain and to enhance it." Carl Zimmer in the NYT: One Day There May Be a Drug to Turbocharge the Brain. Who Should Get It? (How about if we start with voters...)


Strawberry Fields Endeavor

"Picking a strawberry properly, and doing it fast enough to earn a living wage, requires speed, dexterity, and stamina. On a typical plant, only some of the berries will be ripe; the pickers must identify them by working their hands through the thick canopy of leaves with little fruit-seeking movements of their fingers, catching the stem of the ripe berries in the webbing of their fingers, and cupping the fruit. Then, with a wristy twist that prevents bruising around the calyx, they pluck the berry from the vine the way you might pop a frosty can of beer from a six-pack." John Seabrook in The New Yorker: Picking strawberries takes speed, stamina, and skill. Can a robot do it?


A Dish Best Served Cold

"Whereas most chefs track inventory and place food orders daily or weekly, Georgiades only gets one shot to get everything perfect. Because at Rothera, the food shipment comes once annually." Atlas Obscura: Researchers at This Base in Antarctica Eat Better Than You Do.


Bottom of the News

"After weeks of frame-by-frame analysis, here it is: every on-screen death from the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones, including who, how, why and where. But be warned, these numbers will undoubtedly rise." WaPo: An illustrated guide to all 2,339 deaths in Game of Thrones.

+ "The unlikely and unshaven pair will square off at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto, which seats about 3,000, where they will debate whether capitalism or Marxism leads to happiness. News of their debate, which has been in the works since last year, has been greeted with giddiness from their respective fan bases, and fervent eye-rolling elsewhere. Two Famous Academics, 3,000 Fans, $1,500 Tickets. Jordan Peterson and Slavoj Zizek will face off later this month in Toronto. So exciting … or so what? (Unlike Paper or Plastic, this one has an easy answer...)