Like me, Tom Brokaw has multiple myeloma, an incurable form of blood plasma cancer. He wrote about it in the New York Times this weekend, and today Julia Belluz writes about Brokaw:

Brokaw then describes what sounds like another full-time job: making sure thoughts about dying don’t consume what’s left of his life, and that he learns to accept his illness.

"This cancer ordeal is by far the worst, though it has redeeming qualities," he writes. Cancer has heightened his awareness about the fragility of life, brought him fellowship with other patients, and made him appreciate the "doctors and laboratory technicians who spend their lives in tedious pursuit of a cure."

....Some patients — notably Oliver Sacks, Christopher Hitchens and Robin Roberts — have gone public with the details of their cancer experience. And we have a lot to learn from them. With insights like theirs on what it means to live with — and most importantly — accept cancer as part of life, maybe some of the shame and dread will go away.

At the admittedly likely risk of sounding glib, I sometimes wonder if I'm the only person in the world who hasn't learned a deep life lesson from having cancer. I haven't battled it. I've just done the stuff my doctor has told me to do. I haven't become more aware of the fragility of life. I always knew about that. And I'd say it's not even remotely accurate to say that "some" patients have gone public with the details of their cancer experience. I'd say instead that TV and magazines are literally drenched with celebrities going public with details about their cancer experience. I have cancer, and even I get tired of the virtually endless parade of "brave" movie stars going on Access Hollywood to talk about their struggle.1

Now, I will say a couple of things. Like Brokaw, I have come to appreciate cancer researchers even more. They're the ones who are truly fighting. And I'd also say that it's made me appreciate my friends and family more than before, simply because of all the help and support they've provided.

It's also true that everyone reacts to cancer differently. Some people like to talk about it a lot. Some people benefit from a support group. Some people are scared to death. Some people do indeed have life-changing insights. I'm in favor of everyone responding to cancer in whatever way makes them feel better.

Then again, there are those of us who simply have cancer and take our meds and hope for the best. Just like I take my blood pressure meds and hope I don't get a heart attack. I don't mean that it's not a big deal—it is, and I'm not trying to be flip about it—but I wonder how many cancer patients are like me? I'm part of the segment that thinks it's a bad experience, endures the chemo meds with a grimace, and hopes it's curable—but otherwise has no real epiphanies or feels the need to talk endlessly about it.2 Are we a majority? More?

1If I have a pet peeve, this is it. There's nothing brave about going through an unpleasant experience. Nor in talking about it, especially on the cover of People. I'd really like to do away with this word for anyone over the age of ten.

2Actually, I don't mind talking about it at all. The reason I generally don't is because it makes other people uncomfortable. Perhaps I'm just more accepting of death than most people? I'm not sure.

Tim Lee has become bearish on the future of disruptive technological change:

“Who knows? But it will come!” has become the de facto rallying cry for a lot of recent Silicon Valley innovations with more hype than obvious applications....But it-will-come-ism has fallen flat in recent years, and I think it’s going to continue failing in the years to come. There are a number of industries — with health care and education being the most important — where there’s an inherent limit on how much value information technology can add. Because in these industries, the main thing you’re buying is relationships to other human beings, and those can’t be automated.

None of us can really adduce much evidence for our various points of view in this debate, but that's never stopped anyone before. So I'll draw a line in the sand and say that Lee is completely, totally, devastatingly wrong.

He may be right over the next decade. Maybe even the next two decades. But that's about it. We will soon discover that not only can relationships be automated,1 many humans will come to prefer silicon service providers to the carbon variety. That's especially true in areas like health care and education, where subject matter knowledge is critically important.

Take education first. Sure, we all have fond memories of our favorite teachers. And I suspect that classrooms may continue to exist for quite a while because humans do enjoy socializing with other humans. But your basic robot teacher has a whole lot of advantages over the meat variety. Endless patience. The ability to personalize teaching for every single student. 24/7 availability. Accurate, broad-based subject matter knowledge at every possible level. I'm sorry, Mom, but the robots will have you beat.2

And then there's health care, where the days of the beloved small-town doctor have been long gone for decades. It's already the case that lots of people—maybe even a majority—don't have much of a personal relationship with their doctor even now, and this will probably just get worse over time. So which would you prefer? A human doctor who can chat about the weather but probably doesn't because she's allocated ten minutes to your office visit and needs to get down to business right away? Or a silicon doctor who knows more than the human, can spend more time with you than the human, and never makes mistakes? I'll take the robot, thanks.

But wait. Maybe this is all true, but won't we miss the warmth of human contact? I doubt it. We'll still have plenty of human contact, after all. More generally, there's a widespread belief that AI and robotics in general will never be able to simulate sociableness. I think this is due to a vast overestimate of how good humans are at distinguishing real from fake. People are taken in by fakes all the time, and it really doesn't take much. An easy manner, a willingness to feign interest, and some sympathy for your complaints will do it most of the time. Even crude AI can sometimes pull off this act, and in a decade or two it will be pretty common. People will like their robots, just the way they like their cars and they like Siri.

In the end, robots will have all the obvious advantages of being robots and they'll convincingly pretend to be warm and caring. But don't feel bad, all you doctors and teachers. They'll probably take over blogging before they take over your jobs.

1Don't believe me? Have you ever watched a season of The Bachelor?

2Just kidding! Ha ha. Nobody will ever teach fourth grade the way you did, Mom. Seriously, um....oh man, I'm in trouble now.

It's a brand new week, and Donald Trump is taking it on the chin over his taxes. So how does he respond? Lamely.

First up, we have a new RNC video—shot in grainy black-and white, natch—claiming that Tim Kaine defended horrible BLACK murderers1 back when he was a defense attorney fresh out of law school. Devastating! Or it might be if every political opponent in Kaine's career hadn't tried the same attack. Kaine's answer has always been the same: as a devout Catholic, he's categorically opposed to the death penalty, and he's willing to defend even the worst people if it means keeping them off death row. So far he's batting a thousand with this defense.

Next up, the Drudge Report is bringing up possibly the most ancient attack against Bill Clinton of all time: that he's the father of a mixed-race child born to a BLACK prostitute he frequented in his Little Rock Days. This story has been part of the Clinton fever swamps for something like 30 years, and even people who don't like Bill have never given it the time of day. I understand why Drudge is trafficking in this sort of nostalgia—the 90s were good to Matt Drudge—but seriously? Bill Clinton's "love child" is the best they've got?

Any day now, some Trump surrogate somewhere is going to pop up with BRAND NEW EVIDENCE that Bill Clinton ran coke out of Mena airport. I can't wait. Is this seriously Trump's campaign strategy?

1Actually, most of them weren't black. But you could be forgiven for not noticing given the way the ad is shot and the fact that the RNC itself is promoting the video as "Willie Horton style."

Veronique de Rugy writes about the recently passed Continuing Resolution that kept the government from shutting down:

I for one am relieved that they didn’t use the CR as a way to restore the full-lending authority of the crony Export Import Bank and I commend the senate for it....[But] this CR funds the government only until December 9, which means that Congress will once again have to consider a massive and unaccountable 2017 spending bill during a lame-duck session. The chance of lawmakers using this opportunity to load the bill with pork projects, Ex-Im’s full revival, and other special-interest significant.

This is just an idle question, but how is it that the Export Import Bank became such a tea party hot button? I don't personally care about it too much one way or the other, but I understand why a lot of people are opposed to it. Still, it's a relatively small program, and its net cost to taxpayers is zero or close to it. Even if it is a congressional piggy bank, it hardly seems worth getting in a lather about.

So how did it become such a bête noire for the right? Does anyone know if there's an interesting backstory here?

A few weeks ago the FBI released its final report on Hillary Clinton's private email server. I commented on it here. But it turns out there's more. A week ago the FBI released 250 additional pages of interview notes and reports. I had no idea. But Garrett Graff at Politico has read them all and written a lengthy recap of what they say. It's well worth reading in full, but it fundamentally confirms my sense of the whole affair:

Together, the documents, technically known as Form 302s, depict less a sinister and carefully calculated effort to avoid transparency than a busy and uninterested executive who shows little comfort with even the basics of technology....Reading the FBI’s interviews, Clinton’s team hardly seems organized enough to mount any sort of sinister cover-up.

....Clinton’s staffers—harried as they were and pulled in multiple directions by seemingly daily world crises—seemed simply uninterested in the details of record-keeping, either for Freedom of Information Act purposes or for the Federal Records Act, which governs official papers. Nor did they appear particularly curious even about Clinton’s own email setup. Aides like Mills, Abedin and Sullivan all said that while they knew her email address, they didn’t understand the technology behind it and were “unaware of existence of private server until after Clinton’s tenure.”

On the subject of Clinton herself, Graff concludes that she was completely ignorant of anything related to tech. She didn't have a desktop computer and had never used one. She wouldn't upgrade from a BlackBerry to an iPhone. She never learned to use an iPad. She had trouble using a fax machine. She was only interested in reading things on paper. Literally, Clinton's sole knowledge of the high-tech world was that her BlackBerry allowed her to send and receive email. As for how it did that, the internet might as well have been powered by a magical Hogwarts spell for all she knew.

Ditto on all the classified material that was allegedly put at risk on her BlackBerry. Pretty much everyone at State used personal devices and personal email accounts because the State email system was almost completely dysfunctional. Ever since the invention of email they've been well versed in talking around sensitive issues when they communicated on unclassified email systems. And the thousands of emails that were "retroactively" classified are mostly the result of a well-known and longstanding spat between State and the intelligence community about what truly counts as classified. Nearly everyone the FBI interviewed, even those hostile to Clinton, acknowledged that the State email system sucked and that the "classified" information in Clinton's emails wasn't really especially sensitive stuff.

Anyway, I think the email story has mostly died off, but Graff's story is a good coda. It's probably about as detailed a record as we're likely to get. Definitely worth a read.

Surprisingly, I had some real-life stuff to attend to this weekend, which means I've only just caught up on the latest Trump meltdown. I might as well share it with you, since maybe a few other people need to catch up too.

On Saturday, the New York Times published copies of the first page of Donald Trump's 1995 state tax returns from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. They show that Trump declared a net operating loss that year of $916 million—about $1.5 billion in today's dollars. Questions abounded:

  • Where did the tax returns come from? They were sent to the Times anonymously, so no one knows. But rumors swirled around Marla Maples, Trump's second wife, who might have gotten them as part of her divorce proceedings in 1999.
  • Did Trump really lose that much money in a single year? It seems all but impossible. Among millionaires who declared losses in 1995, the average amount was $614 thousand.
  • It seems likely, then, that Trump's gargantuan loss was basically an accounting fiction of some kind. John Hempton, an Australian hedge fund manager and former expert on tax avoidance for the Australian Treasury, has a theory that Trump may have "parked" the debt from his bankruptcies with a dummy party offshore, where it was never collected but never officially forgiven. This would allow him to declare $916 million in losses even though he never truly lost anything.
  • What was the point of all this? Most likely, the Times speculates, it was used as a tax loss carry forward, which allowed Trump to declare zero income—and thus pay zero taxes—for as long as 18 years.

So how did Team Trump respond to this? Notably, nobody denied anything. Rudy Giuliani declared that Trump was an "absolute genius." Chris Christie also applauded Trump's genius, and remarked improbably that this was a "very good story" for Trump. Trump himself said nothing except that he had paid lots of other kinds of taxes, and that yes, he is a genius:

Needless to say, Trump knows nothing about tax law at all. He has accountants and tax advisors who do all this stuff for him. Nonetheless, the main message from Trumpville is that Donald Trump is a genius.

Elsewhere, reaction was a wee bit more restrained. It turns out that lots of people think that billionaires probably ought to pay income tax. All of us little people have to, after all.

So what's next? Well, when the New York Times was asked if they have any more of Trump's tax returns, they answered "No comment." That might mean there's more to come. Next Sunday's debate should be fun, shouldn't it?

POSTSCRIPT: Team Trump is trying to bury this story by directing all their attention to Bill Clinton's sexual escapades; suggesting that maybe Hillary has cheated on Bill; and blathering about Hillary being mean to the women who accused Bill of misdeeds in the 90s. It's not working. Nobody really cares much about this stuff anymore, and even the small interest that remains was wiped out by the tax story.

Weekly Poll Update

I forgot to do my weekly poll update yesterday, so here it is today. There are ups and downs in the numbers, but basically the race remains amazingly stable. Trump still hasn't managed to break through his all-time high of 44 percent, and Clinton is currently leading him by 4.8 percentage points.

Ezra Klein writes about what we've learned for the thousandth time this week about Donald Trump:

The problem isn't that Trump is cruel, though he is. The problem isn't that Trump is boorish, though he is. The problem isn't that Trump is undisciplined, though he is.

The problem is that Trump is predictable and controllable…His behavior, though unusual, is quite predictable—a fact the [Clinton] campaign proved by predicting it. His actions, though beyond the control ofhis allies, can be controlled by his enemies—a fact they proved by controlling them.

…Donald Trump can be forgiven for being caught off-guard [at Monday's debate]. His presidency-disqualifying sin came in the hours after the debate. The Clinton campaign released a slickly produced video featuring Machado. The Guardian and Cosmopolitan rushed pre-planned Machado profiles to publication. Hillary Clinton did everything but spraypaint “THIS IS A TRAP” on the side of Trump Tower.

And still Trump fell for it. And fell for it. And fell for it. Six days later, he's still falling for it.

All of this is precisely true. As Klein says, what Hillary Clinton did was so obvious, and so ploddingly executed, that it's almost wrong to call it a trap. Any half-witted high school debater could have swatted it away contemptuously. But the Clinton camp knew Trump would fall for it anyway, and he did. His lizard-brain approach to life is that predictable.

But the funny thing is that there's a completely different way that Trump's biggest problem is that he's predictable and controllable. In fact, it's what I expected Klein's post to be about when I read that line.

For months, liberals have been afraid that Trump might be smarter than he seems. Once the primary was over, he'd be able to remake himself as a normal person for a few consecutive months, and that might be enough to convince fence-sitters that he was presidential material. And for a while, after he brought Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway on board, it looked like that might happen. Trump calmed down and allowed his team to guide him. He started picking up a few points in the polls. Democrats were getting scared.

If he had kept that up, this might have turned into a real nail-biter of an election. And that was the real fear. Trump can, in fact, be predictable and controllable in a good way, and if he had managed to keep up that facade from Labor Day to Election Day, he might have fooled a fair number of people into voting for him. Fortunately, he couldn't keep up the act, and within a few weeks he once again became predictable and controllable in a bad way.

In the end, Trump's inability to play a role for even a few weeks in a row might be the only thing that saves us from a Trump presidency. That's a little too close for comfort.

Our squirrel made an appearance this morning, hopping from tree to tree and catching the attention of our two furballs—who were predictably entranced. They both wanted to climb up the nearest tree and go squirrel hunting, but Hilbert could only look up longingly. Hopper, however, could do more than that: she could climb up the tree and look into the neighboring tree longingly. You can see the mighty huntress on the prowl below. For those of you who worry about such things, I can assure you that our squirrel was entirely safe the whole time. I think you'd probably have to break all four of its legs before either of our cats would have a 50-50 chance of catching it.

In other cat news, a recently completed study has "sequenced DNA from 209 cats that lived between 15,000 and [300] years ago." Researchers discovered that after being domesticated and exalted by the Egyptians, there was a second big wave of cat expansion a couple thousand years ago, "attributed to ancient sea-faring people — farmers, sailors, and Vikings — because the cats were likely encouraged to stay on board to keep their rodent problem in check." Response was immediate: "I didn't even know there were Viking cats," Pontus Skoglund, a population geneticist from Harvard Medical School, told Nature.

Finally, in fundraising news, our cats urge you once more to sign up as a Mother Jones sustaining donor. We're close to our $30,000 goal, but not quite there yet. You can do it by credit card here. If you prefer PayPal, you can give monthly here—just be sure to check the box next to your gift amount.

Today's chatter is almost exclusively about Donald Trump's implosion over Alicia Machado, the Miss Universe of 1996, which has dragged his entire team of thrice-married surrogates into embarrassing spasms of hypocrisy and is making Trump into even more of a laughingstock than before—which is quite a feat. I can't really bring myself to write any more about this at the moment, so instead let's turn our attention to legal pot. Christopher Ingraham argues that this is Hillary Clinton's best hope for attracting millennial support:

There is one thing that younger voters like a lot, and that's legal marijuana....In April, a CBS News survey posed a question that sheds more light on this issue....Most respondents — 58 percent — said that a candidate's support for legal marijuana "wouldn't matter" at all. Eighteen percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a pro-weed candidate, while 21 percent said they'd be less likely.

But there were some interesting differences by respondents' age. Among adults ages 18 to 34, 28 percent said support for legal marijuana would make them more likely to vote for a candidate....These numbers suggest that legal marijuana could give Clinton a boost among younger voters in November.

Well...maybe. My guess, however, is that millennials would instantly see this as empty pandering. It might actually make her less popular among young voters, who seem to distrust her more for being calculated than they do for her actual policy positions.

Besides, Clinton has already come out in favor of reclassifying marijuana from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2 and allowing states to continue serving as "laboratories of democracy." That means she's basically endorsed medical marijuana, and it sets her up to endorse recreational marijuana after a suitable period of evolving. Maybe in 2020?