For the first time in my career, I've recently gotten a little self-conscious about my blogging. I'm keenly aware of how bad it is to blog nonstop about every dumb thing Donald Trump says or does, and yet, it really is hard to resist. And besides, he routinely pushes everything else out of the news, which leaves me with a lot less to choose from even if I did want to cut down on my Trump blogging. What to do? What. To. Do?

Ah, screw it. Here's Trump talking about how corporations ought to provide day care for their workers' kids:

The billionaire real estate mogul, who previously voiced his opposition to government-funded universal pre-K programs, said in Newton, Iowa, in November 2015 that he had visited many companies that offered workers on-site child-care centers — and added that he offered such programs himself.

"You know, it's not expensive for a company to do it. You need one person or two people, and you need some blocks, and you need some swings and some toys," Trump said. "It's not an expensive thing, and I do it all over. And I get great people because of it. Because it's a problem with a lot of other companies."

Trump pointed specifically to two programs: "They call 'em Trump Kids. Another one calls it Trumpeteers, if you can believe it.1 I have 'em. I actually have 'em, because I have a lot of different businesses."

I don't have to tell you how this story ends, do I? These two programs aren't for his employees. They're for guests at his hotels and golf resorts who want to pay for child care while they're out on the town or hitting the links. Trump does not, in fact, provide child care for any of his employees.

I dunno. Do you think he was lying? Or did he really not know? I could go either way.

1Yeah, I can believe it.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that NBC is the worst Olympics broadcaster ever in history. Todd VanDerWerff explains why NBC is so bad today, and I was curious to finally read a serious take on the subject. So what does he tell us?

First, there's a bit of pro forma stuff about the broadcasts being racist and sexist, which I think we can safely ignore. Then VanDerWerff complains that NBC spends too much time on "tired storylines" about the athletes instead of just airing the damn sports. That's odd. Is he watching the same Olympics I am? I've been surprised at the lack of canned mini-docs about the athletes and their families. It's true that the ones I've seen are mostly gauzy feel-good stories—which VanDerWerff compares to the "homey, forced folksiness of a Ronald Reagan campaign ad"—but that's hardly an NBC sin. Every sports network in America relies on this kind of thing.1

Beyond that, there seem to be three main complaints about NBC's coverage of the Olympics:

  • They're tape delayed.
  • They're too America-centric.2
  • They're too edited. We want to see all the downtime between races!

I have opinions about all this, but it occurs to me that I should first take a poll. I know I have readers in other countries, and I'd like to know what the prime time coverage of the Olympics is like elsewhere. So let me know in comments. Are they tape-delayed? Are they oriented toward hometown athletes? Do the events get edited to remove dead time?

There's no need to exaggerate or get outraged. Just the facts, please. What is prime time coverage like in your country?

1And needless to say, this was invented by ABC, with its "Up Close and Personal" coverage of the Olympics in the 70s.

2Obviously this is easier for some countries than for others. If you're broadcasting from Denmark, there just aren't all that many medal-contenders to focus on.

Nobody Wants to Talk About the P-Word

The New York Times reports that neither major candidate for president is talking much about the poor:

Mrs. Clinton, who is scheduled to speak about her economic plans on Thursday near Detroit, is campaigning as an advocate for middle-class families whose fortunes have flagged. She has said much less about helping the millions of Americans who yearn to reach the middle class.

Her Republican rival, Donald J. Trump, spoke in Detroit on his economic proposals three days ago, and while their platforms are markedly different in details and emphasis, the candidates have this in common: Both promise to help Americans find jobs; neither has said much about helping people while they are not working.

“We don’t have a full-voiced condemnation of the level or extent of poverty in America today,” said Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of sociology. “We aren’t having in our presidential debate right now a serious conversation about the fact that we are the richest democracy in the world, with the most poverty. It should be at the very top of the agenda.”

Is that true? Pretty much. OECD numbers on poverty are fairly simplistic, but they provide a decent look at which rich countries have the most people in poverty after you account for social welfare payments. Greece edges us out for the top spot, but only barely. That's really something when you consider just what Greece has been through lately.

I noted a few months ago that even Bernie Sanders didn't talk too much about poverty during his campaign. Everybody seems to have either given up on it or else decided that it's a campaign loser, so they shouldn't talk about it. Sadly, I suspect they're right.

Bob Woodward says that Donald Trump isn't the only one using "excessive rhetoric" these days. Hillary supporters are doing it too:

He went on to cite a Wednesday column by New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who wrote Trump’s children “should be ashamed” of their father for his remark about “Second Amendment people” and called the GOP nominee “a disgusting human being.”

Friedman’s opinion of Trump as “disgusting” is a “reasonable opinion,” Woodward said, but said he couldn’t recall another time in 40 years of covering politics when someone violated the “zone of protection” generally respected for candidates’ children.

“That makes no sense. So, the excess is feeding both sides on this,” he said.

Um, these are "children" in their thirties who are actively part of Trump's campaign—actively lying, actively giving interviews, and actively telling anyone who will listen that Donald will be the best president in history. It so happens that I'd normally give them a pass anyway—I nearly always give family members a pass for supporting their kinfolk—but if you get into the arena, then you're in the arena.

Anyway, Friedman was right: the Trump kids should be ashamed of their father. He's still Dad, and they still love him, and that's fine. But they should still be ashamed of him.

Glenn Kessler landed himself in the perfect storm this morning: a tale of (a) Trump largesse, (b) told by Sean Hannity, and (c) confirmed by the Trump campaign. Already, you know it's a lie. There are not enough Pinocchios in the world for something like this.

Not that it matters, but this particular fairy tale is about Trump sending his private jet down to Camp Lejeune in 1991 to ferry home some Gulf War soldiers whose military flight had been FUBARed. We all know perfectly well that Trump would never do something like this unless there was some kind of massive publicity tied to it, because Trump never engages in any charitable act unless there's something in it for him. So it's already about 99 percent likely to be fiction.

Sure enough, it turns out that the real story is just a demonstration of Trump's lousy business judgment—something far more common than Trump's acts of charity. When he bought the Eastern Shuttle in 1989 and turned it into the Trump Shuttle, he negotiated a terrible deal. Not only did he overpay, but he also accepted five extra planes he didn't need instead of a lower purchase price. So the Army leased the planes from him and used them for various tasks in order to free up military planes. In 1991, they were assigned to ferry troops home from Camp Lejeune.

Does this matter? I suppose not, compared with insulting a Hispanic judge, attacking a Muslim family that lost a son in Iraq, and expressing his hope that someone will murder Hillary Clinton. But it's sort of Trump in a nutshell: Take credit for a charitable act even though it's a flat-out lie that's trivially easy to fact-check and debunk. He doesn't care. He know that guys like Sean Hannity will hype it to his credulous Fox News audience, and none of them will ever read Glenn Kessler. And if they do find out it was a lie, they won't care. Trump 2016!

I award this story 58 gazillion Pinocchios.

Feds Move to Open Up Marijuana Research

Drug policy expert Mark Kleiman has been telling me for years that the biggest obstacle to high-quality research on marijuana is the fact that there's only one authorized supply source for legitimate medical studies. So I'm totally prepped to see this as good news:

For years, the University of Mississippi has been the only institution authorized to grow the drug for use in medical studies. This restriction has so limited the supply of marijuana federally approved for research purposes that scientists said it could often take years to obtain it and in some cases it was impossible to get. But soon the Drug Enforcement Administration will allow other universities to apply to grow marijuana, three government officials said.

....“It will create a supply of research-grade marijuana that is diverse, but more importantly, it will be competitive and you will have growers motivated to meet the demand of researchers,” said John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

....The new policy does not set a cap on the number who could qualify. Any institution that has an approved research protocol and the security measures needed to store dangerous drugs can apply. Researchers will still have to receive approval from federal agencies to conduct medical studies of marijuana, including from the D.E.A. and the Food and Drug Administration.

It's about time. It's more or less insane that we have tons of research on opioids, which are far more dangerous and addictive than marijuana, but hardly any on cannabis. Is that because drug warriors have been afraid of what the research might show? Maybe—but it's a ridiculous concern. If cannabis turns out to be pretty useless, that's good to know. If it turns out to be helpful, that's even better to know. Either way, the more research the better.

Here is today's Twitterized version of the Trump Daily News:

This should make Trump's Secret Service detail eager to take a bullet for him if the need arises. I sure hope they're more professional than he is.

Grecophile Paul Glastris thinks we should stop moving the Olympics around and hold them permanently in Athens:

Part the reason for Greece’s debt crisis—and the continuing Depression-level economic hardships Greece is suffering under the jackboot of its European lenders, especially Germany—is the billions it borrowed to host the 2004 Olympics....Shifting the games every four years is also a colossal waste of human capital, as Christina Larson noted in the Washington Monthly back in 2004.

....In her article, Larson argued for going back to the original idea: pick a permanent place to host the Olympics. Greece, she said, was the obvious choice. (The first modern Olympics, in 1896, were in fact held in Athens, but in 1900, the founder of the modern games, Pierre de Coubertin, moved them in his native Paris, inaugurating the tradition of travelling games.)

Larson is right: there is an obvious choice. But it's not Athens, which, as Paul concedes, couldn't truly afford the games in 2004 and didn't exactly electrify the world with its hosting. The truly obvious choice is the city that has twice demonstrated it can host the Olympics both competently and on a reasonable budget: Los Angeles. It's a multicultural kind of place. It's midway between Asia and Europe. It has great weather. It's both a sports mecca and a show biz mecca. It has lots of great venues already available. And Angelenos are proud of their ability to put on a great Olympics spectacle without breaking the bank.

So LA it is. Now then: what city should permanently host the Winter Olympics?

As near as I can tell, pretty much everyone in America is on Donald Trump's email list. But just in case you're not one of the lucky ones, I thought I'd bring to your attention that Trump is having a big sale on Gold Executive Membership Cards:

During the past year, we have given them to especially generous and loyal patriots who can be trusted to guide our campaign and support us all the way through Election Day. So I want you to carry your own Donald J. Trump Gold Executive Membership Card.

....Only supporters who have donated $100 or more are carrying these Executive Membership Cards. But Kevin, I know you can bring a lot to our team, so if you’ll donate just $35, I will make sure you get your own personalized Gold Executive Membership Card.

You can keep it in your wallet right next to your Trump Decoder Ring (everything decodes to "the media is against me").

We'll Have Self-Driving Cars By 2025

Atrios takes to the podium once again to insist that self-driving cars are just a pipe dream of nerdy cultists:

If the driver has to pay attention it isn't a self-driving car. And the self-driving cars are never going to happen (in my lifetime, yes, yes, one day our descendants might upload their brains into self-driving car bodies). Things which are a bit more self-driving but are really just cruise control plus will become more widespread and the technology will improve. They still won't be self-driving cars....Maybe you'll like your new toys, but they won't be self-driving cars.

After reading several dozen similar posts over the past couple of years, I guess I'm curious: why is he so convinced that self-driving cars are impossible in our lifetime? I happen to be on the other side of this question, and since neither one of us is an expert in artificial intelligence I'll offer up three non-expert reasons to think that self-driving cars will become a reality in the next decade or so:

  • Computing power, and AI in general, continues to improve rapidly. The progress in self-driving cars has been eye-popping over the past ten years. Why should the next ten years be any different?
  • And it's not just AI. Enabling technologies—mapping, radar, machine vision, etc.—are getting better rapidly too. Keep in mind that cars aren't limited to either the senses that humans use to drive a car or to the cognitive algorithms we use. They have additional technology that humans can't make use of.
  • Lots of companies are spending a ton of money on this. If it were just Google, that would be one thing. But can a dozen auto manufacturers, mostly run by distinctly non-nerdy bean counters, all be so bedazzled by the technology that they're wasting millions of dollars year after year chasing after a chimera?

If you want to say that five or ten years is too optimistic, fine. Maybe it's more like 15 years. Or even 20. But 50? What's the argument for thinking the technology is that far away?