I am, of course, familiar with the hipster love of music on vinyl. But I didn't know that cassette tapes were making a comeback too:

Many people over 30 remember cassettes, with nostalgia, if not some disdain....Go to any indie show and inevitably, among the T-shirts and knickknacks, there will be tapes. Some record labels are now cassette-only. The National Audio Co., America’s largest manufacturer of audiocassettes, reported that 2014 was its best year yet.

But before the revisionists completely rewrite my adolescence, let’s be clear about something: As a format for recorded sound, the cassette tape is a terrible piece of technology....Each time you play one it degrades. Bad sound gets worse. Casings crack in winter, melt in summer.

Craziness. The only reason anyone liked cassettes back in the day was because they were better than 8-track tapes. When I was in college, you could hardly turn a corner without hearing an earnest conversation about Maxell vs. TDK,1 Dolby vs. Dolby C, chrome vs. metal, 60 minutes vs. 90 minutes.2 But those conversations only existed because everyone also understood that cassette tapes fundamentally sucked. There was lots of innovation, but it was all just part of a desperate attempt to improve the sound of a format that was inherently lousy because the tape was just too damn narrow. There's a limit to what you can do when you cram four audio tracks onto eighth-inch analog tape.

But lots of people today have forgotten about all that, I guess. Oh well. I'm pretty convinced that about 90 percent of the population couldn't tell the difference between music played on half-inch reference tape and music played on a Teddy Ruxpin doll.3 So I suppose it doesn't matter.

Still, cassettes? Seriously folks: a thumb drive is better in every conceivable way. Don't get sucked in.

1I was a Maxell guy. I have no idea why.

2No one who wanted to be taken seriously ever considered 120-minute cassettes. And for good reason: they were just too fragile.

3This quite likely includes me.

The folks at the Tax Policy Center have spurned my advice to spend more time with their families, instead spending their holiday weekends beavering away on an analysis of Donald Trump's tax plan. And the important news is that it's bigger, more energetic, and altogether more taxerrific than Jeb Bush's weak-tea excuse for a tax plan. Bush would increase the national debt by 28 percentage points over the next decade. Trump kills it with a 39 point increase in red ink. Bush raises the federal deficit by $1 trillion in 2026. Trump goes big and increases it by $1.6 trillion. Bush's plan costs $6.8 trillion over ten years. Trump's plan clocks in at a budget-busting $9.5 trillion. And Bush reduces the tax rate of the super-rich by a meager 7.6 percent. Trump buries him by slashing tax rates for the Wall Street set by 12.5 percent.

Once again, Bush has brought a knife to a gun fight, and Trump has slapped him silly. This is why Trump is a winner. Merry Christmas, billionaires!

Republicans Aren't Delusional, Just Dishonest

Today Jon Chait writes what must be about the millionth blog post explaining that nearly all conservative criticisms of Obamacare are wildly cherry-picked and intentionally deceptive. In fact, Obamacare is doing pretty well. Not that it matters. Nothing Chait says will have any effect because conservatives just don't care. Obamacare is bad because it taxes rich people and provides health care to poor people. All the rest is just chaff.

Take this paragraph, for example. It's about the Cadillac Tax, which partially removes the tax-exempt status of high-end health plans as a way of trying to rein in costs. It was supposed to take effect in 2018, but it's now been moved out to 2020 because everyone1 hates it:

As bad as this news is for Obamacare, it’s absolutely catastrophic for Obamacare replacements. Every Republican plan to replace Obamacare relies on the same financing mechanism: limiting or repealing the tax break for employer-sponsored insurance. The Cadillac Tax is a smaller, more painless version of this same policy. If both parties can’t abide a partial rollback of the tax break for the most expensive health plans, they’re never, ever going to go along with eliminating the entire tax break for all health plans. The conservatives cackling over the demise of the Cadillac Tax are delusional — it’s as if they’re watching the backlash against the Iraq War in 2008 with fingers tented, anticipating that this will encourage war-weary Americans to support a land invasion of Russia. The bipartisan support for maintaining the tax break for employer insurance will hurt Obamacare, but it can survive. The Republican plans to replace it would all be wiped out.

This would be a devastating point—if all these conservative plans were actually serious. They aren't. Republicans haven't the slightest intention of ever enacting any of them. Their opposition to the Cadillac Tax doesn't show that they're delusional, it just shows that they've never taken their own plans seriously and couldn't care less if any of them ever see the light of day.

1Except for health wonks. But nobody cares about them.

Obama Ruined the Tea Party for All of Us

A friend draws my attention today to a piece by National Review editor Rich Lowry about—of course—the wild popularity of Donald Trump among tea partiers. Lowry waxes nostalgic for the early tea party days of 2010, when being a "constitutional conservative" was all the rage, and wonders where it all went:

Trump exists in a plane where there isn’t a Congress or a Constitution. There are no trade-offs or limits....He would deport the American-born children of illegal immigrants. He has mused about shutting down mosques and creating a database of Muslims. He praised FDR’s internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II.

You can be forgiven for thinking that in Trump’s world, constitutional niceties—indeed any constraints whatsoever—are for losers....For some on the right, clearly, the Constitution was an instrument rather than a principle. It was a means to stop Obama, and has been found lacking.

My friend snickers at Lowry's use of some, which does a whole lot of heavy lifting here. Technically, though, 95 percent is still some, so this is accurate. But a wee bit misleading, no? Anyway, this leads Lowry into an argument that, really, Trump is just Obama 2.0:

Trump is a reaction to Obama’s weakness but also to his exaggerated view of executive power....Whereas Obama has a cool contempt for his political opponents and for limits on his power, Trump has a burning contempt for them. The affect is different; the attitude is the same.

....A hallmark of Obama’s governance has been to say that he lacks the power to act unilaterally on a given issue, and then do it anyway. Progressives have been perfectly willing to bless Obama’s post-constitutional government. Trump’s implicit promise is to respond in kind, and his supporters think it’s about time.

Uh huh. So far, Obama has done OK in the Supreme Court, but no matter. Tea partiers believe Obama goes to sleep each night not by counting sheep, but by counting bonfires of Constitutions. Or, as Lowry admits, they pretend to believe this. In reality, it's just a handy way to oppose Obama's liberal policies.

Now, it's never been clear to me why you need this kind of charade. Why not just oppose Obama's liberal policies because they're no good? I suppose it's mainly a palliative for the rubes, who don't like to think of themselves as meanspirited folks who dislike paying taxes to help the less fortunate. Instead, they can complain that Obama's policies are unconstitutional; or that he's running up dangerous levels of debt; or that he's turning America into sclerotic old Europe. That sounds a lot nicer.

Anyway, Lowry's actual goal in this piece is to come up with conservative arguments against Trump. That's the Lord's work, even if "Obama 2.0" seems a little unlikely to catch on. What's more, I seem to recall that he's a cat person in an office jampacked with dog people. And Christmas is right around the corner. So I'll call a truce. No more writing about Donald Trump until Christmas is over. We all deserve a break.

How Far Do You Live From Your Mother?

According to Google Maps, I live 13.64 miles from my mother. This is less than the median of 18 miles for American adults:

The biggest determinants of how far people venture from home are education and income. Those with college and professional degrees are much more likely to live far from their parents than those with a high school education, in part because they have more job opportunities elsewhere, including in big cities.

....Families live closest in the Northeast and the South, and farthest apart on the West Coast and in the Mountain States. Part of the reason is probably cultural — Western families have historically been the least rooted — but a large part is geographical. In denser areas, people live closer together than in rural areas.

Married couples live farther from their parents than unmarried people, and women are slightly more likely to leave their hometowns than men. Blacks are more likely to live near their parents than whites, while Latinos are no more likely to live near their parents, but more likely to live with them, according to data from Mr. Pollak and Janice Compton, an economist at the University of Manitoba.

How far do you live from your mother?

Photoshop Use Is Now Regulated in France

This is interesting:

In France last week, a bill was signed into law requiring that models show their employers a doctor's note certifying they're of a healthy weight....The statute also demands that magazines explicitly indicate any photographs that have been altered with an editing program, like Photoshop.

....Studies have shown that, out of all Western Europeans, French women have the lowest BMI, at 23.2. With 11 percent of French women considered "extremely thin," the government has spent the better part of 2015 trying to curb its anorexia epidemic. In March, the country passed legislation criminalizing "pro-anorexia" and "thinspiration" websites, promising to slap perpetrators with a €10,000 fine ($10,800) and one year in prison.

France isn't the first country to impose such a law. In 2012, Israel banished too-thin models from starring in advertisement photos. Similar measures were undertaken in Spain and Italy in 2006, where underweight models are now prohibited from walking the catwalk in fashion shows.

I knew about the new law in France that requires a doctor's note for models, but I had no idea about the rest of this stuff. The Photoshop thing is certainly intriguing. I wonder if French fashion magazines will start putting notices on every photo, or if they can get away with a single big warning in the Table of Contents?

Obamacare Continues to Do Pretty Well

Shorter Charles Gaba: For now, it still looks like Obamacare enrollment this year will end up at around 14.7 million. That's not bad, especially considering that fewer people are dropping out of employer plans than expected.

For everyone except die-hard conservatives who are driven mad by the thought of poor people getting decent health care, this is a pretty good Christmas present. Enjoy it.

Our long national nightmare is nearly over:

Happy holidays from the Beatles: As of 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 24, the band’s music will finally be available on streaming services worldwide.

...The surviving members of the group, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with Universal Music Group, which controls the band’s recorded music, made no statements other than the fact that the Beatles’ catalog — 13 original albums and four compilations — will now be playable on nine subscription streaming music services.

Maybe I need to try one of these newfangled streaming thingies someday. I've heard rumors that music has continued to be produced over the past 30 years, and I suppose I should investigate that.

So: Beatles or Stones? Which are you?

Donald Trump Is a Germaphobe

I assume everyone knows this about Donald Trump, right?

A self-confessed germaphobe, Trump doesn’t even like to push a ground floor elevator button because it’s been tapped by so many people....This does not sit well with the masses, let alone the PTA crowd. Trump especially avoids shaking hands with teachers, since they are likely to be have been “in touch” with too many germy kids.

It's no wonder that he finds it disgusting to even contemplate someone's use of the bathroom. I can only imagine what Trump thinks of having to use public facilities himself—assuming he ever does. Maybe he always holds it in until he can make it back to the gold-plated lav on his plane.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 2015

I've wanted to use this headline1 for a long time, and now I have. I guess I could just end this post right there, or maybe ramble on about how Hunter S. Thompson's 1972 collection of campaign reporting was one of the books that got me interested in politics in the first place. Me and a million others, I suppose.

But no. I actually have a point to make, and I will get around to making it, I promise. First, though, I'm turning over the mic2 to my great-grandblogger3 Martin Longman. He was bemused by blogger Tom Maguire's casual acceptance that fear is a perfectly reasonable emotion to exploit in a political campaign:

At first, I was offended. Then I realized that we’re both probably correct in our own way, but with limitations.

I’m sure if I challenged him, Maguire would recite countless examples of Democratic politicians exploiting the fears of the electorate. These would be fears about the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, or fears about NSA surveillance, or fears about grandma losing her Medicare or Social Security....I think this is different in kind, though, than using fear itself as a political tool....What’s really bad, in my opinion, is to deliberately increase people’s sense of insecurity not primarily so that they will demand policies to keep them safe but to make them more inclined to vote for you and your political party. Making people afraid for political gain is cynical and almost cruel.

As Longman suggests, this is a mighty thin line to draw, and I'm not sure it's the right line anyway. Here's the thing that liberals tend not to want to accept: different people evaluate threats in far different ways. This is not right or wrong. It's just human nature.

I tend to be almost absurdly non-fearful, for example. This is not because I'm brave in the usual sense: I run from fights at the first opportunity and I have no idea if I'd rescue a drowning child from a watery maelstrom. I'm talking about more abstract fears. Should you be afraid of being mugged? Afraid of terror attacks? Afraid of earthquakes?6 In my case, I never even bother getting out of bed if I feel an earthquake. I just roll over and wait for it to stop.

This is, by almost any measure, stupid. Sure, most earthquakes around here are fairly small. But not all of them. Wouldn't it make sense to at least hop out of bed and get ready in case my house starts to collapse? Yes it would. I'm putting my life in danger by underplaying the threat.

So who has the more correct view of national security threats, liberals or conservatives? As it happens, liberals tend to feel less threatened than conservatives by danger from others, something that we paid a big political price for when we ignored the huge rise in violent crime in the 60s and 70s. Conservatives tend to respond more strongly to threats from others, something that they paid a political price for in the aftermath of the Iraq War. In the first case, conservatives understood the reality better. In the second case, liberals did.

This is not because conservatives were smarter the first time and we were smarter the second time. It's because, at a very deep level, we react to threats differently. There's no purely objective way to decide who's right and who's wrong in any particular case, but I think you can reasonably say that sometimes conservatives are closer to right and sometimes liberals are closer to right.

So what's the right response to terrorist attacks? I can't even imagine being personally afraid of one. The odds of being targeted by some insane jihadist are astronomical. But a vast number of people feel very, very differently.7 At a gut level, they're afraid that what happened in Paris and San Bernardino could happen to them—and they want something done about it. Are they right? Or am I right? Who can say?

But that's why conservatives are exploiting this fear. Conservatives consider terror attacks a serious and alarming threat. Liberals tend not to, which is why our politicians mostly adopt a pretty even tone about them. In both cases, this response is politically useful. Mainly, though, it's genuinely how they feel. Conservatives really do feel threatened. Liberals really don't.

Keep this in mind. It's not a sham. It's not just cynicism. I happen to think conservatives are wrong about this, and I think their campaign-trail exploitation of terrorist fear has gone far beyond anything even remotely reasonable. But at its core, this is a real disagreement. How safe are we and what should we do to increase our safety? When you cut through the bombast, there's a very hard, very bright, very deep, and very human core of division here. And there's no guarantee that you or your tribe has the right take on it.

1Yes, I know I've punctuated it differently than the book.

2Even though I'm officially an old person, I am adopting the Washington Post dictum that mike is no longer acceptable shorthand for microphone in modern America. It lives on in the NATO alphabet, though.

3Longman4 is my third successor as blogger at the Washington Monthly.

4Or "Phil's brother," as his closest friends call him.5

5That's just a joke. Martin is Phil Longman's brother.

6Needless to say, this depends a lot on circumstances. Women in dangerous neighborhoods are quite legitimately more afraid of being mugged than men in the suburbs. People living in Beirut are more afraid of terror attacks than people in Atlanta. People in Tokyo are more afraid of earthquakes than people in London. Still, we can reasonably talk about averages here.

7This is clear both anecdotally and via polling. I know personally plenty of people who are afraid of a terrorist attack. And recent polls are quite clear that a large majority of Americans are concerned about further attacks.