Fake news

If you haven’t heard about the fake news story, “Pizzagate,” you can search for it on Google, or read this article at the New York Times. The rumor was basically that a pedophile ring was operating out of a pizzeria linked somehow to Hillary Clinton. It was just one more nutty story circulating on the Internet, like the secret tunnels connecting Walmart stores, internment camp trains, and President Obama’s plans to invoke martial law rather than leave office. The story got serious when a fellow showed up at the pizzeria with an assault rifle, fired a shot, and announced he was investigating. That followed a string of harassment and death threats directed at the restaurant. This story might have been funny, but then the shooting started.

The problem is that some part of the population appears ill-equipped to deal with the barrage of information from the Internet, where a respected news web site looks very much like a fake news site, where bad actors, foreign governments, criminals, pranksters and political operatives abound. Charts and graphs are published by non-existent organizations that have official-sounding, but made up names. I am appalled that my own friends repeat fake news on Facebook. There are people who reflexively disbelieve any established news or governmental source, but then latch on to crazy stories from the likes of Alex Jones and his InfoWars brand. At least some have suggested that Donald Trump would not have been elected president without fake news.

Some have suggested that Facebook censor fake news. Facebook, in return, has agreed to cut off advertising revenue through Facebook to fake news sites. I don’t think that will have any effect. I personally spend a lot of time debunking these stories on Facebook and try to embarrass the people who spread them.

Critical thinking and evaluating the reliability of sources is something that we as parents should teach our children, and it should be a core mission of schools. Unfortunately, many of our parents and teachers lack the skills themselves.

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An open letter to Senator Graham

Dear Senator Graham:

I, and I think many of my neighbors, are anxious these days in the wake of the recent election of Donald Trump. I am concerned that a Trump administration will not respect the basic rights of Americans, hurt the most vulnerable of our citizens, and take the country along a destructive path relative to the environment.

For example, Donald Trump recently tweeted a suggestion that people who burn the American flag lose their citizenship. You went to law school. You know that there is no way under the US Constitution to take away someone’s citizenship (unless obtained fraudulently). I’m no fan of flag burning, but the Constitution must be followed.

Trump is taking the lead from Alex Jones, one of the nuttiest crackpot conspiracy theorists on the Internet, on several issues including his unsubstantiated claim of massive voting by illegal immigrants. And this nonsense about climate change being a Chinese hoax? And don’t forget that until recently Trump was a birther!

The rule of law, science, common decency and competence go beyond party lines and political differences. I hope that you and your fellow senators will provide checks and balances against the most extreme excesses of any executive, and particular the poorly-prepared one we just elected. I hope you will not rubber stamp incompetent and extremist nominees for executive positions and the courts.

I want President Trump to succeed and I want America to be great under his leadership. He’s going to need a lot of help doing that. Please help.

Sincerely,

Kevin Davidson

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Will Donald Trump release his tax returns when he becomes president?

I was looking at President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s federal income tax return from 1937 just now. It’s a quaint historical document. Roosevelt is the first president to my knowledge for which we have income tax returns. He didn’t release them during his presidency, but they were made available through his presidential library later, 25-years worth of them. President Truman released his returns during his presidency, as did Nixon, Ford (summary), Carter, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Cheney, George W. Bush, Biden and Obama (years 2000-2016).

Add to that the tax returns of presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton (16 year worth), Cruz, Fiorina, Kaine, Kasich, Pence, Rubio, Sanders, Stern, Romney, Ryan, Gingrich, Santorum, McCain and Palin, to name some readily available ones.

Much was said about Donald Trump’s refusal to release tax returns as a candidate, despite a strong precedent. Will Trump now follow the presidential precedent to release tax returns? Particularly for a president with extensive financial holdings, it would seem important for the public to know whether their leader is working for them or for himself. As NPR’s Peter Overby said: Donald Trump brings “to the White House a unique potential for conflicts of interest.”

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Video: self-driving car

This video, showing the hardware now shipping on every new Tesla Model S and Model X, plus self-driving software scheduled to be available by the end of next year, just blew me away.

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Prius to Tesla Transition Part 4 – Transition complete

It’s been quite a week. I drove the car home, and then did all the things I normally do with a car. As I become more familiar with the car, I like it a lot more.

Summon

One of the big sighs of relief came when I found that the car was able to park itself in my garage, something I found difficult to do myself. Now I can monitor parking from outside the car with a perfect view of everything. Should something go wrong, I can abort the process with a press of the key fob. I just wish I had tried that sooner.

Interest

Within 25 miles of where I live is the BMW factory and the North American Headquarters for Michelin (also an R&D facility). There are lots of car people around, and a lot of BMW’s on the road, a surprising number to me. Whether it’s my peculiar geographical location or something else, my car is turning heads. I drive conservatively, +5 MPH on the Interstate, and when cars pass me I see some rather extreme head turns. One Audi driver turned his head, and I could see him catching me in his rear view mirror. I was at the county recycling facility dumping paper and plastic. The fellow parked next to me said that he had taken a test drive in a Model S, and owning one was on his bucket list. I’ve had at least four people ask me about the car in detail. I had no idea that so many people are interested in Tesla.

Music

In the Prius, even though it had the premium JBL sound system and a 6-CD changer, I rarely listened to music, rather more to news radio (NPR) and audio books on a long trip. This morning on the way to church I asked the Model S to play some songs by Enya, and it dutifully streamed some from the Internet. The combination of the smooth driving, the low noise, and the smooth music was a very pleasurable combination. I own a fair amount of music, mostly classical, and I plan to put it on a flash drive and listen while I’m driving on the Interstate.

Prius compatibility

I turned off Mild Regeneration and Creep, things that make the car drive more like a Prius. I’m starting to accelerate more briskly than I did with the Prius. I washed the Tesla, something I rarely did with the Prius. I’m still interested in mileage, in this case reduced energy consumption per mile. Today I passed 500 on the odometer.  My average consumption is 274 W-hr/mi. That’s better than the EPA combined estimate. I don’t know whether it is just the kind of driving I do, or if I am just an energy-efficient driver having driven a Prius with it’s energy consumption displays for 12 years. Whatever it is, it pleases me. I have removed the Energy app from the Instrument Panel (it was usually on in the Prius unless navigating) as not providing any information I need. I ended up doing what most Tesla photos show: I put the Music app on the Panel, something I didn’t think I would do.

Transition complete

As of today, I declare my transition complete. The only thing I have left to do with the Prius is to find out how much it sold for, and deduct the donation on my taxes. To answer the question I raised in my first post in the transition series: if I had it to do over, I would have not gotten the air suspension, and I would have gotten the all-wheel drive version. Maybe I would have gotten red too, like my old Prius.

Update:

The Prius sold for $4,200.

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