Sunday, December 15

Capitalism, Disconnected from Human Needs

From Doctor Zhivago:

"Deals were made on the scale of the turnover of a rag and bone merchant in a flea market and their pettiness led to profiteering and speculation. No new wealth was created by these transactions and they did nothing to relieve the squalor of the town, but fortunes were made out of the futile selling and reselling of goods already sold a dozen times over."

Thursday, December 5

Hero.

In a park near my home is a plaque that reads:

"We honor all those who fought for our community."

There is probably a similar plaque near you. I would be more proud to live in a community with a plaque that read:

"We honor those who fought against our community when it was wrong."

On Snowden.

Monday, December 2

The Gulf Between Planning and Reality

Like all organizational models, waterfall is mainly a theory of collaboration. By putting the most serious planning at the beginning, with subsequent work derived from the plan, the waterfall method amounts to a pledge by all parties not to learn anything while doing the actual work.
Thoughts on failures of management, how failure needs to be an option for new entities, how the preferred method for project planning in Washington increases the liklihood of disaster, and more.

Via Arnold Kling's blog, which had this relevant observation:
When a large organization, such as government or a legacy media organization, undertakes a new initiative, they are in effect starting a new business. Most start-ups fail, so that failure is in fact the most likely outcome.

Tuesday, November 19

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!

Friday, November 15

Open Minds

In the committee's draft of the "guiding principles" was something about "Intellectual and creative skills." A bunch of people objected to the word "skills." We're a liberal arts college, they reasoned, we don't teach skills. One person argued that teaching "skills" would implicate us in the depredations of capitalism. Skills is now out. The new word is "competencies." No one is happy with it.

Dear me.
On higher education and vocation, with related bonus insight on the open mindedness of liberal arts.

Wednesday, November 13

Well said.

The problem here isn't that we think Richard Cohen gags at the sight of an interracial couple and their children. The problem is that Richard Cohen thinks being repulsed isn't actually racist, but "conventional" or "culturally conservative." Obstructing the right of black humans and white humans to form families is a central feature of American racism. If retching at the thought of that right being exercised isn't racism, then there is no racism.

Thursday, September 26

We're all in this together

"No person, I think, ever saw a herd of buffalo, of which a few were fat and the great majority lean. No person ever saw a flock of birds, of which two or three were swimming in grease, and the others all skin and bone." — Henry George, American political economist (1839-1897)

Wednesday, September 18

The Hacker Spirit

The Hacker Spirit is:

  • Exploiting a system, but never in an illegal, harmful or immoral way.
  • Working smart, not just working hard; getting the most output for the least energy.
  • Being like water, which always finds the path of least resistance to the sea.
  • Using all the tricks of the trade to your advantage.

To be continued…

Saturday, August 17

Individuality is an "optical delusion of consciousness"

"A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty."

- Albert Einstein

Wednesday, August 14

Do increases in federal spending on student financial aid drive up college tuitions?

Some evidence the answer is yes.
In a complex system a clear answer will be elusive but there are good reasons to think more money is not the answer to all higher education schooling problems.
Some schools have interests in things other than learning, too.

Thursday, August 8

Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am.

From 'The World I Live In' by Hellen Keller, Page 37
Before my teacher came to me, I did not know that I am. I lived in a world that was a no-world. I cannot hope to describe adequately that unconscious, yet conscious time of nothingness. I did not know that I knew aught, or that I lived or acted or desired. I had neither will nor intellect. I was carried along to objects and acts by a certain blind natural impetus. I had a mind which caused me to feel anger, satisfaction, desire...
When I wanted anything I liked,--ice-cream, for instance, of which I was very fond,--I had a delicious taste on my tongue (which, by the way, I never have now), and in my hand I felt the turning of the freezer. I made the sign, and my mother knew I wanted ice-cream. I "thought" and desired in my fingers.

Friday, July 26

Best and Brightest

Jordi Brandts and colleagues got a group of students to predict a sequence of five coin tosses, and then selected the best and the worst predictor. They then asked other subjects to bet on whether the best and worst predictor could predict another five coin tosses. The subjects were told that they would bet on the worst predictor from the first round, unless they paid to switch to the best predictor.

82% of subjects paid to make the switch.

But of course, there is no such thing as an ability to predict the toss of a coin. Most subjects, then, saw skill where there was only luck. And, what's more, they were willing to spend good money to back this daft opinion.

These people weren't just idiots plucked from the street. They were fourth year finance undergraduates at one of the best universities in Spain.
More.

The uncharitable interpretation is "they're innumerate idiots."
More charitable interpretations include: they were suspected a con, or that they were playing along for something else. However, for reasons listed at the above linked article, I'd bet on interpretation #1.

Thursday, July 18

Drug Shortages are Killing

Shortages of drugs, especially generic injectables, continue to cause significant harm to patients. A new Congressional report offers the best account to date of the shortages and provides details confirming [an] earlier post.

Wait, that was written in 2012. What since then? Deaths:

Because of nationwide shortages, Washington hospitals are rationing, hoarding, and bartering critical nutrients premature babies and other patients need to survive.

..At the time of this writing—some shortages come and go by the week—Atticus’s hospital is low on intravenous calcium, zinc, lipids (fat), protein, magnesium, multivitamins, and sodium phosphate; it’s completely out of copper, selenium, chromium, potassium phosphate, vitamin A, and potassium acetate. And so are many other hospitals and pharmacies in the country, leading to complications usually seen only in the developing world, if ever.

Why?

These shortages are not just a result of accident, error or unusual circumstance, the number of drugs in short supply has risen steadily since 2006. The shortages arise from a combination of systematic factors, among them the policies of the FDA. The FDA has inadvertently caused drugs long-used in the United States to be withdrawn from the market and its “Good Manufacturing Practice” rules have gummed up the drug production process and raised costs.

Osho: Sadness & Happiness

"Sadness gives depth. Happiness gives height. Sadness gives roots. Happiness gives branches. Happiness is like a tree going into the sky, and sadness is like the roots going down into the womb of the earth. Both are needed, and the higher a tree goes, the deeper it goes, simultaneously. The bigger the tree, the bigger will be its roots. In fact, it is always in proportion. That's its balance."

- Osho

Wednesday, July 3

The Republican War against Women Continues

Short term GOP "victories" that will drive yet another nail into the Republican coffin. First, Ohio:
"With the passage of Ohio's new state budget, women in that state have lost access to low-cost family planning services, access to public hospitals during a health emergency and their right to privacy. … On Sunday night, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 59, the new $62 billion state budget that includes a $2.7 billion tax cut and increases the sales tax rate from 5.5 percent to 5.75 percent, WLWT.com reported. … The budget also included several controversial anti-abortion measures, including one that will force any woman seeking an abortion to undergo a trans-abdominal ultrasound." (link)
And next, we have North Carolina, where Republicans have been caught attaching a set of radical anti-abortion measures to a bill claiming to be about banning Sharia Law:


Sneaky. 

Tuesday, July 2

Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world? Four different answers.

From "For God's Sake: An Atheist, A Jew, a Christian and a Muslim Debate Religion":
Rachel Woodlock (Islam): Religion, unfortunately, provides a useful cover and powerful motivator for the evil-hearted. That religion can be so markedly different in the hands of the power-hungry, as opposed to the altruistic and virtuous, really says more about human psychology than it does about religion. That's why so many human conflicts unfortunately involve religion.
Antony Loewenstein (Judaism): I've been guilty of claiming religion is the source of the world's evils, but it's a careless comment. It's far too easy to blame the Muslim faith for honour killings. I'm under no illusion about the fact that religion is routinely used to justify the more heinous crimes. But the 20th century is filled with examples, namely Stalin's Soviet Union and Mao's China, that didn't need God as an excuse to commit genocide against a state's own people.
Jane Caro (Atheism): …human beings are generally only prepared to fight and kill in the name of something. It can be a god, but it can also be a political philosophy – like nazism or communism. Many fight for patriotism: for country, tribe or race. Some kill because they're psychologically disturbed, but none – so far – in the name of atheism. … So, while I don't agree that only religion causes conflict, I'd argue that all mass murder and war are fought in the name of a bigger-than-self philosophy or idea. Atheism, simply lack of belief in a god, has not yet proved compelling enough to motivate murder. So far no one has gone into a crowded public space and blown themselves up while shouting, "No god is great!".
Simon Smart (Christianity): Yale theologian Miroslav Volf argues that as far as Christianity goes, it will only be violent if it is stripped of its content— thinned out - and infused with a different set of values. The story of Jesus gives absolutely no warrant for violence. Any believer behaving that way is disobeying the one they claim to be following. … The answer, Volf argues, to violence perpetrated in the name of the Cross, is not less Christianity but more – Christianity that is not depleted of its meaning but full of its original moral content, which is at its heart non-violent and a force for good.
Doesn't religion cause most of the conflict in the world?

Monday, July 1

Class warfare: Targeting the least, who have no voice…and bombarding them with fees

Class warfare: Targeting the least, who have no voice…big banks and Corporations have teamed up, forcing minimum wage workers to be paid through "prepaid" debit cards, which of course come with excessive fees.
"A growing number of American workers are confronting a frustrating predicament on payday: to get their wages, they must first pay a fee.
"For these largely hourly workers, paper paychecks and even direct deposit have been replaced by prepaid cards issued by their employers. Employees can use these cards, which work like debit cards, at an A.T.M. to withdraw their pay.
"But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.'s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.
"These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators."
Paid via Card, Workers Feel Sting of Fees (NYT)

Friday, June 28

Thursday, June 27

The IRS "scandal" was a scam, coordinated by Republicans

Matt Gertz writes:
"Monday's revelation that progressive as well as conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status had been singled out for review by the Internal Revenue Service left one pressing question: Why did the inspector general's report detailing improper scrutiny only mention conservative groups?
"Last night we got the answer: The IG only reported on conservative groups because that's what Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the notoriously partisan chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told him to do."
The IRS "Scandal" Was A Scam (Media Matters)

Wednesday, June 26

Supreme Court strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act

Majority opinion by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy:
"DOMA's principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their state, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state."
Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage With Two Major Rulings

Tuesday, June 25

"[Snowden] had a belief that what he was exposed to—U.S. actions in secret—were violating human rights and privacy on a very, very large scale."

John Cassidy in the New Yorker:
"To get a different perspective on Snowden and his disclosures, here's a portion of an interview that ABC—the Australian Broadcasting Company, not the Disney subsidiary—did today with Thomas Drake, another former N.S.A. employee, who, in 2010, was charged with espionage for revealing details about an electronic-eavesdropping project called Trailblazer, a precursor to Operation Prism, one of the programs that Snowden documented. (The felony cases against Drake, as my colleague Jane Mayer has written, eventually collapsed, and he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.)
"INTERVIEWER: Not everybody thinks Edward Snowden did the right thing. I presume you do…
"DRAKE: I consider Edward Snowden as a whistle-blower. I know some have called him a hero, some have called him a traitor. I focus on what he disclosed. I don't focus on him as a person. He had a belief that what he was exposed to—U.S. actions in secret—were violating human rights and privacy on a very, very large scale, far beyond anything that had been admitted to date by the government. In the public interest, he made that available.
"INTERVIEWER: What do you say to the argument, advanced by those with the opposite viewpoint to you, especially in the U.S. Congress and the White House, that Edward Snowden is a traitor who made a narcissistic decision that he personally had a right to decide what public information should be in the public domain?
"DRAKE: That's a government meme, a government cover—that's a government story. The government is desperate to not deal with the actual exposures, the content of the disclosures. Because they do reveal a vast, systemic, institutionalized, industrial-scale Leviathan surveillance state that has clearly gone far beyond the original mandate to deal with terrorism—far beyond."
Demonizing Edward Snowden: Which Side Are You On?

Friday, June 21

How Many Laws Did You Break Today?

I broke the law yesterday and again today and I will probably break the law tomorrow. Don’t mistake me, I have done nothing wrong. I don’t even know what laws I have broken. Nevertheless, I am reasonably confident that I have broken some laws, rules, or regulations recently because its hard for anyone to live today without breaking the law. Doubt me? Have you ever thrown out some junk mail that came to your house but was addressed to someone else? That’s a violation of federal law punishable by up to 5 years in prison.
...
If someone tracked you for a year are you confident that they would find no evidence of a crime? Remember, under the common law, mens rea, criminal intent, was a standard requirement for criminal prosecution but today that is typically no longer the case especially under federal criminal law.
The proliferation of laws and the rise of the surveillance state have made everyone a potential convict.

Thursday, June 20

The U.S. seems to be taking another step toward merging state and corporate power (i.e., Fascism)

Representative Alan Grayson comments on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a multi-national trade agreement that is currently being negotiated in secret by the United States and eleven other countries:
"The TPP is nicknamed 'NAFTA on steroids.'  Now that I've read it, I can see why. I can't tell you what's in the agreement, because the U.S. Trade Representative calls it classified. But I can tell you two things about it.
1)    There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.
2)    This agreement hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests.
3)    What they can't afford to tell the American public is that [the rest of this sentence is classified]." …
"It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it's alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has this to say about the TPP:
"TPP raises significant concerns about citizens' freedom of expression, due process, innovation, the future of the Internet's global infrastructure, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities. In sum, the TPP puts at risk some of the most fundamental rights that enable access to knowledge for the world's citizens."
First Congress Member Allowed to Read Secret Treaty Says "There Is No National Security Purpose In Keeping This Text Secret … This Agreement Hands The Sovereignty of Our Country Over to Corporate Interests"

Wednesday, June 19

A relinquishment of privacy not even George Orwell imagined

Peter Marks:
"The NSA leak reminds us - even as Google, Apple and Facebook protest their innocence - that surveillance today is integrated with commerce, something Orwell did not foresee. Again, many of us now know this, and many more are complicit, happily providing personal information in order to purchase over the web or connect to cyber communities.
"Our unpaid labour makes billions of dollars for many of these companies, and our credit card purchases supply information for many others, invaluable in planning, advertising and product development. Orwell has nothing specific to say on these matters. But Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's bluff assertion that privacy is no longer a social norm might usefully be judged against Nineteen Eighty-Four, where party members have no privacy. The novel supplies a means of thinking critically about what privacy means now and how or whether it will survive in the future."
Not even George Orwell envisaged this

Blinded by Good Intentions

Intriguing research on the cognitive biases and harmful effects of those convinced of the good of their own intentions.

Barbara Oakley describes "pathological altruism" - defined as "as behavior in which attempts to promote the welfare of another, or others, results instead in harm that an external observer would conclude was reasonably foreseeable."
...those possessing altruism bias would be most strongly biased to object to the very concept of altruism bias. Research has shown the near impossibility of reaching biased individuals using rational approaches, no matter their level of education or intelligence; such attempts can be likened to squaring the circle.
Many ancients understood this - the 'negative' version of the Golden Rule avoids the intervention bias of the positive one: "What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others." – Epictetus

Blog post on the research here. Paper here.

Tuesday, June 18

Our great, global cities are turning into vast gated citadels where the elite reproduces itself

Simon Kuper writes in the Financial Times:
"Global cities are turning into vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces itself. Elite members don’t live there for their jobs. They work virtually anyway. Rather, global cities are where they network with each other, and put their kids through their country’s best schools." …
"All through history, bright young people migrated to metropolises…To buy in these cities now, you must either earn a fortune or inherit a house there – and often the same people do both. Outsiders who reach the city late rarely have the education and contacts to succeed."
Priced out of Paris

"All students should master a verifiable set of skills, but not necessarily the same skills."

The second concern is justifying the Common Core on the highly dubious notion that college and career skills are the same. On its face, the idea is absurd. After all, do chefs, policemen, welders, hotel managers, professional baseball players and health technicians all require college skills for their careers? Do college students all require learning occupational skills in a wide array of careers? In making the "same skills" claim, proponents are really saying that college skills are necessary for all careers and not that large numbers of career skills are necessary for college.

How did this "same skills" idea emerge?
What is the value of what is taught in college? Who needs to learn what? When you spend your own $, you need to ask these questions of yourself and your school. When one is spending other people's money (taxes into student aid), one is also obliged to ask these questions without mercy.

Edit/Follow up -
A recent NY District Court ruling on unpaid internships prompts the clever post headline:
Paying to Learn Nothing = Legal
Paying Nothing to Learn = Illegal

(Short article and links to related)

Monday, June 17

The brutal truth: Most companies do their best to underpay qualified applicants

"There is a durable belief that much of today’s unemployment is rooted in a skills gap, in which good jobs go unfilled for lack of qualified applicants. This is mostly a corporate fiction, based in part on self-interest and a misreading of government data. … The biggest problem in the labor market is not a skills shortage; rather, it is a persistently weak economy where businesses do not have sufficient demand to justify adding employees." …
"Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School, has noted sharply different opinions between corporate executives, who typically say that schools are failing to give workers the skills they need, and the people who actually do the hiring, who say the real obstacles are traditional ones like lack of on-the-job experience. In addition, when there are many more applicants than jobs, employers tend to impose overexacting criteria and then wait for the perfect match. They also offer tightfisted pay packages. What employers describe as talent shortages are often failures to agree on salary. … If a business really needed workers, it would pay up."
Don’t Blame the Work Force (NYT)

Work, Schooling

"It's true that having a college diploma is still much better than not having a college diploma, but that doesn't mean that by sending more kids to school, we're actually making the workforce more productive, much less mitigating the problem of economic change; we may just be forcing people to jump over a higher bar to gain access to a shrinking number of jobs."
When Work Disappears

Education Schooling policy debate needs to grapple with signaling theory and the evidence of waste. The loss of work trend described in the quote/link above may or may not indicate permanent changes.

Friday, June 14

"Man is a moderately gregarious, not a completely social animal…"

"…biologically speaking, man is a moderately gregarious, not a completely social animal—a creature more like a wolf, let us say, or an elephant, than like a bee or an ant. In their original form human societies bore no resemblance to the hive or the ant heap; they were merely packs" … "If human beings were in fact the members of a truly social species…then, obviously, there would be no need for liberty and the State would be justified in persecuting the heretics who demanded it."
From Brave New World Revisted by Aldous Huxley

Thursday, June 13

"Is that really the country we want to be?"

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT):
"Intelligence agencies and law enforcement authorities need strong and effective tools to combat terrorism. But it is my very strong opinion that we can do that without living in an Orwellian world where the government and private corporations know every telephone call that we make, every website we visit, everyplace we go. Is that really the country we want to be?"
"An Orwellian World"

Wednesday, June 12

Students are reading less complex texts in school

Reading has become more 'accessible', but less intellectually challenging:
"Last year, almost all of the top 40 books read in grades nine through 12 were well below grade level. The most popular books, the three books in The Hunger Games series, were assessed to be at the fifth-grade level. … 'The complexity of texts students are being assigned to read,' Stickney says, 'has declined by about three grade levels over the past 100 years. A century ago, students were being assigned books with the complexity of around the ninth- or 10th-grade level. But in 2012, the average was around the sixth-grade level.'"
What Kids Are Reading, In School And Out (NPR)

Monday, June 10

We need whistle-blowers

Bruce Schneier writes:
"The U.S. government is on a secrecy binge. It overclassifies more information than ever. And we learn, again and again, that our government regularly classifies things not because they need to be secret, but because their release would be embarrassing.
"Knowing how the government spies on us is important. Not only because so much of it is illegal -- or, to be as charitable as possible, based on novel interpretations of the law -- but because we have a right to know. Democracy requires an informed citizenry in order to function properly, and transparency and accountability are essential parts of that. That means knowing what our government is doing to us, in our name. That means knowing that the government is operating within the constraints of the law. Otherwise, we're living in a police state.
"We need whistle-blowers."
Government Secrets and the Need for Whistle-blowers

Friday, June 7

Facepalm Friday: Conservatives don't like environmentally-friendly lightbulbs


A study conducted by Wharton and Duke University surveyed people on whether energy-efficient products were split along a political divide:
"'Our results demonstrated that a choice that wasn't ideologically polarizing without a ('protect the environment') label became polarizing when we included that environmental labeling,' Gromet said. 'We saw a significant drop-off in conservative people choosing to buy a more expensive, energy-efficient option.'"
Pro-Environment Light Bulb Labeling Turns Off Conservatives, Study Finds (National Geographic)

Thursday, June 6

The U.S. government is secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of Americans

Is everyone too worried about the state of the economy to be concerned about privacy loss and government surveillance, even of this magnitude?
"…for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.
"The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.
"Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered." …
"Julian Sanchez, a surveillance expert with the Cato Institute, explained: 'We've certainly seen the government increasingly strain the bounds of 'relevance' to collect large numbers of records at once — everyone at one or two degrees of separation from a target — but vacuuming all metadata up indiscriminately would be an extraordinary repudiation of any pretence of constraint or particularized suspicion.' The April order requested by the FBI and NSA does precisely that."
NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily (The Guardian)

Wednesday, June 5

Religion takes another victim

Freedom of religion should not extend to harmful religious actions. You can martyr yourself, but not your child.
"Two Philadelphia faith-healing churches have a long history of the youngest members of their congregation dying because parents refused medical care.
"Families who attend Faith Tabernacle Congregation in North Philadelphia and First Century Gospel Church in Juniata Park have lost more than two dozen children to illness since 1971, according to non-profit Children's Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, Inc. (CHILD, Inc.). Both churches believe in the power of prayer over modern medicine.
"The Schaibles are one of those families.
"Herbert and Catherine Schaible stand charged with third-degree murder and other crimes after their 7-month-old son Brandon died from bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and a group B streptococcus infection on April 18.
"Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams says the boy's death could have been prevented, but the couple instead turned to prayer.
"This is the second time the couple lost a child to illness. They were sentenced to 10 years probation after the 2009 death of their 2-year-old son Kent. Kent died after contracting pneumonia, an illness prosecutors said could have been prevented with basic medical care."
Faith-Healing Churches Linked to 2 Dozen Child Deaths

Tuesday, June 4

On morality, dominance and ignorance

Those that would impose their own personal view of morality on others depend on a general population that is trapped in ignorance…that knows no better. I am thankful that we live in an age of democratization of information—that any individual who wishes to can lift themselves out of the fog.

Monday, June 3

Proposed Noah's Ark theme park in Kentucky, eligible for tax incentives, wants to show the biblical Flood was plausible

Really, Kentucky? Tax incentives for a religious theme park?
"We're basically presenting what the Bible has to say and showing how plausible it was," said Patrick Marsh, design director for the park, which will feature a 500-foot-long wooden ark and other Old Testament attractions, including a Tower of Babel and a "Ten Plagues" ride. "This was a real piece of history - not just a story, not just a legend."
The project is currently in the design phase. Not enough private donations have come in to start construction, and building permits will not be ready until November, according to Ark Encounter co-founder and Senior Vice President Michael Zovath.
The project has $12.3 million in hand and $12.7 million more in committed donations; it needs $23 million more to start building the ark alone. Zovath does not know when that will happen.
Like Noah before the Flood, the builders are in a bit of a time crunch, since Kentucky tourism tax incentives for the project are set to expire in May 2014.
The longer it takes to start building the $150 million park, originally planned to open in spring 2014, the less the project stands to gain from the rebates, which allow it to receive up to 25 percent of project costs over 10 years from sales taxes generated by the business. ...
Barry Lynn, a United Church of Christ minister who heads Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said the planned park promotes "junk science."
"You don't pay for the ministry of people out of the taxpayer's collected dollars," said Lynn, who said his group will consider a lawsuit if the tax breaks for the ark ever kick in.
Noah's Ark theme park wants to show the Flood was "plausible"

Friday, May 31

Tesla Motors pays off its government loan…nine years early

MSNBC's Lawrence O’Donnell: "It turns out that if you give a bunch of intelligent innovators the seed money to conduct innovative research, the innovators will sometimes successfully innovate."


Full story (MSNBC)

Thursday, May 30

Michele Bachmann's legacy: Lies

Charles M. Blow writes in the New York Times:
"Bachmann built her celebrity on being acerbic and excessive, on throwing out accusations that she could not back up, on floating ideas that had no basis in fact. It worked for her, making her a household name and the butt of running jokes.
"There seemed to be nothing that she wouldn't say — and that her supporters wouldn't applaud her for saying — so long as it was mixed with nationalistic catchphrases like 'Constitution,' 'founders' and 'traditional,' and attacks on the president.
"The problem is that much of what she was saying — aside from not making sense — was simply false.
"According to PolitiFact, of the 59 statements by Bachmann that the site has checked since 2009, 44 (a whopping 75 percent) were mostly false or worse. A quarter met the criteria for the site’s worst rating: Pants on Fire. Ten percent were deemed half true, seven percent mostly true and only eight percent unambiguously true.
"According to The Washington Post fact checker:
"'Bachmann is not just fast and loose with the facts; she is consistently and unapologetically so. No other lawmaker earned as high a percentage of four-Pinocchio ratings as Bachmann — and she earned an average of more than three Pinocchios as a presidential candidate.'
"Four Pinocchios is The Post’s worst rating.
"The Associated Press has said that it had to put a quota on the number of statements by Bachmann that they would fact check during the presidential race, presumably to conserve resources."
Bachmann Bows Out (NYT)

Wednesday, May 29

Seems like a bad idea: Texas bans fire codes in the majority of its counties

Texas state law forbids 173 of Texas' 254 counties from adopting a fire code, based on population. Within those counties:
  • 150 have no full-time fire departments.
  • 137 have companies that use hazardous chemicals covered by a mandatory risk-management plan.
  • 47 have companies that use chemicals the U.S. Department of Homeland Security considers risks for terrorist or criminal misuse.
  • 26 have industries that rank among the top 100 toxic air polluters in Texas.
  • An undetermined number have chemicals that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says pose severe risks to workers and the public.

Tuesday, May 28

Deans vs Profs

"'Across U.S. higher education, nonclassroom costs have ballooned, administrative payrolls being a prime example. The number of employees hired by colleges and universities to manage or administer people, programs and regulations increased 50% faster than the number of instructors between 2001 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education says. It's part of the reason that tuition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has risen even faster than health-care costs.'
"That is to say, students have faced rapidly rising tuition costs not due to large increases in the cost of instruction, but mostly due to the dramatic, rapid growth of the university bureaucratic class, which offers nothing of obvious worth to the education of their universities' increasingly cash-strapped and indebted students."
Profs are fighting the wave of online learning by attacking the innovators, but the real reasons that universities are pricing themselves into extinction is the bloat at the top.

Friday, May 24

PBS drops a documentary called "Citizen Koch" because they feared the reaction of billionaire sponsor David Koch

From the Colbert Report:



PBS is one of the few truly great American institutions, and its cost is a drop in the bucket of the U.S. budget. The more that it must rely on private sponsors to survive, the more its quality and independence of programming will suffer.

Thursday, May 23

The freedom to believe, or not to believe, is a birthright of every human being

John Kerry, speaking at an event marking the release of the 2012 International Religious Freedom Report:
"…freedom of religion is not an American invention. It's a universal value. And it's enshrined in our Constitution and ingrained in every human heart. The freedom to profess and practice one's faith, to believe or not to believe, or to change one's beliefs, that is a birthright of every human being. And that's what we believe. These rights are rightly recognized under international law. The promotion of international religious freedom is a priority for President Obama, and it is a priority for me as Secretary of State. I am making certain, and will continue to, that religious freedom remains an integral part of our global diplomatic engagement."
Secretary of State John Kerry: Freedom to 'Not Believe' is a 'Birthright of Every Human Being'

Wednesday, May 22

Arizona state lawmaker quotes Carl Sagan instead of praying before session

This is great - Arizona State Rep. Juan Mendez (D) used the time ordinarily allocated for prayer before the House of Representatives' afternoon session to instead speak to more humanist ideals:
"Most prayers in this room begin with a request to bow your heads. I would like to ask you not to bow your heads. I would like to ask that you take a moment to look around the room at all of the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and of dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people of our state.
"This room in which there are many challenging debates, many moments of tension, of ideological division, of frustration. But this is also a room where, as my Secular Humanist tradition stresses, by the very fact of being human, we have much more in common than we have differences. We share the same spectrum of potential for care, for compassion, for fear, for joy, for love.
"Carl Sagan once wrote, 'For small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love.' There is, in the political process, much to bear. In this room, let us cherish and celebrate our shared humanness, our shared capacity for reason and compassion, our shared love for the people of our state, for our Constitution and for our democracy - and let us root our policy making process in these values that are relevant to all Arizonans regardless of religious belief or non-belief. In gratitude and in love, in reason and in compassion, let us work together for a better Arizona."
Atheist State Lawmaker Quotes Carl Sagan Instead of Doing Prayer Before House Session

Tuesday, May 21

Let the flip-flopping begin: Will Oklahoma senators who opposed federal disaster relief now ask for it?

"As frantic rescue missions continued Monday in Oklahoma following the catastrophic tornadoes that ripped through the state, it appeared increasingly likely that residents who lost homes and businesses would turn to the federal government for emergency disaster aid. That could put the state's two Republican senators in an awkward position.
"Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief."
Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe, Tom Coburn, Face Difficult Options On Disaster Relief

Monday, May 20

Disturbing: Hospitals and Patient-Dumping

Phillip Reese and Cynthia Hubert in the Sacremento Bee write:
"Years before a Las Vegas psychiatric hospital bused a homeless, schizophrenic man to Sacramento without arranging contacts or a plan for care, a different hospital ditched Gabino Olvera on Skid Row in Los Angeles.
"Olvera, homeless and paraplegic, still dressed in his hospital gown and connected to a catheter bag, was found dragging himself along a gutter in 2007.
"The case and others like it motivated the city of Los Angeles to adopt one of the toughest 'patient-dumping' laws in the nation.
"'It's just an abhorrent practice,' said Gil Cedillo, a candidate for Los Angeles City Council and former state senator who played a role in shaping his city's law. 'You can't just take someone from a facility and dump them downtown.'
One wonders just how common this practice is. The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services maintains a list of patient-dumping cases that have been settled here. This seems to me to be just one more symptom of a health-care system in serious need of reform.

Friday, May 17

Money must serve, not rule.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont has applauded Pope Francis for condemning the growing income inequality in the world:
"In a major speech at the Vatican on Thursday, Francis said the global financial system has worsened poverty while benefiting the wealthy few. 'While the income of the minority is increasing exponentially, that of the majority of the majority is crumbling,' Francis said.
"Sanders commended the pope. 'At a time when the gap between rich and everyone else is growing wider, at a time when Wall Street and large financial institutions are exerting extraordinary power over the American and world economy, I applaud the pope for speaking out on these enormously important issues,' Sanders said.
"The pope's comments on the financial crisis were made in remarks to ambassadors presenting their credentials at the Vatican.
"'The majority of the men and women of our time continue to live daily in situations of insecurity, with dire consequences … People have to struggle to live and, frequently, to live in an undignified way,' the pope said."
Sanders praises pope's condemnation of 'cult of money' (Burlington Free Press)

Thursday, May 16

Evasion Tricks for Potential Whistleblower

Living under the rule of an Obama administration extremely aggressive on attacking loose-lipped do gooders, the following tips may prove handy for the whistle-blower who wishes to stay anonymous. Plus, they're kind of cool to know.

The top 0.5% of the global population holds over 35% of global wealth

Excessive income and wealth inequality constrains global economic growth:
"Recent work has shown that prolonged periods of steadily rising output are associated with more equality in income distribution. In other words, more equal societies are more likely to achieve lasting growth."
Stability and Growth for Poverty Reduction (IMF)

Wednesday, May 15

There is a surge in misuse of nonprofits to hide political spending, and the IRS should do more, not less, scrutinizing of such groups

Arn Pearson writes in The Guardian:
"The recent IRS admissions about the use of 'tea party' or 'patriot' labels to flag applications for nonprofit status for additional scrutiny raise serious questions about political bias, and should receive a thorough and independent investigation.
"There is rightly a growing call for House and Senate hearings to answer those questions, but any investigations must delve deeper into the bigger problem facing our democracy after the Supreme Court's decision in Citizen United: the dramatic surge in the misuse of nonprofits to hide political spending by billionaires and corporations from American voters, and the lack of any meaningful enforcement response."
The IRS should do more, not less, scrutinizing of political groups

Tuesday, May 14

Florida Republicans rejected federal money to provide health insurance to poor Floridians, while keeping their own premiums low

How's this for a scumbag move:
"Florida House Republicans last month loudly and proudly rejected billions of dollars in federal money that would have provided health insurance to 1 million poor Floridians.
"Quietly, they kept their own health insurance premiums staggeringly low. House members will pay just $8.34 a month for state-subsidized health care next year, or $30 a month to cover their entire family.
"That's one-sixth of what state senators and most state employees will pay, and one-tenth of the cost to the average private-sector worker, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
"It's also less than the $25 a month House Republicans wanted to charge poor Floridians for basic coverage such as a limited number of doctor visits or preventive care."
House members say yes to cheap health insurance — for themselves (Tampa Bay Times)

Monday, May 13

Report finds colleges are charging low-income students higher prices, while discounting tuition for the wealthy

A new report by Stephen Burd of the New America Foundation documents the high prices poorer undergraduates are asked to pay at colleges, even as the same schools offer discounts for children of wealthier families to lure them to enroll.
"'With their relentless pursuit of prestige and revenue,' Burd writes, 'the nation's public and private four-year colleges and universities are in danger of shutting down what has long been a pathway to the middle class for low-income and working-class students.'" …
"'…it's more profitable for schools to provide four scholarships of $5,000 each to induce affluent students who will be able to pay the balance than it is to provide a single $20,000 grant to one low-income student.'" …
"There's nothing inherently wrong with handing out tuition breaks to the middle class, or even the rich. The problem is that it seems to be happening at the expense of the poor. At 89 percent of the 479 private colleges Burd examined, students from families earning less than $30,000 a year were charged an average 'net price' of more than $10,000 annually…"
How Colleges Are Selling Out the Poor to Court the Rich (The Atlantic)

Friday, May 10

When access to treatment doesn't improve health.

"Given this result, what is the likelihood that Obamacare will have a positive impact on the average health of Americans? Every one of us, for or against, should be revising that probability downwards.
Expanding health insurance does not guarantee improving health. It's simply not that simple.

Pat Robertson: False Prophet

Right Wing Watch dug up an interview before last year's presidential election where Pat Robertson told fellow televangelist Benny Hinn that Mitt Romney would defeat President Obama.

"Not only did God inform Robertson that 'Romney will win' but that he will be a two-term president who presides over a huge economic boom.
"Robertson even told Romney to save him a ticket for the inauguration: 'I told Mitt a long time ago, I called him and said listen, I've been in prayer and number one you’re going to win the nomination and number two you're going to win the general election, he said 'well what can I do for you,' I said give me a seat on the platform during your inauguration, give me a ticket to your inauguration.'
"'The Lord said he’s going to have a second term, I told him there will be to be trillions of dollars coming into the economy when you’re elected,' Robertson continued, 'the stock market ought to boom, everything ought to boom.'"
Pat Robertson, Who Said 'The Lord Told Me' that 'Romney Will Win,' Urges Viewers to Beware False Prophets (Right Wing Watch)

Thursday, May 9

Morality binds and blinds

"Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say."
'The Righteous Mind,' by Jonathan Haidt

Wednesday, May 8

Highly troubling: Report finds massive price-variations between hospitals for the same procedures

Why the hell should a pacemaker implant cost $127,038 at one hospital, and $66,030 at a hospital across the street?
"For the first time, the federal government will release the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Until now, these charges have been closely held by facilities that see a competitive advantage in shielding their fees from competitors. What the numbers reveal is a health-care system with tremendous, seemingly random variation in the costs of services." …
"In downtown New York City, two hospitals 63 blocks apart varied by 321 percent in the prices they charged to treat complicated cases of asthma or bronchitis. One charged an average of $34,310; the other billed, on average, $8,159.
"Experts attribute the disparities to a health system that can set prices with impunity because consumers rarely see them — and rarely shop for discounts. Although the government has collected this information for years, it was housed in a bulky database that researchers had to pay to access."
One hospital charges $8,000 — another, $38,000 (Washington Post)

Tuesday, May 7

Nearly a quarter of the planet's youth (290 million) are neither working nor studying

"Official figures assembled by the International Labour Organisation say that 75m young people are unemployed, or 6% of all 15- to 24-year-olds. But going by youth inactivity, which includes all those who are neither in work nor education, things look even worse. The OECD, an intergovernmental think-tank, counts 26m young people in the rich world as 'NEETS': not in employment, education or training. A World Bank database compiled from households shows more than 260m young people in developing economies are similarly 'inactive'. The Economist calculates that, all told, almost 290m are neither working nor studying: almost a quarter of the planet's youth." …
"A clutch of academic papers, based mainly on American statistics, shows that people who begin their careers without work are likely to have lower wages and greater odds of future joblessness than those who don’t. A wage penalty of up to 20%, lasting for around 20 years, is common. The scarring seems to worsen fast with the length of joblessness and is handed down to the next generation, too." …
"The damage may be less in dynamic economies and greatest in stagnant ones where unemployment comes in long bouts—as in the swathe of countries around the Mediterranean. Spain, France, Italy and Greece have some of the highest youth joblessness in the rich world. Morocco, Egypt and other north African and Middle Eastern countries have among the worst rates in the emerging world. Though they are at different stages of development, these countries all suffer disproportionately from employment’s main curses: low growth, clogged labour markets and a mismatch between education and work." 
"Countries with the lowest youth jobless rates have a close relationship between education and work. Germany has a long tradition of high-quality vocational education and apprenticeships, which in recent years have helped it reduce youth unemployment despite only modest growth. Countries with high youth unemployment are short of such links."
Generation jobless (The Economist)

Monday, May 6

Open Letter from Gun Shop Owner to Wayne LaPierre

Mike Weisser, who owns the Ware Gun Shop in Massachusetts, has written an open letter to the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre:
Dear Wayne:
Sorry I couldn't make it to the annual meeting. I'm a Life Member and I try to get there every year. But this year is different. If I showed up you'd tried to get me to help you fight a "culture war." But if there is a war going on, you represent the wrong side.
I just watched your speech. I think it's time you dropped this nonsense about protecting our "rights." Be honest and tell it like it is. The reason you're opposed to background checks has absolutely nothing to do with the Second Amendment. It's about making it as easy as possible for everyone to own a gun. More guns means more profits for the gun companies, and that's who you really represent.
An Open Letter to Wayne LaPierre

Thursday, May 2

Jesus is very clear in his example: Put down your sword (gun)

For context, I quote part of Matthew 26 (NIV), where Jesus is arrested (betrayed by Judas), and a follower of Jesus attacks one of the arresting guards with a sword:
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: "The one I kiss is the man; arrest him." 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied, "Do what you came for, friend."
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus' companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52 "Put your sword back in its place," Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?"
We have all seen verse 52 used in support of gun control—and I agree wholeheartedly with this interpretation. There is no second-guessing Jesus' words here. But I want to extend this point a bit: When Jesus says, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" he is emphasizing to Christians, by example, that they ARE NOT to strike down other humans, rather THEY ARE TO LEAVE THINGS IN GOD'S HANDS.

If you are a Christian, and somehow think that you should be armed for self-defense or any other reason, you are living a life full of both irony and hypocrisy. Please, follow the teachings of Jesus, your exemplar.

Wednesday, May 1

The economic benefits of immigration

Economists have found that immigration has a positive effect on GDP for three primary reasons:
  1. Immigrants are not only workers but also consumers; 
  2. They have little direct impact on the wages of American workers, and
  3. Immigrants often complement, rather than compete with American workers.

Tuesday, April 30

Pirate Bay is on the run; switches domain from Iceland to Sint Maarten

"Swedish prosecutor Fredrik Ingblad has filed a motion at the District Court of Stockholm, requesting for the seizure of thepiratebay.se, piratebay.se and the new thepiratebay.is domains. 
"The move comes just a few days after the infamous BitTorrent site switched to the Iceland-based domain, following suspicions that the Swedish authorities would go after the .se domains. 
"'There is widespread copyright infringement linked to these sites and these domains are used to assist in connection with crime,' Ingblad writes in today’s complaint. 
"The complaint was filed on behalf of several major movie, music and publishing companies. The Swedish domain registry and the domain registrants, including Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij, are listed as defendants in the case. 
"The prosecutor did not explain why the authorities are taking action now. The Pirate Bay has been operating from the .se domain name for over a year and could have easily been targeted before. 
"The Internet Infrastructure Foundation, responsible for operating the .se TLD, says it will consider its options when a court order comes in. The foundation previously noted that domain names are not the source of the problem as they are easily traded in for new ones. 
"'We believe the problem in this type of situation is not the domain, but rather its contents. The domain name itself is not an accomplice in act of copyright infringement and if thepiratebay.se, for example, were to be shut down, the site would almost certainly reopen under another top-level domain.'"
The Pirate Bay Moves to .SX as Prosecutor Files Motion to Seize Domains

Monday, April 29

Tea Partiers & Republicans have tried make the extreme the mainstream—and it's backfiring

Abby Rapoport at The American Prospect highlights three key findings about the relationship of the Tea Party to the GOP, which should prove unsettling to Republicans:
  1. Tea Party activists are not Republicans. The activists providing a huge amount of the labor and enthusiasm for Republican candidates are, at best, lukewarm on the party they’re voting for.
  2. Tea Party activists aren't nearly as concerned about winning as they are about ideological purity. The Tea Party has helped propel several upstart Republican candidacies, only to have that candidate proven too extreme for the general election.
  3. Attempts to bridge the gap between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party are doomed to fail. Tea Party activists dominate the Republican Party, and they're no less willing to compromise with the GOP than they are with Democrats.

Friday, April 26

How did austerity doctrine become so influential in the first place?

Paul Krugman's latest thoughts on austerity:
"...the austerian position has imploded; not only have its predictions about the real world failed completely, but the academic research invoked to support that position has turned out to be riddled with errors, omissions and dubious statistics." ...
"...the dominance of austerians in influential circles should disturb anyone who likes to believe that policy is based on, or even strongly influenced by, actual evidence." ...
"Economists can explain ad nauseam that this is wrong, that the reason we have mass unemployment isn’t that we spent too much in the past but that we’re spending too little now, and that this problem can and should be solved. No matter; many people have a visceral sense that we sinned and must seek redemption through suffering — and neither economic argument nor the observation that the people now suffering aren’t at all the same people who sinned during the bubble years makes much of a dent." ...
"The austerity agenda looks a lot like a simple expression of upper-class preferences, wrapped in a facade of academic rigor. What the top 1 percent wants becomes what economic science says we must do."

Thursday, April 25

The Pirate Bay finds safe haven in Iceland, for now

"Two weeks ago the notorious BitTorrent site traded in its .SE domain for the Greenland-based .GL TLD. The Pirate Bay took this decision because they feared that Swedish authorities were about to take over their domain names. 
"However, TPB did not receive a warm welcome in Greenland. 
"Within two days of the move The Pirate Bay lost both its .GL domain names. Tele-Post, the private company responsible for .GL registrations, did not wait for a court order and said it would not allow the domains to be put to 'illegal' use. 
"Resilient as always, TPB aren’t about to give up that easily and have already lined up yet another domain name. This time they’re going for Iceland's .IS TLD, which will be a little harder to take offline. 
"Thepiratebay.is was registered after the Greenland debacle and traffic was redirected to the new domain a few minutes ago. Iceland is an interesting choice as the country previously positioned itself as a safe haven for freedom of speech."
Pirate Bay Finds Safe Haven in Iceland, Switches to .IS Domain

Helping the Big Guys. Again.

The Real Problem With the Internet Sales Tax -
For Amazon—the actual target of these laws—this is trivial. Its staff of crack accountants can probably roll these things out before their Monday-morning coffee break. For a small vendor, however, that's a whole lot of paperwork. Imagine being a small eBay vendor that has to file a different set of tax returns every quarter or every month, depending on who happened to buy your handmade toaster cozies. ..

This bill, in fact, is good for Amazon—it kills off their small-fry competitors who can't afford the staff accountants (or the software) to file 46 returns every month. And it frees them up to open warehouses in more states, the better to minimize their shipping costs. Presumably, that's why they're in favor of the bill.

Tuesday, April 23

Monopolies thwart innovation

New models:
Already famous for his "heart factory" in Bangalore, which does the highest number of cardiac operations in the world, the latest Narayana Hrudayalaya ("Temple of the Heart") projects are ultra low-cost facilities.

The first is a single-storey hospital in Mysore, two hours drive from Bangalore, which was built for about 400 million rupees (7.4 million dollars) in only 10 months and recently opened its doors. ... 
"Essentially we realised that as you do more numbers, your results get better and your cost goes down," he said.
(H/T Jason)

How many legal barriers exist to opening something like this in a first world "market / capitalist" country?

Why does the US have so many protectionist measures that thwart innovation, competition and improvement in health care?

The models of health care and education delivery are under siege from innovators and the entrenched interests will not go down without fighting.

Monday, April 22

Americans are worried about the gap between rich and poor, but do not trust the government do anything about it

"Since the 1970s, income inequality in the United States has increased at a historic rate. In 1970, the richest 1 percent of Americans enjoyed 9 percent of total national pre-tax income. In 2011, by contrast, that share had risen to 19.8 percent. And this large increase in inequality has not been softened by more progressive tax policy. Tax rates on the top 1 percent of taxpayers have fallen over the same period.
"Such a reshaping of the income distribution was unlikely to go unnoticed, and indeed, surveys show that Americans are generally knowledgeable about the rise in income inequality. Using survey data from 2002, the political scientist Larry M. Bartels showed that three-quarters of Americans believed inequality has increased over the previous two decades. The majority of those respondents said this trend was a 'bad thing.'
"And yet over the past 30 years, Americans have also become less supportive of government efforts to redistribute from high- to low-income households." ...
"On one hand, liberals can take heart in the news that Americans are deeply troubled about the current level of income inequality. On the other hand, conservatives may be glad to hear that despite this concern, Americans have a healthy skepticism that government can be trusted to do much about it."
Our Feelings About Inequality: It’s Complicated (NYT)

Thursday, April 18

Texas: Land of Lackadaisical Zoning

Tod Robberson, writing in the Dallas Morning News:
"The devastation from the explosion in West, especially given the known destructive power from the Oklahoma City bombing, should have been foreseeable. Whoever thought it was appropriate to place a middle school, retirement complex, apartments and houses next to a fertilizer plant needs to be called to account."
"In Dallas, we are still dealing with the environmental aftermath of the decision to zone low-income residences next to lead smelters. A few years ago, we had a huge chain reaction of exploding acetylene gas tanks from a storage depot right next to downtown."
"... sometime soon, the state and federal governments will have to mandate a review of these decisions and others like them across rural America and take corrective action. We cannot have people living and going to school next to sub-nuclear time bombs.
Explosion in West, Texas, should make all towns question zoning decisions

Wednesday, April 17

Keeping the Boston tragedy in perspective

The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald makes cogent points regarding the U.S. reaction to the Boston Marathon tragedy:
"The widespread compassion for yesterday's victims and the intense anger over the attacks was obviously authentic and thus good to witness. But it was really hard not to find oneself wishing that just a fraction of that compassion and anger be devoted to attacks that the US perpetrates rather than suffers. These are exactly the kinds of horrific, civilian-slaughtering attacks that the US has been bringing to countries in the Muslim world over and over and over again for the last decade, with very little attention paid." ...
"Regardless of your views of justification and intent: whatever rage you're feeling toward the perpetrator of this Boston attack, that's the rage in sustained form that people across the world feel toward the US for killing innocent people in their countries. Whatever sadness you feel for yesterday's victims, the same level of sadness is warranted for the innocent people whose lives are ended by American bombs."
The Boston bombing produces familiar and revealing reactions

Tuesday, April 16

The good outnumber the evil, and they always will.

I liked what Patton Oswalt said about the Boston Marathon bombings so much, I wanted to re-post it here:
"Boston. Fucking horrible.  
"I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, 'Well, I've had it with humanity.'
"But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.  
"But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.  
"But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.  
"So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"
His original post on Facebook

Free, but not too free.

"The European Union is quietly pouring millions of pounds into initiatives and groups seeking state-backed regulation of the press..."
It's kind of an amazing closed loop actually.

Monday, April 15

Gold crashes; turns out America not doomed after all.

I just couldn't say it any better than this: "All those ads on the sidebars that flashed at us for years: by Christmas, you will no longer know America. The web 'articles' assuring us that in a year, we would be trading our children for rations and ammo. The endless links that inserted themselves into serious discussion, that led to the anonymous billionaire who oh-so-sadly assured us that he was very-very-sorry and wished-it-wasn't true: but Doom Was Coming." (hyperking)

Joe Weisenthal writes:
"The last few years have seen a major ideological battle take place. 
"On one hand you have established economists, who believe the government has tools at its disposal to address a crisis. These tools include deficit spending and a violent expansion of the Fed's balance sheet. 
"Conversely you have critics who slam the arrogance of economists and central planners, and who have predicted that all of this economic acrobatics would result in an economic collapse, hyperinflation, and an explosion in the price of gold. Gold is important to their worldview, because it represents a quasi-money that's not tied to any government or central bank. 
"Investing in gold is a rejection of government money and finance. Money flowing into gold-related assets represents a belief that rocks (however shiny they are) are a better place to invest than human endeavors (like stocks)." ... 
"...ultimately, the decline of gold and the rise of stocks is a big trend that everyone should cheer. 
"The huge corpus of economic research, which has informed the US' efforts to stimulate the economy, is not a pile of garbage. You can do a lot without blowing things up, as the goldbugs claimed would happen. 
"And more broadly, this represents a breaking of the fever, and perhaps a return to thinking that humans aren't such a horrible disappointment."
And of course, Paul Krugman has a few things to say on the subject.

Friday, April 12

(Very Gradual) Change We Can Believe In

I love this take on Shepard Fairey's Obama poster, featuring Mr. Charles Darwin himself:


Mike Rosulek designed the graphic to celebrate Darwin's 200th birthday. And yes, of course there are t-shirts available.

Thursday, April 11

California threatens Boy Scouts' tax-exempt status over anti-gay discrimination

Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach) introduced a bill, which has been approved by the California State Senate Governance and Finance Committee, that would revoke the tax exemption for any youth group that discriminates against members on the basis of sexual orientation. This bill obviously has the Boy Scouts in its sights.
Statement from Sen. Lara: "Today's vote puts California one step closer in bringing full equality to LGBT youth throughout the state. With its passage and growing list of supporters and co-authors, we will end this outdated practice of discrimination and exclusion."
California moves towards revoking Boy Scouts tax exempt status over gay ban

Wednesday, April 10

NASA-backed fusion engine could cut Mars trip down to 30-90 days

Here's a bit of space-awesomeness for your Wednesday:
"The proposed Fusion Driven Rocket (FDR) is a 150-ton system that uses magnetism to compress lithium or aluminum metal bands around a deuterium-tritium fuel pellet to initiate fusion. The resultant microsecond reaction forces the propellant mass out at 30 kilometers per second, and would be able to pulse every minute or so and not cause g-force damage to the spacecraft's occupants.
"The spent fuel pellet is ejected behind the motor to provide propulsion, and because the whole process is magnetically controlled there's relatively little wear and tear on the engines. A pellet the size of a grain of sand would provide the same propellant as a gallon of conventional rocket fuel." ...
"Using the FDR system, flight times to the Red Planet could take between 30 and 90 days, compared to over eight months that it took to send the Curiosity rover to Mars. The 30-day trip would require three days of engine operation to get the spacecraft up to speed and another three to slow it down into orbit around Mars."

Tuesday, April 9

What are the consequences of one company holding a near-monopoly on a large part of our food supply?

Monsanto has a near monopoly on the seeds that grow much of the U.S. food supply, and right now there doesn't seem to be much that anyone can do about it.
"Farmers who buy Monsanto's patented seeds must sign an agreement that they will not save seed for planting in a subsequent year, but will buy new seeds every year from the company. They also pay a per-acre 'royalty' for using the company’s seeds.
"Monsanto typically enters a farmer's land (some would call it trespassing) and takes samples (some would call it stealing), and then has the samples DNA-tested for their patented genes. If any appear, they sue the farmer and, since farmers are notoriously outgunned, legally and financially, they end up settling for an undisclosed amount with the company. The amount is undisclosed because, along with the settlement, there is a gag order and the farmer is coerced into agreeing not to discuss the case with anyone. Few farmers have enough money to take on the corporation."
Monsanto Keeps on Moving Toward a Lock on the World’s Food System

Supreme Court Appears to Defend Patent on Soybean (NYT)

Monday, April 8

The Hidden Mechanisms of Preserving The Privileged in America

"…elite universities are about connecting more than learning, that the social world matters far more than the classroom to undergraduates, and that rather than an escalator elevating the best and brightest from every walk of life, the meritocracy as we know it mostly works to perpetuate the existing upper class.
"Every elite seeks its own perpetuation, of course, but that project is uniquely difficult in a society that's formally democratic and egalitarian and colorblind. And it's even more difficult for an elite that prides itself on its progressive politics, its social conscience, its enlightened distance from hierarchies of blood and birth and breeding.
"Thus the importance, in the modern meritocratic culture, of the unacknowledged mechanisms that preserve privilege, reward the inside game, and ensure that the advantages enjoyed in one generation can be passed safely onward to the next."
The Secrets of Princeton

Friday, April 5

If MLK had lived: "This is what I got all those ass-whoopings for?"

Huey dreams about what would happen if Martin Luther King, Jr. had lived instead of being assassinated in 1968, in the Peabody Award-winning episode of "The Boondocks" entitled, "Return of the King":

Transcript: "Is this it? This is what I got all those ass-whoopings for? I had a dream once. It was a dream that little black boys and little black girls would drink from the river of prosperity, freed from the thirst of oppression. But lo and behold, some four decades later, what have I found but a bunch of trifling, shiftless, good-for-nothing niggers? And I know some of you don't want to hear me say that word. It's the ugliest word in the English language, but that's what I see now: niggers. And you don't want to be a nigger, 'cause niggers are living contradictions! Niggers are full of unfulfilled ambitions! Niggers wax and wane, niggers love to complain! Niggers love to hear themselves talk but hate to explain! Niggers love being another man's judge and jury! Niggers procrastinate until it's time to worry! Niggers love to be late, niggers hate to hurry! … Black Entertainment Television is the worst thing I've ever seen in my life! … Usher, "Michael Jackson" is *not* a genre of music! … And now I'd like to talk about "Soul Plane". … I've seen what's around the corner, I've seen what's over the horizon, and I promise you, you niggers won't have nothing to celebrate. And no, I won't get there with you. I'm going to Canada."
Return of the King

Thursday, April 4

Drug Legalization - A Morality Discussion

Conor Friedersdorf writes in the Atlantic:
"When a paramilitary police squad raids a family home, battering down doors without knocking, exploding flash grenades, shooting family pets, and handcuffing children, all to recover a small number of marijuana plants, the officers or the people who ordered them there are acting immorally.  
"When the United States reacts to the insatiable demand for drugs by American citizens by pursuing prohibitionist policies abroad that destabilize multiple foreign countries, it acts immorally.
"When prosecutors coerce nonviolent drug offenders to risk their lives as police informants under threat of draconian prison sentences, they act immorally.
"The dearth of empathy for nonviolent drug offenders serving years or even decades in prison is a moral failure.
"Because we have shifted the costs of drug abuse away from the Americans who freely chose or would choose to use drugs and toward society as a whole, imposing more costs on people who never chose to use drugs but suffer from many harms of the black market, we have achieved a morally dubious redistribution.
The War on Drugs Is Far More Immoral Than Most Drug Use

Wednesday, April 3

Why has Obama approved a law giving immunity to the production and sale of genetically modified food in the US?

"The 'Monsanto Protection Act' effectively bars federal courts from being able to halt the sale or planting of controversial genetically modified (aka GMO) or genetically engineered (GE) seeds, no matter what health issues may arise concerning GMOs in the future." ...
"The provision's language was apparently written in collusion with Monsanto. Lawmakers and companies working together to craft legislation is by no means a rare occurrence in this day and age. But the fact that Sen. Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, actually worked with Monsanto on a provision that in effect allows them to keep selling seeds, which can then go on to be planted, even if it is found to be harmful to consumers, is stunning." ...
"Many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the 'Monsanto Protection Act' even existed within the bill they were voting on." ...
"'In this hidden backroom deal, Sen. [Barbara] Mikulski turned her back on consumer, environmental and farmer protection in favor of corporate welfare for biotech companies such as Monsanto,' Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, said in a statement."
'Monsanto Protection Act': 5 Terrifying Things To Know About The HR 933 Provision

Thursday, March 28

George Carlin: The American Dream


"The real owners are the big wealthy business interests that control things and make all the important decisions. Forget the politicians, they're an irrelevancy. The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don't. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything. They own all the important land. They own and control the corporations. They've long since bought and paid for the Senate, the Congress, the statehouses, the city halls. They've got the judges in their back pockets. And they own all the big media companies, so that they control just about all of the news and information you hear. They've got you by the balls. They spend billions of dollars every year lobbying ­ lobbying to get what they want. Well, we know what they want; they want more for themselves and less for everybody else."

"But I'll tell you what they don't want.  They don't want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don't want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They're not interested in that. That doesn't help them. That's against their interests. They don't want people who are smart enough to sit around the kitchen table and figure out how badly they're getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fucking years ago.

"You know what they want? Obedient workers ­ people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork but just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, reduced benefits, the end of overtime and the vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it. And, now, they're coming for your Social Security. They want your fucking retirement money. They want it back, so they can give it to their criminal friends on Wall Street. And you know something? They'll get it. They'll get it all, sooner or later, because they own this fucking place. It's a big club, and you ain't in it. You and I are not in the big club."

"This country is finished."

Wednesday, March 27

The cells of a woman who died in 1951 are being used for ongoing medical research, and are at the forefront of a debate on genetic research and privacy

"LAST week, scientists sequenced the genome of cells taken without consent from a woman named Henrietta Lacks. She was a black tobacco farmer and mother of five, and though she died in 1951, her cells, code-named HeLa, live on. They were used to help develop our most important vaccines and cancer medications, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping, cloning. Now they may finally help create laws to protect her family’s privacy — and yours.
"The family has been through a lot with HeLa: they didn’t learn of the cells until 20 years after Lacks’s death, when scientists began using her children in research without their knowledge. Later their medical records were released to the press and published without consent." ...
"The problem, says Yaniv Erlich, a fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, is that anonymity vanishes when it comes to DNA: 'People don't realize it's impossible to hide genetic information once it's out there.' He and his colleagues recently proved that it's possible to use online public databases to find the identities of people whose anonymous DNA samples had been sequenced and published online." ...
"The Lackses' experiences over the last 60 years foretold nearly every major ethical issue raised by research on human tissues and genetic material. Now they're raising a new round of ethical questions for science: though their consent is not (yet) required for publishing private genetic information from HeLa, should it be? Should we require consent before anyone's genome is sequenced and published? And what control should gene-sharing family members have?"
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the Sequel (NYT)