August 28, 2015

Prigs in the lunchroom

From our overstocked archives
Sam Smith, 2011 - The Department of Agriculture is proposing to limit the amount of potatoes available in school lunches to one cup a week in a not so nice example of liberal bossiness of the sort that produces little other than fewer votes for Democrats in elections.

Liberals often seem broadly unconscious of the fact that people’s politics are affected by attitude as well as by policy and telling people what they can eat or restricting a perfectly healthy food is about as dumb a political move one can come up with.

Besides, the science isn’t there for the Obama administration’s gastronomic self righteousness.

Consider this item from Irish Central last month

Obesity is now a major problem in Ireland – over 60 per cent of adults aged under 65 are either obese or overweight according to a new survey. The National Adult Nutrition Survey has also revealed that obesity rates amongst Irish men have tripled over the last 20 years. Male obesity has risen from eight per cent in 1990 to 26 per cent in men under the age of 65. Female obesity was at 13 per cent 20 years ago and now stands at 21 per cent.

Since potatoes have been a staple of the Irish diet for centuries, clearly they are an extraordinarily weak suspect in the rise in obesity during just the past two decades.

To the extent that potatoes are to blame it is most likely because of a change in the way they are cooked i.e. fried vs. baked or mashed. What might be called the Americanization of food can affect other items as well such as shifting from boiled meats and vegetables – another Irish staple – to fried and broiled.

But in the end we really don’t know. And one of the worst things any government can do is to pass rigid rules about things it doesn’t understand. Not only is it bad policy and bad science, it makes people mad. The people who do it come off as bossy prigs and often lose the next election.

Sea levels up three inches in less than 25 years

Tree Hugger - In less than 25 years, the world’s the global sea level has gone up an average of three inches (eighty millimeters), and is rising faster than it was 50 years ago, according to a group of NASA scientists.

Sea level rise isn’t evenly distributed around the world. In some areas, the sea has risen as much as 9 inches (23 centimeters), while in other places the sea level has dropped. For example, on the West Coast of the United States sea levels have actually been lower over the past 20 years, due to temporary ocean cycles. But when these cycles end, the impact of climate change is expected to be seen.

Scores of psychology research findings found not replicable

Guardian - A major investigation into scores of claims made in psychology research journals has delivered a bleak verdict on the state of the science.

An international team of experts repeated 100 experiments published in top psychology journals and found that they could reproduce only 36% of original findings.

The study, which saw 270 scientists repeat experiments on five continents, was launched by psychologists in the US in response to rising concerns over the reliability of psychology research.

“There is no doubt that I would have loved for the effects to be more reproducible,” said Brian Nosek, a professor of psychology who led the study at the University of Virgina. “I am disappointed, in the sense that I think we can do better.”

“The key caution that an average reader should take away is any one study is not going to be the last word,” he added. “Science is a process of uncertainty reduction, and no one study is almost ever a definitive result on its own.”

1000 news words added to Oxford Dictionary

Daily Mail, UK - Britons are offending commuters by manspreading, reveling in bants with their friends at beer o'clock, and having a brain fart while talking about the Grexit - but it's NBD.

These are just some of the 1,000 new terms added to Oxford Dictionaries in its latest quarterly update, which reveals current trends in the usage of language.

New entries include manspreading, when a man sits with his legs wide apart on public transport encroaching on other seats, bants - short for banter - and NBD, an abbreviation of no big deal. Manspreading, a term used when a man sits with his legs wide apart on public transport, made the online dictionary +4

Beer and wine o'clock, describing the appropriate time of day to start drinking the respective alcoholic beverages, and brain fart, a temporary lapse or failure to reason correctly, have also been added to the free online dictionary.

Hangry, an adjective used to show feelings of anger or irritability as a result of hunger, is another new entry. The word has seen its usage increase since 2012, with a big spike in April 2014 connected to an American study about low glucose levels making people cross, according to Oxford Dictionary's language monitoring service.

Topical news terms have soared in popular usage. Grexit and Brexit, referring to the potential departure of the UK and Greece from the EU, and deradicalization, the action of causing a person with extreme views to adopt more moderate ones, are also included in the update.

Other new additions include bruh, describing a male friend, pocket dial, meaning to accidentally call someone while your phone is in a pocket, and mkay, representing the informal pronunciation of OK.

The extraordinary failure of the war on drugs

Pew Trusts - More than 95,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug-related offenses—up from fewer than 5,000 in 1980. Changes in drug crime patterns and law enforcement practices played a role in this growth, but federal sentencing laws enacted during the 1980s and 1990s also have required more drug offenders to go to prison— and stay there much longer—than three decades ago These policies have contributed to ballooning costs: The federal prison system now consumes more than $6.7 billion a year, or roughly 1 in 4 dollars spent by the U.S. Justice Department.

Despite substantial expenditures on longer prison terms for drug offenders, taxpayers have not realized a strong public safety return. The self-reported use of illegal drugs has increased over the long term as drug prices have fallen and purity has risen. Federal sentencing laws that were designed with serious traffickers in mind have resulted in lengthy imprisonment of offenders who played relatively minor roles. These laws also have failed to reduce recidivism. Nearly a third of the drug offenders who leave federal prison and are placed on community supervision commit new crimes or violate the conditions of their release—a rate that has not changed substantially in decades.

Federal data show the systemwide effects of [its drug] policies:
  • Probation has all but disappeared as a sanction for drug offenders. In 1980, federal courts sentenced 26 percent of convicted drug offenders to probation. By 2014, the proportion had fallen to 6 percent, with judges sending nearly all drug offenders to prison.
  • The length of drug sentences has increased sharply. The average prison sentence imposed on drug offenders increased 36 percent—from 54.6 to 74.2 months—even as it declined 3 percent for all other offenders.
  • The proportion of federal prisoners who are drug offenders has nearly doubled. The share of federal inmates serving time for drug offenses increased from 25 percent in 1980 to a high of 61 percent in 1994. This proportion has declined steadily in recent years—in part because of rising prison admissions for other crimes—but drug offenders still represent 49 percent of all federal inmates.
  • Time served by drug offenders has surged. The average time that released drug offenders spent behind bars increased 153 percent between 1988 and 2012, from 23.2 to 58.6 months.15 This increase dwarfs the 39 and 44 percent growth in time served by property and violent offenders, respectively, during the same period.16
...Measurements of the availability and consumption of illegal drugs in the United States are imprecise. Users may be reluctant to share information about their illegal behavior, and national surveys may not capture responses from specific populations—such as homeless or incarcerated people—who may have high rates of drug use. Drug markets also vary considerably from city to city and state to state, and among different drugs. Despite these limitations, the best available data suggest that increased penalties for drug offenders—both at the federal and state levels—have not significantly changed long-term patterns of drug availability or use:
  • Illegal drug prices have declined. The estimated street price of illegal drugs is a commonly cited measure of supply. Higher prices indicate scarcity while lower prices suggest wider availability. After adjusting for inflation, the estimated retail prices of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine all decreased from 1981 to 2012, even as the purity of the drugs increased.
  • Illegal drug use has increased. The share of Americans age 12 and older who said in a national survey that they had used an illicit drug during the previous month increased from 6.7 percent in 1990 to 9.2 percent—or nearly 24 million people—in 2012. An increase in marijuana use helped drive this trend, more than offsetting a decline in cocaine use.
Just as enhanced criminal penalties have not reduced the availability or use of illegal drugs, research shows that they are unlikely to significantly disrupt the broader drug trade. One study estimated that the chance of being imprisoned for the sale of cocaine in the U.S. is less than 1 in 15,000—a prospect so remote that it is unlikely to discourage many offenders. The same applies for longer sentences. The National Research Council concluded in a 2014 report that mandatory minimum sentences for drug and other offenders “have few if any deterrent effects.”

Real economics: Wages

American exceptionalism: The United States is the only nation among advanced economies that does not provide a legal guarantee of paid leave. New Zealand and Australia ensure respectively 30 and 28 days of paid leave, and Canada's federal government stipulates 19 paid days, with some provinces adding on additional time. Even in Japan, where thousands commit suicide every year because of work-related stress, all employees are guaranteed 10 paid vacation days.

Economic Policy Institute
A new report finds that wages of manufacturing workers have fallen 4.4% in the past decade- "almost three times faster than for workers as a whole."

Among all employees nationally, 56 percent are hourly workers, and 32 percent of these, or more than 21 million, earn less than $10.10 per hour, according to University of Virginia researchers in the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service’s Demographics Research Group.

The Labor Department reports that the 13 states that raised their minimum wage in 2014 have added jobs faster than those that didn't.

The rate of poverty level wages for women has declined over the last last three-and-a-half decades, especially among those 35 to 44 years old.

62 percent of all Americans make $20 or less an hour at this point.

Nine of the top ten occupations in the U.S. pay an average wage of less than $35,000 a year..

Congressional Research Service - The peak value of the minimum wage in real terms was reached in 1968. To equal the purchasing power of the minimum wage in 1968 ($10.69), the current minimum wage’s real value ($7.25) would have to increase by $3.44 (or 47%).

40% Of US workers now earn less than 1968 minimum wage

@Harpers - Factor by which the average compensation for CEOs of fast-food companies has increased since 2000: 7


Tipped workers haven't seen a pay raise since 1991

Word: Yutang, Lin

A good traveller is one who does not know where he is going to, and a perfect traveller does not know where he came from.

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk on it, the road comes into existence.

If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.

Society can exist only on the basis that there is some amount of polished lying and that no one says exactly what he thinks.

The wise man reads both books and life itself.

This I conceive to be the chemical function of humor: to change the character of our thought.

Where there are too many policemen, there is no liberty. Where there are too many soldiers, there is no peace. Where there are too many lawyers, there is no justice.

The three great American vices seem to be efficiency, punctuality, and the desire for achievement and success. They are the things that make the Americans so unhappy and so nervous.

I feel, like all modern Americans, no consciousness of sin and simply do not believe in it. All I know is that if God loves me only half as much as my mother does, he will not send me to Hell.

It is not so much what you believe in that matters, as the way in which you believe it and proceed to translate that belief into action.

Links: Action

Action news
How to plan your own Moral Monday
Building peace teams
Cellphone guide for protesters
Why we need history
Corporations that have deserted the US
for tax purposes

Koch Brothers
Land O Lakes
Stop Fast Track
Detroit Water Brigade
Moral Mondays
Bad Ass Teachers
Restore Glass-Steigal
Tar Sands protests
Occupy movement

Tests designed to fail students created opt out movement

Diane Ravitch - It is important to remember a few key facts about the Opt Out Movement.

Number one: It was created and is led by parents, not by teachers or unions. In New York, where 20% of the students refused the mandated tests, the leader of the state’s teachers’ union did not endorse opt out until a few days before the testing started. The organizations promoting the opt out were grassroots, underfunded, and parent-led.

Number two: The opt out movement did not arise in opposition to the publication or implementation of the Common Core standards. It was only when parents received the results of the first round of Common Core testing that they got angry and got organized to fight the tests. Recall that 70% of the students in the state “failed” the first round of testing. Parents in districts where almost all the children graduate from high school, and where most are admitted to four-year colleges were told to their astonishment that their children were “failing.” The parent rebellion started, and State Commissioner John King could not quell it. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan referred to the protestors as “white suburban moms” who all of a sudden discovered that their child was not as “brilliant” as they thought. What an insult!

Number three: In three administrations of the Common Core tests, a majority of students has continued to “fail.”

*In English language arts 2015, only 31.3% of students reached the “proficiency” level across the state.

*Among black and Hispanic students, the “pass” rate was less than 20%.

*Students in New York City almost matched the statewide average, but in the state’s five big cities, only 11% “passed.”

*Among English language learners, only 3.9% “passed” the ELA test. Appalling!

*Among students with disabilities, only 5.7% “passed.” Appalling!

*Achievement gaps between racial groups were unchanged over three years of testing and quite large.

The math scores were better than the ELA scores, but still only 38.1 “passed,” and nearly 62% “failed.” The corresponding scores for black and Hispanic students, English language learners and students with disabilities were far lower. Read the report.

Why are most students failing the Common Core tests in New York? In the past, a majority passed. Did the students get dumber? No. The developers of the Common Core tests decided to use a “cut score” or “passing mark” that was set beyond the capability of the students in each grade. They chose to align the passing mark with the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s achievement levels.

That decision was made two years ago. At that time, Catherine Gewertz of Education Week wrote:

The two common-assessment consortia are taking early steps to align the “college readiness” achievement levels on their tests with the rigorous proficiency standard of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a move that is expected to set many states up for a steep drop in scores.

“After all, fewer than four in 10 children reached the “proficient” level on the 2013 NAEP in reading and math.

The developers of the Common Core tests chose a passing mark that they knew in advance would fail most students and that would lead to even higher failure rates among black and Hispanic students, as well as students with disabilities and English language learners. Based on NAEP, there is no evidence that harder tests and higher bars lead to smaller achievement gaps.

They set the bar so high that the tests are designed to fail most students. Do students feel motivated to work harder if they fail every year?

Parents figured this out, and they didn’t see why the state had adopted tests that most children were certain to fail.

And that is why there is an Opt Out movement. Parents do not want to participate in a system that is rigged against their children. They don’t want to be part of a system where their children’s test scores determine their teachers’ reputation, livelihood, and future. They want to bring that system crashing down and restore common sense to education.

Why does coffee make you poop?

Improbable Research

August 27, 2015

Washington has worst car commutes

Washingtonian - The average local motorist wastes 82 hours a year stuck in traffic. Washington's delay is 19 hours more than the average among other similar urban areas. It's worse than delays in Los Angeles (80 hours), New York (74 hours), and Boston (64 hours.)

DC ranked first in its category in terms of congestion cost: Last year, local commuters burned through an extra 35 gallons of gas thanks to gridlocks; these lengthy trips cost them a total of $1,834.

San Diego's drivers, in contrast, only spent 42 hours stuck in traffic, costing them $887 a year.

Interest in guaranteed minimum income is growing

Support for a universal basic income is growing. In Europe, for example, the City of Utrecht is about to introduce an experiment that aims “to challenge the notion that people who receive public money need to be patrolled and punished,” in the words of a project manager for the Utrecht city council. Nijmegen, Wageningen, Tilburg and Groningen are awaiting permission from The Hague in order to conduct similar programs. In Switzerland, the necessary 100,000 signatures have been obtained for holding a referendum on whether Swiss citizens should receive an unconditional basic income of €2,500 per month, independently of whether they are employed or not.

On 16 June, the centre-right government of Finland, where 79% of the population is in favor of a universal basic income, made good on its electoral promise and ratified the implementation of an “experimental basic income”. A recent survey in Catalonia shows that 72.3% of the population (basically excepting the right-wing and wealthiest sectors) would support a basic income of €650 per month, and, contrary to a tiresomely hackneyed claim, 86.2% say they would continue working if the measure were introduced. More notably, 84.4% of the unemployed say they’d still want to work.

These are tentative or incomplete measures but they’re also significant because they mean empowering individuals, economically – and also politically – in a situation where global power is largely in the hands of unelected institutions and other obscure organs, as the recent mauling of Greece has made more than clear. However, growing interest in basic income doesn’t mean smooth sailing ahead towards implementation.

Long-disproved arguments are still being raised against it and dubious “alternative” proposals such as “guaranteed work”, “full employment” and conditional minimum guaranteed income are brandished. With a basic income people won’t engage in wage labour, women will be confined to the home, immigrants will “swarm” in (as British Prime Minister David Cameron would say), it would take a revolution to introduce it, and it would kill off the welfare state. Never mind that these assertions have been soundly rebutted in several different languages, they still rear their silly heads. There are still other misunderstandings (or downright lies) that need to be addressed because social and economic inequalities are increasing so fast, and basic income is an ideal measure for combating them.

Canadian study raises questions about solitary confinement for youth

The report from the provincial advocate for children and youth also calls for independent monitoring of the use of solitary confinement, asking the advocate be notified whenever a youth is held longer than 24 hours or whenever mental health issues are involved.
Researchers interviewed 141 youths who experienced solitary confinement, describing “dehumanizing conditions” including fluctuating temperatures in their cells, waiting hours for toilet paper or for the toilet to be flushed from the outside, and little access to fresh air, books or any kind of mental stimulation. About half the youths interviewed said that they were denied their right to speak to a lawyer or the advocate, and 70 per cent said they were only told why they were isolated after being released.

Infrequently asked questions

Given that we have had so many military failures in the Mid East, might it not be time to consider the possibility that one cause is that we are killing so many of its citizens? For example, Shadowproof reports: 
A March report by Physicians for Social Responsibility calculates the body count of the Iraq War at around 1.3 million, and possibly as many as 2 million. In April, investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed argued that the actual death toll could reach as high as 4 million if one includes not just those killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also the victims of the sanctions against Iraq, which left about 1.7 million more dead, half of them children, according to figures from the United Nations.
Might this not be one factor that fueled the rise of ISIS?

Word: The real Jesus


Great moments in obscenity

Futility Closet - In his Recollections of the Civil War, Charles Anderson Dana called Union general Andrew Atkinson Humphreys “one of the loudest swearers that I ever knew.” “The men of distinguished and brilliant profanity in the war were General Sherman and General Humphreys — I could not mention any others that could be classed with them. General Logan also was a strong swearer, but he was not a West Pointer: he was a civilian. Sherman and Humphreys would swear to make everything blue when some dispatch had not been delivered correctly or they were provoked.”

In Rex v. Sparling (1722), a leather dresser named James Sparling was alleged in the course of 10 days to “profanely swear fifty-four oaths, and profanely curse one hundred and sixty curses, contra formam statuti.” His conviction was overturned because the charge sheet had failed to list them. “For what is a profane oath or curse is a matter of law, and ought not to be left to the judgment of the witness … it is a matter of great dispute among the learned, what are oaths and what curses.”

When in 1985 a man named Callahan called a California highway patrolman a “fucking asshole,” California Court of Appeal Justice Gerald Brown referred to this phrase as the “Callahan epithet” to avoid having to repeat it continuously, “which arguably would assist its passage into parlor parlance.” And he reversed Callahan’s conviction:
A land as diverse as ours must expect and tolerate an infinite variety of expression. What is vulgar to one may be lyric to another. Some people spew four-letter words as their common speech such as to devalue its currency; their repetition dulls the senses; Billingsgate thus becomes commonplace. Not everyone can be a Daniel Webster, a William Jennings Bryan or a Joseph A. Ball. …

Fifty years ago the words ‘damn’ and ‘hell’ were as shocking to the sensibilities of some people as the Callahan epithet is to others today. The first word in Callahan’s epithet has many meanings. When speaking about coitus, not everyone can be an F.E. Smith (later Earl of Birkenhead) who, in his speech in 1920 in the House of Commons on the Matrimonial Causes Act, referred to ‘that bond by which nature in its ingenious telepathy has contrived to secure and render agreeable the perpetuation of the species.’

Homeland Secuity runs out of terrorists and immigrants, so goes after gays

NY Times -For some gay activists, it had shades of bathhouse raids and gay-bar roundups from decades ago. On Tuesday, federal authorities burst into the Union Square office of the gay-escort website and arrested the chief executive and several employees on prostitution charges.

Rentboy, which federal authorities called the biggest male-escort website, had been around for almost two decades, allowing escorts to pay to advertise themselves. It was well known in the gay community, hosting pool parties, dances and awards shows throughout the country.

After federal authorities charged its top executives with promoting prostitution, seized the website and went after the business’s assets on Tuesday, many gay activists were infuriated. The Transgender Law Center, a civil-rights group, criticized the arrests, as did some male sex workers. Several activists said they would use the episode to renew calls to decriminalize prostitution.

...Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which participated in the investigation, said in an email that “any insinuation that a specific population was targeted is categorically false.”

Mr. Walls said: “As the investigative arm of the Department of Homeland Security, ICE is responsible for the enforcement of laws that promote the legitimate movement of people, goods and currency in domestic and foreign transactions. Our allegation with this case is that the business and its principals purported itself to be an escort service while promoting criminal acts, namely illegal prostitution.”

Morning Line: Biden is strongest Democrat

Based on our moving average of recent polls, with a ten point lead over Trump, Biden does twice as well as Clinton or Sanders.  He does a few points better against Bush and Rubio. 61% say Clinton is not trustworthy; 54% say that of Trump.

With 33 points Trump leads Bush and Carson by 22 points, his best yet. All the rest are in single digits. Walker and Cruz have 6

Clinton leads Sanders by 21 points. Biden 32 points behind Clinton.

David Duke praises Trump

CNN - David Duke, the anti-Semitic former Ku Klux Klan leader, praised Republican front-runner Donald Trump for his immigration policy proposals and said Trump is "the best of the lot."

After ranting about "Jewish supremacy" and Jewish domination of the media, Duke took time out of two of his radio programs last week to talk up Trump's candidacy as a "great thing," praising the Republican candidate's plan to deport the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. Donald Trump's empire 16 photos: Donald Trump's empire

"Trump is really -- he's really going all out. He's saying what no other Republicans have said, few conservatives say. And he's also gone to the point where he says it's not just illegal immigration, it's legal immigration," Duke said last week on his radio show, also pointing to Trump's plan to put more restrictions on work visas to ensure Americans are hired before foreigners. Buzzfeed News first reported the comments on Tuesday.

Duke, who previously served in the Louisiana statehouse and ran for U.S. Senate in that state, did not endorse Trump and said Trump remains untrustworthy for his "deep Jewish connections" and support for Israel.

Music break: The Mills Brothers