Saturday, February 28, 2015

The debate on inequality broadens as Greene, Blankfein (Goldman Sachs) weigh in

Jeff Greene, on CNN, argues for a “grown up debate” on inequality.  He pays particular attention to the need to address jobs being destroyed by new “disruptive technology”.  He mentions 3D printing as an example.  Maybe what I did is part of the problem. Here is the main link
Jean Song on CBS reports comments by CEO Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, that income (and accumulated wealth) inequality is “destabilizing”, link here.  That is a theme of my third “Do Ask, Do Tell” book (press release from XLibris )  Blankfein wants policy changes that give everyone a chance to start at the same place in line, with equal access to education and training.  I think it can get a lot more personal and subtle than that.  (See my Drama blog, Feb. 26, 2012 and then Nov. 4, 2012, “Soulfire: The Mission in Belize”, curiously related to a question on “It’s Academic” today.  By the way, "Academic" had a lot of questions concentrated on topics covered in my books and blogs, almost like a "test" on my stuff!)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Jack Andraka talks about education of gifted students

Here’s an interesting interview on a site called “Down the Hall” by Dr. Rod Berger, of teen scientist Jack Andraka, link here. Andraka will enter Stanford as a freshman in the fall of 2015.
I did wonder how he got time off from “public school” for all of these speaking engagements all over the country.  Jack talks about the “bulimic” learning strategy, where you learn as much as possible to regurgitate on tests.

Oh, I can remember junior English, around 1960.  “Learn your facts about your authors.”  A test that was partly T-F and fill in the blanks.  In those days, 95-100 was A, 89-94 was B, and below 75 was “E”.  How did we all make it through the strain of this.  (There’s actually a scene with an English literature teacher insisting on memorizing facts in the 1960 horror film “Blood of Dracula”.) 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Recreational marijuana now legal in Washington DC, in very restricted, private, non-commercial settings, for adults

Marijuana for recreational use, in private, in small quantities, non-commercially, became legal in the District of Columbia as of 12:01 AM this morning, February 26, 2015, for those over 21. 
No money is appropriated to allow the District to implement the law, but the permissive parts of the law would not seem to require federal funding. Nevertheless, at least two GOP members of Congress threatened to have DC Mayor Muriel Bowser arrested and prosecuted for somehow violating the law.  This does not seem to have happened. Pot use is not legal on federal property, about 22-25% of the City.
Vox explains the law here.  The Cato Institute also has a similar page here
The Libertarian Party has long argued against the “War on Drugs” which started during the Nixon era.  Remember Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no.”  In 1973, New York State passed a particularly draconian law. 
The strategy of making recreational marijuana legal, but regulated in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco, seems to make sense. 
Marijuana does pose some medical risk to users, somewhat different in nature than the other two legal substances mentioned.  When I was in the Army (late 60s), soldiers would tell me that it heightened their sensory perception and ability to respond to others (usually women).  However, there is evidence that it can interfere with cognitive development if used while the brain is still developing.  And the best evidence is that the brain is at its “summer solstice” between ages of 24 to 30.  If you’re really going to be good at something your whole life (until well into senior years), you need to have your basic cognitive skill set well developed by about age 25.  This goes for anything: music, art, chess, science, computer coding.  (There is a saying among concert pianists that you shouldn’t play Beethoven until age 30!)  Physical strength and endurance in male athletes actually often peaks a little later, about age 28.  Even at 21, one is not quite fully “grown”.  

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Current battle over immigration affects adult kids of undocumented people

While having breakfast nearby this morning, I saw an article by Aaron Wiener, “Living the Dream: How a local nonprofit helps college become reality for undocumented immigrants”, in the City Paper (Washington DC), link here. The nonprofit is “The Dream US”, link here. The student at issue, a female from Guyana (unfortunately, that’s where Jonestown was in 1978) and wound up with a scholarship at TrinityUniversity, in NE DC, for women, near Catholic University. 
Vox Media has a detailed explanation of the status of the Obama administration’s “deferred action” programs, particularly for those over 30 whose parents came here illegally.  A federal judge issued a possibly damaging injunction Feb. 20, based on administrative (not constitutional) law.  The scuffle doesn't seem to hurt those under 30. 
This issue is legally complex, and changing rapidly, and unfortunately is creating an unwholesome opportunity to play politics even with the Department of Homeland Security (which another Vox piece maintains is redundant, but that’s another matter – I don’t relish the idea of TSA screeners not being paid, as one time I almost applied for that kind of job).  The issue is more distant from my world, and the political issues (like DADT and free speech) that I have battled.  But the issue of political asylum for people from hostile countries (especially anti-gay) could change that. 
It's well to remember the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, former Washington Post journalist, in his film "Documented" (Movies, May 30, 2014). 
Wiener has another interesting piece about the demographics of Washington DC population, where in much of the City a majority of adults are childless, link here.  That prompted some anger in the comments.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Middle class and poor people need the risk of debt to stay in the game

Here’s an important piece, “Debt’s Two Sides: Riches and Misery”, by Jeff Sommer, p. 6 in the Review Section of the Sunday New York Times, link here
The article examines the long-known idea that people can make more return on leverage investments, by incurring debt and borrowing some of it, as has long been supported by government tax policies regarding mortgages. 

The problem is that poorer people carry a lot more debt relative to their net worth than to rich people  Middle class people, often needing space to raise families, practically have to go into debt to provide housing.  It became so pervasive that often only "poorer" people remained renters in many cities.  This all is not to mention student debt. 
The film “American Denial”, reviewed on the Movies Blog today, mentioned that a disproportionate portion of subprime (and upside down) mortgages were taken by African-Americans.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Homeless sculpture image of Jesus, blanketed, to appear in Washington and several other cities

The Washington Post reports on a sculpture of “homeless Jesus”, a blanketed figure commonly seen in winter on many city sidewalks, now placed in many cities. The work is by Timothy P. Schmalz, story by Sarah Palliam Bailey here .
The sculpture appears outside Catholic Charities at 924 G St. in downtown Washington DC.  I’ll try to get a picture as soon as I can.
I had some dealings with Catholic Charities on Lemmon Ave. in Dallas back in 1980.  I went in to talk about the Cuban refugee crisis then, and the Hispanic workers said, “Because you say you are gay, that ends the discussion.”

Update:  Feb. 27

Here is the sculpture

in front of Catholic Charities.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The race reparations (for slavery) debate is back with a big Atlantic article

Here is a very long article in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations”, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, link here.
A lot of the article deals specifically with racial history in Chicago.   

The article says, “This is not about now, it is about then”, and gets, toward the end, into a comparison of whether Germany should have paid reparations to the Jews after WWII. The US economy still has bad karma over slavery, which means that individual white people owe something, so the argument goes.  There is always a cultural issue over holding people responsible for what their ancestors did. 
Recently, I noticed an article about the rate of suspension from school in Rhode Island by race, here. That’s where God Davis, the late filmmaker of “American Lynching” comes from.
I’ve always been an individualist.  I do believe that individuals who have been more privileged (relative to their native abilities) should pay back or “pay their dues”, but it’s case-by-case, not something that comes from belonging or not belonging to a group and signing up for a particular cause. 
I remember a conversation with a shop in Richmond where I was placing my first book back in 1997, where he said, “Oh, I’m very much for affirmative action”.  And in the days after the book came out, I did get a few emails from people who thought I had started out ahead in line strictly because of race.

When I was substitute teaching, race usually wasn’t a discipline issue, until it was, just a few times, more with Latino issues. 
Above is a debate on reparations for the descendants of slavery (and segregation) at Boston University, the Christopher Hitchens Debate from 2001. 

No question, this debate comes in behind the recent controversy over police profiling, with Ferguson and Staten Island and other incidents. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Stanford scholar recommends carbon taxes on citizens now; face up to climate change

Jeffrey Ball has a somewhat generic article “Facing the Truth about Climate Change” on p. 24 of the February 2015 of The New Republic (“TNR”).  “Humanity is faced with a looming environmental crisis”.  The link is here. A lot of the discussion appears to the political measures that would be necessary to keep the global rise in temperature a manageable 2 degrees C (almost 4 F) by 2100.  Even that will affect low-lying populations (often poor) and cause more intense storms and droughts.
The essay is a bit diffuse, given the writer’s claim of confrontation, but his main recommendation is that we need direct carbon taxes, not cap-and-trade.
How would this affect the “average citizen”?  Maybe especially if an “average Jo”.  He says we will eat, travel, trade and manufacture in novel ways, which he hopes are not “archaic” (read Luddite). 
Does this mean that a carbon tax is like a sales tax?  If it is revenue neutral, does it come off the income tax as a credit?  If it does that, how does it mix with concepts like standard deduction, exclusions, and the like?  (The old “People’s Party” which believed in a “single tax”) wouldn’t like this.)
Nevertheless, the way people use energy comes a sustainability and “moral” issue.  People in rural areas drive more, but usually live in larger households.  Single people can use energy inefficiently, especially when driving, but are more likely to live in urban areas in smaller units and be able to walk and use public transportation. 
Ball is a scholar-in-residence at Stanford University. 

Picture: I tweeted that this simulates what Titan might look like, with methane snow instead of real snow, of course.  The current cold wave in the East, due to a Siberian high migrating over the North Pole, might ironically result from global warming elsewhere.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

GOP in Oklahoma wants to eliminate AP History, says it is "revisionist"; kids need to get skills early

The GOP in Oklahoma wants to ban AP History because it sees the course as “revisionist’ and liberal, Education Week story by Catherine Gewertz here
There’s no complaint that students should study the founding documents, and even the controversy over church and state (like whether the Ten Commandments should be posted on public buildings, or earlier controversies over prayer in public schools).  The bill seems aimed at eliminating liberal or progressive content, such as recent battles over gay marriage, which will naturally come up when students examine equal protection concepts (whatever the Supreme Court does this June).
AP courses are seen also as putting more demands on kids and reducing social time with real people, although that’s partly a matter of time spent on line.
But they also are a good strategy for handling debt.  If you can earn college credit in high school, you can graduate sooner from college and borrow less.  And there is then more time for community or national service projects.  
I’ve got to throw in another comment on skills in areas like music or acting, mathematics, foreign languages, and software coding.  The earlier you can start this in life, the easier it is.  The best OOP coders today learned the concepts when they were tweens, not when they are 50.  (Mark Zuckerberg knows that.)  It’s easier to master skills and fluency before your brain starts pruning.  That’s just biological fact.  

Monday, February 16, 2015

Readers vary on whether deploying volunteer teachers is the best way to help disadvantaged students (NY Times, Economist, Change)

Monday’s New York Times (on President’s Day) has a series of letters to the editor on “Teaching the Needy” here  referring to an earlier (Feb. 5) story by Mokoto Rich, that fewer top graduates want to join “Teach for America” (linked in the first letter).
The gist of these stories is that the underprivileged need experienced teachers committed to the cause for years or life, not recent volunteer “interns”. 
Teaching, as a career field, did not enjoy a particularly good reputation during the decades that I was working in IT. 
When I worked as a sub (2004-2007), the “need” was not so much for tech or calculus teachers (as advocated in social media posts from Mark Zuckerberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Jack Andraka (as here in a pitch for the Talent Act), to name only a few), as for “lower end” personalized attention and drill .  Many of the kids needed more fathering than teaching, to put it mildly.  I even had phone discussions with the late filmmaker Gode Davis (“American Lynching” needs to be completed) about this, as Gode also worked as a sub.
The Economist has a relevant article “High-fliers in the classroom”, p. 53 (and 54). Feb 14, 2015, here. This article supports putting the best graduates in schools around the world. 
But “service” takes on more dangerous aspects –  doctors and nurses and aid workers to go to zones with Ebola or other new diseases, or even to places like Syria.  The same is true of reporters, who see “conflict reporting” and the dire risk taking as a kind of public service and dues payment (Brian Williams notwithstanding).

Sunday, February 15, 2015

New Republic editor argues for paid maternity leave; but what about the men, the childless, the unpaid overtime?

Rebecca Traister has a hawkish essay on p. 12 of The New Republic, where she is senior editor. “Labor Pains: More women than ever are having babies at the peak of their careers; When will we stop punishing them for it?” link here
Indeed, the average age for a first child in 1970 was younger than college graduation age.  My one spate of heterosexual dating in 1971 involved a recent graduate.  Now, the first baby is likely to come well into a first job.
And it’s also true that the experiences of working women with pregnancy are extremely variable.  Some jobs are physical, and some symptoms can interfere.  She actually mentions morning sickness, the possibility of vomiting at work.  As relevant, it seems, is the possibility of extreme complications, and the need for bed rest.  They seem unpredictable.
She also discusses European countries, as well as the willingness, even eagerness, of higher end employers to offer paid parental leave (sometimes for fathers, sometimes for adoption).  (Are the US and New Guinea the only countries with no mandatory paid maternity leave?)  These employers include TNR (as well as biggies like Facebook and Google).  Paternal leave also needs to come into discussion.  Some studies show that men undergo biological changes during wives’ pregnancies and when doing child care. (Oh, the Family Research Council uses that as an argument against gay marriage.) 
In the clip below, the father says he needed paternal leave because his wife’s leave ran out.
But again, the problem I always have with this kind of advocacy.  People who don’t have intercourse and have children have to subsidize this, sometimes sacrifice for it.  (Unpaid “salaried” overtime of the childless, and the responsibilities of employers – and their shareholders – come into play.)  This was never an issue in the workplace in the 70s and 80s, when everybody took care of his or her own stuff, but in the 90s it starting coming up.   “I need”.  Or her or she “needs”. 
On the other hand, and indeed partly because of the contributions of the Internet and, ironically, the gay marriage debate, the perspective of marriage and childbearing is shifting back to a broader sense of community social responsibility, away from the idea that it is just a private choice and an “afterthought” to public accomplishment and individual accolades .  (Does the premise of the book and film “Five Shades of Grey” – Movies blog, Feb. 13, fit here?; also my “BillBoushka” blog Sept. 30, 2014)   Today, with fewer kids and longer lives, more people are likely to face doing eldercare personally.  Should that be included? (It’s unpaid by the FMLA.)  Larger families are used to the idea that sometimes childless relatives wind up raising siblings’ kids after tragedies.   The idea of providing for others as a moral social obligation, in a democracy (not just in an autocratic environment like Putin’s Russia, or strict Islam) seems to be going back on the kitchen table. This topic even jives with the national service debate. 
Life isn’t always fair.  Maybe it shouldn’t be.
Update: later Sunday

Vox (Danielle Kurtzleben) reports that paternity leave policies get new dads to do their share of the housework. Cornell University studied a "fathers only) paternity leave program in Quebec. 

Update: May 10, 2015

ABC has a major article May 6 about the paid maternity leave debate, with many lively comments, here

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Northern Virginia residents may need Uber and Lyft as Metro service is compromised by accidents

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has ruled that ride-sharing services Lyft and Uber can continue operating before full regulations are adopted, NBC4-Washington News story here
The services would be important to northern Virginia residents on weekend late nights if Metro is compelled to stop late night service because of the consequences of the deadly smoke accident near L’Enfant Plaza on January 12.  Metro is examining its options, and says they could be implemented in the Fall, but they could come sooner if safety concerns get worse.  The NTSB is expected to present a major report to Metro today. 
Despite Metro shutdowns and single tracking for maintenance, safety related incidents continue to happen.  Metro has not been able to provide the 24x7 service comparable, say, to New York City, because there is no as much redundancy in the routes.  Dedicate bus lanes could provide major improvements during shutdowns. 
Taxi service has generally improved since DC required “ready for hire” signs. Despite the rules, not all late night drivers take credit cards in my experience.  Availability of rides late at night in the U-Street area seems to have improved in the second half of 2014. 
Riders should know that Lyft and Uber have two-way user and customer rating systems (“Bill Boushka” blog Jan. 31).
It seems as though libertarian solutions with less regulations may help consumers (and businesses in DC like bars and discos) the most. But with the complicated political climate associated with limited home rule, local businesses have trouble getting their act together in working with government in order to provide better customer service.  

Update: Later Feb. 11

The NTSB scolded Metro in a report considering the way the fans and ventilation work, and Congress will hold hearings starting Friday, Feb. 13.  The link, including the embedded PDF in Scribd of the report, is here

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

NASA will deploy new hardware to detect destructive solar storms

Here is some good news on the homeland security front.  The Weather Channel reports that NASA will deploy a new satellite, Sunday February 15, 2015, to provide better warning of large solar storms, link here.

Solar storms come in waves, and the most destructive is usually the coronal mass ejection (CME) which may arrive up to three days after the solar flare if the Earth is in the “wrong” position in its orbit (and at matching inclination) as it goes around the sun, or as the Sun itself rotates (every 30 days or so).  Most CME’s miss Earth, like a big one in July 2012.

The video mentions the nine-hour power outage in a lot of Quebec in March 1989 due to a CME.  We dread to think what a Carrington-sized CME could do.

Utilities are supposed to be developing more advanced grounding techniques to reduce the damage to large transformers, which cannot be easily replaced.  Insurance companies say they are making progress.  One strategy after a NASA warning could be a temporary area-wide brownout or blackout, with little warning to the public. 
Typically the strength of a CME is not known until it approaches closely, at a Lagrange point, but NASA is supposed to have solutions for that issue.   

Monday, February 09, 2015

Libertarian author notes that measles vaccine may not be as effective as generally thought; does the same "herd immunity" idea transport to the guns and home security debate?

Libertarian author Mary Ruwart (“Healing Our World”, Sunstar), who was based in Charlotte, NC the last time I talked to her (I met her while living in Minneapolis) has raised some questions in the vaccine debate with an email this morning. The email  link to her blog didn’t work (maybe a spurious character), but I got it to come up from the site myself, here.
She says that    and points to this editorial about the need for a newer measles vaccine, published by Elsevier and the Edward Jenner Society (I don’t see a date), here.  She says that over half of cases in Canada come from vaccinated individuals.  Some of her comments suggests that those who know they are vulnerable should stay away from public crowds.  But for most people, gradual exposure to normally occurring viruses and bacteria through social interaction helps build adult immunity.  I rarely have severe symptoms from anything as an adult, even if I was sickly as a young boy. That's because of gradually built-up immunity through repeated small exposures. 
I had measles in June, 1950, just before my seventh birthday.  We cut short a family trip in Ocean City, MD.  There’s always been a question if some subtle neurological problems (lack of normal coordination) developed as a result.  Should I have a booster at age 71?
Most experts still insist that current vaccines are safe and effective. Some claim that a shot gives 95% immunity, which raises to 99% with the second shot. 
My own “libertarian” take on the vaccine debate is personal responsibility:  the normally responsible thing is to get vaccinated and not depend on the herd immunity of others.  Where I think this concept really matters is for college students, who, if they are going to live in a dorm, need to get both meningitis vaccines – it’s the Type B, for which the vaccine is newer, that is harder to treat with antibiotics and leads to blood poisoning and amputations sometimes.  So make sure your college gives the vaccines or get them yourself.
Of course, this sort of debate transports to other areas, like self-defense and gun ownership.  There is a “herd immunity” effect in neighborhood safety, but the public policy issues around gun registration are, we know, complicated.  Piers Morgan is always pointing out that Australia has had no mass shootings since tightening gun laws in 1996.  But then the kidnapping incident last fall in Sydney by a rogue ISIS sympathizer might not have happened had the shop owner been able to defend himself and the customers. 

Monday, February 02, 2015

Vaccines don't cause autism, but we're not sure that something lifestyle-related can't

Both Sanjay Gupta and NYU’s Art Caplan said, “vaccines do not cause autism” on AC360 tonight, with basic link here.
“Correlation does not imply causality”.  But Gupta did admit that autism, at least in male children, is on the rise, and it isn’t entirely clear that it is simply more reporting of it and enlarged definitions. 
One possibility could be parents being a little older when they have kids than they used to.
Another might include some processed foods. 
A more sinister answer might include increased media exposure at ages before brains are ready to process it, which is an answer I like.  Yet I am a media person. 
One other thing, if someone or a family got a measles case at a resort or football game, that means normally that family wasn't responsible enough to get vaccinated itself.  Personal responsibility, anyone? 

But Michael Gerson, in the Washington Post Feb. 3, p A15, "Threatened by free riders: Those who skip vaccination endanger everyone" (or online "The public good versus individual freedom") argues that herd immunity works only when about 90% of the population is immune, so that the immunocrompromised person on chemotherapy (who can't "choose" vaccination) isn't endangered. The state should take compulsory measures necessary to bring the rate up to 90%.  That is, those who don't have a medical reason to avoid vaccination are riding on the willingness of everyone else to take a very small risk for the public good (link).  As noted, though, this kind of reasoning affects other areas, like the old military draft.  
CNN reports on a mother, Mrs. Olosky, who organized parents to clean a public grade school to eliminate a measles threat.  But this should not be necessary!

Update: February 4

German Lopez of Vox Media interviews Dan Olmsted,editor of "Age of Autism" (here) nitpicking more in the vaccine and autism debate, that still seems discredited if looked at very carefully, as explained in the Vox article here.  Olmsted is a reported for UPI, which Wikipedia says is connected to the Unification Church (link). 

Update: February 5

Autism Speaks has come out with a statement that there is no connection between modern vaccines and autism. 

Sunday, February 01, 2015

In a few states, paid parental leave covered by small payroll tax and does reduce use of welfare benefits

Here we go again.  Clair Cain Miller has a major piece “The economic benefits of paid parental leave” in the New York Times, p. 3, today, Sunday, February 1, 2015, link here
She discusses the situations in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island and says that it is financed by a small payroll tax.  One of the main benefits is that, since parents (mainly mothers) are more likely to return to work, they are less likely to wind up on welfare or use other public benefits, according to the study.
It’s important to note that the paid leave law would include caring for parents, which somewhat involves the childless more than might be expected, as life spans lengthen and (with smaller families) the number of available caregivers is less. 
The benefits have been available to unmarried mothers, which could raise an objection of asking others to subsidize "someone else's behavior".  
Still, the law is likely to create more issues in salaried workplaces, where other workers don’t get paid more for taking up the slack (often on their own time).