Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pew Research finds controversial public opinions on "breadwinner moms"

The Pew Research Center has reported a study on public opinion on “breadwinner moms”, who bring home most of the income in 40% of American families with children, with the main report here.  There “breadwinner moms” fall into two groups:  married but earning more than their husbands, and single moms.
A good part of the public is concerned that a situation where the wife earns more is not good for marriage itself – men are becoming useless. 
Pew has another link (by Bruce Drake) where it invites public comments, and some couples feel it is a non-issue, link here.  Pew refers to the Washington Post Express magazine at Metro stands as highlighting the issue. 
New reports noted that the US is the only major western country without mandating paid maternity leave; yet countries that provide it (or require employers to) don't have as many families where women earn most (or all() of the income.  The "natural family" crowd would find this controversial, pointing out the need to protect families from the "logical consequences of radical individualism" (Carlson. "Family Matters", 1989).  

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Good students failing final exams in high school in well-to-do Washington area suburb

There has been interesting media attention in recent days to  the high failure rates of students in final examinations in high schools in Montgomery County, MD (near Washington DC) , even students who have been making A’s and B’s during the year.

Final exams in the county count 25% of the grade, according to reports.
The North Potomac Patch ran an analysis here

The Washington Post has a story by Donna St. George here

The biggest rates of failure seem to occur in mathematics and history. 

When I went to high school (graduated Washington-Lee in Arlington VA in 1961), teachers made u the final exam, which counted 20% (as one quarter).  It appears likely that the school district departments make up standard examinations for all teachers to use.  That would be more like the SOL’s, which in most states are largely multiple choice. 

Failures of finals in Honors and AP courses were less frequent, but still could happen.

How well can I remember my own high school finals?

In geometry (tenth grade then), the exam consisted mostly of problems to “prove”, with some Pythagorean Theorem problems, area calculations, and inferences from diagrams. 

In algebra, the exam consisted mostly of problems similar to the homework all year.

In physics, the same was true, but you can get creative on a physics test.  Imagine a test problem based on the geometry of the outfield of a major league baseball park.

In chemistry, you would predict reactions, balance equations, solve some concentration of solution problems. 
In biology, you would have to solve a genetics problem, and work with phylum characteristics, and draw and label organisms, and compare organisms, and explain basic biological processes.   Now much alike are cats and dogs, and how are they different? 

In American History, we had to choose just ten out of twenty-five essay questions.  I remember questions on (1) The Fall Line (2) the significance of the 14th Amendment (3) the reasons why the Bill of Rights was drawn up (4) mercantilism in colonial America and why it can matter today (5) why Woodrow Wilson became so aggressive in conducting World War I (6) understanding the status of the freed slaves during Reconstruction through today, (7) Manifest destiny and imperialism  (8) Comparing democracy, communism, fascism.  (See main blog, Sept. 14, 2007). 

In English, there was a tendency to split the courses between grammar (including vocabulary) and literature.  Tenth grade (a young male teacher with a background in football) was interesting.  We had read Julius Caesar, Silas Marner, some poems and short stories.  (Now, the reading is usually “Lord of the Flies”, “Night”, “The Great Gatsby”).   I remember a final exam question on Julius Caesar that asked us to analyze the motives of some of the characters (especially Brutus and Antony).  I think there was something about compassion in “Silas Marner”.  In Junior English, “The Scarlet Letter” had been required, and most people read “House of Seven Gables” as a book report.   “The Red Badge of Courage” had been required.  So had some of Poe’s stories  and poems – but most students enjoyed those because they were the basis of “horror movies”.  In Junior English we had more multiple choice and true-false than in tenth – the female  teacher – who handed out candy during the 3-hour exam.  I think that the literature of Puritanism created the most problems for studying. 

OK, kids, I used to sub in Arlington and Fairfax schools. I’ve given you a hint as to what to study for, a hint as to what is on the test. 

I would be honored if a question on something in one of my books (about “don’t ask don’t tell” and so many other parepetia) would show up on a final. 
Once I saw a young male teacher grading and re-inking themes on the Metro.  Another time I saw young male another teacher with copies of what looked like a calculus test.  He accidentally dropped them on the floor of the train car. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Some of West Virginia coal and fracking country seems like another planet

Another field trip for me today, into the coal country. 

Actually, one of my destinations was Morgantown, W Va, to see the much maligned people mover for West Virginia University located downtown.  It looks rusty and well worn, yet quirky enough to come from a Star Trek movie.  I had ridden in in 1996.

I drove around through some country around Morgantown that is supposed to have gotten a lot of fracking permits in the past five years.  But it is very hard to see installations from public highways.  Most of them are on private property in remote areas, well secluded from public access.  I think I saw one tower on US 19 W of Morgantown but could not pull over to photograph. 

But there is a miniature model of a fracking tower outside the Preston County Sheriff’s office in Kingwood, W Va.

I saw some old stripmining damage I had never noticed from the McDonald’s parking lot in Forstburg. MD.  And I think I could see a little south of US 50  shortly after turning east after passing trhough Tunntelton.

I saw several rural homes that had been burned (in entire community of them), with people in the yards as if they lived there, even though the homes might have been condemned – perhaps that doesn’t happen in rural mountain areas.  It was like driving through the Fourth Dominion in Clive Barker’s novel “Imajica”.

There are some aerial photos of fracking sites in northern W VA at this site.  

Friday, May 24, 2013

IRS keeps needing beefsteak for its probing eyes; web sites claim to promote "marriages", family

The Internal Revenue Service got another black eye this week as USA Today reported that families adopting children were often singled out for audits for the credits they took, although the audits recovered almost no additional revenue. 
The USA Today story by Bob Smietana is here  

The scandal over auditing “conservative” groups has already culminated in Lois Lerner, the IRS director of exempt organizations, taking the Fifth Amendment, link here.

But imagine the culture of working in an IRS office, underwriting the exemptions.  It rather reminds me of the ethical challenges one could find in general working in insurance underwriting.  It’s the sort of thing that leads to conflict of interest.
Society, it seems to me, sends very mixed messages on adoption.  On the one hand, NBC Washington’s “Wednesday’s Child” program begs for families to adopt foster children, and some states, like Minnesota, even encourage singles to adopt.  One the other hand, some prospective parents (especially LGBT) would be met with suspicion.

I’m also struck by the mixed messages on the importance (or lack of thereof) of having relationships.  The site “” brags about promoting marriages.  The Santorum crowd would like that.  “Christian Singles”, often advertising on CNN, talks about “God’s match for you”, almost as if people really couldn’t find their partners on their own without prodding.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Obama administration pressures NERC on power grid reliability in view of space weather. sunspots

Coronal mass ejections from solar storms could be the gravest threat that we haven’t fully addressed, according to a major Commentary article in the Washington Times on Tuesday, May 21, 2013,  “The night that all the lights went out”, by Frank Gaffney Jr., a former assistant Defense Secretary under President Reagan, with link here.  (And the lights don't just go out in Georgia.)  
Gaffney also says that countries like North Korea and Iran are needling ways to exploit a possible EMP vulnerability.  A few years ago, The Washington Times also reported on a localized EMP weapon, a flux gun or Radio Frequency gun at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, an Army weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan, which could fall into the wrong hands.  
On May 16, Cheryl LaFleur, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner, has ordered that NERC, the trade group “North American Electric Reliability Corporation”,  must develop reliability standards for utilities for meeting solar storms.  Power Magazine has a detailed article here  and that article refers back to a scary article on space weather from 2011.

Gaffney notes that Maine contemplates  legislation to insulate the state against EMP.
In 2011, the 112th Congress considered a SHIELD Act, the Secure High-Voltage Infrastructure for Electricity from Lethal Damage Act, HR 668, link here
Gaffney also notes the popularity and ratings success of the NBC series “Revolution”, but the scientific pretext from, JJ Abrams (nanobots that swallow electricity from the air) really doesn’t make sense, where as the EMP attack in the book “One Second After” might make sense.  See also the review of the book “A Nation Forsaken” by Maloof on my books blog April 13. 

Wikipedia attribution link for Sunspot picture.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

West Virginia, wild and wonderful -- the highest sections look unscathed, but a subtle warning is there

Today, I did a very long “field observation” – in West Virginia, in the highest country.  It was a 16-hour day, “Clear Choice” style inasmuch as I cam e back the same night, no campout or motel stay.
I visited the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Greenbank, across the West Virginia Line, behind the “Eastern Continental Divide”, or Allegheny Mountain, which in that area reaches about 4500 feet (US 250 actually climbs to 4300 feet).  Because of a weather pattern with moisture from the Southeast, fog was accumulating on the east sides of the mountains. 
The Observatory is run by the National Science Foundation (now in Arlington in Ballston), and the “museum” part would work well in the Rainbow “Reid-ing” videos: “It’s free”.   ("Clear Choice" is not free.)  Federal sequestration doesn't seem to have affected the museum much.
There’s a mural of the Drake Equation, which estimates the number of possible civilizations in the universe (or maybe our galaxy).  The NSF analysis seems to suggest that there might be about fifty civilizations as advanced as ours in the Milky Way.  If so, “Star Trek” is for real, and it’s only matter of time.

There is also considerable attention to the nature of radio waves (as a kind of electromagnetic radiation), and at least a hint that in the wrong hands, radio waves could be dangerous (as to power grids), a topic I’ve discussed before. 
The countryside around is spectacular.  I saw no mountaintop removal I the highest country, but I did see one quarry on US 220,  and one underground mine south of Richwood, beyond the Highland Scenic Highway (a combination of W Va 150 and then 39/55, with the Cranberry Glades in the middle).  The road is a kind of superior “skyline drive”, rising to 4703 at one point, where a trail goes off to Spruce Knob. 
Cass Scenic Railroad did not seem to be open yet.  It’s not free, though.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

NTSB recommendation of lower legal alcohol limit: balancing lives with business

The National Transportation Safety Board has a YouTube video to back up its recommendation that states lower the legal blood alcohol limit for drivers to ).05 (from 0.08 as it is in most states).

The lower 0.05 limit is common in Europe.

Bars and restaurants are going to be opposed, because Americans generally have to drive to their bars and restaurants (outside NYC and a few other in-town areas). In Europe, effective 24x7 public transportation is common. 

A female is likely to be over the limit with just two drinks.  Generally, one would need to wait at least one hour after the last drink, for every drink one had consumed in an evening, before getting alcohol down to safe levels (close to zero).

One idea that can help is after-hours dancing with alcohol prohibited after a certain hour.  In Minneapolis, that time was 1 AM, but clubs were open on Saturday night until 3 AM, giving patrons two hours to process a last drink.  But in 2003, Last Call was extended to 2 AM.
In Washington DC, it used to be possible to arrest and charge drivers for DUI if they had any measurable alcohol.  But DUI was a lesser charge than DWI (which required a legal min of 0.08).  

It seems like the NTSB would next turn its attention to draconian curbs on "distracted driving". 

States may be forced to comply by threats of withdrawal of federal funding, if Congress goes along. The GOP might not.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

IRS chokes on the Tea Party; "Family and Faith" announces a "Road to Majority" conference, with Clinton-era rhetoric

I got an email this morning from The Washington Times on a “Faith and Family” conference called “Road to Majority 2013”.  The Eventrbite link is here

I had to chuckle at the agenda.  About things like “getting out the vote” and pressuring people to give you money and time, etc.  Where have I seen that before.
My own father used to say back in the 1950s, “The Majority has some rights, you know.”
I wonder what kind of logic they will spin now.  People who can afford it not having enough children?  That makes sense.  The economy is hard on families that have children?  Yes.  The whole idea of tax equality fights against disposable income arguments.  We saw this back in the 1990s.  Some social conservatives mourn the loss of the “family wage”.  (Remember Henry Hyde's "Mom and Pop Manifesto" from 1995?)  But it’s the liberals who push for mandatory paid family leave and paid family benefits (which the childless would pay for), as in Europe. 
And how about the idea that gay marriage “devalues” traditional marriage?  This has always sounded a bit self-effacing.  Why brag about how weak you are?
In the meantime, the Obama administration has egg yolk to mop up after “low level” IRS employees started watching organizations that sounded “ant-tax” or “anti-government”, or mentioned the Tea Party.  The ORS says it was low-level employees. Sure. 

CNN’s video above talks about the IRS admitting it’s “mistakes”.   

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Carbon Dioxide level passes 400 ppm; Is the Earth going the route of Venus?

The Earth’s carbon dioxide level has passed an unseen milestone, of 400 parts per million. This report is based on a measurement on top of Mauna Loa (over 13000 feet) in Hawaii. 
This is higher than the concentration was three million years ago when sea levels were thirty feel higher.
The measurement, sponsored by Ralph Keeling, was just 315 ppm in 1958.  The slope of the carbon dioxide concentration is itself increasing rapidly.
National Geographic has a big story here
BBC News has a similar story here 
It is becoming clear that we will need “policy” decision about living along coastlines – not just volunteerism after big storms (as in my reports about Sandy in the middle of March).
We also could find that areas of the country not used to long tracking tornadoes, like the mid-Atlantic, could face them in the coming years much more often.  And events like last summer’s derecho, with amounted to an atmospheric collapse in an extreme heat wave, could become more common.   

Still, the most pressing infrastructure issue in the short term could be power grid security, as discussed in previous posts.  

Friday, May 10, 2013

Texas high school student's classroom rant on teachers who don't teach goes viral

I remember that when I was a graduate assistant instructor at the University of Kansas in the 1960s with a somewhat remedial algebra course, other student instructors said, “If the students didn’t learn, the teacher didn’t teach.”  They said you should even try to sell your subject to the students.  Is that feasible in a “slower” class?
Well, ask high school student Jeff Bliss in Duncanville, TX, who ranted at his World History teacher over her not teaching and simply giving them “worksheets”.  I saw a lot of worksheets (video work sheets and reading quizzes) when I worked as a sub. 
WFAA (Dallas station) has an interview with Mr. Bliss here.  Apparently, his original video went “viral”.
I did see some good learning experiences when I was as sub (in northern Va).  In an AP chemistry class, students got to make a short film on the discovery of a new element, “Reltonium”.
Visitors might want to check out the book by Arvin Vohra “Lies, Damed Lies and College Admissions”, reviewed April 19, 2013 on the Book Review blog.
Teachers used to have a lot of power over students in the way of tests and grades – a “ranking” process, that was especially sensitive during the days of the military draft and deferments.  That may be less so today, with so much more emphasis on standardized tests and team teaching.   

Thursday, May 09, 2013

The debt ceiling debate -- IT'S BACK!! (Pay China -- and rich retirees -- first!?!)

Remember the debt ceiling debate?  It’s back. Hopefully without Michelle Bachmann. 
This time, the GOP seems more chastened, and is genuinely concerned that it will get blamed for any defaults or disruptions of peoples’ lives that could occur.
Lori Montgomery of the Washington Post reports  that the House has been moving on the issue, as the debt ceiling holiday comes to an end in May.  The House has passed a bill prioritizing bond holders and Social Security first, according to a story today, link here. There was an earlier story on p. A14 of the Post.
But every Democrat and eight Republicans voted no.
Actually, it’s likely that the law already requires this prioritization, as some law professors noted on a discussion forum on the New York Times earlier this year.  Social Security is technically a bond holder and could get first in line.  But it could take a federal judge to ratify that unless Congress acts.
However, the bill has also been called “Pay China First”.
Passing the bill (which will fail the Senate) could send a message that defaulting is somehow “OK”.
Actually, the Boston terror attack highlights another point: failing to adopt a budget is downright dangerous to national security as well as the economy.  There are security threats that aren’t talked about much, as I noted yesterday -=- the “low probability, high impact” events.
The issues of the past couple of months – North Korea, Boston, crime increases, airline disruptions from sequestration – shows the folly of allowing sequestration to continue, and uncertainty over the debt ceiling to continue.  There is simply no excuse for Congress not adopting a budget now.
Aren’t members of Congress no longer getting paid since they missed the April 15 deadline for a budget? 

Update: May 10:

The Wall Street Journal has a different spin, reporting "Falling deficits alter debate; Improving federal finances lessen pressure on Republicans, Democrats to negotiate", link here

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

3-D printers create a conundrum for weapons control, but that's only the beginning of it

Both California and the District of Columbia are introducing legislation to prohibit the personal manufacture of plastic guns manufactured at home from 3-D printers.
Huffington has as story here.

Other states will surely follow, as may Congress.

Plastic weapons could be undetectable (possibly even by the TSA) and could be melted or destroyed as evidence after major crimes.

Despite the fact that the parts can be “printed” at home, a lot of skill and assembly is required.  Nevertheless, anyone with military experience could probably do it.

The cheapest printer that I saw on the web sold for $999.  But most larger ones are several thousand.
The media is understandably giving a lot of attention to the idea that people could make untraceable weapons at home from parts that can be printed with directions on the Internet.

Could states or Congress reasonably try to ban possession of 3-D printers at all, citing the overriding concern about this sort of misuse?   It’s a disturbing question. Could it make illegal the posting of assembly instructions on the Internet?  It would simply happen off shore.

While I respect the calls for background checks and bans on military-style assault weapons favored by the president, Piers Morgan, and others (and very much in place overseas), I wonder how effective they can be, as there are far more grave potential threats. 

As I noted in a book review on April 13, some conservative authors and politicians (Michael Maloof) have warned that weapons (RF and "flux guns")  that could disable power grids and electronics over wide areas could be manufactured from parts and directions on the Internet.  These claims may well be exaggerated, as this has not happened in areas where it could be expected (like the Middle East).  The US Army does have and use similar (classified) weapons for use in combat zones like Iraq and Afghanistan.  
However, I notice now that NERC, the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, has  posted a webpage about a recent workshop on “low probability high risk events” including electromagnetic pulse. The page is here.  The details are sketchy, but there was a closed meeting with Homeland Security in late 2009.
I recently had a discussion with a financial advisor about my own portfolio.  Utility stocks are not favored now, but investor concerns are about short term earnings.  Public policy requirements on utilities to significant harden infrastructure (such as grounding of transformers or ability to replace them quickly) could affect earnings in the short run, but might be necessary to protect basic sustainability of our civilization as we know it.  People who own securities in utilities may have a moral responsibility to become informed on this issue – and that’s not a mentality popular on Wall Street or with investors.  

Update: May 10

ABC News reports that a major website took down directions on how to assemble the 3-D printed plastic parts into a handgum after being contacted by the DOJ and being told they were in violation of an arms control act.  The site had experienced about 100,000 page requests for the directions.  A similar requirement would apply to more unconventional weapons.  The online story wasn't available as of yet, but it was mentioned around 6 PM by affiliate station WJLA in Washington DC. 

Media reports also report a criminal investigation and one arrest on the plant explosion in West, Texas.  That will be addressed later.  

Monday, May 06, 2013

Georgia mother shoots intruder defending home, sharpening debate on gun rights on both sides

The Washington Post on Sunday has a front page story, “To aim and fire”, about how a telecommuting mother in Walton County, GA, on a day her kids were home, shot and intruder how had tried to hide in a crawl space while the sheriff arrived. 
The link for the very detailed story by Anne Hull is here.

The story title is “a clear case of sell-defense rallies supporters of gun rights.”  But there are twists and this incident turned into a moral Mobius strip.

The intruder was an unemployed father of six, whose wife works as a school teacher.  He survived wounds and was sentenced to ten years in prison.  But his wife, struggling to make ends meet, wrote to the original mother and said that her husband did not intend to harm anyway.
The unemployed man said the thought no one was home.  Instead, he got “caught” and met with potentially deadly force.

The county had tried to implement a rule requiring background checks and fingerprinting of all doorto-door sales people, and found it unenforceable. 

But an insular society, with fewer “real jobs”, has made it harder for people to make a living. In the past, salesmanship in residential areas and solicitation (even for life insurance) was much more socially acceptable (and presented fewer security issues) than it is or does today.

A small town near the Georgia mountains has passed a law requiring every household head to own and be able to use a firearm, but it is not enforced. 

Wikipedia attribution link for north Georgia mountains.  My last visit there was in December, 1985.  

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Teen mentorship programs draw demonstration march in Washington DC

NBC Washington reported on a march to sustain a youth mentoring program for Washington DC on Friday, near the Lincoln Memorial. Megan McGrath reported.  The march seemed to be titled “Mentoring Matters”, or “The Pen or the Pencil” (that means, “The Penitentiary or the Pencil”).  The focus of the program seems to be to keep at-risk teens in school.

View more videos at:
Jay Matthews has a Washington Post story about online mentoring, link here.
And “American Graduate” (sponsored by PBS and WETA) explains its mentoring program here

Update:  May 9, 2013

The Washington Post, on p. B1, Metro, has an op-ed nu Courtland Milloy, "Filling a void in the lives of Pr. George's boys", link here. The online title is more telling, "Mentoring to Manhood gives black teens in Prince George's a shoulder to stand on".  A couple of direct quotes are in order:  "all the mentors rejected the idea that we succeed in life by individual effort alone."  Later, "Unfortunately, there are some among us who would refuse to help such students, choosing instead to blame their parents -- especially the fathers -- for not doing their jobs,. Mentors, thank goodness, are not so self-righteous as they selflessly step into the breach." CNN Heroes, maybe?

Friday, May 03, 2013

Controversy over FACT (Asbestos claims) bill questions concept of tort reform

There apparently are two sides to tort reform –  a progressive idea that libertarians tend to like, as they would penalize frivolous lawsuits that small fry can’t afford to defend against. Tort reform seems very important, for example, in intellectual property law. 
Yet in some occupational and health safety issues, it seems as though tort reform could hender protection of industrial or mining workers from protection, or from rehab after injury or illness.  One  such issue is asbestos and mesothelioma, a rapidly progressive lung cancer resulting from exposure. 
Apparently the legislation at issue is called FACT, or the Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2012, from EcoWarch, here

The relevant bbill seems to be H.R. 982. Govtrack  (Blake Farenthold, R-TX) reference here 
For example, the “Pop Tort Conspiracy has an article March 15, 2013 on the matter here
I was informed about this issue in an email from Susan Vento of “Cancer Victims Rights”.   

This group is called ACVRC, the Asbestos Cancer Victims’ Rights Campaign, link here

And here is a perspective specifically for veterans, link.
Older homes with basements in much of the US often have some asbestos in construction, which often does not get disclosed unless a buyer asks for an inspection, and could conceivably jeopardize people who work in these homes repeatedly.  The home repair business seems to take a "don't ask don't tell" approach on this one.  

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Does our culture fear letting men working with young children; learning babysitting

Washington DC columnist Petula Dvorak wrote a missive Monday that might fit the little Minneapolis-produced indie movie “I Hate Babysitting” fourteen years ago. Specifically, her piece is “Why my male babysitter freaks some people out.”, link (Washington Posthere.

Yes, babysitting sites allow you to specific the gender of the hire (it is perceived as bona fide, I guess), and the whole sordid Penn State mess has consequences and can contribute to fear.

It can also drive men away from considering teaching, especially in lower grades where they are needed as role models.  When I was a substitute teacher, I avoided any “special education” assignment than ran the risk of “intimate duties”, which could happen.  It was not worth “the risk”.

And that of course has downstream consequences for all of us. 

There was an episode on “Modern Family” a few weeks ago where the kindly Dylan winds up helping babysit an infant, who takes to him.  But afterwards he asks (Haley), “Why are we left with taking care of all these kids?”

Certainly Mitch and Cam try to be role models.  “When you see someone in trouble, you help them.”

WE get suspicious of men today, yes.  The media is trying desperately to undo the damage.
When I was growing up (in the early 50s), there was a family a mile away with two boys, about 8 and 10 years older than me, who both became Methodist pastors.  And they both babysat me, and learned to deal with my undersized ping pong table (which conferred home field advantage).