Wednesday, December 30, 2015

North Pole ice melts at winter solstice

The temperature at the North Pole is reported to have risen above freezing today, right at winter solstice and 24-hour nights, due to an unusually potent low pressure storm energized by El Nino, further threatening ice caps, while there were blizzards behind the storm in West Texas.  The Gizmodo story is here.

The Atlantic wrote about the storm three days ago as unfreezing the North Pole and possibly accelerating sea level rise.    The Washington Post covers it also saying that the temperature at the North Pole is 50 degrees F above normal.

And according to NASA, the worst is yet to come from El Nino in early 2016, NBC here.

Update: Jan. 1

It's about 14 degrees F at the North Pole.  That's 30 degrees F too warm. Source, University of Washington.  How will the polar cap get built up this winter?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Individual mandate is starting to work, but Obamacare still failing the working poor; Trump waffles on single-payer; GOP mainstream starts becoming more specific on a replacement plan

Vox Kliff has an interesting perspective about the individual mandate in Vox today: “Obamacare supporters don’t like talking about it, but the individual mandate is working”  Particularly, young adults are starting to sign up because the penalties have increased rapidly.

But USA Today on Tuesday has a story by Jayne O’Donnell and Laura Ungar, “Obamacare no care for the working poor”, or, online, “Most of those without Medicaid are the working poor” (with video).  A major issue is that about 20 states, mostly with Republican governors, refused the federal funds to expand Medicaid.  But a bigger issue is the classification of workers as contract or part-time, and this has been particularly true of caregiving workers.  A “just in time” economy doesn’t encourage work for everybody with full benefits (including family or parental leave, too).

A story by Tom Kertscher in Politifact says that Donald Trump waffles on the idea of single-payer health care, which Trump admits works well in other countries.   Trump waffles because he has to do so if he wants to be a GOP candidate.

The Hill, in a story by Peter Sullivan, reports that Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio would go along with a plan of tax credits to buy individual health insurance, leveling the playing field with people who get insurance at work, and more limited protection of those with pre-existing conditions.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

DC suburban church sells grounds, building to help build affordable housing

Sunday December 27, 2015, in the Metro Section of the Washington Post, Patricia Sullivan reports, in a story “Moved by a spirit of community”, that a Presbyterian Church on Columbia Pike in the southern part of Arlington VA, in an older neighborhood, will sell its building and grounds to make way for moderate income housing.

"The Church is not our building. It is our people."

Church membership has shrunk, and the congregation will meet in rented space.
Note also that Vox recirculated a November 2015 essay by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, "Giving away money makes us feel better; so why do so few of us do it?"  About a quarter of Americans volunteer some time. I responded on Facebook "here's also a moral question about dealing with "luck" or fortune, and "unearned wealth" (a big issue with the radical Left to be sure). One could make the argument that "giving back" in relation to what has gotten apart from one's own work, really should be morally required or expected. When "less fortunate" others see that "luckier" people (without street smarts) aren't held accountable for how they got ahead in line, they could decide that their world is meaningless, as is abiding by the law (and this can be masked by religious rhetoric). So the world becomes less stable. But "selfishness" is still necessary for innovation, which raises living standards for everybody."

Update: Jan. 1, 2016

The Washington Post has replied to Vox with this essay by Ashley Willans: "Want to do something good for you: try being generous."  And in the New York Times, Paul Krugman writes about "Privilege, Pathology and Power."  How about the "affluenza" episode in Texas?

Friday, December 25, 2015

New York Times weighs in on paid family leave, and allows a field goal for the childless

On Christmas Day, The New York Times weighs in on paid family leave today, applauding the New York City mayor Bill de Blasio for his executive order granting non-unionized employees six weeks paid parental leave starting Jan. 1, 2016, link here .

The Times pays lip service to the childless (“who choose not to have children”) who “may still have elderly parents or family members who require their care.”  That is, they are other people’s insurance policy. It does want to extend paid leave for eldercare (which the FMLA of 1993 does provide unpaid leave for).

The gay press has talked about this very little.  But it’s becoming increasing clear that participation in parenting will become necessary for equal citizenship.

I had missed the commentary Nov. 7 in Fortune by Laura Carroll, "The Brutal Truth about Being Childless at Work." She mentions a 1974 survey that showed ostracism against the childless. The article was mentioned on Meredith Vieira Christmas Day, but even the openly gay host Lance Bass (formerly 'Nsync) avoided the opportunity to bring up the possibility of gay couples' (or singles) adopting children or being expected to.
It’s an interesting question, too, the whole idea of low birth rates for the affluent, demographic winter and an aging population, which some on the Right rant about. True, it’s a huge economic and even a national security issue.  On the other hand, we may be reaching the limit of how many people this planet can support, being less than 2 billion in 1900 (wiki chart) .  Sustainability is a tricky subject to moralize about.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Obama administration, under pressure from GOP candidates, will deport more "illegal" families from Central America, and strengthen the arbitrary "intentional grounding" lists

Jerry Markon and David Nakamura report on the front page of the Washington Post on Christmas Eve, “U.S. plans raids to deport families who surged across border”   Many of these are whole families who came from the most violent parts of Central America, including El Salvador.  A local church here in Arlington VA has sent volunteers to that country in the past.

This recalls to mind the Mariel Boatlift from Cuba in 1980.  I don’t know if this was “illegal” but I would presume so.  Yet there were calls for people to sponsor and even house refugees in “spare bedrooms”, especially in southern states (and especially in the gay community).  Would a parallel exist today?  Could churches sponsor individual families here illegally?  It doesn’t sound like it would be lawful, but the question deserves to be asked.

Let’s also look at Bruce Lawlor’s commentary in the Washington Times Dec. 23, “The loose use of government lists”   (Call it "Loose Lips".)  The writers describes how the whim or subjective opinion of a bureaucrat can place anyone on a no-fly list (even with a wrong name), without due process, and how it can be impossible to get off.  Jobs and livelihoods are lost to chance this way. (Note the video, “Grounded for Life!”) The president wants to extend the use of the list for gun ownership, without considering the lack of due process (and the effective loss of property ).  What next?  Maybe Internet access?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Disabled HIV used as a vector to transform some white blood cells into cancer fighters in new forms of immunotherapy

A new kind of immune therapy for some cancers can change the DNA of some T-cells to turn them into cancer-killers..
The technique is to infect them with a “deactivated” form of HIV and return them to the patient.  The NBC story presented a girl with childhood leukemia.  
In May 2015 PBS had presented similar information in its Newshour here

Monday, December 21, 2015

Near St. Louis, a school district shelters and offers services to homeless students

Emma Brown of the Washington Post reports on the efforts of Superintendent of Schools Tiffany Anderson in Jennings MO  to provide out-of-schools to homeless students, “This superintendent has figured out how to make school work for poor kids”.. 
The services include a shelter, something that almost no other school district tries to do.  But this would get teachers involved in activities outside of academics.  In Washington DC and some other cities, there are charter schools that board students have to hire people prepared for that level of more intimate responsibility. 
The suburb of Jennings is north of St. Louis, not so far from Ferguson. 
The school district also has academic standards for teachers it hires, related to the grade level it would teach
Picture: a boyhood cardboard stadium made in the summer in Kipton Ohio, probably around 1955. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Young adults: should parents expect them to be completely on their own?

Michelle Singletary has an article on p. A20 of today’s Washington Post looks provocative at the print title, “Encouraging interdependence, not freeloading”.  This concerns young adults living with their parents and not paying much rent because they’re burdened with student loans or other debt, or underpaying job markets (internship abuse).

Yes, there is a good case for student loan reform, and to question tuition and fees inflation.

My own observation is that it is common for young working adults (or students) to get together and rent houses, four to a home, and typically pay much less than in high-rise apartments.

College students with real job skills (particularly coding applications) are likely to get on their own sooner and be much better off financially. But not everybody can follow Mark Zuckerberg’s example.

It’s also interesting to me that when my parents were young adults (they married in 1940), it wasn’t common for singles to have their own apartments and lifestyles until they got married and started families.  Both of my parents lived in Y’s in downtown Washington in the 1930s, although that was the depression.

Interdependence is a concept associated with social capital.  I'm a little surprised Singletary didn't go there with this particular column. Young adults might be "needed" for eldercare later in life.  Its' a two-way street indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

At least two candidates questioned about military draft in GOP debates last night

Last night, in Las Vegas, two of the lower-tier candidates, Sen. Linsey Graham (R-SC) and former New York State Governor George Pataki, were asked if they would support a return to military conscription as a result of the “war” on terror.  Both said “No”, but Pataki encouraged the return of the GI bill, to pay for college for returning servicemembers and pointed out that less than 1% of the population was bearing the personal risk of military service.  
Recently I have asked if it was necessary to keep Selective Service Registration in place. You could obviously extend the debate to national service. 
Trump, remember, had "gotten out of it" but as I recall he got a favorable lottery number eventually.
There was also discussion in both debates of “collateral damage” and “carpet bombing”.  Some candidates seemed to believe that the threat of civilian casualties would encourage them to leave – well, they already do (stupid!) that’s the refugee crisis in Europe.
The concept is nasty.  It makes one person’s life and purpose a bargaining chip for someone else.  Ben Carson’s analogy to cutting out a brain tumor was rather tasteless.

Graham did note that there is a conceptual difference between Islam as a religion (which is constitutionally protected within the US) and as a political or legal system (which is not). 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Responding to Trump: many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs would make good candidates for president, but not many want to

While looking at the Wall Street Journal’s op-ed at breakfast today about the Federal Reserve’s likely raising rates soon (link) and noting that Wall Street is doing well this morning I thought again about the GOP candidates, and asked myself, what if Peter Thiel were a candidate?

Well, there’s a problem.  He was born in West Germany.  So I guess he can’t.  Wikipedia lists him as with the Libertarian Party.  He could fit into the Rand Paul part of the party, if he were eligible.  I then looked up Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake in “The Social Network”), also worth about the same amount (a bit less than Donald Trump), and now only 36.  Mark Zuckerberg would be only 32 on Inauguration Day, so he can’t.  We could ask, why not Bill Gates?  Or Melinda?

Donald Trump runs around bragging that he is rich and strong.  Carly Fiorina has faded.  But it makes sense that the conservative party could nominate a “sensible” candidate who has run businesses most of his or her  life.  Mitt Romney had been billed as a potential “CEO” for the US.

Some of these business people are Democrats, as are many on Wall Street.  But the real point is to get candidates up there who will solve real problems, not just vilify potential enemies with rhetoric.

There is a lot made of the philanthropy of some of the business persons I have mentioned.  While, in church, we hear a lot about “rightsizing” and working directly with the poor – and even to the point of sending high school and college age youth to poor countries to volunteer and “walk in others’ shoes” (I’ve talked about that with respect to efforts in Belize, Nicaragua, and Kenya before) there’s another kind of philanthropy, which Peter Thiel represents, which is funding innovation that can solve real infrastructure problems.  (That’s talked about in the book about Taylor Wilson [Nov. 7] which I reviewd on the Books blog yesterday.  It’s access to this sort of activity that might have motivated Mark and Priscilla to set up an LLC for their giving.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Cheap gas now: it's not that cheap, but it isn't good for sustainability anyway

Jeff Sommer has a piece in the New York Times Business on Sunday December 13, 2015 under “Strategies”, “The Thrill and Chills of Dirt-Cheap Gas”, or online “Cheap Gas is a Thrill, but a Costly One
Though gas is now slipping below $2 a gallon, I can remember that in 1969, when I was in the Army atFt. Eustis, the most common price as 36.9 cents a gallon.  The first big spike would come in 1973-1974, with the Arab Oil Embargo.

There are many innovations, with the all-electric car, which depends on a sufficient infrastructure for charging even in rural areas.  Or Param Jaggi’s idea of using algae to remove all emissions from conventional cars. One problem, as Sommer points out, is that when people buy cars today, they keep them much longer than in the past, so replacing a fleet takes about ten years.  Under insurance, I recently replaced a 2009 Focus totaled in an accident (caused by someone else) with as close to the same car as possible, a 2015 Focus.

An important observation is that gas prices affect rural people a lot more than city dwellers, but cheap gas also encourages long commutes and expensive housing in far exurbs.  In the past, it has aided attitudes of de-facto segregation.  
One issue is that, because of my “singleton-ness”, I do most trips by myself, especially in more recent years.  That’s not particularly respectful of moral notions of sustainable behavior.  This gets into the issue of being prepared to participate in other people’s “less than optimally efficient” arrangements and projects to build social capital.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Some rural sheriffs encourage lawful gun owners to be prepared to defend themselves and others.

Recently, some sheriffs around the nation have encouraged lawful gun owners to be prepared for active-shooter situations, to protect themselves, their families and others.   There have been statements from sheriffs especially in Florida and upstate New York.  For example, here’s a News Channel 8 story .

The idea that gun ownership is “expected” makes sense in rural areas, and would have developed in America’s history of pioneering and gradually settling rural areas while moving west, where hunting and defense from wild animals as well as people was necessary. (Unfortunately, what happened with native Americans now seems shameful.)  But these sheriffs seem to want to recruit posses now.

And the idea, to most people, sounds unworkable in urban areas.

The idea that a citizen has a duty to defend others is also troubling, but can be related to the past history of a military draft.  And in other countries, like Israel and Switzerland, the idea is very much alive. (Given the recent investigation in Switzerland, I wonder how it plays out with the idea that normally Swiss men are expected to have military training and own weapons.  See this New York Times/AP story from 2013. )

But it is true, stricter gun control would keep guns out of the hands of some mentally ill people, but not away from terrorists or determined organized criminals.

Petula Dvorak has a posting about organizing on Facebook by mothers against gun violence

Friday, December 11, 2015

Police racial profiling endangers national security, but no one wants to say it bluntly

Just a little note as I watch the CNN reports on the latest plot investigation in Switzerland.

The loss of reputation of police departments because of the racial profiling problems is itself creating a national security risk.  Nobody wants to say this (except probably Donald Trump).  But in a few cities particularly – St. Louis (Ferguson and some suburbs), Baltimore, recently Chicago, and to some extent some areas in New York City, distrust of police can obviously make populations, including those gathering lawfully to protest, more vulnerable.  If an incident were to happen, it would be harder to know at first if the source were rioters, police themselves, or a foreign-inspired enemy.  We can’t afford to keep on having these problems with the credibility of police departments and the administrations supervising them.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

SCOTUS takes up affirmative action, maybe one last time, from UT Austin; more on "coddling" campus speech

Emma and Leah Pierson have an interesting perspective in today’s New York Times, “What do campus protesters really want?” here.

They take on the criticisms (often by some university professors) that young adults expect to be coddled and sheltered from all the unfairness of the world.  Instead, they say, many “privileged” white students (or even higher income minority students) have no concept of what being constantly profiled feels like.

I filmed a number of BLM demonstrations in late 2014 (and then in Baltimore in April 2015), sometimes incurring resentment as a voyeur who doesn’t join in and walk in other people’s shoes, as if participating in a collective demonstration were “beneath me”.

But one reason I don’t “join in” is that I see bigger problems around, like will we keep our way of life at all.  The WMD threat and asymmetric war threat does color my thinking. I would not be of much use in the "doomsday prepper" world of “Revolution” or “One Second After”.

The Supreme Court is hearing “Fisher v. University of Texas”, and Justice Scalia drew his usual controversy by suggesting that some black students do better in life if they go to less demanding schools anyway.  But Ivy League schools go out of their way to attract minority applicants.  However, some minorities, like Asian, have a leg up because of the tradition of academic excellence in their families.

The SCOTUSblog entry on the case is here. Garrett Epps of The Atlantic asks “Is Affirmative Action finished” here .

Vox weighs in on why (racial) diversity matters in medicine and the sciences, article by Libby Nelson in answer to a question by Justice Roberts.

I recall a conversation with a (white) consignment shop operator in Richmond VA back in 1997, when I was placing my first DADT book there, as to how important the thought keeping affirmative action is.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Do foreign people have US constitutional rights before setting foot in the country? (Trump question)

Some observers in social media are saying today that Donald Trump’s proposal to ban entry of “Muslims” might have some traction when dealing with  a person who has not yet entered the country.  The Constitution, it is argued, does not give the person fundamental due process rights until he or she is in the country legally. It’s a catch-22. A citizen or legal resident who does travel abroad, however, is completely covered by the Constitution when returning.
On CNN Jeffrey Toobin downplayed this whole thread of  rationalization, saying that the idea that Congress can pass no law explicitly invoking a religious test ever would trump (pun) over this argument.  No such law has been passed. If one were, it would percolate to the Supreme Court very quickly.
But we know from the past that constitutional rights have been trampled.  Look at the Japanese Nisei during World War II.  Look at the sedition laws about criticizing the military draft during World War I.

There's also supposed to be difference (or distinction) between "terrorism" and "war" as far as demanding unequal sacrifices from people.  "War" losses aren't insurable (although the government wound up indemnifying a lot of the damage from 9/11). "Terror" aims at creating divisions by forcing governments to limit liberties of citizens, often inequitably, to safeguard the majority. Donald Trump is falling for it.  But there are times when war conditions exist, and citizens have to become resilient enough to redirect themselves.  Imagine living in London in 1940, or in Poland in 1939.  The Jews in Europe faced total warfare against them, not just "terror."  And a horrible heritage in the Middle East and elsewhere follows.

Update: Dec. 10

The Opinion page (7A) in the Gannett "US Today" newspaper today has a center-page headline "We should be at war". Mongering?

And the New York Times has a distrubing op-ed on p. A35 Dec. 10 by Peter Sprio, "Is Trump's Plan Legal?" here. Onlne, the title is more telling and specific: "Trump's Anti-Muslim Plan Is Awful. And Constitutional."

Sunday, December 06, 2015

New York Times makes gun control subject of front page editorial, in advance of Obama's address to the nation

The New York Times created a stir with the relatively rare occurrence of printing an editorial on the front page om Saturday, “End the Gun Epidemic in America”, link here.

I’ll note a particularly important sentence that on the surface seems aimed at the 2nd Amendment issue, here, “No right is unlimited and immune from reasonable regulation.” Imagine that statement applied to the unsupervised dissemination of speech.

On Friday, I had already posted a Tweet about the more existential WMD issue, and on Saturday I made a similar comment on Facebook in response to an NBC News story about President Obama’s expected speech tonight (link). I wrote “Gun control doesn’t stop terrorists, mobsters or other criminals from building arsenals or even WMD’s.  Did not work in France or Belgium. The media hardly talks about existential threats like EMP other than in fiction series.”

That is to say, gun control laws do not stop very determined enemies from building caches of weapons, often much larger than ordinary firearms.  They obviously didn’t stop the cell in France.  However, stricter gun control probably would deter some domestic violence and could prevent rampages from some people who are “mentally ill”.  The experience in Britain and Australia bears that out (as Piers Morgan often points out).
Yesterday, before visiting the Christmas lights around Mount Vernon square and Baltimore’s “Washington Monument”, I did pay a quick symbolic visit to Gunpowder Falls northeast of Baltimore. It was too dark to see much (time of year).  Ten miles further up Route 40 is Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where the US Army keeps some conventional but incredibly dangerous weapons that must never find civilian hands. (See my International Issues blog, March 4, 2010).
We have a lot of work we can do to safeguard the power grids, and to keep radioactive materials out of the hands of potential enemies.   But the mainstream press talks about this very little,

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Washington Post has big story on unlicensed substitute teachers,especially in poor districts; also, politics of teaching math

The Washington Post has a welcome front-page story Saturday “Substitutes as part of education’s problem: pupils in high-poverty schools fall behind for lack of qualified teachers”, by Emma Brown, link here.

The article points out that up to 27 states, including Virginia and Maryland (I think DC) don’t require substitutes to have teaching licenses.  (Minnesota does require it.)

Sometimes the media interests have glorified the world of a substitute teacher, as with a rather silly TV commercial for cold decongestants that I can recall.

In my own experience from 2004-2007, which I have written about here before, discipline for low-income students in middle school (less frequently in high school but there was at least one serious incident in October 2005) was a problem.  Some students, not from a “middle class background” and parents who taught those values and lacking self-direction, needed a kind of personal attention that I, a non-parent, was not prepared to give them.  The whole experience had been unprecedented in my own life.  The problem was more pronounced with minorities (especially some non-English-speaking origins).  It was particularly true with special education (which I could not “get out of” easily).  Sometimes students were falsely patronizing toward me, or wanted me to make them feel “all right”.

I’ll also note a recent NYTimes story, “The Politics of Math Education”, by Christopher L. Phillips, link here. Note the paradigm of leaning mathematics as “learning to reason”.  Why is that controversial?

Update: Dec, 9, 2015

I have a Letter to the Editor on this matter published in the Washington Post, page A16, today, Wednesday, link.  It appears to be the only letter on this article so far.

Update: Dec, 10, 2015

The New York Times has a piece by David L. Kirp, "Why the new education law is good for children left behind", here,

Friday, December 04, 2015

Focus on lone wolf and gun debate should not lower our focus on WMD's

The stories from San Bernadino are disturbing, and being covered in so much detail in the media that they need not be belabored here.

But the major media should not lose sight of the really big threats that are still possible from (mostly) foreign enemies, often but not always religiously motivated.

Today I posted a tweet, “The most grave threat to national security we have is the vulnerability of the power grids (3 of them).  Major media should report on it.”

That risk can come from natural events (extreme solar storms), major terror attacks (nuclear weapons launched from offshore and exploded at high altitude), smaller attacks (certain conventional military flux weapons not normally available to civilians so far, thankfully), or, as detailed in Ted Koppel’s recent book, cyberterror.  It’s reassuring to see quiet signs that some big business investors, especially in Silicon Valley, are paying attention to this. Innovations (funded by big entrepreneurs as well as government) can make the grid more resilient as well as greener. The same innovations can also help improve living standards cleanly in developing countries, which may be one point of Zuckberberg and others using the LLC idea for “charitable” giving and social investing.
To be blunt, if one experiences a significant power outage without explanation and generators don't even work, check electronics and starting of (newer model) cars.  If these are fried, we're in big trouble (like in the novel "One Second After" or the NBC series "Revolution").  So far, this has always been fiction, thankfully.
But the major media companies (Vox, CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, etc) need to pay more attention to this peril and report it. I’ve even pestered some of them about this on social media.

Of course, nuclear terror and radioactive material, not discussed as much today as right after 9/11 but often mentioned in conjunction with Iran and North Korea, can also create an existential WMD domestic threat.  We should not lose sight of the needed efforts to locate all loose radioactive and biological waster around the world (the NIT and Sam Nunn’s group).

Thursday, December 03, 2015

NYTimes "Upshot" suggests that individuals have their own carbon emissions rations

The New York Times has a rather moralistic chart on page 3 of the Thursday, December 3, 2015 paper, in “The Upshot”: “What you can do about climate change”, link here.
The article says that one cross-country plane trip will consumer your entire year’s carbon emission’s ration, but it helps to fly coach.  It says it’s better to eat imported vegetables than local meat.  (I’d love to see more vegan restaurants.)  It discourages a family’s owning more than one car.  Pets are OK.
It’s instructive to think about where this can lead in the debates about personal autonomy.  Choosing your own public course in life may not be so OK if not shared with people who depend on you.  There’s an unconditional part of the family values argument. Rick Santorum made have some prescience in seeing this.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Facebook offers 4 months paid family leave to all new parents; in DC, many residents object to a new payroll tax or premium to pay for the benefit

OK, first, here is the “Campaign for Paid Family Leave’s” on page on Facebook, linkTime (story by Julia Zorthian) reports that Facebook is expanding its offer of paid family leave to all associates to four months, all over the world (it would do it in China if allowed to be there), link here. This includes people in same-sex relationships taking on adopting a child, and now treats fathers and mothers equally. Mark Zuckerberg created a “stir” by announcing he would take two months “leave” (when his connection to the office is one room away) when his wife Priscilla (herself a pediatrician) gave birth to a daughter.

But in Washington DC, there’s another stir.  Aaron C. Davis and Scott Clement report the DC residents support a proposal for mandatory paid family leave (for DC residents), but do not think employees should have to contribute with a payroll tax (rather resembling unemployment insurance), link here.  One feature is that city residents who reverse commute to Maryland and Virginia would also pay the tax (I wasn’t aware of this, so it’s more than just a payroll tax).
The measure has mixed support politically, but many conservatives have said it will hurt small business I the area.

Again, a lot of people support paid family leave when “society” pays for it, as in Europe.  There’s a message here:  there really is an expectation that grownups, gay or straight, should expect to take on the responsibility for raising children (even other people’s) if they want to be treated equally.  That’s a turnaround from 20 years ago, when the singles and childless were criticized for their discretionary income and lower debts.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Climate change: Is this the last chance? Will we produce our way out of this with innovation?

The “best” news on the climate front as the summit begins in Paris (a “let’s make a deal” session) may be that Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates are teaming up to invest in “zero-carbon” technologies.  The Tech Crunch story is rather non-specific, link here.

The Wall Street Journal, in a story by Guatam Naik, reports that many scientists believe that the 2-degree Celsius limit is somewhat arbitrary and not supported by enough peer research, link here.

And Chris Mooney in the Washington Post writes that the 2 degree limit (the “magic number” from baseball parlance, relative to the pre-industrial world) may become attainable only with technology not yet invented, link here.   The old 1.5 seems unattainable.  The “new” technology probably means taking existing carbon out of the air. Mooney also discusses incompletely assessed issues with permafrost and even

But it could include improvements in auto technology, eliminating all carbon dioxide emissions with algae, as proposed by Param Jaggi (Nov. 24).

The accepted prediction for sea level rise is about 2.3 meters per degree Celsius, or about 7 feet for the 2-degree standard, Reuters story by Erik Kirschbaum. That’s enough to cause significant but probably manageable problems for buildings in coastal areas of major US cities (most of all Miami, as well as, for example, some of lower Manhattan and Brooklyn).  Virginia’s second tallest mountain would shrink from 4010 feet to only 4003.

How will this affect the way people live in future generations?  If you can really make a zero-emission car (whether by Jaggi’s idea or with all-electric, and a sufficient infrastructure of rapid charging stations – again more innovation), maybe not that much.  Solitary, feline lifestyles like mine (and value systems) though could well be challenged if we don’t.

But the biggest problems will be political and international:  around the world, many of the people living below 10 feet above sea level are poor, and are punished for the consumption of richer people in previous generations in other countries.  Imagine the ideological conflict that can result.

Another question is, if there were ever a major hit on the power grid (even from a solar storm as well as terrorism) what would the effect be from repairing the infrastructure?
NBC News has President Obama's speech, and the UN objected to its length, trying to cut him off. But the president continued like a chatterbox, link. He is not alone. 

Saturday, November 28, 2015

In Albuquerque, homeless are hired as day laborers to clear litter

Albuquerque NM has tried a plan to “employ” the homeless as day laborers at $9 per hour cash, picking up trash on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  A van drives around the areas of the greatest panhandling and is able to fill it every day of the program, which started in September.

Albuquerque has about 1200 homeless.

This sounded like a city-funded program.  It’s pretty easy to imagine it as a philanthropy. But critics will say this is no substitute for real employment.
Aerial view of Albuquerque, Wikipedia attribution, by Joe Mabel, under Creative Commons 3.0 Share-Alike License.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Student loan debt is contributing to racial gaps in income and even wealth inequality

Can student debt forgiveness help reduce wage and wealth inequality, particularly with respect to race? Danielle Douglas-Gabrielle thinks so, as in this Washington Post article Wednesday, here.
I was lucky, that by spring 1966 my parents had bankrolled my undergraduate education at the George Washington University, when the highest tuition had been $850 a semester (and I lived at “home” after the William and Mary debacle).

The writer here suggests that policymakers reduce debt based on household income after graduation.
For all the criticism of Donald Trump, he actually paid the college tuition of one or more of his Apprentice contestants (such as Troy McClain).
Update: Nov. 28

This piece by Tim Wise of CNN "What Whites don't know about racism" seems relevant, link here.

Update: Nov. 30

Rob Wile of Fusion writes that white parents often help their kids with home downpayments (possibly illegally, under the table) where as in black families the kids help the parents, leading to more inequality, in connection with the student dent problem, story here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Meet another younger inventor, Param Jaggi, tackling emissions and climate change

I’ve written here about the accomplishments of the Andraka brothers (both Luke and Jack), and of Taylor Wilson.  Now, meet Texas-raised Param Jaggi (the name comes from India) who has invented a bio-reactor comprising plates of algae, that he says could clean up auto carbon dioxide emissions completely.  Similar technology could be used wherever fossil fuels are burned.

I can remember back in the late 1970s meeting a woman (indirectly through Dan Fry's "Understanding") whose whole traveling-show activist life was centered around opposing nuclear power.  I’ve always had a problem with activism centered on opposition to just one thing. Small nuclear fission plants might actually make the grid safer from terrorism.  But there is a considerable amount of innovation still around the idea of using fossil fuels (especially natural gas) in a cleaner fashion. Natural gas (all underground) provides the power for my own generator and a backup for emergencies.

Param  now attends Vanderbilt University and is CEO of Ecoviate which also mentions a startup called Hatch Apps which facilitates the building of mobile apps.  It’s not clear to me if there is any connection with “Hatch” which provides engineering and construction management, here.  Probably not, but there seems to be some similarity of interests.

Uproxx has a story about Param’s invention here.

Picture: Nashville, my visit, May 2014. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Washington DC police chief Cathy Lanier appears to support legal gun ownership and self-defense in statement to Anderson Cooper

Washington PC police chief Cathy Lanier created a wave in the self-defense community when she told Anderson Cooper that people caught in active shooter situations should shoot back if armed.  The clip was repeated on 60 Minutes here. Cathy talked about the time it took police to arrive at Columbine in 1999 in Colorado, and said that police in Paris used an “old model” for intervening when they took 35 minutes to intervene in the Bataclan in Paris.

It isn’t hard to imagine that this could be taken as promotion of lawful gun ownership for self-defense by homeowners. But most of the issue would be that people are normally unarmed in public places, and not allowed to possess weapons.  Some libertarians and conservatives have been making this argument ever since the 2012 incident in Colorado with James Holmes.
It's logical to extend this discussion to the proposition that self and familial or community defense should be a moral responsibility (it is such in Switzerland).

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Local governments encourage singles, same-sex couples to step up and adopt children and offer foster care.

Thursday afternoon, when I was in the Arlington County VA public library (where “It’s Free”), I noticed some pamphlets or leaflets encouraging ordinary citizens to adopt children and/or become foster parents.  The publications seemed to welcome singles and same-sex couples.

I can recall seeing similar adds at bus stops in Minneapolis back in 2003. At the same time, a very few states are resisting same-sex couples as parents as do some faith-based adoption agencies.

The tone of the pleas is that it is almost a moral responsibility to consider doing it if one is able.  But one could make similar arguments about personally welcoming political refugees.

Indeed, that could become a general expectation, particularly if one has “unearned” or inherited wealth.  The idea that everyone should grow up prepared to raise children is distinct from the idea of being responsible for the children you bring into the world with your own body, but the idea is common in most cultures, especially in poorer parts of the world.  But if the idea is accepted, it has a bearing on how we view marriage and other “family values”.  Eldercare and an aging population play into the debate. Family responsibility happens even if you never have a sex act capable of procreation.
Is age 72 too old?  I know of a man who recently married in the 60s and is helping raise the wife’s grandchild, possibly to become a baseball player.

My own take right now is that I could consider this if my writing and journalism paid its own way, and earned enough to support a family.  Yes, at some point I am interested in working with “establishment” media outlets (although that discussion belongs on another blog).  When my mother was alive, I was sometimes approached by people who thought I should give up my own voice, and make a real living pimping other people’s messages (even if that meant door-to-door).  No, that is not on the table.

Friday, November 20, 2015

China's cache of rare-earth metals could be its bargaining chip as the West goes green and gets away from fossil fuels

The green revolution in energy generation and especially electric power could be bounded by the availability of rare earth minerals, according to an op-ed by David S. Abraham in the New York Times Friday Nov. 20, p. A21, link here.

Wind turbines, air conditioners, computers, and many devices do depend on these elements, which are somewhat off by themselves on the Periodic Chart.

One problem is that right now China seems to control a disproportionate share of the natural resources and could exploit this fact for political advantage.  Another is that the minerals have to be mined (often with copper), whether underground or in open-pit mines, with labor issues as well as environmental. The recent film “The 33” comes to mind.

It would be interesting to see how this story fits with the work of Taylor Wilson on both fusion and fission (Nov. 7).  The story also adds some credibility that natural gas should be used as a "bridge fuel" in the green revolution.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

United HealthCare may leave ObamaCare exchanges

One of the nation’s largest private health insurers, United HealthCare, announced that it may leave the ObamaCare exchanges after 2016, because of poor financial results from Exchange business, apparently due to subtle anti-selection and serving sicker patients.  There is a story on “The Hill” today.

United HealthCare provides my own Supplementary Part B coverage for Medicare, and was my insurer for retiree health insurance from ING.  I found that the company always paid claims properly and I never had an issue at all.  Furthermore, with my one outpatient surgery in 2010, it appeared that the negotiated discount had a big effect on base price.  The company does seem to have an influence making health care cheaper for its largest corporate clients.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Obamacare premiums and tax penalties still shock many individuals, small businesses and some companies and co-ops fail

In today’s world, rants about Obamacare or, for that matter, gay marriage seem myopic and rather a product of a “chickenman in the sand”.  But Monday Tom Howell, Jr. had front page story in the Washington Times about the failure of health care co-ops, especially in New York, under the program, leaving policyholders to fend for themselves again with much more expensive policies, here.

Various conservative sites report families spending over half their income on premiums after older plans that didn’t meet the law were scrapped.

Obamacare is also forcing some Americans sometimes to return a premium subsidy, or an “Obamacare tax penalty”, as the normally CNN Money site explains here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Pointing a laser at aircraft is a serious crime

Here’s an elementary safety post about laser pointers.

In New York, a man was arrested for pointing a high-powered green laser, illegal to own but acquired online, at several helicopters, including one for WNBC, New York City’s NBC-owned station.  WNBC story is here.

This is a federal offense that can result in 20 years in prison and a $250000 fine.  But the outcome could be a helicopter or plane crash, and permanent blinding of the pilot. No one was injured in this incident.

But incidents were reported in several other cities.  This story is developing in the media rapidly. USA Today reports a 17% increase in incidents nationwide despite tougher laws, story by Bart Jansen here.
There would be a question as to whether the little LED flashlights, which look good on train sets, could pose a problem.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Should we abolish the Selective Service System? Could a draft ever happen again? What about citizen preparedness? National service?

When I was working on my first “Do Ask, Do Tell” book in the mid 1990s, I did communicate with the Selective Service System.  I got a copy of my own records, which did have names and SSN’s of other people on it (I doubt they would share that today, given privacy concerns).  I recall having a dinner in Ohio on a weekend trip and taking out some material that had been sent to me on it.
People can still volunteer to serve on it, and I don’t think would.  But the better question is, if we aren’t going to have a draft again, why do we even keep it?  Should there be a bill to abolish it?

Would both parties support terminating it?  Could it come up in candidate debates? Abolishing the agency could save a little money, certainly appetizing to Republicans.
Registration is still required of males 18-25.  Compliance runs about 90%.  Failure to register can lead to loss of benefits in some situations, as in this Washington Post story by Tina Griego on Oct. 14, 2014, here.   Yesterday, on my LGBT blog, I discussed the issue with respect to transgender people.

The Supreme Court did uphold the constitutionality of the male-only draft registration requirement back in 1981, in a case called Roskter v Goldberg, link.  Given today’s interpretation of gender equality, I suspect that even a conservative court might rule differently if the case were reheard. In Israel, for example, women can be drafted.
Some people say, including those in the SSS agency, that maintaining contingent ability to draft helps provide a deterrent against enemy attack.  I doubt that this makes much sense today with non-state (or quasi-state) actors like Al Qaeda and ISIS.  But a related issue is citizen preparedness, which journalist Ted Koppel covers his recent book “Lights Out”, which I reviewed yesterday on my Book Review blog.

The draft encapsulated a lot of other moral issues during my own coming of age during the Vietnam years, precisely because some people could get out of it (with student deferments), or be sheltered from combat if they had a lot of education (as I was).  Political candidates today have to answer questions about draft avoidance, and are judged by the mores of the times in which they grew up.

 During World War I, people were (unconstitutionally) prosecuted for sedition for criticizing the draft. Right after 9/11, there were calls among some, such as Charles Moskos (who had authored “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” with Sam Nunn) to resume it.  And there was brief talk of resuming it in 1980 after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

In the video above, Ron Paul talked about mandatory national service, the draft, and volunteerism in 2009.

Here is a typical website calling for abolition of Selective Service.  A good topic for Veterans Day?

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Silly partisanship

After the maid service leaves (and doesn’t that prove I’m part of the spoiled, parasitic bourgeoisie rather than one of “the Proles”) and has sorted my unopened junk mail, I notice a few partisan mailings.

But Republicans and Democrats are really pushy in the alarmist and hysterical designs of their junk mail, most of all for candidates.  I guess I touched on this Nov. 2, and on my main “BillBoushka” blog Oct. 26. Yes, partisanship gets in the way of solving problems for a “common good” even though both parties (including socially conservative Republicans like Santorum) like to talk about the moral commons.

Ben Carson’s mailer is really silly.  “May I please have your support today in my campaign to become President of the United State.  I need it, I really do.”

The GOP candidate list is so silly and extreme that I wonder if I could run and get the nomination.   Maybe Log Cabin Republicans was on to something.  Let’s drop the partisanship and solve problems, like maintaining infrastructure, preventing a possible meltdown of the power grid (previous post), and actually making sure that everyone has reasonable access to health insurance.  Oh, some of that sounds Democratic.

I have been asked before, why don’t I run for office, at least locally, so I could really do something rather than blog and report (and journal);  why don’t I host a campaign fund raiser in my home?
And I’m asked why I won’t scream in demonstrations for the oppressed, as if I were above the indignity of behaving that way, of surrounding my individuality to the group.

This post, with its lead picture, might have become an “illegal indirect campaign contribution” had the naysayers (cutting McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform) had their day back in late 2005.  Fortunately, the FEC just let it pass, despite the courts.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Taylor Wilson, 21, proposes a clean energy plan, and it might really work; the importance of "Ayn Rand's prodigies"

The “science fair” (so to speak) work on clean energy by Taylor Wilson, now 21, and building a company in Reno, NV, is quite stunning.  Here is “Taylor’s Nuke Site”, link.

Here is an NBC News summary  from one year, with Brian Williams (yes, that’s ironic).

Taylor, born and originally raised in Arkansas, built a nuclear fusion (note the word – eventually he made a “star”) in his garage at age 14.  But now he proposed technology to make small, locally managed fission (an “older” concept) nuclear power reactors with innovative and surprisingly simple safety features, Ted Talk here (from 2013).  His idea would certainly add on to the "Pickens Plan" to use natural gas.  It also might help "decentralize" existing power grid segments and make them less susceptible to cascading damage from cyberattacks (as Ted Koppel discusses in his book "Lights Out").   His writing and vocal style of speaking is very articulate and straightforward (his speech voice sounds just like that of composer-pianist Timo Andres – and music, math and science  -- and even chess -- so often go together at the genetic level).  The best recent article may be in the Guardian, here. Thomas Clynes has a book about him "The Boy Who Played with Fusion."

He also has proposed or develop innovations to making anti-cancer isotopes more cheaply (hint, recall Jack Andraka’s new test), and cheaper and simpler ways to check incoming cargo for nuclear material, seriously being reviewed for implementation by Homeland Security.

I’ll mention that there’s a new story about Andraka (now a “freshman” at Stanford) in the Wall Street Journal, here.  
I have reason to recall my own high school science fair projects.  In 10th Grade (1959) there was aodel of the human digestive tract.  In 12th, I proposed chemical experiments replacing carbon with silicon.  I built something in the workshop that worked minimally but I didn’t get far with it.  But at the “Science Honor Society Initiation” in my own basement December 9, 1960, another student spoke about “lysing leucocytes” and gave a talk that, in retrospect, was prescient to what would happen with AIDS and HIV 25 years later (when I would be living in Dallas).

It’s extremely rare for science fair work to rise to this level of commercial success.  I can wonder why I didn’t do as well, and say it’s statistical, or earlier technology, but I also lacked facility in working with my hands – a matter of “proper habits” as my moralistic father used to say.  I’ll come back to this later.

Popular Science reports that Wilson has even possessed yellowcake (story), the subject of Afred Hitchcock's "Notorious" (Movies blog Dec. 20, 2009).  Does the ability to possess a radioactive substance create an implicit security threat (if stolen by an intruder)?

It’s reported that Wilson was invited to “skip college” to start his companies.  Of course. we recall that Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to start Facebook.

Anyway, Wilson’s work sounds really important – clean energy – right after Obama scratches the Keystone.  In fact, let’s not forget that Jack Andraka’s older brother, Luke (now at Virginia Tech) did important work on Acid Mine Damage (write-up )  The media attention to his younger brother Jack, and to Taylor, have obscured the importance of his work. Luke’s project would build on the mountaintop removal issue that I’ve covered here.  "Cool Hand" Luke's Facebook page actually has a picture of him standing in a coal mine tunnel with hard hat.

Today’s science (and Internet) prodigies seem to come right out of Ayn Rand’s novels (if not clandestine “aliens” like Smallville’s teen Clark Kent).  But they do raise a lot of questions for the rest of us, about interdependence, inequality, and resilience.  More about that to come.