Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Top Fast Food Restaurants

Dadaviz, via Ritholtz:

Chipotle and Panera Bread are ahead of Arby's?  That's what's wrong with America.  Haven't people had a French Dip Sub before?  Heaven.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Watermill

The Watermill from Troels Kirk on Vimeo.

Astronomy Photo of the Day

August 27:

The Large Cloud of Magellan
Image Credit & Copyright: Carlos Fairbairn
Explanation: The 16th century Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan and his crew had plenty of time to study the southern sky during the first circumnavigation of planet Earth. As a result, two fuzzy cloud-like objects easily visible to southern hemisphere skygazers are known as the Clouds of Magellan, now understood to be satellite galaxies of our much larger, spiral Milky Way galaxy. About 160,000 light-years distant in the constellation Dorado, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) is seen here in a remarkably deep, colorful, image. Spanning about 15,000 light-years or so, it is the most massive of the Milky Way's satellite galaxies and is the home of the closest supernova in modern times, SN 1987A. The prominent patch below center is 30 Doradus, also known as the magnificent Tarantula Nebula, is a giant star-forming region about 1,000 light-years across.

Another Government Handout for Minorities

Rural Americans are a distinct minority in the United States, even if they don't see themselves as one.  Here is another in a long line of government handouts to improve life in rural America:
Rural Ohioans’ telephone and Internet service is about to get a boost, thanks to a $1.5 billion federal program.
CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, AT&T, Frontier Communications, FairPoint Communications and Windstream Communications have all accepted Federal Communication Commission funding in the form of annual subsidies to offer broadband service to rural homes and businesses that are currently not being served.
Overall, carriers in Ohio will get $58.5 million in annual support to serve 166,967 homes and businesses.
The funding is needed because nearly 1 in 3 rural Americans lack access to broadband service, compared with only 1 in 100 urban Americans, according to the FCC’s latest Broadband Progress Report.
The broadband service is intended to ensure universal telephone coverage as companies phase out traditional landline service as well as add Internet service to areas where the cost of providing such service would otherwise be prohibitive.
“Access to modern broadband is critical to life in today’s society,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a statement. “The financial support provided by American ratepayers through the Connect America program is an investment in the future of our rural communities that will pay dividends for all Americans for years to come.”
The funding will subsidize the construction of broadband networks in rural areas over the next six years. Forty percent of the work must be done by the end of 2017; 100 percent by the end of 2020.
The funding will “dramatically alter the broadband landscape in Ohio and throughout the country,” said Lindsay Shanahan, executive director of Connect Ohio, a nonprofit that promotes broadband access in the state.
“This phase of the Connect America Fund is about deploying broadband to locations that do not have it, not the removal of legacy infrastructure (such as existing landline phone service) or a possible transition to Internet protocol-based networks,” she said.
“Recipients of this funding are required to build out broadband and voice networks that meet various criteria beyond the obligation to upgrade or build networks capable of broadband,” Shanahan said.
The biggest amount of funding is going to CenturyLink, which will take $505.7 million annually to expand and support broadband for more than 2.3 million of its rural customers across the United States. In Ohio, CenturyLink will take $16 million annually.
Of course, this program is tied to the "Obama phones" so many rural folks bitched endlessly about around 4 years ago.  The origins of the Universal Service Fund were tied to the effort to extend phone service to high cost, hard-to-serve rural areas:
The Communications Act of 1934 includes in its preamble a reference to universal service. It calls for “rapid, efficient, Nation-wide, and world-wide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges” to “all the people of the United States.” Communications Act of 1934 - Title I, Sec. 1 [47 U.S.C. 151] The Communications Act of 1934 first established the concept of making affordable basic telephone service available to everyone everywhere within a nation, state, or other governmental jurisdiction.
The code was amended by the Telecommunications Act in 1996 to include, “without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex…” To comply, AT&T began increasing the price of long distance service to pay for universal service. The act also established the FCC to oversee all non-governmental broadcasting, interstate communications, as well as international communication which originate or terminate in the United States.
Before the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Universal Service Fund (USF) operated as a mechanism by which interstate long distance carriers were assessed to subsidize telephone service to low-income households and high-cost areas in order to ensure that all the people in the United States have access to rapid, efficient, nationwide communications service with sufficient facilities at realistic charges....The Universal Service Fund was first codified in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the first major rewrite of the Communications Act of 1934. The act addresses new challenges and opportunities of the digital information age, with the goal of promoting an economic environment conducive for the growth of new information technology. It also further developed the meaning and implementation of universal service. The act calls for the creation of a joint federal-state board to make recommendations to the FCC on defining federal universal services and set time tables. The act also set out immediate priorities of universal service. These include quality and reasonably priced services, access to advanced telecommunication services, access for rural, low-income and high-cost regions, equitable and nondiscriminatory service, specific and predictable price structure, access of advanced telecommunication services for schools and health care and libraries (Sec. 254(b)(1)-(7)). The act provided ability in the constantly changing telecommunication environment to periodically revisit and adjust universal service, while setting core principles (Sec. 254(c)). The 1996 act also “mandated the creation of the universal service fund (USF) into which all telecommunications providers are required to contribute a percentage of their interstate and international end-user telecommunications revenues”.
The major goals of Universal Service as mandated by the 1996 Act are as follows:

  • Promote the availability of quality services at just, reasonable and affordable rates for all consumers
  • Increase nationwide access to advanced telecommunications services
  • Advance the availability of such services to all consumers, including those in low income, rural, insular, and high cost areas, at rates that are reasonably comparable to those charged in urban areas
  • Increase access to telecommunications and advanced services in schools, libraries and rural health care facilities
  • Provide equitable and non-discriminatory contributions from all providers of telecommunications services to the fund supporting universal service programs

But don't let that history get in the way of a narrative that government programs only benefit minorities with dark skin. Republican politicians have been getting elected in rural areas for more than a generation convincing the social minority residents there, beneficiaries of government programs all, that it's the poor blacks in the inner city who are being handed their hard-earned tax money, and that those politicians are going to change that by cutting taxes and slashing government programs.  It just isn't true, but it plays well to a built-in bias among residents in rural areas.  Fox News coverage of "Obama phones," without any background into how the underlying program benefits rural areas feeds that bias and inflames it more.  I just like to poke holes in that bubble of bullshit and swamp gas. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

'On Melancholy': The School of Life

'On Melancholy' - The School of Life from Hannah Jacobs on Vimeo.

Jimmy Carter: Badass

This is a story I'd never heard before:
But the really badass story involving Jimmy Carter dates back to 1952, before he entered politics. Back then he was Lt. James Earl Carter, a nuclear specialist in the U.S. Navy’s Seawolf program working in upstate New York.
In December 1952, there was an explosion in the reactor of the Chalk River nuclear site in Ontario. The reactor was in partial meltdown and it was flooded with radioactive water. This was Very Bad. Even worse, it was going to have to be dismantled and shut down by hand.
Basically, somebody was going to have to make like Spock at the end of Wrath of Khan and walk into a melting-down nuclear reactor. That somebody would have to be, like Spock, both brave enough to face deadly radiation and smart enough to understand how a nuclear reactor works.
That’s how the job fell to Lt. Carter and his team of 22 other Navy specialists.
Here’s where the story turns into something like an epic Hollywood heist movie. The radiation level was such that, even with the best 1950s-era protective gear, no one could enter Chalk River for more than 90 seconds at a time. So it would have to be like a relay race — wade in, get as much done as possible in 89 seconds, then get out of there while the next guy in line took his turn.
The team built a replica of the whole facility on an Ontario tennis court — every hallway and door, every nut and bolt and screw and hatch. And they practiced. That’s what badass engineers do.
Here’s how Carter summarized this in a 1975 campaign biography:
When it was our time to work, a team of three of us practiced several times on the mock-up, to be sure we had the correct tools and knew exactly how to use them. Finally, outfitted with white protective clothes, we descended into the reactor and worked frantically for our allotted time. … Each time our men managed to remove a bolt or fitting from the core, the equivalent piece was removed on the mock-up.
For several months afterwards, we saved our feces and urine to have them monitored for radioactivity. We had absorbed a year’s maximum allowance of radiation in one minute and twenty-nine seconds. There were no apparent after-effects from this exposure — just a lot of doubtful jokes among ourselves about death versus sterility.
So Lt. Carter and the rest of his team ran through a radioactive flood with hand-tools and stopwatches and carried out an incredibly technical feat of nuclear engineering in 89-second intervals fully expecting that it would mean they’d all soon be dead from some horrible form of radiation sickness. And they did it. They shut down the reactor and saved the day.
When your term in office is reviled as much as Carter's was, it is hard to not be underestimated, but Jimmy Carter was seriously underestimated as President.  Unfortunately for him and the country, Americans didn't want to hear the truth about their situation in the world, they wanted to hear the happy horseshit Ronald Reagan was willing and able to spoon feed to them.  One thing that is not in doubt, Jimmy Carter was much more intelligent than Ronald Reagan ever was.  And he walked into a nuclear reactor which was in partial meltdown in order to shut it down.  Badass.

Start of High School Football Weekend Links

Last night was a nice night for a ball game, and provides me with an excuse for another late delivery of interesting stories for the weekend:

I Will Fly to the Ball - SBNation

The Website MLB Couldn't Buy - Grantland

Usain Bolt, a Collapse, and an Epic Beer Mile - The New Yorker.  Reading this made me feel like much less of a nerd.  I have to say, though, a 4:55 beer mile (drink a beer, run a lap, drink a beer, run a lap, drink a beer, run a lap, drink a beer, run a lap) is amazing.

Beyond the Breach - ESPN the Magazine

The Sharing Economy Comes to the Farm - Bloomberg

Hooray: The Old Farmer's Almanac Predicts a Harsh Upcoming Winter - Modern Farmer.  Three in a row with a potentially massive El Nino?  I'm betting against the almanac.

Corn Wars - The New Republic.  On Chinese spies stealing parent varieties for corn hybrid development.  I thought I already listed this story, but I can't seem to find it.

Scourge No More: Chefs Invite Corn Fungus To The Plate - The Salt.  Corn smut is so gross.  However, I could probably eat it deep fried.

'Craft' Bourbon Is in the Eye of the Distiller - Wall Street Journal

The Cheese Board Collective - Priceonomics

Born to Run, and the Decline of the American Dream - The Atlantic

"Cowboy Doctors" and Health Costs - Harvard Magazine

Twelve years on, remembering the bomb that started the Middle East's sectarian war - Quartz

Class Dismissed: It's Not Homeschooling, It's Unschooling - Cincinnati Magazine.  Sounds like idiot parents to me.

The heroin epidemic's toll: One county, 70 minutes, 8 overdoses - Washington Post, but see The 3 deadliest drugs in America are totally legal - Vox.  For me, it is just depressing to see heroin sweep over the economically abandoned regions of the Rust Belt, but I guess one should expect that after it swept over the economically abandoned regions of America's inner cities.  Another example of how black lives haven't mattered as much as white ones when it comes to news coverage.

Retrotopia: Dawn Train from Pittsburgh - The Archdruid Report.  A hopeful strain of dystopian future storywriting?  I'm looking forward to future posts.

 Scott Walker, Crony Capitalist - Politico.  For a dude with no personality, I really hate that fucker.

Big Sugar Fights to Protect a Sweet Deal With U.S. Lawmakers - Bloomberg

Another Run at Glory

It's almost time for the Travers Stakes.  American Pharoah tries to extend his winning streak and run one of the greatest seasons of racing of all time.

Update: The Graveyard of Champions has claimed another.  Keen Ice upsets American Pharoah.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Succinct Summary of the War on Public Education

A man whose career was focused on educational measurement tees off on the emphasis on testing to measure public education:
In the last three decades, the public has largely withdrawn its commitment to public education. The reasons are multiple: those who pay for public schools have less money, and those served by the public schools look less and less like those paying taxes.
The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions. Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking.
International tests have purported to prove that America’s schools are inefficient or run by lazy incompetents. Paper-and-pencil tests seemingly show that kids in private schools – funded by parents – are smarter than kids in public schools. We’ll get to the top, so the story goes, if we test a teacher’s students in September and June and fire that teacher if the gains aren’t great enough.
There has been resistance, of course. Teachers and many parents understand that children’s development is far too complex to capture with an hour or two taking a standardized test. So resistance has been met with legislated mandates. The test company lobbyists convince politicians that grading teachers and schools is as easy as grading cuts of meat. A huge publishing company from the UK has spent $8 million in the past decade lobbying Congress. Politicians believe that testing must be the cornerstone of any education policy.
The results of this cronyism between corporations and politicians have been chaotic. Parents see the stress placed on their children and report them sick on test day. Educators, under pressure they see as illegitimate, break the rules imposed on them by governments. Many teachers put their best judgment and best lessons aside and drill children on how to score high on multiple-choice tests. And too many of the best teachers exit the profession.
When measurement became the instrument of accountability, testing companies prospered and schools suffered. I have watched this happen for several years now. I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement.
The first two paragraphs do a pretty good job of describing how public education has been undermined over the last generation.  If he also mentioned that some business sharps realized that about 1/3 of their state budgets went to public education, and came up with a poorly regulated system for funneling that money into their pockets (vouchers and charter schools), I'd say he'd hit all of the ways our public school system has come under attack.  As far as I can tell, the testing requirements are just a way to justify slashing resources in the school systems which most need the money.

Really, whodathunk that rich, suburban schools would have much better test results than poor, inner-city and rural schools?  Anybody with half a brain could figure out that areas with high levels of entrenched poverty and very low property tax bases would require much more state funding than areas with high household incomes and high educational attainment among parents.  Those test results are a good way to claim that that state funding is "wasted." The solution? Why, funnel that education money through some campaign contributors who run charter schools and provide little oversight on how that money gets spent.  Somebody is going to be able to sort through the best of the students in the city districts and get some good test results to provide anecdotal evidence that charter schools "work." 

Ever wonder why rural areas with poorly performing schools aren't subjected to the charter school "solution?"  I'd guess it's because there aren't enough kids available to be able to skim off the best students to provide a workable example of a charter school.  Then you'd just end up with a poorly-run school, with teachers paid poverty wages and school "sponsors" skimming a large percentage of the budget.  Also, there is the whole political situation, with rural areas protecting their schools to prevent their communities from disintegrating, and protecting on of the largest employers in the area (for most rural areas, the three largest employers are the county government, the largest school system and the hospital [if they have one] or the largest city).  Since Republican gerrymanders by default over-represent rural areas, that is another solid reason you won't be seeing any charter schools in rural areas.

In the end, testing has been a very effective way to vilify all the schools that try to educate poor brown children, and justify filtering that money through the "private-enterprise" system so sketchy folks can line their pockets.  As with all Republican tax cut/spending cut operations, the benefits go to wealthy folks, while poor rural and urban residents take it on the chin.  It is only with political over-representation that rural folks are able to hang on to a little bit of their government largess.  And yet they never see it that way.  Race and pride and lack of self-awareness are powerful forces.