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.

Rest in Peace, Chocolate Thunder

Darryl Dawkins dies at the age of 58:
Darryl Dawkins, the backboard-shattering big man better known as "Chocolate Thunder," who became the first high-school player ever to jump straight to the NBA, beaming down to our lowly orb from Planet Lovetron to entertain fans and rattle rims as one of the most colorful and singular characters in NBA history, died Thursday. He was 58.
WFMZ-TV of Allentown, Pa., first reported news of Dawkins' death. Shortly thereafter, the NBA confirmed his passing via its @NBAHistory Twitter account. The New York Daily News confirmed that Dawkins died at Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest on Thursday.
Dawkins' family confirmed that he had suffered a heart attack in a statement released Thursday afternoon...
Born in Orlando, Fla., on Jan. 11, 1957, Dawkins rose to prominence as a teenage star at Maynard Evans High School. In 1975, one year after Moses Malone made the unprecedented jump from high school hoops to the professional ranks of the ABA, Dawkins followed suit, applying for admission to the NBA draft as a hardship candidate.
"I knew when I saw my grandmother working two jobs just to barely make ends meet, and she gave me her last 10 dollars just so I could buy some sneakers, that I had to do it," Dawkins told Dave Wohl, who both played against and coached him, for a 1988 Sports Illustrated piece.
The decision paid off when the 76ers selected Dawkins with the fifth overall pick in the 1975 draft. His reward for becoming the NBA's first preps-to-pros prospect? A seven-year contract worth a cool $1 million.
But while some expected the 6-foot-11 center to make a major-league impact from the second he set foot in the NBA, Dawkins struggled to find playing time as a teenager on Gene Shue's playoff Philly squads. He logged just 849 minutes over 96 total appearances in his first two seasons, coming off the bench behind the likes of Harvey Catchings and Caldwell Jones.
Dawkins began to come into his own in his third season. With Shue fired after six games and Billy Cunningham taking over, Dawkins earned a spot in the rotation and averaged just under 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks per game for a Sixers side that finished 55-27 before falling to the Washington Bullets in the 1978 Eastern Conference finals.
Dawkins would spend four more seasons in Philadelphia, making the playoffs every year and helping the 76ers to two more NBA Finals trips. The dual highlights of his Sixers tenure came during late in 1979, when Dawkins — who had taken to giving his dunks colorful names, like Yo Mama, the Rim Wrecker, the Go- Rilla, the Look Out Below, the In-Your-Face Disgrace, the Cover Your Head, the Spine Chiller Supreme, Dunk You Very Much and the Sexophonic Turbo Delight — took his signature stuffs to another level (see above video).
I remember Dawkins being a Trivial Pursuit sports version answer or three when I played as a kid.  Basketball was one of the tougher subjects for me, so he kind of became a default answer.  Considering how long ago that was, it demonstrates how young he was that he was only 58 when he passed away.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Red Areas vs. Blue Areas

A little population density example:

Only 5% of the world’s population lives in the entire blue region. For comparison, the same number of people live in the small red region.  Believe it or not, it’s true. There are just as many people living in the small red area as there are living in all the blue areas combined.
For the geographically challenged, that is Bangladesh and part of India in red.


Ingrained from CoLab Creative on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

NASA Photo of the Day

August 21:

Sprites from Space
Image Credit: NASA, Expedition 44
Explanation: An old Moon and the stars of Orion rose above the eastern horizon on August 10. The Moon's waning crescent was still bright enough to be overexposed in this snapshot taken from another large satellite of planet Earth, the International Space Station. A greenish airglow traces the atmosphere above the limb of the planet's night. Below, city lights and lightning flashes from thunderstorms appear over southern Mexico. The snapshot also captures the startling apparition of a rare form of upper atmospheric lightning, a large red sprite caught above a lightning flash at the far right. While the space station's orbital motion causes the city lights to blur and trail during the exposure, the extremely brief flash of the red sprite is sharp. Now known to be associated with thunderstorms, much remains a mystery about sprites including how they occur, their effect on the atmospheric global electric circuit, and if they are somehow related to other upper atmospheric lightning phenomena such as blue jets or terrestrial gamma flashes.

Ohio's Heroin Epidemic

NPR goes to Marion:
Marion, Ohio, just north of Columbus, used to be an idyllic place to grow up.
Kelly Clixby and Beth Carey remember what it was like a generation ago, when they were young.
"I lived across the street from one of the big parks here," Clixby says. "We would rip n' run all day and all night and come in when the street lights were on."
"It was just a nice place to live," Carey says.
Today, Marion is different. It's grappling with a full-blown heroin epidemic, one that derailed Kelly Clixby's life and killed Beth Carey's twin sister.
This week on For The Record: one small town copes with the ravages of addiction.
Deaths from heroin have been skyrocketing over the last few years — among all age groups, across all races and in all regions of the U.S.
According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control, more than 8,000 Americans died of heroin-related overdoses in 2013 — nearly three times as many as died in 2010.
But the risk hasn't dented demand. Heroin is cheap, abundant and accessible, and communities across the nation, from big cities to small rural towns, are struggling with the consequences.
In Marion, Ohio — once a thriving steel town — the trouble arrived around 2007, when the police started seeing balloons of heroin during routine traffic stops.
Since then, heroin has changed many lives in Marion. It took Chrystina Carey's.
One thing that seems to go hand-in-hand with heroin use: a poor job market in a struggling blue-collar town.  It is amazing how quickly oxycontin, meth and heroin have burned over vast regions of the Rust Belt and rural Midwest.  Twenty years ago, people in many of these places would have scoffed at the idea that heroin would take hold in their communities.  Not now.

Military Spending, By Nation


Obviously, John Kasich, we need 15 aircraft carriers, instead of 10.  It amazes me how idiotic tough-guy talk passes for serious policy in the Republican party.

Fighting Big Syrup

While many Americans associate Vermont with maple syrup, Quebec is its center. The province’s trees produce more than 70 percent of the world’s supply and fill the majority of the United States’ needs. The federation, in turn, has used that dominance to restrict supply and control prices of the pancake topping.
It is effectively a cartel, approved by the provincial government and backed by the law. In 1990, the federation became the only wholesale seller of the province’s production, and in 2004, it gained the power to decide who gets to make maple syrup and how much.
For much of its 49-year history, the federation largely toiled out of sight. Then in 2012, $18 million of maple syrup was stolen from the global strategic reserve, a warehouse where the federation stockpiles the sweetener. Police arrested more than two dozen people in the heist, the first of whom is expected to go on trial in November.
But the federation’s elevated profile exposed the controversial methods it uses to police the market. When the federation suspects farmers are producing and selling outside the system, it posts guards on their properties. It seeks fines from producers and buyers who do not follow the rule. In the most extreme situations, it seizes production.
The federation is unapologetic. It defends the system, saying it keeps prices high and stable.
“Three-quarters of our members are happy or very happy with what we are doing,” said Simon TrĂ©panier, the federation’s executive director. “Those producers are living through the maple syrup production. It’s their main income because we present them with a stable income.”
Mr. Hodge is similarly intransigent. At this point in the season, Mr. Hodge would normally have sold his syrup, turning his attention to his cattle and other crops. But this year he had nothing to sell. He contends that farmers should be allowed to set their own level of production and sell directly to large buyers, regardless of what the law says.
“They call us rebels, say we’re in a sugar war or something. I’ve heard rumors of that,” said Mr. Hodge, at his farm in Bury, Quebec.
“Yeah, I guess you could call it that.”
Across the table, Whitney, his 20-year-old daughter, who also farms, looked up from her smartphone and interjected.
“A war over maple syrup, like how pathetic can you get?”
Syrup more valuable than oil?  I guess the maple syrup cartel is more effective than OPEC.  The cartel definitely seems more aggressive in policing its members than OPEC is.  I just wouldn't think that a maple syrup cartel would have so much influence.