Links 11/25/14

Links for you. Science:

Statistics in the age of HIPPA
Unexpected cross-species contamination in genome sequencing projects (and don’t forget the platypus!)
Simmer Down: Viruses Not ‘Fourth Domain’ of Life
Economics Is a Dismal Science for Women
Florida’s Invaders: Tokay Gecko

Other:

Why Working With Young Children Is (Still) A Dead-End Job
Why Humanities 2? or: End the Administration
Undocumented Immigrants Aren’t Who You Think They Are
The Story That Tore Through the Trees: Amid some of the worst wildfire conditions America has seen in a century, a return to the book that burned its way into our collective imagination
Keep calm and kill turkeys
GOP Columnist: The VERY Bad News FOR THE GOP in the GOP’s Midterm Victory (in the short term, it sucks for most of us though…)
Why Ferguson has been in a state of emergency for years
Is publishing “just a button”?
On “false statements” and FBI interrogations
Alabama’s Poor Have It Worse Than Most – And It’s Not Getting Better (budgets are ethical statements)
It’s the People’s Mail that Will Be Slowed, Workers Say
Charter schools suspend more than traditional schools (what the story doesn’t discuss is what happens to students who are repeatedly suspended–which is the whole point)
Who Cares How Much You Love Bill Cosby?: An Exorcism
Hole Foods
Politics as usual

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‘Tis the Season

From Ferguson, MO:

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If U.S. police departments continue to behave like the Royal Ulster Constabulary, there is a tragic and predictable outcome.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 2 Comments

The Aging–and Unsustainable–Suburbs

A while ago, I noted this about Fairfax County, VA (boldface added):

When I look back at the Northern Virginian county in which I grew up–and which, at that time and still today, is one of the wealthiest counties in the country (Fairfax), I see a similar dynamic. Within the county, the less dense areas that also have high property values are doing fine. Likewise, higher-density areas aren’t decaying either. There’s enough of a tax base. But the ‘muddle in the middle’ is in trouble–or being torn down and turned into one of the two winning strategies. At the county level, the major impetus behind the Tysons Corner urbanization-like-thingee was not the sudden conversion of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors towards a belief in sustainable urban living (STOP LAUGHING! STOP LAUGHING NOW!). They needed the tax revenue, and building ‘out’–that is, sprawl–was no longer economically viable, in part because the county never recouped the costs of massive stereotypical suburban expansion.

The only thing I would add to Morahn’s analysis is that the cost of transportation is almost never considered. When it is considered, the cost of suburban living is quite high.

Nathaniel Hood, while describing the defeat of a small urban center in the Minnesotan suburb of Minnetonka, writes (boldface mine):

It’s a well-to-do middle-class community that has expensive, moderate and cheap suburban living. As far as suburbs go, it has a surprising range of housing price points.

The suburb had it’s largest growth during the 1970s, when its population jumped 43 percent, and again in the 1990s with a 25 percent gain. I only bring this up so you can paint a mental picture of cul-de-sacs of split levels and starter mansions with wooded lots. Add in a regional mall and interstate extension to complete the image.

These suburbs would like to grow their tax base, but they haven’t much additional land to grow outwards. All new growth must go upwards. It is this dynamic that has longtime residents at odds with the future non-existent residents….

However, please consider that the citizens aren’t necessarily wrong [in claiming the development will change Minnetonka’s character]. Developments like these will change the community’s character. But, is changing the character of a stagnating suburban strip mall corridor such a bad thing?

…Suburban retrofits might be the only long-term financially-viable options for aging suburbs. These places often cover a huge land mass, have lots of roadways and sewer pipes, and not a lot of population density to help pay for it. Minnetonka, for example, has a land mass half the size of its neighbor Minneapolis. Yet, its population that is approximately 8 times less.

Most of Minnetonka’s infrastructure is around 30 to 50 years, and those sewer pipes aren’t going to last forever. They’ll need people to pay for it.

I like to ask the question: If not this, then what?

Aging suburbia is going through an identity crisis. Existing residents would like the place to stay much the same. New residents, including those who do not live there yet, are demanding something else. So, what else? These places can’t continue to stay the same. Yet, the change is to difficult for many to swallow. This is why the default for most suburbs is decline. Growth isn’t built into its DNA.

For those living deep in the suburban pattern, new development doesn’t make your life a better place. Nearly the entire housing stock of the second-ring suburb is designed in a way that the lack of development is the best option. If a home’s ideal is to be disconnected, then anything near it – whether good or bad – that isn’t nature is taking away from that aesthetic.

Here in lies one of the biggest faults in suburbia: it’s not designed to change. In mature cities, as land values increased, the intensity of development would follow. That’s why downtown Minneapolis, which once housed single family homes, now has blocks of towering skyscrapers. This is change needs to occur.

The harsh reality is that these places will have to change or face an impending decline.

It’s worth noting, again, that the suburbs were never designed to be a long term solution: they originally were a response to a post-WWII urban housing crisis, fostered both by overall demographics and the great northward migration from the South of African-Americans to urban areas. Sustainability wasn’t even part of the discussion: essentially, these developments were the housing equivalent of deluxe classroom trailers for overburdened schools.

Posted in Housing, Urban Planning | 1 Comment

Links 11/24/14

Links for you. Science:

Ebola Here and There: Knowing When It Is And Isn’t Over
These Are A Few Of My Favorite Species: Gasflame Nudibranch
I am not a smart man
It’s Not About That Damn Shirt
Scientists: know your audience!

Other:

Paradise in Trouble
The Best Galleries And Art Collections In D.C.
If Congress Doesn’t Act In The Next Month, It Could Be The End Of The Postal Service As We Know It
Put the breaks on the per-mile vehicle tax
Behind the scenes of the liberal plot to destroy Ron Fournier (I wrote about the Douchebag of Centrism here)
The environmental movement is not the Tea Party of the left
Every university is broken
First Grade Teachers at Skelly Elementary, Tulsa, OK: We Refuse to Administer the MAP and Student Surveys
Be Afraid: The Five Scariest Trends in Philanthropy
Rising Violence in Schools Serving Predominantly Black and Latino Students
Principled Opposition
Republican Gov. Mike Pence says not giving food to the unemployed will ‘ennoble’ them

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Marion Barry, 1936-2014

I was going to write something about the death and life of Marion Barry, former mayor of D.C. (for those who don’t know, I’m actually a D.C. native–born at GWU Hospital, and first lived in Southeast, near the Carrollsburg Apartments), but Adam Serwer hit every point I was going to make, and did so brilliantly. Here’s a taste (boldface mine):

But the Barry who was elected mayor four times, including once after that crack conviction, owed his success to being an unparalleled retail politician who could mollify the city’s powerful business interests, isolate political opponents, and make the city’s working class and poor believe he spoke for them. He was a master at exploiting black racial anxieties, which makes him different from many of America’s most successful politicians only in that his constituency, and therefore his culture war appeals, were black. Within the city, he was a champion who first gave its working-class black residents a taste of the economic prosperity that racial apartheid had long denied them. He was the realization of D.C. residents’ long-denied democratic aspirations. There is much more to Barry than the time he got set up.

From the outside, observers could see only Barry’s flaws, his corruptions and addictions. The mystery of Barry’s political survival despite numerous run-ins with the law, mismanagement of the city government, and numerous allegations of sexual assault is easier to solve if you know the history of the city. Barry didn’t bring corruption to D.C. He changed who benefited from it.

As the kids like to say, go read the whole thing.

Posted in DC | 2 Comments

Education ‘Reform’ Isn’t About the Kids: The Texas Schoolbook Edition

Here’s something you won’t hear any of the education reformers getting worked up about (boldface mine):

During a months-long process, publishers made a number of improvements to their textbooks. Those improvements included removing inaccurate information promoting climate change denialism; deleting offensive cartoons comparing beneficiaries of affirmative action to space aliens; making clearer that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War; and revising passages that had promoted unfair negative stereotypes of Muslims. Scholars and the general public had ample opportunity to review and comment on those revisions.

However, the new textbooks also include passages that suggest Moses influenced the writing of the Constitution and that the roots of democracy can be found in the Old Testament. Scholars from across the country have said such claims are inaccurate and mislead students about the historical record.

Here’s what the Moses bit really means (boldface mine):

Careful analyst by Justine Esta Ellis (a scholar who was not part of the TFN group) finds the strategy of starting with Moses is aimed at presenting the United States as a unique “redeemer nation,” predestined among all others to act out God’s will. Arch-conservative David Barton, who has no historian’s credentials but who nonetheless has had a huge impact on TEKS, maintains that verse after verse from the Bible is quoted “verbatim” in the Constitution. Checking Scripture demonstrates quickly that this is just not so. The language and the ideas do not match. Any professor of history teaches history majors not to make that kind of mistake…

One of those historians, my colleague and former Southern Methodist University department chair Kathleen Wellman, testified at the SBOE public hearing this month. She told the SBOE that the effect of the TEKS requirement to find biblical origins for the Constitution would be to make Moses the “first American.” Some historians give that honor to Benjamin Franklin. Whoever might merit it, Moses definitely does not qualify.

Will Michelle Rhee or anyone from Students First decry the teaching of outright falsehoods? Will the leaders of the Common Core, such as David Coleman, make the obvious point that this crap doesn’t belong in a school textbook? What’s the point of having a Common Core if it’s utterly ridiculous? Will Education Secretary Arne Duncan say anything?

Of course they won’t. They have never decried creationism, climate change denialism or any other rightwing hooey. It also explains the support for charter schools: it’s easier in charter schools to use public funds to indoctrinate children with less oversight (by the way, that link discusses Texas. Go figure).

Education reformers have an agenda, but it’s pretty clear the welfare of children isn’t at the top of the list.

Posted in Conservatives, Creationism, Education | Leave a comment

Links 11/23/14

Links for you. Science:

Cue Gets $7.5 Million to Build $199 Home Flu-Testing Device
Economists should focus on the economy, not public health
The 9 rarest plants in the world
This Is What Scientists Found When They Sequenced The Genomes Of The Longest Lived People (I’ve never understood why more people don’t view this from a genetic load perspective–the trick is not to have genetic predispositions for anything bad, and then not die by bad luck)
A letter to Dr. Oz for his In Box

Other:

New York in the snow by Vivienne Gucwa – in pictures
The Forever Professors: Academics who don’t retire are greedy, selfish, and bad for students
Inspectional Services must act now on student housing (but there is no code enforcement in Boston, other than snow removal…)
The precedent is set
What Happened the Last Time Republicans Had a Majority This Huge? They lost it.
Innovation District needs a human touch
Tanzania accused of backtracking over sale of Masai’s ancestral land: Masai told to leave historic homeland by end of the year so it can become a hunting reserve for the Dubai royal family
Behind Closed Doors, Boston Has Nearly Secured a US Olympic Bid Whether You Like It Or Not (God, I hope not. What a disaster)
Ted Cruz Doubles Down On Misunderstanding The Internet & Net Neutrality, As Republican Engineers Call Him Out For Ignorance
The Racist Origins of Felon Disenfranchisement
How Thanksgiving, the ‘Yankee Abolitionist Holiday,’ Won Over the South
Today’s Math You Can Use: Marijuana + Big Corporations = A Lot More Marijuana

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