One thing about plants that’s easy to forget is that much of the plant–the biomass–is underground. An exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Gardens highlights the importance and size of roots. Here are some grasses, with their root systems intact:


Those root systems are about six to eight feet long. More roots:


The guy in this photo is about 6’3″ to give you some sense of scale:
Continue reading

Posted in Museums etc., Plants | 2 Comments

Links 3/27/15

Links for you. Science:

Hopeful results in antibiotics reduction: The annual report on antibiotic resistance 
and the use of antibiotics in livestock shows encouraging results: resistance is decreasing. But we need to stay alert, says Dik Mevius.
Battle Over Science Funding Gets Fiercer In U.S. Congress
Meet the animal that’s rarer — and cuter — than a panda
In Israel, Will Creationists Reign?
Harvard microbiologist on the case to save artifacts


Common Core tests are failures
Snobbery and standards
Google is helping to fund the group that’s trying to kill Obamacare in the Supreme Court
Maine Teacher Wins $1 Million Prize, Advises Young People Not to Enter Teaching Because of Common Core and Testing
On Moderation
Schools Plan Massive Layoffs After Scott Walker Guts Funding
Montana Invents Fun Science Experiments To Do On Ladies Who Want Legal Abortions
Did a Student’s Non-PC Views on Rape Statistics Get Him Banned from Class? Maybe, Maybe Not.
What Does It Mean When ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ Doesn’t Hold Up?
Why Can’t One of America’s Most ‘Progressive’ Cities Reform Its Police Force?
I am now a ‘Pro-Pressure’ Jew
View from the left—changing the Social Security conversation
A Christian Nation? Since when? Since always.
David Petraeus Does D.C.
What is wrong with the Secret Service?
Base Appeals
Can God save the children from #PARCC?

Posted in Lotsa Links | Leave a comment

Metrics Matter: The Road Congestion Edition

From the Commonwealth of Virginia, we read the following (boldface mine):

But the Virginia General Assembly requires NVTA to prioritize projects that reduce road congestion. Before NVTA can fund any projects, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has to run each proposal through a computer model that rates its ability to reduce congestion.

VDOT’s rating system for NVTA projects rewards expansions of the busiest highways, on the assumption that more road capacity will reduce congestion. It’s a flawed 20th century metric that ignores decades of real world experience that bigger roads actually make congestion worse.

The VDOT system does not measure things like how a project might benefit safety, or increase accessibility, and doesn’t take into consideration how land use changes are driven by infrastructure.

The biggest problem is simply that VDOT’s model doesn’t know what to do with short distance trips, which are the exact type of trip that transit-oriented development produces more of. So when a transit or pedestrian project makes it possible for thousands of people to walk two blocks instead of drive five miles, the VDOT model doesn’t always show that as reducing congestion.

Thus, road expansion projects end up looking good, and other things have trouble competing. Transit does OK if it relieves traffic on a major road, but pedestrian or bike projects are almost impossible.

Many other regions are using broader metrics for measuring transportation performance and congestion mitigation, but Northern Virginia can’t because the General Assembly won’t let it.

How you measure things–which is often discounted as a mere ‘technical’ detail–is really crucial. Those technical details reflect our priorities. It’s really easy to ‘define away’ policy options, especially when a really boring mechanism is used to do so.

And the congregation responds: This is yet another reason why we can’t have nice things.

Posted in Transportation | 1 Comment

Links 3/26/15

Links for you. Science:

It’s time to reboot bioinformatics education
Why Don’t Animals Get Schizophrenia (and How Come We do)?
Rethinking the brain: Critics of the European Human Brain Project were justified, says an independent report on the project. Both its governance and its scientific direction need to be adjusted.
When Antibiotic Resistance in vitro Does Not Tell You What You Need To Know
Science Museums Urged to Cut Ties With Kochs


Bowser plans rapid-fire policy plans for ‘pathways to the middle class’
The vanity of conservatives (“It’s hard enough to persuade people they’re wrong about something when how they make their money depends on their being right. It’s damn near impossible when, never mind their net worth, their sense of self-worth is tied up in it.”)
Free Trade Isn’t about Trade. It’s About Bureaucrats. And Guns. Free trade agreements like the TPP have provisions that are designed less for trade, and more about replacing public bureaucrats with private, corporate ones.
L.I. woman says psych ward doctors believed she was delusional for insisting Obama follows her on Twitter
TSA Agent Threatens Woman With Defamation, Demands $500k For Calling Intrusive Search ‘Rape’ (what exactly was the victim supposed to be smuggling in her vagina?)
The good cops
What Rahm Emanuel can learn from crazy lefties
How Romans wiped their butts after going to the bathroom.
Oh what a tangled web we weave
Retirement Crisis: The Great 401(k) Experiment Has Failed for Many Americans
A/B testing in politics
Ayn Rand Comes to U.N.C.
The District’s birth rate was 6th highest in the Nation. For adult-aged women, births tend to occur later in life compared to women in the Nation. High housing costs could be a factor. (it’s not just that older women in D.C. have higher birthrate, younger women have a much lower birthrate)
If everyone voted, progressives would win (but maybe only at local and state levels)
When it comes to D.C., Republicans put politics over principles
City to replace all its parking meters; move could mean parking apps and eventually higher rates near Fenway for Sox games
For Pearson, Common Core is private profit

Posted in Lotsa Links | 2 Comments

They Really Don’t Like the Rest of Us

By now, you might have heard that Nazghul, Wisconsin governor, and presidential hopeful Scott Walker appears to have received $1.5 million from businessman John Menard Jr. While this raises all sorts of campaign finance related issues, what I find fascinating–in a Charles Manson sort of way–is Menard. His disdain and lack of respect for his workers is, well, something (boldface mine):

Menards managers must sign a work agreement in which they consent to pages of rules and penalties: They are fined $10 if there are more than 15 carts in the parking lot, $100 a minute if a store opens late, $10 if a customer doesn’t pick up a special order within 10 days. With military-like discipline, a manager’s absences are tightly
controlled, and suggestions to a superior are not welcome….

Managers are prohibited from building a home, even if they purchase the construction materials elsewhere. It’s a measure to prevent employee theft, John Menard once told the media. The penalty is termination.

Even minor building projects concerned him. On numerous occasions, former managers say, Menard hired private investigators to take photos when an employee added a deck or addition, then had internal examiners cross-reference the materials in the photos with items the employee had purchased, looking for products that had been stolen.

The most infamous casualty of this policy was Eldon Helget, a lumber yard manager for Menards’ Burnsville, Minn., store. Helget’s daughter was confined to a wheelchair and the narrow hallways in the Helget home made it difficult to get around. She was getting too big for her mother Linda to carry her up the stairs, and because the bathroom couldn’t accommodate her wheelchair, the girl had no privacy. When the Helgets could find no home that met their needs, they decided to build from scratch.

But Helget’s boss, Larry Menard, said there were no exceptions to the company rule. Helget, who had a stellar 13-year record with the company, could resign his post and take a lower-level job, Larry said. That meant a $15,000 cut in his $40,000 salary, but Helget still agreed.

The Helgets hired a contractor to build a ramp-equipped home, using building materials from another company. When John Menard heard about the deal, he fired Helget. The company notified Helget that if he ever showed up on its property again, he’d be arrested for trespassing.

Then there’s this delightful tale:

Bropst recounts horror stories of how other employees were handled.

One involved a North Dakota Menards store manager. The manager’s wife had triplets that came early and required special attention at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. The manager spent a small fortune on plane fare commuting back and forth. He still worked 35 to 40 hours, but his contract required a minimum of 55 a week, so his weekly pay dropped from $1,000 to $500 or $600, Bropst says. “Two of the babies didn’t make it, and John (Menard) fined him $2,000 [out of his bonus] because he had to bury two of his kids and didn’t put in 55 hours those two weeks.”

Some wealthyrich employers might have tried to help these guys out. But not Scott Walker’s BFF. Instead, Menard crushed them. It shows a complete lack of empathy, and a boatload of moral degeneracy to boot.

This sociopath owns Scott Walker (though birds of a feather….). And Walker just might become president.

I don’t think there’s that much ruin in a nation….

Posted in Basic Human Decency, Bidness, Conservatives | 6 Comments

Campbell’s Law Hits the Big Time

Campbell‘s Law, which economists refer to as Goodhart’s Law, seems to have hit the big time, and is applied by NY Times columinst Eduardo Porter to education (boldface mine):

In this heated debate, however, it is important not to lose sight of Goodhart’s Law. Most of these studies measured the impact of test scores when tests carried little weight for teachers’ future careers. But what happens when tests determine whether a teacher gets a bonus or keeps his or her job?

From Atlanta to El Paso, school officials have been accused of cheating to improve their standing on test scores.

Fraud is not the only concern. In one study, schools forced to improve grades by the No Child Left Behind law were found to have focused on helping children who were at the cusp of proficiency. They had no incentive to address those comfortably above the cut or those with little hope of gaining enough in the short term.

A survey of teachers at a school district in the Southwest that awarded bonuses based on test scores found that many tried to avoid both gifted students and those not yet proficient in English whose grades were tough to improve. Others employed “drill and kill” strategies to ensure their students nailed the tests.

Whether it’s screwed up teacher evaluation metrics or assessing teachers based on students they haven’t taught (not making that up), it’s safe to say that the implementation of reform as it exists–not some magical non-existent reform movement existing only in pundits’ heads–is really screwed up. We give teachers–who are human just like the rest of us–a perverse set of incentives and then wonder why parents and students (not to mention many of those same teachers) are really angry. It’s simple: education reform rhetoric has nothing to do with reality. In many ways, it’s analogous to the ‘liberal hawks’ who foolishly believed that Bush et alia would fight wars and manage occupations the way the liberal hawks fantasized, when all of the Bush Administration’s actions to that point put the lie to that foolish, naive belief.

I would love to see curricular and pedagogical changes and improvements, but the reform movement, with rare exceptions, isn’t about that. Reformers, who in many places, have been given wide latitude, and they have constructed a giant pile of idiotic malincentives and nonsensical policies.

But there are always useful idiots willing to double down on stupid. Too bad for the kids.

Posted in Education | 2 Comments

Links 3/25/15

Links for you. Science:

Why Are So Many People Nearsighted? Researchers may have found the answer that could keep glasses off one-third of the world’s population
Close Proximity Interaction and S. aureus Spread in Long-Term Care
In Republicans’ ‘War On Nature,’ California Gets A Big Win (marine biodiversity is usually neglected)
N.Y. Times Hype of “Feel-Good Gene” Makes Me Feel Bad
The cost of the rejection-resubmission cycle


Are College Campuses Really in the Thrall of Leftist Censors?
Contesting contested primaries
Journalists have to decide what to do about candidates who are climate change denialists
Why College Isn’t (and Shouldn’t Have to be) for Everyone
The World Is Squared: Episode 6 – Midsummer in Midwinter
Firefighters response to deadly L’Enfant Plaza Metro smoke delayed by 911 center protocol (again, this is a managerial problem, not a worker problem)
Ruins found in remote Argentinian jungle ‘may be secret Nazi hideout’
The Liberal Zionist’s Lament
A Loss for Words: Can a dying language be saved?
Why the left hates this man: Rahm Emanuel’s sins against the progressive movement
Me and Ted
Why free speech on campus is not as simple as everyone thinks. It’s not as easy as Judith Shulevitz posits. (in particular cases, it’s always worth getting the details when it comes to campus stuff–it can look very different from the outside)
How China used more cement in 3 years than the U.S. did in the entire 20th Century
We know where you’ve been: Ars acquires 4.6M license plate scans from the cops
Hydrogen Bomb Physicist’s Book Runs Afoul of Energy Department
LED Streetlights in Brooklyn Are Saving Energy but Exhausting Residents

Posted in Lotsa Links | 4 Comments