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January 11, 2013

the nra's dinky membership numbers

I realized this yesterday while reading the latest specious dumb-ass provocation from the National Rifle Association.  NRA leadership was meeting with the Vice President and his task force on gun violence/school shootings/however you want to parse that, because they are very eager to help!  As long as help involves regulating the video game industry or starting an insane person registry or arming Sunday School teachers, but the task force is also interested in starting a conversation about the availability of certain weaponry, so the NRA harrumphed out of that meeting like someone said something mean about their moms:
“We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to attack the Second Amendment,” the powerful lobbying group said in a statement after talks with Vice President Joe Biden.

"While claiming that no policy proposals would be 'prejudged,' this task force spent most of its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners — honest, taxpaying, hardworking Americans," the NRA said. "It is unfortunate that this administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation's most pressing problems."

I guess at this point in history we're inured to it, but that carefully-worded NewSpeak shit makes me wanna throw myself down an escalator.  I mean, you see "failed solutions" and then you're screaming, "WE NEVER EVEN TRIED TO BAN GUNS IN THE FIRST PLACE BECAUSE EVEN TIME WE GOT CLOSE YOU DISSEMBLING MURDERERS BLOCKED THE LEGISLATION," and by that time you're well post the point of crazytown.

(AND not to mention that the NRA makes no mention of the school shooting, at a school with an armed guard, took place AS THE MEETING WAS HAPPENING, but whatever.)

But in the original statement from the NRA, which you can read on their website whose link I will by no means share, you will see that the statement starts with the NRA describing themselves as such:

The National Rifle Association is made up of over 4 million moms and dads, daughters and sons...

Of course GAG, as, show me a human that is none of mom, dad, daughter, son (or even dad, mom, son, daughter)?  But that number, four million?  That's 1.2% of the current population of the United States.

I know that the NRA's stranglehold on the Congress is legendary, and they are clearly well-funded and organized.  But I refuse to be bullied by a fringe organization that speaks for one percent of the nation.

Of course everyone gets to have an opinion, gets to be heard, but only four million?  Go to hell.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:00 AM

January 10, 2013

americans and lifestyle decisions

I take no joy in this, as much as I like to point and poke at American Exceptionalists and that last bit of the shipwreck they cling to while chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!"  But here's one more plank of that bit of flotsam breaking off and sinking to the bottom of the ocean:
Americans are far more unhealthy than people in 16 other developed countries, and it’s probably our own fault, experts reported on Wednesday. We die younger from diseases such as obesity and heart disease, and we are far more likely to be murdered and die in car accidents, the researchers at the National Academy of Sciences found.

Let's run that down.  Heart disease and obesity — well, strange to separate those out like that, since one is a potential cause of the other, but let's agree that whatever genetic factors are involved, both are more than occasionally driven by lifestyle choices like diet, exercise and smoking, so let's call them volitional.  Murder, and let's leave guns out of it so Alex Jones won't jump at his own shadow, well that's obviously volitional on account of it's one dude killing another dude.  When the killing dude didn't mean to do it, they don't call it murder.  And auto accidents, let's not call that volitional.  Except that, if you think of it, they're either caused by vehicle failure, driver error or force majeure (black ice, fog bank, etc.).  And I don't have figures in front of me, but anecdotally I'd guess that the majority of accidents are driver error.  And I'm going to change my mind and call that volitional, because the causes of driver error — distracted driving, impaired driving, fatigue, reckless driving, etc. — are all easily avoided.  Hence, the driver implicitly chose to do that.

So then, not only are Americans decidedly not exceptional when it comes to not dying, they are also decidedly not exceptional because they decided to be so.

And if that's not enough to make you wonder, check this alternate take on the study that's the source of the findings: life expectancy declines for Americans under 50.  So whatever stupidity that the older Americans have had in health decisions, it's being amplified in the younger generations.


Posted by mrbrent at 10:12 AM

January 9, 2013

the actual end of the world as we know it

You are familiar with the "Ways the World Could End" article that runs once or twice a year.  The first time you read it, it was engaging!  Why, who'd want to go and do that!  By the time you'd read the 10th iteration of the story, it was a slideshow.  Listicles, they call them now.

So when I share this Nature article with you, I am doing so because it transcends the form — a lengthy, well-researched and reported (by Nicola Jones) contemplation of the various so-called "planet killers" that are out there.

And there's some good new ones in there, or at least new to me:

Eight thousand years ago, sediments covering an underwater area the size of Scotland slipped from their moorings off the west coast of Norway and raced along the sea floor. The Storegga slide triggered a tsunami that ran at least 20 metres up the nearby Shetland Islands, and probably wiped out some coastal tribes as it clobbered shores around northern Europe. The scar it left on the ocean floor stretches nearly 300 kilometres. “It's absolutely enormous, and I'm not using the word 'enormous' lightly,” says Peter Talling, a sedimentologist at the University of Southampton, UK, who is leading a project to assess the country's risk of similar slides.

Submarine landslides?  Awesome.  Also: fungal events (think Irish Potato famine) and "long-soft" γ-ray bursts are interesting things to consider.

And not to panic, as pretty much all of the scenarios could happen a million years from now (or tomorrow).  So no worries!  Stop thinking about your own personal mortality and give a care to the mortality of the planet.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 AM

January 8, 2013

charles pierce on michelle rhee

This is totally coincidental, but within minutes of me hitting publish on the last post concerning Michelle Rhee Music-Manning her way to wealth and fame by destroying publication, Charles Pierce hit publish on his own thoughts on Rhee.  Pierce wrote because tonight Frontline is running an episode on Rhee's tenure in DC, which, as I mentioned, left a few skeletons behind in closets.

The problem being as IDed by Pierce:

A reliance on standardized testing as a metric for progress — and, it should be said, as a Procrustean scoreboard to judge whether a teacher, an administrator, or a school system are doing their jobs properly — almost guarantees that some finagling with the numbers will take place. It is a sub rosa way to install a corporate model on public education and, since the corporate model for everything in this country right now is a moral and ethical quagmire, it encourages cheating on a massive scale. Hence, the very real possibility that the empire built by Michelle Rhee, tough-talking "reformer," may be built upon a wilderness of crib sheets.

So yes, definitely keep cui bono in mind every time you see Rhee's name in the paper again, but remember that no matter what she names her lobbying group, her thinly-veiled privatization scheme will not work.  Corporations have one responsibility, the bottom line, which is a responsibility that is irrelevant to the responsibility of teaching kids.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:08 AM

January 7, 2013

michelle rhee loves fl and la

StudentFirst, presumably the primary source of the income of former DC schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, has issued a "report card" (get it?) for each state of the union.  The grades are issued on the basis of how closely each state hews to the tenets of StudentFirst (i.e., destroying public teacher unions, abrogating public teacher pensions, etc.) — the Michelle-Rhee-ness of each state, if you will, although that implies that a suitable amount of MR-ness will enable the possessor to then get paid lots of money for advocating MR-ness, as that is an ineffable quality of MR herself.

But all that's neither here nor there, because it's a competition between the states!  An artificial one, of course, derived from totally arbitrary and largely useless metrics, but still, who won!?!

Florida and Louisiana won, that's who.

I'll give StudentFirst some points for gall, to make a big hoo-ha over some silly ranking system that puts two states decidedly not known for the excellence of their public education as paragons of virtue.  As in, I cannot imagine any parent reading this study and thinking to themselves, "You know, I've been meaning to move to FL/LA so my own personal children can be shaped by the bounty of their awesome pedagogical might."

And I will take points away from the Times, for reporting the press release story without noting that little fact.

(Also the story does not mention the DC scandal that happened under Rhee's tenure, but she's against tenure so I guess it's not fair to bring it up.)

Posted by mrbrent at 10:01 AM