To my approximately seven readers:
It's no surprise to those of you who have me on GChat that I haven't posted anything here for the last month. But for those of you who don't, the news is that I have been taking a hiatus from this blog as I began a new career position within a government agency, and have been taking time to learn about the limitations on the sort of acceptable blogging. There are, I believe, very important and necessary ethical guidelines established by law on political activity of career government employees, and I definitely plan to follow them both in spirit and in letter.
So after allowing for some time to percolate on these rules, and the past/present/future of my blogging interests, I've come to the realization that this is a good moment to transition away from primarily political blogging. That there are certain limitations required by my new job that would require some self-censoring, especially of rants, is certainly a major reason for breaking from this thread of writing. And there are a lot of other reasons I thought of as well, from my inability to dedicate the amount of time and brain matter necessary to be a decent political blogger to my new, relatively long daily commute to work and back.
But most of all, I've had other ideas and other things that I've wanted to write, and draw, and maybe sing, and all of those other things would likely work in a different format. A prettier format, with lots of colors and pictures and a lot more things that are happy and forward-looking, and less faux-op/ed voice and more of my voice. More like my first posts on this blog were, back in May of 2004, when the name of the blog was less serious, and the blog was less serious, and in so many ways better and more fun to write.
So over six years and more than 800 posts later, I'm saying goodbye to hsuperpolitical. Unlike professional bloggers, this will not be a smooth and seamless transition; there is no definite timeline for when my new random side project will be up and running. So if you don't mind having an inactive feed in you RSS, stay tuned to this channel; I'll post an announcement here once I've gotten the new act together.
Thanks all who have read and commented. The next one is going to be even better.
Aug 19, 2010
To my approximately seven readers:
Jul 17, 2010
Nerissa at The Opportunity Agenda has a good, brief summary of the complaint:
1. The Arizona law, as a whole, is invalid because it sets forth a state-level immigration policy that interferes with the federal government's preeminent authority to administer and enforce immigration laws; and
2. Sections 2-6 of the Arizona law are invalid because each section either conflicts with, or undermines, established Congressional objectives, federal enforcement and policy priorities, and/or existing federal laws and Constitutional principles.
Basically, Supremacy Clause, fools. What was AZ thinking?
Jul 15, 2010
What's in a name? That which we call a rose- William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Obesity. The BP oil spill. Environmental degradation. Food poisoning, especially from E.coli O157:H7. It's all connected, across multiple networks of industry, lobbyists, political and parochial interests, and markets. But this post is just about one such connection, a lesser discussed link between so-called "natural gas" and degradation of water used for agriculture and human consumption.
An increasingly popular and reckless gas and oil drilling technique, known as "hydraulic fracking" (for non-BSG fans, click here for why the term is both hilarious and appropriate) has led to the quarantine of cattle in Pennsylvania, due to wastewater leakage. Fracking introduces pollutants such as benzene into our food system. Benzene exposure can lead to anemia, cancer, and death.
ProPublica has been doing great investigative journalism on fracking, and a new HBO film, Gasland, also exposes the practice.
The Nation also published an expose on fracking last month, beginning with this sharp observation:
In recent years, a broad coalition of energy analysts and government officials have embraced domestic natural gas as a promising "bridge fuel" that could help smooth the transition from more carbon-intensive fossil fuels like oil and coal to renewable energy sources like solar and wind. The catch, though, is that the natural gas industry shares the same history as other energy industries operating in the United States. A string of recent disasters—including the TVA coal ash spill, the Massey coal mine explosion and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—have demonstrated all too vividly that failure to regulate and oversee resource extraction can lead to catastrophe.
The most important piece of the observation is that, despite the green-washing campaign of the natural gas industry, it is still a fossil fuel. Even though sold as a "bridge fuel," it is not substantially different from oil and coal in terms of the need to engage in extraction methods that are hazardous to our water, air, and food. And while it "burns cleaner" in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide and other pollutants given off relative to energy produced, it is at the end of the day a major producer of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Moreover, natural gas itself, primarily methane, is dramatically more harmful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas if leaked directly into the atmosphere.
Call it "natural" gas and "hydraulic fracturing," but it is still tearing up the soil and earth relied on for farming/drinking/living to get to polluting and unsustainable fossil fuels. Not all that different from deepwater drilling, even if going by another name.
Jul 13, 2010
science!: complex life may be 2 billion years old, rather than 600 million; nasa discovers 750 possible extrasolar planets
- Apparently paleobiologists' minds are exploding:
The discovery in Gabon of more than 250 fossils in an excellent state of conservation has provided proof, for the first time, of the existence of multicellular organisms 2.1 billion years ago. This finding represents a major breakthrough: until now, the first complex life forms (made up of several cells) dated from around 600 million years ago.
Particularly interesting given the estimated age of the Earth (4.54 billion years); this would mean that complex life may have evolved much earlier in the planet's history than previously predicted, and prior to the Cryogenian (a.k.a. "snowball Earth") and subsequent Cambrian Explosion that is believed to have resulted in the ancestors of modern animals.
- NASA's Kepler Mission has discovered 750 potential planets in a mere 43 days within a tiny fraction of the sky. Prior to Kepler's discoveries, only 461 planets outside the solar system had been identified.
- UC Berkeley researchers found that Tibetans have evolved in a mere 3,000 years to better deal with high-altitude life, through selection for a gene that keeps blood hemoglobin levels low. 87% of Tibetans have this gene, compared to only 9% of ethnically-similar Han Chinese.
- Recycling at its best: Scientists at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center have transformed their outdated particle accelerator into the world's brightest X-ray laser:
[T]he ultimate goal envisioned for the SLAC laser is far more ambitious — to take pictures of individual molecules like proteins in a few millionths of a billionth of a second before the molecules are blown to smithereens.
“We are going into the arena of biology and trying to take snapshots of the worker molecules in people’s bodies,” said Joachim Stöhr, the director of the laser center.
Jul 12, 2010
Calitics has the assigned Proposition numbers for California's November ballot, with Robert Cruickshank's first-take leanings on each initiative:
Prop 18: The $11 billion water bond. Leaning no.
Prop 19: Cannabis legalization. Oh hell yes. This is one of the 2 or 3 most important initiatives on the November ballot. It's a must-pass.
Prop 20: Expands Prop 11 redistricting commission to include Congressional races, which could cost Democrats seats in the House. This is a definite no.
Prop 21: The state parks initiative, raising the vehicle license fee by $18, keeping all parks open at restored hours, reducing the maintenance backlog, and allowing all Californians with a registered vehicle to get into any park free of charge. Another obvious yes.
Prop 22: Bans state government raids on local government funds for good. Given what I wrote earlier today you shouldn't be surprised I lean yes on this one as well. Austerity is not good, and if we can contain it at the state level, then it's easier to force the issue for new revenues at the state level as well.
Prop 23: Repeal of AB 32, the state's landmark global warming law, an initiative funded by $2 million in campaign contributions from oil companies. Think of it this way: Prop 23 reverses AB 32. This is one of the 3 most important initiatives on the ballot, and it absolutely must be defeated.
Prop 24: Closes corporate tax loopholes that adds at least $1.7 billion annually to the budget deficit. Another obvious must-pass, though it'll be interesting to see the big corporations argue against this one. Of course, as we saw in Oregon in January, voters are not likely to look favorably upon corporate arguments in favor of unaffordable tax breaks.
Prop 25: Restores majority rule for the state budget process. This is the 3rd of the extremely important initiatives. We cannot afford to let this one fail. We'll need an all-out effort between now and November to pass it.
Prop 26: The antithesis of Prop 25, Prop 26 would require a 2/3 majority for fees. Just as Prop 25 must pass, Prop 26 must fail.
Prop 27: The antithesis of Prop 20, but in a good way - this eliminates the Prop 11 redistricting commission entirely. I'm probably going Yes on this one, since I don't really think a bunch of affluent white men count as a representative sample of the people of California. The whole Prop 11 commission was a bad idea to begin with, a "solution" to a non-existent problem.
Jul 11, 2010
- Being a sports fan is good for your mental health.
- CDC: Cigarettes in the U.S. may be more toxic than those sold in other countries.
- Inappropriate use of prescription drugs now causes as many emergency room visits as illegal drug use.
- A whooping cough epidemic hits California. There is no vaccine shortage, and hospitals and counties receive the vaccine for free from the state health department. The cause of the epidemic? Parents and kids not getting vaccinated.
- Oregon and the District of Columbia have the best comprehensive sexual education programs, in terms of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
- Amid reports of hundreds of BP oil spill cleanup workers getting sick (including 54 in just two weeks), a study critiques the failure to learn from health effects of the Exxon Valdez spill on those cleanup workers.
- The Pentagon issues a new policy for soldiers at risk of mild traumatic brain injury (concussions), including a mandatory 24-hour rest period after exposure to a nearby explosion.
Jul 8, 2010
Disclaimer: this post is based on a review of the discussed book; I have not read the book itself. These are thus initial thoughts, and I'm open to critique or superior interpretations/analyses from anyone who has read the book, or similar research more carefully.
Is it possible that academic underperformance of school-age African American children is a result of the 1960s-1980s federal court-driven desegregation efforts? Stuart Buck thinks so. Emphasizing the link between historical school integration and development of a culture of "social disapproval of academic success among black students," Buck argues that the way that school desegregation was implemented--by closing down all-black schools and placing the students into all-white schools with all-white teaching staff and principals--led to an atmosphere of "hostility and contempt from white students" and "the soft prejudice of low expectations from racist teachers." Buck concludes that, as a result, "[m]any [black students] in such schools began to associate education with unsympathetic whites, to reject their studies, and to ostracize academically successful black students for 'acting white.'"
Hence the name of his new book, Acting White: The Ironic Legacy of Desegregation. Slate book reviewer Richard Thompson Ford summarizes the "acting white" problem thusly:
Many blacks—especially black young men—have come to the ruinous conclusion that academic excellence is somehow inconsistent with their racial identities, and they ridicule peers for "acting white" if they hit the books instead of the streets after school.
Buck seems to argue that this black student culture that devalues intellectual pursuit is responsible for the underperformance of black students. It seems that such a claim may be a stretch; is it really just "peer pressure," at the end of the day, that accounts for academic achievement gaps, or are the gaps themselves directly caused by the "soft" prejudices that Buck sees as the cause of "culture," and the "culture" then just another symptom? The reviewer, Ford, similarly points out that a narrow focus on how "acting white" plays out within schools neglects a larger trend of "belligerent youth subculture among poor blacks that rejects mainstream institutions generally," a subculture that Ford ties to social isolation associated with White Flight, corresponding to the same period of court-ordered desegregation of schools that Buck focuses on. Such social isolation, Ford argues, was magnified by the way that desegregation was implemented, which primarily placed black students in white schools with white staff, meaning that where previously teaching and principal jobs in black community schools provided locally-based professional jobs (where some of the brightest of the community might serve as role models), the elimination of these positions led to educated black professionals pursing "mainstream" industry jobs and moving into the suburbs, resulting in an African American "brain drain."
I'm not sure that I buy Buck's line of thinking wholesale; it seems that identifying the core problem as "belligerent youth subculture" (in Ford's words) is giving up on the logical train of thought too early on in the process. Ford seems to push the envelope a bit further by looking at institutions outside of schools (namely the police), but keeps generally within the bounds of Buck's issue with black "culture." But this is maybe just a semantic disagreement over whether this documented "culture" is a symptom or the actual problem. The important issue raised by both Buck and Ford is that desegregation as has been applied has had unintended negative consequences. The solution may be, as suggested by Buck, to embrace experimentation (read: vouchers) and soften contemporary orthodoxy regarding integration as the primary (and sometimes sole) objective, something that Ford points out may be necessary anyway given the most recent Supreme Court rulings against continued voluntary integration efforts. But it is also important to note, as Ford does not, that equally well-documented were the very real, measurable negative effects of segregated schools on African American youth. Buck and Ford may critique Brown v. Board of Education in retrospect, but the Supreme Court made that ruling, and subsequent desegregation rulings, with careful attention to the fact that separate was, in fact, inherently unequal. Any "experimentation" or reformed thinking regarding how to best (or, perhaps, whether) desegregate America's rapidly re-segregating schools must keep in mind that even if past desegregation did not actually produce equality, equality was the goal. And it should still be a goal today.