How do you measure up?

Time for a just for fun post.  Turns out, the most comprehensive and scientific study on the size of the human penis has recently been published.  A summary in the Atlantic:

The findings, though, are of course not interesting. I don’t even care about this stuff. … I guess it is sort of interesting that of the 1,661 erect penises measured in the study, the largest by a significant margin was 10.2 inches. Only 35 were longer than 7.5 inches. The average was 5.2 inches long, and 4.8 inches around. Also penises seem to get longer with age, the racial and ethnic differences were negligible, and sizes seemed to vary based on the manner in which the erection was obtained. And when asked if anyone else was present during the measuring process, most people said they were alone or with their sexual partner, but 16 people said they did it with “a friend.” Okay, actually I could go on.

The point is that now we have numbers to which we can compare ourselves or our lovers (or friends), so we can know if we should be satisfied or listless. Once science figures out the best way to measure vaginas, if everyone will just be open about their measurements, it will be easy for, say, to pair people who are a good fit. Some day we will all make perfect sense.

There you go.  Now perhaps you feel better about yourself.  Or worse.  Or better because you are a woman and can think, “what is it about stupid men and their fascination with penis size anyway?!”

And, as long as we’re on the topic, I hope you didn’t miss this news story from Israel:

A 35-year-old Israeli man was rushed to the hospital on Friday after a snake suddenly emerged from the toilet he was sitting on and bit the man’s penis.

The injured man told emergency workers that he noticed a strong burning sensation as he was using the toilet in his parents’ home in the norther Israeli town of Nofit. At that point, the man looked down and saw a snake in the toilet. He then “ran from the room in horror” to call paramedics.

“This is the first time I’ve seen a snake bite like this,” a paramedic said, according to Your Jewish News. “Luckily, all tests seem fine and the man is feeling well.” The paramedic also said the man was in good enough spirits to joke about the incident.

The snake, which the man described as very small, wasn’t venomous, but doctors at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa decided to keep the man hospitalized for further tests and observation.

It was great fun to tell this story to David and Evan and see their shock and incredulity.  They were really quite curious as to all the logistics of exactly how this happened.  About which, of course, I could only speculate.  Hopefully, that will not affect your dreams/nightmares tonight.

Life in the real world vs. the Supreme Court

With all the big decisions at the end of this SC term, some pretty short ones kind of got lost in the shuffle.  I noticed this horrible, horrible decision when it came out, but did not get around to writing on it.  Now that the Atlantic’s Kay Steiger has, I’ll piggyback on that.

Short version: the Supreme Court’s conservatives decidedly to single-handedly change the word “supervisor” as relating to employment law to refer narrowly to someone who can hire, fire, or promote you.  Presumably, anyone who has ever worked in a real job recognized how absolutely absurd this is (as does the liberal minority).  Heck, I’m a tenured professor who basically cannot be fired and can’t get promoted any further, and the Director of our School of Public and International Affairs is most definitely my “supervisor”  who could try and make my life miserable in all sorts of ways (class assignments, committee assignments, office space and physical resources, employee evaluations) if he were to so choose.  The fact that he cannot actually “fire” me would mean little if he wanted to illegally punish me in the workplace.  Yet, the conservative majority is to blind to see that?  This is honestly one of those face-palm decisions (except for the fact that if it is bad for workers, you can be pretty sure the conservatives are for it.  Seriously).  Steiger:

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Vance v. Ball State University does something subtle, but with far-reaching effects: It narrows the definition of the word “supervisor.”

In this particular case, Maetta Vance was a dining hall worker at Ball State University in Indiana. Vance, an African-American, sued the university in 2006, alleging that a white supervisory colleague, Saundra Davis, launched a campaign of racial harassment and intimidation against her. Even though Davis didn’t have power to fire her, Vance claimed, she did have the power to direct her activities on the job in the university’s banquet and catering division.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion, “We hold that an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim, i.e., to effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.'” …

To the average worker today, though, the Court’s restriction on defining a “supervisor” in this way doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Most supervisors have to appeal to higher-level executives or human resources departments to enact demotions or alter pay. And, worryingly, though Vance v. Ball State was about racial harassment, there’s no reason it wouldn’t apply to other kinds of protections provided for in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, including sexual harassment and harassment due to religion…

“It makes a lot of sense for a large company to limit the number of people who actually have authority to take actions like firing and hiring and demoting,” said Fatima Goss Graves, Vice President for Education and Employment at the National Women’s Law Center. But she pointed out that many companies create a structure where supervisors have a lot of leeway over a worker’s environment, even if he or she doesn’t have the power to hire and fire.

A supervisor could, for example, require the worker to put in longer hours, work outside or pick up unwanted duties on the job.

As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg lays out in her dissent, this is the problem with narrowing the definition of “supervisor.”

“Exposed to a fellow employee’s harassment, one can walk away or tell the offender to ‘buzz off,'” Ginsburg wrote. “A supervisor’s slings and arrows, however, are not so easily avoided. An employee who confronts her harassing supervisor risks, for example, receiving an undesirable or unsafe work assignment or an unwanted transfer. She may be saddled with an excessive workload or with placement on a shift spanning hours disruptive of her family life. And she may be demoted or fired. Facing such dangers, she may be reluctant to blow the whistle on her superior, whose ‘power and authority invests his or her harassing conduct with a particular threatening character.'”

The good news is that this is just the SC’s interpretaion of the law, not the Constitution.  Therefore, Congress can simply make itself more clear:

Congress could do the same with Vance v. Ball State, amending Title VII of the Civil Rights Act — which turns 50 next year — to say that a supervisor is defined as someone with authority over an employee’s actions on the job, regardless of his or her power over the employee’s pay or employment status.

The bad news?  Ummm, I personally cannot imagine the Republicans in the House going along with this obvious and common-sense step.  The man: 1; workers 0.  On the bright side, I’ll be using this as an example in my classes of 1) how the Supreme Court is able to interpret the statutory language of laws and how Congress can respond; and 2) how the Supreme Court can make decisions that are absurdly wrong-headed on their face.

On Privilege

Frequent commenter John F. posted this on his FB status today.  I love it:

If you don’t experience stress or anxiety for earning a living, it’s probably because you’ve lived a privileged life. If you think it’s easy to break out of generational poverty, it’s probably because you’ve lived a privilege life. If you relay anecdotes to describe how easy it is to overcome very limited levels of adversity it’s probably because you’ve lived a privileged life. If you think you have all the answers or that by merely saying “the system doesn’t owe you anything” you’ve somehow released yourself from years of taking, you’ve probably lived a privileged life. The worst part? You have no concept of just how privileged a life you’ve led because you’ve never had to truly live for a moment as the other half lives.

Photo of the day

From the N&O day’s best:

Spain Swimming Worlds

The Sagrada Familia cathedral is seen in the background as an unidentified diver practices ahead of the FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, Monday, July 15, 2013. The FINA swimming World Championships run from July 19 to Aug. 4 in Barcelona. MANU FERNANDEZ — AP

Tax reform: i.e., tax cuts for rich people

So, I’ve been meaning to write about tax “reform” in NC for a while, but now that the legislature has finally come to an agreement, I guess I better not put it off any longer.  First, the basics via Mark Binker:

The package will reduce both personal and corporate income taxes. It also eliminates the estate tax and preserves the ability of most nonprofits to get refunds of what they pay in sales taxes.

According to an analysis by the legislature’s nonpartisan staff, taxpayers at both ends of the income spectrum will pay less. For example, a married couple filing jointly with two children who make $40,000 a year will pay $80 less under this tax plan. The same couple filing jointly with two children who make $250,000 will pay $2,434 less…

The measure replaces the three-tier personal income tax system with a flat tax of 5.8 percent in 2014, which drops to 5.75 percent in subsequent years. Standard deductions increase to $7,500 for single filers, $12,000 for heads of households and $15,000 for married couples.

Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the bill would raise about $500 million less in revenue than the current system over the next two years. That cost would be $2 billion over five years, although Berger quibbled with the term “cost,” pointing out state government spending will still grow under the tax reform plan.

Republicans say that lowering taxes will cause the economy to grow, helping more people to get employed and bringing more money into state coffers.That economic growth, they insist, will mean that the reduction in tax revenue will not be a steep as a “static” model predicts.

So, basically, much like the Bush tax cuts, this is a huge tax cut for rich people that buys off those of more modest means with a very modest tax cut.  And it’s not just a big cut for the rich in absolute dollar figures (which it is) as a change to effective tax rate, it is generally richer tax payers who benefit more, as can be seen in this nice document WRAL put together.

According to the Republicans, this is the big change we need to unlock job growth.  Evidence, however, suggests otherwise:

“Our goal is to get people back to work,” McCrory said.

But critics of the plan say there’s little evidence to backup that idea.

“It is very likely that as a result of this failure to pursue real, comprehensive tax reform, state sales taxes and local property taxes will go up in the future,” Alexandra Forter Sirota, director of the liberal N.C. Budget & Tax Center, said in a statement. “That’s what happened in every other Southern state that has personal and corporate income taxes that can’t keep up with growing public needs.”

Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, also criticized the proposal for its cuts to state spending in coming years.

“What happens is, if this is not revenue neutral, our citizens lose,” Woodard said. “The services we provide – education, health care – these are going to suffer under this tax proposal.”

Back when this reform was first being discussed, I did some research and discovered the great reports from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.  For example, there’s this “Who Pays?” report (nice summary here) that shows that the combination of state and local taxes are typically quite regressive– and that NC is already plenty true to this pattern:


And the evidence seems pretty clear that North Carolina’s tax “reform” will ultimately shift more of the burden to lower-earning tax payers.  But don’t worry, this will miraculously bring jobs.

Or not.  Here’s a very compelling ITEP report who’s title pretty much sums it up, “States with “High Rate” Income Taxes are Still Outperforming No-Tax States”

One claim often made during these debates is that the nine states without personal income taxes are outperforming the rest of the country, and that their growth can be easily replicated in any state that dares to abandon its income tax. Some have also claimed that the nine states with the highest top income tax rates are experiencing below-average growth. The governors of Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina, as well as high-ranking officials pushing for income tax repeal in Louisiana and North Carolina, are just some of the more influential lawmakers that have attempted to frame the debate in this way.

But these talking points, which have been widely disseminated by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity, and The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, are based on an analysis by supply-side economist Arthur Laffer that is extremely flawed. That analysis was first debunked by ITEP in early 2012. In its rebuttal, ITEP explained why Laffer’s simplistic state-by-state comparisons cannot reliably tease out the impact of tax policy on state economies. But ITEP also showed that even if one were to accept Laffer’s methodology as somehow valid, his core finding is simply not true. In reality, the residents of the states that levy income taxes—including residents of those states with the highest top tax rates—are experiencing economic conditions at least as good, if not better, than those living in states lacking a personal income tax. Only by focusing on blunt aggregate measures of economic growth was Laffer able to purport to show the opposite.

And, finally, NC Policywatch underlines this important point and how tax cuts, which lead to cuts in infrastructure and education can very much hurt economic growth:

Supporters claim that tax cuts will actually increase state revenue and boost economic growth.  But that’s wrong. Overwhelming evidence says just the opposite.  There is in fact no connection between state income tax rates and economic or job growth, a 2012 study by the Congressional Research Service found…

Much more important to a state’s economic success than tax rates are such factors as the kinds of industries that are located there, having a well-educated, high-skilled workforce, and the presence of research centers like major universities. That’s what boosts per capita income growth. And that’s why states that slash taxes likely will  suffer in the long run because they lack the resources needed to invest in education and other building blocks of economic growth.”

Yep.  But we wouldn’t want to let something as simple as empirical evidence get in the way of Republican tax cut theology.  Why bother paying attention to things like research and evidence when you can simply know that tax cuts are always good.

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