Video of the day

This is truly, truly awesome.  View from the Space Shuttle solid rocket booster with enhanced sound.  Make sure you watch in 720p.

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Kids and dogs

Part of me thinks its really stupid to waste my time ranting against what stupid people write.  But sometimes I cannot resist.  Such as this completely absurd Allison Benedikt piece in Slate on how you should not get a dog if you plan on having kids.

Now, there’s a nice essay to be written on how becoming a parent changes your emotional relationship with your dog.  In our case, the dog really did go from our baby to a beloved, but definitely subsidiary member of the family.   Emphasis on still beloved (especially by all the kids) and well-treated.

In Bendikt’s case, the lesson is that having three kids four and under (that always seemed nuts to me) and a high-strung, barky dog don’t mix.  I’ll absolutely give her that, but to generalize from that that one should not get a dog if you are going to have kids is beyond absurd.  For one, from a practical standpoint, you can’t beat how fabulous they are at cleaning up every crumb your toddler spills.  In our case, Lira did a great job of deep cleaning the carpet wherever David spit up (which happened a lot).  Gross, yes.  Effective, yes.

Anyway, here’s the kids with our beloved (and departed) Sasha from Easter 2012 (and damn, they grow so fast!)

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How to end obesity

Way back when I was at the beach last month I read the Atlantic cover story titled “How Junk Food Can End Obesity” and loved it.  Great, thought-provoking stuff.  I’ve been meaning to blog about it ever since and have failed till now.   Anyway, the basic gist– which strikes me as pretty much right– is that the food elitists are never going to succeed by convincing the mass of Americans to give up their potato chips and McDonalds in exchange for arugula and cooking their own rice and lentils.  Rather, healthier Americans will result from technology that takes the foods that are making us fat and re-making them so they don’t make us fat.  To wit:

If the most-influential voices in our food culture today get their way, we will achieve a genuine food revolution. Too bad it would be one tailored to the dubious health fantasies of a small, elite minority. And too bad it would largely exclude the obese masses, who would continue to sicken and die early. Despite the best efforts of a small army of wholesome-food heroes, there is no reasonable scenario under which these foods could become cheap and plentiful enough to serve as the core diet for most of the obese population—even in the unlikely case that your typical junk-food eater would be willing and able to break lifelong habits to embrace kale and yellow beets. And many of the dishes glorified by the wholesome-food movement are, in any case, as caloric and obesogenic as anything served in a Burger King.

Through its growing sway over health-conscious consumers and policy makers, the wholesome-food movement is impeding the progress of the one segment of the food world that is actually positioned to take effective, near-term steps to reverse the obesity trend: the processed-food industry. Popular food producers, fast-food chains among them, are already applying various tricks and technologies to create less caloric and more satiating versions of their junky fare that nonetheless retain much of the appeal of the originals, and could be induced to go much further. In fact, these roundly demonized companies could do far more for the public’s health in five years than the wholesome-food movement is likely to accomplish in the next 50. But will the wholesome-food advocates let them? …

To be sure, many of Big Food’s most popular products are loaded with appalling amounts of fat and sugar and other problem carbs (as well as salt), and the plentitude of these ingredients, exacerbated by large portion sizes, has clearly helped foment the obesity crisis. It’s hard to find anyone anywhere who disagrees. Junk food is bad for you because it’s full of fat and problem carbs. But will switching to wholesome foods free us from this scourge? It could in theory, but in practice, it’s hard to see how. Even putting aside for a moment the serious questions about whether wholesome foods could be made accessible to the obese public, and whether the obese would be willing to eat them, we have a more immediate stumbling block: many of the foods served up and even glorified by the wholesome-food movement are themselves chock full of fat and problem carbs…

Hold on, you may be thinking. Leaving fat, sugar, and salt aside, what about all the nasty things that wholesome foods do not, by definition, contain and processed foods do?  …

The health concerns raised about processing itself—rather than the amount of fat and problem carbs in any given dish—are not, by and large, related to weight gain or obesity. That’s important to keep in mind, because obesity is, by an enormous margin, the largest health problem created by what we eat. But even putting that aside, concerns about processed food have been magnified out of all proportion.

Some studies have shown that people who eat wholesomely tend to be healthier than people who live on fast food and other processed food (particularly meat), but the problem with such studies is obvious: substantial nondietary differences exist between these groups, such as propensity to exercise, smoking rates, air quality, access to health care, and much more. (Some researchers say they’ve tried to control for these factors, but that’s a claim most scientists don’t put much faith in.) What’s more, the people in these groups are sometimes eating entirely different foods, not the same sorts of foods subjected to different levels of processing. It’s comparing apples to Whoppers, instead of Whoppers to hand-ground, grass-fed-beef burgers with heirloom tomatoes, garlic aioli, and artisanal cheese. For all these reasons, such findings linking food type and health are considered highly unreliable, and constantly contradict one another, as is true of most epidemiological studies that try to tackle broad nutritional questions.

The fact is, there is simply no clear, credible evidence that any aspect of food processing or storage makes a food uniquely unhealthy.

Now, ceteris paribus, eating healthier, less-processed food is probably better for you.  But, in most all things in life, all else is not equal.  And as long as that’s the case, if we want people to eat (maybe not even more healthy, but) less obesogenic food, than Big Food simply has to be part of the solution.   (Now go read the whole thing).

Go Pope!

I cannot say I pay all that much attention to what Pope Francis has been up to, but most every time I hear something, it is heartening.  Clearly, a sharp break from his predecessor.  Here’s the latest:

ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE— Pope Francis opened the door Sunday to greater acceptance of gay priests inside the ranks of Roman Catholicism as he returned to the Vatican from his maiden trip overseas.

Fielding questions from reporters during the first news conference of his young papacy, the pontiff broached the delicate question of how he would respond to learning that a cleric in his ranks was gay, though not sexually active. For decades, the Vatican has regarded homosexuality as a “disorder,” and Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict XVIformally barred men with what the Vatican deemed “deep-seated” homosexuality from entering the priesthood.

“Who am I to judge a gay person of goodwill who seeks the Lord?” the pontiff said, speaking in Italian. “You can’t marginalize these people.”

Never before had a pope spoken out in defense of gay priests in the Catholic ministry, said Vatican analysts. Past popes have traditionally treated homosexuality as an obstacle to priestly celibacy, and the Vatican has sent extensive instructions to Catholic seminaries on how to restrict gay candidates from the priesthood.

Pope Francis “is showing a deep respect for the human condition as it is instead of approaching things in a doctrinal way,” said Alberto Melloni, a church historian.

No, he’s not going to argue for the ordination of women any time soon or overturn the ban on “artificial” contraception, but he clearly has a strong and passionate commitment to social justice and helping the poor.  Given the pool of Catholic Cardinals at the time of his selection, this seems to be about as good a Pope as we could have hoped for.

Driving in reverse down the education highway

It seems to me if there’s one thing we can really learn for sure from other nations with superior school systems it’s this: get the best and brightest teachers by valuing them highly, treating them as professionals, and compensating accordingly.  Testing or no testing– you get the best teachers and everything else should reasonably well fall into place.   How to get consistently mediocre teachers?  Scare away bright, ambitious young people by continually dis-respecting those who do the job, both through words and through inadequate compensation.

Now, there are many truly fabulous teachers here in NC (and I’m lucky to count several as friends), but there is no doubt that on average if you want to improve the quality of teachers you need to value and reward those who go into the profession.  Far too many good teachers leave because they simply cannot afford to be so under-compensated and far too many people never seriously consider the field due to the institutionalized dis-respect.

Thus, the idea that somehow we will improve education in NC as our teacher salaries sink ever lower (in a relative sense) is truly ludicrous.  Now, I’m actually for a gradual reform where you eliminate Master’s degree raises (the evidence is clear– no correlation between higher degrees and quality teaching), but only if those funds are re-distributed to better compensate all teachers.

My biggest fear about the craziness from the legislature this year is that NC will have a genuine brain drain.  Many of the best and brightest will never come here and many others will leave.  Among those who stay, our education system will surely only stagnate as we lose too many good teachers (both actual and potential) over the low salaries and lack of professional respect.

Anyway, the NCAE has a nice summary of the changes:

1. Eliminates 9,306.5 education positions — 5,184.5 teachers, 3,850 teacher assistants, and 272 Support Personnel (guidance counselors, psychologist, etc.).

2. Provides NO pay increases for educators, continuing North Carolina’s race to the bottom of national salaries. In 2007-08 North Carolina was ranked 25th in the nation in teacher pay, last year our state was 46th. With no additional pay, next year North Carolina undoubtedly will be at the bottom…

6. Grades Schools (A-F), 80% based on standardized test scores, 20% based on growth. No other variables will be considered in this grading.

7. Eliminates the Teaching Fellows Program, once viewed as a national model for recruiting teachers into the classroom, the program is no longer funded.

8. Reduces targeted education funding: • Cuts Textbook funding by $77.4 million dollars; • Cuts Classroom supply funding by $45.7 million dollars; • Cuts Limited English Proficiency funding by $6 million dollars.

Oh, yeah, all this while cutting taxes–primarily for the richest residents– by over half a billion over the next two years.

Meanwhile, on the anecdotal side, this letter from a teacher to the legislature is great:

When I moved here and began teaching in 2007, $30,000 was a major drop from the $40,000 starting salaries being offered by districts all around me in metro Detroit, but it was fine for a young single woman sharing a house with roommates and paying off student loans. However, over six years later, $31,000 is wholly insufficient to support my family. So insufficient, in fact, that my children qualify for and use Medicaid as their medical insurance, and since there is simply no way to deduct $600 per month from my meager take-home pay in order to include my husband on my health plan, he has gone uninsured…

I will make no apologies for saying that I am a great teacher. I run an innovative classroom where the subject matter is relevant and the standards are high. My teaching practice has resulted in consistently high evaluations from administrators, positive feedback from parents, and documented growth in students.

I realize that no one in Raleigh will care or feel the impact when this one teacher out of 80,000 leaves the classroom. I understand. However, my 160 students will feel the impact. And 160 the next year. And the next. My Professional Learning Community, teachers around the county with whom I collaborate, will be impacted, and their students as well. Young teachers become great when they are mentored by experienced, effective educators, and all their students are impacted as well. When quality teachers leave the classroom, the loss of mentors is yet another effect. This is how the quiet and exponential decline in education happens.

Higher teacher pay may be unpopular, and I am aware it is difficult to see the connection between teacher pay and a quality education for students, so I will try to make it clear. Paying me a salary on which I can live means I can stay in the classroom, and keeping me in the classroom means thousands of students over the next decade would get a quality education from me. It’s that simple.

And, while she is just 1 teacher out of 80,000, you can be guaranteed that she is far from alone in her situation and that thousands of other good teachers will be making similar decisions.  This is a slow-motion disaster for North Carolina.  Mississippi here we come.

Photo of the day

Camel jockey!  From the N&O day’s best:

Camel Races

Jockey Rafael Mojica, Jr. beckons the crowd for cheers as he rides in last place during the camel races at Ellis Park in Henderson, Ky Saturday, July 28, 2013. (AP Photo/The Gleaner, Darrin Phegley) DARRIN PHEGLEY — AP

New Yorker fish and a just world

This gallery of readers’ favorite New Yorker cartoons is absolutely brilliant.  So many good ones.  If you enjoy New Yorker cartoons at all, you really need to check out the whole thing.  I love this one is it is very much related to one of my favored topics of Just World bias:

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