Inequality Kills. Policy Drives Inequality. Elections Matter

Posted March 16, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Class Warfare, Data matter, public health, Things that actually matter, Two Parties -- Not the Same, Why Do They Hate America So?

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Annie Lowrey in The New York Times today:

Fairfax is a place of the haves, and McDowell of the have-nots. Just outside of Washington, fat government contracts and a growing technology sector buoy the median household income in Fairfax County up to $107,000, one of the highest in the nation. McDowell, with the decline of coal, has little in the way of industry. Unemployment is high. Drug abuse is rampant. Median household income is about one-fifth that of Fairfax.

One of the starkest consequences of that divide is seen in the life expectancies of the people there. Residents of Fairfax County are among the longest-lived in the country: Men have an average life expectancy of 82 years and women, 85, about the same as in Sweden. In McDowell, the averages are 64 and 73, about the same as in Iraq.

There have long been stark economic differences between Fairfax County and McDowell. But as their fortunes have diverged even further over the past generation, their life expectancies have diverged, too. In McDowell, women’s life expectancy has actually fallen by two years since 1985; it grew five years in Fairfax. [Links in the original]

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Lowrey is careful to note that the causal connection between poverty and longevity (or its absence) is hard to establish, and the data are both incomplete and fraught with co- and confounding factors.  But such caution does not in the end distract her from the basic point of her reporting:

It is hard to prove causality with the available information. County-level data is the most detailed available, but it is not perfect. People move, and that is a confounding factor. McDowell’s population has dropped by more than half since the late 1970s, whereas Fairfax’s has roughly doubled. Perhaps more educated and healthier people have been relocating from places like McDowell to places like Fairfax. In that case, life expectancy would not have changed; how Americans arrange themselves geographically would have.

“These things are not nearly as clear as they seem, or as clear as epidemiologists seem to think,” said Angus Deaton, an economist at Princeton.

Further, there is nothing to suggest that, for a given individual, getting a raise in pay or moving between counties would mean outliving her peers.

“The statistical term is the ecological fallacy,” Mr. Kindig said. “We can’t apply aggregate data to an individual, and that’s underappreciated when you’re looking at these numbers.” But, “having said that, I still think that the averages and the variation across counties tells us a lot,” he added. “We don’t want to let the perfect be the enemy of the good here.”

Despite the statistical murk, many epidemiologists, economists and other researchers say that rising income inequality may be playing into the rising disparity in health and longevity. “We can’t say that there is no effect, just because we don’t have clear methods to test the effect,” said Hui Zheng, a sociologist at Ohio State University…

Mr. Zheng has also posited that inequality, by socially disenfranchising certain groups and making them distrustful of public systems, may have a long-range effect on health.

To some extent, the broad expansion of health insurance to low-income communities, as called for under Obamacare, may help to mitigate this stark divide, experts say. And it is encouraging that both Republicans and Democrats have recently elevated the issues of poverty, economic mobility and inequality, But the contrast between McDowell and Fairfax shows just how deeply entrenched these trends are, with consequences reaching all the way from people’s pocketbooks to their graves.

I’ll mostly pass over Lowrey’s seeming willingness to take as hopeful recent Republican rhetoric on poverty absent any policy proposals that would do anything about it, whilst continuing to propose, inter alia, the destruction of Obamacare, the one program she cites as having the potential to help.  This kind of both-sides-ism seems to be an ineradicable MSM pathology.

What matters much more is the basic point to draw from the evidence within Lowrey’s piece:  poverty kills — or perhaps better, wealth saves. Increases in inequality correlate with an increasing gap between rich and poor on the most basic of measures, how long we all get to enjoy the pursuits of life, liberty and happiness.  Policies that drive such inequality, or do nothing to mitigate, are implicated in those lost years, in deaths before time.  Those policies are the current program of the Republican Party.

Literally:  Vote like your live depends on it.

Image: Albrecht Dürer, The Death of Crescentia Pirckheimer, 1504.

I Didn’t Know The FSM Loved TBogg This Much…

Posted March 14, 2014 by Tom
Categories: MSM nonsense, ridicule, Stupidity

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Or me, for that matter.  What fun we will have:

Fox News contributor and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin will be launching her own digital video channel, tentatively called “Rogue TV,” a source familiar with the project told Capital….

The_Idiot_monument,_Monumental_Park,_Colorado,_by_Kilburn,_B._W._(Benjamin_West),_1827-1909

Palin’s channel will feature video commentaries from the former Republican vice-presidential candidate, discussing current events and political issues….

“Think of it as a video version of her Facebook page,” the source said….

Wait.

I have to hear that again:

“Think of it as a video version of her Facebook page,” the source said….

Oh joy! Oh rapture!  Television history in the making.

It will also have advice and guidance from Palin, such as tips for parents and recipes. There are also tentative plans to have subscribers engage in regular video chats with Palin.

My mom always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say…

Oh hell. Why not.  Quick folks, tell me true: who among you wants to take parent advice from Sarah freaking Palin, that model of continence and … hell, I’m not going to fill in that blank.

Recipes, maybe.  You never know.

Go read the all the hilarious goodness here.

BTW:  Palin will go Rogue on TAPP — which is an online TV service founded by MSM types so beloved of the former half-term can’t-hold-a-job ex-governor who will now be able to serve word salad (with a side of bile) via the intertubes.  That’s not exactly the penthouse of contemporary broadcasting.  I do think that online video is the way we’ll receive all our programming very soon, at this very moment Palin on “Rogue TV” is kind of like Nickleback doing a gig at the local motorcycle shop.

On the upside, we’ll be able to get some more metrics on the true reach of Palin’s grift.  The article mentions it will cost $10/month to subscribe.  That’s real money.  Be interesting to see what Palin can actually draw at this point in her magnificent con.

And last — I’m so glad TBogg will have so much new material with which to hold us all in

Image: B. W. Kilburn, The Idiot Monument, Monumental Park, Colorado 1877.

Oklahoma, Jake

Posted March 13, 2014 by Tom
Categories: evolution, Pathetic excuses, Stupidity, Who thought that was a good idea?

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I have to confess.  Can’t claim I’m terribly surprised by this:*

There’s not been a lot of discussion of evolution in Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos so far, and yet a very slight reference to it was so upsetting to Fox’s Oklahoma City affiliate that they just “happened” to run a promo for the nightly news over the show’s sole mention it, as you can see in the above video.

Hit the link (to the delightful io9) to see what so spooked the delicate sensibilities of the good folks at Fox25 Oklahoma City.

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On the one hand, I’m glad:  the competitive advantage of the science-friendly states can only grow in the face of willed ignorance elsewhere.  On the other, I’m terribly sad.  I don’t live only on my block; I’m a citizen of a commonwealth, a country and a member of  a global commons.  The more such idiocy persists, the more we all lose.

*Back when I was working w. Neil deGrasse Tyson on the NOVA series Origins, I made the film on the evolution of the universe to the chemical conditions compatible with earth-like life.  I wanted to call it “In the beginning,” for obvious reasons.  My elders and betters morphed that to “Back to the Beginning” – which manages to offend those who would be offended anyway while losing all the force of original.  So it ain’t just Fox, ya know.

Image via.

Tonight! ‘Net Radio: Me and Eileen Pollack on “Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science”

Posted March 12, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Data matter, Gender, gender follies, Science, Self-aggrandizement

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That’d be my regular monthly gig co-hosting Virtually Speaking Science, tonight, Wednesday March 12, 6 p.m. ET/3 p.m. PT.

Eileen Pollack is now a professor at the University of Michigan, teaching in the creative writing M.F.A. program there.  She’s a celebrated novelist and writer of short fiction, essays, and what is called (alas, in my view — and not her fault) “creative” nonfiction.  You can get hold of her works here.  All in all, hers is an enormously impressive record of a life in letters, of worlds made in words.

Eileen Pollack in 1978 was someone quite different (weren’t we all…) That spring, she graduated from Yale with highest honors in physics — only the second woman in the history of the university to complete that major.  What happened to take someone who was, on the accolades, one of Yale’s most accomplished undergraduate physicists, and turn her to a radically different path?

Pollack answered that question and raised another one in her New York Times Magazine article “Why Are There Still So Few Women In Science?” published last October.  In her case, no one told her she might have a shot at a career in math or physics.  So, as conditioned by her context’s views on female capacity and the maleness of science as any of the male professors who never thought to encourage her, she gave up the joy she found in equations and the ideas they expressed, and moved on.

So far hers is a sorrowful but not unfamiliar story.  The history of barriers to entry in science is a miserable one, but not unknown.  But Pollack’s curiosity — and more — flared in 2005, when then Harvard president Larry Summers mused about a possible biological deficit — at least when it comes to the extremes of mathematical capacity — might explain why men so outnumber women in the physical sciences.  Pollack is gentle with Summers himself, whom she’s known for decades , but the controversy created a need to know the answer to the underlying issue.  It’s a fact that there are many more men than women hold positions in the upper echelons of scientific research.  But why?

Joseph_Wright_of_Derby_-_Experiment_with_the_Air_Pump_-_WGA25892

Pollack’s article, and the book that will emerge from her enquiry, engage that question, and the explanations she’s coming to are at once depressingly reminiscent of her own story, and extend them, to account for the persistence of cultural and social bias even when (a) formal discrimination is prohibited by law and (b) members of a community — like physics departments — pride themselves on their ability to separate emotion and unconscious impulses from the exercise of reason.

In other words:  being smart is no protection against hidden biases, or even against accepting the evidence of bias when rigorously documented…and the revolution isn’t won yet, not by a long shot.

Pollack and I will be talking about all that, the whys the wherefores, and some thought as to what it will take to turn formal commitments to gender equity (and by extension, equity for the whole host of relevant modifiers) into actual practice, the simple fabric of society.

Join us!  Live or later here.  Or, if you are virtually real, at the Exploratorium’s Second Life joint – 6 p.m. this evening, March 12, 2014.

Image:  Joseph Wright of Derby, Experiment with the Air Pumpc. 1768

Spread The News: The GOP Objectively Hates Veterans. Tell Every Vet (And Family) You Know

Posted February 27, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Politics, Republican knavery, Two Parties -- Not the Same

Once upon a time there was a bill in Congress.  It had a number: SB 1982.  It had a title: “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.”  It had a sponsor, Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, and 28 co-sponsors, all Democrats, from among the most conservative members of that caucus to some of the most liberal.

It does or would do things, supporting health care needs for veterans, including mental health and family/caregiver support for those aiding vets with mental health disorders, and health care related to sexual trauma.  It provides support for veterans seeking jobs and more.

It is, in other words, the kind of measure you support if you take seriously the easily-said words in praise of Americans who serve in our armed forces.

Which is why it’s important to tell every last veteran, family member of a vet, friend of a vet, dog or cat or sentient robot pet of a vet exactly why it failed to advance through the Senate today.  Here’s the roll call, but no peeking.  Guess what happened. No prizes; the question answers itself.

Rembrandt_-_Old_Soldier_-_WGA19196

I’ll tell ya:  the vote to suspend budgetary rules (the procedural step at hand) was 56 to 41 in favor.  In our dysfunctional Senate, that rump minority was sufficient to block further action on the bill.  Every Democrat voted in favor of proceeding.  One Two Republicans did: Senator Moran of Kansas and Senator Heller of Nevada.*  All 41 “nays” were Republican, including, of course, the loud crowd of war-first types as Lindsay Graham and John McCain — so often eager to send men and women in harms way, so strangely reluctant to pay the debts they thus incur.

Democrats:  better for the economy.  Better for kids.  And, as here we see, walking the walk for vets, while the Republicans hope that talking the talk as loudly as possible will obscure the damage they do.

Tell your families; tell anyone affected by this; tell them to pass it on….

Remember: Friends don’t let friends (and vets) vote Republican in 2014.

Last:  a side note. Soonergrunt and I had a brief exchange on this on Twitter.  He said this would only matter if the Democrats had the guts to pound the GOP on this from now to November.  I hope the folks in Congress do.  But we can spread the word ourselves, and should.

Image: Workshop of Rembrandt, Old Warrior, c. 1630

*I missed Senator Heller in my eyeballing of the roll call.  I regret the error.

Annals of Responsible Gun Ownership, Part (n)

Posted February 24, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Guns

Tags:

To paraphrase how my co-religionists limn the Reconstructionist movement*….

…There is no god, and Darwin is his prophet:

A Michigan man fatally shot himself in the head while he was teaching his girlfriend gun safety, according to The Detroit Free Press.

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Police said that the man, whose name was not released, had been trying to show his girlfriend gun safety with three pistols. He put the first two guns to his head and pulled the trigger. When the man pulled the trigger on the third pistol the gun went off.

In the least surprising contextual note in the history of stupidity,

The man’s girlfriend said he had been drinking throughout the day while he was showing her the guns. (Via TPM)

I don’t want to make light of the core of the story: someone’s son, lover, sibling — perhaps — and friend is dead before his time and for even less reason than usual.  My sympathy to all those burdened by this loss.

The only point I’ll draw from this stranger’s death is that guns are designed to deliver deadly force and they do.  Most folks have been known to such back one too many cold ones at least occasionally.  And that is one of the reasons why even the most responsible gun owners are so until they’re not…

…at which point, someone dies.

*The actual line goes, “There is no God and Mordecai Kaplan is his prophet,” but you kinda had to be there.

Image: Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, The Suicide, c. 1836.

 

For A Good Time On The Intertubes: March Mammal Madness Edition

Posted February 18, 2014 by Tom
Categories: Cool Animals, good public communication of science, Nature red in tooth and claw, radio, Self-aggrandizement

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That time of the month again:  tomorrow being the third Wednesday of February, I’ll be going on the ‘tubes at my usual gig with Virtually Speaking Science for a conversation with Katie Hinde — biologist at Harvard and major-domo of the world-class awesome blog, Mammals Suck…Milk!

You can listen live or as a podcast later here.  If you’re virtually real, you can join us in the live studio audience at the Exploratorium’s joint in Second Life.  (I’ll get the SLURL up in an update and/or tomorrow’s reminder. We kick off at 6 p.m. ET.

Hinde is just a treat of an interview — fast, funny, and with incredibly rich and interesting science to discuss.  Here’s what she’s about:

Mother’s milk has an organizational effect on infant outcomes, not just by providing the energy that sustains growth, but by also contributing to immunological, neurobiological, and behavioral development.

Guided by evolutionary theory, we investigate how variation in mother’s milk and behavioral care influences infant outcomes from post-natal life into adulthood and subsequent generations.

Her research has centered on primates, but as Ed Yong discusses here, she’s a marvelously agile opportunist, and in one sweet move she managed to turn what has been a field developed on the back of very labor intensive, small sample size studies into something approaching big milk data.  Her trick?   Taking advantage of the detailed record keeping American dairy farmers perform for obvious reasons to acquire 2.4 million lactatation records from 1.4 million cows.  Now that’s some statistical power!

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Technique is one thing — asking good questions of data is another, and that’s what makes Hinde such an interesting scholar.  She’s been looking at differences by gender of the offspring in the composition and delivery of milk.  The answer is (a) the details are all in all; different species with different evolutionary histories and behavioral landscapes exhibit different lactation patterns in the context of different behaviors exhibited by daughters and sons, and (b) seemingly obvious evolutionary stories often fail to fit what actually happens at the udder or the breast — and after, through the life of the nourished children.  You can get a sense of the field and a whiff of Hinde’s own work in her review chapter here. [PDF]

We’ll talk about all that — what the story is for cows, as compared with rhesus macaques, for example, and then we’ll talk about that research as it hits the wider world.    That’s in Hinde’s mind because of a very recent encounter with the inimitable (thankfully) Daily Mail.  We’ll talk about that monument to crap science writing, but with this twist:  a look at the importance of social media for contemporary scientists.  Hinde was able to mobilize correctives to the disastrous reporting on her research only because she has a robust presence across a number of networks — and we’ll use her experience over the last week to think about the shifting power structure in media.  A long way — but not really — from the milking shed.

And last, burying the lede as usual, we’ll get to Hinde’s annual mammalian extravaganza — her own bracket of mammals taking on each other in a nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw competition that makes the NCAAs look like toddlers in sandboxes.  Just to give you a taste, last year she pitted (inter much alia) the honey badgers against the wolverines.  Now, there is simply no mammal around that matches the wolverine for sheer, incomprehensible bad-assery (see, e.g., the tale of M3 Hinde often cites).  But Hinde is an honest bracket-builder, so home field matters.  Wolverine could wreck Honey Badger on any neutral field, but in HB’s home turf — Africa — the heat and  humidity negated the advantages of stamina and ferocity, leaving one of the  pre-tourney favorites a loser as the Madness played out.

Hinde will be running a new Mammal Madness this coming March — and that’s where the conversation tomorrow will come to rest.

As you may have gathered, I’m looking forward to this one.  Join in the conversation tomorrow.

Image:  Winslow Homer, Milking Time1875.

Winslow


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