Shared posts

12 Aug 17:46

Not Everything Is Bernie Vs. Hillary

by (Atrios)
What I have been not so subtly suggesting, is that for whatever reasons the 2016 primary has led many people to take sides in an imagined ongoing battle. Something can be Good or Bad independent of whether BernieBros or ClintonStans (or Bernie or Clinton themselves) are for it or against it. We all choose a team during election and put our jerseys on. I get that. But it's over... Arguments going forward are about THE FUTURE.
07 Aug 21:56

I Guess Trump Becomes President Again

by (Atrios)
Because there's nothing like killing people to make him one.

The Pentagon is considering a plan that allows the U.S. military to conduct airstrikes on ISIS in the Philippines, two defense officials told NBC News.

15 Oct 02:05

About 32,000 people control 11 percent of American wealth

by Matthew Yglesias

Economists Emannuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman (both known for past collaborations with Thomas Piketty) have a new paper out that takes a new approach to computing wealth information from income tax data, which lets them get a detailed look at the wealth of the very wealthy. There's a lot going on in the new working paper, but the basic empirical finding is here:


(Saez & Zucman)

The basic punchline is that wealth — accumulated asset ownership — is very, very concentrated and has been growing more concentrated for a generation. Back in 1980, 0.01 percent of the population owned three percent of national wealth. Today that top 0.01 percent, about 32,000 people, owns about 11 percent of national wealth. That's a staggering increase from an already high base.

To learn more, watch Ezra Klein explain how wealth inequality can undermine American democracy:

21 Jan 21:02

Medford Man, Daughter Release Album for Kids with Cancer; Grammy Nomination Follows

by insidemedford

Alastair and Clio

A musical work of love created by Medford’s Alastair Moock to help lift the spirits of his sick daughter has received a Grammy nomination for Best Children’s Album of the Year.

Moock’s posted a reaction to the news on December 6 to his Twitter account:

“Wow. Um. I was just nominated for a Grammy!”

“The Singing Our Way Through” project was created by Moock in July 2012 when one of his twin daughters (then five) was diagnosed with ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukemia).

“It felt like we were drowning,” said Moock. “For the first week or so, my wife and I walked around the hospital in a trance. Then I went home and got my guitar.”

Over the course of the next hospital-bound month, Moock and his daughter, Clio, sang and wrote songs
together in her room. “It was amazing how her mood brightened in those moments. The effect was

Recognizing he had something special, Moock raised enough money to record an album. He partnered with renowned musicians and children, and “Singing Our Way Through: Songs for the World’s Bravest Kids,” was released in July 2013.

Moock’s twins attend the Columbus Elementary School. They performed with him in a special fundraising concert in the fall that also included the album band and The Jimmy Fund Chorus.

The Grammy Awards will take place on Sunday, January 26 and will be broadcast live on CBS. On January 25 all nominees for Best Children’s Album will perform in a special concert in Santa Monica, CA.

- The photo and some of the information came from

21 Dec 23:15

I’ve Got Your Missing Links Right Here (21 December 2013)

by Ed Yong

Sign up to The Ed’s Up – a weekly newsletter of my writing and other activities. Here’s an example.


Top picks

Veronique Greenwood’s piece on Swiss helicopter-flown cows is one of the most delightful things I’ve read this year. A perfect example of a piece that starts about something quirky and is gradually reveals itself to be about something really important.

A sad tribute to the space robots we lost in 2013, by Adam Mann.

A child checks into hospital with mitochondrial disease. The hospital says it’s psychiatric. Her parents lose custody. This is “parent-ectomy“, where a disputed medical diagnosis leads to parents losing care of their child. An incredible, gut-wrenching story by Neil Swidey and Patricia Wen.

This Atavist story about hippos in America has the best teaser I’ve ever read. Look at that second graf!

“I’ve come out on the wrong end of the equation again. The trial drug combination didn’t work.” Heartbreaking post from Lisa Adams about the reality for people with metastatic breast cancer.

The story of a tiny sculpture that got to the Moon but caused scandal back on Earth, by Corey Powell.

How humans created domestic cats. By Becca Rosen.

“”Are you really Santa Claus?” she asked. At first, [Colonel] Shoup was, understandably, confused.” A most wonderful story in which a typo leads to lots of kids calling a top secret military phone line. By Megan Garber.

“There’s no frickin’ pattern at all.” On tracking the secret life of great white sharks.

The genome of this tiny tree could help to tell us why the world became full of flowers.

The wonderful Kate Clancy is one of Nature’s 10 people who mattered this year, for her work on exposing the extent of sexual harassment in her field. Congratulations, Kate.

It’s amazing that from a single Neanderthal toe bone, we can now get a full genome of comparable quality to what you’d get from a living human. Carl Zimmer reports.

At higher altitude, your brain fits in your skull more snugly, so your risk of concussion is lower! By Liz Preston.

Karen Weintraub on the controversy around children with three biological parents.

Maybe some “terrible two” toddlers stay terrible? What then? David Dobbs considers.

Nathan Myhrvold—patent troll, food enthusiast and dinosaur hobbyist—challenges some high-profile papers on dinosaur growth rates. The author’s responses are thus far worrying, but the critique is long and more is sure to come.

Dust-borne bacteria from houses with dogs can prevent allergies (in mice) by changing their gut microbes. By me.

Leafy Green ‘Solar-Powered’ Sea Slugs Begin to Reveal Their True Colors. Good round-up of recent controversy, by Ferris Jabr.



Wow! Brazilian scientists discover a new species of tapir! A pygmy tapir (which, being a tapir, is still huge).

A randomised control trial for a waiting list (which could be bad for your health).

1856 – when a squirrel up a tree in NYC was big news.

Meet Niijima, the world’s youngest island. It’s barely a month old.

What colours are the sun?

I got 7/9 in Nature’s end of the year science news quiz. Try it.

10 fish weirder than the fish in the 10 weirdest fish in the world list

15 Best Behavioural Science Graphs 2010-13 (Warning: some experiments may be rubbish.)

Last of the Last: A NatGeo series on saving Earth’s rarest species

Vitamin pills “should be avoided”; they don’t prevent cancer, heart disease, dementia, and may cause harm.

The Grand Inga dam will be the world’s largest, generating *twice* as much power as the Three Gorges Dam.

“It’s a good sign that the push for replication is so strong that there’s now a backlash against it”

“Death is required; harm is forbidden” A New Yorker piece on the “oxymoronic quest for humane executions

Inflatable moth butt feather-dusters.

Want to help monitor deforestation using satellites, from home? Take a crash course

The Trouble w/ Oxytocin, Part I: Does OT Actually Increase Trusting Behavior?

Using drones to save orangutans.

H5N1, H7N9, now H10N8. It’s a bird flu world and we’re just living in it.

They’ve turned Walking with Dinosaurs into Cretaceous Happy Feet. Oy.

How scientists are working to save a corpse-eating beetle—our only hope against the zombie apocalypse.

Homo erectus hand bone suggests earlier “human” anatomy

Zebra stripes may have evolved for dazzle camouflage to create illusions of movement.

Greg Foot’s 12 Explosions of Christmas.

Interactive chart of fastest things on earth. If this were accurate, the cheetah would stop a third of the way along and Usain Bolt would explode.

What is the evidence for a feathered Tyrannosaurus?

Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, may be the first alien world with active plate tectonics!

Death by chocolate, literally.

13-yr re-examination of evidence concludes that Neanderthals did bury their dead.

Polynesian people used binary numbers 600 yrs ago, some 300 yrs before Leibniz.

FDA to makers of antibacterial soaps: Put up or shut up.

Two big stories this week on the secret communications of plants.

Moms think their youngest kids are smaller than they really are

Neuroscience Is Getting Its Day in Court, Whether It’s Ready or Not

A model world: All scientific models are wrong but some at least are useful.

The science of Ripper Street.

Could water be flowing freely on Mars today?

David Dobbs has tweaked his controversial piece on the selfish gene, producing a second version. Here’s his rationale, and a good response from Sergio Graziosi.

Is it an accident so many outrageous words (e.g. hullaballoo, brouhaha) describe outrageous situations?

Amazon parrot reclassified as a species becomes conservation priority

Aspirin risks may outweigh benefits in healthy adults

You can’t beat the cold. An encyclopedic look at non-cures.

80% of scientific data are lost within 20 years.

Forget supervolcanoes, let’s start talking about kiloruptions. Erik Klemetti on a metric scale for volcano kabooms.



The terrifying taxidermy of the Malaysian Cat Museum

Cape buffalo launches lion 5m into the air.

Stunning winners from a microscopy competition.

A polar bear peers up from beneath the sea ice in the winning shot from our Photo Contest

Best 404 page ever

On average, James Bond drank 92 units of alcohol per wk, which explains the shaking. A wonderful BMJ Christmas paper

Beautiful Slow Motion Video of an Espresso Extraction

How the world’s media would report the apocalypse.

Ever seen an owl swim?



What if a magazine editor edited a BBC News story about Syria?

Tom Levenson, Janet Stemwedel & Maryn McKenna talk about science, sexism and harassment.

The inventor of karaoke went on to invent a cockroach-killing machine, and now lives atop a mountain in Kobe.

What’s it really like to fight an epee duel with live blades? Here’s an amazing account from Italy in 1924

Here’s Peter Aldhous making a lot of sense about a scientific approach to journalism

The best/worst errors and corrections of 2013

Bilbo Baggins, woman. A weird old trick for undermining the patriarchy

Huh. The Wellcome Trust owns more than 1% of Twitter.

When you are caught for plagiarising, and your apology is *also* plagiarised, you maybe have a problem.

At what point in human history were there too many (English) books to be able to read them all in one lifetime?

The best of NiemanLab’s journalism predictions for 2014: text matters, just like in all other years!

Redditor explores abandoned building, discovers treasure trove of Batman graffiti

Sumimasen!: “most useful word in Japanese

12 Dec 14:41

Fox News’ Megyn Kelly OK With Inclusiveness But Santa And Jesus Are Definitely White

by Doktor Zoom
Roger Dufour

I'd make the comment that "Jesus was white too", but Fox News actually beat me to it.

Here’s one way to talk about a fictional character:

When I was a kid, I knew two different Santa Clauses. The first had a fat belly, rosy cheeks, a long white beard, and skin as pink as bubble gum …

Then there was the Santa in my family’s household … A near-carbon copy of the first one — big belly, rosy cheeks, long white beard: check, check, check. But his skin was as dark as mine.

That would be Aisha Harris in Slate, suggesting that maybe it might be nice, if Santa’s truly a universal figure for the kids, to maybe move away from being a fat old white man. She suggests maybe a penguin, which would require some polar relocation (but hey, when the North Pole is open water in 25 years, a South-Pole-based Santa would have an advantage).

And then there’s Megyn Kelly on Fox, reassuring all the “kids watching at home” that Santa is very definitely a white guy. As is Jesus. We’re not sure what’s more disconcerting — Kelly’s certainty about the race of a fictional character, or her certainty that kids in the Santa-believing age range are watching Fox News.

Kelly does actually manage a brief moment of empathy for Harris’s story, before handwaving her into irrelevance, acknowledging that, yes, a white Santa as the default figure could maybe be confusing…but naah, “Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean it has to change. You know, Jesus was a white man, too!” And then, too, there’s no way a fat white man could ever be alienating to anyone, because he’s Santa. We’re guessing that Megyn Kelly has never seen tiny children of all races screaming in terror at the prospect of having to sit on a mall Santa’s lap.

An idiot panelist jumps in to add that St. Nicholas was a real Greek bishop, and definitely white, and “you can’t take facts and then try to change them to fit a political agenda or a sensitivity agenda.” Yes, she said that, right on Fox News.

Frankly, we’ll always be in David Sedaris’s corner when it comes to Santa:

Tonight, I saw a woman slap and shake her crying child. She yelled: “Rachel, get on that man’s lap and smile or I’ll give you something to cry about.” Then she sat Rachel on Santa’s lap and I took the picture, which supposedly means on paper, that everything is exactly the way it’s supposed to be – that everything is snowy and wonderful.

It’s not about the child or Santa or Christmas or anything, but the parents’ idea of a world they cannot make work for them.

Please, Aisha Harris — why do you have to insist on being a black lady who makes Megyn Kelly think about children who don’t identify with the Santa Claus she loves so much? Why do you have to keep being so difficult, all of you people? Isn’t Christmas about coming together and celebrating the things which we all share, as defined by a white lady on Fox News?

[Slate / MediaMatters / This American Life]

30 Aug 14:50

We Could End Polio Forever For About $1 Billion

by Matthew Yglesias
Roger Dufour

Tell me again how much it will cost to bomb Syria and why there's no money for things like this?

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been spearheading an effort over the past couple of years to close the last mile on polio eradication. Polio used to be a very prevalent infection disease that killed and paralyzed lots of children. These days barely anyone dies of polio. But one of the main reasons that barely anyone dies of polio is that plenty of time and money are spent vaccinating people against polio. Consequently, the disease is at a sort of odd cliff as a humanitarian undertaking. The marginal value of an additional polio vaccination is low (since polio deaths are so rare) but the value of completely eliminating polio is in principle quite high since once there's no polio at all in the world then we can permanently stop spending resources on polio vaccines and redirect that public health money to malaria or clean water or whatever else catches your fancy.

The Gates Foundation believes it has a plan to get this done for about $5.5 billion over a six-year period, and they've raised about $4 billion in pledges already. Their rather modest "ask" of the United States government is that we increase our annual contribution to this effort to $200 million a year from its current pace of $150 million a year (a sum we occasionally undermine by using vaccination as a front for intelligence operations).

My guess is that the relevant members of the Obama administration are highly sympathetic to the idea of coughing up the extra money, but have not been incredibly successful at obtaining the time of the most senior level of officials to discuss political, legal, and communications strategies for getting this done. One often hears that helping-by-killing versus helping-by-curing isn't an either/or choice, but while that's true as a matter of literal funding it's absolutely not true as a matter of senior administration official bandwidth or political capital. Fully closing the funding gap would cost approximately what the U.S. spent on the Libya intervention (that's not considering spending by NATO allies) so winning the war on polio would be an undertaking of roughly the scale that we're prepared to contemplate for military measures.

That said, while Denis McDonough does need to make zero-sum choices about which meetings to schedule you as a citizen don't have the same kind of constraint. Whatever you think about Syria, I would just urge that if you're thinking about international humanitarian issues this week you spend some time to ponder how close we are to eradicating a major disease and to the idea that maybe it'd be smart for major rich world powers to throw their shoulders into this.

28 Aug 18:52

Feminists Hysterical

by Kaili Joy Gray
Roger Dufour

That about sums it up. I'm going to go throw up now. For humanity.

Why are the feminazis burning their bras and refusing to shave their pits today? Oh, just the usual:

A judge’s conclusion that a 14-year-old Billings rape victim was “as much in control of the situation” as her schoolteacher rapist has sparked outrage across the nation.

Organizers have scheduled a Thursday rally and a petition drive against District Judge G. Todd Baugh, who Monday handed down a net sentence of 30 days in jail to former Senior High teacher Stacey Rambold, 54, who raped 14-year-old Cherice Moralez. [...]

Under state law, children younger than 16 cannot consent to sexual intercourse, which makes Rambold’s crime felony rape.

However, when issuing the sentence Baugh said Moralez not only had equal control of the rape, but was also a troubled youth “older than her chronological age.”

Oh. Yup, just the usual letting a rapist get off (er, walk away) with a mere tsk-tsk because the “child” — who was pretty slutty for her age, so come on it’s not like she was really a child — could have stopped it if she really wanted to. Besides, it’s not like this was the real kind of rape. The judge said so:

“Obviously, a 14-year-old can’t consent. I think that people have in mind that this was some violent, forcible, horrible rape,” Baugh said. “It was horrible enough as it is just given her age, but it wasn’t this forcible beat-up rape.”

Now, see, if the teacher had raped her in that “violent, forcible, horrible” way — you know, the way Republicans say prevents pregnancy — and he’d beaten the ever-lovin’ shit out of her, that might be worth more than a mere month in the pokey. But everyone knows that when you do sex to a mature-for-her-age kid who’s kind of a ho, if you know what we mean, that’s not real rape. Okay, sure, technically under the law it’s rape, if you want to get all technical and legal about it — the way you’d think a judge would — but dude! She was slutty! And in control! Hasn’t poor, basically innocent teacher suffered enough?

Seems like it was just three weeks ago (oh, that’s right, because it was) that we provided this handy (and exceptionally written, hint hint Pultizer committee) PSA for men who are confused about when it is okay to rape a child or, you know, anyone. Since Judge Baugh apparently missed this PSA, we will skip to the critical part for his convenience:

When can you have nonconsensual sex with someone? NEVER. Not even if she’s really hot or mature for her age. Not even if she’s wearing make-up. Not even if she has older friends. Not even if she’s “egging” you on. Not even if she’s drunk. Not even if she’s a total slutbag who has had sex with, like, a million other dudes so one more shouldn’t make a difference. Not even if you’re really horny. Not even if she only says no twice. Not even if it’s a day that ends in “y” or pigs flew by your window or you watched some porno where the chick said no but seemed to like it or your mother didn’t love you or some Republican said there are varying degrees of rape and some of it isn’t really rape or you think you can get away with it and no one will ever know.

Now, we’d suggest that Judge Baugh owes a big fat apology to the victim, but, of course, it’s too late now because she killed herself.

Here is where a joke would go if anything about this was funny at all.

Billings Gazette

11 Jul 14:21

Rachel Jeantel’s language in the Zimmerman trial

by John Rickford
Roger Dufour

Great rebuttal of stupid-ass bigots who think African American Vernacular is a sign of ignorance or stupidity instead of realizing that it is a distinct dialect as complex and rich or richer than standard English.

[Below is a guest post by John Rickford.]

The defense plans to rest in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman today, and arguments are raging about whether he will be found guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin or not.

In the case of Rachel Jeantel, however, the 19-year old prosecution witness whose testimony on June 26 and 27 went on longer (5 to 6 hours) and generated more commentary in the media than any other witness, the GUILTY verdict is already in.

On talk shows and social media sites, people castigated her "slurred speech," bad grammar and Ebonics usage, or complained that, "Nobody can understand what she's saying."

As was true in the wake of the 1996 Oakland Ebonics controversy (cf. the “Ebonics Humor” chapter in John R. and Russell J. Rickford, 2000, Spoken Soul), a torrent of invidious commentary was quickly unleashed, masquerading under the cover of wit and presumably-shared linguistic prejudice.

Some of it was translation humor: “Love to hear her give a Shakespeare recital. ‘To beez or nots to beez, dats wat I'zz bee saying, jack’.”

But a lot more involved grotesquely racist, misogynistic and dehumanizing attacks on this young woman, devoid of any sensitivity to the fact that she was testifying about the murder of a friend she had known since elementary school, and that she was racked by guilt that she’d been been talking to him by cell phone moments before he died but couldn’t prevent his murder.

In language even more vicious than that in the “Ebonics Olympic Games” of 1997 (Spoken Soul, p. 217-18), Jeantel was compared to “a junkie,” an “animal,” and “the missing link between monkeys and humans.” One commentator opined that “You could swap her out for a three-toed sloth and get the same witness value and response.”

Another, eager to demonstrate that ignorance and viciousness were equal opportunity traits, fumed that: “She has to be the most, ignorant, ghetto, uneducated, lazy, fat, gross, arrogant, stupid, confrontation Black bitch I've ever seen in my fucking life. Yes, I said it . . . and I'm Black.”

Not everyone was this negative, fortunately. In TV appearances and in a commentary on, linguist John McWhorter explained that Jeantel’s “Black English … has rules as complex as the mainstream English of William F. Buckley.” I tried to do the same in a short segment on the National Public Radio program, Here and Now. But you’ll notice from the comments on these sites that we both attracted critics and detractors.

There were linguistically positive and insightful blog posts by non-linguists too, like this one by Syracuse University professor of Rhetoric and Writing Kevin Browne,, and this one by writer Marina Bolotnikova.

For the record, Jeantel, like many working class African Americans, shows asymmetric linguistic competence. She does understand standard English, as she emphasized in an exchange with defense attorney Don West.

But she often speaks fluent African American Vernacular English (AAVE), or Ebonics, and the court stenographer, attorneys and jury members may have missed crucial elements in her testimony.

Jeantel complained to West, “You cannot hear me that well, and “You are having trouble hearing me.” And it wasn’t just because of her sometimes soft delivery. As she noted, “It’s how I speak.”

Speakers of AAVE and linguists who have studied this distinctive variety for more than 50 years, knew exactly what Jeantel meant when she used systematic AAVE features like:

– Stressed BIN, as in I was BIN paying attention, sir, meaning, “I’ve been paying attention for a long time, and am still paying attention.”
– Preterit HAD, ax, and inverted did in embedded sentences, as in He had ax me did I go to the hospital “He asked me whether I had gone to the hospital.” [The use of the pluperfect form where other varieties use a simple past or preterit was first discussed by Stanford undergrad Christine Theberge.]
– Absence of auxiliary IS: He ø trying to get home, sir.
– Absence of possessive and third present s, as in “He a momma ø boy” and “He love ø his family.”

Did these and other features cause lawyers and jury members to literally misunderstand her? It’s hard to tell, except in one case where the transcript of her April 2012 interview with prosecuting attorney Bernie De la Rionda has her saying that she “couldn’t hear Trayvon” saying “Get off,” while the testimony, played in court, sounds more like “I could, an’ it was Trayvon.” Jeantel’s subsequent remarks substantiate the latter interpretation. (The transcript of that interview is here, and you can see and hear courtroom cross examination about it here.)

This case aside, it’s more likely that Jeantel was understood as clearly as Moses Wright, the Mississippi sharecropper and preacher whose Chicago cousin Mamie sent her 14 year old son Emmett Till to visit Wright in Mississippi in August 1955.

Till was brutally murdered by J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant after going to a local store with friends to buy sodas and bubble gum. After their trial, Milam and Bryant brazenly and without prosecution published a full confession in Look magazine. 1/24/1956.

Asked in court if he could identify the man with a gun who took Emmett from his house, Rev. Wright said “Yes, sir!” and “with an act of courage and defiance … pointed a gnarled finger at white J.W. Milam and announced in a loud, clear voice, “Thar he!” (From Mark Gado’s riveting account).

Now Wright’s construction, with the copula missing in clause-final position, is ungrammatical in modern AAVE and every known variety of English today. (See, among others: Harold King, 1970, “On blocking the rules for contraction in EnglishLinguistic Inquiry 1:134-136, and William Labov,  1969, “Contraction, deletion, and inherent variability of the English copulaLanguage 45:715-762.) And one might, as with Jeantel’s testimony, wonder whether it was transcribed correctly.

But there is no question about whether it was understood. And Wright’s testimony, like Jeantel’s, demonstrates that the vernacular CAN be used to speak justice and truth, just as standard English can be used for injustice and lies. As James Baldwin noted in 1979 (in “Black English: A Dishonest Argument” in G. Smitherman, ed., Black English and the Education of Black Children and Youth):

We should not forget that it was in perfect standard English, in the Dred Scott decision, that the court said that Black people had no rights that the White man must respect.

Indeed, the fact that Jeantel’s testimony was so vernacular might itself be taken as evidence that it was likely closer to the truth, especially given this very apt comment (given that Jentel’s mother is a native creole French speaker from Haiti, and that she herself speaks Creole, Spanish and AAVE) from Robert Hall’s 1966 Pidgin and Creole Languages (p. 133):

For the normal, unpretentious Haitian, use of Creole is the symbol of truth and reality, and French is the language of bluff, mystification, and duplicity.

Note, however, that Wright’s 1955 testimony in the Emmett Till trial did not win friends or influence people in the courtroom. The all-white jury delivered a “Not guilty” verdict in the case, “some even stopping to shake hands or offer congratulations” as they filed past Milam and Bryant.

Despite the obvious improvements in the socio-political climate between the 1950s and today, it is not likely that Jeantel’s testimony will change the outcome of the Zimmerman trial either. Whether they understood her literally or not, Jeantel’s vernacular, her eye rolls, stares and palpable “attitude” may make it difficult for the jury to relate to and be convinced by her, as some media pundits have suggested.

Which would be sad, because this reluctant witness represents the closest proxy to testimony by Trayvon Martin himself—something we’ll never get to hear or pick apart.

In this already long post, I crave your indulgence to make a couple closing linguistic points and half of a literacy/education point that I’ll develop more fully in another time and (perhaps) place.

Much has been made of the fact that Jeantel, in her courtroom testimony, quoted Trayvon Martin as referring to George Zimmerman, of mixed White and Latino ancestry, as a nigga (“The nigga is still following me”), and a creepy-ass cracker. Defense attorney Don West, in particular, used these terms to show that it was Trayvon, not Zimmerman, who “introduced” racism into the altercation.

But Arthur Spears’ 1998 paper on “African-American Language Use: Ideology and so-called obscenity” (in Mufwene, Rickford, Bailey and Baugh, eds. African American English) rebuts West’s charge and is insightful with respect to both terms.

About nigga (as distinct from nigger), Spears observes (p. 239) that:

It is currently used by younger African Americans (roughly under 30) and some non-African Americans to mean ‘male’; it applies to males of any ethnicity in much the same way as does guy.

So, far from being racist (note that it was being used of Zimmerman), Trayvon’s use of nigga exemplifies the younger African American and broader use of the term without a specific racial coding, a use already previewed in Clarence Major’s 1994 Juba to Jive: A Dictionary of African American Slang, and in Geneva Smitherman’s 1994, 2000 Black Talk: Words and Phrases from the Hood to the Amen Corner.

And Trayvon’s use is clearly quite distinct from and preferable to the use of nigger by Emmett Till’s murderer J. W. Milam, who in 1956 told the Look reporter:

I like niggers — in their place — I know how to work 'em. But I just decided it was time a few people got put on notice. As long as I live and can do anything about it, niggers are gonna stay in their place. Niggers ain't gonna vote where I live.

While Jeantel’s testimony about the N-word in the Zimmerman trial has garnered a lot of public comment and attention, it isn’t generally recognized that creepy-ass cracker is part of a “productive morphological process” in what Spears characterizes as African American “Uncensored Mode.” Examples include: triflin’-ass woman, jive-ass fool, fine-ass muthafucka, pretty-ass self (from Marcyliena Morgan, 2013), and bottle-ass pine (from Richmond Wiley, Daufuskie Island, S. Carolina, in a 1970 story to me about “puttin’ on ole massa).

Of these “Ass words”, which Major’s (1994) Juba to Jive had simply described as “intensive” Spears (234-5) notes that while the element preceding –ass can be an adjective, noun, or other word-class (even a full VP like ain’t-got-no-rap-ass), it “must be followed by a noun” (jive-ass fool is fine but *He’s a jive-ass is ungrammatical). [(myl) For discussion of this construction's adoption into vernacular English at large, see "Hyphen", xkcd #37; Daniel Siddiqi, "The English intensifier ass", 2011; "Root haughtiness", LL 8/20/2011; "Is it a prosodic-ass constraint?", LL 8/25/2011.]

Spears also observes that the A-words (if we will) are not inherently negative or positive. They “are more about poetics, ways of positioning oneself in the world and emotive reactions and attitudes” (p. 237). But they do have some lexical as distinct from discourse meaning, and “that meaning is always carried by the formative to which -ass is attached." This explains why creepy-ass cracker comes across as negative to everyone (despite the Dictionary of American Regional English evidence that cracker is common in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas but not everywhere), and pretty-ass self does not.

Finally, my half-point about literacy and education. Expressive though Jeantel is orally and in terms of facial expression and gestures (her cut-eyes/eye rolls sometimes constituted searing cross-examinations of West himself), her reading skills do appear to be considerably below grade level. This may have severely limited her ability to read the transcripts of her earlier interviews that West put before her in the courtroom, and contributed to the fierce attitude that simmered beneath her words and gestures.

The fault, however, must be placed primarily on the deficiencies of urban education in Florida and across the US, especially in school districts that are primarily made up of working class students of color. This was one of the larger implications of the Ebonics controversy in 1996-97 that the public never seemed to grasp or do anything about, and it’s a larger implication of the Zimmerman trial that dwarfs the issue of whether he walks or not.

Stay tuned for the other half of this point, which I’ll make with school statistics on reading and some comments about what I think linguists and other concerned scholars can do to help.

03 Jul 13:21


Roger Dufour

Shake it like a Polaroid picture!

It's commonly believed that Lorentz contraction makes objects appear flatter along the direction of travel. However, this ignores light travel times. In fact, a fast-moving butt would appear rotated toward the observer but not substantially distorted. Shakira was right.
01 Jul 20:00

It's Expensive to Be Poor

by Matthew Yglesias
Roger Dufour

This is why we pay bankers the big bucks. It's not easy to come up with a new way to screw the poor every day.

When I need some cash, I just point my card at the nearest ATM fee and get it. Wells Fargo doesn't charge me fees for withdrawal and they cover the cost of surcharges that non-Wells Fargo banks assess on my withdrawals. But they do that because I have enough money in different Wells Fargo accounts to qualify for a high-end PMA Checking Package in which decent service is provided to valuable customers. If you're too poor to feasibly qualify for a deluxe account, then you're going to get hit by all kinds of fees.

This gets to be a huge problem when your employer decides that it'd be simpler to pay low-level hourly workers by handing them prepaid debit cards, rather than the (apparently more expensive for employers) traditional options.

There's a strong case, I think, for the creation of a "postal banking" system (though I wouldn't actually want the USPS to do it) in which every American would be given a government-run zero-interest no-fee bank account that came equipped with a debit card and in which employers were legally required to offer direct deposit as an option. People would still end up hit with fees when they wanted to withdraw cash from ATMs, but for bill paying and non-cash transactions they could use the debit card and you'd undercut both the traditional high-fee check-cashing industry and the newfangled high-fee prepaid debit card industry. In the long run we should be looking to get rid of paper money altogether, but that means we need to lay the groundwork for a utility-like electronic payments system. For-profit entities could and should build money-making services on top of a free bare-bones government-run utility bank, but it should be possible for low-income people to get paid and go buy groceries without getting held up by fees.

26 Jun 17:36

Supreme Court Update: Special ‘Over-The-Top Nice Time Let’s All Gay Marry Our Dogs’ Edition

by snipy
Roger Dufour

I hope someone gets a good photo of Rick Santorum crying.

we're completely covered in nice timeYOU GUYS WE ARE ALL GOING GAY RIGHT NOW! Seriously, we’ve been throwing words at a post for about 30 minutes now but most of them just look like EEEEEEEEE! and YAY! and that is not the high-quality content you expect from yr Wonkette. Let’s get down to what you already know because you are a sentient being in America: DOMA has been struck down and now the filthy gays like this particular portion of yr Wonkette can start rolling around in all the delicious federal benefits that straight people are already covered in.

The lineup is pretty much what you would have guessed, in that attention whore Justice Kennedy joined with the 4 liebrul judges to say that it was sorta kinda weird that gay marriages were somehow less valid than other marriages because what the fuck:

In a 5-4 ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, and joined by the liberal-leaning justices, the Court struck down the law that prohibits same-sex couples from receiving federal tax, retirement and immigration benefits.

The decision means married couples will be treated equally by the federal government regardless of their sexual orientation.

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” Kennedy wrote for the Court. “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

Kennedy’s majority opinion struck down DOMA in part on equal protection and due process grounds and in part because marriage is a state issue, determining that Congress lacks a constitutional basis not to recognize definitions set by states. The four liberal-leaning justices joined his opinion.

There are many many money quotes in Justice Kennedy’s decision and as you read them, you should imagine each word as a rage-tear rolling down Bryan Fischer’s face:

The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others…

This status is a far-reaching legal acknowledgment of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed by the State worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages. It reflects both the community’s considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning of equality.

Isn’t that lovely! But you should really read the whole thing. No, really, read it. This is an historic Nice Time moment and you should be a part of it. Yes, it is long. Yes, it is boring. So what. Think of it as a refreshing tonic after the shit sandwich we were forced to eat yesterday regarding voting rights.

Wonkish aside about all this: we cannot actually go full on no-pants ALLCAPS party about today’s decisions, because the shadow of yesterday’s voting rights decision both casts a pall over future legislative initiatives that might give us even more gay marriages and because it takes away one of the remaining pillars of the Great Society. (See how fancy we can write! Just like a real blog!) We’re also busy dealing with our simmering about-to-boil-over anger at Scalia (WE ARE ALWAYS ANGRY ABOUT SCALIA PRETTY MUCH) because yesterday Scalia believed that Congress did not know best when it enacted the VRA, but today he is all like “ohey Congress, fixed up, looking sharp, passing laws like DOMA and we always defer to you on laws you guys.” Let Wonkette be the first, but never the last, to say fuck you, Justice Scalia. Fuck. You. Running.

BACK TO NICE TIME! The Supremes also decided the Proposition 8 case today, where a bunch of sad little angerbears from California tilted at windmills and kept demanding that California ban gay marriage even though the courts there had already said naw mang AND the state had refused to defend the ban. Today, the Supremes told those people to go fuck themselves:

In the California case, the court ruled that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban. The Supreme Court’s ruling appears to remove legal obstacles to same-sex couples marrying in the state, but the court did not issue a broad ruling likely to affect other states.

Californians go get gay married right now! Not gay? Get married anyway! And yes, before you tell us in the comments, we realize that both of these cases are incomplete victories but let’s all just bask in what we DO have for a moment, mmmkay?

If you’re looking for the inevitable Children’s Treasury roundup of angry/sad/garment-rending quotes from notable Twitter idiots like Fischer and his ilk, yr Wonkette is ON IT but we are sifting through SO MUCH STUFF you guys so just sit tight and stop interrupting us. Go run around the block with a rainbow flag or call in sick to work or figure out something else to do with all this joy and schadenfreude. Isn’t Nice Time the fucking best you guys?

[TPM/Supreme Court/Lawyers Guns and Money/NYT]

24 May 18:30

We Will Be The Judge Of How This Child-Selling Judge Should Go To Hell Forever

by snipy
Roger Dufour

Jeebus, how did this guy get away with this for this long. Don't we have any fucking oversight of judges in this country?

a way better choice for the benchLaw blog Lawblog BLAWWWG. Time for more lawzzz! What are we thinking about/talking about/still really fucking pissed about today? We are still mad about this judge dude who LITERALLY sold kids and we get to write about it now because his sentence just got upheld.

A federal appeals court Friday upheld the conviction and 28-year prison sentence for disgraced former Luzerne County Judge Mark A. Ciavarella Jr…

A jury convicted Ciavarella in February 2011 on 12 of 27 counts, including racketeering and conspiracy, for pocketing a portion of $2.8 million to send thousands of Luzerne County youths to a pair of for-profit juvenile detention centers.

Maybe you were not paying enough attention when this all went down or maybe you were, but either way it is time for a trip down memory lane with yr Wonkette because fuck this guy. For years, this living sack of scum took goddamn oodles of money to send kids to a private detention center for pretty much no reason at all:

Between 2003 and 2008, two Pennsylvania judges accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks from a private juvenile detention facility in exchange for sending children — girls and boys, some as young as 11 — to jail… the 13-year-old incarcerated for throwing a piece of steak at his mother’s boyfriend; the 15-year-old for throwing a sandal at her mother; the 11-year-old for calling the police after his mother locked him out of the house; the 14-year-old for writing a satirical Myspace profile. Another 14-year-old, an A student, was sentenced for writing “Vote for Michael Jackson” on a few stop signs; she had a seizure while in detention, banging her head so hard she cracked her dental braces.

Mark Ciavarella is the judge who sent away all those children — and several thousand others — in cahoots with Judge Michael Conahan… After the briefest of hearings — the average length was four minutes — kids were dispatched to detention centers in which the judges had a financial interest. If parents were unable to pay the costs of detention, their children were sometimes held longer. One teenager’s Social Security survivor’s check, from his father’s death, was garnished to pay the costs.

Did we say fuck this guy already? We don’t care, because FUCK. THIS. GUY. He wrecked thousands — THOUSANDS — of kids’ lives by sentencing them to hell, and then had the fucking temerity to demand NO sentence for himself because it was hard to handle all the publicity when he got caught:

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed about 4,000 convictions issued by Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008, saying he violated the constitutional rights of the juveniles, including the right to legal counsel and the right to intelligently enter a plea.

Ciavarella, 61, was tried and convicted of racketeering charges earlier this year. His attorneys had asked for a “reasonable” sentence in court papers, saying, in effect, that he’s already been punished enough.

“The media attention to this matter has exceeded coverage given to many and almost all capital murders, and despite protestation, he will forever be unjustly branded as the `Kids for Cash’ judge,” their sentencing memo said.

Somehow we imagine they were given more than four minutes to plead his case, too. Weird.

Some of yr Wonkette are lawyers but those some of us would rather eat a gun than write a sentencing memo saying that this dude shouldn’t go to prison for this. 28 years is much too damn short a time for being this terrible. Indeed, though yr Wonkette, lawyer parts or no, are 100% anti-death penalty hippies, if we believed in executions, this guy would be the first against the wall, Chinese-official-caught-extorting-styley. Seriously, fuck this guy.


23 May 14:35

Liveblogging World War II: May 23, 1943

by J. Bradford DeLong
Roger Dufour

Having worked on defense programs, this is all too believable.

Flying Fish - Dave Barry:

In December 1941, shortly after Pearl Harbor, a Pennsylvania dental surgeon named Lytle S. Adams thought of a way that the United States could fight back against Japan. It will come as no surprise to anyone who has undergone dental surgery that the idea he came up with was: attaching incendiary bombs to bats and dropping them out of airplanes. The idea was that the bats would fly into enemy buildings, and the bombs would go off and start fires, and Japan would surrender.

So Dr. Adams sent his idea to the White House, which laughed so hard that it got a stomachache.

No! That's what you'd expect to happen, but instead the White House sent the idea to the U.S. Army, which, being the U.S. Army, launched a nationwide research effort to determine the best kind of bat to attach a bomb to. By 1943 the research team had decided on the free-tailed bat, which "could fly fairly well with a one-ounce bomb." Thousands of these bats were collected and -- remember, we are not making any of this up -- placed in ice-cube trays, which were then refrigerated to force the bats to hibernate so bombs could be attached to them.

On May 23, 1943, a day that every school child should be forced to memorize, five groups of test bats, equipped with dummy bombs, were dropped from a B-25 bomber flying at 5,000 feet. Here, in the dramatic words of the article, is what happened next:

Most of the bats, not fully recovered from hibernation, did not fly and died on impact.

Researchers continued to have problems with bats failing to show the "can-do" attitude you want in your night-flying combat mammal. Also there was an incident wherein "some bats escaped with live incendiaries aboard and set fire to a hangar and a general's car."

At this point the Army, possibly sensing that the project was a disaster, turned it over to the Navy. Really. "In October 1943, the Navy leased four caves in Texas and assigned Marines to guard them, " states the article. The last thing you want, in wartime, is for enemy agents to get hold of your bats.

The bat project was finally canceled in 1944, having cost around $2 million, which is a bargain when you consider what we pay for entertainment today.

22 May 14:33

Of Course Alex Jones Thinks The Government Did That Tornado To Oklahoma, He Is Alex Jones

by Kaili Joy Gray
Roger Dufour

Remember that guy who wanted to know if the Boston Bombing was a "false flag" operation? He now thinks that the government did the OK tornadoes. But don't be ridiculous, of course the government can't make a huge tornado like that but they can "steer it".

Alex Jones in his invisible tin foil hatAh, wonderful. We have now reached the stage, after a natural — or maybe not-so-natural — disaster when certifiably insane people who for some reason have radio shows instead of padded cells explain that the G men in unmarked helicopters did that tornado to Oklahoma. Sure, it might have been nature — or maybe it was God punishing the homosexicans again, since he’s always all, like, “I am going to rain and wind on you, humans, because you won’t stop having buttsex!” — but Alex Jones, who has previously warned us that tip lines are JUST LIKE HITLER, so you know he’s not at all bugfuck crazy, knows what really happened maybe wink wink:

While he explained that “natural tornadoes” do exist and that he’s not sure if a government “weather weapon” was involved in the Oklahoma disaster, Jones warned nonetheless that the government “can create and steer groups of tornadoes.”

According to Jones, this possibility hinges on whether people spotted helicopters and small aircraft “in and around the clouds, spraying and doing things.” He added, “if you saw that, you better bet your bottom dollar they did this, but who knows if they did. You know, that’s the thing, we don’t know.”

So if anyone spotted any helicopters in the Oklahoma area on Monday, please call the tip line to — wait, no, don’t do that. Just, um, be aware that when weather happens, it is probably the government Holocausting us with its powerful “weather weapons.” And buy some duct tape maybe? Hey, there’s an “offset” idea for you, Sen. Tom Coburn, who only wants relief for the people of his state if said relief is “offset” with budget cuts elsewhere. Maybe we could slash the budget for the government’s secret weather weapons to pay for, like, disaster relief. Would that be okay, or must the “offsets” be things like food and health care for kids?

Or maybe Alex Jones should just stick to helping conspiracy theorists find true love.

[Media Matters]

21 May 18:51

Bowling Ball

Bowling Ball

I've been told that if the Earth were shrunk down to the size of a bowling ball, it would be smoother than said bowling ball. My question is, what would a bowling ball look like if it were blown up to the size of the Earth?

—Seth C.

A good, professional-quality bowling ball is smoother than the Earth.

Phil Plait, of Bad Astronomy, took a look at the claim that the Earth was smoother than a billiard ball. He concluded that the Earth was smoother but less round, based on published billiard ball roundness tolerances. However, he couldn’t find any information on the size and shape of a billiard ball’s pits and bumps.

Fortunately for us, there are people who digitally scan bowling ball surfaces.

These scans (along with various measurements of ball roughness[1]) tell us that a high-end bowling ball is quite smooth. If blown up to the scale of the Earth, the ridges and bumps[2] would be between 10 and 200 meters high, and the peaks would be between one and three kilometers apart:

By Earth standards, this is quite smooth; our highest mountains are 40 times higher.

What would this bowling ball world (we’ll call it “Lebowski”) be like?

For starters, bowling balls are a lot less dense than rock, so Lebowski’s surface gravity would be a quarter the strength of Earth’s:

It would also (at first) have no atmosphere.

The finger holes would be about a thousand kilometers across and a few thousand kilometers deep.

On Earth, holes this big would expose the molten interior. But Lebowski doesn’t have a molten interior.

The Earth’s core is hot for two reasons: It’s still glowing from the heat of all the dust collapsing together when it formed, and it’s full of radioactive metals. Lebowski wouldn’t have either of these, so its core would start out cold.

The holes would be far too big to hold themselves open against gravity; On that scale, the polymers in the bowling ball would behave more like a liquid. In the space of about half an hour, the holes would undergo a slow-motion collapse.

As they collapsed, the material around the holes would heat to a glow. At the center of the hole, a white-hot jet of charred hydrocarbons would fountain outward into space.

When it was over, Lebowski would be left with massive scars, each marking the location where an abyss collapsed to form a molten sea.

And now, thanks to this question, whenever I look at the Moon, I’ll notice the Sea of Tranquility, the Sea of Serenity, and the Sea of Crisis, and I’ll think: Finger holes.

But that’s just, like, my opinion, man.

01 May 15:07

It's a 401(k) World and It Basically Sucks

by Matthew Yglesias
Roger Dufour

We should be upping social security instead of cutting it.

I like the metaphor in Tom Friedman's latest column, arguing that we now live in a 401(k) world. But I wish he'd spelled it out in greater detail, because the problem with living in a 401(k) world is that Planet 401(k) is a pretty sucky planet. Here's the essential shape of 401(k) as a backbone of the retirement system:

— Poor people get absolutely nothing.
— Wealthy people who would have had large savings anyway get a nice tax cut that offers no meaningful incentive effect.
— For people in the middle, the quantity of subsidy you receive is linked to the marginal tax rate you pay—in other words, it's inverse to need.
— A small minority of middle-class people manage to file the paperwork to save an adequate amount and then select a prudent low-fee, broadly diversified fund as their savings vehicle.
— Most middle-class savers end up either undersaving, overtrading, investing in excessively high-fee vehicles or some combination of the three.
— A small number of highly compensated folks now have lucrative careers offering bad investment products to a middle-class mass market based on their ability to swindle people.

Congratulations, America! Across a very wide range of products there's a strong case for a large dose of consumer sovereignty. People should buy the shoes and sandwiches and shirts they want. They should watch the shows they want to watch. Get the furniture and appliances they like, and pick their own hairstylists and their own favorite grocery stores. Tastes differ, so even though competition and choice will rarely lead to a perfect outcome it's going to lead to a much better outcome than trying to have a Shoe Commission tell everyone how many shoes they need and what they should cost and look like.

Middle class retirement savings isn't like that. We know roughly how much people need to put away in order to retire with a standard of living they'll be comfortable with. And we definitely know what kind of investment vehicles are most appropriate for middle class savers. And we have abundant evidence that, left to their own devices, a very large share of middle class savers will make the wrong choices. What's more, because of the nature of the right choices it's obvious that the dominant business strategy for vendors of middle class investment products is to dedicate your time and energy to developing and marketing inferior products, since the essence of superior products in this field is that they're less remunerative.

In other words: A disaster. What's needed is a much more forceful, much more statist approach to forced savings, whether that's quasi-savings in the form of higher taxes and more Social Security benefits or something like a Singapore-style system where "private" savings are pooled into a state-run investment fund.

Now since we are in fact living in a 401(k) world, here's some advice. You've got to save a lot of money for retirement. More than you think. More than you want to. And you need to put that money in a broadly diversified, low-fee fund. And you have to keep it there. Don't panic when the market plunged and sell. In fact, unless you're planning on retiring in the next decade, don't even check how it's doing. Just buy and hold and shift into something less volatile when you're near retirement. Vanguard has these good Target 20XX funds that automatically shift you into less volatile products as you get closer to your target retirement date, allowing you to do even more ignoring of the state of your investments. Which is good. The only way for anyone to make any money managing your savings is to try and trick you into making trades you shouldn't make, or buying products you shouldn't buy.