Later On

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Archive for March 22nd, 2018

In Britain’s Playgrounds, ‘Bringing in Risk’ to Build Resilience

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Not risk in terms of firearms, of course: it’s not the US. Ellen Barry reports in the NY Times:

Educators in Britain, after decades spent in a collective effort to minimize risk, are now, cautiously, getting into the business of providing it.

Four years ago, for instance, teachers at the Richmond Avenue Primary and Nursery School looked critically around their campus and set about, as one of them put it, “bringing in risk.”

Out went the plastic playhouses and in came the dicey stuff: stacks of two-by-fours, crates and loose bricks. The schoolyard got a mud pit, a tire swing, log stumps and workbenches with hammers and saws.

“We thought, how can we bring that element of risk into your everyday environment?” said Leah Morris, who manages the early years program at the school in Shoeburyness in southeast Britain. “We were looking at, O.K., so we’ve got a sand pit, what can we add to the sand pit to make it more risky?”

Now, Ms. Morris says proudly, “we have fires, we use knives, saws, different tools,” all used under adult supervision. Indoors, scissors abound, and so do sharp-edged tape dispensers (“they normally only cut themselves once,” she says).

Limited risks are increasingly cast by experts as an experience essential to childhood development, useful in building resilience and grit.

Continue reading the main story

Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”

This view is tinged with nostalgia for an earlier Britain, in which children were tougher and more self-reliant. It resonates both with right-wing tabloids, which see it as a corrective to the cosseting of a liberal nanny state; and with progressives, drawn to a freer and more natural childhood. It is also supported by a growing list of government officials, among them Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of Ofsted, the powerful agency that inspects British schools.

Ms. Spielman has poked fun at schools for what she considers excessive risk aversion, describing as “simply barmy” measures like sending schoolchildren out on city field trips in high-visibility jackets. Late last year, she announced that her agency’s inspectors would undergo training that will encompass the positive, as well as the negative, side of risk.

“Inspections will creep into being a bit more risk-averse unless we explicitly train them to get a more sophisticated understanding of the balance between benefits and risk, and stand back, and say ‘It’s O.K. to have some risk of children falling over and bashing into things,’” she said. “That’s not the same as being reckless and sending a 2-year-old to walk on the edge of a 200-foot cliff unaccompanied.”

Britain is one of a number of countries where educators and regulators say a litigious, protective culture has gone too far, leaching healthy risksout of childhood. Guidelines on play from the government agency that oversees health and safety issues in Britain state that “the goal is not to eliminate risk.”

Australia last fall introduced new standards for playground equipment, instructing operators to consider the benefits, not just the risks, of activities that could result in injuries. Cities and school districts in Canada and Sweden are following suit.

(In the United States, a country with far higher litigation costs, government agencies overseeing play safety are not known to have made any such changes.)

The shift to seeing some benefit in risk, advocates say, signals the end of a decades-long drift toward overprotecting children.

Beginning in the late 1970s, parents were buffeted by warnings about hidden dangers on playgrounds and predators lurking in suburban neighborhoods. Behavior changed: In England, the percentage of schoolchildren who went to school unaccompanied dropped from around 85 percent of 9-year-olds in 1971 to around 25 percent in 1990, a team of British researchers found.

Play spaces also changed: Plank swings and steel merry-go-rounds disappeared, while impact-absorbent rubber surfacing spread over so-called drop zones, driving up the cost of new playgrounds. A market appeared for lab-tested, safety-certified fiberglass boulders. The result has been a gradual sterilization of play, said Meghan Talarowski, an American landscape designer who has compared British and American playgrounds.

“It’s a rubber floor, a little structure surrounded by a fence, it’s like a little play jail,” she said of playgrounds in the United States. “As a grown-up, you’re sitting there on your phone, waiting for them to be done.”

Ms. Talarowski, who was struck by how much more adventurous playgrounds were when she moved to London in 2015, threw herself into gathering data. Using a quantitative tool developed by the RAND Corporation, a research center, she used video to track the behavior of 18,000 visitors to London playgrounds, then compared it with similar data on visitors to American parks.

The findings suggested that exciting equipment had a pronounced effect: The British playgrounds had 55 percent more visitors over all, and children and teenagers were 16 to 18 percent more active. The features that held visitors’ attention the longest — sand, grass, high swings and climbing structures — were elements American park managers use sparingly, because of high maintenance costs and the risk of falls, Ms. Talarowski said.

In Britain, though, risk has become something to (carefully) brag about.

“It’s about exploring controlled risk, risk that we’ve carefully designed,” said Chris Moran, manager of Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, as he led guests through Tumbling Bay playground, built in 2014 at a cost of more than $1.5 million. “We’ve got the gorse bushes, which are quite spiky,” he said. “The child will touch it and learn it is a spiky bush.”

Aspects of Tumbling Bay, with its tall tree houses and wobbly bridges, would make an American park manager blanch. Its 20-foot climbing towers, with natural, gnarled boughs lashed together with willow wands, were made by hand, not in a factory (which would share legal liability in case of an accident). Waving prairie grasses stand higher than the head of an adult (which could block sight lines.) There are expanses of sand (could contain animal feces or sharp objects) and boulders (no manufacturer, no shared legal liability.)

The park requires an intensive safety inspection regime — half of it has been barricaded off since November so that rotten boughs can be replaced — but, so far, any injuries have been minor ones, Mr. Moran said. “We’ve always won the argument,” he said.

Underlying the difference in play is a difference in law. The United States uses the jury system for personal injury cases, and liability costs, as a percentage of gross domestic product, are more than double those of most eurozone economies.

In addition, American families must “find someone to blame to cover the cost” of medical care, unlike their counterparts in European countries, which have socialized health care, said Ellen Beate Hansen Sanseter, a Norwegian professor of education.

“In Norway, the society has already paid for it,” she said.

Support for freer, riskier play in Britain has built to the point where even prominent safety advocates endorse the idea. But change on the ground is patchy. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 6:47 pm

Scarred by school shootings

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John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich report in the Washington Post:

Over the past two decades, a handful of massacres that have come to define school shootings in this country are almost always remembered for the students and educators slain. Death tolls are repeated so often that the numbers and places become permanently linked.

What those figures fail to capture, though, is the collateral damage of this uniquely American crisis. Beginning with Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours, according to a year-long Washington Post analysis. This means that the number of children who have been shaken by gunfire in the places they go to learn exceeds the population of Eugene, Ore., or Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Many are never the same.

School shootings remain extremely rare, representing a tiny fraction of the gun violence epidemic that, on average, leaves a child bleeding or dead every hour in the United States. While few of those incidents happen on campuses, the ones that do have spread fear across the country, changing the culture of education and how kids grow up.

Every day, threats send classrooms into lockdowns that can frighten students, even when they turn out to be false alarms. Thousands of schools conduct active-shooter drills in which kids as young as 4 hide in darkened closets and bathrooms from imaginary murderers.

“It’s no longer the default that going to school is going to make you feel safe,” said Bruce D. Perry, a psychiatrist and one of the country’s leading experts on childhood trauma. “Even kids who come from middle-class and upper-middle-class communities literally don’t feel safe in schools.”

Samantha Haviland understands the waves of fear created by the attacks as well as anyone.

At 16, she survived the carnage at Columbine High, a seminal moment in the evolution of modern school shootings. Now 35, she is the director of counseling for Denver’s public school system and has spent almost her entire professional life treating traumatized kids. Yet, she’s never fully escaped the effects of what happened to her on that morning in Littleton, Colo. The nightmares, always of being chased, lingered for years. Even now, the images of children walking out of schools with their hands up is too much for her to bear.

On Saturday, some of Haviland’s students, born in the years after Columbine, will participate in the Denver “March For Our Lives” to protest school gun violence. In Washington, students from Parkland, Fla. — still grieving the friends and classmates they lost last month — will lead a rally of as many as 500,000 people in the nation’s capital.

“They were born and raised in a society where mass shootings are a thing,” she said, recalling how much her community and schoolmates blamed themselves for the inexplicable attack by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. “These students are saying, ‘No, no — these things are happening because you all can’t figure it out.’ They’re angry, and I think that anger is appropriate. And I hope they don’t let us get away with it.”

Mass shootings at predominantly white schools draw the most attention from journalists and lawmakers, but The Post has found that children of color are far more likely to experience campus gun violence — nearly twice as much for Hispanic students and three times for black students.

In analyzing school shootings, The Post defined them far more narrowly than others who have compiled data over the past few years. Everytown for Gun Safety’s tally, for example, contains episodes of gunfire even on late nights and weekends, when no students or staff were present. The Gun Violence Archive disregards those events but does include others that occur at extracurricular activities, such as football games and dances. (Read more about our methodology.)

The Post only counted incidents that happened immediately before, during or just after classes to pinpoint the number of students who were present and affected at the time. Shootings at after-hours events, accidental discharges that caused no injuries, and suicides that occurred privately or didn’t pose a threat to other children were excluded, though many of these can be deeply disturbing. Gunfire at colleges and universities, which affect young adults rather than children, also were excluded.

In total, The Post found an average of 10 school shootings per year since Columbine, with a low of five in 2002 and a high of 15 in 2014. Less than three months into 2018, there have been 11 shootings, already making this year among the worst on record.

At least 129 kids, educators, staff and family members have been killed in assaults during school hours, and another 255 have been injured. But the analysis went much deeper than that, exploring the types of attacks, the impact on minority students, the role of armed resource officers, the weapons used and where they were obtained, and the characteristics of shooters.

Schools in at least 36 states and the District have experienced a shooting, according to The Post’s count. They happen in big cities and small towns, in affluent suburbs and rural communities. The precise circumstances in each incident differed, but what all of them had in common was the profound damage they left behind.

The day had just begun at the high school in Memphis when a sophomore walked up to a senior during gym class and pointed a .22-caliber pistol at him. In a room packed with 75 students on that morning in 2008, Corneilous Cheers, 17, opened fire, striking his schoolmate in the leg, the groin and the head. As his rival bled on the floor, Cheers turned to their gym teacher at Mitchell High and handed him the gun.

“It’s over now,” the teen said.

The term “school shooting” most often conjures a black-clad gunman roaming the hallways, firing at anyone he sees, but those attacks are considerably less common than the ones aimed at specific victims.

Cheers, for example, shot the other teen after a feud that peaked, investigators said, in an off-campus confrontation days earlier. Although determining motive is not always possible, The Post found that targeted shootings were about three times as common as those that appeared indiscriminate.

This underscores just how difficult it is for schools to stop most shooters, particularly in a country with more than 250 million guns. The majority intend to harm just one or two people, so the attacks typically end within seconds, leaving little or no time for staff to intervene.

Keeping weapons out of schools has proved just as difficult. At Mitchell High, students had passed through metal detectors one week earlier, but they weren’t being used the day Cheers brought his pistol into the building. Even schools that screen students every day sometimes fail to prevent gun violence from spilling onto their campuses. . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 6:01 pm

Can an Algorithm Tell When Kids Are in Danger?

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Dan Hurley reports in the NY Times Magazine:

The call to Pittsburgh’s hotline for child abuse and neglect came in at 3:50 p.m. on the Wednesday after Thanksgiving 2016. Sitting in one of 12 cubicles, in a former factory now occupied by the Allegheny County Police Department and the back offices of the department of Children, Youth and Families, the call screener, Timothy Byrne, listened as a preschool teacher described what a 3-year-old child had told him. The little girl had said that a man, a friend of her mother’s, had been in her home when he “hurt their head and was bleeding and shaking on the floor and the bathtub.” The teacher said he had seen on the news that the mother’s boyfriend had overdosed and died in the home.

According to the case records, Byrne searched the department’s computer database for the family, finding allegations dating back to 2008: parental substance abuse, inadequate hygiene, domestic violence, inadequate provision of food and physical care, medical neglect and sexual abuse by an uncle involving one of the girl’s two older siblings. But none of those allegations had been substantiated. And while the current claim, of a man dying of an overdose in the child’s home, was shocking, it fell short of the minimal legal requirement for sending out a caseworker to knock on the family’s door and open an investigation.

Before closing the file, Byrne had to estimate the risk to the child’s future well-being. Screeners like him hear far more alarming stories of children in peril nearly every day. He keyed into the computer: “Low risk.” In the box where he had to select the likely threat to the children’s immediate safety, he chose “No safety threat.”

Had the decision been left solely to Byrne — as these decisions are left to screeners and their supervisors in jurisdictions around the world — that might have been the end of it. He would have, in industry parlance, screened the call out. That’s what happens to around half of the 14,000 or so allegations received each year in Allegheny County — reports that might involve charges of serious physical harm to the child, but can also include just about anything that a disgruntled landlord, noncustodial parent or nagging neighbor decides to call about. Nationally, 42 percent of the four million allegations received in 2015, involving 7.2 million children, were screened out, often based on sound legal reasoning but also because of judgment calls, opinions, biases and beliefs. And yet more United States children died in 2015 as a result of abuse and neglect — 1,670, according to the federal Administration for Children and Families; or twice that many, according to leaders in the field — than died of cancer.

This time, however, the decision to screen out or in was not Byrne’s alone. In August 2016, Allegheny County became the first jurisdiction in the United States, or anywhere else, to let a predictive-analytics algorithm — the same kind of sophisticated pattern analysis used in credit reports, the automated buying and selling of stocks and the hiring, firing and fielding of baseball players on World Series-winning teams — offer up a second opinion on every incoming call, in hopes of doing a better job of identifying the families most in need of intervention. And so Byrne’s final step in assessing the call was to click on the icon of the Allegheny Family Screening Tool.

After a few seconds, his screen displayed a vertical color bar, running from a green 1 (lowest risk) at the bottom to a red 20 (highest risk) on top. The assessment was based on a statistical analysis of four years of prior calls, using well over 100 criteria maintained in eight databases for jails, psychiatric services, public-welfare benefits, drug and alcohol treatment centers and more. For the 3-year-old’s family, the score came back as 19 out of a possible 20.

Over the course of an 18-month investigation, officials in the county’s Office of Children, Youth and Families (C.Y.F.) offered me extraordinary access to their files and procedures, on the condition that I not identify the families involved. Exactly what in this family’s background led the screening tool to score it in the top 5 percent of risk for future abuse and neglect cannot be known for certain. But a close inspection of the files revealed that the mother was attending a drug-treatment center for addiction to opiates; that she had a history of arrest and jail on drug-possession charges; that the three fathers of the little girl and her two older siblings had significant drug or criminal histories, including allegations of violence; that one of the older siblings had a lifelong physical disability; and that the two younger children had received diagnoses of developmental or mental-health issues.

Finding all that information about the mother, her three children and their three fathers in the county’s maze of databases would have taken Byrne hours he did not have; call screeners are expected to render a decision on whether or not to open an investigation within an hour at most, and usually in half that time. Even then, he would have had no way of knowing which factors, or combinations of factors, are most predictive of future bad outcomes. The algorithm, however, searched the files and rendered its score in seconds. And so now, despite Byrne’s initial skepticism, the high score prompted him and his supervisor to screen the case in, marking it for further investigation. Within 24 hours, a C.Y.F. caseworker would have to “put eyes on” the children, meet the mother and see what a score of 19 looks like in flesh and blood.

For decades, debates over how to protect children from abuse and neglect have centered on which remedies work best: Is it better to provide services to parents to help them cope or should the kids be whisked out of the home as soon as possible? If they are removed, should they be placed with relatives or with foster parents? Beginning in 2012, though, two pioneering social scientists working on opposite sides of the globe — Emily Putnam-Hornstein, of the University of Southern California, and Rhema Vaithianathan, now a professor at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand — began asking a different question: Which families are most at risk and in need of help? “People like me are saying, ‘You know what, the quality of the services you provide might be just fine — it could be that you are providing them to the wrong families,’ ” Vaithianathan told me.

Vaithianathan, who is in her early 50s, emigrated from Sri Lanka to New Zealand as a child; Putnam-Hornstein, a decade younger, has lived in California for years. Both share an enthusiasm for the prospect of using public databases for the public good. Three years ago, the two were asked to investigate how predictive analytics could improve Allegheny County’s handling of maltreatment allegations, and they eventually found themselves focused on the call-screening process. They were brought in following a series of tragedies in which children died after their family had been screened out — the nightmare of every child-welfare agency.

One of the worst failures occurred on June 30, 2011, when firefighters were called to a blaze coming from a third-floor apartment on East Pittsburgh-McKeesport Boulevard. When firefighters broke down the locked door, the body of 7-year-old KiDonn Pollard-Ford was found under a pile of clothes in his bedroom, where he had apparently sought shelter from the smoke. KiDonn’s 4-year-old brother, KrisDon Williams-Pollard, was under a bed, not breathing. He was resuscitated outside, but died two days later in the hospital.

The children, it turned out, had been left alone by their mother, Kiaira Pollard, 27, when she went to work that night as an exotic dancer. She was said by neighbors to be an adoring mother of her two kids; the older boy was getting good grades in school. For C.Y.F., the bitterest part of the tragedy was that the department had received numerous calls about the family but had screened them all out as unworthy of a full investigation.

Incompetence on the part of the screeners? No, says Vaithianathan, who spent months with Putnam-Hornstein burrowing through the county’s databases to build their algorithm, based on all 76,964 allegations of maltreatment made between April 2010 and April 2014. “What the screeners have is a lot of data,” she told me, “but it’s quite difficult to navigate and know which factors are most important. Within a single call to C.Y.F., you might have two children, an alleged perpetrator, you’ll have Mom, you might have another adult in the household — all these people will have histories in the system that the person screening the call can go investigate. But the human brain is not that deft at harnessing and making sense of all that data.”

She and Putnam-Hornstein linked many dozens of data points — just about everything known to the county about each family before an allegation arrived — to predict how the children would fare afterward. What they found was startling and disturbing: 48 percent of the lowest-risk families were being screened in, while 27 percent of the highest-risk families were being screened out. Of the 18 calls to C.Y.F. between 2010 and 2014 in which a child was later killed or gravely injured as a result of parental maltreatment, eight cases, or 44 percent, had been screened out as not worth investigation.

According to Rachel Berger, a pediatrician who directs the child-abuse research center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and who led research for the federal Commission to Eliminate Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities, the problem is not one of finding a needle in a haystack but of finding the right needle in a pile of needles. “All of these children are living in chaos,” she told me. “How does C.Y.F. pick out which ones are most in danger when they all have risk factors? You can’t believe the amount of subjectivity that goes into child-protection decisions. That’s why I love predictive analytics. It’s finally bringing some objectivity and science to decisions that can be so unbelievably life-changing.”

The morning after the algorithm prompted C.Y.F. to investigate the family of the 3-year-old who witnessed a fatal drug overdose, a caseworker named Emily Lankes knocked on their front door. The weathered, two-story brick building was surrounded by razed lots and boarded-up homes. No one answered, so Lankes drove to the child’s preschool. The little girl seemed fine. Lankes then called the mother’s cellphone. The woman asked repeatedly why she was being investigated, but agreed to a visit the next afternoon.

The home, Lankes found when she returned, had little furniture and no beds, though the 20-something mother insisted that she was in the process of securing those and that the children slept at relatives’ homes. All the appliances worked. There was food in the refrigerator. The mother’s disposition was hyper and erratic, but she insisted that she was clean of drugs and attending a treatment center. All three children denied having any worries about how their mother cared for them. Lankes would still need to confirm the mother’s story with her treatment center, but for the time being, it looked as though the algorithm had struck out.

Charges of faulty forecasts have accompanied the emergence of predictive analytics into public policy. And when it comes to criminal justice, where analytics are now entrenched as a tool for judges and parole boards, even larger complaints have arisen about the secrecy surrounding the workings of the algorithms themselves — most of which are developed, marketed and closely guarded by private firms. That’s a chief objection lodged against two Florida companies: Eckerd Connects, a nonprofit, and its for-profit partner, MindShare Technology. Their predictive-analytics package, called Rapid Safety Feedback, is now being used, the companies say, by child-welfare agencies in Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Early last month, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services announced that it would stop using the program, for which it had already been billed $366,000 — in part because Eckerd and MindShare refused to reveal details about what goes into their formula, even after the deaths of children whose cases had not been flagged as high risk.

The Allegheny Family Screening Tool developed by Vaithianathan and Putnam-Hornstein is different: It is owned by the county. Its workings are public. Its criteria are described in academic publications and picked apart by local officials. At public meetings held in downtown Pittsburgh before the system’s adoption, lawyers, child advocates, parents and even former foster children asked hard questions not only of the academics but also of the county administrators who invited them. . .

Continue reading.

Once again we see that government services can be better than services provided by for-profit corporations with proprietary interests.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 5:30 pm

Law enforcement hijinks, including: 8 full-time cops, 31 military vehicles

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Radley Balko has a list of good links in the Washington Post. Here are some of them:

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 4:34 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Taxes, Welfare, and Income Inequality: Here’s the CBO’s Latest Report

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post filled with good charts. Here’s just one:

As you can see, the income tax is the fairest, which excise taxes + payroll taxes + corporate income taxes are quite regressive.

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 4:21 pm

Pea crabs, the redneck toothpick

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Paul Lukas has an interesting article in Taste:

Back in November, I attended an oyster roast on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, where one out of every dozen or so oysters I ate had a bonus treat: a tiny orange crab, roughly the size of a dime, lurking inside the oyster’s shell. Since the oysters had been roasted, the crabs had been cooked along with them. I saw other people eating the crabs whole, so I did the same with one of mine. It was delicious—a bit sweet, a bit briny, and soft with just a hint of crunch.

I mentioned to a guy standing next to me that I’d never seen these little crabs before. “They’re even better when you shuck the raw oysters, because then the crabs are still alive,” he said in a thick Virginia drawl. “I’ll just pop one in my mouth, let him scrabble around in there a bit. That’s what we call a redneck toothpick!” Several other people mentioned that finding a crab inside the oyster was a sign of good luck.

I’d been eating oysters for most of my life—in fact, I grew up in the Long Island town of Blue Point, namesake of the bluepoint oyster—but this was new to me. I soon learned that the little edible creatures are called pea crabs, or sometimes oyster crabs. They enter the oysters (and sometimes other mollusks, like mussels, scallops, and clams) as larvae and then grow to maturity inside their host. Because they’re protected by the oyster, their shells remain soft and slightly translucent. Technically speaking, pea crabs are classified as parasites, because they feed off of the oyster’s food supply, but they don’t harm the oysters.

“The oyster takes in enough food for both of them to be healthy,” says Peter Fu, chef de cuisine at the Grand Central Oyster Bar in New York City. “And the crab doesn’t diminish the oyster’s quality in any way. Really, it’s a sign of a thriving ecosystem.”

If you’re not familiar with pea crabs, there are three likely reasons for that. First, pea crabs are more common in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean, with the Long Island Sound constituting the northern edge of their range. So if you prefer oysters from colder North Atlantic waters, as I do, or from the Gulf Coast or the West Coast, you’re unlikely to encounter them. Second, pea crabs are more common in wild oysters, not the farmed product that constitutes an increasing share of the oyster market.

But the biggest reason you may not have seen a pea crab is that most oyster consumption takes place at restaurants, where shuckers typically pick out any crabs they encounter. “We just discard them,” says Fu, who estimated that the Oyster Bar goes through as many as 1,000 pea crabs on a busy day. “If we miss one, our waiters are trained to tell the guest that it’s natural, like finding a beetle in your salad greens. One time there was a particularly upset customer, so I went out and explained that they’re harmless and also mentioned that George Washington was a great fan of pea crabs.”

That’s right, George Washington. America’s first president has become a posthumous pitchman of sorts for pea crabs. Many published references to them mention that Washington loved having the tiny creatures sprinkled atop his oyster stew, a story that has gained traction among pea crab aficionados. But Mary Thompson, a research historian at Mount Vernon’s Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington, says she’d never even heard of pea crabs, much less of Washington’s supposed fondness for them. “It’s true that Washington loved fish of pretty much any kind,” she said. “But we’ve been plagued for years by stories of one food after another that people claim were a favorite of George Washington without citing a period source. Unfortunately, that makes these stories hearsay at best.”

Sketchy George Washington connections notwithstanding, pea crabs have a rich history and once had a much higher profile. A 1913 New York Times article refers to them as “the epicure’s delight” and describes shucking houses saving the little crabs, blanching them, and then packaging them in glass bottles for retail sale. Pea crabs were also commonly featured in old cookbooks. A 1901 volume entitled 300 Ways to Cook and Serve Shell Fish features 16 different recipes for them (one of which matter-of-factly calls for 500 crabs!)

So what happened? Why did pea crabs become an obscure footnote in oyster culture? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 4:14 pm

Posted in Food, Low carb

Republicans Don’t Care About the Russia Scandal. They Just Want Trump to Be a Better Liar.

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Jonathan Chait in New York magazine:

On Tuesday, in preparation for his phone call with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin, President Trump was given a briefing paper directinghim to condemn Russia’s poisoning of a double agent on British soil and NOT to congratulate Putin on his rigged election. (“DO NOT CONGRATULATE,” read the all-caps, but apparently still too subtle, instructions.) Instead, Trump went the other way. He decided not to mention the awkward attempted murder and did congratulate Putin.

Republicans have responded to this episode with outrage. But their indignation is directed not at a president who has once again demonstrated his bizarre, deeply rooted affinity for Putin. Instead, they are angry that we know about this episode at all. “I don’t agree with congratulating #Putin but bigger outrage is this leak that could only come from someone in @POTUS inner circle,” says Marco Rubio. Former Bush administration press secretary Ari Fleischer complains, “Who leaks this stuff? This WH still is disloyal to the president and to each other. What a mess.” White House chief of staff John Kelly “is furious over the leak,” reports Politico. A Republican aide gripes to Axios, “It is a disservice to the president when every single thing and every single thought gets leaked out … I don’t understand why people don’t get that. It’s not fair to the president, to his agenda, and to those who work hard every day to move the ball down the field.”

It is obviously natural to want the White House to avoid leaking. What’s unnatural is the Republican belief that the leaking, rather than the subject of the leaks, is the underlying problem.

The predominant theory of the case in Republican circles, as I arguedrecently, is that Trump is an innocent man who acts guilty for no apparent reason. This explains their fixation with his tweeting, which is the safest and most common aspect of the Trump president for Republicans to question in public. Twitter is an open-access channel into his mind, into which Trump constantly feeds unfiltered confessions that defeat their efforts to spin on his behalf. Republicans are trying to make the case that, say, Andrew McCabe was fired for legitimate violations of FBI policy, and then Trump writes a tweetmaking it seem quite evident that he was fired because Trump personally hates and wants to discredit him.

Ed Rogers, the Republican lobbyist and America’s worst columnist, has a new column noting that  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 4:11 pm

Primeval Salt Shakes Up Ideas on How the Atmosphere Got Its Oxygen

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Nola Taylor Redd writes in Scientific American:

Ancient sea salt drilled from a geologic basin in Russia is providing dramatic new clues as to how Earth’s early atmosphere became oxygen-rich—allowing life as we know it to evolve. Buried deep beneath the surface for billions of years, the salt reveals surprising clues about the chemistry of the ocean and atmosphere from long ago.

The salt, excavated by an international team led by Russian scientists, is about a billion years older than other, similar geologic samples. Its age puts it smack in the middle of Earth’s Great Oxygenation Event, the ancient period in which oxygen began to dominate atmospheric chemistry. “This is a truly unique, one-of-a-kind deposit,” says Clara Blättler, a geochemist at Princeton University. Blättler is the lead author of a study appearing in the March 23 Science on the salty new samples. They are made up of minerals left behind when water evaporates. “Because these evaporite minerals are our most direct way of sampling ancient sea waters, this deposit gives us a snapshot of seawater in the interval time when we don’t really have any other direct constraints.”

Within the three-kilometer-long, cylindrical core excavated from the Russian basin, Blättler and her colleagues identified a 600-meter-thick deposit of sulfate-rich materials, including halite (aka sodium chloride)—the crystalline progenitor of common table salt. The deposit’s immense size and various trace geochemical markers, Blättler says, both suggest it formed in ocean water rather than in any freshwater source.

Over a billion years ago, the team speculates, ocean water covered the Lake Onega river basin in the Russian Republic of Karelia on the country’s western border with Finland. Brine washing into a shallow part of the basin was trapped and eventually evaporated, leaving behind the salts it carried. The thickness of the deposit reveals the process recurred many times, gradually building up the reservoir the Russian researchers later excavated. “There’s no way you can form that much from just evaporating one batch,” says Mark Claire, a researcher at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland and a co-author of the research.

The team’s analysis shows this ancient ocean water carried roughly 20 percent as many sulfates as are found in modern seawater. Sulfate concentration in ocean water is a key tracer of how much oxygen is the atmosphere—and how it gets there in the first place.

This is the first direct quantitative measurement of the otherwise-murky chemistry of the ocean more than two billion years ago, according to Timothy Lyons, a geochemist at the University of California, Riverside, who was not involved in the research. “What they are doing is as reliable as these things can ever be in rocks this old,” he says. The results are consistent with other, more circumstantial records left by carbon and trace minerals, he adds.

Other sulfate evaporite samples are rare. The characteristic that allows the sulfates to dissolve into water can also make them hard to find; when water washes over a previous deposit it can redissolve the evaporites, erasing the records and laying down newer ones. That means similar deposits are few and far between. Blättler says her samples clearly did not interact with much water—or they would have disappeared. “For some unknown geological reason these were preserved, and they were a little bit unexpected,” she says.


Three billion years ago Earth’s atmosphere lacked the abundant molecular oxygen (O2) that makes air breathable for complex life today. It was not until the Great Oxygenation Event, a mysterious transition that occurred from 2.7 to 2.4 billion years ago, that this gas—crucial to life as we know it—began to substantially accumulate in the atmosphere. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 1:19 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?

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One guess is that they feel powerless and owning a lot of guns makes them feel less powerless. But that’s a guess. Jeremy Adam Smith in Scientific American explores other reasons:

Since the 2008 election of President Obama, the number of firearmsmanufactured in the U.S. has tripled, while imports have doubled. This doesn’t mean more households have guns than ever before—that percentage has stayed fairly steady for decades. Rather, more guns are being stockpiled by a small number of individuals. Three percent of the population now owns half of the country’s firearms, says a recent, definitive study from the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University.

So, who is buying all these guns—and why?

The short, broad-brush answer to the first part of that question is this: men, who on average possess almost twice the number of guns female owners do. But not all men. Some groups of men are much more avid gun consumers than others. The American citizen most likely to own a gun is a white male—but not just any white guy. According to a growing number of scientific studies, the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisis in meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.


When Northland College sociologist Angela Stroud studied applications for licenses to carry concealed firearms in Texas, which exploded after President Obama was elected, she found applicants were overwhelmingly dominated by white men. In interviews, they told her that they wanted to protect themselves and the people they love.

“When men became fathers or got married, they started to feel very vulnerable, like they couldn’t protect families,” she says. “For them, owning a weapon is part of what it means to be a good husband a good father.” That meaning is “rooted in fear and vulnerability—very motivating emotions.”

But Stroud also discovered another motivation: racial anxiety. “A lot of people talked about how important Obama was to get a concealed-carry license: ‘He’s for free health care, he’s for welfare.’ They were asking, ‘Whatever happened to hard work?’” Obama’s presidency, they feared, would empower minorities to threaten their property and families.

The insight Stroud gained from her interviews is backed up by many, many studies. A 2013 paper by a team of United Kingdom researchers found that a one-point jump in the scale they used to measure racism increased the odds of owning a gun by 50 percent. A 2016 study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that racial resentment among whites fueled opposition to gun control. This drives political affiliations: A 2017 study in the Social Studies Quarterly found that gun owners had become 50 percent more likely to vote Republican since 1972—and that gun culture had become strongly associated with explicit racism.

For many conservative men, the gun feels like a force for order in a chaotic world, suggests a study published in December of last year. In a series of three experiments, Steven Shepherd and Aaron C. Kay asked hundreds of liberals and conservatives to imagine holding a handgun—and found that conservatives felt less risk and greater personal control than liberal counterparts.

This wasn’t about familiarity with real-world guns—gun ownership and experience did not affect results. Instead, conservative attachment to guns was based entirely on ideology and emotions.


That’s an insight echoed by another study published last year. Baylor University sociologists Paul Froese and F. Carson Mencken created a “gun empowerment scale” designed to measure how a nationally representative sample of almost 600 owners felt about their weapons. Their study found that people at the highest level of their scale—the ones who felt most emotionally and morally attached to their guns—were 78 percent white and 65 percent male.

“We found that white men who have experienced economic setbacks or worry about their economic futures are the group of owners most attached to their guns,” says Froese. “Those with high attachment felt that having a gun made them a better and more respected member of their communities.”

That wasn’t true for women and non-whites. In other words, they may have suffered setbacks—but women and people of color weren’t turning to guns to make themselves feel better. “This suggests that these owners have other sources of meaning and coping when facing hard times,” notes Froese—often, religion. Indeed, Froese and Mencken found that religious faith seemed to put the brakes on white men’s attachment to guns.

For these economically insecure, irreligious white men, “the gun is a ubiquitous symbol of power and independence, two things white males are worried about,” says Froese. “Guns, therefore, provide a way to regain their masculinity, which they perceive has been eroded by increasing economic impotency.”

Both Froese and Stroud found pervasive anti-government sentiments among their study participants. “This is interesting because these men tend to see themselves as devoted patriots, but make a distinction between the federal government and the ‘nation,’ says Froese. “On that point, I expect that many in this group see the ‘nation’ as being white.”

Investing guns with this kind of moral and emotional meaning has many consequences, the researchers say. “Put simply, owners who are more attached to their guns are most likely to believe that guns are a solution to our social ills,” says Froese. “For them, more ‘good’ people with guns would drastically reduce violence and increase civility. Again, it reflects a hero narrative, which many white man long to feel a part of.”

Stroud’s work echoes this conclusion. “They tell themselves all kinds of stories about criminals and criminal victimization,” she says. “But the story isn’t just about criminals. It’s about the good guy—and that’s how they see themselves: ‘I work hard, I take care of my family, and there are people who aren’t like that.’ When we tell stories about the Other, we’re really telling stories about ourselves.”


Unfortunately, the people most likely to be killed by the guns of white men aren’t the “bad guys,” presumably criminals or terrorists. It’s themselves—and their families.

White men aren’t just the Americans most likely to own guns; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they’re also the people most likely to put them in their own mouths and pull the trigger, especially when they’re in some kind of economic distress. A white man is three times more likely to shoot himself than a black man—while the chances that a white man will be killed by a black man are extremely slight. Most murders and shoot-outs don’t happen between strangers. They unfold within social networks, among people of the same race.

A gun in the home is far more likely to kill or wound the people who live there than is a burglar or serial killer. . .

Continue reading.

It has been pointed out that the idea that school shootings are done by kids who were bullied omits one salient fact: many of the most bullied are gay, or trans, or minority kids, but the shooters are virtually always white males. There’s something about white males that is different and makes them turn to guns more than is true of other demographics.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 12:58 pm

My 4-point breakfast

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Above you see the makings of my breakfast, which is 4 WW points.

I start by chopping, which I in fact enjoy:

Then I heat 2 teaspoons of oil (3 WW points) in my Field No. 8 cast-iron skillet and sauté the vegetables for several minutes, until the mushrooms release their liquid and the vegetables are tender.

I heat my 8″ T-fal pan, add 1 teaspoon of olive oil (1 WW point), and cook the egg over-easy, which allows me the satisfaction of flipping the egg when the bottom is done. (You can practice the flipping motion by putting some dried lentils or beans in the pan and flipping those over the sink (to catch spills).)

The cooked vegetables and mushrooms go into a bowl, the egg on top, and I have my breakfast. A good amount of healthful food for just 4 WW points, the egg and the vegetables all being zero points. (Here’s a list of zero-point foods. I try to make up recipes with these because it’s a good idea to focus on foods that you can eat rather than on foods you can’t/shouldn’t.)

I would say this is a healthful breakfast—and note that it is very low in carbs. For a more general summary of how I’m eating nowadays, see this answer on Quora.

Update: I should say that in addition to the above, I take 2 tablespoons (3 points) or 3 tablespoons (5 points) chia seed in a glass of water—stir well to prevent clumping—along with 1 teaspoon inulin. So my total breakfast is 7 or 9 WW points, depending on the amount of chia seed.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 8:14 am

Posted in Food, Low carb, Recipes

Rose fragrances to start the day right

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Rose is a great fragrance, IMO. The Kent Infiniti, a very nice little synthetic, made a very nice lather frm Soap Commander’s Love—True Rose—shaving soap, and the Baili BR161 removed the stubble with aplomb. A finish with a splash of Saint Charles Shave’s Dark Rose, and once more the day starts on a very good note.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2018 at 7:51 am

Posted in Shaving

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