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Housekeeping Note

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 8:17 AM PDT

I'll be off this morning, maybe back this afternoon. Depends on how I feel. Tomorrow for sure, I hope.

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The Worst Genocidal Tweet of the Year, Brought to You by This Former Breitbart Contributor

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 7:42 AM PDT

On Wednesday, a gunman went on a rampage at Fort Hood, Texas—the site of a mass shooting in November 2009—killing three people and injuring at least 16 others before taking his own life. The soldier was being treated for depression and anxiety. His motive remains unclear, and the Fort Hood commanding general told reporters that "there is no indication that this incident is related to terrorism."

When awful things happen, people sometimes express themselves on Twitter. Here's how conservative filmmaker Patrick Dollard, who on Twitter identifies himself as a "contributing journalist" at Breitbart, chose to respond to the news:

Pat Dollard tweet
@patdollard/Twitter

Following this genocidal tweet, Dollard also wrote, "Yeah, Obama's 'heartbroken' over Ft. Hood because it wasn't Muslim terrorism."

Dollard is a former Hollywood agent who has since embedded with US Marines in Iraq and become an aggressive right-wing presence online. "In 2004, having made his name as Steven Soderbergh's agent, Pat Dollard was the stereotypical Hollywood operator: coked-up, Armani-sheathed, separated from his fourth wife, and rapidly self-destructing," according to a 2007 Vanity Fair profile.

We asked the editor of Breitbart, Alex Marlow, and the site's publisher, Stephen Bannon, for a comment on Dollard's slaughter-Muslims tweet. Within minutes, Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Breitbart News, called and said, Dollard "was not a paid contributor and has not contributed for three years. He should not call himself a contributor." Asked if Breitbart would consider publishing future articles submitted by Dollard, Bardella replied, "We have no plans to accept anything. We haven't ruled anything out. But he is not a Breitbart contributor."

We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for April 3, 2014

Thu Apr. 3, 2014 7:29 AM PDT

Marines with 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 4th Marine Regiment, execute an amphibious assault simulation for Ssang Yong 14 at Dogue Beach, Pohang, South Korea, April 1, 2014. Exercise Ssang Yong is conducted annually in the ROK to enhance interoperability between U.S. and ROK forces by performing a full spectrum of amphibious operations while showcasing sea-based power projection in the Pacific. (U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Sara A. Medina/Released)

In Cargill's Chicken Factories in China, Workers "Live on the Farm" and "Can't Leave"

| Thu Apr. 3, 2014 3:00 AM PDT
Mornin', neighbors.

In a wide-ranging interview with the India-based Economic Times, Cargill CEO David MacLennan talks about how the globe-spanning agribusiness giant managed to turn the 2008 economic crisis into a "record year of profits"—a remarkable performance, given that that year's food-price spikes pushed 115 million people into hunger, as the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization estimated. And then MacLennan drops this nugget on his company's poultry operations in China:

So we are building a facility in Shuzou, Nanjing, which will have 45 farms and it's a chicken facility that will process 1.2 million chicken every week. That's 60 million chicken a year. We have a hatchery, where we hatch the eggs and one-day old chicks, DOCs, get transported to the farms. The employees live on the farm. They can't leave because then you increase the risk of disease. So you grow the chicken for 44 days. The chicken goes to the plants, get processed, might be for KFC and McDonald's, might be for retail. They can count on us because they know where every one of their chicken came from. It came from us because we're fully integrated as opposed to other companies. [Emphasis added.]

I should note that US meat giant Tyson, too, is rolling out fully integrated and vast chicken facilities in China. But wait, back up: like employees at Foxconn, the company that manufactures Apple products, Cargill's poultry workers will live on-site. But rather than reside amid the production of iPhones and whatnot—apparently, not the most pleasant place to call home—Cargill's workers will live amid the growth and slaughter of 1.2 million chickens per week—and all the blood, guts, and vast stores of chickenshit that implies.

MacLennan doesn't mention whether the live-in requirement the company imposes on its Chinese workers also applies in its poultry operations in other developing countries. But he does boast that the company runs "very big" chicken operations n Nicaragua and Costa Rica, adding that it plans to "develop fully-integrated poultry breeding, hatching, growth and processing" in other countries around the world.

I am reaching out to Cargill to hear more about this innovative chicken factory/worker-housing mashup in China. Kind of gives new meaning to the industry habit of calling its large livestock-raising facilities "confinements."

Update: Cargill's assistant vice president for corporate responsibility has responded: 

We can understand how that might have been confusing. The workers at our chicken plant in China come and go as they please. What our CEO was talking about was a few specialized jobs at the farm where the chickens are raised. In a chicken barn, two or three people go into the barn with the chicks when they’re a day old and stay with them as they grow for 45 days. This is to prevent germs from getting into the barn. The workers have their own quarters, with kitchens and television, etc. When the chicks have grown, the workers leave for about three weeks. -Mark Murphy, Asst. Vice President for Corporate Responsibility, Cargill

The Wall Street Journal Needs to Find Some New Clip Art

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 7:19 PM PDT

Wait a second. Did the Wall Street Journal editorial page really use the Daily Kos logo to illustrate an op-ed by billionaire arch-conservative Charles Koch? Sure, it's an out-of-date logo, but even so, do they not have any idea that this piece of clip art has long been associated with the Great Orange Satan? Color me amused.

Is it Time to Replace the Cult of Finland With the Cult of New Jersey?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 5:04 PM PDT

Vikram Bath takes on the cult of Finland today. What's that? You didn't realize Finland had a cult? Well, it does in the education community, where Finland's consistently high scores on the international PISA test make it the go-to destination for education writers looking for agreeable junkets they can turn into long-form thumbsuckers about how American schools are doing everything wrong.

But Bath points out that Finland isn't actually the world's top performer on the PISA test. Shanghai does better. So does Hong Kong. Now, maybe those are cherry-picked examples that owe their success to government authorities who game the tests, and therefore deserve to be ignored. But Japan does better too. And South Korea. And Taiwan. So why have they fallen out of vogue lately in the popular press? Why do we hear endless tributes to Finland instead? Bath suggests the reason we like Finland is fairly obvious:

“Be like Shanghai” is for the Wall Street Journal crowd. Shanghai is rote memorization and beating your kids and no bathroom breaks and pretending you aren’t numbed by classical music. Finland is culture and castles and liking classical music because you’d be a better person and maybe windmills.

Fine. Asian countries are culturally different. Maybe it makes sense to look instead at countries that are more similar to America. The problem is, Finland isn't really much like America either. It's ethnically pretty homogeneous and has extremely low rates of poverty. Obviously tackling poverty would be great, but facts are facts: we're not likely to reduce our poverty rate to 3 percent anytime soon. So does that mean we're stuck with no place to aspire to at all?

No. There is still a much, much better non-Asian model. It’s Massachusetts.

14% of children in Massachusetts live in relative poverty. That’s still below the US average, but much more American-like than Finland.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has already figured out how to deal with all the existing regulations imposed by the US government.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has figured out how to cooperate productively with US teachers unions.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has demonstrated how to get results from US-trained teachers rather than masters holders from Finnish research schools, of which the world only has so many.

Unlike Finland, Massachusetts has experienced success teaching real American students who go home every day to be subjected to American parenting styles.

I'd add a fairly large caveat to this: When you disaggregate scores, Massachusetts still does well, but not spectacularly well. Judging from the latest NAEP scores for eighth graders, Massachusetts does a great job with its white students, a good job with its black students, and a fairly mediocre job with its Hispanic students. Overall, they perform pretty well, but part of that is due to the fact that Massachusetts has a very high proportion of white students and apparently does a superb job of teaching them.

Nevertheless, Bath's point is well taken. But you might want to choose a different state: New Jersey, which has a high composite score not because it's mostly white (it's about 60 percent white), but because it does an outstanding job of teaching kids of all colors. Judging by NAEP scores, it ranks among the top four states in both math and reading for whites, blacks, and Hispanics.

Of course, New Jersey's poverty rate is pretty low, and we know that poverty is a prime cause of poor educational outcomes. This helps account for New Jersey's high scores, and also acts as an object lesson in not fetishizing particular countries, states, or programs. This stuff is complicated, and there's no point in just substituting one simplistic analysis for another. That said, I'd say Bath is worth listening to. We should take good ideas from wherever we can find them, but there's not much reason to go haring around the world looking for educational lodestars to emulate. We have 51 laboratories of democracy right here at home, all of which are more culturally similar to each other than any foreign country is. And some of them do pretty well, already working within the framework of American culture, American laws, American ethnic makeup, and American parents. Why not study them instead?

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Fox News Sends Reporter to Cover Spring Break in Florida. But What About Benghazi?

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 5:04 PM PDT

Fox News host and prominent knockout-game-myth purveyor Sean Hannity announced this week an investigation into spring break. Here's the first installment, in which Fox correspondent Ainsley Earhardt heads to Panama City. (For the second installment, click here). The Hannity segment covers binge-drinking, twerking, premarital sex, public drug use, and other things young hooligans perpetrate while on spring break:

"Ainsley recalled that some people were actually having sex on the beach, while girls were flashing the crowds for Mardi Gras-style beads," the Fox News blog reads. (Erin Gloria Ryan of Jezebel has some of the segment's money quotes here, including, "I have vodka and Red Bull and I'm getting crunk than a mug!")

Well, at least it isn't another Fox segment on Benghazi.

Also, you can compare the quality of the very real and outraged Fox coverage of spring break to the very fake and outrage coverage carried out by KHBX—the fictional news team in Comedy Central's short-lived, Zach Galifianakis-starring satire Dog Bites Man. Enjoy:

Nun Reportedly Tells Catholic School Kids That Masturbation Makes Guys Gay

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 1:56 PM PDT

A Catholic nun has caused a firestorm after she allegedly told teens at Charlotte Catholic High School in North Carolina last month that masturbation can turn boys gay, and gay men have up to 1,000 sexual partners. Sister Jane Dominic Laurel, an assistant professor of theology at Aquinas College in Nashville, Tennessee, reportedly has a history of anti-gay rhetoric. In one of her online lectures, she called oral sex an abnormal act that's "imported from the homosexual culture," according to the Charlotte-based LGBT publication, QNotes. A Charlotte Catholic student described the lecture to the news outlet:

She started talking about how gays [sic] people are gay because they have an absent father figure, and therefore they have not received the masculinity they should have from their father ... Also a guy could be gay if he masterbates [sic] and so he thinks he is being turned on by other guys. And then she gave an example of one of her gay 'friends' who said he used to go to a shed with his friends and watch porn and thats why he was gay. … Then she talked about the statistic where gay men have had either over 500 or 1000 sexual partners and after that I got up and went to the bathroom because I should not have had to been subject to that extremely offensive talk.

In one of her online videos Laurel reiterates that "a man's desire for instance, for his father's love, his father's affection, what happens to it? It can become sexualized. And he can begin to think he has a sexual desire for another man, when in fact, he doesn't." She adds that boys who have been sexual abused also use "homosexual acts" as revenge. When reached by phone, Laurel said she hadn't seen all the reports yet, and could not immediately provide comment.

Aquinas College President Sister Mary Sarah Galbraith defended the school presentation in a statement to the Tennessean, maintaining that, "the presentation was given with the intention of showing that human sexuality is a great gift to be treasured and that this gift is given by God." But some North Carolina students didn't agree, starting a Change.org petition that's culminated in a Wednesday meeting to address the concerns, according to the Huffington Post. The students said in their petition: "We reject the suggestion that homosexuality occurs mainly as a result of a parent’s shortcomings, masturbation or pornography."

It's not only private school students that are subject to strange claims during sex-ed lectures. As we reported last year, public schools also invite religious abstinence speakers to talk to students about sex—and sometimes spread misinformation in the process.

Pam Stenzel, an abstinence lecturer who claims to speak to over 500,000 young people each year, allegedly told public school students at George Washington High School in Charleston, West Virginia, last year, "If you take birth control, your mother probably hates you." Shelly Donahue, a speaker for the Colorado-based Center for Relationship Education, told students in a training video posted by the Denver Westword in 2011 that if a guy gets sperm near a girl's vagina, it will turn into a "little Hoover vacuum" and she will become pregnant. Jason Evert, who has scheduled some visits to public schools on his 2014 calendar, advises girls that they should "only lift the veil over your body to the spouse who is worthy to see the glory of that unveiled mystery." To see our full list of abstinence speakers who have given talks in public schools, click here. Good luck, America.

Study: Fad Diets Work (But Not Why You Think)

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 10:58 AM PDT

What's the best diet to follow to get healthy—should you go Paleo, low glycemic, low-carb, Mediterranean, or low-fat? For a paper released last month in the Annual Review of Public Health, Yale medical researchers David Katz and Samuel Meller surveyed the scientific evidence and decided ... all of the above. Specifically, they found that all of these fad diets can be consistent with these basic principles:

The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme. A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches. [Emphasis added.]

But what about the Paleo diet, which encourages meat eating? The authors conclude the "aggregation of evidence" supports meat eating, as long as the "animal foods are themselves the products, directly or ultimately, of pure plant foods—the composition of animal flesh and milk is as much influenced by diet as we are." That's entirely consistent with the Paleo push for meat from pasture-raised animals, and brought to mind a study I wrote about late last year finding that cows fed on grass deliver milk with healthier fat profile than their industrially raised peers.

The Yale paper essentially cuts through the hype of various fad diets and affirms the koan-like advice put forward by author Michael Pollan in his 2008 book In Defense of Food: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." In fact, the authors reference Pollan directly in the chart that summarizes their findings:

 

 

How Democrats Plan to Address the Midterm Blues

| Wed Apr. 2, 2014 10:36 AM PDT

How big is the midterm penalty for Democrats? Eric McGhee tells us in handy chart form. Given President Obama's current approval rating, his model says Democrats would have a 75 percent chance of holding the Senate if this were a presidential election year. But in a midterm, Dems have only a 10 percent chance:

Ed Kilgore writes about this a lot, and warns Democrats not to get too mired in fruitless efforts to attack the "enthusiasm gap." After all, the kind of people affected by enthusiasm are the kind of people who are likely to vote anyway. A loud populist message might thrill them, but it won't do much to affect turnout among minorities and the young, who typically have more tenuous connections to politics. Instead, Democrats should focus on old-fashioned efforts to get out the vote. Or, more accurately, brand new rocket science efforts to get out the vote:

There’s plenty of evidence that turnout can be more reliably affected by direct efforts to identify favorable concentrations of voters and simply get them to the polls, with or without a great deal of “messaging” or for that matter enthusiasm (no one takes your temperature before you cast a ballot). Such get-out-the-vote (GOTV) efforts are the meat-and-potatoes of American politics, even if they invariably get little attention from horse-race pundits. Neighborhood-intensive “knock-and-drag” GOTV campaigns used to be a Democratic speciality thanks to the superior concentration of Democratic (especially minority) voters, though geographical polarization has created more and more equally ripe Republican areas.

....If that’s accurate, then the most important news for Democrats going into November is that the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee is planning to spend $60 million on data-driven GOTV efforts specially focused on reducing the “midterm falloff” factor. The extraordinary success of Terry McAuliffe’s 2013 Virginia gubernatorial campaign in boosting African-American turnout for an off-year election will likely be a model.

Messaging matters. But in midterm elections, shoe leather matters more, even if it's mostly digital shoe leather these days.