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What's Next For Black Lives Matter?

| Mon Jul. 20, 2015 12:58 PM EDT

As you may have heard already, the Netroots Nation gathering in Phoenix this weekend turned into quite the mess. Already suffering from a boycott for choosing the immigrant-unfriendly state of Arizona for this year's gathering, its session with presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley was taken over completely by protesters from the Black Lives Matter movement. They chanted, they heckled, they came up on the stage, and both Sanders and O'Malley reacted like deer in headlights. David Dayen has a pretty thorough rundown of what happened here.

I won't pretend to know very much about either the movement itself or how Sanders and O'Malley should have responded. But it did get me curious: What exactly are their demands? Luckily they have a convenient website, and if you scroll down a bit you come to a button labeled "Learn About Our Demands." Perfect. So here they are:

  • We demand an end to all forms of discrimination and the full recognition of our human rights.
  • We demand an immediate end to police brutality and the murder of Black people and all oppressed people.
  • We demand full, living wage employment for our people.
  • We demand decent housing fit for the shelter of human beings and an end to gentrification.
  • We demand an end to the school to prison pipeline & quality education for all.
  • We demand freedom from mass incarceration and an end to the prison industrial complex.
  • We demand a racial justice agenda from the White House that is inclusive of our shared fate as Black men, women, trans and gender-nonconforming people. Not My Brother’s Keeper, but Our Children’s Keeper.
  • We demand access to affordable healthy food for our neighborhoods.
  • We demand an aggressive attack against all laws, policies, and entities that disenfranchise any community from expressing themselves at the ballot.
  • We demand a public education system that teaches the rich history of Black people and celebrates the contributions we have made to this country and the world.
  • We demand the release of all U.S. political prisoners.
  • We demand an end to the military industrial complex that incentivizes private corporations to profit off of the death and destruction of Black and Brown communities across the globe.

At the risk of being yet another clueless white guy, I'd be curious to know how this translates into concrete initiatives. In the case of presidential candidates, the options are legislation, executive actions, more active enforcement of existing laws, and the bully pulpit. In the third bullet point, for example, are they literally asking for a full-employment bill? Or something else?

Anyway, I was curious about their specific demands, so I figured others might be too. Now that I've seen them, I'm still curious about how they expect this to play out. The protest at Netroots Nation probably did little except to benefit Hillary Clinton, who didn't attend and therefore couldn't be caught flatfooted. In addition, all of the Democratic candidates are likely to at least give more frequent shout-outs to racial issues over the next few days and weeks.

But what's next after that?

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Uber vs. Taxis: Who Does Better in Low-Income Neighborhoods?

| Mon Jul. 20, 2015 11:45 AM EDT

Does Uber routinely pick up riders in good neighborhoods but avoid those who call in from poor neighborhoods? A new study suggests it doesn't. Mark Kleiman, who played a small role in the study, explains what it found:

The design could hardly have been simpler; we sent pairs of riders to call for taxi service or use an app to summon UberX for travel along pre-planned routes. The riders recorded how long it took....After each ride, the riders switched off; whoever took a taxi last time took an Uber next time. Our riders didn’t know that Uber had paid for the study.

The answer was clear-cut, and consistent across neighborhoods and days: summoning an UberX took less than half as long as calling for a taxi, and the trip cost less than half as much. UberX was also more reliable, with no very long wait times.

Even though Uber had no control over our data analysis or interpretation, the fact that Uber paid for the study makes some skepticism about our results natural and proper. We will happily share our data and methods with other research teams for re-analysis and replication.

It was not possible for a single study in a single city to answer all the relevant questions about ridesharing. Would the same relationship hold in other cities? Would it hold in the small number of very-high-crime neighborhoods we excluded in order to protect our riders? Would it hold after dark?....So this study ought to be the beginning of the scientific effort rather than the end.

This is tentatively good news for Uber. As Mark says, it's a beginning, not the final word in how Uber compares to taxis. They didn't test in high-crime neighborhoods, and obviously Uber's requirement for a smartphone and a credit card automatically precludes the very poor from using their service at all.

Still, an interesting first cut, and it's basically fairly cheap research to carry out. The full report is here.

John Oliver Wants Americans to Stop Throwing Out So Much Food

| Mon Jul. 20, 2015 9:46 AM EDT

Americans waste a ton of food. According to a study cited in Sunday's Last Week Tonight, the country throws out nearly $165 billion worth of food every year, amounting to 730 football stadiums full of trash.

"Watching all that food go from farm-to-not-a-table is awful for a bunch of reasons," Oliver said. "First and most obviously, there are many people in this country who need that food. In 2013, nearly 50 million Americans lived in food insecure households meaning that at some point in the year they struggled to put enough food on the table."

All that waste also decomposes in overwhelmingly crowded landfills that produce staggering levels of methane gas.

"If you're thinking, 'But hold on, John, what if I'm an asshole who couldn’t give a shit about America's hungry families or the long-term viability of life on earth?' Well, first let me say, 'Mr. Trump, thank you so much for taking the time to watch this show tonight. It's lovely to have you with us.'"

If being compared to the likes of the Donald isn't enough to move you, Oliver explains food waste is gutting your personal finances way more than you think as well.

Watch below:

 

California Drinking Water: Not Just Vanishing, But Also Widely Contaminated

| Mon Jul. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

In normal years, California residents get about 30 percent of their drinking water from underground aquifers. And in droughts like the current one—with sources like snowmelt from the Sierra Nevada mountains virtually non-existent—groundwater supplies two-thirds of our most populous state's water needs. So it's sobering news that about 20 percent of the groundwater that Californians rely on to keep their taps flowing carries high concentrations of contaminants like arsenic, uranium, and nitrate.

When farms sprouted up, they mobilized the once-stable uranium naturally present in the soil, and the toxic element leached into groundwater.

That's the conclusion of a ten-year US Geological Survey study of 11,000 public-water wells across the state. The researchers tested the wells for a variety of contaminants, looking for levels above thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency and/or the California State Water Resources Board.

Interestingly, naturally occurring trace elements like arsenic, manganese, and uranium turned up at high levels much more commonly than did agriculture-related chemicals like nitrate.

In the ag-heavy San Joaquin Valley (the Central Valley's Southern half), for example, you might expect plenty of nitrate in the water, because of heavy reliance on nitrogen fertilizers. Over the limit of 10 parts per million in water, nitrate can impede the blood's ability to carry oxygen and has been linked to elevated rates of birth defects and cancers of the ovaries and thyroid. But while 4.9 percent of wells in the San Joaquin turned up over legal nitrate thresholds, arsenic (over legal limits in 11.2 percent of wells) and uranium (7.4 percent)—neither of which are used in farming—were more common.

But in the case of uranium—which heightens the risk of kidney trouble and cancer when consumed in water over long periods—agriculture isn't off the hook. Kenneth Belitz, the study's lead author and chief of the USGS's National Water Quality Assessment Program, explains that before irrigation, the arid San Joaquin landscape supported very little vegetation, and the naturally occurring uranium in the landscape was relatively stable. But as farms sprouted up, irrigation water reacted with carbon dioxide from now-abundant plant roots to "mobilize" the uranium, pushing it downward at the rate of 5 to ten feet per year and eventually into the water table.

Conversely, some of the regions with highest nitrate levels are former ag areas that are now suburban, Belitz says: northern California's Livermore Valley and southern California's Santa Ana basin. That's because nitrates, too, move through the soil strata at a rate of five to ten feet per year, and take years to accumulate in underground aquifers.

And that means that today's ag-centric areas, including the San Joaquin Valley, could be slowly building up nitrate levels year by year that could lead to much higher nitrate levels in well water in coming decades, Belitz says.

For California residents and policymakers, the reports adds another distressing data point to the current water crisis. The fossil record and climate models suggest that precipitation levels will likely drop significantly compared to 20th century norms going forward, according to UC Berkeley paleoclimatologist B. Lynn Ingram—meaning an ever-growing reliance on groundwater for both farms and residents. Meanwhile, NASA research shows that this increasingly important resource is being drawn down at a much faster pace than it's being replenished. And this latest USGS study suggests that the state's precious, vanishing groundwater supply is widely contaminated. It's enough to make you want to open a bottle of the state's famous wine.

The Bird and the Bee Finds the Aching Heart Beneath the Glossy Surfaces

| Mon Jul. 20, 2015 6:00 AM EDT

The Bird and the Bee
Recreational Love
Rostrum

The unlikely but artistically fruitful partnership of Inara George and Greg Kurstin, aka The Bird and the Bee, has flourished for a decade, despite little encouragement from the commercial mainstream. The daughter of the late Little Feat leader Lowell George, she's a subtly compelling singer who conveys deep feeling with languid poise; her best solo album is a collaboration with art-pop genius Van Dyke Parks. He's a master of slick pop who's produced big names like Katy Perry, Charli XCX, and Kelly Clarkson. But for all their polish, The Bird and the Bee has always been about finding the aching heart beneath the glossy surfaces, and this striking fourth album is no exception. While Recreational Love ups the danceablity quotient slightly from previous outings, shimmering songs like "Lovey Dovey" and "Please Take Me Home" are simultaneously exhilarating (for their suave craftsmanship) and heartrending (for their raw emotion), revealing intriguing new elements with each hearing.

"I Like People That Weren't Captured, Okay?" Trump Pooh-Poohs McCain's Vietnam Service

| Sat Jul. 18, 2015 1:57 PM EDT

"Tinted meatball" Donald Trump attacked the Vietnam service of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at a social conservative confab in Iowa on Saturday, boasting that the 2008 Republican presidential nominee was only considered a war hero "because he was captured."

"I like people that weren't captured, okay?," he told moderator Frank Luntz.

Watch:

Trump, who missed the Vietnam War after getting a series of student and medical deferments, has now left an opening for the Republican presidential candidates who trail him in the polls (which is most of them) to get a few clean jabs in. But it's not as simple as it sounds. McCain is not a popular figure among conservative activists, and the entire appeal of Trump is that he says things like this about people that conservative activists don't like. (It certainly wouldn't be the first time conservative voters overlooked a gratuitous shot at a candidate's war record because they didn't like his politics.)

True to form, the audience in Iowa ate it up:

Update: Now the backlash from Trump's fellow contenders is pouring in. Here's Jeb Bush:

And longtime McCain bestie Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.):

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Oregon Sensibly Votes to Make Oral Contraceptives Available Without a Prescription

| Sat Jul. 18, 2015 11:12 AM EDT

Good news from Oregon:

Oregonians will be able to buy birth control at a pharmacy without a doctor's prescription beginning next year, potentially making the state the first in the nation to allow the practice. The bill was overwhelmingly approved in the state House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Kate Brown last week. It will go into effect at the start of next year.

....A second Oregon law, which passed the 90-member Legislature in a near-unanimous vote Thursday, allows women to obtain a yearlong supply of birth control instead of refilling their prescription every 30 or 90 days.

I know there's some disagreement about this among progressives these days, since prescription birth control is covered by Obamacare and OTC birth control isn't. But I assume Oregonians who want a prescription can still get one, and allowing contraceptives to be sold OTC as well is the right thing to do. That decision should be made solely on safety grounds, not on grounds of political convenience. This is the same argument we make against things like forced ultrasounds for abortion patients, and it's the right one.

The one-year supply is a nice bonus too, based on evidence that women are more likely to use contraceptives regularly if they don't have to make a special trip for a refill every 30 days. All in all, good for Oregon, working hard to retain its spot as one of the sanest states in the Union.

Friday Cat Blogging - 17 July 2015

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 3:00 PM EDT

A few days ago the Hallmark Channel decided to present us with a showing of kitten baseball. We recorded it, since you never know when a few minutes of zoning out in front of adorable kittens might be just what you need. But it turned out that Hopper was fascinated. She stared at the kittens on the screen, then moved closer, then jumped up on the cabinet to get an even closer look. Unfortunately, the light was bad and I couldn't get any good pictures.

The next day I tried again in the morning light. But this time Hopper was busy with other feline priorities, while Hilbert, who had sat around like a furry, bored medicine ball the night before, suddenly took over. He couldn't take his eyes off the screen. And that's how you see him today, staring avidly at an orange-and-white kitten on the television. Now that's cat TV.

Do You Live in a Fuck State or a Shit State?

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 2:26 PM EDT

The Guardian reports today on the latest work of Jack Grieve, a professor of forensic linguistics at Aston University in the UK, aided by research from Diansheng Guo and Alice Kasakoff of the University of South Carolina and Andrea Nini, of Aston University. Their research topic is this: how do people swear in different US states? Only a British newspaper could publish this, since American newspapers would never allow such family-unfriendly swill in their august pages. Hell, I may be stretching things by doing it at Mother Jones.

You can click the link for the full rundown, but you'll be interested to know that "fuckboy" is one of the fastest rising words of 2014. It's apparently popular in the mid-Atlantic region and in California starting just north of where I live—which explains why I've never heard of it.

In any case, here's a sample of Grieve's linguistic maps. On the left are states where "fuck" is especially popular, and on the right are states where "shit" is especially popular. California is clearly a fuck state, which fits with my observations of a lifetime. Of course, you also have some states—mostly in the polite Midwest—that don't use either, and some—mostly the coastal areas from South Carolina up to New Jersey—where they really like them both. Fascinating, no? Certainly more interesting than the old soda-pop-coke chestnut.

More Pluto! Troughs, Hills, and Pitted Surfaces!

| Fri Jul. 17, 2015 1:44 PM EDT

Here's the latest from Pluto, a hi-res image of the Sputnik Plain, which should be enough to get Republicans seething. From NASA:

In the latest data from NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, a new close-up image of Pluto reveals a vast, craterless plain that appears to be no more than 100 million years old, and is possibly still being shaped by geologic processes. This frozen region is north of Pluto’s icy mountains, in the center-left of the heart feature, informally named “Tombaugh Regio” (Tombaugh Region) after Clyde Tombaugh, who discovered Pluto in 1930.

....Scientists have two working theories as to how these segments were formed. The irregular shapes may be the result of the contraction of surface materials, similar to what happens when mud dries. Alternatively, they may be a product of convection, similar to wax rising in a lava lamp. On Pluto, convection would occur within a surface layer of frozen carbon monoxide, methane and nitrogen, driven by the scant warmth of Pluto’s interior.

So, um, mud drying or lava lamps. Take your pick. Cool picture, though.