Friday, March 30, 2012

Is this better Sue?

Two Fridays ago during our SNAPpy diet, we fixed a yummy, inexpensive but carb-loaded tuna casserole, which brought some gentle chiding from Sue.

Tonight we decided to try something that wouldn't cause an immediate run on the nation's supply of insulin. We fixed the White Bean and Tuna Salad with Radicchio from this month's bon appétit; photos are shown on the right.

The cost is similar, but the carb count is less than half the number of the casserole. Another advantage is that the salad doesn't require any cooking, so you don't have to wait for your tuna.

The only practical problem--how to supply a subscription to bon appétit for every family on SNAP. I guess that's what individual mandates are for.

Underwhelming job growth in North Carolina

After a better than expected state jobs report for January, job growth for North Carolina slowed again in February. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that North Carolina added only 8,300 non-farm jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in February. Most of the added jobs (5,600) were state and local government jobs. For all practical purposes, private job growth stalled.

February's state jobs growth was substantially worse than January's figure of 21,900 jobs added on a seasonally-adjusted basis. The unusually good job-growth figure for January likely reflects the very mild weather that the state has enjoyed (we may need to rethink that whole global warming thing). However, the figure was better December's small job loss.

On a year-over-year basis, the BLS reports that North Carolina has added 47,000 non-farm jobs since last February. Although that figure may seem impressive, it only represents an increase of 1.2 percent. Over the same period, national job growth has been 1.5 percent.

One "bright" spot in the employment report was that North Carolina's unemployment rate dropped back into the single digits at 9.9 percent. However, that rate is still substantially higher than the national rate of 8.3 percent. Only three other states--California, Nevada, and Rhode Island--currently have worse unemployment rates than North Carolina.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Republicans and House Decorum

This morning, during the open floor time allocated to House members to give the opportunity talk about issues important to them, Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) walked up to the podium and began delivering a speech about the need for a full investigation in the homicide of Trayvon Martin.

As he spoke, he pulled off his suit jacket to reveal a hoodie. He pulled the hood over his head, donned sunglasses, and was immediately ruled out of order by the presiding member, Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.).

Rep. Harper eventually cut Rep. Rush's microphone and ordered the Sergeant at Arms to remove Rep. Rush, citing rules on "decorum."

Rep. Harper had fewer concerns about decorum a few years ago when Rep. Joe Wilson shouted out "you lie" during President Obama's Sept. 9, 2009 appearance before a joint session of Congress. Rep. Harper voted against a resolution rebuking Rep. Wilson.

To Rep. Harper, showing contempt and disrespect for the President of the United States is consistent with House "decorum." Showing respect to a homicide victim? Not so much.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Gov. Romney already contributing to a manufacturing revival

Another economic greenshoot?

Bloomberg reports that the carefully-watched toy manufacturing sector may be poised for a boom.
Ohio Art Co. (OART) surged in trading after its Etch A Sketch drawing toy became a metaphor for Republican Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

The thinly traded toymaker more than doubled to $9.65 after three trades, totaling 800 shares, as of 1:22 p.m. New York time in the over-the-counter market. The shares earlier reached $12.50 for the biggest intraday rise since at least 1980, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Thank you Mary Baker

Sometimes we're blessed by angels in our lives, though they're often disguised to us (and maybe to themselves).

Mary Baker, who passed away earlier this month, maybe had the best disguise of all.

When I was a teenager initially growing up in Sterling Park, Virginia and then later returning there for my senior year in high school, Mary ran the local pizza parlor, Sterling Pizza (pretty much the only restaurant in Sterling at the time).

As graduation neared, summer job prospects were slim for a teenager with fair-to-good calculus skills but not much else going for him.

On the recommendation of two friends, Mary hired me to work at Sterling Pizza, though she made sure to explain at the time that it was against her better judgment and that we would just have to see whether things worked out. Given my utter lack of restaurant (or any other useful) skills and yet still imbued with a teenager's infinite sense of wisdom, the job offer represented a true leap of faith on Mary's part.

During the first few days, during slow spells in the mornings and afternoons, Mary patiently showed me how to cook, clean, and run a cash register. It didn't take long to find out that there was a very strict quota on that patience. Mary's "kind" voice lasted through her demonstration of something and through your first (and maybe second) try of that same thing. After that, the task was yours, and heaven help you if the task wasn't thereafter performed to the standards that Mary set.

Within a few days, you were also expected to perform those tasks at the pace that Mary had set and to do so in the middle of a lunch or dinner rush. Because the shop was small, there was only room for a handful of employees. Orders were barked out and managed by whoever ran the register (later when I worked in a larger restaurant, I would find out that this is called expediting). With few employees, limited counter space, and only two ovens, orders usually backed up. At these especially tense times, Mary helped us with new vocabulary and occasional screaming.

Within a couple of weeks, Mary trusted you with most of her business. There were a few tasks, such as ordering and training that she kept to herself, but everything else was eventually handed over for substantial stretches of time to her mostly teenage crew. Opening, closing, making the bank in the morning, closing and reconciling the register at night were all left in the hands of her pimply charges.

All of us who worked there were grateful for that trust. I was additionally grateful for a job that was available each winter break and each summer for the next several years. Mostly though, I was and remain grateful for a door that was opened and an opportunity that was given.

After I took my first post-college job working as an economics research assistant in a Washington research firm, I still came back for a few weekends to work at the restaurant when Mary was short-handed. Mary met almost all of the girls that I dated. For a short while, she actually took in the first girl that I was engaged to as a boarder, and she was kind enough not to make this known to the second. She met my oldest son, but sadly had closed Sterling Pizza before I could introduce her to my youngest.

It was important to me that Mary see some of the blessings that she contributed to. I hope that she can still see some of those blessings now.

When the Telecommunications Special Interests Call, NC Politicians Answer

Under the Dome reports on a "Follow the Money" investigation by the National Institute on State Politics of special-interest contributions by telecommunications companies to NC legislators.
A new report suggests campaign contributions from the telecommunications industry helped pave the way for a bill to restrict public broadband networks.

An industry association PAC and PACs affiliated with some of the state’s biggest cable providers, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink, gave $1.6 million to state candidates since 2006, particularly lining the campaign pockets of four key leaders, according to a study by the National Institute on State Politics.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Cornelius, received $37,000 in 2010 and 2011, more than any lawmaker. Senate President Phil Berger, R-Eden, received $19,500. Senate GOP Majority Leader Harry Brown of Jacksonville received $9,000. Senate Democratic leader Martin Nesbitt of Asheville received $8,250. All four supported the bill.
As if the large contributions weren't skeevy enough, telecommunications special interests helped to seal the deal by shoveling in additional off-cycle contributions just before the bill restricting public networks was introduced. From the Follow the Money report
Though not large in scope, the timing of some of the 2011 contributions is notable. On Jan. 26, just a few weeks before HB 129 was filed on Feb 16, AT&T and Time Warner Cable each gave $2,000 to the North Carolina Republican Party; two days later, they gave the North Carolina Democratic Party $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. AT&T then gave an additional $1,500 to the Democratic Party on May 23, shortly after the bill became law. While the contributions were not large, per se, they were given while the bill was moving through the legislature, and long after the 2010 elections were over.
According to the report, telecommunications companies have paid more than $90,000 in 2011 to legislators and political parties.

These "investments" have generated a substantial pay off for the telecommunications industry, but the rest of us get stuck holding the bill.

Monday, March 19, 2012

SNAP Wrap-up

Dinners 6 and 7 this weekend were leftovers. On Saturday, we made chili-mac from the vegetarian chili and part of a box of elbow noodles, and on Sunday, we fixed a new batch of pomodoro sauce and spaghetti, reheated the meatballs and celebrated UNC's and NC State's NCAA tournament wins.

We've got partial nutrition figures for the spaghetti, sauce and meatballs. Per serving there were 829 calories, 41 grams of fat, and 142 milligrams of cholesterol. We don't have carbs. or protein figures for the meatballs, but there were 63 grams of carbs from the spaghetti and sauce (and probably a few more from the meatballs).

Our total bill for the week came out to about $110, just below the Thrifty Food Plan budget of 123.79 and the SNAP budget of $121.48. We were probably right on target if we had counted some of the spices, coffee, tea, etc. that we consumed but did not need to purchase this week.

As Sue has mentioned in some comments, the dinners that we chose were high in carbohydrates, so the next time we try this we will try to do better in that regard.

Now it's time to write the check to World Vision and to root for UNC and NC State.

Friday, March 16, 2012

They're altogether ooky...

Well, yes, the Addamses were altogether ooky, but this is a bigger problem throughout the South.
On the front line of the brown marmorated stink bug invasion, Doug Inkley was overrun. Over nine months last year, he counted, bug by bug, 56,205 in his house and garden. They were everywhere.

“I literally have made homemade chilli and had to throw it out because there were stink bugs in it,” said Inkley, who lives in Knoxville, Md., near the West Virginia border. “I have had people refuse to come over for dinner because they knew about my stink bug problem.”
We haven't had to throw out chili, and with everyone seeing what we eat, we don't have many guests. However, we have been carefully escorting a few bugs each week either outside or into a watery grave (BTW, don't squish 'em).

That said, an infestation of stink bugs doesn't begin to compare to this sign of the apocalypse.
Two-time Grammy nominated and six-time Emmy Award winner John Tesh will bring his 2012 Summer U.S. Tour to Greensboro’s White Oak Amphitheatre on July 21.

...The upcoming tour is part of a three-fold campaign for the next phase in his musical career, including the release of his “John Tesh: Big Band Live!” album and national public television special, according to a news release. The album will be available nationwide on April 17. His public television special, also titled “John Tesh: Big Band Live!”, will begin airing this month and continue through 2012.
Stink bugs and John Tesh, sure signs of the end times.

SNAP Dinner #5: Tuna Casserole

For dinner on night #5, tuna casserole with french green beans.

Recipe for the tuna casserole.

1 lb. package egg noodles
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion
2 15-oz. cans cream of mushroom soup
1 cup low-fat milk1/2 tsp. pepper
1 Tbs. dried parsley flakes
2 5-oz. cans of tuna in water
3 oz. cheddar cheese grated 

Directions: In a large pot over high heat, boil water. Pre-heat over to 350o F. When water is boiling, put in egg noodles, cook until 1 minute underdone (about 7 minutes). Drain. While noodles are cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over a medium-low heat. When the oil is heated, cook the onion until just soft, about 5 minutes. Add mushroom soup, milk (use the milk to rinse out the mushroom soup cans), pepper, and parsley. When soup mixture starts to boil, add tuna. Heat through, and add noodles. Mix thoroughly, pour into a baking dish. Put dish in oven and bake for 25 minutes, until the casserole is bubbly. Remove from oven; add cheese, and let sit for 5 minutes.

Our estimate is that the casserole will serve six, with the following nutrients per serving: 613 calories, 24 grams of fat, 148 grams of cholesterol, 66 grams of carbs, and 34 grams of protein (thank Sue for prompting the nutritional info.).

The adults liked their servings and half of the teenagers did (five nights of SNAPpy dinners will do that to a teenager).

Thursday, March 15, 2012

SNAP Dinner #4: Cream of Potato Soup with Ham and Salad

Dinner for night #4 is Cream of Potato Soup with Ham and Salad.

For the Cream of Potato Soup
2 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion diced
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. celery seed
1/4 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
3 large potatoes diced bite size
1 15-oz. can chicken broth
1 1/2 cups of milk
2 Tbs. flour

Directions: Heat butter over medium heat in a large saucepan. When the butter is melted, cook the onion and bay leaf until soft (about 5-10 minutes). Add spices and cook for 1 minute. Add potatoes and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add broth, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 15 minutes until the potatoes are fork tender. Remove bay leaf. Whisk the milk and flour together; add to soup and heat through. Remove from heat and puree half of the mixture in a food processor. Re-combine and cook over a low heat until the soup thickens.

With this, we cooked ham slices and served a salad.

A snapshot of everything that is wrong in Washington

It should have been so simple.

The Violence Against Women Act, legislation that has enjoyed wide bipartisan support since 1994, needs to be renewed.

Last fall, 58 senators, including five Republicans crafted and co-sponsored renewal legislation.

The legislation hit the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Charles Grassley discovered several things that he didn't like, and all of the Republicans on the committee (all men by the way) voted against renewal.

As part of the renewal, the New York Times reports that
The legislation would continue existing grant programs to local law enforcement and battered women shelters, but would expand efforts to reach Indian tribes and rural areas. It would increase the availability of free legal assistance to victims of domestic violence, extend the definition of violence against women to include stalking, and provide training for civil and criminal court personnel to deal with families with a history of violence. It would also allow more battered illegal immigrants to claim temporary visas, and would include same-sex couples in programs for domestic violence.

Republicans say the measure, under the cloak of battered women, unnecessarily expands immigration avenues by creating new definitions for immigrant victims to claim battery. More important, they say, it fails to put in safeguards to ensure that domestic violence grants are being well spent. It also dilutes the focus on domestic violence by expanding protections to new groups, like same-sex couples, they say.
The Times story quotes several Republicans who complain about the "timing" of the legislation. Yes, blocking this legislation clearly interferes with Republican efforts to block other worthwhile legislation as well as Presidential appointments. So many filibusters, so little time. Nevertheless, this bipartisan bill should be a slam dunk that Republicans and Democrats can take care of expeditiously.

Republicans also complain about how the bill is be politicized. Here they have a point, which also tells you much about what is wrong in Washington. Democrats are politicizing the bill. Politico reports how Sen. Charles Schumer is licking his chops to make this a campaign issue.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer believes he has found a political weapon in the unlikeliest of places: the Violence Against Women Act.

Republicans have several objections to the legislation, but instead of making changes, Schumer wants to fast track the bill to the floor, let the GOP block it, then allow Democrats to accuse Republicans of waging a “war against women.”
Of course, there would be nothing to further politicize if a handful of Republican neanderthals hadn't stopped the legislation in the first place.

If the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee or Sen. Schumer actually cared one whit about reducing domestic violence, some of the sticky provisions could be quickly and quietly fixed. This is what used to happen in Washington when grown-ups were in charge.

Also, it's not as if the Republicans won't get another bite off this particular apple when it is taken up either in the House of Representatives or in conference.

Instead, we're treated to the childish spectacle of each side taking yet another issue to the political equivalent of DEFCON 1. Given the risks to women, children, and others from holding up this legislation, this sickening gamesmanship should stop.

My sainted and ever-patient mother had a kindly expression when my siblings and I got into an argument (imagine me arguing with anybody about anything). She would say, "you kids would fight over shit."

My mom would have even less patience with this bunch.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

SNAP Dinner #3: Grilled ham and cheese sandwiches

Dinner for night number three was grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, rice with onions and carrots, and a salad.

For the rice...
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 of a medium onion chopped
1 carrot diced
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 cup rice (rinsed and drained)
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups chicken broth

Directions: Heat oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Cook the onion and carrot until the onion starts to soften (5-10 minutes). Add the pepper and cook for one more minute. Add the rice and cook until the rice just starts to brown. Add the broth and salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to low and cook until the broth disappears (15-20 minutes). Let stand covered for 5 additional minutes; fluff with a fork.

The whole thing took just under 30 minutes. Fast, cheap, and what kid passes up a grilled cheese sandwich?

Romney promises to "get rid" of Planned Parenthood

Former Gov. Romney, from an interview with KSDK in Missouri
As for ways to reduce debt, he suggests a few cuts.

"The test is pretty simple. Is the program so critical, it's worth borrowing money from china to pay for it? And on that basis of course you get rid of Obamacare, that's the easy one. Planned Parenthood, we're going to get rid of that."
Critical? You decide.

In 2010, Planned Parenthood provided more than 4 million tests for STDs, helped more than 2.2 million women with contraception, provided 1.5 million emergency contraception (Plan B) kits, provided more than a quarter of a million pap smears and provided nearly as many breast exams. Approximately half of the funding for these services came from government grants and reimbursements.

Coming soon to a coast near you--more frequent flooding

Coastal flooding and our responses to it are an on-going and growing concern in North Carolina.

The outlook isn't getting any better. The New York Times reports
About 3.7 million Americans live within a few feet of high tide and risk being hit by more frequent coastal flooding in coming decades because of the sea level rise caused by global warming, according to new research.

If the pace of the rise accelerates as much as expected, researchers found, coastal flooding at levels that were once exceedingly rare could become an every-few-years occurrence by the middle of this century.
The researchers have put together a web-site showing low-lying areas that at risk of flooding.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Journal has recently said we should all just stick our collective heads in the beach sand.
State officials are pressuring local governments to plan for a one-meter sea-level rise by 2100, even though many independent scientists have argued the rise is highly unlikely if not impossible.

Even though a state advisory panel no longer recommends regulations based on the one-meter projection, local government officials worry that state regulators will try to implement those rules.

Such a policy, they say, would have a devastating impact on coastal economies, property values, and citizens’ ability to secure financing and property insurance. North Carolina also would become the first state to enact policies consistent with a projected sea-level rise of that magnitude.

In a 2010 report (PDF), the Coastal Resource Commission’s Science Panel said the sea level is likely to rise one meter by 2100. Now the commission is drafting policy “encouraging” coastal communities to consider accelerated rates of sea-level rise in local land-use and development planning.

A group of independent scientists have challenged the panel’s report, pushing the CRC to revise its draft sea-level rise policy so that the regulations in it read more like suggestions and the one-meter benchmark no longer appears.

There’s nothing scientific about the way the science panel came up with its one-meter projection, said John Droz, a physicist and environmental activist. Droz, with the help of more than 30 other scientists, wrote a critique (PDF) of the panel’s “NC Sea-Level Rise Assessment Report.”
The "independent" scientist who is quoted is actually a realtor who stopped working professionally in the sciences in 1979 and who is working on behalf of a pro-development coalition NC-20. The "30 other scientists" were sent copies of the report.

As Chico Marx once said, "who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

SNAP Dinner #2: Spaghetti with meatballs and sauce

Dinner for night number two...

Baked USDA meatballs, adapted to be edible from Recipes and Tips for Healthy, Thrifty Meals.This was one of our favorites from the USDA cookbook. The main problem with the cookbook version is that the directions call for baking the meatballs for only 15 minutes--45 minutes works much better and results in better colon health. We also substituted garlic for garlic powder.

1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
2 eggs
2 lbs. lean ground beef
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 medium onion minced or put through a food processor
2 garlic cloves pressed
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper

Directions: Preheat oven to 400oF. Use the vegetable oil to grease a deep baking pan. Beat eggs with milk, pour into a large bowl. Add the ground beef and other ingredients. Combine ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Form 1-1/2 to 2 inch meatballs by taking a large pinch of the meatball mixture and rolling in your hands. Place meatballs in pan. You should get about 30 meatballs. Place in oven and bake for about 45 minutes, turning the meatballs over about halfway through.

We had half the meatballs with pomodoro sauce, adapted from the May 2011 Bon Appétit. The dish is even better if you have fresh herbs available, but we were trying to save money.

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion minced
4 garlic cloves minced
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil flakes
1/2 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
30-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
1 Tbs. dried parsley flakes 

Directions: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft (about 10 minutes). Add garlic and cook for another 2-4 minutes. Add the spices and cook for a minute. Add the tomatoes. Cook for at least 20 minutes for the mixture to blend.

We served half of the meatballs (15) with all of the sauce and with the cooked spaghetti.

This remains a family favorite, at least when the meatballs are cooked. In fact, we had it a week earlier with no leftovers when number-1-son was home on his college break.

By the way, the meatballs look less like turds in real life (they taste less like turds, or so I've read from The Help).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Oh SNAP! The thrifty meals are back

It's been a while, but the Ribars are going back on a thrifty diet.

Back in 2009, we spent two weeks eating meals that had been recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program). The goal of our "diet" then was to test whether the recipes could actually be fixed within a SNAP budget; it turned out that we came out a little over-budget. Another goal was to see whether the meals were edible. Some of the dishes were surprisingly good (at least to one Ribar); others were barely edible; still others ended up having bad recipes that would have left people sick.

For the 2012 version, we're doing something different. We're going to start with a one-week Thrifty Food Plan (TFP) budget and cook meals that we like that fit within that budget.

For our family, which now consists of two 18-50 year-old adults and one 17 year-old son (a son has left the nest along the way and will be following with amusement from Chapel Hill), the TFP budget is $123.79. The goals of this week's diet are to stay within budget and to contribute some inexpensive recipes that we like (one later this week will be the correct and edible version of an incorrect USDA recipe).

Breakfast this morning (and until Friday) was cereal, juice, and milk. Lunch this afternoon (and until Thursday) was cold-cut sandwiches, fruit, and store-bought cookies.

For the rest of the week, I'll be blogging and showing SNAPshots of the dinner recipes. Dinner tonight was vegetarian chili with rice and cheese accompanied by a tossed salad.

The nice thing about a vegetarian recipe is that it doesn't run afoul of most people's religious or dietary preferences. The not-so-nice thing is that it's a lot of beans to consume in one sitting. Don't fix this before a long car ride with the in-laws. More than that, don't fix this for the in-laws before a long car ride with them.

The recipe for vegetarian chili is adapted from the October 1990 Consumer Reports.

2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 large onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
1 clove garlic minced
4 Tbs. chili powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
2 15-oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 Tbs. Worcester sauce
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1 15-oz. can red kidney beans with liquid
1 15-oz. can pinto beans with liquid
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans with liquid

Directions: Heat oil in a large pot over a medium heat, add onions, peppers, and garlic, and saute until they start to soften (about 5 minutes). Add spices and saute until spices are heated (about 1 minute). Add diced tomatoes (keep cans); cook until spices and oil start to run clear of the tomatoes. Add remaining ingredients; use a little bit of water in each can to get the remaining bits out. Continue cooking over a medium heat until the chili starts to boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for at least 30 minutes.

For dinner, we used half of the chili; the other half will be used later this week.

For the rice...

1 cup white rice rinsed and drained
2 Tbs. vegetable oil
1/4 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups hot water

Directions: Heat the oil in a small sauce pan over a medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cumin seeds and fry for 15-30 seconds until you can smell the cumin. Add the rice and saute, stirring often until the rice just starts to brown. Add the hot water and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the water is just gone (about 15-20 minutes). Let sit for 5 additional minutes covered. Fluff with a fork.

Serve chili and rice with cheese to teenager and gauge reaction; if suitable, consume it yourself. (Note: very hungry teenagers may fake stomach distress to get the whole pot themselves).

News-Record censoring Doonesbury

The local paper, the News-Record, has decided to censor the comic strip Doonesbury for the week.

This week's series deals with abortion. The News-Record has a blurb saying that the strip addressed the issue, "in a way that we deemed both too editorial in nature for news columns and too graphic for a family paper."

This morning's edition of the paper also contained:
- a news article with the headline, "Egyptian court acquits doctor in 'virginity tests',"
- another article with the headline, "DNA helps solve cold rape cases," and
- an Annie's Mailbox column on whether the parents should disclose their daughter-in-law's ex-husband's history of sexually abusing children to his new family.
All of these "wholesome" and "not-too-graphic-for-a-family-paper" stories include the gory details to provide necessary "context."

In addition to these, the paper is chock-a-block, as usual, with murder, violence and mayhem in Greensboro and elsewhere.

In all of this though, the Republican assault on women's reproductive choices and health gets a pass.

Update (3/12/12): Should have mentioned that the same comics page this morning had a Brewster Rockit strip alluding to saggy breasts and a Pearls Before Swine strip using the word "crappy." But hey, it's "a family paper."

Update (3/12/12, later): Ed Cone and the News-Record report that the NR will post this week's Doonesbury strip on-line. This is very good news, because the chances of finding Doonesbury on-line weren't especially good, unless you asked one of your kids.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

UNCG staff and faculty are leaders in charitable contributions

An editorial in this morning's News-Record reminded folks that they should take pride in our local universities.
For one day, everyone associated with the University of North Carolina should wear the school colors.

Not to show support for a basketball team, but to demonstrate UNC’s reach and impact.
The editorial goes on to tout the universities' teaching, research, and economic contributions.

As a university (and state) employee, it's gratifying to read nice things about the schools, though (at the risk of seeming ungrateful) I wish the editorial would have mentioned one more thing.

Each year, the staff and faculty throughout the UNC system also contribute directly to their communities in another way, through the North Carolina State Employees Combined Campaign (NCSECC). The contributions to the NCSECC benefit more than 1,000 charitable organizations across the state.

The NCSECC reports that for its 2011 campaign UNCG led all state universities in participation and per-employee giving. Nearly half (49 percent) of UNCG employees participated in the campaign, and the total amount contributed was $242,774. The staff and faculty at NC A&T also were very generous, contributing at rates that were higher than the state and UNC system average.

The NCSECC provides only a partial picture of state and university employees' contributions. Employees also make financial contributions outside the NCSECC and volunteer their time and energy to local organizations.

However, for this one measure, UNCG has earned some bragging rights over some tough competition. I'm very proud of my colleagues.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Carolina Journal claims its Tempest Trophy

Jeff Martin (aka Fec) reports on the fall-out from the Tempest in a Lunchbox.
Sara Burrows and the Carolina Journal, with their inaccurate reporting and subsequent cover up, are directly responsible for the suspension of an educator merely attempting to abide by school policy.
You may recall that the under the hysterical headline "Preschooler’s Homemade Lunch Replaced with Cafeteria 'Nuggets:' State agent inspects sack lunches, forces preschoolers to purchase cafeteria food instead" the Pope-funded Carolina Journal falsely reported that a state agent inspected pre-schoolers' lunches at West Hoke Elementary school on Jan. 30 and told a 4-year-old that her home-packed sack lunch didn't pass muster. The CJ eventually backtracked on some of those falsehoods when its shoddy reporting began to fall apart: first by slightly editing the story to say that "the school" told the child that the lunch "was not nutritious" and second, by editing the headline. The headline of the current version of the story continues to implicate a "state agent" and indicate that children "purchase(d) cafeteria food," and the story itself says that the little girl was "told" that her lunch "was not nutritious."

The original false story caused quite an uproar, what with state lunch inspectors poking into lunch sacks and taking 4-year-olds' turkey and cheese sandwiches away. However, the CJ continued to fan the flames of outrage from the story that it had inaccurately reported, asking "Who is the Mystery Food Monitor?" and describing reports from state agencies that they weren't involved "sketchy--and sometimes conflicting."

Turns out that the entire story of any encounter with a state official or agent on Jan. 30 was completely false and that the "sketchiness" was multiple state and federal agencies trying to prove a negative. The CJ reported on Feb. 23 that a state consultant had "observed the lunch routine" on Jan. 26 (there's no longer any mention of sack lunch "inspections") and that parents had been notified on Jan. 27 that lunches needed to include certain items. There was no state official in the school on Jan. 30.

Instead, CJ's story is now
A teacher offered a 4-year-old girl a cafeteria tray with chicken nuggets, a sweet potato, bread, and milk to replace the turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips, banana, and apple juice her mother had packed for her.
No state agent, no purchase, and no statement to the child about the quality of the lunch.

Now comes the kicker that Fec blogged about, the incident has finally cost someone her job...the children's pre-school teacher!

The CJ reports
The teacher involved in “supplementing” a preschooler’s lunch with chicken nuggets in Hoke County has been suspended indefinitely.
Art Pope, Sara Burrows, and the "responsible" folks at the John Locke Foundation are likely toasting their success in taking down a public employee. Kudos to the whole crew on a smear well done!

The parents and children from West Hoke Elementary seem less pleased. You'll understand if they aren't raising their milk cartons (school-provided or brought from home) with you.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Paul aides: Why won't our kooky candidacy catch on?

Politico reports that aides to Rep. Ron Paul are frustrated that his candidacy isn't generating more votes. Seriously.
Ron Paul’s top strategists are confused and frustrated that the wild enthusiasm they see at their campaign rallies and events is not translating into votes.

Thousands turned out to see the Texas congressman at events in Alaska, Idaho and North Dakota in the days before Super Tuesday. Paul said publicly and believed privately that he could win all three states outright. When the votes were counted, though, he finished third in Alaska and Idaho and second in North Dakota.

Paul may still emerge with a big chunk of delegates in the GOP nominating race, but the candidate’s much-hyped focus on caucus states has yet to yield an outright victory in any state.

This gap between dreams and reality came to a head during a Wednesday morning conference call for senior staff when the discussion turned to why the campaign keeps underperforming its own forecasts.
Excuse me gentlemen, but perhaps the demographic and political experts at AppliedRationality can be of some assistance--and for free no less.

The first and simple answer is that while the United States has many kooks in an absolute sense and may be rightly claimed a nation of kooks, kooks do not make up a sufficient proportion of the population to constitute an electoral majority. Pinning your hopes on Republican contests in Idaho and Alaska was smart "kooky" demographics, but even there, my friends, kooks don't quite reach a majority.

Second, the appeals of your candidate, while intellectually consistent, have all the intellectual heft of, well, a pet rock. This makes it exceedingly difficult to get even a single vote from anyone--even Herman Cain or Rick Perry supporters--from outside your core demographic.

And third, speaking of that demographic, kooks are easily distracted. Yelling "Fed conspiracy" or "gold standard" certainly gets their attention as you see at your candidate's rallies, but so does yelling "squirrel." This unhelpful quality, while charming and amusing in some respects, produces bad electoral juju.

So aides to Ron Paul, bask in the warm, though somewhat confusing, glow of your candidate's kookiness. But, like the similar feeling that you would get in a toddler's pool, recognize that warmth for what it is and what it's worth.

Yours kindly,
AR (um, AppliedRationality, not Ayn Rand)

Democrats' political theater isn't any better than Republicans'

By now, the sordid story of Montana Chief U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull forwarding a racially-insensitive and derogatory e-mail about President Obama is widely known. After initially showing even more insensitivity in the way that he minimized the incident, Judge Cebull eventually apologized and requested that the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit court review the incident.

However, that apology and pending review aren't good enough for two House Democrats who, sensing an opportunity to further embarrass Republicans, want Judge Cebull hauled up for a Congressional hearing.
Two Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee want a hearing examining the conduct of the federal judge in Montana who emailed a racist joke implying that President Barack Obama’s mother had sex with a canine.

Reps. John Conyers and Steve Cohen wrote to Rep. Lamar Smith (R), chair of the House Judiciary Committee, urging an examination of the “full ramifications of Judge Cebull’s conduct on the integrity of the federal judiciary and to consider whether further action by the Committee is warranted.” Legislative action should be on the table, they wrote.
Let's be clear. Judge Cebull displayed remarkably poor judgement in the initial incident (an especially disturbing quality for a, well, judge). The judge's actions undermine trust in the fairness of his court, and his delayed and reluctant apology might not be enough to restore that trust.

However, that decision now rests with a panel that is specifically tasked with that type of investigation. The judicial review panel should be allowed to make its decision without interference from Democrats.

While hearings like the one proposed by Reps. Conyers and Cohen might provide Democrats with some modest short-term political gains, they will actually do more harm in the long-run. First, most reasonable people will immediately recognize this as pure political gamesmanship. Reps. Conyers and Cohen show remarkable bad judgement themselves for wasting valuable Congressional time and resources on a game.

Second, there is breath-taking hypocrisy in Rep. Conyers calling anyone else to examine the full ramifications of someone's conduct on an institution's integrity or to consider whether further actions are required when presented with evidence of despicable behavior. Rep. Conyers' past behavior doesn't give him much credibility here.

Third, the representatives are undermining the investigative process and general credibility of the judicial system itself. Judge Cebull's actions might be a one-off example of poor and tasteless judgement (heaven knows, Judge Cebull wouldn't be the first one to go in for a tasteless joke), or they might reveal something more deeply rooted. However, as familiar expression goes, there's an app for that--the Ninth Circuit review panel. When the representatives call for their own hearing, they are effectively saying that the review panel is incapable of carrying out its work.

Finally, the representatives are missing an opportunity to lead by example. The only way to end the gamemanship in Washington is for responsible people to stop playing the games.

Representatives Conyers and Cohen could act more responsibly, but we shouldn't hold our breath waiting, not when the game is afoot.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


Conservative apologists for Rush Limbaugh, who recently vilified a Georgetown law student for her testimony before Congress, are besides themselves with outrage and indignation that liberals failed to call out Bill Maher for his tasteless comments last year about Sarah Palin.
“Did you hear this – Sarah Palin finally heard what happened in Japan and she’s demanding that we invade ‘Tsunami,’” Maher said. “I mean she said, ‘These ‘Tsunamians’ will not get away with this.’ Oh speaking of dumb twats, did you –.”

However, conservatives may have just scratched the surface of the great liberal misogynous conspiracy.

Consider one of the liberals' favorite programs--one that is trotted faithfully during PBS pledge weeks, never fails to deliver big contributions, and feeds liberal sniggering.

A careful and fair-minded viewer can't help but notice that the sign with the offending vulgarity appears on the right of the screen. At the same time, the sign is pointed squarely at that mainstay of capitalism, a small business. Viewers will also notice that names of the women with writing and acting credits appear suspiciously close to the sign, while name of the male is securely and safely elevated. I hear that liberals "in the know" refer to this as the "Georgia O'Keefe episode."

This clip is proof that liberals were already sowing the seeds for using a particular misogynous term to undermine conservatism (and women generally) as early as the 1970s.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Unlock and load!

While many people would extol the virtues of guns, there can be no doubt that they also bring risks and need to be treated responsibly. Gun accidents kill hundreds of people in the U.S. each year and wound many, many more. As we saw tragically this last week in Ohio, guns also end up in the hands of adolescents with either poor decision-making ability or an outright desire to strike out. Adolescents also use guns to take their own lives.

Two simple precautions that households can take to reduce these tragedies is to lock up their firearms and to store them unloaded. Unfortunately, there is research that suggests that parents are less likely to take these steps as their children grow older.

In 2004, researchers from Harvard conducted phone interviews with a national sample of 2,770 adults about their firearms practices. Of the respondents, 392 reported having firearms in the house and also reported being the parents of children under 18. The results were sobering.

Nearly a third of the parents reported that they had an unlocked firearm; two out of nine reported keeping a loaded gun, and one out of 12 reported having at least one loaded, unlocked gun. The proportions were higher among parents of adolescents--41.7 percent kept an unlocked gun, 25.5 percent kept a loaded gun, and 9.8 percent kept a loaded and unlocked gun. However, the proportions were also appallingly high among parents of younger children--28.8 percent with an unlocked firearm, 20.4 percent with a loaded firearm, and 6.8 percent with a loaded, unlocked firearm.

Another study calculates that somewhere between 1.6 million and 1.8 million children were living in households with loaded and unlocked guns in 2002.

Keeping an unlocked gun around children or adolescents is begging for trouble, and keeping a loaded, unlocked gun borders on insanity.

It's one thing for adults to pose the risks of guns on themselves. It's quite another to pose them on defenseless children and on other people's children.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Irresponsible gun ownership

Another week of irresponsible gun ownership.

Just south of the border, a Rock Hill, SC man shot himself in the hand while examining a gun that he wanted to trade.

In Florida,
The arrest affidavit shows Merrill told investigators he grabbed an AK-47 out of a bathroom closet and activated its laser. He pointed the laser at the chest of his wife and pulled the trigger.

An autopsy on Stefanie Merrill showed she died from a single gunshot wound to the chest. The medical examiner ruled the death a homicide.

The couple had two children, aged 3 and 6.

Investigators removed twenty firearms from the Merrill home.
Merrill had been arrested previously for domestic violence and for grand theft, so it's natural that society should let him have 20 firearms.

In Ohio, a high school student opened fire in a cafeteria, killing three students and wounding two others. It appears that the weapon used in the tragedy may have been taken from a relative's barn.
The teenager suspected in an Ohio school shooting that killed three students may have used a gun that disappeared from his grandfather's barn, a longtime neighbor of the couple who helped raise the suspect said Wednesday.

The gun was noticed as missing after Monday's shootings and fits the description of the pistol that reportedly was used to kill three students and wound two others at Chardon High School, said Carl Hendersen.
I can't think of more secure place to keep a deadly weapon than a barn.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

If only the government would get out of the way...

Conservatives (and closet Ricardians) hold to the idea that government spending on social services displaces a substantial amount of charitable spending on the same services. They argue--if only the government would get out of the way, private non-profits would step in and perform "true charity."

It's an interesting theory, but it doesn't work. For instance, a study that Mark Wilhelm and I conducted about a decade ago showed that each dollar of government spending on overseas relief and development only displaced about 8 to 23 cents of private spending. The results indicated that there was a little substitution of private generosity but not nearly enough to make up for the loss of public spending. Put another way, if the government cuts spending for this purpose and puts the money back into private pockets, 77 to 92 cents of that money will stay in those private pockets.

Here in North Carolina, we're seeing similar results, with the News Observer reporting that the Raleigh YWCA will soon be ceasing operations.
The YWCA of the Greater Triangle ceased operations Wednesday in the face of mounting financial problems, an abrupt end to a social services organization that has been working on behalf of women in the Raleigh area for 110 years.

The move put all of the YWCA's employees out of work and leaves in a lurch the parents of about 50 elementary school-aged children who relied on the Y's after-school care, as well as about 60 older adults whose main meal of the day came from a Meals on Wheels program based at the East Hargett Street facility.

In all, the YWCA served about 12,000 people throughout the Triangle in its mission to "eliminate racism and empower women." Much of the work the YWCA did was designed to help financially strapped single mothers.
According to conservative dogma, cuts in publicly-funded social services in North Carolina should have unleashed a tidal wave of private support; instead, the tide seems not only to be out but to still be receding.

The situation in Raleigh is not unique. Nationally, charitable giving has not responded to cuts in public spending. The Center for Philanthropy at the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis reported last fall that charities across the country were continuing to struggle.
As the fourth quarter of 2011 begins—typically the most important time of year for fundraising—fewer than half of surveyed nonprofits reported fundraising increases during the first half of 2011 compared with the same period in 2010.

According to a report released today by the Nonprofit Research Collaborative (NRC), of 813 responding nonprofits surveyed in July:

• 44 percent reported increases in charitable contributions received through June, compared with the same period in 2010;
• 25 percent reported giving remained level; and
• 30 percent reported charitable contributions have declined so far this year.
• 1 percent did not know.

These numbers are barely changed from the NRC 2010 year-end survey, when 43 percent of respondents indicated they raised more money in 2010 than they did in 2009. At that time, almost a quarter (24 percent) saw giving remaining level, and 33 percent raised less.

These results indicate that nonprofit organizations still face a difficult fundraising climate. In AFP’s 2007 State of Fundraising Survey, which asked the same questions as the 2011 NRC study, 65 percent of respondents raised more money that year, before the recession, than in 2006. Eleven percent raised about the same, and 24 percent raised less.
For many critical social services, if the government gets out of the way, the services simply don't get performed.

Maybe that's what conservatives really want.