Category Archives: Youth

Generations divide over U.S.foreign policy


America’s youngest adults think it’s high time for the United States to step back from its imperial role on the world stage, while the oldest American’s are beginning to lose their love to the Big Stick.

Perhaps it’s because they grew up, unlike earlier generations, living fully with the blowback from generations of aggressive interventions into the affairs of others, and the mountains of debt this country has incurred from belligerence and bullying.

Perhaps at no previous time in the nation’s history has it become so startlingly apparent that all those bloody adventures have done nothing beyond profiting plutocrats who have no intention of sharing the wealth harvested from oceans of blood.

From Bruce Jentleson, Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at Duke University, writing in The Conversation, an open access journal:

Millennials, the generation born between 1981 and 1996, see America’s role in the 21st century world in ways that, as a recently released study shows, are an intriguing mix of continuity and change compared to prior generations.

For over 40 years the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, which conducted the study, has asked the American public whether the United States should “take an active part” or “stay out” of world affairs.

This year, an average of all respondents – people born between 1928 and 1996 – showed that 64 percent believe the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs, but interesting differences could be seen when the numbers are broken down by generation.

The silent generation, born between 1928 and 1945 whose formative years were during World War II and the early Cold War, showed the strongest support at 78 percent. Support fell from there through each age group. It bottomed out with millennials, of whom only 51 percent felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs. That’s still more internationalist than not, but less enthusiastically than other age groups.

There is some anti-Trump effect visible here: Millennials in the polling sample do identify as less Republican – 22 percent – and less conservative than the older age groups. But they also were the least supportive of the “take an active part” view during the Obama administration as well.

Four sets of additional polling numbers help us dig deeper.

Military power: Only 44 percent of millennials believe maintaining superior military power is a very important goal, much less than the other generations. They also are less supportive of increasing defense spending.

And when asked whether they support the use of force, millennials are generally disinclined, especially so on policies like conducting airstrikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, using troops if North Korea invades South Korea, and conducting airstrikes against violent Islamic extremist groups.

American ‘exceptionalism’: Millennials also were much less inclined to embrace the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world.” Only half of millennials felt that way, compared to much higher percentages of the other three generations. In a related response, only one-quarter of millenials saw the need for the U.S. to be “the dominant world leader.”

These findings track with the 2014 American National Election Study, which found that while 78 percent of silent, 70 percent of boomer and 60 percent of Gen X respondents consider their American identity as extremely important, only 45 percent of millennials do.

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Chart of the day: Mortgaging their futures


From Naked Capitalism comes a stunning graphic of the monster that is eating the futures of America’s young:

America’s banksters are consuming the wealth of a generation, to the tune of $4 trillion, according to a study by Demos.

Their key findings:

  • Our model finds that an average student debt burden for a dual-headed household with bachelors’ degrees from 4-year universities ($53,000) leads to a lifetime wealth loss of nearly $208,000.
  • Nearly two-thirds of this loss ($134,000) comes from the lower retirement savings of the indebted household, while more than one-third ($70,000) comes from lower home equity.
  • We can generalize this result to predict that the $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt will lead to total lifetime wealth loss of $4 trillion for indebted households.
  • The wealth loss will be greater for households with larger-than-average levels of student debt: students from low-income families, students of color, and for-profit students.

Way back when we started college, tuition was either  cheap or non-existent, and an aspiring student could figure that a summer job and maybe some part-time work during the school year would cover all her costs.

But thanks to the combination of tax cuts at the federal and state levels and the GOP push for privatization, college has ceased to be a birthright for the middle class, much less the poor.

A country that feeds on its poor is headed towards collapse.

Kids in religious countries lose in science, math


A new study of the impact of religion on the minds of growing children reveals a disturbing finding: When religion dominates, kids fare poorly in science and mathematics.

The study offers a hint of things to come in the United States, where the government is now controlled by a party eager to hand off education to church schools while simultaneously declaring an allegiance to improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

With the Department of Education headed by a confirmed Christianist who made her billions off private schools, the outlook is bleak for our children.

From Leeds Beckett University:

The more religious people are, the lower children in that country perform in science and mathematics, according to new research at Leeds Beckett University.

The research [$35.95 to access] , published today in the academic journal Intelligence, reveals that more religious countries had lower educational performance in science and mathematics.  The study also shows that levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role in students’ attainment.

The research, led by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett, alongside David Geary, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, is relevant for the government’s announcement in the budget that it will be investing £320 million into new free schools, including faith-based schools.

Professor Stoet explained: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making.”

The researchers combined data from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), OECD’s Education at a Glance, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the United Nationals Human Development Report.

Analysis of the data sets allowed conclusions to be drawn about international levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development (measures in regard to health, education, and income).

Levels of religiosity were determined using representative questionnaires carried out around the world in the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey among the adult population. Levels of school performance in mathematics and science literacy were based on scores from children aged between 14 to 15 years old.

Considering the relationship between religiosity and educational performance, the findings suggest that by engaging with religion, this may lead to a displacement of non-religious activities.  Although relatively few countries have data on the time spent on religious education, it appears that the time spent on religion has a negative correlation with educational performance in mathematics and science.

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And now for something completely different. . .


This times is a stunning performance by students from Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida, captured during the school’s 2011 Talent Show.

From fernandiish via the always delightful Metafilter:

THE OFFICIAL Hot Scots drum line – 2011 – Talent Show at LHHS

Program notes:

Nigel, Dylan, Matt , Elias and Jordan (who are NOT Scottish) WIN the Talent Show at Lake Howell High School with this performance they actually put together this week! You can tell they are having fun! 🙂 (BTW – the kilts are props only and are worn as they chose to wear them for the TALENT show AND they are not Scottish but American)

New studies reveal deep, deadly racial biases


Republicans declaim endlessly their claim that Americans live in a “post-racial” society, where folks are judged solely by their abilities and not by the color of their skin.

Hence, no need for programs designed to teach tolerance, or to attempt to repair the damages wrought by centuries of bigotry, poor schools, and dangerous environments.

Of course anyone who listened to the virulent bigotry aroused by the Trump campaign knows the Republican rap is, in Fareed Zakaria’s notable phrasing, bullshit.

For those with any lingering doubts, considered the results of four new academic surveys, revealing that, among other things:

  • innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people
  • police view young black criminal suspects as both older and more likely to be guilty of serious offenses than they do white or Latino suspects in identical circumstances
  • people in general judge black men as larger, stronger and more muscular than white men, even when they’re exactly the same size
  • motorists approaching mid-block crosswalks are less likely to yield for black pedestrians than white pedestrians

With liberty and justice for some. . .

The power of the state is no more evident than a confrontation with a person with a badge and a gun, followed by a run through the meat-grinder that is the criminal justice system for those unable to afford expensive lawyers and costly investigators.

And those unfortunates are all too often people of color.

One way to judge the relative impartiality of a system professing to administer itself without bias is in those found guilty and sentenced to prison or death who were subsequently exonerated and freed.

From Michigan State University:

African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration, according to a report recently released that’s co-edited by a Michigan State University College of Law professor.

“The vast majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered,” said MSU Law’s Barbara O’Brien, the author of a companion report, “Exonerations in 2016,” [open access] and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. “There’s no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly—that’s beyond dispute. Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. But will we do enough to actually address it? That remains to be seen.”

“Exonerations in 2016” found a record number of exonerations for the third straight year and a record number of cases with official misconduct.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 – cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. On average, black murder exonerees waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. On average, innocent African-Americans convicted of sexual assault spent almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

In addition, the report, officially titled, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” [open access], found innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

“Of the many costs the war on drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, the author of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

Last year, there were more exonerations than in any previous year in which government officials committed misconduct; the convictions were based on guilty pleas; no crime actually occurred; and a prosecutorial conviction integrity unit worked on the exoneration.

Police attribute more guilt, age to black youth suspects

One reason for those high exoneration rates for people of color can be found in a new study of how police attribute guilt and age when confronting black youth in suspicious circumstances.

The findings represent yet one more piece of evidence of deep flaws in our criminal justice system.

From the American Psychological Association:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study [open access] was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias — prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

A: Participants’ average age estimation accuracy for child suspects of different race. B: Participants’ average culpability rating for child suspects of different races. Error bars represent standard errors. From the study [open access].
Click on the image to enlarge.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of blacks could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9 years old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated blacks with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

The mind creates that ‘menacing big black man’

There’s something about the stereotype of the menacing big black man in films and other aspects of popular culture that you could almost make an acronymn of it, just as porn sites have made BBC descriptive another attribution about black males and size.

But it is in intersection of the menacing big black man stereotype and people with guns that makes a myth downright deadly  especially when most of us have an implicit bias to see black men as both larger more menacing than they would a white man in the same situation.

The findings have deep and troubling implications.

Consider, then, this new research from the American Psychological Association:

People have a tendency to perceive black men as larger and more threatening than similarly sized white men, according to research just published by the American Psychological Association.

“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” said lead author John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”

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Map of the day: Europe’s low fertility rates


Europe is undergoing a population implosion.

While some countries have higher birth rates than others, no country produces enough babies to maintain a constant population.

One has to wonder if the phenomenon contributes to Europe’s rising tide of xenophobia.

From Eurostat:

More from Eurostat:

In 2015, 5.103 million babies were born in the European Union (EU), compared with 5.063 million in 2001 (the first year comparable statistics are available). Among Member States, France continued to record the highest number of births (799,700in 2015), ahead of the United Kingdom (776,700), Germany (737,600), Italy (485,800), Spain (418,400) and Poland (369,300).

On average in the EU, women who gave birth to their first child in 2015 were aged nearly 29 (28.9 years). Across Member States, first time mothers were the youngest in Bulgaria and the oldest in Italy.

Overall, the total fertility rate in the EU increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015. It varied between Member States from 1.31 in Portugal to 1.96 in France in 2015. A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant without migration.

Total fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1 in all Member States

In 2015, France (1.96) and Ireland (1.92) were the two Member State with total fertility rates closest to the replacement level of around 2.1. They were followed by Sweden (1.85) and the United Kingdom (1.80). Conversely, the lowest fertility rates were observed in Portugal (1.31), Cyprus and Poland (both 1.32), Greece and Spain (both 1.33) as well as Italy (1.35).

In most Member States, the total fertility rate rose in 2015 compared with 2001. The largest increases were observed in Latvia (from 1.22 in 2001 to 1.70 in 2015, or +0.48), the Czech Republic (+0.42), Lithuania (+0.41), Slovenia (+0.36), Bulgaria (+0.32), Romania (+0.31), Sweden (+0.28) and Estonia (+0.26). In contrast, the highest decreases were registered in Cyprus (-0.25), Luxembourg (-0.19) and Portugal (-0.14). For the EU as a whole, the total fertility rate increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015 (+0.12).

How the U.S. military weaponizes video war games


Back in the 1971 a friend took us to the Stanford University campus we were taken to visit a massive mainframe computer that was probably about as powerful as the processor in today’s cell phone.

Ushered into a large , dark room, we were escorted to a man sitting in what resembled the command module of a high tech [for those days] spaceship featuring a comfortable upholstered chair positioned in front of a large black-and-white monitor

The screen displayed a solar system, and the fellow in the chair was controlling a moving objects we soon realized was a spaceship. The game was amazing, precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from a bunch of nerds with advanced degrees, with planets and sun all functioning as gravity wells that could trap the ship. Then there was that enemy ship. . .

When we got our chance to take the helm we were hooked.

But it took at 1960s mainframe to run it, so Spacewars! Was strictly a plaything for academic and corporate nerds.

It wasn’t for another 20 years that we could find a comparable home game, a Spacewars! version for the now-forgotten Vectrex home gaming system.

But the fascination of the game, which goes back to early fascination boys seem to have with playing solder, didn’t come into full blossom until 1990s, with the arrival of the first almost-realistic war games enabled by advances in hardware and software.

And once the games became realistic, they drew the attention of the Pentagon.

And therein lies the tale.

The Pentagon’s war games fascination at its costs

Two European doctoral students, Scott Nicholas Romaniuk of the University of Trento and Tobias Burgers of the Freie Universität Berlin, looked at this unique intersection of popular culture and the military/industrial complex.

They detail their findings in The Conversation, a plain language, open source, online academic  journal:

Violent video games have become embedded within American culture over the past several decades and especially since 9/11. First-person shooters, in particular, have become increasingly popular.

These games – in which players are positioned behind a gun – have turned a generation of kids into digital warriors who fight terrorists and battle alien invaders. Many play first-person shooters for pure, innocent enjoyment. Some like achieving objectives and being a part of a team. And, for others, it simply feels good to eliminate an enemy – especially someone who’s trying to harm them.

For the U.S. military, the rise of first-person shooters has been a welcome development. In recent years, the military has encouraged many of its soldiers to partake in the thrill of violent video games as a way to continue combat training, even when not on active duty. (In fact, using games to teach military tactics has been a longstanding practice in the U.S. military: Before video games, troops were encouraged to play military-themed board games.)

The games allow soldiers to take their combat roles home with them and blur their on-duty responsibilities with their off-duty, noncombat routines and lives.

But what effect have these video games had on U.S. soldiers? How accurately do they depict military life? And do they actually help recruit, train and retain troops?

From battle screen to battlefield

As part of a study, we interviewed 15 current and former members of the U.S. military who were between 24 and 35 years old to understand the role violent first-person shooter games played in their recruitment and training.

The majority of interviewees told us it was important to stay in the mindset of a soldier even when not on duty. To them, first-person shooters were the perfect vehicle for doing this.

Game preferences varied among the soldiers we interviewed, but popular titles included “Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2” and “ARMA 2,” which a current member of the Army said was “one of the most hardcore assault experiences in gaming.”

Meanwhile, an Iraq War veteran described “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” as “the ultimate first-person shooter experiences ever” and “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat. The choice of attacking with stealth or unleashing an all-out frontal assault full of mayhem is yours. It’s violent, it’s chaotic, it’s beautiful.”

In this, the Iraq War veteran seems to say that video games can reflect real-life combat situations, an attitude that others share.

Altered realities

But it’s tough to make the case that games accurately simulate what a soldier’s life is really like. First, military tours of duty are not solely made up of hard-charging, chaotic battles, like those in first-person shooters. The majority of soldiers won’t participate in any full-frontal combat operations.

Second – and, most importantly – in the digital world there are no legal and ethical considerations. When things go wrong, when innocent people are killed, there are no ramifications. If anything, the games warp these real-world consequences in the minds of players; in 2012, psychologists Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten and Helena R.M. Radke were able to use brain scans to show that playing violent video games had the potential to desensitize players to real-life violence and the suffering of others.

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A Muslim girl fights for her individuality


And we mean fight literally.

A wonderful documentary from Jayisha Patel of Australia’s SBS Dateline, a look at Fareeha, a remarkable young Indian women skilled in a very untraditional martial art struggling to make her way to the national championships.

It’s a story about a person from Hyderabad whose dream is to become a police officer so that she can protect young girls in a nation riven by religious and sexual violence.

Her struggle reveals tensions universal in modern life, created when cultural norms created in an era of slow travel and limited technology were evolved at a time when organized religion dominated all aspects of civic and familial life.

While the West dubs the struggle triggered by America’s armed imperialism Islamist, what has happened in the U.S. and Europe might be called a Christianist insurgence. While authoritarianism in the Mideast and North Africa is fueled by an authoritarian interpretation of the Koran and sayings attributed to the Prophet, while the authoritarianism of the West is inspired by an authoritarian interpretation of the Bible, relaying heavily on particularist selection of passages from practices proscribed by Torah and a vision of the imminent future taken from Revelation.

The cultural norms   struggles against are not so different than the gender-based laws many Republicans dream of enacting.

And when you look at how the Christianists really want to control women and their roles, is it really that different from what the Islamists want?

In that context, enjoy a remarkable, true story about a triumphal struggle.

From SBS Dateline:

India’s Wushu Warrior

Program notes:

What happens when cultural tradition clashes with a young person’s dream? Dateline meets a Muslim girl whose passion for martial arts is raising difficult questions for her family.

Chart of the day: EU second language learning


From Eurostat, a look at how many European second school students are studying languages other than their own [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-lingo

More from the report:

French: second most popular after English

Learning a foreign language at school is very common in the European Union (EU), with more than 17 million lower secondary school pupils (or 98.6% of all pupils at this education level) studying at least one foreign language in 2015. Among them, more than 10 million (58.8%) were studying two foreign languages or more.

English was by far the most popular language at lower secondary level, studied by nearly 17 million pupils (97.3%). French (5 million or 33.8%) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23.1%) and Spanish (2 million or 13.6%).

These data are issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.

Luxembourg, Finland and Italy on top for learning several foreign languages

In 2015, all or nearly all lower secondary school pupils learnt at least two foreign languages in Luxembourg (100%), Finland (98.4%), Italy (95.8%), Estonia (95.4%) and Romania (95.2%). In contrast, fewer than 10% of pupils were studying two or more languages in Hungary (6.0%) and Austria (8.8%).

English, French and German: top 3 foreign languages studied in the EU

English is by far the main foreign language studied during lower secondary education in the vast majority of Member States. In particular, all pupils attend English classes in Denmark, Malta and Sweden.

French is one of the two main foreign languages studied by all pupils in Luxembourg and is also the top foreign language studied in Ireland (by 60.4% of pupils) and Belgium (52.8%). In addition, French is the second most popular foreign language studied at lower secondary level in nine Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Cyprus (89.2%), Romania (83.6%), Portugal (66.6%), Italy (65.4%) and the Netherlands (55.6%).

Besides being studied by all pupils in Luxembourg, German ranks second in eight Member States, with the highest shares being registered in Denmark (73.6%), Poland (69.2%) and Slovakia (53.6%). Learning Spanish is notably popular in Sweden (43.7%) and France (39.0%), while Russian, the only commonly studied non-EU language, came second in the three Baltic States – Lithuania (66.2%), Estonia (63.6%) and Latvia (59.7%) – as well as in Bulgaria (16.9%).

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic. . .

Things are much more provincial here in the U.S., as the Pew Research Center noted in a 2015 report:

[T]he U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation, and primary schools have very low rates of even offering foreign-language course work. Some foreign-language learning standards can be met by taking non-language classes. For example, California requires one course in either the arts or a foreign language (including American Sign Language) for all high school students. Oklahomans can opt to take two years of the same foreign language or “of computer technology approved for college admission requirements.” Conversely, New Jersey students must earn “at least five credits in world languages” or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before they can graduate high school.

Perhaps because of these varying standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Of those who know a second language, 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals who are well-versed in a non-English language, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

It reminds us of an old joke we heard back in college some 44 years ago:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A. Trilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speak one language, and that badly?

A. An American.

Poor teens go hungry as younger sibs are fed


From Johns Hopkins University, an alarming finger about hunger and poverty in the United States:

In very poor families, teenagers are going hungry twice as often as their younger siblings, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.

Parents first forgo food themselves, skipping meals to feed their children. But if there still isn’t enough for everyone, the study found parents will feed younger children before teenagers, regularly leaving the older kids—teen boys in particular—without enough to eat.

“If you’re really poor, you try to sacrifice yourself first, but when you’re forced to make some choices, these parents are deciding to let the teens not have enough—if they have to give up on something, they’re giving up on teenagers,” said JHU economist Robert Moffitt, the lead author. “It’s hard to imagine parents having to do that.”

The study, which is the first to demonstrate how children’s food deprivation can differ by age and gender, even within the same household, is published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research [$5 to read].

Moffitt and co-author David C. Ribar of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research analyzed a survey of about 1,500 extremely disadvantaged families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The survey asked parents, along with one of their children, about missing meals, checking in with them several times over six years, from 1999 to 2005.

The families had incomes well below the federal poverty line, making an average of about $1,558 a month, or $18,696 a year. Most were headed by single parents, unemployed, on welfare, and not college-educated. Most were minorities and raising children in rental homes.

Questions for the parents included:

  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or other adults in your household cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or any other adults in your household not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford food?
  • Sometimes people lose weight because they don’t have enough to eat. In the past 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough food?

In these disadvantaged families, researchers found 12 percent of the adults suffered from extreme food hardship, answering “yes” to several of these questions. At the same time, about 4 percent of the children went hungry.

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Chart of the day: High schoolers shunning soda


From a new report on beverage choices by America’s high school-age youth from the Centers for Disease Control, a look at the fast-changing demographics of carbonated beverage consumption. Students were asked if they had consumed a soda within the last 24 hours, yielding these results:

During 2007–2015, daily soda consumption decreased from 33.8%  to  20.4%.  During 2007–2011, daily milk and juice consumption did not change; however,  during  2011–2015 daily milk and juice consumption decreased from 44.4% to 37.5% and from 28.2% to 21.6%, respectively.

During 2007–2015, daily soda consumption decreased from 33.8% to 20.4%. During 2007–2011, daily milk and juice consumption did not change; however, during 2011–2015 daily milk and juice consumption decreased from 44.4% to 37.5% and from 28.2% to 21.6%, respectively.

School shootings link to high unemployment rates


Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

Two charts from the report [open access] featuring [top] the monthly number of shooting events categorized based on number of fatalities [green 0–1, orange 2–5 and red >5] and [below], national unemployment rate peaks [black line] and how they qualitatively align with periods of elevated rates of school shootings [blue bars].

While there are other facts at work in individual cases, ranging from psychopathology and poor home relationships to immediate provocations, could high jobless rates play a key role in America’s school shootings?

That’s the conclusion of a just-published major study from Northwestern University:

A rigorous Northwestern University study of a quarter-century of data has found that economic insecurity is related to the rate of gun violence at K-12 and postsecondary schools in the United States. When it becomes more difficult for people coming out of school to find jobs, the rate of gun violence at schools increases.

The interdisciplinary study by data scientists Adam R. Pah and Luís Amaral and sociologist John L. Hagan reveals a persistent connection over time between unemployment and the occurrence of school shootings in the country as a whole, across various regions of the country and within affected cities, including Chicago and New York City.

“The link between education and work is central to our expectations about economic opportunity and upward mobility in America,” said Hagan, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Sociology in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences. “Our study indicates that increases in gun violence in our schools can result from disappointment and despair during periods of increased unemployment, when getting an education does not necessarily lead to finding work.”

Frequent school shootings have been a major concern in American society for decades, but the causes have defied understanding. The Northwestern researchers used data from 1990 to 2013 on both gun violence in U.S. schools and economic metrics, including unemployment, to get some answers.

“Our findings highlight the importance of economic opportunity for the next generation and suggest there are proactive actions we could take as a society to help decrease the frequency of gun violence,” said Pah, clinical assistant professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School of Management.

Other key findings include:

  • While Chicago is singled out in the study as one of the six cities with the most incidents from 1990 to 2013, Chicago schools are not any more dangerous than schools in other large cities.
  • Gun violence at schools has not become more deadly over time.
  • Most shootings are targeted, with the shooter intending to harm a specific person.
  • Gang-related violence and lone mass shooters comprise only small fractions of the gun violence that occurs at U.S. schools. Gang-related violence constitutes 6.6% of all incidents.
  • The results suggest that during periods of heightened unemployment, increased gun violence may be a growing risk in American college and university settings.

The study, Economic Insecurity and the Rise in Gun Violence at US Schools, [open access] was published Monday by the journal Nature Human Behaviour.

The research team also found the rate of gun violence at schools has changed over time. The most recent period studied (2007-2013) has a higher frequency of incidents than the preceding one (1994-2007), contradicting previous work in this area. This is a unique contribution made possible because of the researchers’ backgrounds in data science and modeling.

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Death dominates lives of young African Americans


We’ve long known that life expectancies of black Americans are significantly shorter than those of white Americans, as summarized in this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

Life expectancy, by race: United States, 1970–2010

Life expectancy, by race: United States, 1970–2010

But there’s another set of deaths rates given, until now,  little attention.

And these numbers carry profound and multifold impacts, the loss experienced by children as parents and other close family members die.

From the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin:

African-Americans are more likely than whites to experience the loss of a parent during childhood and more likely to be exposed to multiple family member deaths by mid-life, according to a study by the Population Research Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

It’s a trend that is likely to be damaging to the health of black Americans in the long run, the researchers said. Racial disparities in life expectancy and mortality risk in the United States also suggest that blacks are exposed to more family member deaths earlier and throughout their life than whites.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences [$10 for article access], UT Austin researchers examined racial disparities in exposure and timing of family member deaths to uncover an underappreciated layer of racial inequality, which results from reoccurring bereavement that may lead to the intergenerational transmission of black health disadvantages.

“The potentially substantial damage to surviving family members is a largely overlooked area of racial disadvantage,” said Debra Umberson, a sociology professor who is the director of the Population Research Center. “By calling attention to this heightened vulnerability of black Americans, our findings underscore the need to address the potential impact of more frequent and earlier exposure to family member deaths in the process of cumulative disadvantage.”

Using nationally representative datasets of more than 42,000 people, Umberson and her colleagues compared non-Hispanic black and non-Hispanic white Americans on their exposure to death of biological parents, siblings, children and spouses, as well as the total number of deaths experienced at different ages.

Umberson emphasizes that bereavement following the death of even one close family member has lasting adverse consequences for health. Premature losses are especially devastating.

“If losing a family member is a disadvantage in the present in ways that disrupt the future, racial disparities in these losses over the life course is a tangible manifestation of racial inequality that needs to be systematically documented,” she said.

The study showed that blacks experienced more family member deaths overall than whites. They were twice as likely to experience the death of two or more family members by age 30 and 90 percent more likely to experience four or more deaths by age 65. In stark contrast, whites were 50 percent more likely to never experience a family member death by age 65.

The researchers found overall that blacks were at greater risk of losing a mother from early childhood through young adulthood, a father through their mid-teens, a sibling in their teens and a child by the age of 30. The race-gap diminishes only slightly at ages 70 and up when whites begin to experience more loss, the researchers said.

Specific findings include:

  • In a cohort born in the 1980s,
    • Blacks were three times more likely to lose a mother, more than twice as likely to lose a father and 20 percent more likely to lose a sibling by age 10.
    • Blacks were two and a half times more likely to lose a child by age 30.
  • Among several older cohorts born in the 1900s to the 1960s,
    • Blacks were nearly twice as likely as whites to lose a spouse by age 60.
    • Blacks were 50 percent more likely to lose a sibling between the ages of 50 and 70.
    • Between the ages of 50 and 70 Blacks were three times more likely than whites to lose a child.

“This is the first population-based documentation of earlier and repeated bereavement experiences for Black Americans,” Umberson said. “Death of family members is highly likely to disrupt and strain other family relationships as well as the formation, duration and quality of relationships across the life course, further contributing to a broad range of adverse life outcomes including poor health and lower life expectancy.”

Report: Mexican army aided in Ayotzinapa kidnaps


Soon after the 26 September 2014 abduction and disappearance of 43 students from the Raúl Isidro Burgos Rural Teachers’ College in Ayotzinapa in the state of Guerrero [previously], reports began to emerge indicating that the Mexican army may have taken part in crime.

The Mexican government, needless to say, has denied any involvement.

But now comes a report from one of Mexico’s leading investigative journalists confirms the army’s involvement and lays more blame of the government for the Attorney General’s role in the coverup..

From teleSUR English:

On Friday, famed Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez reported that she read a secret report written by former head of internal affairs for the Mexican Attorney General, Cesar Alejandro Chavez Flores, which says officials from Mexico’s military, federal police, and the attorney general’s office itself “were present for all of the criminal events against” the students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School.

According to Hernandez, the “most important conclusion” of the report, written by Chavez Flores and reportedly signed off on by the former Attorney General, Arely Gomez, before her own October resignation, is that the captain of the 27th Battalion of the Mexican army was directly involved in the disappearances.

On the night of Sept. 26, 2014, a busload of students from the Ayotzinapa Normal School, an Indigenous teacher training school renowned for its activism, was pulled over in the southwestern state of Guerrero on its way to a demonstration in support of striking teachers. During a confrontation 6 people were killed, 25 injured, and 43 of the students were disappeared.

While the Mexican government continues to claim that the 43 students were killed by drug lords with the complicity of local police, several independent investigations have raised serious doubts about the story, suggesting national police and military involvement.

Hernandez also said that the yet to be released internal affairs report confirms an earlier leaked report by the Attorney General’s office that the former director of criminal investigations, Tomas Zeron de Lucio, had planted evidence and used brutal torture to help fabricate the government’s version of the events.

The report Hernandez read appears to be the fruits of an investigation into the allegations against Zeron de Lucio which the government ordered after his resignation.

Hernandez also said President Enrique Peña Nieto personally ordered the suppression of the two damning reports.

Chart of the day II: Thee world’s happiest workers


And the U.S. is way down the list.

From a Universum Global survey of 200,000+ young workers in 57 countries, with rankings based on three factors: Employee satisfaction, an employee’s willingness to recommend a current employer, and an employee’s likelihood to switch jobs in the next two to four years:

blog-workers

Aussie students hoist the Pharma Bro’s petard


Remember Pharma Bro?

That’s the nickname of Martin Shkreli, the greedy investor who plunged into the depths of infamy when he upped the price of a vital malaria drug by 30 times when it bought the only company that makes it.

Well, it seems some Australian students found a way to make the pils, which Shkreli priced at $750 a pop for a mere two bucks.

In other words, you could buy 375 of their pills from what one of Pharma Bro’s would cost you, before an internal furor forced him to cut the price to a mere $375.

Besides malaria, the drug is used to treat toxoplasmosis [previously], a disease caused by exposure to cats, and parasitical infections sometimes found in AIDS patients.

Well, it looks like the price will be coming down, and very soon.

From euronews:

The man who became a global figure of greed after hiking the price of a life-saving drug by 5000 percent in the US, may have just met his match.

Last year, US entrepreneur Martin Shkreli bought Turing Pharmaceuticals and almost immediately increased the price of the medicine Daraprim in the US from $13.50 to $750.

Now a group of school students in Australia has replicated a key-ingredient in the medicine for just $2.

Daraprim is an anti-parasitic drug used to treat malaria and HIV patients.

One of the students taking part in the experiments, Brandon Lee said: “It was a lot of trial and error, the process. We had to repeat a lot of the reactions and try different reaction conditions in order to see which materials in which things would react to make the Daraprim. But, yeah, it was a rollercoaster of emotions sometimes. I think because we are high school students we are able to relate to a larger audience, able to relate to the general public and show that even ordinary high school students like us, are able to make this drug for a pretty low price.”

Israeli shapes a U.S. law enabling campus purges


How would Americans like it if, say, North Korea dictated a law barring criticism of that country on U.S. campuses.

We imagine lots of folks would get righteously upset.

But an Israeli propagandist and former Deputy Prime Minister has done just that.

From the Intercept:

After Donald Trump’s election emboldened white supremacists and inspired a wave of anti-Semitic hate incidents across the country, the Senate on Thursday took action by passing a bill aimed at limiting the free-speech rights of college students who express support for Palestinians.

By unanimous consent, the Senate quietly passed the so-called Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, only two days after it was introduced by Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Tim Scott, R-S.C.

A draft of the bill obtained by The Intercept encourages the Department of Education to use the State Department’s broad, widely criticized definition of anti-Semitism when investigating schools. That definition, from a 2010 memo, includes as examples of anti-Semitism “delegitimizing” Israel, “demonizing” Israel, “applying double standards” to Israel, and “focusing on Israel only for peace or human rights investigations.”

Critics have pointed out that those are political — not racist — positions, shared by a significant number of Jews, and qualify as protected speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.

According to the draft, the bill does not adopt the definition as a formal legal standard, it only directs the State Department to “take into consideration” the definition when investigating schools for anti-Semitic discrimination under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Now why do we say that the law is the creation of an Israeli propagandist?

That’s because those key words — demonizing, delegitimizing, demonizing — are the formula created by Israeli political propagandist, Natan Sharansky, a former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs and a good friend of Sheldon Adelson, the zealous Ziocon and Las Vegas casino magnate, and newspaper publisher who poured $25 million into a Trump-supporting PAC and sits on Trump’s inauguration committee.

Sharanksy,’s formulation is a brilliant semantic coup, employing words of such vagueness that they can be applied to virtually any critic of Israeli policies.

We know that, because they have been applied to us, repeatedly, first when reporting on the actions of a campaign launched against the Berkeley Daily Planet, a paper that came under fire from a motley crew of militant Ziocons angry because the paper published letters critical of Israeli government policies toward its Palestinian population.

Hillary Clinton lead the way

Attesting to the brilliance of Sharansky’s word-spinning is the fact that it was adopted as the adoption of that very definition of antisemitism by the State Department under Hillary Clinton.

Surely it’s legitimate to criticize the actions of a government which clearly applies double standards by seizing land and homes of non-Jewish citizens while not taking the same actions toward the property of its Jewish citizens.

Similarly, one could question’s Israel’s legitimacy, given that the state was created as the result of an accord between by the British and French governments without the consent of those who lived their, the majority of them not Jewish.

As for demonizing, what word could be more vague?

Trump-inspired hate floods the nation’s classrooms


Not only are incidents of overt racism and hatred on the rise in the nation’s schools, fear is leading teachers not to talk about it.

From the Southern Poverty Law Center:

In the first days after the 2016 presidential election, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project administered an online survey to K–12 educators from across the country. Over 10,000 teachers, counselors, administrators and others who work in schools have responded. The survey data indicate that the results of the election are having a profoundly negative impact on schools and students. Ninety percent of educators report that school climate has been negatively affected, and most of them believe it will have a long-lasting impact. A full 80 percent describe heightened anxiety and concern on the part of students worried about the impact of the election on themselves and their families.

Also on the upswing: verbal harassment, the use of slurs and derogatory language, and disturbing incidents involving swastikas, Nazi salutes and Confederate flags.

Teaching Tolerance conducted a previous survey in March, when we asked teachers how the primary campaign season was affecting our nation’s students. The 2,000 educators who responded reported that the primary season was producing anxiety among vulnerable students and emboldening others to new expressions of politicized bullying. Teachers overwhelming named the source of both the anxiety and the behavior as Donald Trump, then a leading contender for the Republican nomination.

Since Trump was elected, media have been awash in reports of hate incidents around the nation, including at schools. Some detractors have characterized the reports as isolated, exaggerated or even as hoaxes. This survey, which was distributed by several organizations (see About the Survey for a complete list), via email and social media, offers the richest source of information about the immediate impact of the election on our country. The findings show that teachers, principals and district leaders will have an oversized job this year as they work to heal the rifts within school communities.

The survey asked respondents a mix of easily quantifiable questions and also offered them a chance to describe what was happening in open-ended questions. There are over 25,000 responses, in the form of comments and stories, to the open-ended questions. It will take time to fully analyze and report on those comments. This report provides a high-level summary of the findings.

Here are the highlights:

  • Nine out of 10 educators who responded have seen a negative impact on students’ mood and behavior following the election; most of them worry about the continuing impact for the remainder of the school year.
  • Eight in 10 report heightened anxiety on the part of marginalized students, including immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and LGBT students.
  • Four in 10 have heard derogatory language directed at students of color, Muslims, immigrants and people based on gender or sexual orientation.
  • Half said that students were targeting each other based on which candidate they’d supported.
  • Although two-thirds report that administrators have been “responsive,” four out of 10 don’t think their schools have action plans to respond to incidents of hate and bias.
  • Over 2,500 educators described specific incidents of bigotry and harassment that can be directly traced to election rhetoric. These incidents include graffiti (including swastikas), assaults on students and teachers, property damage, fights and threats of violence.
  • Because of the heightened emotion, half are hesitant to discuss the election in class. Some principals have told teachers to refrain from discussing or addressing the election in any way.

Read the rest.

Chart of the Day: European celebratory isolation


blog-drinks

From Eurostat, which reports:

13.0% of the population aged 16 or over living in the European Union (EU) reported in 2014 not being able to get together with friends/family for a drink or meal at least once a month due to lack of resources, while 17.8% could not afford to regularly participate in a leisure activity.

Working age people (aged 25 to 64) were slightly more affected. The shares in this age group stood at 13.9% and 19.6% respectively, while they were 11.0% and 16.3% for young people (aged 16 to 24) and 11.2% and 13.5% for the elderly (aged 65 or over).

Around one third of the population in Hungary (36.5%), Romania (35.7%) and Bulgaria (30.0%) said they could not afford to get together with friends/family for a drink/meal at least once a month. High shares were also observed in Greece (20.7%), Malta (19.2%), Ireland (18.4%) and Lithuania (17.4%). The elderly in Romania are particularly affected: in the age group over 65, the share there reaches 43.0%. In Hungary, the share is higher among the young (40.0%).

At the opposite end the scale, the share was below 1% in all age groups in Sweden. Less than 5% of the population feel unable to get together with friends/family for a drink/meal at least once a month also in Finland (1.5%), Denmark (3.2%), the Netherlands (3.3%), the Czech Republic (3.4%) and Luxembourg (4.1%).

Economy: Spain’s Millennials live with parents


While Eurocrats have hailed Spain’s “recovery” from the Great Recession, lauding themselves for accomplishing a miracle with bailout loans from the International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank, the reality is quite different.

The draconian austerity regime dictated by the by the financial oligarchs effectively destroyed the futures of millions of young Spaniards.

From El País:

For the first time in 12 years, less than 20% of people aged between 16 and 30 are living outside the family home. In the second quarter of 2016, the figure was 19.6%, a 4.84% increase on the period in 2015, says Spain’s Youth Council. It adds that of those who have managed to leave their parents, only 16.7% are living alone.

The official unemployment rate among the under-30s is 34.4%, but the reality is that only two out of every 10 under-24s is working, and more than 55% of them are on short-term contracts, while 60% are earning less than €1,000 a month.

Victor Reloba, of the Youth Council, says that while unemployment has fallen slightly, young people are unable to leave the family home because even if they are in work, they will likely be on zero-hours contracts, short-term contracts, or earning money from a number of different activities. “One in four young people is poor,” he explains.

Most under-30s who have managed to leave home are living in shared accommodation with two or more other people.