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Member since: Tue Feb 10, 2004, 12:08 PM
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Environmental Scientist

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Salvation Army Refuses Housing Shelter To Transgender Woman

Back in March, Jodielynn Wiley fled her life in Paris, Texas. Because she is transgender, she had received death threats and had found dead animals left on her front porch. When she asked the police for help, they told her, “Being the way you are, you should expect that.” Wiley landed in Dallas, where she found emergency shelter at the Carr P. Collins Social Service Center, run by the Salvation Army.

As she reached the end of her 30-day stay at the emergency shelter, Wiley sought other long-term shelter options. One such option was the a two-year housing program run by the Salvation Army, which several other women from the Collins Center had recently entered. According to the Dallas Voice, when she interviewed for the program with her case worker, Wiley was told she was disqualified because she had not had gender reassignment surgery:

“After I said no, she said, ‘Well, that’s why we can’t give you a room. It was putting me in an uncomfortable situation and very rude.” Her counselor then changed the story and claimed that there was a waiting list, but Wiley says that two women who arrived at the emergency shelter after she did had already entered the longer program.

Wiley has now filed a complaint with Dallas’s Fair Housing Office, which protects against discrimination on the basis of gender identity. At stake seems to be an exception in the housing nondiscrimination law, which allows for discrimination on the basis of sex “when the dwelling contains common lavatory, kitchen, or similar facilities available for the use of all persons occupying the dwelling.” The space Wiley was vying for was gender segregated, and so the outcome of the complaint may depend on whether the spirit of the law is to create an exception to discriminate based on an individual’s genitalia or whether to simply allow for gender-specific spaces for safety purposes. The intake staff may also have simply violated the Salvation Army’s own policies about respecting trans identities.

In the meantime, Wiley has found a place to stay through the Shared Housing Project, a new program started by the Trans Pride Initiative. The novel project aims to find trans people with housing who are willing to support those without.



Asian gets sentenced to death by stoning for adultery in Abu Dhabi

Published Sunday, May 04, 2014
An Abu Dhabi criminal court sentenced an Asian housemaid to stoning to death after she was found guilty of committing adultery while married.

The maid had been rushed to hospital following abdominal pains and tests showed she was pregnant after sleeping with another man.

Newspapers said the maid confessed in court that she committed adultery and the judge handed down the sentence on the basis of her confession in line with Islamic law.

It was the first time in many years that a person was sentenced to stoning to death in such a case in the UAE. Judicial sources said the maid can appeal the sentence.


Why Escalation Happens

The Ukrainian crisis is officially below-the-fold now, as what began with large-scale actions—the appearance of Russian troops in Ukraine, the annexation of Crimea—becomes day-to-day, piece-by-piece escalation toward actual war as Ukrainian forces spar with pro-Russian separatists: downed helicopters, gunfights over checkpoints and bridges, kidnappings, and the apparent torpedoing of a Russian/Ukrainian de-escalation agreement. All in all, it's a bad scene and it's difficult to come up with a "winning" situation for anyone involved, no matter the outcome.

What would be rational for the various different players in the current crisis? What reduces violence, economic harm, and regional instability? These are considerations that would seem to demarcate rationality in Ukraine, though the direct players are so far more interested in other, less rational things, like nationalism, stand-making, ethnic dividing, and rhetoric. The conflict's news cycle might be becoming more atomized and routine—more of a map than a headline—but game theory (and psychology generally) tell us that we're at the absolute critical moment for a rational outcome, if not past it already.

Escalation, generally, is the realm of cognitive bias, e.g. a mode of thinking that skews from good judgement and rationality. Judgement becomes fixated on past outcomes rather than future outcomes: I have already done this, therefor I should do this, rather than, If I do this, the outcome will be bad. It's an ego thing, an overpowering resistance to being seen as a failure. If you had x number of dollars to spend on an outcome and you had a choice between two different outcomes, one better and one worse, rather than spend the money on the better outcome, you would be more likely to spend money on whichever outcome you'd already spent money on, even if it's worse. This is called the "sunk-cost effect" and it's sort of the essence of escalation, whether it appears during the run-up to war or in a casino.

An interesting example of the effect is seen in the NBA. A study released in 1995 courtesy of some Cornell researchers looked the relative draft cost of different basketball players (first pick being the most expensive and so on) and how much time they spent on the court playing in games vs. time spent on the bench. Rational decision making would have the most productive (best) players getting the most on-court time, regardless of what pick they were in the draft, but the Cornell team found that draft pick rank was having a disproportionate effect on how much time players spent playing.


When Crumbling Infrastructure Actually Crumbles

Freight rail transport on the United States' densely packed East Coast is anchored by a single rail line belonging to the CSX corporation. There are other rail lines in the East, of course, but this one, hugging Interstate 95 from Florida to New Jersey while connecting ocean ports, population centers, and the rest of the country's goods transportation network, is truly special. When the line reaches Maryland, just a little ways south of Baltimore, it's occupying the same route that once supported America's very first (real) railway, the Baltimore and Ohio. This is about where things go to shit.

Railways are big fans of things that work, less so of things that work more safety or even things that work more efficiently. Just after crossing onto the old B&O line, CSX trains cross the Thomas Viaduct, a nearly 200 year old stone bridge that looks like a piece of ancient Rome, and not long after that they'll find themselves in the Howard Street Tunnel. The tunnel, a relic of the late 1800s, caught fire in 2001 when a train carrying loads of bad-news chemicals jumped the tracks, spilling a full tanker of triproylene and 2,554 gallons of hydrochloric acid into a poorly ventilated, difficult-to-access hole underneath the downtown hub of a major US city.

The tunnel burned for almost a full week, with wood and paper goods going up along with the chemicals, effectively shutting down the entire central Baltimore core. It was an incident waiting to happen. An article from the Baltimore Sun quotes (as cited in the linked 2001 study on the fire) an unnamed federal transportation official as saying, "... the problem would be getting in there to fight the fire... If you had an explosion, fire would shoot out of both ends like a bazooka." Nothing much has changed since the accident.

A mile or so after the tunnel comes the next artifact, a viaduct carved through a quiet residential district called Charles Village, where trains pass below street level, like a tunnel without a roof. The passage is lined on either side by stone walls about a single story tall, themselves topped with wrought iron fencing. Like the tunnel, the viaduct dates back to the late 1800s; even the fencing is a century old. Finally, after days of epic rain, a wall of the viaduct collapsed (above), taking half a city street with it. Thankfully no one was hurt. Some residents are blaming the railroad, citing an extensive history of complaints pertaining to the long-sagging wall, while the city claims it performed structural tests on the viaduct only a year before, finding it safe.


Even GOP is getting sick of Benghazi deceit

By Jay Bookman
The lying and deception being used to fuel the Benghazi "controversy" has begun to embarrass even some prominent Republicans, and they're starting to speak out against the tactics employed by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa.

The latest is U.S. Rep. Buck McKeon, the Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. His committee has held extensive hearings into the question of whether U.S. military assets could have responded in time to assist our people in Benghazi, and it has concluded emphatically that the answer is no.

This week, however, Issa tried to resurrect the issue by caling a retired Air Force brigadier general to testify that "the military could have made a response of some kind" but did not, suggesting a response had been held back by the State Department. That claim quickly became headlines at Fox News, and was seized upon by U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, who has been egregiously irresponsible and loose with the facts on this issue.

"We didn’t run to the sound of the guns,” Chaffetz said. “We had Americans dying. We had dead people. We had wounded people and our military didn’t try to engage in that fight."

That brought an unusually harsh response from McKeon, who noted that the retired general, Robert Lovell, did not serve in the chain of command in charge of events that night and had no firsthand knowledge of what capabilities were available.



Sunday's Doonesbury- Going Viral

The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected


You may have given no thought to the “cut scores” that are set for various tests, but they make all the difference in who passes and who fails. What exactly are cut scores? The Educational Testing Service describes them this way:
Cut scores are selected points on the score scale of a test. The points are used to determine whether a particular test score is sufficient for some purpose.

Notice the word “selected.” Cut scores are selected based on criteria that the selectors decide have some meaning. Unfortunately, it is often the case that the criteria have no real validity in revealing student achievement, which is the supposed mission of the test — and that means the scores have no meaning either. This post, by award-winning Prinicipal Carol Burris of South Side High School in New York, explains all of this in chilling detail.

Burris has been doing a remarkable job of chronicling New York’s botched reform effort for some time on this blog. (You can read some of her work here, here, here, here, here, and here.) Her narrative is important beyond the boundaries of New York, because other states are also doing some of the same things in the name of school reform. Burris was named New York’s 2013 High School Principal of the Year by the School Administrators Association of New York and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and in 2010, tapped as the 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State. She is the co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student test scores. It has been signed by thousands of principals teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens. You can read the letter by clicking here.



You just can't make this stuff up!

GOP candidate was once a female impersonator

Steve Wiles, a Republican state Senate candidate who supports North Carolina’s constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage, once worked as a female impersonator at a gay nightclub in Winston-Salem and was gay at the time, according to a co-owner of the nightclub and a former employee.

Wiles, 34, was in his early 20s when he worked at the now-defunct nightclub, Club Odyssey, according to co-owner Randy Duggins and former employee Gray Tomlinson.

“He is Mona Sinclair,” Duggins said, referring to Wiles’ female persona.



Taiwan moves to levy "rich man's tax"

TAIPEI: Taiwan has moved to levy a so-called "rich man's tax" on nearly 10,000 of the island's wealthiest people in a bid to narrow the income gap, officials said Friday.

Under the proposal, those with annual net income of over Tw$10 million (US$333,000), or the richest 1.5 per cent of individuals or families, will pay a 45 per cent income tax rate, up from the current 40 per cent, said the finance ministry.

"We will raise taxes for the top (earners) and reduce taxes for low and modest income earners ... which will definitely improve the income distribution," finance minister Chang Sheng-ford told reporters.

Taiwan's tycoons, including Foxconn Group founder Terry Gou and Morris Chang, chairman of leading contract microchip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., backed the proposal as "they have donated more money than the additional taxes" they would be paying, Chang said.


Our manifesto for Europe (Piketty)

Thomas Piketty and 14 others

The European Union is experiencing an existential crisis, as the European elections will soon brutally remind us. This mainly involves the eurozone countries, which are mired in a climate of distrust and a debt crisis that is very far from over: unemployment persists and deflation threatens. Nothing could be further from the truth than imagining that the worst is behind us.

This is why we welcome with great interest the proposals made at the end of 2013 by our German friends from the Glienicke group for strengthening the political and fiscal union of the eurozone countries. Alone, our two countries will soon not weigh much in the world economy. If we do not unite in time to bring our model of society into the process of globalisation, then the temptation to retreat into our national borders will eventually prevail and give rise to tensions that will make the difficulties of union pale in comparison. In some ways, the European debate is much more advanced in Germany than in France. As economists, political scientists, journalists and, above all, citizens of France and Europe, we do not accept the sense of resignation that is paralysing our country. Through this manifesto, we would like to contribute to the debate on the democratic future of Europe and take the proposals of the Glienicke group still further.

It is time to recognise that Europe's existing institutions are dysfunctional and need to be rebuilt. The central issue is simple: democracy and the public authorities must be enabled to regain control of and effectively regulate 21st century globalised financial capitalism. A single currency with 18 different public debts on which the markets can freely speculate, and 18 tax and benefit systems in unbridled rivalry with each other, is not working, and will never work. The eurozone countries have chosen to share their monetary sovereignty, and hence to give up the weapon of unilateral devaluation, but without developing new common economic, fiscal and budgetary instruments. This no man's land is the worst of all worlds.

The point is not to pool all our taxes and government spending. All too often today's Europe has proved to be stupidly intrusive on secondary issues (such as the VAT rate on hairdressers and equestrian clubs) and pathetically impotent on important ones (such as tax havens and financial regulation). We must reverse the order of priorities, with less Europe on issues on which member countries do very well on their own, and more Europe when union is essential.


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