Saturday, October 31, 2015

Saturday 10-31-15

Detroit Public Schools: 93% Not Proficient in Reading; 96% Not Proficient in Math

In the Detroit public school district, 96 percent of eighth graders are not proficient in mathematics and 93 percent are not proficient in reading.
That is according to the results of the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress tests published by the Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics.
Only 4 percent of Detroit public school eighth graders are proficient or better in math and only 7 percent in reading. This is despite the fact that in the 2011-2012 school year—the latest for which the Department of Education has reported the financial data—the Detroit public schools had “total expenditures” of $18,361 per student and “current expenditures” of $13,330 per student.
According to data published by the Detroit Public Schools, the school district’s operating expenses in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014 amounted to approximately $14,743 per student.
Nationwide, only 33 percent of public-school eighth graders scored proficient or better in reading in 2015 and only 32 percent scored proficient or better in mathematics.
In 2015, 21 large urban school districts participated in the NAEP tests in reading and mathematics as part of what the Department of Education calls its Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). Among these 21 districts, the Detroit Public Schools had the smallest percentages of eighth graders scoring proficient or better in reading and math.
In reading, the Cleveland public schools were next to last among the large urban school districts with only 11 percent scoring proficient or better. Baltimore and Fresno were tied for third worst with only 13 percent scoring proficient or better; and Philadelphia ranked fifth worst with only 16 percent scoring proficient or better.
The Cleveland public schools also ranked next to last in math, with only 9 percent of eight graders scoring proficient or better. Baltimore and Fresno were also tied for third worst in math, with only 12 percent scoring proficient or better; and Los Angeles ranked fifth worst with 15 percent scoring proficient or better in math.
The Department of Education has published fiscal information on the Detroit public schools for the 2011-2012 school year. That year, the Detroit Public Schools had total expenditures of $1,231,375,000, equaling $18,361 per student. That included $13,330 per student for current expenditures, $3,182 for capital outlays, and $1,737 for interest on the school system’s debt.
$271,358,000 of the school district's funding for the 2011-2012 school year came from the federal government.
Fiscal data for the 2011-2012 school year in the Detroit public schools as published by U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. (Screen capture)

The $13,330 for “current expenditures” included $515,473,000 for “instructional expenditures,” $133,282,000 for “student and staff support,” $97,800,000 for “administration,” and $147,411,000 for “operations, food service” and other expenses.
The Detroit Public Schools’ Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014 says the school district served “an estimated 48,905 students” during that fiscal year. “Of the District’s total operating expenditures of approximately $721 million, 48 percent or approximately $346 million, was spent on instruction for the year ended on June 30, 2014,” said the report.
The approximately $721 million in total operating expenditures the school district reported for fiscal 2014 equaled approximately $14,743 for each of the district’s 48,905 students.

Math, reading scores slip for nation's school kids
WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's a not-so rosy report card for the nation's schoolchildren.
Math scores slipped for fourth and eighth graders over the last two years, and reading grades were not much better, flat for fourth graders and lower for eighth graders, according to the 2015 Nation's Report Card.
The results of the test, officially known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, were released Wednesday.
The report suggests students have a ways to go to demonstrate a solid grasp or mastery of their reading and math skills.
Only about a third of the nation's eighth-graders were at proficient or above in math and reading. Among fourth graders, the results were slightly better in reading and in math, about two in five scored proficient or above.
And the report found a continuing achievement gap between white and black students.
There were a few bright spots. The District of Columbia and Mississippi both saw substantial gains in reading and math.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged parents, teachers, and others not to panic about the scores as states embrace higher academic standards, such as Common Core.
"We should expect scores in this period to bounce around some, and I think that 'implementation dip' is part of what we're seeing here," Duncan said in a phone call with reporters. "I would caution everyone to be careful about drawing conclusions ... anyone who claims to have this all figured out is pedaling a personal agenda, rather than an educational one."
Reacting to the scores, Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, said one year's worth of data shouldn't send the nation's schools and teachers off in a different direction.
"Having the higher academic standards caused the states and teachers and districts to change the way they're teaching certain things," Minnich said in an interview. "We may be in a place where some of the questions that are asked on this national test aren't being taught at the same time they were being taught before."
The Common Core standards were developed by the states with the support of the administration. They spell out what students should know in English and math at each grade level, with a focus on critical thinking and less of an emphasis on memorization. But they have become a rallying point for critics who want a smaller federal role in education and some parents confounded by some of the new concepts being taught.
The NAEP tests don't align completely with Common Core, but NAEP officials said there was "quite a bit" of overlap between the tests and the college-ready standards.
Among the findings from the exam:
-36 percent of fourth graders were at or above the proficient level in reading, about the same as 2013. Only 34 percent of eighth-grade students were proficient or better in reading, a two-point drop. But both measures were sharply higher than 1990 results.
-40 percent of fourth-grade students were at or above proficiency in math this year. That's down two points from 2013, and marks the first decline for that measure since 1990. For eighth graders, only 33 percent of students were proficient or better in math, also a two-point decline.
-Fourth-grade math scores were higher in the District of Columbia and Mississippi - up three points for each. In 16 states, scores dropped. They were flat in the rest. In eighth-grade math, there were no gains across the states, and 22 states had lower scores than in 2013.
-For reading, scores were higher for fourth-graders in 13 states and jurisdictions, including the District of Columbia - up seven points. Mississippi and Louisiana were also higher, both states up six points. At the eighth-grade level, reading improved only in West Virginia, up three points from 2013.
-There were no significant changes in the achievement gap for reading between white students and their black and Hispanic peers. But for math, there was a small narrowing in the gap between white fourth graders and their black peers. The average score for white students was 24 points higher, slightly smaller than the 26-point gap in 2013.
NEA union targets homeschoolers for new government restrictions
WASHINGTON, D.C. – If you want entertaining reading, I recommend portions of the National Education Association’s 2014-15 Resolutions.

An earlier post noted the NEA’s strange urge
to take positions on global climate change, international consumer protection, infants with disabilities, and many other topics completely outside its areas of concern.
Today, I’ll highlight NEA’s almost-too-ridiculous-to-be-believed resolution on home schooling. Here’s the passage in full:
The National Education Association believes that home schooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience. When home schooling occurs, students enrolled must meet all state curricular requirements, including the taking and passing of assessments to ensure adequate academic progress. Home schooling should be limited to the children of the immediate family, with all expenses being borne by the parents/guardians. Instruction should be by persons who are licensed by the appropriate state education licensure agency, and a curriculum approved by the state department of education should be used.
Unions our my cup of tea 337x244The Association also believes that home-schooled students should not participate in any extracurricular activities in the public schools.
The Association further believes that local public school systems should have the authority to determine grade placement and/or credits earned toward graduation for students entering or re-entering the public school setting from a home school setting.

I’ll start charitably. Home school students should take the “assessment tests” required by their state. And of course public school districts should have the power to “determine grade placement” for students moving from home schooling to a public school.
The “no extracurricular activities” policy is simply mean-spirited. If families are willing to pay the necessary fees for sports, bands, theater productions, debate clubs, etc., what’s the issue? They’re already paying to support the local schools and getting next to nothing in return. And if some activities require a class (like band or choir), the home-schooled student should be able to take that class. Fortunately, more than 20 states have ignored the NEA and let local home schoolers participate in their local public school extracurriculars.
As for homeschoolers not getting “a comprehensive education experience,” the hubris is simply breathtaking. It’s hard to know where to start – with the arrogant assumption that they know what’s best for every child? with the weird assurance that “comprehensive” learning can’t occur outside NEA-approved settings? with the barely disguised sneer at parents taking charge of their own children’s education?
In the face of such lunacy, it’s best just to laugh.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Friday 10-30-15

Massive Debt, Budget Deal Introduced In Dead of Night, Vote Violates Another Boehner Pledge

The giant debt ceiling increase rolled together with a budget deal was introduced at 11:36 p.m. Monday, in the dead of night, several congressional sources confirm to Breitbart News.

The text is 144 pages long and increases the debt ceiling beyond when President Barack Obama leaves office, all the way until March 2017.  It also, according to Politico, increases spending by $50 billion this year and $30 billion more the following year.
As AP reports, House Speaker
is pushing for a Wednesday vote, this would be yet another instance in which he has broken his promise to give members and the public three full days—72 hours—to read legislation before voting on it.

“We will ensure that bills are debated and discussed in the public square by publishing the text online for at least three days before coming up for a vote in the House of Representatives,” Boehner’s “Pledge to America” reads. “No more hiding legislative language from the minority party, opponents, and the public. Legislation should be understood by all interested parties before it is voted on.”
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in February 2010, Boehner also promised that three full days meant “at least 72 hours.”
By scheduling a vote on Wednesday—any time before 11:36 p.m. on Thursday, actually—Boehner would be violating that pledge.
Boehner is also putting the chances of his likely successor, House Ways and Means Committee chairman
, at risk. Ryan has indicated he thinks the “process stinks” on this, but is planning to review the deal in its entirety before making a decision one way or the other.

Ryan’s office has refused to answer a series of basic questions from Breitbart News on whether he believes all Republicans in the House should support or oppose the deal, what took him so long to comment on the deal at all (he still hasn’t weighed in on the substance just the process), whether he would support
remaining on as Majority Leader if he becomes Speaker after McCarthy contradicted him on the process of the deal, and whether Ryan would allow staffers who were involved in this process who currently work for Boehner to remain working for the Speaker’s office if and when this takes over. Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck, over the course of several emails on Tuesday, openly refused to answer each of those questions. Buck used to work for Boehner.

The Associated Press captured in its piece on Tuesday just how high stakes this game is for Ryan’s chances.
“The House budget vote slated for Wednesday would come on the same day as the GOP caucus nominates its candidate, widely expected to be Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan,” the Associated Press wrote.
That means that as the House votes on this monstrosity, it will also be voting to nominate Ryan as the GOP conference official candidate for the Speakership—setting him up for a floor vote on Thursday at which Ryan needs to win a majority of those present and voting for a person.
If he fails to achieve that absolute majority on the floor—something absolutely possible since
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL)
is still running against him—then it could set up a catastrophic-for-Ryan second ballot fight at which point Ryan would likely eventually step aside. It’s still entirely uncertain what is going to happen between now and Thursday, but with Ryan siding with the establishment in Washington on things like this it’s highly unlikely there will be a clear answer until it all goes down. Making matters more interesting, too, is that GOP presidential candidates are arriving in Boulder, Colorado. All are likely going to face questions about this highly unpopular deal going down in Washington.

Record number of Americans renounce citizenship

A record number of Americans have renounced their citizenship so far this year, according to data from the Internal Revenue Service.
According to IRS data published in the Federal Register on Monday, 1,426 Americans expatriated in the third quarter of 2015, bringing this year's total to 3,221 so far. The figure is 25 percent higher than the same period last year, when 2,585 renounced their citizenship.
The federal government made money from the move. The administrative processing fee required from those who renounce citizenship increased from $450 to $2,350 last year, which means those who left paid the feds a record parting gift total of just over $7.5 million.
In addition to being a record for the year to date, it was the second quarterly record broken in 2015. The previous record was 1,336, set in the first quarter of the year. The IRS began collecting the data in 1996 as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

9 Foods That Last Forever

You've just gotten halfway through a recipe, only to discover that a key ingredient is missing because you tossed it during your last cleaning spree.

It’s a predicament you shouldn't have to face again — at least when it comes to the nine kitchen staples we've listed here.

When stored properly, these everyday items will last for years — sometimes decades — even after they’ve been opened. And they’ll lose very little, if any, of their original quality as time passes. So think twice before tossing one of these items. If you've been handling it correctly, chances are it's just fine.
1.     HONEY
Pure honey is as durable as it is delicious; it keeps safe indefinitely. Honey may change color or crystallize over time, but that won't make it unsafe.
Keep it fresh: Store in a cool area and keep tightly closed. Revive crystallized honey by placing the opened jar in warm water and stirring until dissolved.
2.     RICE
White, wild, arborio, jasmine and basmati rice all have an indefinite shelf life, when kept free from contaminants. The exception: brown rice. Thanks to its higher oil content, it won’t keep nearly as long.

Keep it fresh: Store in a cool, dry area.
Once opened, place rice in a sealed airtight container or place original package in a resealable heavy-duty freezer bag. For added protection, store rice in the refrigerator or freezer.
3.     SUGAR
White, brown or powdered sugar never spoils because it doesn’t support bacterial growth. The real challenge is to prevent it from becoming rock-hard.
Keep it fresh: Keep sugar in a cool, dry area. To prevent sugar from hardening after opening, place it in an airtight container or cover the original package in a heavy-duty plastic bag and seal tightly.
Whipping up some penne alla vodka and a pitcher of cocktails? Distilled spirits vodka, rum, whiskey, gin, tequila and the like don’t spoil, even after opening. The taste and aroma may fade gradually, but it’ll take ages before you notice.  
Keep it fresh: Store in cool, dark area, away from direct heat or sunlight. Keep bottle tightly closed when not in use.
Pure maple syrup not only makes your pancakes special, it adds tremendous flavor to a whole range of dishes. Best of all, it keeps forever in the freezer.
Keep it fresh: Refrigerate after opening. For long-term storage, freeze maple syrup in airtight plastic containers.
Yes, it’s more expensive than its imitation counterpart. But pure vanilla extract keeps forever, so you’ll never have to waste a drop.
Keep it fresh: Store in cool, dark cupboard and keep tightly closed when not in use.
A reliable standby in everything from marinades to salad dressings, distilled white vinegar will remain virtually unchanged as the years pass by. 
Keep it fresh: Store vinegar a cool, dark area and keep tightly capped after each use.
A must-have for thickening sauces, gravies, and puddings. Cornstarch will keep indefinitely if it's kept dry and free from contaminants.
Keep it fresh: Store in cool, dry area; keep package tightly closed between uses.
9.     SALT
From the basic table variety to fancier versions like kosher and sea, salt is a flavor enhancer that never spoils or goes stale.
Keep it fresh: Store in cool, dry area.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thursday 10-29-15

The Government Just Gave Everyone Permission to Hack Smart TVs

The Government Just Gave Everyone Permission to Hack Smart TVs
In a decision that looks jaw-droppingly progressive from a technological standpoint, especially by government standards, the U.S. Copyright Office and the Librarian of Congress granted an exemption from the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that give Smart TV users the freedom to “jailbreak” their devices. This will allow “interoperability” between different TVs, and the installation of third-party software.
The decision, which can be read in full here, includes language that addresses the main concern of the movement’s opponents, who contended that it would promote the use of piracy programs like Popcorn Time:
The Register also found that the prohibition on circumvention is adversely affecting legitimate noninfringing uses of smart TV firmware, and that the proposed alternatives to circumvention, such as connecting a laptop computer to the TV, are inadequate, because they would not allow installation of software on the smart TV to improve its functioning as a TV, such as facilitating more prominent subtitles. The Register also concluded that no evidence was submitted to illustrate opponents’ claim that jailbreaking of smart TVs will make it easier to gain unauthorized access to copyrighted content, or that it would otherwise undermine smart TVs as a platform for the consumption of expressive works.”

The fair use decision will also allow benefit documentarians and teachers, as The Hollywood Reporter points out:
Grade school teachers are now being allowed to circumvent access controls on DVDs to do things like create a clip montage of how Shakespeare’s works have been adapted over the years. E-book authors will be able to unlock Blu-ray discs so as to incorporate audiovisual works in their film analysis. Documentary filmmakers are also given broad ability to hack access controls so as to incorporate old works into new ones for purposes of commentary.

The nightmare here is that hackers who don’t wear the white hat will figure out how to watch and listen to us through our TVs, but that was apparently not a legitimate concern for the Copyright Office. The petition was brought by the Software Freedom Conservancy for the office’s triennial review, and included an argument that contrary to unfounded fears, hacking could actually make TVs safer for users.

This statistic does make me feel better, but it does not help me pay my bills

If you’re making $30K, you are in the 51st percentile. In other words, 51% of the U.S. population is making the same or less than you.
If you’re making $60K, you are in the 81st percentile.
If you’re making $90K, you are in the 90th percentile.
If you’re making $125K, you are in the 95th percentile.
A 1 percenter would be making $250K or more, putting them in the 99th percentile. There are approximately 1.1M people who made between $250K and $500K in 2014.
A 0.1 percenter would be making $500K or more, putting them in the 99.9th percentile. There are approximately 130,000 people who made $500K or more in 2014.

I want you to think about what it took for this sign to even exist. Some bureaucrat somewhere thought that an effective way to combat illegal drug sales would be to pay money to have signs made & installed at the appropriate locations. These people actually believe in the  power of signs, hence why you have ‘gun free zones’.
How many drug dealers do you think saw that sign & said “Crap, I guess I’ll go home & look for gainful employment now since I can’t possibly violate a sign’s orders!”? If you said “As many as thugs who see the ‘No Guns’ signs in store windows & do not rob them because of it”, you’re probably pretty darn close to correct.
And they call us gun owners “knuckle draggers with low IQ”…

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Wednesday 10-28-15

University of Calgary
This clever new refrigerator keeps food cold without electricity
Good job, science!
It’s easy to take that hulking great white beast of a machine in our kitchens for granted, but for the 1.3 billion people in the world who are living without electricity, a working refrigerator is not an option. So a team of students in Canada has invented a cooling device that not only works without any electricity whatsoever, it’s also cheap and portable, making it ideal for those in remote and rural areas who struggle to keep their produce fresh. "We thought it would be good to decrease the amount of food waste in the world, and we came up with this design because it's easy to build and the materials are relatively cheap," one of the students, Michelle Zhou from the University of Calgary, told CBC News.

Dubbed the WindChill Food Preservation Unit, the device connects an air tube to an evaporation chamber, which connects to a sealed refrigeration chamber that looks a lot like an esky, the contents of which are cooled through the process of evaporative cooling. It works by passively drawing in warm ambient air through the funnel, which is fed into a pipe that’s been buried underground. This already starts to cool down the air before it's fed into coiled cooper pipe that’s been immersed in water in the evaporation chamber. The evaporation process is helped along by a small, solar-powered fan. The water evaporating around pipe chills the air inside, and this is then fed back underground before entering the refrigeration chamber.  The invention won first place in the student category of the 2015 Biomimicry Global Design Challenge, which asks researchers and students to come up with improvements to the global food system inspired by nature. The University of Calgary team says its invention was inspired by everything from coral and kangaroos to bees and elephants - think siphoning air in via elephant ears and keeping things cool underground like termite tunnels. The next step will be to improve the design to achieve a consistent 4.5 degrees Celsius temperature in the refrigeration chamber, which is what’s needed to keep food from spoiling.  "Anywhere from a quarter to half of the world's food goes to waste every year, and in rural populations - about 70 percent of the people in rural Africa don't have access to electricity," team member Jorge Zapote told CBC News. "So this at the moment uses a tiny bit of electricity from a solar panel, but the end design is to use zero electricity. So this could really help people in those areas."

St Macarius of Ghent Giving Aid to the Plague Victims, 1673 painting by Jacob van Oost

The Plague that brought down mighty empires is thousands of years older than thought

The Plague is far older than previously known and later changed to become much more virulent—so virulent that it may have contributed to the decline of Classical Greece and the Roman and Byzantine empires and later killed off 30 to 50 percent of Europe’s population, a new study says.
The bacteria that causes the Plague, Yersinia pestis, diverged from the less-pathogenic Y. pseudotuberculosis bacterium about 5,783 year ago. That divergence, and therefore the bacteria’s possibility of infecting humans, is much earlier than scholars previously estimated.
While the Plague would go on to kill tens of millions of people in Europe and Asia, researchers have found DNA of Y. pestis in the teeth of a Russian person who died 5,000 years ago. They say that although the plague doesn’t appear to have been as prevalent or as virulent in the Bronze Age, even then it may have triggered migrations of populations in Europe and Asia and caused population decreases.
Writing the in the journal Cell, biologist Simon Rasmussen of the University of Denmark and his team say: “Here, we report the oldest direct evidence of Yersinia pestis identified by ancient DNA in human teeth from Asia and Europe dating from 2,800 to 5,000 years ago. … We find the origins of the Yersinia pestis lineage to be at least two times older than previous estimates. … Our results show that plague infection was endemic in the human populations of Eurasia at least 3,000 years before any historical recordings of pandemics.”
This map of Eurasia shows where and in which cultures the plague bacteria were found and dated; the inset show a burial from the Bulanovo site.
This map of Eurasia shows where and in which cultures the plague bacteria were found and dated; the inset show a burial from the Bulanovo site. (Images from Cell, photo by Mikhail V. Khalyapin)
The Plague, which can be transmitted from humans to humans or from fleas to humans, has broken out in three pandemics in history. They werexSee all ReferencesTreille and Yersin, 1894 the Plague of Justinian (541–544 AD), which continued intermittently until about 750 AD; the Black Death in Europe, which included the first pandemic from 1347–1351, the Great Plague from 1665–1666 and into the 18th century; and the Third Pandemic, which emerged in China in the 1850s and erupted into a major epidemic in 1894, then spread worldwide as a series of epidemics until the mid-20th century. Earlier plagues, from 430-427 BC in Athens and a plague in the Roman Empire from 165-180 AD may or may not have been caused by Y. pestis, the authors say.
Scanning electron micrograph of a flea, which carry disease, including the plague, that infect people when they bite them.
Scanning electron micrograph of a flea, which carry disease, including the plague, that infect people when they bite them. (CDC photo/Wikimedia Commons)
By sequencing Y. pestis DNA, the researchers determined the bacterium underwent genetic changes that increased its virulence and led to far more deaths and catastrophic impacts on society that may even have contributed to the collapse of empires. The authors wrote in Cell:
The consequences of the plague pandemics have been well-documented and the demographic impacts were dramatic. The Black Death alone is estimated to have killed 30%–50% of the European population. Economic and political collapses have also been in part attributed to the devastating effects of the plague. The Plague of Justinian is thought to have played a major role in weakening the Byzantine Empire, and the earlier putative plagues have been associated with the decline of Classical Greece and likely undermined the strength of the Roman army.
They concluded in their article that plague was common 3,000 years earlier than historic texts indicate and may have caused die-offs of humans in the late fourth millennium BC and into the early third millennium BC across Eurasia.
“However, based on the absence of crucial virulence genes, unlike the later Y. pestis strains that were responsible for the first to third pandemics, these ancient ancestral Y. pestis strains likely did not have the ability to cause bubonic plague, only pneumonic and septicemic plague,” they wrote.
Bubonic plague is transmitted by fleas, so this means the Plague likely was transmitted solely by humans earlier in its epidemiology. Around the late second millennium and early first millennium BC, the plague began to be spread by fleas via rats—an extremely rapid mode of transmission. Pneumonic plague affects the lungs, and septicemic plague affects the blood., reporting on the new research, wrote that the Books of Samuel in the Old Testament of the Bible tell of a plague among the Philistines in 1320 BC. The people suffering from it had swellings in the groin. The World Health Organization says such swellings are consistent with bubonic plague. The authors say this may indicate that the highly lethal bubonic plague originated in the Middle East.

Louisville judge questioned for dismissing juries based on lack of minorities

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Unhappy with the number of potential black jurors called to his court last week, Jefferson Circuit Court Judge Olu Stevens halted a drug trial and dismissed the entire jury panel, asking for a new group to be sent up.
“The concern is that the panel is not representative of the community,” said Stevens, who brought in a new group of jurors despite objections from both the defense and prosecutor.
And this wasn’t the first time Stevens, who is black, has dismissed a jury because he felt it was lacking enough minorities. Now the state Supreme Court is going to determine whether the judge is abusing his power.
On Nov. 18, after a 13-member jury chosen for a theft trial ended up with no black jurors, Stevens found it “troublesome” and dismissed the panel at the request of a defense attorney.
“There is not a single African-American on this jury and (the defendant) is an African-American man,” Stevens said, according to a video of the trial. “I cannot in good conscious go forward with this jury.”
A new jury panel was called up the next day. 
After that, the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office and Attorney General asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to look at the issue and see if Stevens has the authority to dismiss jury panels because of a lack of minorities. And last month, the high court agreed to hear arguments.
Jefferson County has long had a problem with minorities being underrepresented on local juries. Several black defendants have complained over the years that they were convicted by an all-white jury - not of their peers.
The Racial Fairness commission - a group made up of local judges, lawyers and citizens - has studied the issue for years, monitored the make-up of jury panels and found them consistently lacking in minorities.
For example, in October, 14 percent of potential jurors were black, far below the estimated 21 percent for all residents of Jefferson County, according to records kept by the commission. In September, 13 percent of potential Jefferson County jurors were black.
“It’s a problem,” said Appeals Court Judge Denise Clayton, head of the commission. “We are not hitting that representation.”
But should judges take it upon themselves to try and ensure a more representative jury?
Stevens said through a secretary at his office that he has no comment.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine declined to comment. But in the November case, prosecutors argued the jury panel was chosen at random, as is typically done.
And prosecutors said dismissing a jury after they had learned about the case and sending them back to be with the original pool could taint jurors.
But Stevens said both sides should “erase” what happened with jury selection from their minds and pretend it didn’t happen. In fact, the judge forbade each side from making any motions based on anything the previous jurors had said and referred to the questioning of the second batch of jurors as the first day of trial, according to court documents.
In requesting the Supreme Court hear the issue, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Dorislee Gilbert argued that other judges “may feel societal, political, and other pressures” to dismiss a jury for lack of minorities if allowed.
And Gilbert said that there was no proof the jury in the November case could not be fair and impartial just because of their race.
The judge “struck the jury based on nothing more than unsupported fear or impression that the jury might not be fair because of its racial makeup,” Gilbert wrote in the case, commonwealth vs. James Doss. “There was no consideration of whether the commonwealth or the citizens who had sacrificed of their own lives to make themselves available for jury service had any rights or interests in continuing to trial with the jury as selected.”
In the recent case, on the second day of the drug trial on Oct. 14, Stevens said he was concerned that the panel of jurors attorneys were to choose a jury from included 37 white people and only three black citizens. And two of the three potential black jurors had already been eliminated.
The defense attorney, Johnny Porter, suggested ensuring that the lone remaining black member of the panel makes the final jury.
Stevens told both sides about the Nov. 18 trial, how the second panel of jurors he called up included four black citizens and was more representative.
“We’ve already done this one time,” Stevens said. “So right off the bat, you’ve got a blueprint and we can be a lot more efficient, in theory.”

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Tuesday 10-27-15

Month off drinking slashes risk of disease: Abstaining found to heal the liver and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels

Drinkers should take a month off alcohol to prevent serious illness in later life, doctors warned yesterday.
They cited dramatic British research showing how abstention can heal the liver and lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Patients who gave up for four weeks were also at lower risk of developing cancer and diabetes.
The study is the second at the Royal Free hospital to uncover the huge benefits of staying off booze.
‘The results were staggering,’ said Professor Kevin Moore, who was involved in both experiments. ‘If you had a drug that did this it would be a multi-billion pound market.
‘There was a 40 per cent reduction in liver fat, they lost about three kilograms in weight and their cholesterol levels improved.’

In the second, larger study the London researchers looked at 102 relatively healthy men and women in their forties taking part in a ‘dry January’ campaign.
The women had been drinking an average of 29 units of alcohol a week, almost double the Government guidelines. The men were typically on 31 units, ten too many.
All had blood tests and liver scans and answered detailed questionnaires. Four weeks later the damage caused to their livers by years of heavy drinking had started to repair itself.
Their ‘liver stiffness’ - an indication of disease - had been reduced by 12.5 per cent. Their insulin resistance - a measurement of diabetes risk - had come down by 28 per cent.
Current recommendations state men should not drink more than four units of alcohol a day or 21 a week
They had also lost weight, their blood pressure had dropped, and many said their concentration and sleeping levels had improved. The researchers are due to publish further details, which are expected to show their risk of developing certain cancers was also reduced.
Gautam Mehta, a liver specialist who oversaw the study, said: ‘I am excited. There are some findings that will be pretty novel. It’s an important study which shows the benefit from a month’s abstinence. What we can’t say is how long those benefits are, how durable those benefits are.’
The initial results are already being examined by Department of Health officials, who are preparing new guidelines on safe drinking.
Current recommendations state women should have no more than three units a day or 14 units over a week while men should not exceed four units a day or 21 a week.
One unit is equivalent to less than half a glass of wine or half a pint of beer depending on their strength and size.
But health professionals say these limits should be reduced. They also want adults to be told to have at least two or three days off a week to allow their bodies to recover.
The Royal Free’s first experiment was on ten men and women undertaking a dry January last year.
Tom Smith of Alcohol Concern said: ‘This evidence confirms what a growing number of other studies have shown, that having even just one month off from alcohol has incredible health benefits.’
Andrew Langford of the British Liver Trust said: ‘It provides good evidence that simple behavioural change can make a real difference to the health of your liver.’

Egypt to scan pyramids, seeking new discoveries

CAIRO (AP) — Scientists will scan four of Egypt's ancient pyramids starting next month using waves, particles and thermal imaging in order to see what lies beneath their surface.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh Eldamaty says the project will begin south of Cairo with the scanning of the so-called Bent Pyramid at Dashour, followed by the nearby Red Pyramid. Later, the two largest pyramids on the Giza plateau, those of Cheops and Chephren, will also be scanned. The structures are over 4,500 years old.
At a news conference, scientist Matthieu Klein of Canada's Laval University says his team will use infrared technology to scan several meters (yards) beneath the surface without touching the structures.
He says "there could be interesting things there, even a few meters deep, two or three blocks deep."