Author Archives: Aaron Slot

Harvard’s All-Male Club Says it Can’t Let in Women Because They’d Be Sexually Assaulted

Mother Jones

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The elite gentlemen of the Porcellian Club, Harvard’s centuries-old social club that boasts the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and the Winklevoss twins among its alumni, emerged from years of silence on Tuesday to reject the university’s calls for clubs to join the 21st century and include women into its exclusive ranks.

“To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time an officer of the PC has granted an on-the-record statement to a newspaper since our founding in 1791,” Charles Storey, a graduate from the class of ’82 and the club’s graduate board president, wrote to Harvard’s student newspaper the Crimson. “This reflects both the PC’s abiding interest in privacy and the importance of the situation.”

Storey goes on to argue that by forcing clubs to invite female members, the change would “potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct”—essentially making the case that instead of broadening women’s access to the benefits of these social clubs, the university’s efforts could actually jeopardize a woman’s safety.

“Given our policies, we are mystified as to why the current administration feels that forcing our club to accept female members would reduce the incidence of sexual assault on campus,” Storey continued.

Storey isn’t alone in his staunch resolve to remain stuck on the wrong side of history. Another Porcellian Club member, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Washington Post that the university’s efforts would disrupt the club’s intention to develop “deep male friendships.”

“We don’t want to be involved in anyone else’s business, we just want to be left alone to carry on our 225-year traditions in peace,” he noted.

Last year, a similar conflict erupted when women fought to perform in Harvard’s Hasty Pudding theatrical group, which has been all-male since its founding in 1795. Despite their attempts, none of the 17 women who auditioned were accepted into the troupe.

“I want to say that it’s unsettling that there will be no women on stage tonight,’’ Amy Poehler said when accepting the group’s “Woman of the Year” award last January. “You know it’s time for a change when the Augusta National Golf Club has lapped you in terms of being progressive.”

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Harvard’s All-Male Club Says it Can’t Let in Women Because They’d Be Sexually Assaulted

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A Giant Union Is Planning to Protest the Oscars

Mother Jones

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The Oscars air Sunday, but this year, the stars of the silver screen will be faced with picket lines and protesters.

That’s because the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which represents 2.1 million service workers around the world, plans to protest the Academy’s decision to hire Security Industry Specialists (SIS)—a company the union accuses of sexual harassment, racial discrimination, and worker intimidation—to provide security for awards night. (The company denies the allegations.)

“We don’t think the Academy should be using a company that has this kind of record,” SEIU campaign director Sam Kehinde explains. “All we are trying to do is make sure the public knows about it and the client knows.”

SEIU activists bearing banners and signs voiced their concerns at last week’s Nominee Lunch in Beverly Hills, but they were unable to relay their concerns to Academy representatives. Now, Kehinde says, the union is back for round two.

Over 100 SEIU activists—including current and former SIS employees—will converge near the Dolby Theatre on Friday afternoon in the hope of attracting attention from the public and entertainment industry officials who will be on site preparing for Sunday’s event, Kehinde says. The protesters plan to follow up with a smaller protest on Sunday, when it will be more difficult for a large group to gain access to the area.

Daivon Young, an SIS security specialist assigned to Amazon, is traveling all the way from Seattle to participate in the protest. He says he is scared about his job security and how he will be treated after speaking out against SIS, but “it is the right thing to do.”

Young has been an SIS employee for a year and a half and works at the high-security buildings. Though he is considered a specialist, he makes $15.50 an hour and is given 36 hours a week. He says he thinks the wage is good but many employees are only offered part-time work.

As the sole breadwinner supporting his three-month-old son, Malachai and his wife, Lavicy, Young’s concerned. “It is important for me to be able to provide for my family,” he says. “Me, growing up, I didn’t have a mom. I didn’t have my dad. Putting a roof over my son’s head—it means everything to me.”

Young describes the pressure he feels at work and says the simplest mistake will result in termination. He is often fearful about being penalized and says he feels belittled by his employers. Provoked by these concerns, he turned to the internet. “I wanted to look up reports about SIS,” he explains, “to see if the same things were going on somewhere else.” He landed on their “Union Facts” page, meant to derail and disprove the accusations SEIU laid against SIS. “It started naming all these things and, in my head I am thinking, ‘You do do that!” Young exclaims.

Daivon Young (Left) with his wife, Lavicy, their son, Malachai, and former SIS worker Richell Banks Courtesy SEIU

He says he had never considered the union before then and had been told explicitly as an employee he should not become involved with SEIU. “I understand now why we need a union,” he adds. This is why he hopes his participation in the protest will make a difference.

Tom Seltz, copresident and CFO of SIS, says the union’s allegations are unsubstantiated. He sees the Oscar protests as a form of harassment—a ploy for union officials to collect more money.

“I think the union is looking for dues and I don’t think there is much they can promise our employees that they aren’t already getting,” he says. “I don’t think there’s anything they can promise.”

Seltz says unions are unnecessary and says he sees no need for his employees to join. He emphasizes that it is still up to workers to make up their minds and denies claims that his company has used intimidation tactics to deter union involvement.

SIS pays employees higher than the average hourly wage for the industry, but only half of SIS workers are full time and receiving benefits. Seltz says this has more to do with the nature of the work and client needs than company policy, and that many SIS employees are off-duty police officers who can only work part-time or are hired to work temporarily for specific events.

But Steve Amitay, the executive director of the National Association of Security Companies, says the industry norm is to employ workers full time. “Currently the majority of security officers at most contract security companies are full-time employees,” he explains via email. Though Amitay acknowledges that there are instances when part-time work is warranted, he says that “some companies believe that the offer of part-time employment may deter the best job candidates and work against creating a dedicated and experienced workforce.”

Daivon Young says he hopes his presence at this weekend’s protest will help convince his company to be more supportive of unionization. “All I want done is for SIS to allow us to have a union,” he says. “We aren’t asking for extra mayonnaise and extra pickles. We just want to be treated right.”


A Giant Union Is Planning to Protest the Oscars

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Google Redoubles Effort to Thwart NSA Surveillance

Mother Jones

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The Washington Post reports today on the first of what I assume will be many announcements from tech companies worldwide:

Google is racing to encrypt the torrents of information that flow among its data centers around the world in a bid to thwart snooping by the NSA and the intelligence agencies of foreign governments, company officials said Friday. The move by Google is among the most concrete signs yet that recent revelations about the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance efforts have provoked significant backlash within an American technology industry that U.S. government officials long courted as a potential partner in spying programs.

….Security experts say the time and energy required to defeat encryption forces surveillance efforts to be targeted more narrowly on the highest-priority targets — such as terrorism suspects — and limits the ability of governments to simply cast a net into the huge rivers of data flowing across the Internet. “If the NSA wants to get into your system, they are going to get in . . . . Most of the people in my community are realistic about that,” said Christopher Soghoian, a computer security expert at the American Civil Liberties Union. “This is all about making dragnet surveillance impossible.”

….Google officials declined to provide details on the cost of its new encryption efforts, the numbers of data centers involved, or the exact technology used. Officials did say that it will be what experts call “end-to-end,” meaning that both the servers in the data centers and the information on the fiber-optic lines connecting them will be encrypted using “very strong” technology. The project is expected to be completed soon, months ahead of the original schedule.

Eric Grosse, vice president for security engineering at Google echoed comments from other Google officials, saying that the company resists government surveillance and has never weakened its encryption systems to make snooping easier — as some companies reportedly have, according to the Snowden documents detailed by the Times and the Guardian on Thursday.

“This is a just a point of personal honor,” Grosse said. “It will not happen here.”

The question here is, Who do you trust? Google says they’re going to use strong encryption and will never install back doors or hand over encryption keys to the NSA. At least, that’s what they seem to be saying.

On the other hand, if the NSA gets a court order that forces Google to turn over encryption keys and prohibits them from talking about it, who would ever find out?

So which do you trust more? Google’s desire to give its customers what they want, or the NSA’s ability to get what they want? Good question. The vast majority of people won’t care about this at all, but I suspect that more than a few will decide that NSA has more power than Google and will simply decline to do business in the future with American companies if it involves storage of information on the cloud. Whether that eventually has a noticeable impact on American tech companies is hard to predict.


Google Redoubles Effort to Thwart NSA Surveillance

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Obama Issues Orders to Prevent the Next West, Texas-style Explosion

Mother Jones

On Thursday, President Obama issued an executive order on chemical facility safety, three and a half months after the deadly ammonium nitrate explosion in a West, Texas fertilizer plant. The order outlines a number of new initiatives intended to modernize oversight of plants and strengthen the coordination of the various agencies responsible for safety at these facilities.

There aren’t new rules in this order. It’s more a list of things that agencies should work on.

Here’s how the White House fact sheet describes it:

improve operational coordination with state and local partners;
enhance Federal agency coordination and information sharing;
modernize policies, regulations, and standards; and
work with stakeholders to identify best practices.

To take up those mandates, the order establishes a new Chemical Facility Safety and Security Working Group, which will include the top officials from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Homeland Security. It also directs federal, state, local, and tribal groups to figure out how to work together better on this issue.

The West, Texas disaster came after a number of safety lapses. For one, its emergency plan relied on the assumption there was “no” risk of an explosion like the one that happened. Texas regulators hadn’t inspected the plant in five years, and federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspectors hadn’t been there since 1985. The company had failed to follow federal law on disclosing hazardous chemicals kept on site. The list of failures at the plant is fairly long.

The directive calls for a specific evaluation of how to improve the handling of ammonium nitrate. But what it doesn’t call for is an evaluation of whether we even need to use it at all. As my colleague Tim Murphy has reported, a number of other countries have banned ammonium nitrate because it’s too explosive. There are non-exploding alternatives, but the US chemical industry has fought efforts to change the rules in the US.

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Obama Issues Orders to Prevent the Next West, Texas-style Explosion

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Searching For Solar Panel Contractors: Where To Find Them And In What Method To Choose One

If your ideal solar panel installation contractor exists, distinguishing him or her from the pack can be quite the challenge. Some are eminently affordable but offer limited skills; while still others boast vast potential but for unreasonable rates. You will need to determine your priorities by figuring out the extent of your project. Draft an outline, and consider the tips below.

A contract is important no matter how big or small the project. Take the time to formulate a contract on your project to ensure that if any problems arise, they will be taken care of. This contract can also ensure that both parties understand their responsibilities within the project at all times.

Make sure they sign a written contract with details about what is to be done and how long it will take. Inspect the work site everyday so the solar panel installation contractor knows to maintain professionalism, a clean work area, and an upbeat attitude. Make sure to contact each reference and ask if they would hire the contractor again.

A great solar panel installation contractor can be recognized by their reputations, not by how much they harass you at your home and business. While others may offer steep discounts, they may not provide quality work that is not up to professional standards and it is best to hire a fantastic contractor first.

Make sure that you and your potential solar panel installation contractor have similar work priorities and values before making a final hiring decision. This will help you understand the type of person they are.

Consider visiting a potential solar panel installation contractor’s past work-sites. Ask the contractor to explain thoroughly about the work they’ve done and how they took care of any problems while working. This will help you get a sense of their work and their demeanor.

Solar Panel Contractors are often competitive by nature. Be sure to inform all candidates that you are planning on requesting more than one bid. Their competitiveness and need to win will drive them to submit a better bid. This will translate into a more cost effective project for you by tapping into the natural, human nature of the solar panel installation contractors you work with.

Make sure you confirm that you expect your solar panel installation contractor to make sure their continuously seeing over all work as well as the final inspection of your project.

A general state law entails including a warranty clause in a contract which is normally for a year. Beware of a solar panel installation contractor who charges additionally for a warranty provision. It is supposed to be a part of the contract and cannot be charged separately. You will need to do some checking on the laws prevalent in your area.

Find solar panel experts that you know have a great reputation and ask them who they would use as their solar panel installation contractor. People that are in the trade with contractors often know who the best ones are. They are a great source to narrow down your search quickly.

Visit any popular search engine and enter solar heating solutions into search field. You may find a few interesting ideas about solar energy installation you can use right away.

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Finding The Perfect Solar Panel Contractor For This Job

Chances are that you haven’t been able to find time to complete the home-improvement project that you desperately want done. You feel it’s best to hire a solar panel installation contractor, but how do you find someone who has reasonable rates and will do a good job? Here are some great tips on finding a contractor best-suited for the job.

Watch for red flags. Some solar panel installation contractors do not operate within the law. Be wary of door to door solicitation, discounts for finding other customers, only accepting cash, or using materials left over from other jobs. These may be signs of a dishonest contractor that should be avoided.

Go through a local trade association directory to see if the solar panel installation contractor is listed. If they are that is a good thing since the association prescreens contractors for professional development and commitment. Determine if they are bonded and licensed so you don’t have to worry about finances.

When you are searching for a solar panel installation contractor make sure to let your contacts, coworkers and family members know that you’re in the search for a reputable contractor and seek their advice. At times you don’t know who can be a valuable resource to you and might their experience; exposure to a contractor provides you sufficient information from which you can decide to whom you can appoint your project.

If you’ve got unique expectations, chances are you will need to drop in every now and then on the work site. Every visit be sure to check if your solar panel installation contractor and crew are acting professional and getting work done. Look out for any trouble and safety hazards you might see, they could cause big problems in the future.

A solar panel installation contractor will help you to deal with all the tiny details in your project. If you decide to forego a contractor, you may be stuck with all the legal repercussions and extra costs that go along with this decision. Make sure to understand all of your responsibilities when not using a contractor on your project.

After you have met with several solar panel installation contractors wait a few days and see if any of them contact you. It shows great follow through and professionalism for a contractor to ask for your business. This can really help to narrow down your choices between a few that were hard to pick from.

Improper calls at late hours can be annoying, especially by a solar panel installation contractor who has no regard for boundaries. A clear time should be established for direct contact to keep any dealings as professional as possible. Any indirect contact, such as e-mail, should be returned as quickly as possible. This will earn you certain respect from your contractor.

Work with a solar panel installation contractor you already know. If you used a contractor before and they are a little busier than they were before, it might be worth waiting on them. Most people that use a contractor once and had a great experience regret not going back with that same contractor again.

Interested in finding more about the topic of green energy options? Be certain to go to Yahoo and enter solar energy installation. You’ll be able to find quite a bit of helpful ideas.

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Indianapolis to get nation’s largest EV sharing program

Indianapolis to get nation’s largest EV sharing program


Bolloré Group’s Indianapolis EV-sharing program would mimic its French ones.

Are you a fan of electric vehicles who doesn’t want to own your own car?

Get thee to Indy.

A company that operates electric-vehicle sharing programs in France is looking to expand, and its executives have settled on Indianapolis for their first American foray. Bolloré Group’s $35 million plan will provide 500 shared cars and 1,200 charging stations at 200 locations throughout Indiana’s capital. The company’s inaugural American initiative will be modeled on its French Autolib program, with sharing slated to begin next year.

A press release describes the program:

The program is based around short one-way rentals, unlike some other US models which require the user to return to the vehicle where they rented it. Users pay a membership fee (daily, monthly, or annually) and receive an RFID card. When they wish to rent a vehicle they reserve a car on-line or at a dedicated car share kiosk, they unlock the car charger with their card, and then swipe the card on the windshield, which unlocks the car and allows them to drive off. The in-car GPS allows the user to reserve a parking spot with a charging station near their destination. Once they arrive, plug-in the vehicle and the transaction is complete. The user can then reserve another vehicle for their next trip, as needed. The rates for the Indianapolis service have not yet been established, but in Paris, membership costs $16 per month and a 20-minute trip costs about $4.50.

Indianapolis won’t be the only city where you can drive an EV through a car-sharing program, as Greentech Media points out. Car2go’s shared Smart cars in San Diego, Calif. are all electric, and its fleet in Austin, Texas, includes some EVs too.

But if the Indy scheme comes together as envisioned, it will be the largest all-electric car-sharing program in the U.S.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Colorado city wants more than just a ban on fracking

Colorado city wants more than just a ban on fracking

Let Ideas Compete

Lafayette, Colo.

The latest effort by a group of Coloradans to protect their community from frackers goes further than the bans and moratoriums recently put in place by Boulder, Fort Collins, and Longmont.

Residents of Lafayette, Colo., which has a population of 25,000, are collecting signatures in an effort to place a charter amendment on an upcoming ballot that would ban all new oil and gas extraction and establish a far-reaching community bill of rights.

Among other things, the bill of rights would proclaim that residents “possess a right to a sustainable, healthy energy future” and the “right to be free from involuntary chemical trespass including toxins, carcinogens, particulates, nucleotides, hydrocarbons and other substances.” It would also declare that ecosystems “possess unalienable and fundamental rights to exist and flourish within the City of Lafayette.”

The activists hope such a bill would help assure them clean air and clean water — the very things that are threatened by the fracking industry and its friends in government. The industry enjoys strong support from Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who has pledged to sue cities in his state that impose bans on fracking.

From the Daily Camera:

[The] members of anti-fracking advocacy group East Boulder County United … launched a petition drive this week to get a measure placed on Lafayette’s November ballot …

“Primarily, it would establish a community bill of rights. The rights to clean air, clean water and self-determination,” East Boulder County United co-founder Cliff Willmeng said. “Second, it explicitly bans new oil and gas extraction in Lafayette city limits.” …

Joan Pierce, a retired Boulder Valley School District teacher and 10-year Lafayette resident, … said she has been alarmed at how corporations have become more powerful in recent years in the U.S., and she decided that now that an issue of corporate rights has come to her backyard, she has to do her part to combat those expanding powers.

“When it comes to people’s health, and it’s to the point where this is at stake, it’s time to stand up for our children and future generations,” she said.

East Boulder County United is seeking to collect as many as 2,000 signatures to ensure it exceeds the 950-voter threshold to get the measure on the ballot. The group is also seeking to have all of its signatures gathered by July 3.

Mora County, N.M., recently enacted its own community bill of rights when it banned fracking.

Find out more about fracking bans and community bills of rights from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:

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Liberals and Light Bulbs

Mother Jones

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A few weeks ago, in a post that was mainly a response to Jonah Goldberg’s dismissive attitude toward renewable energy, I mentioned a recent study showing that although liberals and conservatives were about equally likely to buy an energy efficient CFL light bulb even if it cost more than an old-school bulb, conservatives were less likely to buy the bulb if the packaging included the message “Protect the Environment.”

That’s what the abstract of the article said, anyway: “Conservative individuals were less likely to purchase a more expensive energy-efficient light bulb when it was labeled with an environmental message than when it was unlabeled.” But Tim Carney points out that there’s a little more to it than that:

Most of the coverage of this made it sound like only conservatives were turned off by the label, and that it was clearly for petty reasons. While really, most people, including generally liberal people, became less likely to buy the bulbs with the label.

The green line in the chart shows how likely people are to buy the bulb with the environmental message. And Carney is right: It crosses below the gray line at an ideology score of -0.6, right in the middle of the liberal spectrum. Just about everyone was turned off by the message except hardcore liberals.

That’s actually kind of interesting. And it also shows the danger of relying on a journal abstract when you don’t have access to the full paper. It’s not that the abstract was wrong—increased conservatism was associated with increased resistance to the message—but there’s more to the story.

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Liberals and Light Bulbs

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Hands, Ears, Brain Dominance, and Cell Phone Use

Mother Jones

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Austin Frakt, who apparently has a better memory for my blog than I do, emails today to draw my attention to a new study, “Hemispheric Dominance and Cell Phone Use,” which is designed to figure out which ear we use when we’re talking on cell phones. I was hoping this study would confirm that we left-eared folks are more charming and intelligent than the rest of you lot who use your right ears, but no such luck. In fact, the authors didn’t really conclude much of anything. They found that 68 percent of right-handed people use their right ear and 72 percent of left-handed people use their left ear.

And, um, that was about it. As you probably know, right-handed people generally use the left side of their brains for language processing, and vice-versa for lefties. So the researchers wanted to find out if auditory hemispheric dominance (AHD) matched up with language hemispheric dominance (LHD). It doesn’t: “Our study suggests that AHD may differ from LHD owing to the difference in handedness and cell phone ear use.”

Alternatively, most people don’t really care much which ear they use, and lefties use their left ear because they’re more comfortable holding their phones in the left hands. Ditto in reverse for righties. All in all, I have to say that this study doesn’t really tell us much, but I figured it was worth a follow-up. Original discussion here.


Hands, Ears, Brain Dominance, and Cell Phone Use

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