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Arnold Schwarzenegger goes Yiddish on Donald Trump at COP24

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According to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump is meshugge, “crazy” in Yiddish.

That’s right, The Terminator had some choice words for The Donald about his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. “Yes,” he said. “We have a meshugganah leader in Washington.” But the U.S. is “still in,” Schwarzenegger told attendees at the climate change convention in Poland. He also said he wished he could time travel back in time to stop us from digging up and using fossil fuels, Terminator-style.

For the record, other news outlets are reporting that Schwarzenegger called Trump “meshugge.” That’s actually incorrect. He called him “meshugganah.” Meshugge means crazy, meshugganah means a crazy person. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Donald Trump a crazy person. Glad we cleared that up.

“The states and the cities are still in” Schwarzenegger added, “Our financial institutions are in, our academic institutions are still in, the governors and the mayors are still in.

“Remember that America is more than just Washington — one leader,” he said. Is Schwarzenegger laying groundwork for 2020? Now that’s meshugge.

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Arnold Schwarzenegger goes Yiddish on Donald Trump at COP24

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How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming – Mike Brown


How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Mike Brown

Genre: Astronomy

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: December 7, 2010

Publisher: Random House Publishing Group

Seller: Penguin Random House LLC

The solar system most of us grew up with included nine planets, with Mercury closest to the sun and Pluto at the outer edge. Then, in 2005, astronomer Mike Brown made the discovery of a lifetime: a tenth planet, Eris, slightly bigger than Pluto. But instead of adding one more planet to our solar system, Brown’s find ignited a firestorm of controversy that culminated in the demotion of Pluto from real planet to the newly coined category of “dwarf” planet. Suddenly Brown was receiving hate mail from schoolchildren and being bombarded by TV reporters—all because of the discovery he had spent years searching for and a lifetime dreaming about. A heartfelt and personal journey filled with both humor and drama, How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming is the book for anyone, young or old, who has ever imagined exploring the universe—and who among us hasn’t?

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How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming – Mike Brown

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NYT: We’ve Figured Out How Trump Gamed the Tax System

Mother Jones

A few weeks ago the New York Times got hold of the first page of Donald Trump’s 1995 tax return. It showed a net operating loss of $916 million, which Trump was able to use to offset his income over the next 20 years, thus avoiding millions of dollars in income taxes. But while solving one mystery, it opened another: Just exactly how did Trump manage to declare such a big loss? Several theories made the rounds, but the Times now thinks it has the answer, thanks to a cache of “newly obtained documents.” Here’s the nutshell version of the Times’ explanation:

Trump was a terrible businessman and lost a huge amount of money on his casino operations in the early 90s.
As part of his bankruptcy negotiations in 1991, he persuaded banks to forgive hundred of millions of dollars in loans.
Forgiven loans count as “Cancellation of Debt” income, which should have offset his huge operating losses. But somehow they didn’t. Why?
The Times says it was because Trump used a legally dubious “equity-for-debt” swap. Basically, he swapped the bonds he couldn’t pay for new bonds that he classified as equity shares in the casino partnership.

The Times makes a good case that Trump’s own tax lawyers told him this plan was extremely risky (see the excerpt from the official tax opinion on the right) and would most likely be disallowed by the IRS. But we don’t know if it was. The trail stops cold in 1995.

If I’m reading this right, the basic story is that Trump gave his banks “New Bonds” in place of their old bonds and classified the new bonds as equity shares in the casino partnership. Trump then valued the equity as equal to the old debt, thus showing no net loan forgiveness and therefore no COD income. This despite the fact that, in reality, the equity was close to worthless.

So Trump then had $916 million in operating losses, but no debt forgiveness to offset it. “Even in the opaque, rarefied world of gaming impenetrable tax regulations,” says the Times, “this particular maneuver was about as close as a company could get to waving a magic wand and making taxes disappear.”

At this point, the question of how Trump gamed the tax system is mostly a matter of academic interest. Still, I’ve written about this before, and figured I should follow up with the latest theory. And this is it.

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NYT: We’ve Figured Out How Trump Gamed the Tax System

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3 Ways White Kids Benefit Most From Racially Diverse Schools

Mother Jones

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Last week, education officials in New York City approved a controversial school rezoning plan that will reassign some affluent, white children to a high-poverty Brooklyn school that is 90 percent black and Latino. The city’s department of education proposed the plan to reduce overcrowding in the predominantly white Public School 8, which serves kids from Brooklyn Heights and Dumbo—home to some of the most expensive apartments and condos in the country. Meanwhile, their new school, P.S. 307, serves mostly kids from the nearby public housing project, the Farragut Houses.

Many parents at both schools fiercely opposed the integration plan. “When rich people come in, they have the money to force people to do what they want,” said Farragut Houses resident Dolores Cheatom. Citing historic precedents, Cheatom and others argued the rezoning would change the school to benefit wealthy newcomers and slowly push out students from the Farragut community.

The parents whose kids are now bound for P.S. 307 said they were most concerned about the school’s low standardized test scores—which is no surprise, since that’s a common argument against sending white kids to schools that serve large numbers of low-income black and Latino students. The assumptions behind this argument go something like this: (1) Integration mostly benefits poor Latino and black students by allowing them to attend “good,” majority-white schools with better test scores, and (2) sending white children to schools that serve students from diverse racial and economic backgrounds will hurt the academic outcomes of white children.

But here’s the thing: The academic and social advantages white kids gain in integrated schools have been consistently documented by a rich body of peer-reviewed research over the last 15 years. And as strange as it may sound, many social scientists—and, increasingly, leaders in the business world—argue that diverse schools actually benefit white kids the most.

Here’s a summary of some of the most convincing evidence these experts have used to date:

1. White students’ test scores don’t drop when they go to schools with large numbers of black and Latino students.
In 2007, 553 social scientists from across the country signed an amicus brief in support of voluntary school integration policies for a Supreme Court case known as Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District. The brief continues to serve as a treasure trove of some of the most important research in this field, and in its 5-4 decision in favor of integration, the justices concluded that the academic progress of white children is best served in multiracial schools. Soon after the seminal court case, Harvard researchers Susan Eaton and Gina Chirichigno launched the One Nation Indivisible initiative, which now serves as a clearinghouse for the most rigorous current research on the benefits of integrated schools.

When it comes to the impact on standardized test scores, research cited in the case—as well as the most recent data from the federal government—confirmed that there is no negative impact on the test scores of white children. Some studies found that test scores of all students increased, especially in math and science. Others found that they stayed the same. The debate on whether test scores increase in integrated schools continues, but there is overwhelming evidence that they don’t drop when white students go to economically and racially integrated schools.

2. Diverse classrooms teach some of the most important 21st-century skills, which matter more than test scores.
Psychologists, economists, and neuroscientists have done some really exciting research in education in the past 10 years, synthesized in the best-selling book by Paul Tough, How Children Succeed. This research tells us that some of the most important academic, social, and emotional skills—curiosity, complex and flexible thinking, resilience, empathy, gratitude—are not captured by standardized test scores but are keys to a successful and productive life.

Other researchers, including Stanford’s Prudence L. Carter, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst’s Linda R. Tropp, and Loyola University of New Orleans’ Robert A. Garda Jr., have found that skills like cross-cultural collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, effective communication, reduced racial prejudice, and empathy are best fostered in diverse classrooms. Many of these researchers argue that we need to expand our definition of academic advantages to include these important skills, which are captured mostly through qualitative assessments like presentations, group projects, and student surveys.

3. Graduates of socioeconomically diverse schools are more effective in the workplace and global markets.
Researchers who have been trying to figure out which office settings allow for the most powerful breakthroughs in innovation have consistently come up with the same answer: daily practice and comfort with diverse perspectives, according to Scott E. Page, the author of The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies. Virginia Commonwealth University’s Genevieve Siegel-Hawley argues that daily classroom interactions with students from different racial and economic backgrounds help students develop the ability to view and understand complex problems and events through multiple lenses. Research also shows that an integrated workforce helps companies design and sell products more effectively to a wide range of customers.

Notably, the average white student today goes to a school where 77 percent of her or his peers are white. Schools are as segregated and unequal today as they were shortly after Brown v. Board of Education was decided. This means that too many students, especially in suburban schools, are being socialized in environments that deprive them of one of the most important skills in the global economy: the ability to communicate and collaborate with people from different socioeconomic backgrounds. Research is clear that such skills are difficult to teach without daily exposure to integrated communities—a trip abroad, a diversity workshop, or an ethnic studies class taught in a predominantly white classroom isn’t enough. And because students of color are much more likely to interact with diverse people in their neighborhoods and schools, in this sense integrated schools give greater advantages to white students.

Garda writes that getting involved in the issues of income and racial inequalities at the policy level is often too daunting for many parents. But choosing a school or a neighborhood is actually one of the most meaningful ways in which parents can act out their values and help reduce income and racial disparities.

As journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones reported in her important This American Life segment last year on integration, our country made the largest gains in reducing achievement gaps at the peak of integration in the mid-1970s. And then the country gave up, mostly because white parents were afraid to put their kids in the same classrooms with students from “underperforming” schools. “We somehow want this to have been easy,” Hannah-Jones, who as a child lived in a working-class African American neighborhood in Waterloo, Iowa, and was bused to a majority-white school across town. “And we gave up really fast.”

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3 Ways White Kids Benefit Most From Racially Diverse Schools

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How Sharp is Justice Scalia These Days?

Mother Jones

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During Wednesday’s oral arguments in the University of Texas affirmative action case, Justice Antonin Scalia said this:

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans to get them into the University of Texas, where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less-advanced school, a slower-track school where they do well.

As many people have pointed out, what Scalia was haltingly trying to describe is “mismatch theory.” I’ll let a conservative explain this:

The argument is that students who are (1) not up to a college’s usual admissions standards and (2) nonetheless admitted for reasons wholly unrelated to their academic backgrounds are less likely to have good educational outcomes than if they had gone to a college for which they were more properly prepared and qualified. It’s not a new argument.

No indeed. In fact, several amicus briefs were filed making exactly this argument.

When I first read about Scalia’s remarks, I wasn’t surprised that he had brought this up. There’s considerable debate about mismatch theory, but it’s a respectable argument. What I was surprised about is the way he brought it up. Scalia had read the briefs. He has a famously keen mind. And yet, he sputtered and searched for words, and eventually described mismatch theory in the crudest, most insulting way possible.

I don’t think that was deliberate. I think he was just having trouble searching his brain for the right words. He’s also seems even more prone to outbursts of temper than usual lately. I wonder if Scalia is still as sharp as he used to be?

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How Sharp is Justice Scalia These Days?

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Two Promising Factlets About American Schools

Mother Jones

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So how are our schools doing? Here are two factlets that crossed my radar yesterday.

First: Neerav Kingsland says that SAT scores of new teachers are rising and that most of them are staying in teaching for at least five years. He comments: “If I was going to bet on whether American education will improver, flatline, or get worse — I would look very hard at the academic performance of teachers entering the profession, as well as how long these better qualified teachers stayed in the classroom. The aforementioned data makes me more bullish on American education.”

Second: Adam Ozimek says we’re selling charter schools short when we say that on average they do about as well as public schools. That’s true, but there’s more to it:

I would like to propose a better conventional wisdom: “some charter schools appear to do very well, and on average charters do better at educating poor students and black students”. If the same evidence existed for some policy other than charter schools, I believe this would be the conventional wisdom.

….The charter sectors’ ability to do better for poor students and black students is important given that they disproportionately serve them….53% of charter students are in poverty compared 48% for public schools. Charters also serve more minority students than public schools: charters are 29% black, while public schools are 16%. So not only do they serve more poor students and black students, but for this group they relatively consistently outperform public schools.

It’s been a while since I took a dive into the data on charter schools, so I’m passing this along without comment. But it sounds right. I continue to believe that as long as they’re properly regulated, charter schools show substantial promise.


Two Promising Factlets About American Schools

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Not Everyone Needs to Learn Programming, But Every School Should Offer It

Mother Jones

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From the Washington Post:

In a world that went digital long ago, computer science is not a staple of U.S. education, and some schools do not even offer the course, including 10 of 27 high schools in Virginia’s Fairfax County and six of 25 in Maryland’s Montgomery County….Across the Washington region’s school systems, fewer than one in 10 high school students took computer science this academic year, according to district data.

That first stat surprises me. My very average suburban high school offered two programming courses way back in 1975 (FORTRAN for beginners, COBOL for the advanced class). Sure, back in the dark ages that meant filling in coding sheets, which were sent to the district office, transcribed onto punch cards, and then run on the district’s mainframe. Turnaround time was about two or three days and then you could start fixing your bugs. Still! It taught us the rudiments of writing code. I’m surprised that 40 years later there’s a high school in the entire country that doesn’t offer a programming class of some kind.

The second stat, however, doesn’t surprise me. Or alarm me. It’s about what I’d expect. Despite some recent hype, computer programming really isn’t the kind of class that everyone needs to take. It’s an advanced elective. I’d guess than no more than 10 percent of all students take physics, or advanced algebra, or art class for that matter. Ten percent doesn’t strike me as a horrible number.

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Not Everyone Needs to Learn Programming, But Every School Should Offer It

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Elizabeth Warren Pens a Book, Is Still Totally Not Running for President

Mother Jones

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It’s been a busy first year in the Senate for Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Since she entered the Congress in January 2013, she’s become a liberal hero, a frequent YouTube star who turns dull congressional hearings into viral hits. She’s pushed the government to lower interest rates on student loans. Protected vets from financial scams. Introduced legislation to protect poor people searching for a job. Called on banks to reveal their donations to think tanks.

Somehow she’s also found time to write a 384-page book. Next month Warren will release A Fighting Chance, which, according to the AP, will tell her whole life story, dating back to her early life in Oklahoma to her time setting up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and her first year in the Senate. Warren will embark on a brief book tour in Massachusetts after the book’s publication on April 22.

Warren is already a prolific author, having published eight books before she ever ran for office. But those other writing ventures were an outgrowth of her academic career. Her new book appears purely political, the sort of hagiographic biography politicians pen to position themselves for a future run at higher office. Barack Obama published The Audacity of Hope, at around the same point of his career in the Senate. Mitt Romney wrote No Apology: The Case for American Greatness in 2010 to gear up for his 2012 campaign. Hillary Clinton is set to release a book in June.

Warren has said, time and again, that she has no intention of moving into the White House. “I’m not running for president and I plan to serve out my term,” she said at a December press conference. But politicians have a long history of ignoring their previous denials when circumstances change. Barack Obama frequently dismissed the notion that he’d seek the presidency so early in his career, only to ditch those denials and announce a campaign in 2007. It’s unlikely that Warren would challenge Clinton should Clinton, as expected, run in 2016. The Massachusetts politician joined her fellow female senators in signing a letter urging Clinton to run for president again. But, should she pass on another bid, Warren could always change her tune.

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Elizabeth Warren Pens a Book, Is Still Totally Not Running for President

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The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll

The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll


A little more than 300,000 square miles of forest was established or replanted worldwide between 2000 and 2012. Unfortunately, almost 900,000 square miles was destroyed during the same time period — logged, ravaged by fire, or attacked by insects.

Those are the main conclusions of a study that examined hundreds of thousands of images snapped by the U.S. government’s Landsat satellites. Academic researchers partnered with Google staff to produce stunning maps displaying the world’s forests and areas that have been deforested or reforested since 2000. Those maps were used to produce the following short videos:

About a third of the deforestation occurred in the tropics, and half of that was in South America. Logging and clearing of land for farming were responsible for much of the loss. Hearteningly, the researchers found that deforestation has been slowing down in Brazil, where worldwide concerns about the loss of the Amazon have helped spur domestic efforts to save the rainforest. But that slowdown was offset by increasing losses in other countries.

“Although Brazilian gross forest loss is the second highest globally, other countries, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Cote d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Argentina, and Paraguay, experienced a greater percentage of loss of forest cover,” the scientists wrote in the paper, published Thursday in Science. “Given consensus on the value of natural forests to the Earth system, Brazil’s policy intervention is an example of how awareness of forest valuation can reverse decades of previous wide-spread deforestation.”

The tropics lost more forest cover during the study period than any other region. The second-worst hit were the boreal forests of spruce, fir, and larch in and around the Arctic, with fire the leading cause. Previous research has shown that these forests are burning at a rate not seen in at least 10,000 years, with climate change increasing temperatures and drying out the landscape.

That wasn’t the only worrisome climate-related finding in the new paper. The mountains of the American West are losing forests due not only to logging, but also because of fire and disease — with mountain pine bark beetles marching up mountains as temperatures warm, feasting on banquets of ill-prepared pines.

The loss of forests is making it even more difficult for the Earth to suck back up all the carbon dioxide that we’re pumping into its atmosphere.

Here’s a non-interactive version of the online map:

ScienceClick to embiggen.

High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change, Science
Global Forest Change, University of Maryland

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: johnupton@gmail.com.

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The world is still losing its forests, and these beautiful satellite maps tally the toll

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