The Florida Legislature & Medicaid.
The Connected States of America, by Xiaoji Chen at MIT. The map identifies regions of the country based on frequent phone calls. Chen describes the regions as “emerging communities … defined by human networks.”
Robert Krulwich did a blog post on the ways Americans are connected, and how that can be used to look at our relationships. In addition to phone conversations, he also has detailed maps of financial transactions and the defined regions they create.
Read this book, immediately! I just finished tearing through it at breakneck speed. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is one of those wonderful novels that immediately hook you into the story and you basically can’t put it down.
So, thank you, Maria Semple, for a great novel. Now I’m on to read her previous book, This One is Mine.
Recent Read: Sex and the Citadel by Shereen El Feki
I heard about this book a few weeks ago, when author Sheeren El Feki was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. I was intrigued by the interplay of sexuality and Islam in the Middle East, especially in the context of women’s equality.
El Feki is Egyptian, so her analysis focuses on Cairo and its surrounding communities, though she also visits and discusses Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc.
The book is unquestionably well written and researched, providing insights into the social structures of the different countries and the impact of the Arab Spring.
A few things I learned:
Sex and the Citadel is such a wealth of information, I definitely recommend reading for yourself. My summary doesn’t do it justice.
A friend of mine, David M, attends the London School of Economics. This email was just sent out to all students:
The School wishes to alert all staff and students to a serious development which may affect them personally in future. This relates to the conduct of the BBC in respect of a Panorama programme entitled North Korea Undercover, which is dueto be shown next Monday evening, 15 April.
The programme has been produced using as cover a visit to North Korea which took place from 23-30 March 2013 in the name of the Grimshaw Club, a student society at LSE. The School authorities had no advance knowledge of the trip or of its planning.
The visiting party included Mr John Sweeney, Mr Alexander Niakaris and Ms Tomiko Sweeney. In advance of the trip it was not known to the rest of the party that they were three journalists working for or with the BBC. Their purpose, posing as tourists, was to film and record covertly during the visit in order to produce the Panorama programme.
LSE’s chief concerns are twofold. First, at no point prior to the trip was it made clear to the students that a BBC team of three had planned to use the trip as cover for a major documentary to be shown on Panorama. BBC staff have admitted that the group was deliberately misled as to the involvement of the BBC in the visit. The line used was that “a journalist” would join the visit. BBC staff have argued that this lack of frankness in denying the genuine members of the group the full details was done for their own benefit in the event of discovery and interrogation by North Korean authorities. It is LSE’s view that the students were not given enough information to enable informed consent, yet were given enough to put them in serious danger if the subterfuge had been uncovered prior to their departure from North Korea.
Ruth Marcus published a Washington Post editorial on Obama’s Kamala Harris debacle that summed up my thoughts perfectly.
Marcus states that she could easily write two very different columns about the situation. The first would be titled “Classic Feminist High Dudgeon”:
This column would discuss the continuing, albeit more subtle, discrimination against women in the workplace. It would explain how, even if unintentionally, Obama’s reference to Harris’s attractiveness is demeaning — that it serves, in the apologetic words of White House press secretary Jay Carney, “to diminish the attorney general’s professional accomplishments and her capabilities.”
The second, opposite column would be called “Contrarian Persnickety”:
…bemoaning the tyranny of political correctness in which male politicians and executives shy away from making even the most innocuous remarks (…) [Obama] didn’t concentrate solely on Harris’s looks — he remarked on them in the context of her overall capabilities.
“You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you’d want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake,” the president said at the fundraiser heard round the world. “She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country.”
Here is the essence of what Marcus has to say, taking the complex middle ground rather than the outer edges of the spectrum described above:
While it is true — and an interesting insight into the premium the president places on physical appearance — that Obama routinely refers to male Cabinet secretaries and other officials as “good-looking guys,” it is also irrelevant. Such compliments, yes even in 2013, carry different resonance when applied to women.
Check out the editorial responses, too. Funny and sad all at once.
Easter package finally received. My Dad understands the important things in life. #chocolate
I found where the cherry blossoms are hiding! #DC (at Smithsonian Institution Building (The Castle))
The trial for the BP oil spill began in late February, and has continued due to the lack of an out-of-court settlement. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier is presiding; there is no jury.
This week, Barbier dismissed all claims against Cameron International, the Houston-based company that built the blowout preventer on the Deepwater Horizon rig. BP designed and selected the components of the blowout preventer, and Cameron built it to exact specifications.
The remaining defendants at the trial are BP, Transocean (owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig) and Halliburton (the cement contractor). Barbier previously dismissed all claims against M-I, the drilling fluids contractor for BP. [source]
Meanwhile, Judge Barbier will also hear a request from BP for an order to block potentially billions of dollars in settlement payouts to businesses that claimed losses caused by the oil spill. Settlement terms for the payouts are interpreted by court-appointed claims administrator Patrick Juneau. BP is arguing that Juneau has made unfair decisions. [source]
Research at the University of South Florida has discovered a massive die-off of foraminifera, the tiny organisms that are the base of marine food chains in the Gulf of Mexico. Researchers analyzed core samples from the bottom of the Gulf:
They found a large, dark clump of sediment from the time of the 2010 disaster. The amount registered as 300 times the normal amount of oil-based particles found on the bottom.
The die-off impacts the health of food chains, and there is a possibility the oil traces could cause genetic changes in fish populations such as red snapper. [source]
In 1997, the Florida Legislature created the Bright Futures scholarship program in an effort to prevent brain drain. Florida’s best and brightest high school students were leaving the state for better options, and the goal of Bright Futures was to give them a reason to stay: college, for free.
Eligibility is based on GPA and SAT/ACT scores, with a three-tier award system: Florida Academic Scholars, Florida Medallion Scholars and Florida Gold Seal Vocational Scholars.
The program was hugely popular, growing significantly each year:
The problem was, it became too successful. Bright Futures is funded by the Florida Lottery, and revenues weren’t keeping up with costs. Furthermore, Florida’s universities wanted to raise tuition in order to compete nationally in the rankings for academics, research, etc.
I attended University of Florida from 2008-2012. My high school GPA and SAT score qualified me for the Florida Academic Scholars, the top tier BF scholarship. This was described to me as a “100% tuition scholarship” by my high school guidance counselor. However, the scholarship only covered 100% for my first year of college. For my other three years at UF, my tuition costs steadily rose each semester - I paid over $1,000 each of my senior year semesters, which is a lot considering I was told I received a scholarship that would cover all of my college tuition.
Check out the other half of the chart - the incredible rising costs:
Two major shifts have occurred for BF: (1) the Florida Legislature has raised eligibility requirements (2) college tuition costs have increased, while Bright Futures award amounts have decreased.
This year, new eligibility standards have been approved and are slated to go into effect on July 1st. Currently, to qualify for the lowest tier scholarship, students need a 1020 SAT or 22 ACT and 3.0 GPA. The new standards would require an 1170 SAT or 26 ACT and 3.0 GPA. Students also have to complete 30, 75 or 100 community service hours for the respective scholarship tier.
A University of South Florida analysis found that the new standards would make Bright Futures scholarships significantly less available to minority students. From State Impact Florida:
According to the analysis, 87 percent of Hispanic freshmen met the current standards. About one-third would qualify under the new standards.
About half of black freshmen qualified for scholarship in 2012. Just one in eight would qualify under the new standards.
Less than one-quarter of the freshmen enrolling at Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida A&M University, Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of West Florida would be eligible under the new standards.
No question about it, these changes would make Florida colleges and universities less affordable for minority students, and therefore less accessible. That is bad - but can we blame Bright Futures? BF was never about diversity. (Other programs, such as Florida Opportunity Scholars, are focused on low-income and minority students. And those programs probably need way more funding than current levels.)
I absolutely think Florida needs to focus on getting qualified low-income high school students into our colleges and universities, but let’s not turn Bright Futures into something it’s not.
The best part of Bright Futures is it’s incredible appeal. I could have gone to better-ranked, more prestigious schools in other states, but I ultimately couldn’t pass up that “100% tuition covered” scholarship offer. Now the offers have become so diluted, I don’t think they have the same effect for high-achieving high school seniors. If we want a real merit scholarship that retains the best and brightest, I think the eligibility standards (and the award amounts) should go up even more.
(Sources: State Impact, FSFA)