Tag Archives: society

The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.

The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.

While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.

In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.

The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.

Total murders per year in Chicago from 1991 to 2011. Click to enlarge

Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.

To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.

“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”

said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.

But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.

So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.

A breakdown of the victims of Chicago’s 2012 murders. Click to enlarge

There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.

In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.

A picture of Cabrini-Green before it was demolished

Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.

The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.

This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.

The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.

Larry Hoover is currently serving a life sentence for a murder in August of 1973

But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.

The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.

Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.

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Update: I Owe Hobby Lobby an Apology… Sort Of

Yesterday I took Hobby Lobby to task for what I saw as blatant corporate hypocrisy.

My goal for The Higher Learning is to always provide our readers with all the facts surrounding a story, even if they might contradict or weaken a claim that we made in the past.

So, I feel that it is my duty to revisit the issue and add some key information that I discovered earlier today.

In my post from yesterday, I criticized Hobby Lobby for including companies that produce contraceptives in their investment portfolios while celebrating the recent Supreme Court ruling which said they couldn’t be forced to provide contraceptives to their employees.

The nine current members of the Supreme Court

This is an oversimplification. First off, while Hobby Lobby provides employees with a number of different options in terms of their 401(k) investments, it’s ultimately up to the individual employees to decide how these investments are allocated.

Some people may have also gotten the impression that these investments are direct investment in the companies creating the contraceptives. They are not, they are part of mutual funds which often include hundreds of companies.

However, since the investment options are ultimately selected by Hobby Lobby’s owners, they should have just omitted the funds that include contraceptive companies, right?

Well it turns out that the pension law surrounding corporate retirement plans make this pretty difficult to do. The law states that owners can’t sacrifice returns or increase risk for the sake of pursuing religious preferences. Because of this, most companies will offer both a socially conscious option and an alternative that is based solely of financial factors, leaving the decision up to the individual employee.

Also, if a company official (like an owner or human resource officer) offers advice to an employee to invest based off of religious ideals and their portfolio loses value, that official can be held personally liable for the losses.

So, Hobby Lobby moving all of their employees’ pensions out of funds containing companies that produce contraceptives is unrealistic under current pension law.

But this brings up a new issue. The pension law forces companies to exclude their religious views from their decisions about retirement investments. The current version of the law was passed back in 2006.

President Bush signs the Pension Protection Act in 2006

That means for six years before the Obamacare lawsuit, the pension law was limiting Hobby Lobby’s religious expression by forcing them to include pension plans which invest in companies who make contraceptives.

But Hobby Lobby never complained about this law. It wasn’t until they were asked to provide contraceptives as part of their health-care plans that they decided their religious rights were being violated.

If Hobby Lobby steps up and demands that the pension law be reformed to allow them to avoid investing in contraceptive companies without facing financial liability, I will applaud them for being genuine and consistent in their religious convictions.

But I don’t see that happening any time soon, so I won’t be holding my breath.

Here’s the Forbes article about pension law which prompted me to write this update.

NOTE: The article above suggests that it is nearly impossible to create a portfolio using only “Christian” companies. I looked up “christian retirement plans” on google and found a number of organizations claiming to do just that.

Obviously, I haven’t looked through all of their various portfolios, but claiming that it’s virtually impossible to create a successful portfolio that avoids contraceptive companies is misleading at best.

San Men of the Kalahari Show What A “Fair Chase” Hunt REALLY Looks Like (Video)

Earlier today, I discussed the controversy surrounding Kendall Jones, a 19-year-old Texas Tech leader who hunts big game in Africa and posts the pictures to Facebook.

In the caption of a picture of her with an African leopard, Kendall described the hunt as a “fair chase”. I feel the need to disambiguate that term.

Let me present the San people of the Kalahari desert in Africa. This traditional hunter-gatherer society inhabits the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa. San men go on marathons across the desert to track down the Kudu antelope which provide key protein for their families:

The San people lived as hunter-gatherers for countless generations until government modernization programs, lasting from the 1950s until the 1990s, mandated that many of the San switch to farming.

They are one of our fourteen surviving “ancestral population clusters” from which all modern humans today descend from. Studies of the San have provided a wealth of information in the fields of anthropology and genetics.

So let’s be clear: hunting  with high-powered rifles and motorized vehicles is as far from a “fair chase” as it gets.

Water Scarcity- The Invisible Threat to Humanity’s Future (Infographic)

Water is the most important necessity for life. However, it’s something that we take for granted in much of the developed world. Although 70% of the world is covered with water, only 3% is freshwater, and 2/3 of that is frozen and inaccessible.

Also, most people don’t realize just how much water we use for food- it takes an estimated 441 gallons of water to produce just one pound of boneless beef, and a large portion of our freshwater is used for agriculture.

Check out this great infographic from Seametrics about just how much water we’re using now and what the future looks like for our most important resource (click to see full size):

Facebook Just Manipulated the Emotions of 700,000 Users Without Informing Them

When you sign up for Facebook, you have to agree to a whole laundry list of fine-print terms and conditions (which almost nobody ever reads). One of the things you consent to is Facebook’s Data Use Policy, which gives Facebook the right to use your info for, “…troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement.”

Well, it seems that Facebook has taken full advantage of the “research” portion of that agreement. A study published two weeks ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) revealed that Facebook recently carried out an experiment that involved manipulating user’s emotions.

Basically, Faceobook wanted to know if removing sad, angry or otherwise negative terms from a user’s News Feed would affect how happy or sad the statuses they posted were.

So they randomly selected 689,003 users and tweaked the computer algorithms that determine what pops up on your News Feed. Some of the users were fed primarily neutral to happy information and stories, while others were fed primarily neutral to sad or depressing information.

It probably comes as a surprise to nobody that the users who were fed more negative information tended to post more gloomy statuses.

Congratulations Facebook, you proved something that 99% of 5th graders could have probably just told you.

But what about all of the users who Facebook intentionally made sad? Some serious questions have been raised about the ethics of the experiment.

Any experiment that receives federal funding has to abide abide by a code of rules known as the Common Rule for human subjects. The Common Rule’s definition of consent requires the researchers to give the test subjects, “a description of any foreseeable risks or discomforts to the subject.”

Facebook clearly didn’t abide by that standard, but since the test wasn’t federally funded, they are technically exempt. However, the PNAS also has its own set of rules for publication. Unfortunately, they seem to have bent or broken a few of them to publish the Facebook study.

Most notably, PNAS‘s guidelines for publishing require that a study abide the principles of the Helsinki Declaration, which states that test subjects must be,

“…adequately informed of the aims, methods, sources of funding, any possible conflicts of interest, institutional affiliations of the researcher, the anticipated benefits and potential risks of the study and the discomfort it may entail.”

Clearly, manipulating the emotions of 700,000 oblivious users is a blatant violation of this principle. With most people getting the bulk of their news and information on Facebook, it’s pretty unsettling to find out that they’re doing mass psychological testing on us.

Read the original story from Slate here.

70% of Young Children Can Use A Computer Mouse. Only 11% Can Tie Their Own Shoes (Infographic)

With the rise of modern technology, the look of the classroom has been changing rapidly. Computers are replacing workbooks, iPads are replacing notebook paper, and teachers are increasingly using social media to communicate with their students.

Check out the awesome infographic below to learn more about how modern technology has been changing our education system (click the image to see the full size version):

This Small Town Is Selling Gas Directly to the Public At No Profit to Fight Price Gouging

Somserset is a small town in southern Kentucky. Residents of the town have long complained of Somerset’s high gas prices.

“It’s a lot higher than the rest of the places that are 25 to 30 miles from here,”

says Jimmy Goggins, who lives in Somerset. Jenny Collier, who commutes to Somerset from out of town says that gas prices there are, “about 20 cents higher a gallon…or more.”

So Somerset decided to take a bold step: opening up the gas station that is currently used to fuel city-owned vehicles  to the public, and selling the gas to Somerset citizens.

Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler

“They’re just simply ripping off the public, and they’re doing it because of greed,”

said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler. The city will be purchasing their gasoline from a local refinery, pricing it 15-20 lower than what the local stations are charging now.

“We’re going to set a price, and if the companies want to equal that or go lower than that, we’ve achieved our objective… It is our economy, and we can’t allow anybody to continue to gouge us and take money away from us,”

continued Girdler. He also added that profit wasn’t the point, and that the city would likely only break even on the gas sales.

A gas pump at the city fuel station that will soon be open to the public

Somerset residents are predictably happy about the announcement. However, there are some who aren’t happy at all. A few days after the announcement, the  Kentucky Association of Grocers and Convenience Stores spoke out against the move.

They argue that Somerset’s government is being economically anti-competitive, and also says they are out of line using public facilities to try to compete with the private sector.

For me, the integral question here is this: why are Somerset’s gas prices so high? I tried to look into this question, but so far only local Kentucky news stations have covered this story, and none of them go into detail about this question.

I did however find this comment from reddit user Bitvapors, who claims to be from Somerset:

“This is my town. They haven’t started yet, I don’t think, but gas prices around here are well over $.25/gal higher than surrounding towns and counties, so it’s a big deal.

All the shell stations around here are owned by one man and most of the other stations are serviced by his tankers, so he can pretty much charge whatever he wants.

We’ve been gouged for years, so I hope like hell he’s foaming at the mouth over this.”

Read more from WDRB Kentucky here.

Images courtesy of WDRB Kentucky.

Bill Gates Just Tweeted Something About China’s Growth That’s Guaranteed to Blow Your Mind

China’s economy has been growing at an extremely fast pace over the last couple of decades. Their annual GDP has been rising rapidly, especially since the late 90s, and is expected to surpass U.S. GDP next year.

Click to enlarge

A huge part of this growth has come from construction and real estate. Real estate has become a larger and larger portion of the Chinese economy in recent years.

Click to enlarge

But even those who have been well aware of China’s rapidly growing real estate sector will be shocked by this tweet posted by Bill Gates a few days ago.

Just to add some more perspective, in the last 100 years the U.S. has built pretty much the entire interstate highway system, as well as thousands of skyscrapers, tens of thousands of dams and hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

China’s real estate market is not really what it seems, though. There are a number of ghost towns in China- extravagantly built new neighborhoods full of shiny new buildings and beautiful parks and gardens. The only thing missing is people.

While some argue that the towns will eventually be inhabited as more and more Chinese citizens move up to the middle class, many analysts say that very few people will actually be able to afford to live in these new developments any time soon.

60 Minutes did a great piece on China’s ghost towns last year. You can watch it below. You can check out aerial images of some of the ghost towns courtesy of Business Insider here.

It’s also worth noting that China’s housing market has taken a downturn recently. China is the world’s largest trading nation- the fact that their economy depends so heavily on this sector is fueling worries that a Chinese housing slump could cause economic reverberations across the globe.

The NSA Just Admitted That Their Data Collection Systems Are Too Complex for Even Them to Control

If you weren’t aware, the NSA is facing a bunch of lawsuits over their overzealous surveillance programs, which were revealed last summer by Edward Snowden.

One of these lawsuits, Jewel v. NSA, was actually filed before the revelations. The class-action lawsuit, filed on behalf of novelist Carolyn Jewel and a number of other ATT customers, challenges the constitutionality of the NSA programs which were collecting data on American’s telephone and internet activity.

Carolyn Jewel, lead plaintiff in the case against the NSA, outside her home (Photo: Beth Schlanker / The Press Democrat)

As part of the lawsuit, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (who represents the plaintiffs) filed a number of motions to prevent the NSA from destroying data that the EFF planned to use as evidence.

This past Friday, during a hearing over the issue, NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett argued that holding on to the info would be too burdensome for the NSA, saying,

“A requirement to preserve all data acquired under section 702 presents significant operational problems, only one of which is that the NSA may have to shut down all systems and databases that contain Section 702 information.”

NSA Deputy Director Richard Ledgett

Ledgett continued by arguing that the complexity of the NSA’s surveillance programs meant that efforts by the NSA to preserve their own data might not even work. Not surprisingly, he also tried to get his way using scare tactics, saying that trying to preserve the data would cause,

“an immediate, specific, and harmful impact on the national security of the United States.”

The EFF was surprised by Ledgett’s argument, since the NSA had already been ordered to preserve the data back in 2009. On top of that, a second restraining order was filed in March to prevent destruction of data.

Either way, the EFF’s legal advisor, Cindy Cohn, isn’t buying Ledgett’s arguments. In a recent interview she had this to say about the concerns he raised:

“To me, it demonstrates that once the government has custody of this information even they can’t keep track of it anymore even for purposes of what they don’t want to destroy… With the huge amounts of data that they’re gathering it’s not surprising to me that it’s difficult to keep track– that’s why I think it’s so dangerous for them to be collecting all this data en masse.”

The EFF has said that there is “no doubt” that the NSA has already destroyed some of the information they requested for the lawsuit, but the actual amount data that has been destroyed thus far is unclear.

Read the full story from The Washington Post here.

Elon Musk Just Opened All of Tesla’s Patents to Anyone Who Wants to Use Them

Elon Musk is no stranger to innovation. The South African entrepreneur made his first fortune by helping to found PayPal. He also founded and is the Chief Executive and Chief Technology Officer of SpaceX, the world’s largest private space transportation company.

Musk is also the founder and Chief Product Architect for Tesla Motors, the increasingly popular all-electric car company.

Recently, Musk hinted that Tesla would be opening up some of its technologies to other electric car makers, specifically the patent surrounding their Supercharger vehicle charging stations.

A Tesla Supercharger station

Many critics accused Tesla of just trying to gain leverage in the electric car industry, saying that the move would essentially force other manufacturers to use Tesla charging stations, as well as having to make sure that their vehicles are compatible with the Tesla chargers.

However, Musk argued to the contrary when speaking with a journalist who asked about the issue recently:

“The intent of the Supercharger network is not to create a walled garden. Any other manufacturer that’s interested in using them, we’d be happy to accommodate. It’s just that they need to be able to accept the power level of the Superchargers, which is currently 135kW and rising, so any car needs to meet the Supercharger standard. And they’d also need to agree with the business model, which is we don’t charge people on a per-charge basis. They’d need to contribute to the capital costs proportional to their fleet’s usage of the network. So we think that’s pretty fair.”

Tesla’s current Supercharger network. Click to enlarge
Tesla's expected 2015 Supercharger network. Click to enlarge
Tesla’s expected 2015 Supercharger network. Click to enlarge

Despite these reassurances, most critics were skeptical that Tesla would actually release any real intellectual property. But earlier today, Tesla surprised everyone by releasing all of their patents to the public.

Elon Musk wrote an open letter earlier today announcing the decision. It started like this:

“Yesterday, there was a wall of Tesla patents in the lobby of our Palo Alto headquarters. That is no longer the case. They have been removed, in the spirit of the open source movement, for the advancement of electric vehicle technology.”

In the letter, Musk explains that when he started Tesla, he felt that patents were necessary to defend against the established car companies, who could copy the technology and use their, “massive manufacturing, sales and marketing power” to overwhelm smaller companies.

However, Musk goes on to explain that,

“The unfortunate reality is the opposite: electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales.”

Musk continues by saying that Tesla’s true competition isn’t the few other small companies producing fully electric vehicles, but the massive volume of gas-burning vehicles being manufactured by the big car companies. He finishes the letter like this:

“We believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers. We believe that applying the open source philosophy to our patents will strengthen rather than diminish Tesla’s position in this regard.”

You can read the full press release on Tesla’s website here.