June 8, 2007

Food Stamp Follies (Mostly) Continue, As Does Old Media’s Gullible Coverage

Give Food Stamp Challenge organizers in Michigan and New Haven, Connecticut some credit.We’ll probably never know whether they figured it out on their own, or perhaps read of other organizers’ errors when they were pointed out by syndicated columnist Mona Charen and by yours truly (at NewsBusters here and here; at BizzyBlog here and here). But unlike their comrades in most other cities and states, they have at least framed their Challenge using a correct amount of $35 per person per week ($5 per person per day) based on this table, which was adapted from information available at the USDA’s web site (near the bottom at link; the weekly amount is result of dividing by 4.345, the average number of weeks in a month):

FoodStampTable0407

From Michigan (HT The Other Club):

State Rep. Andy Coulouris, D-Saginaw, is among state and local officials who this week will be trying to eat on the $5-a-day per-person maximum food stamp benefit. Advocates want to give officials an idea of what it’s like for low-income families to buy adequate and nutritious food on such a limited budget.

An article in Connecticut’s New Haven Daily Register details the efforts of a family of three accurately attempting to live on $5 per person per day for 5 days.

Actual Food Stamp benefits disbursed are often lower than the amounts listed on the table above, because the program’s formulas assume that families should in many cases be able to provide for a portion of their food needs from their own resources. The average benefit per person is apparently $21 per week after taking beneficiaries’ available resources into account.

Nevertheless, politicians and others participating in other Food Stamp Challenges around the country, and Old Media reporters covering the Challenges, either haven’t caught on to the idea that the $21 amount Challenge participants began trying to get by on in Oregon in April, and elsewhere since then, is simply incorrect — or they don’t care.

In the first paragraph of their story today about how DC politicians Eleanor Holmes Norton and Vincent Gray have taken up the Challenge, the Washington Post’s Sue Anne Presley Montes and Nikita Stewart are, uh, totally out to lunch:

Norton, Gray Get a Taste of Lean Times
Officials See Just How Little the Average Allocation of $21 a Week Buys Someone

For seven days, they are trying to do what the average food stamp recipient in the United States must do routinely: live on a mere $21 a week in food. Already, the latest participants in the “Food Stamp Challenge” are hungry and humbled.

Sorry, Sue Anne and Nikita. That is flat-out wrong.

If they aren’t getting it right in Washington, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Senator Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas isn’t either. She too is taking up the Challenge at the bogus $21 weekly level (second-last paragraph at link — “$1 per meal, per day”).

The Denver Post’s coverage failed what should be called the Food Stamp Math Challenge (or is it the Incoherence Challenge?):

Lucia Guzman stalked the aisles of Safeway, comparing various peanut butters and types of beans. She carefully tallied the cost of the items in her basket on a small pad of paper.

Guzman, executive director of the Mayor’s Office for Human Rights and Community Relations, and other city officials agreed to live on food-stamp rations for two days or a week – roughly $3 a day, or $25 per person per week.

Huh? How many layers of fact-checking did that one get through?

Of course, whether $35 per person per week (or the smaller amounts per person as family size increases noted above) is enough, or whether the formulas used for determining available resources are appropriate, are legitimate topics for debate. For example, the Thrifty Food Plan (click on the most recent month available at the link to see a PDF of the plan) identifies costs per person that are often within the ranges of the table above (sometimes with lots of room to spare), but in some cases exceed the table amounts by as much as 15% – 20% or so. Perhaps making the Maximum Allotments (before taking available resources into account) exactly match the Thrifty Table would make sense, and would act as an automatic escalator or de-escalator as food costs change. But it would seem that keeping the Plan’s table from turning into a political football could then easily become a “challenge” of a different sort.

Regardless, what is out of bounds, absent contrary evidence, is incorrectly framing the debate by claiming that the poor “live on” (and only have available resources to pay for) $21 worth of food a week, as the Washington Post article and so many other Old Media reporters continue to claim.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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UPDATE: This report from North Carolina, which covers several persons erroneously using the $21 benchmark, tells us that:

Nationally, about 26.7 million people received food stamps in 2006, at a cost of nearly $33 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

That apparently includes administrative costs.

This one from Massachusetts says that:

Nationally, the average monthly food stamp benefit in fiscal 2005 was $94.05, or about $3 a day, according to the US Department of Agriculture. (It ranged geographically from $76.39 in Wisconsin to $163.85 in the US territory of Guam.)

Yeah, but not every month has 31 days. The true weekly average spread through a year is $21.70 (94.05 x 12 divided by 52). They can’t even get the net number right.

As far as I can tell, having looked at about a half-dozen specific states, the table at the beginning of this post is the same for everyone. The variance in state benefits apparently has to do with how costs for other living expenses differ and affect the “how much can they afford to pay from their own resources?” calculations.

UPDATE 2: Some others not getting it right –

UPDATE 3: On the other hand, this KC Star reporter used $5.54 per day, which is actually a bit higher than $35.67 divided by 7. She called it “$129.50 per week — the maximum amount a family of four can receive on food stamps.” $129.50 divided by 7, then divided by 4 is $4.63. I have no idea how she got to $5.54.

Couldn’t Help But Notice (060807)

George Voinovich was one of only five alleged GOP senators to vote for cloture last night (HT Michelle Malkin) that would have moved the Immigration Shamnesty Bill to a Senate floor vote. Voinovich was joined by fellow alleged party members Arlen Specter, Dick Lugar, Chuck Hagel, and Lindsey Graham.

Ohio’s other senator, Sherrod Brown, also voted for cloture. 11 Democrats actually voted against cloture. On this one, George Voinovich and his four open-borders GOP buds were to the left of liberal icons Rockefeller and Boxer — and “independent” Socialist Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Hagel’s antiwar and pro-amnesty stances have earned him a primary challenger next year. Voinovich richly deserves one from someone with a real shot at vanquishing him.

Memo to Bob Bennett — If you know what’s good for you and your party, you’ll stay out of the way of any challenger. That interference you ran last year for Mike DeWine in the primary really worked out in the end, didn’t it?

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How do you really feel, John Dvorak?

There was a time when PC hardware struggled to keep up with PC software. Not anymore. At this point in the evolution of the personal computer, the hardware is so far ahead of the software that it’s actually sad.

….. Nobody wants to face the fact that Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows XP, and Vista are based on OS designs that are as old as the hills. Sure, OS X and Windows have been gussied up with pretty icons and lots of colors, but that’s just lipstick on a pig. The difference today between the Mac and the PC is that the Mac has better lipstick.

Meanwhile, none of these operating systems has the power to make multicore chips work as advertised. In the end, these chips are little more than novelties.

I don’t think Dvorak is on many Christmas card lists in the high-tech world.

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Interesting info that you probably only saw in Tuesday’s New York Sun:

As New York police and the FBI interview suspects in an alleged plot to attack John F. Kennedy International Airport, one thread the ongoing investigation will explore is why one of the suspects was planning to go to Iran.

Okay, there were other reasons given, but maybe it’s just because Tehran is so beautiful this time of year.

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News Enviros think you can’t use (HT Planet Gore):

Air quality in America’s cities is better than it has been in more than a century, with levels of air pollutants declining substantially from 1980 to 2005. As the figure shows:

  • Peak 8-hour ozone levels declined 20 percent, and days per year exceeding the 8-hour ozone standard fell 79 percent.
  • Fine particulate matter declined 40 percent.
  • Nitrogen dioxide levels decreased 37 percent and sulfur dioxide dropped 63 percent.
  • Carbon monoxide concentrations fell 74 percent and lead dropped 96 percent.

What makes these air quality improvements so extraordinary is that they occurred during a period of increasing motor vehicle use, energy production and economic growth.

Read the whole thing, especially the nuking of the idea that increased pollution has caused increases in asthma (disclosure: I had asthma until well into my teens, and can still experience it in the wrong set of circumstances). That’s a pretty weak claim, since pollution is down so much. The sad thing, as noted, is that we are wasting billions on further cleanup in the name of reducing asthma, when that result clearly isn’t in the cards.

Story on Stem Cell Advance ‘Surprises’ the NY Times and Old Media

Wednesday, reporter Nicholas Wade of the New York Times covered an important development in stem-cell research, opening with the following (bold is mine; link probably requires registration; HT Instapundit):

Biologists Make Skin Cells Work Like Stem Cells

In a surprising advance that could sidestep the ethical debates surrounding stem cell biology, researchers have come much closer to a major goal of regenerative medicine, the conversion of a patient’s cells into specialized tissues that might replace those lost to disease.

The advance is an easy-to-use technique for reprogramming a skin cell of a mouse back to the embryonic state. Embryonic cells can be induced in the laboratory to develop into many of the body’s major tissues.

While at one level you can’t help but marvel at the amazing things scientific research can accomplish, Wade’s “surprise” appears to be that what has usually been called “adult stem-cell research” is making progress in achieving “pluripotency,” which Wade describes as “ability to morph into many different tissues” (dictionary definition of “pluripotent” is here). Pluripotency is a characteristic embryonic stem-cell researchers have often claimed as their sole province.

(Because of work done with stem cells that are neither adult nor embryonic, it seems more appropriate to refer to “embryonic” and “non-embryonic” stem-cell research. I personally prefer to refer to “non-embryonic” research as “life-safe stem-cell research.”)

Wade is only “surprised” because publications like his own New York Times and other Old Media outlets have been downplaying achievements in life-safe non-embryonic stem-cell research for years.

Just a few of the many examples of progress in identifying and/or achieving pluripotency with non-embryonic stem cells that have received little or no Old Media notice in the past year would include the following:

  • January 2007 (AP via Fox News; BizzyBlog; original CNN link cited at BizzyBlog was removed by CNN) — “Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells. They reported they were able to extract the stem cells without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.”
  • December 2006 (Life News; BizzyBlog) — “Epidermal neural crest stem cells are found in the bulge of hair follicles and have characteristics that combine some advantages of embryonic and adult stem cells, according to lead researcher, Maya Sieber-Blum, Ph.D.”
  • September 2006 (Life News; BizzyBlog) — “At a American Chemical Society this week, teams of stem cell researchers told participants that they can get more out of adult stem cells than previously thought. The scientists said that adult stem cells can become any cell in the body with a little bit of coaxing.”

Meanwhile, Old Media has often trumpeted claims like those made by Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) last year as meaningful and/or ethical. In Advance Cell’s case, its claim that it had created a new method of obtaining embryonic stem cells without taking human life was shown to be false. Wesley Smith, in the course of debunking Advance Cell’s claims at the time in the Weekly Standard, also chronicled that company’s sordid history of gross exaggerations and flat-out falsehoods — history that might normally, but in this case did not, cause Old Media business reporters to be highly skeptical.
The mounting evidence that life-safe non-embryonic research can achieve the same or better pluripotent results seems to have done nothing to slow the embryonic funding freight train — or to make Old Media question why it continues its near-slavish adherence to buzz phrases like “the Bush Administration’s ban” relating to embryonic research. The Administration has never “banned” embryonic research — it only opposes federally funding it. Often, Old Media references to the “ban” often lazily fail, as noted by The Anchoress last year, to even include the word “embryonic,” giving readers the erroneous impression that the Administration opposes funding of all stem-cell research.

Despite the non-embryonic research progress, it is becoming ever clearer that many states, and the current majority in Congress, remain starry-eyed over embryonic research, and are moving non-embryonic research behind it on the priority list. Why?

Michael Fumento, who has followed events in this area for several years, got to the heart of the ongoing funding issue with this question in February:

Given the growing number of state initiatives that fund embryonic stem cell, but not non-embryonic stem cell, research and given that overall National Institutes of Health funding increases are unlikely anytime soon, is it truly moral to take away funds from a technology that’s been saving lives for half a century in favor of another technology that promises nothing but “promise”?

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

Positivity: Motorist saves house

Filed under: Positivity — Tom @ 6:00 am

From Farmington, Maine:

May 25, 2007

A passerby is credited with preventing an electrical fire at a Knowlton Corner Road home from erupting into a devastating house fire Thursday.

The motorist, Earl Martin, saw smoke coming from the rear of the house owned by Shawn and Charlene McGraw at about 12:30 p.m.

Martin stopped and raced into the house, alerting the McGraws’ 20-year-old son, Brannen, who was making a sandwich in the kitchen and was unaware of the fire. Martin threw a bucket of water on the flames and called 911 from the house.

“If Earl Martin hadn’t stopped we would have lost our house,” said a grateful Charlene McGraw.

The fire began where squirrels had gnawed an electrical cable where it came into the 100-year-old house.