Make It Count

As of today, the US Census Bureau reports on its Take 10 Map of 2010 Census Participation Rates that Haysville is reporting at a 62% rate.

Admittedly, this is somewhat better than the national participation rate of 52%, the Sedgwick County participation rate of 55%, and the Kansas-wide participation rate of 59%. But when you consider just how important the 2010 Census is for future revenue distribution, representation in Congress and in a host of other ways, it’s just not good enough.

At present, Wisconsin and South Dakota lead the nation with 62% participation (yes, identical to Haysville’s rate), with Nebraska and North Dakota trailing right behind at 61%. Two other states (Minnesota and Iowa) also lead Kansas in participation.

If you have received your Census form but haven’t filed it yet, fill it out and return it today. If you’re having any kind of difficulty with it at all, drop by the library for assistance at any time.

If every Census form were promptly returned, we would save $1.5 billion in expenses as a nation. And as for us here in Haysville, everyone counts.

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Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 4:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Life in Nelson’s Navy

One of the most delightful birthday presents I’ve ever received was a complete set of the old classic Horatio Hornblower novels of C.S. Forster, a rousing series of seafaring adventures that transpire during the Napoleonic Wars and their aftermath. If you’ve never read them, you’re in for a treat. (You’ll find most, but not quite all, on the shelves at the Haysville Community Library.)

At the time I received this excellent gift, I was also reading Roy and Leslie Adkins’ fine history of the period, The War of All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo, along with Roy Adkins’ equally superb Nelson’s Trafalgar: The Battle that Changed the World. For nearly a month I was steeped in the period, and enjoying every minute of the experience.

It was during this interlude that I came across Brian Lavery’s little Life in Nelson’s Navy, a 90-page work from the Sutton Life Series that is among the very best introductions to the daily experience of an average seaman in the late 18th and early 19th century. Its seven short chapters cover the key aspects of that experience, from joining the navy, through the ships and officers, the trials of living on board, the art of sailing, battle and wartime, to exiting the navy. No trills and flourishes, just concise, straightforward, interesting information.

As a companion to reading the more voluminous histories and as an adjunct to the Hornblower novels, I couldn’t recommend a more valuable and entertaining little book.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 3:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Reducing State Prison Populations

The Sentencing Project and Justice Strategies, two research and advocacy organization specializing in criminal justice issues, have produced a comparative analysis of four states’ experiences (including that of Kansas) at reducing their prison populations.

Downscaling Prisons: Lessons from Four States compares the experience of Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey and New York.

Here’s how the authors describe the principal theses of the report:

“As states around the nation grapple with the effects of the fiscal crisis a major area of attention has been the cost of corrections. Over the past 25 years the four-fold rise in the prison population has caused corrections expenditures to escalate dramatically. These increased costs now compete directly with higher education and other vital services within a climate of declining state revenues.

“Even prior to the onset of the latest fiscal crisis, though, legislators in many states had become increasingly interested in adopting evidence-based policies directed at producing more effective public safety outcomes. In contrast to the ‘get tough’ climate that had dominated criminal justice policy development for many years, this new political environment has focused on issues such as diversion of people charged with lower-level drug offenses, developing graduated sanctions for people on probation and parole who break the rules, and enhancing reentry strategies.

“Despite these developments, prison populations have continued to rise in the past decade, albeit not as dramatically as in the preceding decades. From 2000-2008 the number of people incarcerated in state prisons rose by 12 percent from 1,176,269 to
1,320,145, although with a broad variation around the nation. At the high end, six states expanded their prison populations by more than 40 percent – West Virginia (57 percent), Minnesota (51 percent), Arizona (49 percent), Kentucky (45 percent), Florida (44 percent), and Indiana (41 percent).

“By the end of this period, growth in state prisons appeared to have largely stabilized. In 2008, the national total remained steady, and 20 states experienced a modest reduction in their populations that year . . .”

“In this regard it is particularly instructive to examine the four states that are the focus of this report – Kansas, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York. In contrast to the 12% growth in state prison populations since 2000, these states have actually achieved significant declines in their prison populations in recent years, and therefore offer lessons to policymakers in other states about how this can be accomplished. These declines have spanned the following periods:

• New York: A 20% reduction from 72,899 to 58,456 from 1999 to 2009
• Michigan: A 12% reduction from 51,577 to 45,478, from 2006 to 2009
• New Jersey: A 19% reduction from 31,493 to 25,436, from 1999 to 2009
• Kansas: A 5% reduction from 9,132 to 8,644, from 2003 to 2009

“This report contains a description of the many pragmatic reforms and policies that have helped to produce these prison population reductions. What is clear in each of these cases is that the reductions only came about through conscious efforts to change policies and practices, that these states relied on many different types of reform initiatives to improve their criminal justice systems, and that these initiatives had the twin goals of reducing the prison population and promoting cost-effective approaches to public safety.”

For substantially greater detail on the substance of this comparison, see the report.

An additional resource available on the Sentencing Project website is an interactive map of the United States which allows you to peruse each state’s corrections population in some detail. For instance, you’ll see that Kansas has a total correctional population of 15,443, of which 8,539 (or 303 per 100,000 in population) are in prison, and 6,904 (or 252 per 100,000 population) are in jails, with 16,263 on probation and 4,958 on parole. There are 1,053 juveniles in custody, and state corrections expenditures are $393 million per year.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

Amnesty International Releases Global Review of Death Penalty

Amnesty International has released a global review of the death penalty, the 36-page Death Sentences and Executions 2009, along with a one-page supplemental Updates to “Death Sentences and Executions 2009”.

Among numerous other facts and findings, the report suggests that:

“. . . at least 714 people were executed in 18 countries and at least 2001 people were sentenced to death in 56 countries last year.

“This excludes the thousands of executions that were likely to have taken place in China, where information on the death penalty remains a state secret.

“In a challenge to China’s lack of transparency, Amnesty International has decided not to publish its own minimum figures for Chinese executions and death sentences in 2009. Estimates based on the publicly available information grossly under represent the actual number the state killed or sentenced to death . . .

“Amnesty International’s research shows that countries that still carry out executions are the exception rather than the rule. In addition to China, the worst offending nations were Iran with at least 388 executions, Iraq at least 120, Saudi Arabia at least 69 and the USA with 52.

“The past year saw capital punishment applied extensively to send political messages, to silence opponents or to promote political agendas in China, Iran and Sudan, according to Amnesty International’s report.

“In Iran, 112 executions were known to have taken place in the eight-week period between the presidential election on 12 June and the inauguration of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a second term as President on 5 August.”

Amnesty International is an international advocacy organization with more than 2.2 million members in 150 countries “who campaign for internationally recognized human rights for all.” (For more detail see About Amnesty International on their webpage.)

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 2:13 pm  Leave a Comment  

Shine On

“I work my way so slowly into a novel that I only really start to get fully immersed when I know it’s the right thing.”

Earlier this month we mentioned Rowan Hooper’s brief review of Ian McEwan’s new Solar in the New Scientist. Now, Jennifer Griggs updates our perspective with an interview with McEwan focusing largely on the book. It’s worth a read.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 12:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment

“The distinctions between art and science, and arts and crafts, were unknown before the 17th century. ‘Arts’ simply implied skills, whether in painting and music, or in glass-making, furniture-making or even magic. The division between the ‘fine arts’ and the lower ‘mechanical arts’ came later and, with that separation, and the post-romantic downgrading of science, much was lost.

“In this wide-ranging survey of the aesthetics and practice of innovation and design from the 17th to the 19th centuries, Celina Fox sets out to recreate that vanished, unified sensibility. To do so she examines the progress and perception of industry from different perspectives, providing a detailed account while remaining alert to the piecemeal process and regional differences of the industrial revolution.”

Writing in the UK’s Guardian, Jenny Uglow offers a quite favorable, attentive and detailed review of Celina Fox’s new “copiously illustrated and lavishly produced” work The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 11:27 am  Leave a Comment  

American War Casualties

The Congressional Research Service has released a compilation of statistics on casualties in all of America’s wars and selected other conflicts. American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics should prove a valuable resource for those pursuing historical investigations or comparing contemporary conflicts with earlier ones.

Published in: on March 31, 2010 at 10:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Contested Will

Jennifer Howard reviews James Shapiro’s soon-to-be-released Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? in A Shakespeare Scholar Takes On a ‘Taboo’ Subject in The Chronicle Review. It’s quite an interesting review of what promises to be a very interesting book.

Oh, and the answer to the question posed in that title?
William Shakespeare, of course.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Tortilla Curtain — April 12

Last night’s book discussion sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council was an invigorating exploration of August Wilson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Fences. If you missed it, you’ll be pleased to know that two more works are in store during the spring book discussion season.

On Monday April 12th we’ll be discussing T.C. Boyles’ highly acclaimed The Tortilla Curtain. Drop by the library circulation desk and pick up your copy today.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm  Comments (2)  

Mimas Mimics Pac Man

Mimas Mimics Pac Man

Saturn’s peculiar moon Mimas is even stranger than previously believed, as the latest images released from NASA’s Cassini explorer reveal.

“The highest-resolution-yet temperature map and images of Saturn’s icy moon Mimas obtained by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft reveal surprising patterns on the surface of the small moon, including unexpected hot regions that resemble ‘Pac-Man’ eating a dot, and striking bands of light and dark in crater walls.

“‘Other moons usually grab the spotlight, but it turns out Mimas is more bizarre than we thought it was,’ said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. ‘It has certainly given us some new puzzles.’”

The image on the right above is a temperature map which effectively demonstrates what are, at present, inexplicably sharply patterned temperature differences on the surface of the little moon.

For more information, see the original NASA article noted above, or visit NASA’s Cassini Mission page and NASA’s Saturn–Cassini Equinox page.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 11:43 am  Leave a Comment  

State Primary Elections

Just two states (Illinois and Texas) have already held their primary elections this year, and in Kansas primary election day won’t arrive for another four months (August 3rd).

But beginning with May, the election season will be upon us, with ten states from Arkansas to West Virginia holding primaries. Stateline.org (a Pew Center on the States project) offers this practical one-page Voters Guide to primary elections in all 50 states.

Published in: on March 30, 2010 at 11:19 am  Leave a Comment  

MetroMonitor Ranks Metropolitan Performance

Comparative Unemployment Ranking of Metropolitan Areas (Brookings Institution MetroMonitor March 2010)

The Brookings Institution has released the March 2010 edition of its MetroMonitor, a 27-page report on the economic performance of the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas during the recession and its emerging aftermath.

In the various indices, the Wichita metropolitan area consistently ranked among the second-strongest-20 or middle-20 metro areas, with the exception of housing prices, where it ranked 10th among the strongest metro areas.

The report authors characterize their effort as “an interactive barometer of the health of America’s metropolitan economies, [which] looks ‘beneath the hood’ of national economic statistics to portray the diverse metropolitan landscape of recession and recovery across the country. It aims to enhance understanding of the local underpinnings of national economic trends, and to promote public- and private-sector responses to the downturn that take into account metropolitan areas’ distinct strengths and weaknesses.”

For a quick summary introduction to some of the insights of the report, see these notes accompanying the release, or consult the various metro-comparison maps of overall performance, employment, unemployment rate, gross metropolitan product, housing prices and real estate-owned properties included in the report.

Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 5:18 pm  Leave a Comment