Freedom and Unity

Podcast: What schools look like when we fund them fairly

By: The Impact



Across the United States, schools are almost universally funded by local property taxes. This means that schools in less wealthy areas have less funding for their students. This can make it hard to keep up on basic things like maintenance but also buy new textbooks or science equipment.

A lawsuit against this method was filed in Vermont in the 1990’s. They argued that it violated the state constitution that all students were guaranteed an equal education. They won.

As a result, the Vermont legislature passed laws where each school district made their budget each year, the budgets across the state were combined, and wealthier communities paid a higher percentage than poorer communities.

This created some pretty fierce resentment and bad blood between wealthier communities and poorer ones. A lot of people didn’t like the state government involved in something like this.

Recently, because of an aging population, the number of students enrolled statewide has dropped from around 100k to about 85k. But because many schools have fixed costs regardless of how many students they have (building maintenance, electric and water bills) the cost per student has gone up.

As a result, Vermont has started passing laws requiring small districts to merge together and has been closing some of the schools.


This all seems fine to me. I’m a believer in spending equally on education for all students. The typical nationwide method of better schools being in wealthier areas seems just a sneaky way of preserving a the wealthy gap generationally and also ensures the very groups that need the most help won’t get it.

As to the second part part of the podcast, I’m also fine with that. If there are smart ways to cut costs we should be considering them. Continuing to spend almost the same money on a school that only has half as many students as twenty years ago doesn’t seem economical.

When the Greek Alphabet turns menacing.

Podcast: Space Radiation

By: Astronomy Cast



There are four main types of radiation one can encounter:

Alpha particles: Protons. Blocked by the skin. Potentially dangerous if inhaled or consumed.

Beta particles: Electrons.

Gamma rays (and X Rays): Photons.

Charged nuclei: Galactic cosmic rays and solar events.

On earth we’re mostly safe from these because of our magnetic field and atmosphere but in space travel and the surface of other worlds they’re extremely dangerous. Astronauts on long flights have a much higher risk of cancer.

The Van Allen Belts that surround Earth contain a lot of these particles and are a risk to electronic equipment that passes through them.

Solar flares are extremely dangerous for unprotected humans and electronics. The Apollo missions were lucky that the Sun stayed quiet and didn’t release any major flares in our direction during them.

There are various ideas for shielding spacecraft (surrounding them with water or soil, or generating magnetic fields) but none are really feasible with current technology.

The best bet for explorers on other worlds is living underground.

Not a bright spot in American history

Podcast: The Age of Jackson : Great White Father

By: American History Tellers



Jackson supported the Indian Removal Act and pitched it as philanthropic for the Indians. They were being moved out of danger and their new lands would be guaranteed and looked after by the federal government.

The Cherokee had a full constitution and treaties with the federal government that were basically ignored by the state of Georgia. Initially there was an argument that the federal government didn’t have the rights under the Constitution to interfere with Georgia law.

Eventually, in Worcester v. Georgia the Supreme Court ruled that Georgia could not overrule a sovereign nation, presumably protecting the rights of the Cherokee nation. However, Jackson refused to enforce the ruling and Georgia quickly moved to take over the land.

Despite the Cherokee refusing to leave their land, a group of 100 of them who claimed to speak for the entire Cherokee nation negotiated terms to sell the land and were quickly granted a new treaty by the federal government, which then took this opportunity to enforce the terms on the entire nation.

A major concern of southerners was that if they accepted the argument that Indians had rights, then their slaves did too.

The tribes were a refuge for escaped slaves which also made them extremely unpopular with Southerners.

At the end of his second term, the issue of what to do with Texas became a difficult problem. Admitting Texas would upset the balance of slave states and free states and Texas was a place where neither free blacks or free indians were allowed.


Surely the Indian Removal act must be seen as an extremely black mark on American History. America betrayed its treaties with these nations and killed or force relocated tens of thousands of people.

Robert Hayne – not a great guy

Podcast: The Age of Jackson : King Mob

By: American History Tellers



Jackson’s choice for Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton was surrounded by controversy for his involvement with a married woman in the “Petticoat Affair” and Jackson spent quite a lot of political capital dealing with it.

The Tariff of 1824 was an incredibly controversial political issue. It was passed to protect industry in the north but wound up increasing the prices of goods in the south and damaged their economy. Many in South Carolina accused it of being a direct attack on slavery – which it might have been.

It spawned the Nullification crisis where South Carolina had a state convention to declare this law null and void within their state borders. It was expected that Jackson would side with the south on this, but it was more important for him to preserve the concept of a federal government.

Jackson’s own vice president, John Calhoun penned an anonymous editorial supporting nullification. It was a contentious issue between them and caused Jackson to declare his running mate in the presidential election of 1928 would be Martin Van Buren.

Henry Clay proposed a compromise where the tariffs would be slowly walked back but that Jackson would be given the authority to use the military on states that refused to obey the laws of the federal government.

The Webster-Hayne speeches were some of the most popular and contentious on the Senate floor. Worth reading.

Jackson hated the Second Bank of the United States and vetoed the renewal of its charter.  His reasoning for it was that it was an overreach of federal power, despite it already having been decided as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

His anti bank stance was extremely populist and was one of the keys to his re-election in 1832.


Looking at history from a modern perspective, Robert Hayne was a real piece of shit. He said this:

If slavery, as it now exists in this country, be an evil, we of the present day found it ready made to our hands. Finding our lot cast among a people, whom God had manifestly committed to our care, we did not sit down to speculate on abstract questions of theoretical liberty. We met it as a practical question of obligation and duty. We resolved to make the best of the situation in which Providence had placed us, and to fulfil the high trust which had developed upon us as the owners of slaves, in the only way in which such a trust could be fulfilled, without spreading misery and ruin throughout the land. We found that we had to deal with a people whose physical, moral, and intellectual habits and character, totally disqualified them from the enjoyment of the blessings of freedom. We could not send them back to the shores from whence their fathers had been taken; their numbers forbade the thought, even if we did not know that their condition here is infinitely preferable to what it possibly could be among the barren sands and savage tribes of Africa; and it was wholly irreconcileable with all our notions of humanity to tear asunder the tender ties which they had formed among us, to gratify the feelings of a false philanthropy.


Our first good presidential election controversy

Podcast: The Age of Jackson : Good Feelings

By: American History Tellers



The 1824 election saw four major candidates running and none of them won a majority of the electoral vote.  Despite Jackson winning the largest number of both electoral and popular votes, the House of Representatives voted to elect John Quincy Adams. In a bit of a scandal, Henry Clay threw his support behind Adams and then was made Adams’ Secretary of State.

This was the first time someone won the popular vote without winning the presidency.

The Missouri controversy centered around whether Missouri should be admitted to the Union as a Slave or Free state. The compromise involved bringing in Maine as a free state to preserve the balance, and ensure that a latitudinal line was drawn so that all new states north of that line would be brought in as free states.

Life, uh, finds a way

Podcast: Planetary Protection Protocols

By: Astronomy Cast



Based on how likely a destination is to have life on it, there are different levels of cleaning and decontamination spacecraft must undergo before being launched.

The idea is that we don’t want to carry life with us that could potentially be an invasive species on a different planet and destroy or otherwise negatively impact native life.

When the protocols were first written up, we weren’t aware of the potential for life on many places we now think it could reside, such as Titan, Ceres, or even the gas giant planets.

Also, the methods used to clean some of the earlier Mars missions such as Viking I and II would not have necessarily have killed some of the extremophile life we now know exists.

Tardigrades are awesome.

But sugar is so delicious

Podcast: Food Fight!

By: The Impact



In an effort to combat obesity, NYC launched a program to make healthy food choices more accessible through an outreach program with the hundreds of bodegas to get them to carry healthy options and display them prominently. Mixed results, many bodegas don’t want to participate or after several months of not seeing improved sales, stop participating. Customers often aren’t interested in the healthier options.

After fairly successful sugar tax programs in Mexico and Berkeley California, other countries have followed suit. But when Chicago tried to use a soft drink tax to fill a budgetary hole, there was a massive battle that saw huge public outreach spending campaigns from the Soda Industry and Mayor Bloomberg and the tax was repealed two months after going into effect.

Philadelphia is the largest US city with a successful soda tax. They specifically use the money for pre-K education, rather than a general fund.

Deportation without representation

Podcast: Deportation without representation

By: The Impact



Anyone arrested on criminal charge in the U.S. is guaranteed the right to an attorney. Even if you’re not here legally. That’s not the case in immigration court. Immigration court is under the jurisdiction of the Attorney General and the Justice Department in the executive branch. Not the judicial branch.

Oakland passed a measure to fund attorneys for people in immigration court that don’t have access to one otherwise.

People with legal representation are 5 times less likely to be deported.

Those people detained for potentially being here illegally are often held in detention for months in a mixed population with people accused of crimes.

Often the accused aren’t physically present in the courtroom, they present on a video feed where they watch the proceedings from the detention center and can appear on screen in the courtroom.

Anti Antioxidants

Podcast: Antioxidants

From: Science Vs



Despite a whole lot of studies there hasn’t been any data linking Antioxidant supplements to better heart health, decreased cancer rates, or slowed aging.

It’s now thought that free radicals aren’t as bad for us as we thought they were, they’re actually necessary for health body function, and our body has pretty good systems of regulating them.

However, these foods also contain Resveratrol, a molecule that can potentially activate sirtuins in the body, which is a protein that can help burn fat. There haven’t yet been enough good long term studies to determine if this could be beneficial for humans.

America deserves a drink.

Podcast: Prohibition – We Want Beer

From: American History Tellers


Notes: The repeal of Prohibition was the first time the State Convention was used to pass an amendment. Before this point it was always state legislatures but there was doubt that there was enough support among state legislatures to pass the repeal.

Utah was the state that achieved the required number. Ohio and Pennsylvania were scheduled to vote on the same day and Utah deliberately delayed until both of them had confirmed passage so they would be the deciding state.

A lot of modern laws in various states and counties are leftover from the local efforts to keep Prohibition in place even after it was repealed. That’s why some states still have laws that prevent alcohol sales on Sundays, or have dry counties or only allow liquor stores to sell alcohol. Some states were still dry until the 60’s.

FDR ran with an Anti-Prohibition platform.

Somewhat unrelated but interesting – as a result of the Great Depression, many WWI vets couldn’t find work and demanded their pensions early. They gathered in Washington and Hoover actually brought in the military on them and as a result of the conflict some vets were killed and several dozen were wounded.