'English-Only' Measures More and More Popular

Immigration reform has receded—at least temporarily—in Washington. But a historically fraught question is primed to return when legislators again pick up the matter: should English be America’s official language? About 30 states already have English-only laws requiring them to conduct official business in the mother tongue, with some exceptions. Most of these laws passed during prior bouts of border anxiety: in the mid-’80s (when 3 million illegal immigrants got amnesty) and the mid-’90s (when the GOP gained control of the House).

New York: When Nurses Strike, People Die

The nation's nursing shortage is sure to be exacerbated soon by an uptick in stitches and surgeries that, prior to health-care reform, many Americans likely would have gone without. In years past, hospital administrators have tried to close the labor gap by demanding double shifts and tacking on extra responsibilities. Concerned about being too taxed to do their jobs well, nurses have walked out at least 750 times in recent decades, making the profession among the most strike-prone in the country.But the consequences of these stoppages have never been fully clear until now. A new study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that during 50 strikes at New York state hospitals between 1984 and 2004, patients were almost 20 percent more likely to die—a bump in mortality that translates to about 140 deaths. The study "surprises me," says Becky Patton, president of the American Nurses Association. But, Patton says, she still supports hardball tactics if management...
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The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro

To tell the story of how America’s game gained Dominican flavor, Mark Kurlansky focuses on a single town: San Pedro de Macorís—the birthplace of All-Stars like Robinson Cano, Sammy Sosa, and Alfonso Soriano, and the home of more major leaguers per capita than anywhere in the world. More than one in four major leaguers are Latin-born (up from zero a half century ago), and no country has contributed a greater share of the talent than the Dominican Republic.

The World’s Best Eye on the Cosmos Goes Dark in Maryland

Next week President Obama is slated to deliver his first speech on the administration's NASA policy, which calls for transferring routine space travel to private companies. The proposal has sparked fears of government layoffs and questions about the wisdom of ceding cosmic flight to Russia, China, and corporate America. But another likely consequence has been overlooked: the irrevocable end of the Hubble Space Telescope, hailed as the greatest eye on the cosmos since Galileo.None of Hubble's work—including the first images of planets orbiting another sun—would have been possible without the shuttle, which launched the device in 1990 and ferried astronauts up on five different occasions for crucial repairs. Last year's maintenance trip left the orbiting camera more powerful than ever. But no more U.S. spacecraft, at least for the foreseeable future, means no more service trips—and a permanent sleep for the iconic machine the next time it breaks down, or when its batteries die around...

Claims of Resegregation in North Carolina

As education secretary Arne Duncan begins his review of equality in the nation's schools—he recently called it the "civil-rights issue of our generation"—he may want to take a close look at North Carolina. Previously a model of desegregation, the state's classrooms have begun to divide again along racial lines. In Charlotte, federally mandated busing ensured balance until 1999, when a court ruled that integration had been accomplished. Since then the number of 90 percent–minority schools has jumped almost fivefold. In Wayne County, one high school is now 99 percent African-American, which prompted the NAACP to file a federal complaint alleging "apartheid education." And last month in Wake County, a newly elected school board voted to end an income-based diversity program that has been copied across the country. "I think it's intentional race discrimination," says Mark Dorosin, a senior attorney at the University of North Carolina's Center for Civil Rights. (A spokesperson for Gov....

Why Immigration Helps Wages in California

As the white house revives immigration reform—an issue the president is discussing with congressional leaders—it may want to ponder the effects of curbing foreign labor. While immigrants are blamed for dragging down American wages and stealing jobs, University of California, Davis, economist Giovanni Peri comes to a different conclusion. In a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, Peri trowels through nearly five decades of immigration data and finds that foreign workers have boosted the economy, jacking up average income without crowding out American laborers. For each percentage of the workforce that is foreign-born, he found an almost 0.5 percent bump in average wages. In California, where the percentage of immigrants in the workforce has jumped more than 25 points since 1960, that means an almost 13 percent bonus—roughly $8,000. Immigrants, Peri says, push native-born workers into better-paying positions, expanding the size of the job pie so unskilled Americans aren...

Tennessee: Retired Nukes Get a New Life

President Obama has called for a world without nuclear weapons. As he prepares to whittle down America's arsenal, however, a crucial question remains: what to do with the bomb material? Since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has decommissioned thousands of warheads—the explosive cores of which are in storage, pending a way to dispose of their plutonium. Leaving it intact is a potential security risk. But most of the alternatives (including launching it into the sun) have their own risks. While non-weapons-grade plutonium is used to fuel nuclear plants in Europe, it has never been processed out of a warhead and into a form for commercial reactors.That could change. The Department of Energy is building a South Carolina–based plant that can convert America's plutonium stockpile into fuel. And late last month, the Tennessee Valley Authority agreed to evaluate it for use in its reactors near Chattanooga and Athens, Ala. If the TVA ultimately accepts the fuel, which energy analysts...

Texas: Promise in Paying for Grades

As President Obama looks to overhaul education policy, he might consider a simple fix: paying students for grades. Backed by private donors, hundreds of schools nationwide have tried a pay-for--performance approach in the last decade. But even as the practice has spread, psychologists have attacked it as shortsighted, saying it doesn't cultivate a lifelong love of learning. Legislators, wary of the optics, have steered clear, citing the need for further research.Now, in the first long-term study of its kind, a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research may provide some answers. According to the report, Texas high-school students who earned cash for passing Advanced Placement exams showed not only better GPAs, but also bumps in college attendance, performance, and the likelihood of earning their degrees. The effects were most pronounced among minorities, with African--American students 10 percent more likely to enter college, and 50 percent more likely to...

Did the Housing Crisis Help Prop 8 Pass?

The great recession may be to blame for stirring up the culture wars: according to a study in the winter issue of the American Sociological Review, resistance to gay marriage deepens significantly during hard times. In conservative parts of the 30 states that have blocked same-sex unions (where ballot measures tend to be won or lost), researchers found that each 10 percent drop in homeownership led to a 5 percent increase in support for a ban. Other signs of a community in trouble—including spikes in the crime rate and the percentage of people moving—also tracked with heightened opposition. When people think their neighborhood is breaking down, says Notre Dame professor Rory McVeigh, a coauthor of the study, "they think gay marriage is only going to make things worse."That's bad news for gay-advocacy groups, as much of the country remains racked by the housing crisis. In California, where foreclosure rates are among the highest in the nation, it could help explain how Proposition 8...

Texas Panel Studies Wrongful Convictions

Since the late 1990s, DNA evidence has cleared hundreds of people mistakenly put behind bars. In doing so, it's tarnished that staple of crime solving: the police lineup. Almost 80 percent of the wrongly accused were first fingered by an alleged eyewitness (who zeroed in on them in a traditional photo, or in-person, "six-pack"). For years the push to improve the system has stalled, with just nine states enforcing tightened procedures. These include requiring police to show pictures or suspects one at a time, and having an officer without knowledge of the case administer the lineup—processes that psychologists say are more reliable. Meanwhile, at least 17 other states and some major cities have resisted these changes, partly because a 2006 Chicago Police Department study found the new system to be worse than the old one, and partly because the Supreme Court has upheld entrenched lineup methodology.But reform could soon come from the unlikeliest of places: Texas. This fall a special...

Kentucky: Home to the Next Yucca Mountain?

President Obama has called for a new generation of nuclear-power plants. But when he abandoned plans to store the nation's nuclear waste in Nevada's Yucca Mountain, he effectively forced states eager to break ground on reactors to accept the idea of keeping that waste within their borders—not a popular idea since the Three Mile Island meltdown. But could Kentucky become home to an alternative? Its state Senate recently approved a bill that would OK nuclear-waste storage. And Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Steve Beshear, says storing other states' waste "would certainly attract a lot of interest from our administration."For a coal-rich area without an existing plant, Kentucky's openness is a sign, say energy analysts, that anxiety about waste storage is waning. It's "a tipping point," says Vanderbilt professor Charles Powers, an expert on nuclear-waste solutions. Still, don't expect resistance to end overnight: Kentucky's bill could die in the House, as did two previous...

A Coming Medical Marijuana Battle in Colorado?

With more medical-marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks outlets, Denver has emerged as the per capita frontrunner for curative ganja. As more residents partake of doctor-prescribed pot, however, questions are emerging about where the line is between an employee's right to use medical marijuana and an employer's right to a drug-free office.Employers, of course, don't need to accommodate a worker who shows up stoned. But can someone who legally tokes on his own time, and whose performance isn't hurt, be fired for failing a drug test? "We're in uncharted territory," says Vance Knapp, a Denver employment lawyer who expects the issue to be tested in the courts soon.So far, judges in California, Washington, Montana, and Oregon have sided with employers. But because Colorado's medical-marijuana laws are in its constitution, not just statutes, legal experts give the edge in any test case to employees. That could mean a breakthrough victory for users, swinging momentum their way and giving...

The Best Thing for a Baby's Colic: Treating the Parent's Nerves

Today we have a guest post from colleague Tony Dokoupil.We had known each other just a few weeks when the fights began. They were ugly affairs, full of kicks and screams that raged all day and night. Hours turned into days, then weeks, then months – and still the drama continued. “Things will get better,” people said. But that was hard to believe right there in the center ring. We needed help. And that’s when the real confusion set in.Nearly one in five babies – like my own – display the prolonged shrieks that characterize colic. But nobody knows what causes it – one leading medical dictionary defines it as “benign pain,” a devious concept – and researchers shrug off as a natural stage of development shared by baby chimps, gulls and even beetle larvae. None of which offers much succor for newly-minted, sleep-deprived parents. “I distinctly remember standing on a balcony with Quinn squawking in my arms and wondering what I would do if it wasn’t against the law to hurl her off it,”...

Cougar Hunting: Apple's Cat Options Dwindle

Apple's latest operating system, known as "Snow Leopard," resolved dozens of headaches for users. But it may herald a new one for the company's marketing team: trying to come up with yet another big-cat name for the next version of the OS. After Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, and two types of Leopards, are there any more marquee felines left to poach? Yes, but none that Apple is likely to want. ...

In Defense of Permissive Parenting: Why Talking Back May Lead to Smarter Kids

Inside a convenience store, Xenia is battling her 4-year-old son, Paulino, over buying a soft drink. She wants him to try a small size, he wants a larger one. "That one does not work," she says, referring to the rack of big cups. "These [smaller] ones do."Xenia eventually won the battle over beverages, but she may have lost the parenting war, according to a pair of new studies, highlighting how small differences in communication style can have a large impact on kids. And in many cases, it's minority families like this one (Xenia and Paulino are Mexican-American) that suffer the most.  Moms, dads, or caregivers who mainly talk to their offspring using commands, like Xenia, who was cited in the study, rather than reasoning may get their kids to do what they want, but they also fail to develop their children’s minds, the research out of the University of California, Berkeley, and UCLA suggests.The findings have particular significance for minority communities...

Q&A: Author Alain de Botton Gave His Last Reading at ... Heathrow!?

Over the last decade, British author Alain de Botton has built an empire out of his cotton-candy approach to big ideas. In a fistful of hits—including Status Anxiety, The Architecture of Happiness, and The Consolations of Philosophy—as well as numerous BBC and PBS documentaries, he’s offered a clever look at Western civilization, all from the mercilessly pragmatic perspective of what helps people live more fulfilling lives. But while his style has certainly sold books—more than 5 million worldwide—it has also drawn gob-smacking levels of professional scorn. The New York Times’s Jim Holt called his work “piffle dressed up in pompous language,” feminist critic Naomi Wolf wrote that “40 pages into his newest offering I was ready to hurl it across the room,” and Guardian columnist Charlie Brooker described de Botton as “an absolute pair-of-aching-balls of a man—a slapheaded, ruby-lipped pop philosopher who's forged a lucrative career stating the bleeding obvious in a series of...

Wine Drinkers' Carbon Footprint

At least they are if you live in the Big Apple. A New Yorker leaves a smaller carbon footprint drinking a French Bordeaux shipped across the Atlantic (2.93 pounds of carbon per bottle) than drinking a Napa merlot (7.05 pounds). That's because when it comes to calculating carbon costs, the method of transportation matters as much as the distance. Shipping freight by sea generates less than half the emissions associated with airplanes and tractor-trailers.

Older Brains Hatch New Ideas

Earlier generations of scientists didn't have to wade through quite as much preexisting work before making an original contribution. Now innovators are establishing themselves much later in life. Over the last century and a half, the average age of a Nobel Prize winner at the moment of his great breakthrough has risen more than five years, from 34 to almost 39 years old. Run-of-the-mill inventors are also older: the average age for registering first major patents has jumped seven months per decade.

Wine Drinkers' Carbon Footprint

At least they are if you live in the Big Apple. A New Yorker leaves a smaller carbon footprint drinking a French Bordeaux shipped across the Atlantic (2.93 pounds of carbon per bottle) than drinking a Napa merlot (7.05 pounds). That's because when it comes to calculating carbon costs, the method of transportation matters as much as the distance. Shipping freight by sea generates less than half the emissions associated with airplanes and tractor-trailers.

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