Everyone Has A’s! A’s! A’s! A’s!

This past semester, I took an undergraduate course for the first time in nearly 20 years.  I enrolled in Physical Anthropology (ANTH 102) at San Diego City College as the first step toward my goal of becoming a nautical archaeologist.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect such a lax grading policy for a class that qualifies as one of only two science courses required to earn a bachelor’s degree in California.

A total of 600 points were possible for the class.  300 of those came from three projects, each of which took about four hours to complete.  The first project required a visit to the San Diego Museum of Man (mine is here).  The second required online research of various primates or a trip to the San Diego Zoo (click here for my zoo project).  The final “creativity” project was a presentation of literally anything having to do with anthropology (my project is here).  One student baked cookies and wrote various vocabulary words on them.  Another held up a picture book of Disney’s Tarzan and talked about how much he enjoyed reading it to his son.  From what I could tell (based on a quick glance at the professor’s grade spreadsheet when she was showing me my own scores), grading for these projects was binary; students either received 100/100 points for turning them in or 0/100 points for not turning them in.

The other 300 points were based on the best three of four multiple choice tests.  There was no final exam.  Additionally, 25 extra credit points were awarded for attendance at a one-day anthropology conference and, when test scores were abysmally low, another 25 points were awarded for writing a one-page review of any movie having anything to do with anthropology (one student wrote about Ice Age).

This grading policy meant that by simply completing the three projects, students already had 300/600 points (350/600 if they did both extra credit “assignments”).  In order to get a C in the class, a student who did both extra credit assignments would only need an additional 70 points from all three tests.  That’s an average grade on each test of 23.3%!

You read that correctly.  My classmates could get credit for one of their two required science classes by answering less than one-quarter of the multiple choice test questions correctly.

Here’s how it breaks down with and without extra credit for each grade:

Average test score needed to get a(n):    A          B          C

With no extra credit assignments:          80         60        40

With one extra credit assignment:          71.7      51.7      31.7

With both extra credit assignments:        63.3      43.3      23.3

That’s right.  Students who completed both extra credit assignments could score an average of 63.3% (barely a D) on their three highest tests (remember, the lowest score was dropped) and still get an A in this science class.

America, you have been warned.  This is your future.

But for now, everyone has A’s! A’s! A’s! A’s!


Budgeting For Murder

For the record, I have never served on a jury.  The one time I was called, I was exempted by 10 U.S.C. § 982 and Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5822.2.  I am always interested, however, in who gets selected to serve on juries, especially as it seems like a disproportionate number of my coworkers (who are primarily civilian employees of the federal government) are chosen.

A few days ago, I learned that a coworker had been selected as a juror for a murder trial.  This person is at the top of the General Schedule Pay Scale, and therefore likely earns around $120,000 per year.  This interested me because, as a supervisor for personnel who work on my program, part of this person’s salary normally comes out of my budget.  My immediate concerns for my program’s budget were allayed, however, since apparently jurors are paid “court leave,” but it still appears that the federal government is picking up a substantial portion of the tab for this particular jury.

Of the twelve primary and three alternate jurors selected, my coworker reported that four (including him) are from our office.  Two are employees of the state of California.  One is a retired military officer.  Three are, in his words, “little old ladies,” self-described retirees, likely receiving Social Security and perhaps additional retirement income.  He did not have any information on the other five jurors.  He reported that during the selection process many small business owners and hourly workers were dismissed because of the impact a long trial would have on their ability to earn a living.  In other words, without the willingness of the federal (and to a lesser extent state) government to pay their employees for court leave, the state of California would not be able to seat juries for trials expected to last more than a few days.

California currently compensates jurors just fifteen dollars per day, and only after the first day:

California pays jurors $15 every day starting on the second day of service, except employees of governmental entities who receive full pay and benefits from their employers while on jury service. All jurors receive at least 34 cents for each mile they travel to court. The mileage payment, only for one-way travel, also starts on the second day. Jurors also have the option to waive the mileage and instead receive transit passes for each day they serve.

In order for California to approximate the meager $30,000 mean per capita income, they would have to compensate jurors $120 per day (eight times the current rate) starting on the first day of jury duty (this assumes a 50-week work year and a 5-day work week:  50 x 5 x $120 = $30,000).  The only way California (and other states) would ever consider doing this is if the federal government were to stop subsidizing juries by paying for court leave.

This problem is neither new nor unique to California.  In 1997, the Seattle Times reported a similar problem:

When a handful of her employees received jury-duty notices, Edie Hilliard was happy to let them serve and collect their full salary at the same time.


Jury duty is a civic responsibility, and every citizen should respond to the call of the court, Hilliard reasoned. Telling her employees to survive on the $10-a-day jury stipend seemed mean-spirited.


But about three years ago, Hilliard said, things started to get out of hand.


Since then, half of the 43 employees at her company, Broadcast Programming, have been summoned, nine of them more than once. In mid-June, one employee was serving on a jury when two others received summons.


Broadcast Programming workers have spent 49 days sitting in the jury box during the past three years.


“It just seems extraordinary that we’ve received so many,” said Hilliard, president of Broadcast Programming, a Seattle-based company that sells programs to radio stations.


Hilliard isn’t the only employer questioning how jurors are selected. Plenty of others protest the number of summonses issued to their workers and wonder if they are being unfairly burdened by the district, municipal and federal courts.

Unfortunately, their proposed “solution” was to mandate that all businesses pay employees for jury duty, which ignores the fact that many people (including domestic workers) are self-employed.

Until states actually start budgeting for jurors as if they were employees, lengthy trials, especially murder trials, will continue to have juries made up primarily of federal and state employees and little old ladies.

First, They Came For The Nutella

This week Ferrero, maker of Nutella, agreed to pay over three million dollars when they settled two separate class-action lawsuits (one in California and another covering the rest of the United States):

“The complaint is that this ad and others like it play up the healthiness of  the breakfast those adorable kids are eating, while neglecting to mention that the few tablespoons of Nutella on their toast contains 200 calories, 11 grams of  fat (3.5 grams saturated) and 21 grams of sugar,” commented Consumerist.com. “That’s comparable to a Three Musketeers candy bar.”

Ferrero has agreed to change its marketing campaign, modify the Nutella  label, modify certain marketing statements about Nutella, create new television  ads, and change the Nutella website.

Shoppers who bought Nutella between Jan. 1, 2008, and Feb. 3, 2012 (Aug. 1,  2009, and Jan. 23, 2012 if you live in California) can file a claim and join the  class action, according to the official notice from the company.

Here is the commercial to which the previous excerpt refers:

And here is an excerpt from the actual complaint:

8. Nutella is deceptively marketed, advertised, and sold to Plaintiff and the other Class members as a “healthy” and “nutritious” food.

9. The central message of Defendant’s marketing and advertising is that Nutella is a “wholesome” food product and can be served as part of a “balanced” and “nutritious breakfast.”

10. In Nutella’s marketing and advertising, Defendant omits that the nutritional value claimed, if any, is not derived from Nutella, but is instead derived from other foods or drinks (e.g., whole grain breads, fruit and milk) which are advertised to be consumed along with Nutella.

11. Defendant’s claims regarding Nutella are false and misleading because they omit that Nutella contains high levels of saturated fat, the consumption of which has been shown to increase the blood cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol have been shown to increase one’s risk of hardening of the arteries, heart attack and stroke.

12. Defendant’s claims regarding Nutella are also false and misleading because they omit that Nutella contains over 55% processed sugar, the consumption of which has been shown to cause type 2 diabetes and other serious health problems.

13. Indeed, the serving size, 2 tablespoons, contains 200 calories, 11 grams of fat — 3.5 of which are saturated fat (18% of your daily recommended value) — and 21 grams of sugar.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that all of the nutritional information above was plainly available to the plaintiff on the label, let’s take a look at how these numbers compare with some other breakfast foods.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch, for example, is advertised in the following commercial as “part of this good breakfast” (the image shows a bowl of cereal, an orange, and a glass of milk):

Here is the nutrition label for Cinnamon Toast Crunch:

And just so we’re completely clear, the serving size is 3/4 cup.  Here’s what 3/4 cup of Cinnamon toast crunch looks like in a bowl:

Since it would takeat leasttwo servings to come anywhere close to filling the bowl, there is a minimum of 20 grams of sugar and 260 calories in a bowl of Cinnamon Toast Crunch (without milk).

And what about all that saturated fat in Nutella?  One whole hard-boiled egg has 5 grams of fat and 2 grams of saturated fat, meaning that a serving of Nutella has about the same amount of fat as two eggs (without the cholesterol), not an unreasonable breakfast by most standards.

Is Nutella a “healthy” breakfast by itself?  Most people would probably agree that the answer is no (just as they would probably agree that nothing but eggs or Cinnamon Toast Crunch for breakfast is not “healthy”).  Ferrero, however, went out of its way to show what does make a healthy breakfast, both in the commercial and on the label:

Any reasonable consumer should be able to figure out that the thing made out of chocolate and sugar is making the breakfast “tasty” while the other items listed are making it “balanced”, which is what makes this entire class-action lawsuit laughable.  Then again, we live in a country where a certain fast food chain thinks we can’t we can’t tell the difference between chicken and kale, and we have a government that agrees.

If you have bought Nutella in the last four years and are disgusted by this settlement, or at a minimum think that consumers should have some responsibility to read nutrition labels, you can file an objection:

If you are a Settlement Class Member and do not request exclusion, you or your attorney on your behalf may object to the Settlement. Such objection must be in writing and must provide evidence that you are a Settlement Class Member. The procedures for submitting a written objection are identified below. A written and signed objection (and any support for it) must be filed with the Court and served on all of the following attorneys with a postmark no later than June 8, 2012:

[see link above for list of attorneys]

Any objection regarding or related to the Settlement Agreement shall contain a caption or title that identifies it as “Objection to Class Settlement in re Nutella Marketing and Sales Practices Litigation, Civil Action No. 3:11-cv-01086-FLW-DEA” and shall also contain information sufficient to identify the objecting Settlement Class Member, as well as a clear and concise statement of the Settlement Class Member’s objection, the facts supporting the objection, and the legal grounds on which the objection is based. If an objecting party chooses to appear at the hearing, then a notice of intention to appear, either in person or through an attorney, must be filed with the Court and list the name, address and telephone number of the attorney, if any, who will appear.

This is one class I definitely don’t want to be a member of.