Friday Links

By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR's rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber. Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.

Giving at scale by the super-wealthy has done little to redistribute wealth from rich to poor, helping perpetuate social inequalities rather than remedying them, while paying considerable dividends to donors in the form of privilege and influence in society and politics, new research shows.

Corporal punishment in state schools in the UK was made illegal in 1986. This is the story about how it was eliminated in one Local Education Authority, Oxfordshire, before that.

My dad became CEO of Oxfordshire in 1978. He was young, and opposed corporal punishment, but knew, as he puts it, that “in a time of cuts, if I went to the politicians and asked them for money for canes they’d ask me how many I wanted, and did I want the luxury versions”. So he didn’t talk to them about corporal punishment.

“The toll of death is simply staggering — worse than I would have predicted,” said Arthur Caplan, founding head of the division of medical ethics at the New York University School of Medicine. “Covid has been nothing short of the worst failure of public policy in modern memory.”...

All other causes of death pale in comparison to the coronavirus death toll. So far, the coronavirus has killed roughly three times as many people as accidents, lung ailments, stroke or Alzheimer’s disease did in 2019. And the coronavirus has outpaced the number of deaths from diabetes, kidney disease, pneumonia and suicide by even larger multiples.

Prosecutors who want to hold police accountable should seek the bird in the hand, not the two in the bush. They should select charges in these cases so that conviction is a real possibility and, therefore, a real constraint on future police behavior. One "guilty" verdict on manslaughter will do more to reshape officers' behavioral calculus than an endless stream of "not guilty" decisions on murder.

Bottom line: Many people don’t like needles, and that could further slow vaccination efforts as winter turns to spring when supplies are expected to multiply and efforts to get the hesitant to sign up for a dose will intensify.

“Fear of needles was one of the barriers that was a significant predictor of people saying, ‘I don’t think I will get this vaccine,’” said Jeanine Guidry, an assistant professor at Virginia Commonwealth University who researches visual communication and conducted a survey of 500 people in July.

Mather had learned about inoculation more than a decade earlier, from an African man named Onesimus, whom he enslaved. When he asked if Onesimus had ever had smallpox, the man showed him a scar on his arm and explained that his community in Africa used infected material from one person to inoculate others against the disease. A few years later, Mather read a report from Turkey describing a similar procedure.

I remember last March, about three days into the shutdown when my Facebook newsfeed was filled with hilarious memes from parents who had been home teaching their children for a few days. The memes praised teachers, joked about suspending their own children, and immediately needing a vacation. As I saw these posts, I laughed along with them but thought to myself “this won’t last long”. And how right I was. People got amnesia and quick.

While all viruses find ways to evade the body’s defenses, a growing field of research suggests that the coronavirus unhinges the immune system more profoundly than previously realized.

A billionth of a century is approximately pi seconds. The diameter of the Earth is roughly half a billion inches. (Incidentally, one millionth of a century is about 52 and a half minutes. This microcentury is apparently the optimal time for a lecture: long enough to get into depth and detail; not so long that people fall asleep.)

In our view, as education researchers who specialize in science education, the learning sciences and educational assessment, we see an abundance of reasons to let states off the hook for testing this year....

Unfortunately, national experts and research findings indicate that high-stakes testing does not live up to its promise. Instead, research has shown serious negative side effects.

Friday Links

There are 365 days in a year, 366 in a leap year. But if you put 70 people into a room it’s almost certain that two of them will have the same birthday. In fact, if you put just 23 people into a room there’s at least a 50% chance that two of them will have the same birthday.

This is known as the birthday problem, or the birthday paradox. (It’s not an actual paradox, just a surprising and counterintuitive result, like the kidney stone paradox or the false positive paradox.) The math behind it is a little opaque, but one intuitive way of explaining it is that the number of potential combinations of people in these groups is large – 70 people equals 2415 different pairings – and any one of those pairings could be a matching birthday.

In fact, other studies have confirmed that people who are suspicious of climate change often remain stubbornly unmoved by firsthand experience with extreme weather. That may be for two overlapping reasons. First, there’s the myth that any kind of cold weather is incompatible with the overwhelming scientific consensus that current global warming is real and caused by people. The frigid snowstorms gripped Texas and the eastern U.S. about six years to the day after a U.S. senator brought a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof against the reality of global climate change. (Each year since then, the U.S. has suffered at least ten billion-dollar or more climate catastrophes, with a record-setting twenty-two such events in 2020.)

One of the really rampant myths that I deal with on a regular basis is about life expectancy in the medieval period. What gets trotted out, over and over, is the idea that “the average life expectancy in the medieval period was 35, so when you were 32 you were considered an old”. Friends, this is extremely not true, and this myth is also damaging to us now....

To write anyone’s life off as excess or frivolous is, quite frankly, monstrous. Medieval people would not have accepted the death of everyone over a certain age as inevitable or excusable. To say that we should now because of their average life expectancy make no sense, and is nothing short of thinly veiled eugenics. If you feel like relating to life and pandemics this way, then I am afraid you are actually treating people more brutally than they were treated half a millennium ago. Reflect on that and do better.

In 1968, a small group of Black Chicago officers—all relatively new to the department—founded the Afro-American Patrolman’s League. Unlike Black police organizations in other cities, the AAPL wasn’t primarily concerned with the officers’ own working conditions. They saw their mission as fighting racist policing from inside the department....

Not surprisingly, the police department did not take AAPL’s actions well. Its leaders were falsely accused of crimes, suspended, and given humiliating assignments. Fellow cops targeted the family of one league leader, Renault Robinson. They called the elementary school where his six- and seven-year-old boys were enrolled, threatening to murder them. The FBI also surveilled the AAPL, building a dossier of more than 500 pages by the end of 1968.

It was in this climate that Child struggled to get back into mainstream publishing. Her next major work was a collection of her columns from the National Anti-Slavery Standard, written between 1841 and 1843. The original abolitionist columns, however, were “too radical for the uncommitted public.”...

As Karcher notes, government censorship, while not unknown, has been fairly rare in America. But there has long been what she calls “censorship American style.” This is a varying mix of market forces—what the public will buy, or what gatekeepers think the public will buy—and conformist opinion about legitimate topics for discussion. Ostracized by “respectable” opinion and threatened by violent anti-abolitionists, Lydia Maria Child felt she had to censor herself to get her message out to a wider audience.

For several decades in the middle of the 20th century, nuts and its facetious cousin nerts were deemed so inappropriate that they were forbidden—along with, but not limited to, whore, SOB, damn, hell,  fanny, and slut—in the scripts of Hollywood movies.

“In popular mythology, the American West stands as a kind of ultimate free labor landscape,” continues Smith, but the reality of indentured servitude, contract labor, and debt peonage, as well as the persistence of chattel slavery, “fits uneasily within familiar narratives of western history.”

If I were asked to give a succinct description of my work (for that, believe it or not, is what writing four or five days a week is) I would say that I am an entertainer and that journalism is simply a form of mass entertainment, like Hollywood or Major League Baseball, albeit one with somewhat lower average earnings potential....

To repeat a suggestion I made on Twitter, I contend that text-based websites should not exceed in size the major works of Russian literature.

This is a generous yardstick. I could have picked French literature, full of slim little books, but I intentionally went with Russian novels and their reputation for ponderousness.

“Today’s interim report from the UNFCCC is a red alert for our planet. It shows governments are nowhere close to the level of ambition needed to limit climate change to 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement”, Secretary-General António Guterres said on the report’s findings. 

My home computer in 1998 had a 56K modem connected to our telephone line; we were allowed a maximum of thirty minutes of computer usage a day, because my parents — quite reasonably — did not want to have their telephone shut off for an evening at a time. I remember webpages loading slowly: ten to twenty seconds for a basic news article....

So, with an internet connection faster than I could have thought possible in the late 1990s, what’s the score now? A story at the Hill took over nine seconds to load; at Politico, seventeen seconds; at CNN, over thirty seconds. This is the bullshit web....

An honest web is one in which the overwhelming majority of the code and assets downloaded to a user’s computer are used in a page’s visual presentation, with nearly all the remainder used to define the semantic structure and associated metadata on the page. Bullshit — in the form of CPU-sucking surveillance, unnecessarily-interruptive elements, and behaviours that nobody responsible for a website would themselves find appealing as a visitor — is unwelcome and intolerable.

Friday Links

Already, more people live outside of their countries of birth than ever before, and according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration, as many as 200 million people might need to leave their homes for climate-related reasons by 2050.

Despite these projections, no legal framework exists to help such migrants relocate, let alone to protect them in their most vulnerable moments. Instead, governments worldwide have neglected and exploited this new class of “climate displaced”—exposing them to both climate shocks and the abuse that often follows. Governments and international organizations can pursue a better course by enabling vulnerable populations to migrate before and after disaster strikes. The benefits of such a policy far outweigh the short-term costs.

“It might be too late to avert a climate crisis,” says the climate migration expert Jane McAdam, who directs the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales. “But we can avert a displacement crisis if we start to act now.” To do so will require casting climate migration in a new light: not as a burden to be repelled but as a shared global reality to collectively manage.

Both battlefields are now under the care of the National Park Service. This past Fourth of July, few people visited either, but when travel becomes easier, if you're within range, I suggest you visit whichever park is closer. Both parks are beautiful, especially in mid-summer. However, do not ask the question several NPS rangers submitted to me as their nomination for the dumbest query ever received from a visitor: "How come they fought so many Civil War battles in parks?" Instead, if you're at Vicksburg, suggest to the ranger that Gettysburg was the more important victory; if at Gettysburg, suggest Vicksburg. Probably you and your fellow tourists will be informed as well as entertained by the response. 

In Gettysburg, don't fail to take in the South Carolina monument. It claims, "Abiding faith in the sacredness of states rights provided their creed here" — a statement true about 1965, when it went up, but false about 1863. After all, in 1860, South Carolinians were perfectly clear about why they were seceding, and "states rights" had nothing to do with it. South Carolina was against states’ rights. South Carolina found no fault with the federal government when it said why it seceded, on Christmas Eve, 1860. On the contrary, its leaders found fault with Northern states and the rights they were trying to assert.

The vaccine trial that Vice President Mike Pence kicked off in Miami on Monday gives the United States the tiniest chance of being ready to vaccinate millions of Americans just before Election Day.

It’s a possibility that fills many public health experts with dread.

For too long, a culture of American exceptionalism has been a barrier to the implementation of policies that have improved public safety around the globe. Now, the United States’ capacity to heal as a nation could very well depend on its willingness to listen and learn from the rest of the world.

In 2014, ProPublica published one of the most comprehensive analyses to date of racial disparities in deadly police encounters. Its examination included detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides between 1980 and 2012, drawn from the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports. During this three-decade period, ProPublica found that young Black men were 21 times as likely to be fatally shot by law enforcement as were their white peers. 

On rare occasions, typically after a city has been embroiled in years of scandal, the federal government and a municipality might enter into a consent decree, which allows the Department of Justice to monitor the activities of a particular agency and shepherd any necessary reforms. Such oversight is considered an exceptional step in the United States; in the safest countries in the world, it is the norm.

“Simpler times” stated Cobargo farmer Keaton Gray (55).

“At least this time we don’t have to palm off handshakes from the Prime Minister and identify our dead cattle by the melted tags on their ears.” 

Learning with myths manifests in many ways. Redundant development to accommodate learning styles, or generations. Shortened to be appropriate for millennials or the attention span of a goldfish. Using video and images for everything because we process images 60K faster. Quiz show templates for knowledge test questions because they’re more engaging. And all of these would be wrong.

Instead, mythless design starts with focusing on performance. That is, there’re clear learning outcomes that will change what people do that will affect the success of the organization. It’s not about knowledge itself, but only in service of achieving better ability to make decisions.

As the United States faces a long, uphill recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, it would do well to consider a measure that could put its people to work, at a living wage, for the benefit of all. But a job guarantee is not a crisis measure: it must be a permanent policy, because unemployment devastates communities even when economies are relatively strong.

One thousand women on horseback: these were the roving New Deal librarians who, starting in 1935, brought books and set up libraries in some of the most remote areas of Kentucky. The women rode across 29 counties, sometimes more than 100 miles a day. And where the terrain was difficult, they dismounted their horses and carried the books on foot. Their impact was far-reaching. As one recipient put it: “Them books you brought us has saved our lives.”

About Me

Developer at Brown University Library specializing in instructional design and technology, Python-based data science, and XML-driven web development.

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