Crowds at Europe’s museums

From the New York Times: “It is the height of summer, and millions of visitors are flocking to the Louvre — the busiest art museum in the world, with 9.3 million visitors last year — and to other great museums across Europe. Every year the numbers grow as new middle classes emerge, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe. Last summer the British Museum had record attendance, and for 2013 as a whole it had 6.7 million visitors, making it the world’s second-most-visited art museum, according to The Art Newspaper. Attendance at the Uffizi in Florence for the first half of the year is up almost 5 percent over last year

“Seeing masterpieces may be a soul-nourishing cultural rite of passage, but soaring attendance has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces, forcing institutions to debate how to balance accessibility with art preservation.

“In recent years, museums have started doing more to manage the crowds. Most offer timed tickets. Others are extending their hours. To protect the art, some are putting in new air-conditioning systems. Still, some critics say that they’re not doing enough.

imgres“Last year, the Vatican Museums had a record 5.5 million visitors. This year, thanks to the popularity of Pope Francis, officials expect that to rise to 6 million. The Vatican is installing a new climate-control system in the Sistine Chapel to help spare Michelangelo’s frescoes the humidity generated by the 2,000 people who fill the space at any given time, recently as many as 22,000 a day. The Vatican hopes to have it finished by October.

“In a telephone interview, Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, said his institution was in a bind: To safeguard the frescoes, attendance should not be allowed to increase, he said, but “the Sistine Chapel has a symbolic, religious value for Catholics and we can’t set a cap.”Museums generally don’t like keeping a lid on attendance. At the Hermitage, which had 3.1 million visitors last year, the only cap on the number of visitors is “the physical limitations of the space itself, or the number of hangers in the coat room during the winter,” said Nina V. Silanteva, the head of the museum’s visitor services department.Ms. Silanteva said the goal was to make the museum accessible to as many people as possible, but she conceded that the crowds pose problems. “Such a colossal number of simultaneous viewers isn’t good for the art, and it can be uncomfortable and overwhelming for those who come to see the art,” she said. “Thankfully nothing bad has happened, and God has saved us from any mishaps.”

Continue reading “Crowds at Europe’s museums”

Government can overestimate college costs

Federal listing of college costs often fail to calculate the rising supplements provided by student aid, grants, and loans.

As the New York Times reports, “The government’s official statistic for college-tuition inflation has become somewhat infamous. It appears frequently in the news media, and policy makers lament what it shows.No wonder: College tuition and fees have risen an astounding 107 percent since 1992, even after adjusting for economywide inflation, according to the measure. No other major household budget item has increased in price nearly as much.But it turns out the government’s measure is deeply misleading.

images“For years, that measure was based on the list prices that colleges published in their brochures, rather than the actual amount students and their families paid. The government ignored financial-aid grants. Effectively, the measure tracked the price of college for rich families, many of whom were not eligible for scholarships, but exaggerated the price – and price increases – for everyone from the upper middle class to the poor.The good news is that the Bureau of Labor Statistics has gradually begun to change its methods since 2003, to capture the effects of financial aid. It will take more time to know how well those efforts are working. But the bureau won’t alter the historical data, which means the long-term comparisons will never capture the actual cost of college for American families.

“Those oft-cited comparisons, notes Sandy Baum, a George Washington University professor and an expert on college costs, says, are “certainly misleading.”

“The discrepancy matters because the country is in the midst of a roiling debate about whether college is worth it. Various pundits on both the left and right have taken to claiming that higher education is overrated and often not worth it. The shocking increase in college costs, according to the official Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, is part of their argument. Continue reading “Government can overestimate college costs”

Religion = politics in America

Even as overall party identification trends in the U.S. have shifted over the past six and half years, the relationship between religion and party identification has remained consistent. Very religious Americans are more likely to identify with or lean toward the Republican Party and less frequently identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party, compared with those who are moderately or nonreligious.

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Gallup classifies Americans as “very religious” if they say religion is an important part of their daily lives and that they attend religious services every week or almost every week. That group constituted 41% of all U.S. adults in the first half of 2014. “Nonreligious” Americans (30% of Americans in 2014) are those who say religion is not an important part of their daily lives and that they seldom or never attend religious services. The remaining group, 29%, are classified as “moderately religious.” These people say religion is important in their lives but that they do not attend services regularly, or that religion is not important but that they still attend services.

From 2008 to June 2014, nonreligious Americans have been the most Democratic of the three religious groups, with a net Democratic value ranging between +38 and +19 over that period. Those who are moderately religious have also tilted Democratic, with net values ranging from +23 to +1. Those who are very religious are least Democratic, with net values in the negative range, meaning that on average, this group identifies with or leans toward the Republican Party more than the Democratic Party. Continue reading “Religion = politics in America”

Christian schools allowed to discriminate

When word spread this month that George Fox University had received an exemption to Title IX, allowing it to discriminate against a transgender student by denying him the housing he requested, many advocates for transgender students were stunned. Federal regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 do in fact require the Education Department to exempt colleges from rules that violate their religious beliefs. During the debate, George Fox officials noted that they were objecting to a housing request only, and that they haven’t kicked the student out of the university.

But now the Education Department has confirmed that it has since awarded two more exemptions to Title IX to Christian colleges that want to discriminate against transgender students. These colleges assert (and the Education Department agreed) that they should be exempt from more of Title IX than just housing equity. These colleges have policies to punish transgender students for being transgender students, apparently up to expulsion — and they can now do so legally. The two institutions are Spring Arbor University, in Michigan, and Simpson University, in California.

Spring Arbor is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and its traditions. It requested exemption from Title IX with regard to issues of admissions, behavioral rules, housing, access to restrooms, athletic participation and more.

The university’s student handbook says: “Spring Arbor University reserves the right to terminate or deny enrollment of those whose influence upon our community should prove to be in our judgment intractably contrary to the best interests of our students, and commitments to our university and to our Lord. Therefore, Spring Arbor University will not support persistent or conspicuous examples of cross-dressing or other expressions or actions that are deliberately discordant with birth gender, and will deal with such matters within the appropriate pastoral and conduct processes of the university.”

Continue reading “Christian schools allowed to discriminate”

“Life coaching” for the poor?

What if the poor need more than disposable income to escape poverty? What if they need a life coach?

According to Slate.com, “That’s the position of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, who in his new anti-poverty plan wants poor families to work with government agencies or charitable nonprofits to craft “life plans” as a condition of receiving federal assistance under his proposed “opportunity grants.” “In the envisioned scenario providers would work with families to design a customized life plan to provide a structured roadmap out of poverty,” Ryan writes. At a minimum, these life plans would include “a contract outlining specific and measurable benchmarks for success,” a “timeline” for meeting them, “sanctions” for breaking them, “incentives for exceeding the terms of the contract,” and “time limits”—presumably independent of actual program limits—for “remaining on cash assistance.”

Continue reading ““Life coaching” for the poor?”

After 90 years, it’s time for the ERA

Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Jackie Speier (D-CA)gathered on the steps of the Supreme Court Thursday morning to demand that the Equal Rights Amendment  finally pass.

As Ms Magazine writes, “The congresswomen, along with Feminist Majority president (and publisher of Ms.) Ellie Smeal, NOW president Terry O’Neill and other feminist leaders and activists, called on legislators to codify women’s equality in the constitution. As a reminder of the anti-woman rhetoric that has lately informed public policy, Rep. Speier quoted Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia, “Certainly the constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex, the only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.”

“She continued,

A justice of the Supreme Court has said publicly that the constitution does not prohibit discrimination based on sex, and that is precisely why we need the ERA. Those words should haunt every woman in this country.

“The good news, she said, is that “equality is only 24 words away,” referencing the text of the ERA:

Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

“The congresswomen have each introduced ERA-related legislation. In March, Rep. Speier called on legislators to remove the deadline by which states must ratify the amendment (the last deadline was June 1982, and by that date the ERA was just three states shy of passing). If passed, her bill would give those last three states a chance to ratify the amendment. Continue reading “After 90 years, it’s time for the ERA”

The Twitter and Google boy’s clubs

From PC Magazine: “Twitter’s global workforce is about as diverse as those of its big-name peers in the tech biz, which is to say, not very diverse at all. The microblogging site, following the lead of companies like Google and Yahoo, on Wednesday released some raw numbers about the gender and ethnic makeup of its roughly 3,000 employees. As with those companies, it turns out that Twitter’s workforce skews very heavily male and white.

“To wit, Twitter’s workforce is 70 percent male and 30 percent female. That disparity grows even more pronounced in tech-related jobs at the company, which are held by nine times as many men as women, while leadership roles at Twitter come in at 79 percent for men and 21 percent for women.

images“Google, which released its own diversity data in May, reported the same 70-to-30 ratio of men to women among its own roughly 52,000-strong workforce. Yahoo reported last month that the gender diversity among its more than 12,000 employees also skews male but not as much—the company’s worldwide workforce is 62 percent men and 37 percent women. Facebook also recently released a breakdown of gender and ethnic diversity in its workforce, reporting similar numbers to Twitter, Google, and Yahoo.

“If gender disparities at Twitter and other Silicon Valley companies are striking, the lack of ethnic diversity at those outfits is just as pronounced, if not more so, going by the self-reported numbers.
Before Twitter joined the party, both Google and Yahoo reported that their workforces were predominantly white and Asian— 91 percent at Google (61 percent white, 30 percent Asian) and 89 percent at Yahoo (50 percent white, 39 percent Asian). African-Americans and Latinos combined to make up just 5 percent of the employees at Google and just 6 percent at Yahoo.
Twitter’s workforce came in at 59 percent white and 29 percent Asian, with African-Americans, Latinos, and people with other ethnicities representing just a fraction of those numbers.

“The current numbers may be stark, but Twitter, like Google and Yahoo before it, pledged to work to better diversify its workforce going forward.”[R]esearch shows that more diverse teams make better decisions, and companies with women in leadership roles produce better financial results. But we want to be more than a good business; we want to be a business that we are proud of,” Janet Van Huysse, vice president of Diversity and Inclusion at Twitter, wrote in a blog post.
“To that end, we are joining some peer companies by sharing our ethnic and gender diversity data. And like our peers, we have a lot of work to do.”Van Huysse didn’t lay out any specific plans for enacting more diverse hiring at Twitter but did list some “employee-led groups putting a ton of effort into the cause” at the company. These include affinity groups like WomEng (women in engineering), SWAT (super women at Twitter), TwUX (Twitter women in design), Blackbird (Tweeps of color), TwitterOpen (LGBTQ folks), and Alas (Latino and Latina employees), she said.”

 

More at: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2461300,00.asp

Guns and dementia

From WebMD: “A new survey looks at access to guns by people with dementia.It finds that caregivers and family members of people being checked for problems with thinking didn’t consistently remove guns from their homes or keep them locked up.The study underlines the need for doctors to ask caregivers if they have guns in the home and, if so, advise them on safety measures to take, the researchers say.In the United States, there is “a significant presence of firearms in the homes of patients with dementia, and many of these patients suffer from delusions and hallucinations, some of which can be paranoid, persecutory, or hostile,” says Jason Hsieh, a medical student at Cleveland Clinic Lerner School of Medicine.The results were presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) 2014.

images-1“In the U.S., 27% percent of people over the age of 65 own a firearm, Hsieh says. “In general, almost 40% of households in the U.S. contain a firearm, and surprisingly, in households with a firearm, the average number of firearms is 6.6,” he says.The elderly have the highest suicide rate of any part of the population, and firearms are the most common, as well as the most fatal, method of suicide. Data from the National Trauma Databank show that as people get older, the proportion of gun injuries that are self-inflicted rises. Other data show that as they age, people are less likely to survive a gunshot and less likely to return home after recovery.

“In addition to suicide, elderly individuals can be the victim of homicide, and this often happens from their caregiver,” Hsieh says. “Most of these events happen at home, and again, just like suicide, using a firearm is the most common method.”Also, it’s been shown that caregivers, families, and loved ones with dementia often don’t remove guns from the home as the dementia gets worse, he sayThe concern comes from the fact that people with dementia more frequently behave aggressively than those without it. Increasing dementia is linked with worsening agitation and aggression, along with delusions – particularly, mistaking a person for someone else, he says.Included in this analysis were 495 people, with an average age of nearly 80. Most of the patients were women (63%).Of the group, 378 (77%) qualified for a diagnosis of dementia, and 64% were already diagnosed with depression or qualified as depressed, the researchers say. Continue reading “Guns and dementia”

Harassment in the sciences

Most women working in the sciences face sexual assault and harassment while conducting field work, according to a study released Wednesday that is the first to investigate the subject, MotherJones reports:

“The report surveyed 516 women (and 142 men) working in various scientific fields, including archeology, anthropology, and biology. Sixty-four percent of the women said they had been sexually harassed while working
at field sites, and one out of five said they had been victims of sexual assault. The study found that the harassers and assailants were usually supervisors. Ninety percent of the women who were harassed were young undergraduates, post-graduates, or post-doctoral students.

imgres“Our main findings…suggest that at least some field sites are not safe, nor inclusive,” Kate Clancy, the lead author of the study, said in a statement. “We worry this is at least one mechanism driving women from science.” Many university science programs require students to complete fieldwork. Those who do work in the field are more likely to receive research grants. Consequently, women scientists “are put in a vulnerable position, afraid that reporting harassment or abuse will risk their research and a professional relationship often critical to their academic funding or career,” the Washington Post noted.

“The study comes as Congress investigates the response of US colleges to campus sexual harassment and assault. Two out of five colleges and universities have not conducted any sexual assault investigations in the past five years, according to arecent survey by the office of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.).

“Men vastly outnumber women in the sciences. According to Census data, women make up only about a quarter of the workforce in science, technology, engineering and math fields.”

On accessible playgrounds

From the New York Times: “The first time I buckled Ruth in a swing she was 18 months old, but looked younger from the emaciating effects of cerebral palsy.Born in Uganda and quickly abandoned, she had spent much of her first year in an orphanage, which sent her to Maine for six months of physical therapy. Friends signed up to host her.

“My husband, Dana, and I were interested in adoption and received permission to take Ruth on weekends to see what caring for her was like. That’s how we found ourselves standing under a canopy of backyard trees, buckling Ruth into a red, plastic baby swing.

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Unable to sit, crawl or even lift her head, Ruth shrieked as she soared through the air, her patent-leather baby shoes shivering the low-hanging leaves. I imagine she felt free of her captive body for the first time. A decade after that cool October morning, I’ve never heard a sound so joyful. We officially welcomed Ruth into our family of three young children in the winter of 2005. Over the years, swinging remained among Ruth’s favorite activities — along with whizzing down the slide at our local playground. But as she grew, it became increasingly difficult to find play areas designed with equipment Ruth could use. Continue reading “On accessible playgrounds”

Court upholds race in university admissions

From the New York Times: “In a long-running affirmative-action case, a three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit on Tuesday upheld the University of Texas at Austin’s consideration of race as one of many factors in admissions.images

“We are persuaded that to deny U.T. Austin its limited use of race in its search for holistic diversity would hobble the richness of the educational experience in contradiction of the plain teachings of Bakke and Grutter,” Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham wrote, referring to two previous affirmative-action rulings by the Supreme Court.William C. Powers Jr., the president of the University of Texas at Austin, said he was pleased with the decision upholding the admissions policy.

“This ruling ensures that our campus, our state and the entire nation will benefit from the exchange of ideas and thoughts that happens when students who are diverse in all regards come together in the classroom, at campus events and in all aspects of campus life,” he said.Texas’ “Top Ten Percent Plan” guarantees the top graduates of every high school in the state a place at the flagship Austin campus or other universities in the state system, and because many Texas high schools are largely segregated, many black and Latino students are admitted to the university under the plan.

“While the Top Ten Percent Plan boosts minority enrollment by skimming from the tops of Texas high schools, it does so against this backdrop of increasing resegregation in Texas public schools, where over half of Hispanic students and 40 percent of black students attend a school with 90 percent-100 percent minority enrollment,” said the majority opinion, in which Judge Higginbotham was joined by Judge Carolyn Dineen King.While the University of Texas does get some diversity from the plan, the majority opinion said, it can constitutionally make further efforts to increase diversity.

“U.T. Austin has demonstrated a permissible goal of achieving the educational benefits of diversity within that university’s distinct mission, not seeking a percentage of minority students that reaches some arbitrary size,” the opinion said.Judge Emilio M. Garza wrote a lengthy dissent, arguing that while the university claims that its use of race was narrowly tailored to meet its diversity goal, it never defined that goal, making it impossible to say whether the use of race actually was tailored to meet it. Continue reading “Court upholds race in university admissions”

Seniors like how they look

From Gallup.org: “Though many may pine for the physical appearance they had in their younger years, America’s seniors are the most confident in their looks. Two-thirds (66%) of Americans aged 65 and older “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that they always feel good about their physical appearance, compared with 61% of 18- to 34-year-olds. Middle-aged Americans (54%) are the least likely to report feeling good about their appearance.images-1

“For both men and women, confidence in their physical appearance is lower in middle age than in young adulthood, yet gets higher during their senior years.

“At nearly every age level, men are more likely than women to feel good about their appearance, though this margin narrows among older age groups. More than two in three men aged 18-24 (69%) say they feel good about their physical appearance, compared with the 57% of women in the same age group — a 12-percentage-point gap. But by retirement age, the gap shrinks to a four-point difference: 64% of men feel good about their looks compared with 60% of women.

“This analysis is based on more than 80,000 interviews with U.S. adults from Jan. 1-June 23, 2014, as part of the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. Specifically, Americans are asked to rate their level of agreement with the statement, “I always feel good about my physical appearance,” on a five-point scale where five means strongly agree and one means strongly disagree. Overall, more than half of Americans, 58%, agreed that they always feel good about their looks, answering with a four or five. Far fewer disagreed that they always feel good about their appearance, with 15% answering with a one or two. About one in four Americans (27%) neither agreed nor disagreed, responding with a three. Continue reading “Seniors like how they look”

Mentally ill brutalized in prison

From today’s New York Times, “After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post images$250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence. Continue reading “Mentally ill brutalized in prison”

Thinking dangerously

Thinking has become dangerous in the United States. As Henry A Giroux  observes in today’s TruthOut, “the symptoms are everywhere including a Texas GOP Party platform that states, “We oppose teaching of Higher order Thinking Skills [because they] have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental control” to a Tennessee bill that “allows the teaching of creationism in state’s classrooms.”

“At a time when anti-intellectualism runs rampant throughout popular culture and the political landscape, it seems imperative to once again remind ourselves of how important critical thought as a crucible for thinking analytically can be both a resource and an indispensable tool. If critical thought, sometimes disparaged as theory, gets a bad name, it is not because it is inherently dogmatic, jargonistic or rigidly specialized, but because it is often abused or because it becomes a tool of irrelevancy – a form of theoreticism in which theory becomes an end in itself. This abuse of critical thought appears to have a particularly strong hold in the humanities, especially among many graduate students in English departments who often succumb to surrendering their own voices to class projects and dissertations filled with obtuse jargon associated with the most fashionable theorists of the moment. Such work is largely rewarded less for its originality than the fact that it threatens no one.

“At the same time there are many students who find the esoteric language associated with dangerous thinking and critical thought to be too difficult to master or engage. The latter points to the fact that some theories may be useless because they are too impenetrable to decipher or that there are theories which support bad practices such as high-stakes testing, creationism, faith-based evidence, the spanking of children, incarcerating children as adults and other assumptions and policies that are equally poisonous. Theory is not inherently good or bad. Its meaning and efficacy are rooted in a politics of usefulness, accessibility and whether it can be used resourcefully to articulate frameworks and tools that deepen the possibility of self-reflection, critical thought and a sense of social responsibility. For instance, a theory is bad if it inadequately grasps the forces at work in the world and simply reproduces it as it is. Theory is also injurious when it is used to legitimate modes of inquiry and research that are bought by corporations, the military and other state and private institutions to legitimate dangerous products, policies and social practices.

“Theory has no guarantees, and like any other mode of thought, it has to be problematized, critically engaged and judged in terms of its interests, effects and value as part of a broader enhancement of human agency and democratization. At their best, theory, thinking dangerously and critical thought have the power to shift the questions, provide the tools for offering historical and relational contexts, and “push at the frontiers . . . of the human imagination.” Moreover, theory functions as a critical resource when it can intervene in the “continuity of commonsense, unsettle strategies of domination” and work to promote strategies of transformation.=As Theodor Adorno observes, “Theory speaks for what is not narrow-minded – and commonsense most certainly is.=As such, theory is not only analytical in its search for understanding and truth, it is also critical and subversive, always employing modes of self and social critique necessary to examine its own grounds and those poisonous fundamentalisms in the larger society haunting the body politic. As Michael Payne observes, theory should be cast in the language of hints, dialogue and an openness to other positions, rather than be “cast in the language or orders.” Continue reading “Thinking dangerously”

Untraceable money

From today’s Wired Magazine: Amir Taaki and his collaborators recently unveiled a prototype for a decentralized online marketplace, known as DarkMarket, that’s designed to be impervious to shutdown by the feds.images-1

The programming provocation they released a few hours ago is called Dark Wallet, a piece of software designed to allow untraceable, anonymous online payments using the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Taaki and Wilson see in bitcoin’s stateless transactions the potential for a new economy that fulfills the crypto-anarchist dream of truly uncontrollable money. They envision a digital payment network that circumvents every authority’s attempts to tax it, seize it, censor it, track it, or imprison those who would use it to trade in contraband like weapons, drugs, and even abhorrent services like murder-for-hire and child pornography.

And yet for all that, Dark Wallet isn’t necessarily illegal. Taaki and Wilson, who spent two years in law school before dropping out to pursue his anarchist dreams, argue their creation is just a piece of code and thus protected by free speech laws. Then again, Wilson also has described it publicly as “money-laundering software.” The evening before, he received an unhappy email from his lawyer friend, cautioning him about expressing criminal intent in an interview with me that was published two days earlier. Wilson’s half of the ensuing phone conversation went like this: “How can we cower now? We’re the people who do things and tell them to put up or shut up … [pause] … I guess you’d rather I go back to running guns? … [pause] … OK, I’ll talk to you later.”

Hence the unplanned road trip. The drive through the empty Texas landscape gives me a chance to ask the looming question: How will the world change if Taaki and Wilson succeed in their quest to make money truly anonymous? “There’s going to be a bit of a shake-up,” says Taaki, who speaks with a British accent that borders on cockney. “No one knows how it’s going to turn out.”

He pauses. “The assassination markets are going to be a bit shit.” Untraceable murder-for-hire, in other words, could be an unfortunate side effect of their financial innovation.

Then he seems to regain his resolve. “I believe in the hacker ethic. Empower the small guy, privacy and anonymity, mistrust authority, promote decentralized alternatives, freedom of information,” he says. “These are good principles. The individual against power.”

Warming to his subject, Taaki raises his voice as if he’s speaking to a crowd larger than the three of us here in the car. “But it’s important to be clear that it may not be good on balance, either,” he says. “The world is not perfect. Good and evil rise together.”

Wilson cuts in from the driver’s seat, shifting into agitprop mode. “It’s time for a good old-fashioned pendulum swing,” he says. “Where the people fear the government there’s tyranny. Where the government fears the people there’s liberty. They’re afraid, therefore it’s good.”

But Taaki seems willing to contemplate a more uncertain outcome of the anarchy he and Wilson seek to create.

“It will be different, more diverse,” he muses, as if imagining this new reality for the first time. “We’ll step out into a new world, and we can explore it in any direction we choose.”

The 21st century has already seen its first experiment in crypto-anarchy: the billion-dollar, anonymous online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. In October 2013, the FBI seized the well-hidden server that hosted the site on the anonymity network Tor. The agency also arrested its alleged founder, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, calling his work a vast narcotics and money-laundering conspiracy.

Cody Wilson would call it a mere proof of concept.

In a packed bar on East London’s Brick Lane two months after the Silk Road crackdown, Wilson stood onstage—inexplicably wearing a single leather glove—and scolded the audience of the London Bitcoin Expo: “Ross Ulbricht is alleged to be the founder and operator of Silk Road, the glittering jewel of all things libertarian, black market, and wonderful. And it’s a severe indictment of the modern libertarian conscience that he can’t get any support at all.” (At the time, just $3,800 dollars had been donated to the fund-raising site created by Ulbricht’s family, FreeRoss.org, well short of their $50,000 goal. That lukewarm response likely had much to do with prosecutors’ claims that Ulbricht had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins to contacts he believed were hit men who would kill his enemies, including a blackmailer and a potential informant.)

More at: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/inside-dark-wallet/

Continue reading “Untraceable money”

Multiplayer games as the future of learning

Appearing in today’s edition of The Atlantic: “It was just supposed to be a quick trip to Beijing, a touristy group thing to take in the sights. It wasn’t supposed to go down like this.There wasn’t supposed to be a lost manuscript; the travelers weren’t supposed to turn on each other. The only good, if any, to be found in this godforsaken quest, this unholy mission, was that by the end of it, they would all know how to speak Mandarin.imgres-1

“This intricate Maltese Falcon­-like story will unfold each day, over the course of semester, as a multiplayer game at Renssalear Polytechnic Institute in New York. It is being  designed as a language-learning exercise by Lee Sheldon, an associate professor in the college’s Games and Simulations Arts and Sciences Program. “Using games and storytelling to teach­—it’s not that radical of a concept,” says Sheldon. “It makes them more interested in what’s going on.”

“Sheldon is a pioneer in gamification, a new movement that essentially takes all the things that make video games engaging and applies them to classroom learning. Sheldon started developing the theory eight years ago. Since then, gamification now comes in all shapes and sizes and is used across educational levels, for kindergarteners through adult learners. Its practitioners range from individual teachers experimenting with game-like elements in their classrooms to entire schools that have integrated the games into their curricula.

“The goal is to change the student’s mindset to a mastery orientation­—to promote motivation, engagement, active learning­—and to cultivate 21st century skills like collaboration, problem solving, creativity and systems thinking,” says Joey Lee, a research assistant professor of Technology and Education at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. “Learning looks very different today, so we need to move away from the Industrial Revolution one-size-fits-all model that still plagues much of education.” Continue reading “Multiplayer games as the future of learning”

On paying for book publication

At almost any gathering of academic publishers or librarians, you’ll hear someone float the idea—sometimes phrased as a question—that the model for publishing scholarly monographs is broken.

imgres-3As InsideHigherEd reports: “Two sets of ideas aired at the Association of American University Presses’ annual meeting, held here this week, don’t say the model is damaged beyond repair. But the proposals, both from groups outside the university-press community, suggest that it needs to be retrofitted, at the least.

“One possible approach came from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and the other from a task force on scholarly communications run jointly by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Research Libraries. Both raised the question of how to better subsidize the digital publication of scholarly monographs, and both included the notion that faculty authors’ home institutions might do more to help pay for those books to be published. Such support would help deal with what university-press people often call the “free-rider problem,” in which institutions without presses—most of them, in other words—leave it to those with presses to support the system that gives faculty authors publication credentials.

“The AAU/ARL task force describes its plan as a “prospectus for an institutionally funded first-book subvention” that would shift the burden of payment to authors’ home institutions. That would “address the principal causes and effects of the market failure for monographs,” the prospectus says. It envisions that colleges and universities would agree to pay for an openly available “basic digital edition” of some faculty members’ first books; scholarly publishers could offer those titles for sale in other formats too.

“The plan also envisions that universities with a high level of research activity would offer subventions for three or four books a year, with an “annual subvention exposure” of roughly $68,000 to $73,000. Small colleges would pay for one or two books a year, and offer more modest subventions.  Continue reading “On paying for book publication”

Gay parents = happier kids

Children raised by same-sex couples have better health and well-being in comparison to their peers, according to a groundbreaking new study which isbeing billed as the largest of its kind.

Conducted by Australia’s University of Melbourne, the new research aimed to “describe the physical, mental and social well-being” of children with gay and lesbian parents, and “the impact that stigma has on them.” On average, children raised by same-sex couples scored six percent higher than the general population when it came to general health and family cohesion.

Meanwhile, in other categories — such as behavior, mental health and self-esteem — those children reportedly scored the same as those raised by heterosexual parents.

“It appears that same-sex parent families get along well and this has a positive impact on health,” Dr. Simon Crouch from the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne, told CNBC of the results.

Crouch believes that an emphasis on skills, as opposed to traditional gender roles, accounted for the survey’s results.

“So what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes,” he is quoted as saying. “Whatthis leads to is a more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and wellbeing.”

You can read more about the new research here.

The study comprised input from 500 children and 315 parents who are in same-sex relationships, and seemed mostly in line with previous research. Earlier this year, a Williams Institute report found that children of lesbians reported having higher self-esteem and lower conduct problems than those of heterosexual couples.

A 2012 study, “Adolescents with Lesbian Mothers Describe Their Own Lives,” found that teens with two moms maintained solid high school GPAs while having strong family bonds with their mothers, according to CBS Las Vegas.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/children-of-gay-parents-study-_n_5563547.html

 

Continue reading “Gay parents = happier kids”

Summer motivation

THERE are two kinds of motive for engaging in any activity: internal and instrumental. If a scientist conducts research because she wants to discover important facts about the world, that’s an internal motive, since discovering facts is inherently related to the activity of research. If she conducts research because she wants to achieve scholarly renown, that’s an instrumental motive, since imagesthe relation between fame and research is not so inherent. Often, people have both internal and instrumental motives for doing what they do.

What mix of motives — internal or instrumental or both — is most conducive to success? You might suppose that a scientist motivated by a desire to discover facts and by a desire to achieve renown will do better work than a scientist motivated by just one of those desires. Surely two motives are better than one. But as we and our colleagues argue in a paper newly published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, instrumental motives are not always an asset and can actually be counterproductive to success.

We analyzed data drawn from 11,320 cadets in nine entering classes at the United States Military Academy at West Point, all of whom rated how much each of a set of motives influenced their decision to attend the academy. The motives included things like a desire to get a good job later in life (an instrumental motive) and a desire to be trained as a leader in the United States Army (an internal motive).

How did the cadets fare, years later? And how did their progress relate to their original motives for attending West Point?

We found, unsurprisingly, that the stronger their internal reasons were to attend West Point, the more likely cadets were to graduate and become commissioned officers. Also unsurprisingly, cadets with internal motives did better in the military (as evidenced by early promotion recommendations) than did those without internal motives and were also more likely to stay in the military after their five years of mandatory service — unless (and this is the surprising part) they also had strong instrumental motives.

Remarkably, cadets with strong internal and strong instrumental motives for attending West Point performed worse on every measure than did those with strong internal motives but weak instrumental ones. They were less likely to graduate, less outstanding as military officers and less committed to staying in the military. Continue reading “Summer motivation”

When fantasy crosses a criminal line

In his mind and online persona, Gilberto Valle left little doubt about the depths of his depravation: In communications over the Internet, he imagined subjecting women he knew to sex-related torture and, in some cases, murder and cannibalism.

And, prosecutors said, that activity and other actions were all part of what they described as a kidnapping conspiracy, a charge for which he was convicted in 2013.

But on Tuesday, a federal judge in Manhattan ordered Mr. Valle, 30, released on bond just hours after overturning his conviction.

The judge, in a decision released late Monday night, concluded that Mr. Valle’s Internet plotting had been “fantasy role play” and was not evidence of an actual crime.

“This is a conspiracy that existed solely in cyberspace,” the judge, Paul G. Gardephe of Federal District Court, said in a 118-page opinion that granted a judgment of acquittal to Mr. Valle, a former New York City police officer who had faced a potential life sentence for his conviction.The ruling resurrected the key issue in Mr. Valle’s widely followed trial: When does a virtual crime, contemplated in Internet chat rooms, become an actual crime?

Joseph V. DeMarco, an Internet lawyer and a former head of the cybercrime unit in the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan, said after reading the decision: “I think that the court was profoundly disturbed by the relative lack of evidence in the kinetic world corroborating the defendant’s intent to carry through on any of the communications.”

“What this case, I think, emphasizes,” Mr. DeMarco added, “is that people have broad rights to express fantasies online, which can lead to a lot of speech that people find disturbing and repugnant but which nonetheless will not cross the line into criminal liability.”

Judge Gardephe wrote that in the charged conspiracy, all communications between Mr. Valle and his alleged co-conspirators in New Jersey and overseas took place over the Internet. None of the conspirators ever met or spoke by phone, exchanged accurate information about where they lived or even knew or sought to learn one another’s true identities, he observed. Continue reading “When fantasy crosses a criminal line”