Weekly Meanderings, 12 August 2017

chimp_hug Big thanks to Kris for finding so many of the links this week, and she finds many of them most weeks.

Joi Marie McKenzie:

Some lucky Atlanta students got a huge surprise last week. Mentors encouraged them as they walked into school for the very first time this year.

During the welcome, approximately 370 boys at BEST Academy of Atlanta, an all boys school for grades 6 through 12, were greeted with cheers, handshakes, high-fives, hugs and encouraging words from over 70 men.

The heartfelt welcome was thanks to a partnership by several Atlanta non-profit organizations, including 100 Black Men of Atlanta, Emerging 100 of Atlanta, The Collegiate 100 and the 100 Black Men of America.

BEST Academy student Gs3 Harris told ABC News he had no idea what to expect when he walked off the bus on August 1.

The graduating senior said his first reaction when seeing the dozens of men cheering was, “Oh snap! All these people came here to see us?”

Harris, 17, said one man even pulled him aside and said, “You look like you’re going somewhere. You’ll be famous soon.”

“That was kind of special because not too many people think that of me,” said the student, who plans to study mechanical engineering at Georgia State University when he graduates. “It was a boost in morale.”

Ray Singer, the program director for 100 Black Men of Atlanta and the liaison for the school, said the morning also benefited the mentors.

“At the end of the day, all of our volunteers walked away with just as much as experience as the student,” he told ABC News. “It gives them an opportunity to have some real dialogue with students about careers … and they walk away feeling uplifted.”

Political correctness, by William Deresiewicz:

I recently spent a semester at Scripps, a selective women’s college in Southern California. I had one student, from a Chinese-American family, who informed me that the first thing she learned when she got to college was to keep quiet about her Christian faith and her non-feminist views about marriage. I had another student, a self-described “strong feminist,” who told me that she tends to keep quiet about everything, because she never knows when she might say something that you’re not supposed to. I had a third student, a junior, who wrote about a friend whom she had known since the beginning of college and who, she’d just discovered, went to church every Sunday. My student hadn’t even been aware that her friend was religious. When she asked her why she had concealed this essential fact about herself, her friend replied, “Because I don’t feel comfortable being out as a religious person here.”

I also heard that the director of the writing center, a specialist in disability studies, was informing people that they couldn’t use expressions like “that’s a crazy idea” because they stigmatize the mentally ill. I heard a young woman tell me that she had been criticized by a fellow student for wearing moccasins—an act, she was informed, of cultural appropriation. I heard an adjunct instructor describe how a routine pedagogical conflict over something he had said in class had turned, when the student in question claimed to have felt “triggered,” into, in his words, a bureaucratic “dumpster fire.” He was careful now, he added, to avoid saying anything, or teaching anything, that might conceivably lead to trouble.

I listened to students—young women, again, who considered themselves strong feminists—talk about how they were afraid to speak freely among their peers, and how despite its notoriety as a platform for cyberbullying, they were grateful for YikYak, the social media app, because it allowed them to say anonymously what they couldn’t say in their own name. Above all, I heard my students tell me that while they generally identified with the sentiments and norms that travel under the name of political correctness, they thought that it had simply gone too far—way too far. Everybody felt oppressed, as they put it, by the “PC police”—everybody, that is, except for those whom everybody else regarded as members of the PC police.

I heard all this, and a good bit more, while teaching one class, for 12 students, during one semester, at one college. And I have no reason to believe that circumstances are substantially different at other elite private institutions, and plenty of reasons not to believe it: from conversations with individuals at many schools, from my broader experience in higher education, from what I’ve read not only in the mainstream media but also in the higher education press. The situation is undoubtedly better at some places than others, undoubtedly worse at the liberal arts colleges as a whole than at the universities as a whole, but broadly similar across the board.

So this is how I’ve come to understand the situation. Selective private colleges have become religious schools. The religion in question is not Methodism or Catholicism but an extreme version of the belief system of the liberal elite: the liberal professional, managerial, and creative classes, which provide a large majority of students enrolled at such places and an even larger majority of faculty and administrators who work at them. To attend those institutions is to be socialized, and not infrequently, indoctrinated into that religion.

Some of you have students in college,

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Karen Matthews:

NEW YORK (AP) — An old construction barge planted with vegetables, apple trees and fragrant herbs is giving apartment-dwelling New Yorkers a chance to pick something and eat it.

Part floating garden, part artwork and part community organizing project, the barge called Swale is currently docked on a river in the South Bronx and will move to Hudson River Park in lower Manhattan from Sept. 15 to Nov. 15.

Founder Mary Mattingly created Swale in part to give New Yorkers an opportunity to forage for food, which is illegal throughout the city’s 30,000 acres of public parks. The no-foraging rule doesn’t apply to Swale, since it’s a barge.

“Because not everyone has access to healthy food in New York, I saw Swale as a tool to advocate for policy change,” said Mattingly, an artist who is dividing her time between Swale and her summer residency at Monet’s Garden in Giverny, France.

Swale’s harvest is free for the taking. Dariella Rodriguez, director of outreach for Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, a community group that leads tours of Swale, said many visitors are surprised they don’t have to pay.

“Immediately they’re like, ‘how much?’ And when we tell them that it’s free, they’re really shocked,” Rodriguez said.

Swale was launched in 2016 with funding from Kickstarter and A Blade of Grass, a nonprofit that supports socially engaged art.

Shih Tzu by Gabriella Borter:

(Reuters) – When distressed students at Middle School 88 in Brooklyn end up in the principal’s office, Petey Parker often totters over, tail wagging, to comfort them.

The rescued Shih Tzu mix is the darling of some 1,400 students who call out his name and lean over to pet him as he walks the corridors.

“He’s like a guidance counselor but in a dog form,” said Maciel, an 8th grader at MS 88, donning a Principal’s council t-shirt with an image of Petey’s face printed on it.

Petey joined the MS 88 community last December as one of the first participants in the Comfort Dog program, which is expanding to 30 more New York schools this fall after a pilot of just seven last year.

“It is amazing to me that one dog can bring empathy and serve as a comfort for close to 1,400 students,” MS 88 Principal Ailene Altman Mitchell said. “He’s king of this castle.”

The initiative, led by Chancellor Carmen Fariña of the New York City Department of Education, brings rescue dogs into the classroom to promote social emotional learning.

New York City’s Comfort Dog program is based on the Mutt-i-grees curriculum, which was developed by Yale researchers in partnership with North Shore Animal League America and aims to integrate rescue dogs into classroom lessons on empathy, resilience and conflict resolution.

Audrey Gorden:

Telemarketers have a new trick to get you to answer the phone — and it’s hitting close to home.

Caller ID spoofing, a technique to fake the number a call is coming from, makes detecting pesky robocalls more difficult. One increasingly popular way telemarketers are getting people to answer the phone is by mimicking the user’s number — copying the recipient’s area code and sometimes even the first few digits of their number.

Not even the head of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates phone lines and telemarketers, is immune. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told NPR he’s been targeted by telemarketers using the tactic.

“(The call will) seem to be coming from the 202 area code, which is here in Washington, and then our prefix for these BlackBerries,” Pai told NPR. “And I know for a fact that, you know, it’s probably not someone calling from the office.”

Joel Whalen, a professor of marketing and business communications at DePaul University, says caller ID spoofing can make consumers more comfortable answering a call.

“A person will answer the telephone and begin to engage in conversation, and that overcomes the first hurdle a telemarketer faces — getting someone to answer the phone so they can start the pitch,” Whalen said.

The widespread utilization of caller ID spoofing by telemarketers and scammers is made easy by the availability of internet-based calling and third-party caller ID spoofing services. The practice in itself is not illegal: According to the Truth in Caller ID Act of 2009, spoofing and caller ID manipulation is prohibited only if the caller’s intent is to “defraud, cause harm, or wrongfully obtain anything of value.”

Ashley May:

The man behind the 2003 report responsible for many current password guidelines says the advice is wrong.

Bill Burr, the author of an 8-page publication released by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, told The Wall Street Journal his previous advice of creating passwords with special characters, mixed-case letters and numbers won’t deter hackers. In fact, he told the journal, the paper wasn’t based on any real-world password data, but rather a paper written in the 1980s.

“Much of what I did I now regret,” Burr told The Wall Street Journal.

The problem is that federal agencies, businesses and institutions took the paper seriously—very seriously. The report turned into password protocol. Today, even though Burr’s report was updated in June, we are still prompted to change our password every 90 days using at least one capital letter, symbol and number.

These combinations aren’t secure, mainly because people choose predictable combinations.

The advice about frequently changing a password has been criticized since the report. A 2010 study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill showed that updating passwords often can actually help hackers identify a pattern. Another study from Carleton University said frequent changes are more inconvenient than helpful.

Traci Watson:

It’s official: an Argentine dinosaur as heavy as a Boeing 737 is the biggest ever discovered.

The behemoth weighed more than 65 tons and perhaps as many as 77, a new study says. That makes the animal not just the biggest known dinosaur but also the biggest known land animal ever. Only a few whale species are heftier — and this dinosaur’s bones show it was still growing.

Scientists have christened the gigantic vegetarian Patagotitan mayorum, in honor of the Argentine region of Patagonia and the Mayo family, owners of the Patagonian farm where a worker stumbled on the fossil in 2010. The titan of Patagonia is described in scientific detail for the first time in this week’s Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. The study also sheds new light on how and when dinosaurs went from big to truly gargantuan.

Patagotitan, which was some 120 feet long, has some competition as the world’s biggest dinosaur. Tantalizing scraps of bone hint at species that are more massive still.

“I don’t think the record we have now will hold forever,” says study co-author Diego Pol of Argentina’s Egidio Feruglio Museum of Paleontology. But “so far, out of the dinosaurs … we can recognize as valid species, we don’t have any (others) as big as Patagotitan.”

Greg Toppo:

When the school year begins Thursday at Marion County Public Schools in central Florida, the district’s 20,263 elementary school students will come to class sure of one thing: No matter what the school day brings, most nights they won’t have homework.

Instead, Superintendent Heidi Maier is urging families to read with their kids every night for at least 20 minutes — any book, newspaper or magazine of their choice. The Bible works, as does Popular Mechanics, Harry Potter or Walter the Farting Dog.

The move comes as schools nationwide revisit longstanding policies on homework, especially for young children. What was once a bedrock principle of the school year is now under the microscope as research shows few benefits, and as families complain about evenings spent stressing over problem sets.

Maier said her teachers can make exceptions for special projects such as book reports or science fairs, but that otherwise she’s discouraging the practice of sending home worksheets and other materials intended to give kids more practice.

Homework has long been “a catalyst for arguments at night with family members,” Maier said. “That’s something we want to avoid.”

Recent research has mostly been focused on homework assigned to older students — and it shows mixed results.

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