Weekly Meanderings, 3 February 2018

Weekly Meanderings, 3 February 2018 February 3, 2018

Again, thanks to Kris and HT:JS for so many links this week.

Kids and Facebook:

BOSTON (AP) — Child development experts and advocates are urging Facebook to pull the plug on its new messaging app aimed at kids.

A group letter sent Tuesday to CEO Mark Zuckerberg argues that younger children — the app is intended for those under 13 — aren’t ready to have social media accounts, navigate the complexities of online relationships or protect their own privacy.

Facebook launched the free Messenger Kids app in December, pitching it as a way for children to chat with family members and friends approved by parents. It doesn’t give kids separate Facebook or Messenger accounts. Rather, the app works as an extension of a parent’s account, and parents get controls such as the ability to decide who their kids can chat with.

The social media giant has said it fills “a need for a messaging app that lets kids connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want.” But critics see the move as a way for Facebook to lure in a younger audience before they could move on to a rival service such as Snapchat.


A group of 100 experts, advocates and parenting organizations is contesting Facebook’s claims of filling a need. Led by the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, the group includes psychiatrists, pediatricians, educators and the children’s music singer Raffi Cavoukian.

“Messenger Kids is not responding to a need — it is creating one,” the letter states. “It appeals primarily to children who otherwise would not have their own social media accounts.” Another passage criticized Facebook for “targeting younger children with a new product.”

In a statement, Facebook said on Monday that the app “helps parents and children to chat in a safer way,” and emphasized that parents are “always in control” of their kids’ activity. The social media giant added that it consulted with parenting experts and families, and said “there is no advertising in Messenger Kids.”

Road salt:

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Looking to strike a balance between ice-free roads and clean waterways, public works departments around the country are working to cut their salt use in winter by slathering the roadways with beet juice, molasses, and even beer waste to make them safer.

Rock salt for decades has provided the cheapest and most effective way to cut down on traffic accidents and pedestrian falls during winter storms. But researchers cite mounting evidence that those tons of sodium chloride crystals — more than 20 million nationwide each year — are increasing the salinity of hundreds of lakes, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. That is putting everything from fish and frogs to microscopic zooplankton at risk.

“There has been a sense of alarm on the impacts of road salt on organisms and ecosystems,” said Victoria Kelly, a road salt expert at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in New York. “We’ve seen increasing concentrations in river water, lakes, streams. Then, scientists started asking the question: What is going to happen to the organisms living in freshwater bodies and what will happen to the freshwater bodies as a whole?”

Believed to be first used in the 1940s in New Hampshire, salt became the go-to de-icing agent as cities expanded, highways were built and motorists came to expect clear roads. More than a million truckloads a year are deployed in ice-prone climes, most heavily in the Northeast and Midwest.

But many state and local agencies are seeking ways to reduce salt use as its environmental impacts are becoming more apparent.

They have turned to high-tech equipment to spread salt more efficiently, better weather forecasting to time their salting, and liquefied organic additives that help salt stick to pavement. That reduces salt use by preventing it from washing away immediately.

Agencies from New Jersey to North Dakota are using a mixture that includes beet juice; New Hampshire and Maine use one with molasses. Highway departments also have turned to beer waste, pickle brine and, in at least one Wisconsin county, cheese brine. …

“Everybody is looking throughout the world,” he said. “Nobody is finding that silver bullet.”

Brad Kramer:

This argument seems compelling, but as Greenwood points out, there’s another way to look at the historical record. If the authority of Scripture—and the validity of Christian faith—really does rest so entirely on the Bible’s ability to describe cosmology with exacting precision (as many Christians today seem to believe), then Christianity would have probably ended a long time ago. But yet here we are, two millennia and at least four scientific revolutions later, still living out the faith described in the Bible. In fact, Christians have been at the forefront of a great deal of scientific progress. Greenwood explains:

As Christians of great curiosity continued their investigation into the world God created, the new science not only became more and more acceptable but also came to be understood as a fuller revelation of God’s magnificent creation.

Christianity has survived and even flourished in the midst of scientific revolution because of its steadfast faith that the God who created the universe is the same God we find in the Scriptures. Even as we struggle to understand the connections and even conflicts between world and Word, we believe that both originate from the same source, and therefore we pursue truth boldly, with the expectation that the search will deepen our understanding of God and our love for him.

On making pencils.

From 538:

In 2016, white evangelical Protestants strongly supported Donald Trump, a septuagenarian candidate who promised to make America great again, to bring back “Merry Christmas” and to protect, cherish and defend America’s Christian heritage. White evangelicals have consistentlytoldpollsters that life in the U.S. has gotten worse since the 1950s. Nostalgia seems to be animating much of white evangelical politics.

But in longing for an American past, white evangelical Protestants1 may be neglecting their future. As a group, they’re drifting further away — politically and culturally — from the American mainstream. There are growing signs that white evangelical Protestantism is no longer immune to the broader social and cultural forces that are reshaping the American religious landscape.

In the aftermath of the 1960s, scholars began to note that while more liberal mainline Christian churches appeared to be shedding members, conservative and more traditionally minded churches were unaffected. In 1972, sociologist Dean Kelley published the study “Why Conservative Churches are Growing,” arguing that evangelical churches were prospering because they placed greater demands on their members. Subsequent research published decades later appeared to support this claim. Conservative churches that offered a rigorous theology were thriving, arguably because of it.

It’s a narrative that has gained widespread acceptance and has tremendous staying power. Shortly after the Broadway hit “The Book of Mormon” was released, David Brooks, for example, argued that strict observance to a consistent theology is essential for the vitality of religious communities. “The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.”

Over the past couple of decades, though, Americans have become far more accepting on nearly every issue that fits under the rubric of sexual morality. Today, most Americans say same-sex relationships, premarital sex and having children out of wedlock are morally acceptable. And roughly three-quarters of the public has no moral qualms about divorce.

The driver behind much of this change is “generational turnover.” And so a chasm has emerged between the views of these young people and white evangelical Protestants. A PRRI survey found that 83 percent of the latter believe that sex is morally acceptable only between a man and a woman who are married, but this view is held among only 30 percent of all young adults. For many young people, white evangelical Protestants in the 21st century appear to be advocating a mid-20th century approach to sex, relationships and marriage, even as American society resembles life during this period less and less.

This may help explain why the religious profile of young adults today differs so dramatically from older Americans. Only 8 percent of young people identify as white evangelical Protestant, while 26 percent of senior citizens do.

Cyber self bullying (1 out of 20 teens):

On August 2, 2013, fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith of Leicestershire, England, hanged herself and was found dead by her sister. She reportedly had been harassed online for months prior to her death, and her anguished father demanded an investigation into the cyber-bullying that had driven her to suicide. The investigation revealed, however, that the cruel messages Hannah had received on social media had in fact been posted by Hannah herself. If these messages had wounded her, the wounds were self-inflicted.

Is Hannah Smith’s case an outlier in the world of adolescent social media? In 2010, blogger danah boyd coined the term “digital self harm” and reported that it may be more common than most people suspect. Some teens write mean questions to themselves and then publicly answer them; others take the trouble to set up anonymous accounts through which they send themselves hurtful or threatening messages.

Boyd advanced three possible explanations. First, this behavior may be a cry for help—an expression of emotional anguish, depression, or self-loathing. Like Hannah Smith, these teens may be at risk for suicide. This behavior is analogous to maladaptive forms of deliberate physical self-harm, such as cutting or burning oneself. A second possibility is that these teens may be trying to trigger compliments, fishing for their friends to jump in and contradict the attacks by saying nice things about them. A third possibility is that they want to look cool: “In some schools, getting criticized is a sign of popularity,” boyd wrote. “By posting and responding to negative anonymous questions, it’s possible to look important by appearing to be cool enough to be attacked.”

This suggests that some teens are consciously seeking out the cyber-bullied-victim role because it confers social benefits and can be a marker of status. …

Have we created a culture in which the status of victimhood is sufficiently desirable that many young men and women will go to remarkable lengths to establish an online victim identity? These findings raise the question.

Doyle Rice:

A new species of dinosaur has been uncovered in the Egyptian desert, a rare discovery in a part of the world not known for dino fossils.

The huge animal, which was roughly the size of a school bus, is an “incredible discovery,” scientists said in a new study that was published Monday.

“This was the Holy Grail — a well-preserved dinosaur from the end of the age of dinosaurs in Africa — that we paleontologists had been searching for for a long, long time,” said Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, one of the authors of the study.

The species, dubbed Mansourasaurus shahinae, was a plant-eater that lived 80 million years ago in what’s now the Sahara Desert.

The fossils were dug up in 2013 during an expedition by paleontologists from Egypt’s Mansoura University. It’s the most complete dinosaur skeleton discovered in Africa from the end of the Cretaceous.

At that time, what’s now the Sahara was no desert but instead a lush, coastal region.

Though well-known for human fossils, dinosaur bones in Africa aren’t commonplace: “Dinosaur fossils of this age are exceedingly rare on all of continental Africa, not just in Egypt,”  Lamanna wrote on a blog post about the discovery. “Until recently, no one had ever found a reasonably complete dinosaur skeleton from the end of the Cretaceous anywhere on continental Africa.”

The new study was published in the peer-reviewed British journal Nature Ecology and Evolution.

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