Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tabs, Post-Travel

For me, traveling is highly correlated with an increasing number of tabs left open in my browser. Time to clear out a few.

From the New York Times magazine: The Brain's Empathy Gap. What's particularly cool about this article on implicit bias is that it mostly focuses on anti-Roma oppression in Hungary, rather than our own national anti-black bias. Which made me uncomfortable... a good feeling. The researcher at the core of the story is trying to figure out why empathy only goes so far, and can even work against seeing the "other" as fully human. One clue: if you've had an experience of your own where you were treated unfairly solely because of what you are, you may be able to have true empathy for oppressed others:

Bruneau [the researcher]....asked a question: What made her, an educated white woman, take up the Roma cause? This gave Magyar pause. After a brief silence, she explained that she grew up in a city close to the Austrian border and that she always felt like an outsider when her family would cross over to go shopping. Daroczi couldn’t help interjecting; after the fall of communism, he said, Hungarians crossed the border in droves, mostly to purchase basic goods. “It was written in Hungarian on the walls of the shops, ‘Hungarians: don’t steal!’ ” he said.

“It felt shameful,” Magyar added, nodding. “I think that really affected me.” Bruneau lit up at the anecdote; it was very similar to the stories he’d collected from other non-Roma activists. He told Magyar and Daroczi about the brain scans of the Israeli peace activists — the blue dots in a sea of red — and about his desire to somehow array the power of their experiences toward intervention efforts.
Here's a tab I should have mentioned in my earlier post about W. Kamau Bell and his young daughter's future preschool options: Why preschool shouldn't be like school (from Slate). It reports two unrelated experiments where 4-year-olds were either directly taught about how a toy worked or mostly left to figure it out for themselves. In both cases, the directly taught children explored the toy less and found out less about how it worked.

Another article to put into the "why do drivers think bicyclists are all scofflaws" folder: Let's talk seriously about why cyclists break traffic laws (from the Washington Post). "Most of us, whatever mode we travel, break the law at some point..., whether we're driving five miles over the speed limit, or crossing the street against the crosswalk. And yet, we tend not to treat lead-footed drivers with the same disapproval as cyclists who ride through stop signs, even though the former behavior is potentially more publicly harmful than the latter."
"You’re putting people on bikes in transportation systems that are entirely built for cars. If that seems to be one of the reasons why people are behaving this way, that would lend an argument to better bike infrastructure," Marshall says. ....I'll admit in the back of my own mind that I also sometimes disregard traffic laws not for my personal safety, but because I know that traffic laws, like road infrastructure, weren't created with cyclists in mind. And I say this as a car-owning cyclist, not a culture warrior: It seems somehow unjust — for reasons that Marshall's research may better articulate than me — to expect cyclists to follow all the rules of cars (no turn on red) while denying cyclists the same courtesies (like the right to occupy a full lane).
Self-cleaning solar panels are on the horizon. Good for keeping off the dust of desert areas, for sure... I wonder what happens with snow?

Single parent or poverty? Study looks at which affects good parenting most. The Right would argue that kids need two parents, since poverty is correlated with single-parenthood. Matt Bruenig would argue that single parents (and all parents) need substantial child-based income supports and then they can be good parents.

David Roberts announced on Twitter today that he's jumping journalistic ships from Grist to Vox, starting in about three weeks. Good luck to him. Here's an article of his from back in January called We can solve climate change, but it won’t be cheap or easy. It summarizes an academic article out of MIT on the cost of decarbonizing the economy (50 to 90 percent by mid-century). "In short, if we want a 100 percent renewables world, with no coal, gas, or nuclear, we’ll need to build more power generation capacity, faster, than at any time in history."

Oh, the eternal question, What's worth learning in school?
"Knowledge is for going somewhere," [David] Perkins says, not just for accumulating. But too often, we tend to focus on short-term successes — scoring well on a quiz, acing a spelling test. Unfortunately all of that test knowledge, all of that accumulated knowledge we thought was worth knowing, becomes useless if not used....

Historically, the first 12 or so years of schooling have focused on educating for the known, “the tried and true, the established canon,” he writes. “This made very good sense in the many periods and places where most children’s lives were likely to be more or less like their parents’ lives. However, wagering that tomorrow will be pretty much like yesterday does not seem to be a very good bet today. Perhaps we need a different vision of education, a vision that foregrounds educating for the unknown as much as for the known.”

And to do that, Perkins says we need to rethink what’s worth learning and what’s worth letting go of — in a radical way.

For example, rather than just learning facts about the French Revolution, students should learn about the French Revolution as a way to understand issues like world conflict or poverty or the struggle between church and state. Without those connections, Perkins says he’s not surprised that so many people have trouble naming things they learned early on that still have meaning today or that disengaged students are raising their hands, asking why they need to know something.
One more for the implicit bias pile: Lighter skinned blacks and hispanics are seen as being more intelligent (Pacific Standard magazine). White poll-takers conducting he National Election Study (a face-to-face survey) were themselves surveyed about 223 African Americans or Hispanics they had surveyed.
The interviewers were instructed to list each person's skin tone on a 10-point scale....[and were] asked to gauge each person's "apparent intelligence" on a five-point scale from "very low" to "very high." "Interviewers were not allowed to opt out," Hannon notes. "Thus the question can be seen as tapping into deep prejudices."

The results suggest it did just that.

"African Americans and Latinos deemed to have lighter skin tones were significantly more likely to be seen as intelligent by white interviewers," Hannon reports. Further analysis found the interviewers had a distinct tendency to "look at two identically qualified minorities and assess the lighter skinned one as more intelligent."

"Importantly, the effects of skin tone on intelligence assessment were independent of respondent education level, vocabulary test score, political knowledge assessment, and other demographic factors," he adds.
I highly recommend this American Radio Works documentary on the Perry Preschool experiment. It was this early-1960s research that originally showed providing a quality early-learning experience for kids from poor families paid off for them and society by decreasing later costs (like prison!). The thing that I found most informative was how the teachers ran the school -- it sounds like just the type of free and exploratory setting young kids need. And the teachers also got to know the parents and understand where the kids came from. An exemplar to this day.

Next time you hear that a new technology spells the end of all that civilization holds dear, check out this illustrated timeline of doomsayers since 1494. Printing will make books "too disposable," people reading newspapers will be sitting in "sullen silence," radios and the "incredible rattle and bang of jazz" foretell the death of conversation.

A former Libertarian writes about his trip to Honduras and how he saw what a stateless state looks like. It's not pretty. Everyone with any means has walls and hired guns surrounding them at every moment.
Honduras has problems but people should go visit anyway and soon. The dangers are fleeting, and there are coffee plantations to tour, ruins to see, cigars to smoke and fish to catch. The people need your tourism dollars. As a bonus, it’s important for Americans to see the outcome when the bad ideas of teenage boys and a bad Russian writer are put into practice. Everyone believes in freedom, but it’s an idea both fetishized and unrecognizable when spouted by libertarians. There can be no such thing as freedom, safety or progress of any kind, when an entire society is run for the benefit of a handful of rich assholes and global conglomerates. If you think I’m overstating it, just go to Honduras and see it for yourself.
A brief rumination on why it's easy to hate the poor. Which ties in with the common aversion many middle-class (let alone upper-class) people have to taking the bus:
[T]he hatred of public transportation is intimately tied with the hatred of the poor. Middle-class types who are unfortunate enough to use the bus expose themselves to the talk, the begging, the bad health of the poor. But instead of blaming the society, they blame the form of transportation. The unpleasant practices connected with poverty thus reinforce a generalized sign system that identifies these practices not with social conditions but with individuals. Poverty is identified as a "life choice." The use of food stamps, a character flaw. You notice chicken bones under a bus seat. The hatred grows. 
Poor women don't get pregnant because they don't care as much about preventing it as more-well-off women. They don't have sex outside of marriage anymore than well-off women, either. They just have bad access to effective contraception.

Human composting -- it's the future for our bodies if we want our memorials to be as green as possible. The Urban Death Project -- a somewhat bad name, in my opinion -- recently launched its Kickstarter campaign to raise $75,000 (it's a bit more than half way to its goal). The project would create a facility that allows for ceremonial space as well as safe composting of bodies, which break down to organic matter in just a few weeks:
The facility is essentially an enclosed building with a three-story “core” filled with organic material and encircled by a sloping walkway. During your funeral service, your body would be shrouded in linen and your friends and family would walk you to the top of the core and lay you within the soil.

“Bodies, our bodies,” Spade says, “will be laid into the ground and covered with wood chips. There would also be some other carbon materials that would help the process work a little more efficiently, like sawdust, which is very high-carbon, and possibly something like alfalfa straw.”
Afterward, family or friends can pick up the compost and use it anywhere you want to grow plants -- in a memorial garden, or just as part of the everyday growing world.

This Sean McElwee story from Salon (“Race is being used to wreck the middle class”: The silent bigotry of America’s poverty politics) compiles a lot of stats on how greater levels of racism (or even just greater racial diversity) correlate with decreased support for social welfare programs. Despite the indisputable fact that less than 5 percent of benefits recipients spend 10 consecutive years in the program (and that almost half of Americans will receive benefits at some point in their lives), "The idea of welfare dependence [was] invented by rich Republicans to gut the social safety net."

There are still lots more tabs... but that's probably enough for today!

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