Author Archive | majestic

Don’t Let Them Eat Cake: More U.S. Cities Are Banning Feeding the Homeless

US Navy 060526-N-5142K-011 New York Fleet Week 2006, Community Service EffortI’m regularly asked for something to eat by people on the subway or on the streets of New York City. Complying with such a request may well be illegal before long if a trend in other American cities expands. Story from Yahoo News:

Reading through the latest report from the National Coalition for the Homeless might spark one of those moments when you wonder, what would Marie Antoinette say? French peasants who had no bread to eat were so enraged by rumors that their queen uttered the phrase “Let them eat cake” that she ended up decapitated. Well, the coalition’s modern-day researchers found that since January 2013, 21 cities have restricted or flat-out banned feeding the homeless at all—and 10 municipalities have similar ordinances in the works.

At the heart of the bans and restrictions, write the authors, is the misguided belief that feeding people who are sleeping on the streets or in shelters encourages homelessness.

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Isaac Asimov Asks, ‘How Do People Get New Ideas?’

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Isaac Asimov

MIT Technology Review has unearthed an old, previously unpublished essay on creativity by Isaac Asimov. Here’s the beginning:

ON CREATIVITY

How do people get new ideas?

Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors. We are most interested in the “creation” of a new scientific principle or a new application of an old one, but we can be general here.

One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated. Unfortunately, the method of generation is never clear even to the “generators” themselves.

But what if the same earth-shaking idea occurred to two men, simultaneously and independently? Perhaps, the common factors involved would be illuminating. Consider the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.

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Americans Ban Books on Poverty and Class

Not only are some Americans trying to remove books on sex and religion (not to mention evolution) from schools and public libraries, now they’re going after books dealing with poverty and class, reports the Guardian:

Late last month, for the 32nd year in a row, Banned Books Week was marked across the US. Spearheaded by the American Library Association’s (ALA) Office for Intellectual Freedom, the annual salute to the freedom to read has become a fixture. It aims to counterbalance perennial challenges to the content of books and efforts to get them banned, usually from schools and libraries.

The ALA collects information on which books are objected to and reports on prominent recurring themes that tend to generate moral or ideological indignation. Subjects such as religion, race, gender, sexuality and allegations of sexually explicit content or offensive language frequently top the list.

Berkeley Heights NJ public library books and shelves

More worrying, however, is the recent rise in efforts to get books banned that cover poverty and social class.

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A Real Hoverboard

The New York Times discovers a couple of California garage tinkerers who have made a real hoverboard, as in Marty McFly’s ride in Back to the Future:

LOS GATOS, Calif. — A lot of things can hover. There are helicopters. There are hovercraft. But for the last three decades, a generation of engineers and movie fans have been waiting for something else: a hovering skateboard like the one in “Back to the Future Part II.”

The hoverboard is fiction, the vision of screenwriters who created the film about Marty McFly, a teenager who travels from 1985 to Oct. 21, 2015, and uses a floating skateboard to flee a gang of bullies.

The movie had other futuristic items, like flying cars and self-tying shoes, but none touched the imagination as much as the hoverboard. For the last 25 years, garage tinkerers, physics professors and top engineers at Google have been trying to make one.

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The Real Cyborgs

This article by Arthur House in The Telegraph reads like a William Gibson cyberpunk novel, but it’s reality, here and now. He says “Forget wearable tech. The pioneers of our “post-human” future are implanting technology in to their bodies and brains. Should we stop them or join them?”:

Ian Burkhart concentrated hard. A thick cable protruded from the crown of his shaven head. A sleeve sprouting wires enveloped his right arm. The 23 – year-old had been paralysed from the neck down since a diving accident four years ago. But, in June this year, in a crowded room in the Wexner Medical Centre at Ohio State University, Burkhart’s hand spasmed into life.

At first it opened slowly and shakily, as though uncertain who its owner was. But when Burkhart engaged his wrist muscles, its upward movement was sudden and decisive. You could hear the joints – unused for years – cracking.

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Students Cower When Faced With ‘Wheel of Misfortune’

This science class seems kind of fun, unless you lose in the Wheel of Misfortune game! Reuters reports on a Washington state high school teacher’s controversial disciplinary method:

A Washington state high school teacher has been warned not to have students spin a disciplinary “Wheel of Misfortune” to assign punishments for misbehavior that included being pelted with rubber balls by fellow students, school officials said.

The Stevenson High School science teacher used the wheel to punish “low-level misconduct” instead of sending the students to lunch-time detention, Superintendent Dan Read wrote in a letter to parents on Thursday.

Results from a third-party investigation on Wednesday showed the teacher’s spinning punishment prop to be “inappropriate, but well-intentioned” and that the teacher did not “desire to embarrass, intimidate or harm any student,” Read said.

“Poor judgment by any teacher is concerning and we plan to work with the teacher on more positive and productive classroom management skills going forward,” he added…

[continues at Reuters]

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Poor kids who do everything right don’t do better than rich kids who do everything wrong

Photo: Brookie (CC)

Photo: Brookie (CC)

Following on the heels of its story that sex is only for rich people, the Washington Post now claims that rich kids can do everything wrong and still beat conscientious poor kids:

America is the land of opportunity, just for some more than others.

That’s because, in large part, inequality starts in the crib. Rich parents can afford to spend more time and money on their kids, and that gap has only grown the past few decades. Indeed, economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane calculate that, between 1972 and 2006, high-income parents increased their spending on “enrichment activities” for their children by 151 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, compared to 57 percent for low-income parents.

But, of course, it’s not just a matter of dollars and cents. It’s also a matter of letters and words. Affluent parents talk to their kids three more hours a week on average than poor parents, which is critical during a child’s formative early years.

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Ebola Conspiracy Theories, Through a Mainstream Lens

It’s always revealing to see the spin that the establishment places on conspiracy theories and this week it’s the turn of the New York Times, reacting to theories about the Ebola scare:

The spread of Ebola from western Africa to suburban Texas has brought with it another strain of contagion: conspiracy theories.

The outbreak began in September, when The Daily Observer, a Liberian newspaper, published an article alleging that the virus was not what it seemed — a medical disaster — but rather a bioweapon designed by the United States military to depopulate the planet. Not long after, accusations appeared online contending that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had patented the virus and was poised to make a fortune from a new vaccine it had created with the pharmaceutical industry. There were even reports that the New World Order, that classic conspiracy bugbear involving global elites, had engineered Ebola in order to impose quarantines, travel bans and eventually martial law.

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Sex Is Only For Rich People

An interesting hypothesis, brought to you by the Washington Post:

America has decided: Sex is for rich people. Non-procreative sex in particular.

How else would you explain the trap we’re laying for poor people who deign to get it on?

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Our country apparently doesn’t want low-income Americans to have free access to birth control, either by compelling all insurance plans to offer it or by adequately funding public reproductive health programs. In many schools — predominantly located in low-income, high-teen-pregnancy areas — we don’t even teach kids how contraception works. We also don’t want them to have easy access to abortions when they inevitably get pregnant because they’re not using birth control, with states such as Texas and Mississippi trying to shutter their few remaining abortion clinics.

Then we don’t help them very much after they birth those unplanned kids, instead publicly chastising irresponsible single mothers for having babies they can’t afford and offering little assistance in the form of child care, education or cash.

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