Of Morality And Marshmallows

The Atlantic reports on a new study suggesting that the famous “marshmallow test” is unreliable as a predictor of future economic instability. Excerpt:

In the case of this new study, specifically, the failure to confirm old assumptions pointed to an important truth: that circumstances matter more in shaping children’s lives than Mischel and his colleagues seemed to appreciate.

This new paper found that among kids whose mothers had a college degree, those who waited for a second marshmallow did no better in the long run—in terms of standardized test scores and mothers’ reports of their children’s behavior—than those who dug right in. Similarly, among kids whose mothers did not have college degrees, those who waited did no better than those who gave in to temptation, once other factors like household income and the child’s home environment at age 3 (evaluated according to a standard research measure that notes, for instance, the number of books that researchers observed in the home and how responsive mothers were to their children in the researchers’ presence) were taken into account. For those kids, self-control alone couldn’t overcome economic and social disadvantages.

The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow. For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

Maybe so. But might it also be the case that children raised in more affluent homes will have been taught the value of resisting their impulses? I say this because one of my own children has had a very demanding sweet tooth from earliest childhood. He is also impulsive by nature. It has taken years of effort on the part of his mother and me to train him to say no to his impulses — not only for sugar, but, as he has gotten older and started earning spending money, his enthusiasms for buying things that strike his fancy. Many times I have pondered the difficulty he is going to have managing his money if he doesn’t get this impulsiveness under control. He’s a very good kid, highly moral and responsible, but impulsiveness is his Achilles’ heel.

He’s not being raised in poverty. We are middle class people, but culturally I guess that puts us with more in common with the affluent than not. Our impulsive child has been raised in a stable household — materially and emotionally — so there are no environmental factors that nurture his impulsiveness. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, this is simply one of his passions, something he has to struggle against. I have my own particular passions (anger and gluttony). Orthodoxy teaches that life itself is a struggle to crucify the passions and order ones desires towards the will of God. There is nothing wrong in principle with wanting to eat a marshmallow, but if your reason and your will are overcome by that desire to eat a marshmallow, you are weak, and can fall into sin. The regular fasting that Orthodox Christians do is designed to train the will to desire what God desires for us, not what we desire for ourselves.

Anyway, all of that is prelude to what I want to tell you. Last night, I was at a dinner party with some friends. One of them, N., told a long story about a local carpenter she and her husband had hired to do some renovations on their house. I won’t tell the story in depth, because the story is hers to tell, and she’s a writer. The gist of the story is that N. and her husband have been working with this guy for a long time — it’s a big project — and have gotten to know him well. He’s working class, and economically quite precarious. N. said the man has become a friend, and that she and her husband have been working hard to help him stabilize his life.

N. said — again, I’m summing up, but the details are sort of breathtaking — that the carpenter’s personal life is a study in chaos. He cannot grasp that he has the power to determine future events by the choices he makes today. A sense of moral agency totally escapes him. He sees N.’s ordinary family — they have kids — and thinks that they are simply one of fate’s winners. N. talked about the extraordinary lengths she and her husband have gone to befriend and to help this man, but how ultimately it has been futile. No matter what they say to him, no matter what they do for him, he cannot get it together. And he is leaving all kinds of chaos in his wake (several wives, kids, etc.).

I told N. that my wife and I have been in the very same situation, trying to help someone just like that who had become a friend … and in the end, concluding that it was futile. I wrote about it in the past on this blog: how I had gone to my lawyer, offering to pay him to represent this impoverished friend in a particular case. Lawyer said he would take my money and meet with the friend, but that in his lengthy experience with these cases, he could tell me that I’d be wasting my money and his time, because my friend would not follow through. It’s in the nature of people who get themselves into these kinds of situations, he said, to keep doing what got them into that situation in the first place. I told him I would be willing to take that chance to help her.

Next time I saw this friend, I told her to make an appointment with Lawyer X., that he would be willing to advise her, and that I would pay the bill. She thanked me profusely, but said that wouldn’t be necessary that she had decided to … well, that she had decided to keep doing the same stupid thing that got her into this bind in the first place. The country lawyer’s practical experience in dealing with the poor was wiser than my heart-on-the-sleeve idealism. Not for the first time did I feel like a character in a Flannery O’Connor story. (My future epitaph: “Call me Azzberry”.)

At dinner last night, my friend and I dwelled on the intractability of human nature in cases like this. She said that she had to conclude that a stable family life in childhood provides psychological goods that cannot be given through any other way. There aren’t enough government programs, personal charitable efforts, or anything else to compensate adequately for a chaotic childhood. My friend was certainly not saying that we can wash our hands of the responsibility for our neighbor’s welfare, but she was concluding — accurately — that we have to recognize the limits of our ability to change the lives of others. She was also saying that her experience with the carpenter made her more fully aware of how important it is to do everything she can to give her own children a stable home life.

Notice that I’m not saying — nor did I hear her to say — “affluent” home life. My folks never had a lot of money. We were an ordinary working-class to lower-middle-class family. But the gift my mother and father gave me of an orderly, stable childhood was priceless, I now see. How did they do it? They were both imperfect people who endured their share of difficulties in marriage, caused by their own flaws, as well as a period of economic stress. My father is no longer with us to discuss the matter, but the truth is, neither one of them would have been given over to much self-reflection on the question. They were the kind of people who would have simply said, “We made a vow,” and left it at that. For them, that was reason enough to stay together — that, and they always made it clear that the needs of us kids came before their own. That was just how my folks went through life. Not to get too philosophical about it, but for them, that was the Tao.

That wouldn’t have guaranteed stability in my family’s or my late sister’s, but they gave us such a good model of how family was supposed to work. Again, I don’t want to hold my mom and dad out to have been perfect. I don’t think there are any perfect families, and certainly mine had its particular flaws, some of which had unfortunate long-term consequences. That said, I am so very grateful to my parents for holding things together, and showing my sister and me that it is possible to build that kind of life, even when you don’t have much money.

My father was the chief breadwinner in our household, and, because they were a traditional 1950s-era couple, he was the one who dictated how our financial resources would be handled. I find this interesting with relation to the Atlantic article because having grown up very poor in the Great Depression, he ought to have been shaped by the experience of inconstancy in a particular way. Remember, the Atlantic writer said:

There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity.

That’s how my father grew up, but that same experience made him far more likely to do what he could to hedge against chaos. He talked to Ruthie and me a lot about these things, relating him to his childhood. His own father was away from home for most of my dad’s early childhood, entirely because he had to work and send money back to support his wife, children, and elderly mother, who lived in the household. That sense of vulnerability made a profound impression on my dad, who was determined that his children would not feel it, if he could help it.

Daddy wasn’t unique in that. What I can’t quite understand today is why his response to childhood poverty and insecurity was so very different from what is normal today. That is, Daddy’s response was to live as an adult in such a way that he was less vulnerable to that chaos, and in which his own children were made less vulnerable to the chaos that would have come had outside pressures broken the family apart. I’ve written many times in this space about how he had deep compassion for people who were poor and suffering victims of circumstance, but also something bordering on contempt for people who were poor and suffering, but who always blamed others, or fate, for their suffering. He would say, “You can’t do nothin’ for people like that.” This was the opinion of a man who had once been poor, and who had lived his entire life in the same community as poor people, and working with them. Kind of like that country lawyer I mentioned above.

It seems to me that aside from his personal qualities, my father was the beneficiary of a local culture that, for better or for worse, had a strong bias against people living morally disordered lives. I should add that my dad had much more hostility towards middle class and wealthy people who lived that way. “They know better,” he would say. “They don’t have an excuse.” In his case, it wasn’t so much a matter of religion — my dad wasn’t particularly observant — as it was a matter of shame and honor. The culture that shaped my father’s code said it was dishonorable for men and women to live in ways that violated its core moral code. I heard my dad say on a number of occasions, “There’s no shame in being poor,” but he also spoke with stern judgment against men who abandoned their families, people who wouldn’t work, and so forth.

That code could be harsh, but it was more realistic about life than a lot of what passes for wisdom today. I think that has a lot to do with why Jordan Peterson is so popular. He gives to young men a sense of moral agency. Peterson is not Moses coming down from the summit of Sinai, but he talks common sense to a culture that has forgotten it. There has never been a society, and never will be a society, in which somebody can live like a fool and not pay the consequences — and for that matter, inflict consequences on others. You can’t not show up for work and expect to keep your job forever. You can’t ignore your kids and expect that they will grow up to be responsible people. You can’t get loaded every weekend and wonder why your roof is falling in, and won’t fix itself. You can’t allow television and social media to raise your children, and expect that they will be good.  And so forth.

“The world doesn’t owe you a living,” my father would lecture me, usually when I hadn’t done my homework, or failed to do something I was supposed to have done. I suppose this attitude is what made my dad a natural conservative. He couldn’t stand people who were ungrateful and lazy. His basic attitude towards us kids was: I bust my ass to provide for y’all, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let you waste the opportunities you’ve been given. There was a time in my life when I thought he was so square, but the older I get, the more I see that there really isn’t any other way to live. My dad was keen to help people who were down on their luck, and I see now that he allowed himself to be taken advantage of by some folks with hard-luck stories. Mostly, though, what he was eager to do was to teach people how to help themselves, and to encourage them to do so. For him, this was a matter of natural justice. A society in which people were rewarded even though they did the wrong thing, or failed to do the right thing, was not a just or good society. And doing the right thing always meant subjugating your own desires to the greater good, especially the greater good of your family.

Here’s a funny thing: a few years back, when I was working with the African-American actor Wendell Pierce on his memoir of growing up in south Louisiana, I spent some time speaking with his Uncle L.C. Edwards, the last surviving member of Wendell’s parents’ generation. Uncle L.C. was the same age as my father, and like him, had grown up in rural poverty. I loved the stories of L.C.’s parents (that is, Wendell’s grandparents): poor black farmers who weren’t educated, but who had a very strong religious ethic, and who placed enormous value on education and self-discipline as the only reliable means of self-advancement. Poverty was the enemy of both L.C. and my father, but Lloyd and his siblings also had to deal with Jim Crow. If memory serves, every one of the children of Wendell’s grandparents got educated, and escaped poverty. I’m telling you, the chapter on Papo and Mamo (the grandchildren’s name for L.C.’s parents) is worth the price of the book. Here’s a characteristic excerpt:

One Christmas evening after supper, the Edwardses went to call on their College Point neighbors, to wish them a happy holiday. The kids were startled to go into one house and to see that all that family had eaten for their Christmas meal was potatoes and grits. When they returned home, Papo told the children, “This is what I mean when I tell you it’s important to save for a rainy day. If you put your money aside now, you will have enough to eat well on Christmas.”

Given the man Papo was, if the Edwardses had any food left, he probably took it to that poor family and didn’t tell his own children for the sake of preserving their neighbors’ dignity.

His children remembered Papo as a slow talker but a deep thinker. He never made a quick decision, but acted only after prayer, deliberation, and sleeping on it. Whatever the answer was, he arrived at it through careful reason, not passion. Acting on impulse was the sure way to lose your money, in Papo’s view.

Papo worked for a time in a sugar factory and received his weekly wages in a brown packet. He had a firm rule with himself: Wait twenty-four hours before spending a penny of it. Uncle L.C. said that as a young working man, he thought his father’s rule was silly. You have the money, he figured, so why not enjoy it?

But when he got married and started a family of his own, he understood Papo’s good sense and followed the rule himself. Uncle L.C., who worked at the DuPont chemical plant, has done well through saving and investing over the years. To this day, he credits Papo for teaching him by word and example the importance of being careful with your money and not letting your passions guide your decisions.

Talking with L.C. was like speaking with a black version of my own father. Though he had long been in retirement when I met him, L.C. was always thinking of ways he could make a little money. He told me about how he would take fatherless black boys from a nearby trailer park, and try to teach them something about working to make money and to plan for the future. He told me how sorry he felt for those young men, who had no father in the home to offer them direction, or a sense of responsible manhood.

But his pity had strict limits. Like my own father, L.C. was death on those who wouldn’t work or practice self-discipline. He told me about how his own wife, a retired public schoolteacher, quit her job the very day the last of their adult children no longer needed their help paying for college. She was of a generation for whom education was the most precious thing, their ticket out of poverty and oppression. Today, though, she was worn down by students who wouldn’t work, wouldn’t behave themselves, and parents who blamed the schools and the teachers for their kids’ failures.

American culture is far less friendly to the worldview of those Depression babies like L.C. and my father. Politics and economics are complicated things. You can’t simply apply a moral code to every situation, and expect it to solve the problem. But let’s recognize this: very few Americans in 2018 are as materially poor as my dad and L.C. Edwards were when they came into this world in the 1930s. Is there anybody in America today who is poorer than a black child born to uneducated farmers living in the Deep South under American apartheid? And yet, look what they did with what they had been given! There never will be a society in which family won’t matter, and in which moral self-discipline won’t matter. 

The wealthy, and those with social connections, can absorb a lot more disorder than the less well off can, but money won’t last forever.

The world we have today is wealthier, and in some ways is better able to defray the cost of that disorder. We have more of a social safety net today than we did back then. But this world is much poorer in social capital, which is not something you can raise from Chinese bankers.

There’s a lot of brokenness in this country, and no clear way to fix it. The people my dinner companion and I were talking about last night are white. They live in Charles Murray’s fictional Fishtown. They diverge greatly from the core values and practices of stable middle-class and well-off Americans, in ways that were not true a couple of generations ago. Society has grown far more individualistic and tolerant of non-conformity. This is not entirely a bad thing! But the cost to people who don’t have a lot of social and material capital to begin with has been immense. People love to imagine that if only we brought good jobs back to America, or voted in this or that political party, then these problems would solve themselves. I don’t believe that’s true. That’s no reason not to try to improve opportunities for people, but there are no government programs or private charitable initiatives that can meaningfully compensate for the loss of a sense of moral order and purpose.

Finally, I phrase occurred to me while writing this post, a fragment from something I’d read ages ago. I googled it, and the source turned up here. Here is the excerpt I was thinking about. The writer is talking about the 1950s:

It was a more human world in that it was a sexier world, because sex was still a story. Each high school senior class had exactly one girl who got pregnant and one guy who was the father, and it was the town’s annual scandal. Either she went somewhere and had the baby and put it up for adoption, or she brought it home as a new baby sister, or the couple got married and the town topic changed. It was a stricter, tougher society, but its bruising sanctions came from ancient wisdom.

We have all had a moment when all of a sudden we looked around and thought: The world is changing, I am seeing it change. This is for me the moment when the new America began: I was at a graduation ceremony at a public high school in New Jersey. It was 1971 or 1972. One by one a stream of black-robed students walked across the stage and received their diplomas. And a pretty young girl with red hair, big under her graduation gown, walked up to receive hers. The auditorium stood up and applauded. I looked at my sister: “She’s going to have a baby.”

The girl was eight months pregnant and had had the courage to go through with her pregnancy and take her finals and finish school despite society’s disapproval.

But: Society wasn’t disapproving. It was applauding. Applause is a right and generous response for a young girl with grit and heart. And yet, in the sound of that applause I heard a wall falling, a thousand-year wall, a wall of sanctions that said: We as a society do not approve of teenaged unwed motherhood because it is not good for the child, not good for the mother and not good for us.

The old America had a delicate sense of the difference between the general (“We disapprove”) and the particular (Let’s go help her”). We had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox, to sustain the distance between “official” disapproval and “unofficial” succor. The old America would not have applauded the girl in the big graduation gown, but some of its individuals would have helped her not only materially but with some measure of emotional support. We don’t so much anymore. For all our tolerance and talk we don’t show much love to what used to be called girls in trouble. As we’ve gotten more open-minded we’ve gotten more closed-hearted.

Message to society: What you applaud, you encourage. And: Watch out what you celebrate.

The author of those words is Peggy Noonan. She published them in, get this, 1992. Some things have gotten better over the last 26 years. For example, when she published this, David Dinkins was mayor of her town, New York City, and the city would record just over 2,000 homicides. Know how many the city recorded last year, 25 years after the column was published? Only 290.  Progress is real!

On the other hand, I can’t get out of my head the words spoken to me by a professor at an Evangelical Christian college. Speaking about the student body, which is predominantly white, he told me that he didn’t think most of them would ever be able to form stable families. I was shocked by this.These were not kids from the blighted projects or wretched rural trailer parks. Why not? I asked.

He said, “Because they have never seen it done.”

We live in a society in which the moral code that we applaud and the people we celebrate all say: Take the marshmallow now, and don’t worry about the future. This is going to cost us.

Read more from The American Conservative…

Did Megan Fox Look Somewhat Curvier In This Tight Red Dress At The Toronto Film Festival?

Us Weekly reports that the 25-year-old Tennessee native “showed off her newfound, curvier figure at the ‘Friends with Kids’ premiere at the Toronto Film Festival on Friday,” suggesting that the brunette’s slightly fuller frame is enough to land her a role …

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Amerika.org Under DOS Attack By Scared Leftists

You may have found it difficult to access this site since Friday, May 4, 2018 because an angry group of Leftists have been engaging in a denial-of-service attack against this site and its anti-SJW metal brethren. The bad news is that this took us down intermittently for five days, but the good news is that it shows they fear us.

Leftists realize that 2018 is a huge year because we are fifty years past the Great Revolution of 1968. During that time, Leftist policies have been revealed to (1) fail to fix the problems they claimed were inherent in the old order, and (2) produce even worse problems.

This has caused panic on the Left. They know their time is ending.

In response, they have unleashed an orgy of violence, repression, and censorship — much as history predicted they would do, based on the events in France in the 1700s and Russia in the 1900s — and have attacked what they see as the most accurate voices against them. We are proud to be on that list.

Thank you to all who have written, sent help, bought books, donated time, donated money, and most of all, not given up. They did not break you, and they have not broken us.

Now on to the good details. This DOS attack consisted of two prongs: a TCP/IP-based attack against the machine that hosts several of our sites, and an HTTP-based attack against our PHP-based scripts. Our host, Dreamhost, managed to block the former attack, and with some crufty old 1990s know-how, we have lessened the latter.

You can see one Leftist crowing about the attack — which also assaulted Gab.ai and American Renaissance, among others — via the Tweet pictured above.

Unfortunately for this Leftist, we have the IP addresses of his friends who are participating in the second prong of the attack. Links go to ARIN which will tell you which ISP owns this address. For the first prong, we think a rented botnet was used, possibly of Russian origin.

156.197.115.103
201.6.241.88
90.86.177.149
50.33.53.90
41.250.212.244
195.55.255.158
41.248.201.66
89.101.246.18
177.11.148.220
146.255.180.237
89.101.246.18
156.197.115.103
109.237.120.70
95.84.65.36
125.59.41.7
186.89.119.5
190.62.35.248
213.87.101.92
177.35.204.164
202.80.214.99
186.92.211.82
89.211.190.40
50.33.53.20
222.124.79.40
5.36.106.166
64.121.90.128
98.204.103.9
172.69.70.153
172.68.27.82

One of these IPs has been linked in the past to one Tulio Baars, who uses the email addresses [email protected] and [email protected], who you can find on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Baars works at Garage and Catarse, where he uses many of the same technologies employed in this attack. We continue investigating. In the meantime, several of the IP addresses used were linked to other email addresses such as [email protected], [email protected], and [email protected]. They seem to mostly be active at night, suggesting that they run their scripts and then go off to bed.

We will keep you posted with further announcements. In the meantime, thank you for reading and helping us weather this storm.

Read more from Amerika…

Does the average teacher spend ‘nearly $500 a year’ on school supplies? – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise

This spring’s teacher walkouts have spurred renewed attention to the question of teacher pay. The topic is a serious one, warranting the extensive reportage it’s received. At times, however, the media’s progressive sympathies, the allure of hard-luck tales, and concerted PR by teachers’ unions have yielded some questionable coverage. A recent case has been the spate of stories suggesting that teachers routinely reach into their own pockets to spend extraordinary sums on classroom materials.

does the average teacher spend 500 dollars on school supplies?

@beachbumledford via Twenty20

“There is no other job I know of where the workers subsidize what should be a cost borne by an employer as a necessary ingredient of the job,” American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten has thundered. Numerous recent stories have echoed her sentiment, repeatedly stating that the average teacher spends nearly $500 a year, unreimbursed, on school supplies. “The average teacher spends $479 a year on classroom supplies, national data show,” read a typical headline in Education Week. The Washington Post reported the same finding, in a story headlined “Teachers shelling out nearly $500 a year on school supplies, report finds.” A Time story explained, “Nearly all public school teachers report digging into their pockets to pay for school supplies, spending nearly $480 a year.”

Such claims make for attention-grabbing headlines. But, as with some of the other assertions made in the teacher-pay debate, they can be misleading. It’s less that the coverage is “wrong” than that it’s credulous and sometimes deceptive. So, let’s take a moment to clear things up.

The data in question are drawn from the 2015–16 National Teacher and Principal Survey, a nationally representative study of teachers and principals in public schools, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Using the survey results, NCES calculated average teacher spending for the 94 percent of teachers who said that they spent money out of pocket — excluding the 6 percent of teachers who did not report such spending, though the coverage frequently skips past that qualifier. (Including those other teachers lowers the average by about $30 a head.)

In reporting the “average” figure, news outlets have made the odd choice to focus on mean spending rather than the more typical median figure. There’s a reason most such data are reported in terms of medians (e.g., “median household income”). The median, after all, is the figure midway between the top and bottom of a distribution, meaning it represents the middle of the pack. A mean, on the other hand, can be dramatically moved by a few outliers. Including Warren Buffet or Bill Gates in a sample of average household income would make the typical household look much wealthier than it really is; similarly, a small number of teachers claiming big outlays can move the mean a lot. Indeed, NCES says that just one in five teachers reported spending more than $500, and the median teacher reported spending $297 — or about 60 percent of the widely quoted $479 figure.

Even these qualifications elide the real concern, however, which is the trouble with placing too much weight on a self-reported figure like this one. Journalists have generally ignored the problem inherent in asking respondents about how much they claim to do a good or noble thing. Self-reporting in such cases is highly susceptible to what social scientists term “social-desirability bias”: the tendency of respondents to say things that cast them (consciously or subconsciously) in a more favorable light. Studies show, for instance, that respondents substantially overestimate the number of days per week that they exercise, claim to watch the news three times as much as they actually do, and dramatically over-report their weekly worship-service attendance.

Now, let’s be clear. We are not suggesting that teachers are lying about their spending. But we are suggesting that, when teachers filled out the survey, precious few probably took the time to comb through twelve months’ worth of receipts and credit-card statements. Most of them probably guesstimated, and it’s safe to assume that their guesstimates tended to be on the high side.

We have no desire to diminish the real sacrifices many educators make, much less to deny that some teachers do indeed dig deep into their own pockets on behalf of their students. Spending even $100 or $200 per year out of pocket, especially for a teacher making $45,000 per year, is a big deal, and we don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But serious conversations about teacher pay should be informed by accurate data and careful analysis. Public deliberations about how much teachers should be paid, and whether raises ought to be funded by new taxes or cuts to other programs, are best served by reporting that meets that standard.

Read more from American Enterprise Institute…

Breakingviews – Viewsroom: What’s eating at Elon Musk?

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) – Tesla’s CEO berated analysts for asking “boring, bonehead questions” after the electric-car maker reported a record quarterly loss. He then taunted Warren Buffett, suggesting his idea of corporate “moats” is …

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Gary Abernathy: Want to save the White House correspondents’ dinner? Start by making it funny, not offensive

HILLSBORO, Ohio — There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over the future of the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, with some even suggesting that it be discontinued. That would be a shame. The general consensus seems to be that the event …

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The next big discovery in astronomy? Scientists probably found it years ago — but they don’t know it

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Shutterstock

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Earlier this year, astronomers stumbled upon a fascinating finding: Thousands of black holes likely exist near the center of our galaxy.

The X-ray images that enabled this discovery weren’t from some state-of-the-art new telescope. Nor were they even recently taken – some of the data was collected nearly 20 years ago.

No, the researchers discovered the black holes by digging through old, long-archived data.

Discoveries like this will only become more common, as the era of “big data” changes how science is done. Astronomers are gathering an exponentially greater amount of data every day — so much that it will take years to uncover all the hidden signals buried in the archives.

The evolution of astronomy

Sixty years ago, the typical astronomer worked largely alone or in a small team. They likely had access to a respectably large ground-based optical telescope at their home institution.

Their observations were largely confined to optical wavelengths — more or less what the eye can see. That meant they missed signals from a host of astrophysical sources, which can emit non-visible radiation from very low-frequency radio all the way up to high-energy gamma rays. For the most part, if you wanted to do astronomy, you had to be an academic or eccentric rich person with access to a good telescope.

Old data was stored in the form of photographic plates or published catalogs. But accessing archives from other observatories could be difficult — and it was virtually impossible for amateur astronomers.

Today, there are observatories that cover the entire electromagnetic spectrum. No longer operated by single institutions, these state-of-the-art observatories are usually launched by space agencies and are often joint efforts involving many countries.

With the coming of the digital age, almost all data are publicly available shortly after they are obtained. This makes astronomy very democratic — anyone who wants to can reanalyze almost any data set that makes the news. (You too can look at the Chandra data that led to the discovery of thousands of black holes!)

These observatories generate a staggering amount of data. For example, the Hubble Space Telescope, operating since 1990, has made over 1.3 million observations and transmits around 20 GB of raw data every week, which is impressive for a telescope first designed in the 1970s. The Atacama Large Millimeter Array in Chile now anticipates adding 2 TB of data to its archives every day.

Data firehose

The archives of astronomical data are already impressively large. But things are about to explode.

Each generation of observatories are usually at least 10 times more sensitive than the previous, either because of improved technology or because the mission is simply larger. Depending on how long a new mission runs, it can detect hundreds of times more astronomical sources than previous missions at that wavelength.

For example, compare the early EGRET gamma ray observatory, which flew in the 1990s, to NASA’s flagship mission Fermi, which turns 10 this year. EGRET detected only about 190 gamma ray sources in the sky. Fermi has seen over 5,000.

The Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, an optical telescope currently under construction in Chile, will image the entire sky every few nights. It will be so sensitive that it will generate 10 million alerts per night on new or transient sources, leading to a catalog of over 15 petabytes after 10 years.

The Square Kilometre Array, when completed in 2020, will be the most sensitive telescope in the world, capable of detecting airport radar stations of alien civilizations up to 50 light-years away. In just one year of activity, it will generate more data than the entire internet.

These ambitious projects will test scientists’ ability to handle data. Images will need to be automatically processed — meaning that the data will need to be reduced down to a manageable size or transformed into a finished product. The new observatories are pushing the envelope of computational power, requiring facilities capable of processing hundreds of terabytes per day.

The resulting archives — all publicly searchable — will contain 1 million times more information that what can be stored on your typical 1 TB backup disk.

Unlocking new science

The data deluge will make astronomy become a more collaborative and open science than ever before. Thanks to internet archives, robust learning communities and new outreach initiatives, citizens can now participate in science. For example, with the computer program [email protected], anyone can use their computer’s idle time to help search for gravitational waves from colliding black holes.

It’s an exciting time for scientists, too. Astronomers like myself often study physical phenomena on timescales so wildly beyond the typical human lifetime that watching them in real-time just isn’t going to happen. Events like a typical galaxy merger – which is exactly what it sounds like — can take hundreds of millions of years. All we can capture is a snapshot, like a single still frame from a video of a car accident.

However, there are some phenomena that occur on shorter timescales, taking just a few decades, years or even seconds. That’s how scientists discovered those thousands of black holes in the new study. It’s also how they recently realized that the X-ray emission from the center of a nearby dwarf galaxy has been fading since first detected in the 1990s. These new discoveries suggest that more will be found in archival data spanning decades.

In my own work, I use Hubble archives to make movies of “jets,” high-speed plasma ejected in beams from black holes. I used over 400 raw images spanning 13 years to make a movie of the jet in nearby galaxy M87. That movie showed, for the first time, the twisting motions of the plasma, suggesting that the jet has a helical structure.

This kind of work was only possible because other observers, for other purposes, just happened to capture images of the source I was interested in, back when I was in kindergarten. As astronomical images become larger, higher resolution and ever more sensitive, this kind of research will become the norm.

Eileen Meyer, Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

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In Seattle, Amazon Shrugs

Amazon GoWe’re not yet halfway through 2018, but this year’s winner of the Chutzpah Award should probably go to Kshama Sawant, a member of the Seattle City Council. On Monday the city slapped large companies with a new employee head tax to address the city’s homelessness problem. Amazon employs more than 45,000 residents and will have to cough up millions for the privilege of doing so. It recently suspended construction on a new downtown office tower while the council deliberated.

Sawant called this “extortion.” This is a little bit like the guy who kills his parents and then pleads for mercy because he’s an orphan—only worse. It’s more like the guy who kills his parents and then accuses them of murdering him.

Seattle does have a huge homeless problem: More than 11,000 people have no place to live. Some people have tried to blame this on Amazon, claiming that “since 2010, when Amazon opened its first headquarters in the South Lake Union area of Seattle, housing costs have skyrocketed.” But while Amazon’s growth might have exacerbated housing costs, it hardly started the spike.

Mike Rosenberg, the Seattle Times‘ real estate reporter, noted recently that the population of King County (of which Seattle is the county seat) has grown 26 percent since 2000. For many decades the median number of people for every home on the market had been around 230, he says, but today the area has more than 1,000 people for every home on the market.

So demand has skyrocketed. But supply has remained short, thanks to Seattle’s own policies: 69 percent of the city’s residential properties are single-family homes. In Boston, the comparable figure is 14 percent; in Brooklyn, it’s 20 percent. This is because the vast bulk of Seattle’s residential land is zoned for single-family homes, rather than apartments or condos. As Rosenberg explains: “Under the current laws, expanded housing is essentially banned in those … areas … because only single-family homes are allowed there, and there’s no room left to build more of them.”

This concentrates multi-family properties (apartment buildings and the like) in the few isolated areas that are left, creating a bidding war for those living quarters as well. An article in The Huffington Post cites research by the Zillow real-estate company suggesting that for every 5 percent hike in the rental rates in Seattle, 258 people become homeless. Moreover: Rents rose almost three times that much just last year.

The obvious, sensible solution to a spike in demand would entail letting supply rise to meet it: Relax zoning and other forms of restrictive regulation to allow denser, multi-family buildings in more places around the city.

So of course Seattle’s leaders have decided they should tax Amazon instead. Then they can use the money for affordable-housing efforts. Or at least that’s the theory.

Naturally, Amazon—and many other companies, including Zillow—object to being asked to solve a problem they did not create. So Amazon pushed “pause” on a construction project that would provide work space for another 7,000 employees. For this, it has been subject to protests and accused of “extortion,” “holding Seattle hostage,” and “hardball tactics.”

Well. Amazon already is doing a great deal to fend off homelessness. For starters, it is employing tens of thousands of people—thereby providing them with steady income with which to pay their mortgage or rent.

On top of that, Amazon has given millions to the city’s affordable-housing fund and millions more to two organizations that help the homeless. (To which Seattle officials say: Yeah, but what have you done for us lately?)

But more to the point: If Amazon declines to pay the tax, the city will take it to court. If Amazon continues not to pay, then it could be subject to liens on its property and, eventually, seizure of the property. Some people, such as actor Wesley Snipes, have even served time in prison for failing to pay their taxes, but it’s not clear if Amazon’s officers would face similar jeopardy over the head tax.

Extortion is simply obtaining money through force or the threat of force. So if anybody is practicing extortion in this case it is Seattle, not Amazon. Amazon isn’t threatening anyone with force, and it isn’t demanding money from anyone else. (At least not in Seattle; the company’s shameless gold-digging for its second headquarters, known as HQ2, is another story entirely.) Seattle is doing both.

In fact, by debating whether it will continue to grow in Seattle, Amazon is merely taking a page out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged: It is, after a fashion, threatening to go on strike.

Reportedly, Rand said she wrote the book to show how badly “the world needs prime movers.” The linguistic overlap with Amazon Prime is coincidental, but apt.

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Blacks Want Segregated Graduations

College graduation is one of the few remaining traditional rites of passage. From the archaic caps and gowns to Latin phrases, students are reminded they are simply the latest participants in a never-ending conversation, the endless quest for knowledge that defines the West’s universities.

At least, that’s what used to define them. Today, many university departments suffer under a multicultural dogma more restrictive and indefensible than anything from higher education’s medieval beginnings. This obscurantism is pushing scholarship backwards in many fields. It is therefore not surprising that even the solemn ritual of graduation has become another casualty of diversity.

This year at the University of Florida, the ceremony was slowed down when black students began dancing on stage after they got their diplomas. A school official physically forced them to move along so the ceremony could continue. Black students protested on social media and countless mainstream media outlets echoed their outrage. The school apologized, but critics are calling for an “inquiry.” The white staffer who moved the students along will be lucky if he keeps his job.

Of course, dancing on stage when you get your diploma is profoundly selfish because it holds up the ceremony for everyone else. This is why schools don’t like it. This is also why they usually ask parents to hold their applause until the end. As anyone who has attended a recent graduation ceremony can testify, blacks are likely to flout these cultural norms, and scream whenever their family member is named. University of Florida is not the first school where officials tried to maintain decorum only to be accused of “racism.”

For example, at Senatobia High School in Mississippi in 2015, three black family members of a graduating student were charged with disturbing the peace. Despite a request not to cheer until the end of the ceremony, they began screaming when their child was named. Superintendent Jay Foster, a white man who swore out the warrants, said he took action because for years, graduations had been like the Jerry Springer Show. “It was who can be the loudest—who can take the attention away from the kids the most.” He added that parents were complaining that the graduation ceremony was ruined for people who couldn’t even hear their child’s name announced because of the din.

Of course, the sight of a white school official in Mississippi invoking the law against the family of a black graduating student was too much for the media. The New York Times, Daily Mail, Huffington Post, and innumerable other outlets slammed Superintendent Foster.

The ACLU weighed in, calling it a violation of the First Amendment. Mr. Foster dropped the charges, but insisted he had done the right thing, saying he had received support from the community for a ceremony that had “dignity.” Linda Walker, the mother of one of those arrested, said she was still angry because “he done got my baby’s name all over the world.” “I’m not done with him,” she added, vowing legal action. (No news coverage suggests anything further happened, and Mr. Foster appears still to have his job.)

In 2014, at South Florence High School, Shannon Cooper, a black woman, was arrested for cheering at the graduation. “Police said it was announced before the ceremony that anyone who cheered or screamed would be escorted out of the building,” reported the local ABC affiliate. Miss Cooper said the charges were unjust. “What’s the disorderly conduct?” she wanted to know.

In 2015, Anthony Cornist, a young black man, was denied his high school diploma until he performed community service because of excessive cheering. Mr. Cornist himself did nothing wrong. Video of the incident shows him calmly moving across the stage shaking hands. He makes no gesture or flourish to incite the crowd. However, his family’s continued screaming disrupted the ceremony.

School officials said without the threat of forced community service for graduates—explained to families beforehand and confirmed in a signed agreement—there was no way to control the ceremony. Mt. Healthy City Schools superintendent Lori Handler (a white woman) defended the policy and said families thanked her after the ceremony for preventing excessive screaming. Nonetheless, Miss Handler became a media target. Anthony Cornist and his mother appeared on the Jimmy Kimmel show, where the left-wing host encouraged enthusiastic cheering for the student and told the audience to boo Miss Handler. To Mr. Kimmel’s approval, Mr. Cornist said he would refuse to do the community service. Though it may be a coincidence, Miss Handler has since retired and was replaced by a non-white.

This pattern of black defiance, white enforcement, and media outrage may remind readers of the recent Starbucks incident. A white manager was vilified for calling the police on blacks who refused to buy anything or to leave the store. Generally, whites obey a request to buy something or leave, and will certainly not receive media sympathy if they refuse and are arrested. In contrast, blacks know they will get media sympathy if they can position themselves as victims. They have no reason to obey instructions or respect cultural norms in what they think of as “white spaces.”

For the same reason, blacks have no reason to listen to requests or even demands to maintain decorum at a graduation. In most cases, their screaming will be grudgingly tolerated, since white parents don’t want to be called racist. If blacks are punished, it can make the news and blacks will get sympathy and support from national organizations. Whites can expect to be demonized.

Some blacks understand the problem. In 2012, Demetria Irwin wrote in the black publication The Grio about black graduation behavior. “Some have said that law enforcement and school administrators need to just get used to over-zealous families because of dismal high school graduation rates in the black community,” she wrote, suggesting blacks see graduation as a bigger deal than whites because blacks face more obstacles. Still, she also wrote that “a graduation of a loved one is not a pass to act the fool,” urging that everyone “be as respectful of other people’s graduates as one’s own.” However, her “solution” was: “[D]on’t call the cops—just do what has been done for ages. Give a side-eye to the offender, mumble something sarcastic to your cousin and scream like you’re on a roller coaster when your baby walks across the stage.”

The real solution is what many blacks themselves seem to want: separate ceremonies. These are already taking place around the country. The first exclusively black commencement at Harvard was held last year, with speeches honoring African-American heritage and students wearing kente cloth. Video from the event suggests a culture far different than that traditionally associated with Harvard:

Other schools are also hosting similar ceremonies for non-whites, as well as sexual minorities. These include Columbia, Temple, University of Pennsylvania, and Stanford. Ohio University has a special ceremony called Kushinda for blacks, Hispanics, and Amerindians. The New York Times called these segregated ceremonies ways for schools to “celebrate diversity.” They also whip up resentment. At Harvard, a professor of African and African-American history invoked Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown to inspire students to “wrest some semblance of justice from these tragedies.”

Some conservatives, such as Amanda Prestigiacomo at the Daily Wire, complain that this is “segregation.” In fact, these ceremonies are usually in addition to the general graduation. The real problem is that white students are denied their own celebration. Special ceremonies for non-whites also do not solve the problem of non-whites disrupting what is supposed to be a solemn rite of passage.

Once desegregation is presumed to be an end in itself, it is hard to uphold white norms. Most whites find it unacceptable to scream during graduation, nor do they think it extraordinary that a family member finished high school or college. Blacks have different expectations and ways of expressing pride in graduates.

Whites should not resent black behavior. Instead, they should recognize there is no way to maintain white standards after integration. Whites should have their own ceremonies like other groups. This would allow them to congratulate their loved ones in a style that honors the Western tradition.

Why would anyone object? As Dr. Nate Norment, Chair of African-American studies at Temple said of black ceremonies, “You can affirm your culture without being anti anyone else.” If this is true for blacks, it is true for whites. Meanwhile, blacks can have a boisterous ceremony with kente cloth and anything else they want.

The universal ceremony that honors the student body as a whole should either be abandoned or cut short. Such a ceremony relies on shared expectations of behavior absent in a mixed-race society. Meaningful segregated ceremonies and a quick, desegregated, pro forma ritual would be best way to reduce these tensions.

Of course, if graduations go better apart, the same is true of education—and of life itself. Unfortunately, because of judicial corruption, Americans are forced into desegregated schools few people of any race seem actually to want. Separate graduation ceremonies that are meaningful and sacred rituals to people of each race could be the beginning of a solution. The conduct of non-whites suggests the races co-exist best when each is given the freedom to be true to its own traditions and culture. The best way Americans of all races can celebrate, learn, or live together is to be allowed to stay apart.

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