San Antonio students challenging school dress codes

Krista Torralva:

Alexandria Evans was taking notes — learning to multiply and divide algebraic expressions — when a hall monitor she’d interacted with before first period walked into her classroom at Harlandale High School last month.

The staffer was there to remove Evans, 18 and a senior, from the college prep math class and take her to the vice principal’s office to change her shirt, which violated Harlandale Independent School District’s dress code.

Evans said a top button on her blouse was unfastened. She and other students at Harlandale are challenging the code, which they say places too much attention on girls’ sexuality and, as a result, prioritizes boys’ learning over theirs.

They’re not alone. Two groups of high school students in Edgewood ISD were recognized at a school board meeting Sept. 18 for organizing committees to meet with the superintendent and urge a dress code revision.

‘Living on borrowed time’ before someone killed by teenage burglaries, car thefts

David Blaska:

Congrats to Ald. Paul Skidmore for hosting Monday night’s public safety meeting at Blackhawk Church off Mineral Point Road. Guessing a very engaged crowd of 400 to 500, with a significant representation from black and white.

What a line-up! Juvenile court judges Juan Colas and Everett Mitchell, Sheriff Dave Mahoney, D.A. Ismael Ozanne, Madison police chief Mike Koval, West district captain Cory Nelson, and Mayor Paul Soglin.

They addressed, at the demand of Ald. Skidmore, the spate of juvenile crime — car thefts, joy riding, and home burglaries — particularly here on the west side of town. Colas, chief judge of the Dane County circuit, said his own car had been broken into recently at his home off Hammersley Road. Just Monday he recovered a neighbor’s smartphone in the bushes.

Related: Gangs and School Violence Forum.

In wake of synagogue slaughter, ‘make our actions living memorials’

Alan Borsuk:

And the second, of course, is not to be afraid.

We take steps within the practical constraints we have to improve our security and to stay safe. I suspect people involved in every Jewish institution in America had discussions about this in the last several days, although it is hardly a new topic.

But we also must move forward. We should not and cannot let the threats on the bridge keep us from crossing. That’s part of the way to pay tribute to the Pittsburgh victims, to make our actions living memorials. To show the resilience, grit, courage and principle that no one can scare out of us.

How China’s rampant intellectual property theft, long overlooked by US, sparked trade war

Robert Boxwell:

Imbi Plaza, a 1970s-era shopping mall on the fringe of the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpur, is a good place in which to start understanding how the United States and China came to be in a trade war in 2018. In its heyday, in the 1990s and early 2000s, Imbi was the Malaysian capital’s thriving bazaar of high-technology – a collection of shops selling computer hardware and accessories, and the software needed to run them.

The hardware was mostly real, though rumours hovered in the complex’s dank air of proprietors switching original personal computer (PC) components for cheaper ones, to make a little extra on the side.

Madison public schools increase discipline problems by reducing suspensions

David Blaska:

Your reading assignment today, class — YOU THERE IN THE BACK ROW! DON’T MAKE ME COVER OVER THERE! — is Chris Rickert’s take-down of the racially motivated “behavior education plan” employed by Madison’s public schools.

His excellent WI State Journal article today (11-04-18) states authoritatively when the Blaska Policy Werkes has been saying all year: the 82-page high school behavior education plan (BEP) wasn’t concocted to keep order in the classroom so all kids can learn. Its purpose is to make the race numbers work. The whole “racial disparity” thing.

Rickert says as much:

The Behavior Education Plan … emphasized the need to avoid suspending or expelling misbehaving students — largely as a way to reduce the disproportionate number of students of color who were missing school due to behavior problems.

In China’s Public Schools, Kids With Asperger’s Are Cut Adrift

Ni Dandan:

Cheng Yanbin always knew his son, nicknamed Junjun, was different from other kids. Whenever his fellow kindergarteners played together in gleeful twos and threes, Junjun sat off to one side and didn’t join in the fun. “Other kids would laugh at a funny game or story, but his facial expression just stayed the same,” says Cheng.

The now 12-year-old Junjun — whose real name is not being used to protect his privacy — exhibited other strange behaviors, too. He obsessively pursued certain interests, compulsively repeated certain actions, and often struggled to contain his emotions. In 2011, when Junjun was 6 years old, Cheng took him to see a psychologist at a hospital in Beijing, where the family lives. The psychologist said Junjun had a condition that Cheng had never heard of: Asperger’s syndrome.

“It was a completely new concept to me,” says the middle-aged electronics engineer. “My wife was calmer about it, though. She said she did similar things when she was a kid, but gradually grew out of them.” Cheng adds that, during his wife’s childhood, her parents assumed that she was excessively disobedient, and never approached a doctor about her behavior.

No official data exists on how many children in China live with neurodevelopmental disorders, which include Asperger’s, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). (Health care professionals generally categorize Asperger’s as a mild form of ASD.) A 2016 study by The Lancet concluded that China was home to the second-highest number of children under 5 who live with ASD, after India. The same study found that China had the highest number of children under 5 living with ADHD. (In the United States, around 1.1 percent of children between 3 and 17 years old have ASD, and around 6.8 percent have ADHD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

A boy plays with his shadow at a school for children with autism in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, April 3, 2013. Hu Yuanjia/VCG

5-Year-Old’s CV Boasting ‘Rich and Varied Experience’ Invites Scorn in China

Eli Meixler:

A resume for a kindergartener who possesses “rich and varied experience” and “an independent personality” prompted ridicule on Chinese social media this week, but also called attention to the high-stakes pressure children in China can face from a young age.

The document kicked off a storm after an entertainment blogger posted it Tuesday on Weibo, China’s popular microblogging platform, the South China Morning Post reports. The CV, written for a 5-year-old in Shanghai, lists the boy’s accomplishments as well as those of his parents.

According to the resume, the precious pupil has read 10,000 books in Chinese and English, enjoys “a wide variety of hobbies” and has traveled around the world. Not just that: he doesn’t cry when getting vaccinations.

Why Big Cities Thrive, and Smaller Ones Are Being Left Behind

Eduardo Porter:

You don’t want to be hit by a recession in a city like Steubenville, Ohio.

Eight years into the economic recovery, there are thousands fewer jobs in the metropolitan area that joins Steubenville with Weirton, W.Va., than there were at the onset of the Great Recession. Hourly wages are lower than they were a decade ago. The labor force has shrunk by 14 percent.

The dismal performance is not surprising. Built on coal and steel, Steubenville and Weirton were ill suited to survive the transformations brought about by globalization and the information economy. They have been losing population since the 1980s.

Valpo law school closing; teach-out plan in the works

Stephanie Francis Ward:

The law school at Indiana’s Valparaiso University is closing, its board of directors announced Tuesday, following a scuttled plan to gift it to Middle Tennessee State University.

Approximately 100 students, all of whom are in their second or third years, remain at the law school, which now plans to continue with a teach-out, a press release states.

“This has been an extremely difficult decision and is the result of several years of careful discernment,” Frederick G. Kraegel, chairman of the Valparaiso University board of directors, said in the release. “We have explored a number of strategic alternatives. Despite these efforts, we have not been able to achieve a more positive outcome.”

Los Angeles School chief’s plan would divide L.A. school district into 32 networks. “Savings from the Central Bureaucracy”

Howard Blume & Anna Phillips:

Under a proposal being developed confidentially, Beutner would divide the system into 32 “networks,” moving authority and resources out of the central office and into neighborhoods. He is expected to make his plan public next month.

In L.A. Unified’s downtown headquarters, managers and other employees recently have been asked to explain their duties — and to justify why their jobs should continue to exist in a leaner, more localized school system.

The network strategy is not a plan to break up or end L.A. Unified, but it could transform how the school system functions.

“The superintendent is trying to move toward a decentralized system that puts the student first,” said one person close to the process who was not authorized to comment publicly. “He’s trying to generate better educational outcomes. That’s the No. 1 goal.

“Savings from the central bureaucracy could be plowed back into education at the school level,” he said, “as well as [used] to deal with the fiscal crisis the district faces.”

Beutner declined to comment on the plan, saying it would be premature to talk about a work in progress.

Related: Madison spends far more than most, yet we’ve long tolerated disastrous reading results.

2006: They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!

2013: “Plenty of Resources“.

What’s different, this time?

2017: Adult employment.

2018: Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement

Why Do Taxonomists Write the Meanest Obituaries?

Ansel Payne:

Constantine Rafinesque had only been dead a few months when Asa Gray sat down to eulogize him for the American Journal of Science. The year was 1841, and Gray, soon to join both the American Academy and the Harvard faculty, was well on his way to becoming the most respected botanist of his generation. Grayia, a new genus of desert shrub, had just been named in his honor.

Rafinesque, on the other hand, was persona non grata. Described by peers as a “literary madman,” the Turkish-born polymath had died of cancer the previous fall. Among the many works he left behind were rambling discourses on zoology and geology; a catalog of Native American burial mounds; a new interpretation of the Hebrew Bible; a 5,400-line epic poem (with footnotes); and, last but not least, a lengthy series of studies on North American plants.

Why Millions of Teens Can’t Finish Their Homework

Alia Wong:

In decades past, students needed little more than paper, pencils, and time to get their schoolwork done. For the vast majority of students, that’s no longer the case. Most schoolwork these days necessitates a computer and an internet connection, and that includes work to be done at home. One federal survey found that 70 percent of American teachers assign homework that needs to be done online; 90 percent of high schoolers say they have to do internet-based homework at least a few times a month. Nearly half of all students say they get such assignments daily or almost daily.

Yet despite the seemingly ever-growing embrace of digital learning in schools, access to the necessary devices remains unequal, with a new report from the Pew Research Center finding that 15 percent of U.S. households with school-age children lack high-speed internet at home. The problem is particularly acute for low-income families: One in three households that make below $30,000 a year lacks internet. This is despite an emerging reality in which poorer students are attending schools that evangelize technology-based learning while their more affluent counterparts, as The New York Times reported this past weekend, are “going back to wooden toys and the luxury of human interaction.”

It’s a glaring irony that’s also a major force behind class- and race-based discrepancies in academic achievement. In what’s often referred to as the “homework gap,” the unequal access to digital devices and high-speed internet prevents 17 percent of teens from completing their homework assignments, according to the new Pew analysis, which surveyed 743 students ages 13 through 17. Black teens are especially burdened by the homework gap: One in four of them at least sometimes struggle to complete assignments because of a lack of technology at home. And close to half of teenagers in the bottom income bracket have to do their homework on a cellphone occasionally or often.

In More High School Classes, the Teacher Is on a Screen

Tawnell Hobbs:

ne recent morning, about two dozen students walked into precalculus, took their seats, and began logging into school-provided laptops.

The voice of their teacher, Elizabeth Jacobsen, came over a speaker system. “Chat me a hello message. Please be sure to turn your cameras on,” she said.

Ms. Jacobsen’s face popped up via live stream on the students’ laptops and was projected on a whiteboard at the front of the room.

From her living-room-turned-office in Woodstock, Ga., Ms. Jacobsen walked students through finding the functions of an angle with a virtual pen, in close-up. An aide in the classroom helped students and made sure they stayed on task.

The teacher shortage is getting so bad across the country that tens of thousands of students nationwide now get lessons live streamed into their classrooms.

“It’s weird at first, but you get used to it,” said 17-year-old Desiree Ramirez, a senior here at Duncanville High School who is taking her second remotely taught class this school year. “I’d rather have it like this than with a sub. They don’t teach.”

Academia is a cult

Andrew Marzoni:

Exploitative labor practices occupy the ground floor of every religious movement, and adjuncts, like cult members, are usually required to work long and hard for little remuneration, toiling in support of the institution to prove their devotion to academia itself. Contrary to stereotypes of professors as contemplative eggheads at best and partisan layabouts at worst, many academics use their summers and sabbaticals as opportunities to catch up on articles and book projects held over from previous academic years, overworking as many as 60 hours per week. The cliche “publish or perish” belies a constant demand to prove one’s commitment and worth, amounting to a crippling fear of being “intellectually pantsed,” as a mentor of mine once said. It’s difficult not to see these abuses as rites of passage in the service of some higher cause. Academics may cast themselves as hardened opponents of dominant norms and constituted power, but their rituals of entitlement and fiendish loyalty to established networks of caste and privilege undermine that critical pose. No one says it aloud, but every graduate student knows: This is the price you pay for a chance to enter the sanctum of the tenure track. Follow the leader, or prepare to teach high school.

Like others who’ve come to this realization, I was not surprised when I learned of the recent sexual harassment investigation of Avital Ronell, a professor of German and comparative literature at New York University whom I cited heavily in my doctoral dissertation. Less shocking still was the smear campaign that many of her celebrated colleagues launched against her accuser, Nimrod Reitman, which resembles the silencing tactics deployed by the Church of Scientology and other cults. These scholars fail embarrassingly to embrace the radical theories on which their careers and reputations rest.

New study: Almost half of borrowers will default on student loans in coming years

Bonnie Meibers:

If you feel like you may never pay off your student loans, you’re not alone — over 1 million people default on their student loans every year.

According to studies from research groups Urban Institute and the Brookings Institute, by 2023, 40 percent of borrowers may default on their student loans, by not making payments for nine months or more.

The average time it takes for someone to pay off their student loans is 19.4 years, and according to an Urban Institute study, student loans are the second largest debt category in the U.S., ranking behind mortgages.

Defaults are actually higher among those who borrow smaller amounts and those who never finished college.

The Rodney Brooks Rules for Predicting a Technology’s Commercial Success

Rodney Brooks:

The answer, in a word, is experience. The difference between the possible and the practical can only be discovered by trying things out. Therefore, even though the physics suggests that a thing will work, if it has not even been demonstrated in the lab you can consider that thing to be a long way off. If it has been demonstrated in prototypes only, then it is still distant. If versions have been deployed at scale, and most of the necessary refinements are of an evolutionary character, then perhaps it may become available fairly soon. Even then, if no one wants to use the thing, it will languish in the warehouse, no matter how much enthusiasm there is among the technologists who developed it.

It’s well worth considering what makes a potential technology easy or hard to develop, because a mistake can lead to unwise decisions. Take, for instance, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor that’s now under construction in France at an estimated cost of US $22 billion. If governments around the world believe that this herculean effort will automatically lead to success and therefore to near-term commercial fusion reactors, and if they plan their national energy strategies around that assumption, their citizens may very well be disappointed.

Here I present a short list of technology projects that are now under way or at least under serious discussion. In each case I’ll point out features that tend to make a technology easy or hard to bring to market.

Nobody’s Cellphone Is Really That Secure

Bruce Schneier:

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to improve the security of your cellphone. Unlike computer networks, for which you can buy antivirus software, network firewalls, and the like, your phone is largely controlled by others. You’re at the mercy of the company that makes your phone, the company that provides your cellular service, and the communications protocols developed when none of this was a problem. If one of those companies doesn’t want to bother with security, you’re vulnerable.

Teachers ordered fourth-grader to do pushups for talking in class. Was it appropriate?

Pablo Lopez:

Shy and insecure, the fourth-grade student dropped to the floor of a classroom filled with students, ordered by a Fresno teacher to do pushups and other calisthenics for talking during a lesson.

Nearly three years after the incident, Fresno Unified teachers Michelle Coyne and Joshua Gehris are on trial in Fresno Superior Court, accused in a civil trial of humiliating the fourth-grader, a 9-year-old girl.

In opening statements of the trial, Fresno attorney Jason Helsel, who represents the girl and her mother, called Coyne and Gehris “bullies” for making the frightened girl do pushups, leg lifts and “planks” — an exercise in which a person uses his or her toes and elbows to remain off the ground.

As the girl was doing the exercises, students watched in silence, fearing they would be next to do pushups if they spoke out, Helsel told the jury.

Fresno attorney Bruce Berger, who is representing the Fresno Unified School District, Gehris and Coyne, however, told the jury that state law gives teachers wide discretion in disciplining students in order to manage the classroom.

“This case is not about bullying,” Berger said.

Browsing the Stacks: A Photo Appreciation of Libraries

Alan Taylor:

As the days grow shorter, one might feel a strong urge to find a warm place indoors and cozy up to a good book. As much as our world hurtles toward digitized information, physical books remain popular, useful, and revered items. We share, use, collect, and read billions of books every year, and we house our most treasured ones in libraries, in some of the most remarkable architecture around the world. And for those who cannot access these amazing buildings, there are volunteers who fill the need as they can, creating mobile libraries to bring books to people in remote places. Today, a visual feast—glimpses of libraries big and small, new and old, from across the globe.

College Kids Not Endorsing Socialism, But They’re Open to It

James Freeman:

Capitalism is more popular than socialism among American college students. But neither one commands majority support and the kids seem disturbingly open to central planning of the economy. That’s according to a new survey of American undergraduates due out later this week.

On Friday this column noted the survey’s results on issues of campus speech. Specifically, a majority of students reported that faculty at U.S. universities frequently share their views in class on social and political topics completely unrelated to the subjects of their courses. Also, a majority of respondents said they felt intimidated in expressing views not shared by professors and fellow students. The national online survey of 800 full-time students includes those enrolled at both public and private four-year universities. Polling was done by McLaughlin & Associates on behalf of Yale’s William F. Buckley, Jr. Program, which counts your humble correspondent among its directors.

Big Data Becomes Big Man on Campus at UC Berkeley

Douglas Belkin:

At the University of California, Berkeley, the fastest-growing class on campus is introduction to data science.

A month-old major in the field that merges aspects of computer science and statistics to mine the growing troves of data on everything from traffic patterns to the habits of social-media users has attracted interest from 1,000 students.

UC Berkeley on Thursday announced plans to create a new division focused on the discipline, which school officials called the biggest reorganization in several decades. The aim is to make every student proficient not only in reading, writing and arithmetic—but data.

“Data science is blowing up,” said Anna Nguyen, a third-year public-health student. “It just feels like a revolution is happening and everyone wants to be a part of it.”

Madison Schools’ 4th Grade Reading: 2005-2016

Madison has long spent far more than most taxpayer supported K-12 school districts, now around $20k per student.

Yet, we have long tolerated disastrous reading results.

2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before:

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.
According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.

More.

2006: They’re all Rich White Kids, and they’ll do just fine, NOT!

2013: “Plenty of Resources“.

What’s different, this time?

2017: Adult employment.

2018: Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement

These American Cities Are Losing the Most Brainpower

Sarah Foster , Wei Lu , and Vincent Del Giudice:

California’s affluent Silicon Valley wouldn’t be expected to see an exodus of skilled and highly educated workers but a drought, a lack of opportunities and a loss of manufacturers make this a reality for another part of the state — the hardscrabble Central Valley.

The Hanford-Corcoran metropolitan area — 175 miles southeast of the Silicon Valley — is No. 1 on this year’s Bloomberg Brain Drain Index, which tracks outflows of advanced degree holders and business formation, white collar job losses and reductions in pay in the fields of sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Cornell ends a partnership with Renmin University of China, citing academic freedom concerns.

Elizabeth Redden:

Cornell University has suspended a partnership with a Chinese university because of academic freedom concerns.

Eli Friedman, director of international programs for Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said that the ILR School had suspended two exchange programs because of concerns that its Chinese partner institution, Renmin University of China, had punished, surveilled or suppressed students who supported workers’ rights in a labor conflict that erupted this past summer involving workers trying to unionize at Jasic Technology in Shenzhen — or who have otherwise been supportive of workers’ rights. Students who traveled to Shenzhen to support the workers have reported facing pressures from their various universities.
“I accumulated enough evidence of students being subjected to forms of punishment that I thought represented in sum pretty gross violations of academic freedom and thought that something ought to at least be said about it,” said Friedman, an associate professor of international and comparative labor whose research focuses on China.

Unsatisfied with progress, Madison schools look to revamp behavior plan

Chris Rickert:

For years now there’s been a split between city of Madison residents generally and the children who attend its public schools.

Madison’s population is 78.7 percent white, according to Census Bureau figures, and only 18.6 percent of residents live in poverty. By contrast, only 42.7 percent of Madison School District students identified as white last school year, according to district figures reported to the state Department of Public Instruction, and 46 percent were classified as economically disadvantaged.

Four years after the BEP’s launch, there’s little sign that schools with poorer, more racially diverse student populations necessarily have more behavior problems — contradicting some of the common assumptions about urban schools.

Among elementary schools, for example, the school with the most documented “behavior events,” Orchard Ridge, was demographically similar to the school with the least, Sandburg.

Sandburg, on the Far East Side had a school population last year that was 61.3 percent low-income and 75.3 percent nonwhite, but only 0.28 events per student last year.

Orchard Ridge, on the Southwest Side, had a student population that was 56 percent low-income and 67.2 nonwhite, but nearly 12 events per student.

The district’s 12 main middle schools had between just more than two events per student and just fewer then five, with no obvious correlations between poorer, more diverse populations and more behavior problems.

A correlation between more racial diversity and poverty and worse behavior, however, was evident once students reached high school.

The district’s most ethnically diverse and poorest high schools in 2017-18, East and La Follette, saw the most behavior problems that year of the district’s five major high schools.

Related: Gangs and school violence forum.

Seeing the Forest: Unpacking the Relationship Between Madison School District (WI) Graduation Rates and Student Achievement.

Madison’s long term, disastrous reading results.

How the Charter School Wars Turned an Obscure Race Into California’s Second Most Expensive Election

Rachel Cohen:

The California charter school lobby is testing its influence in the race for Superintendent of Public Instruction, turning an election for a somewhat obscure statewide position into a notably expensive battle.

More than $50 million has flown into the contest between two Democrats for a nonpartisan office with little statutory power. For perspective, this is more money raised than in any U.S. House race this cycle and most Senate races, not to mention every other race in California, save for the governor’s.

The race, largely understood as a proxy war for the future of California charter schools, is the second attempt by the state’s charter school lobby to demonstrate its influence this election cycle. The candidates, Marshall Tuck and Tony Thurmond, both insist that the race is about far more than charters, which currently enroll 10 percent of the state’s 6.2 million public school students, though they admit that they hold different visions for the publicly funded, privately managed schools. That’s something their funders also acutely recognize.

Tuck, a second-time candidate for the position who has never held elected office, has received endorsements from the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Jose Mercury News and the San Diego Union Tribune, among others. He’s is backed by the charter school movement, which has spent close to $30 million in support of his campaign. Three individuals alone — real estate developer Bill Bloomfield, Gap co-founder Doris Fisher, and venture capitalist Arthur Rock — have given a combined $11 million.

With California school bonds, the rich get richer and the poor, not so much

Ichard Cano:

Schools in California’s wealthier communities have been reaping far more local bond money than poorer districts, a CALmatters analysis shows—a reality that amplifies existing inequities for the state’s public school students.

Districts with the lowest concentrations of students on free or reduced lunch, a poverty indicator, have averaged more than twice as many local bond dollars per student since 1998 as the most impoverished districts.

And depending on where your children go to school, they could be benefitting from as much as $270,000 per pupil in local bond money over the past two decades, or as little as $838—or nothing.

Getting Started with Linear Algebra

Hadrien J:

The goal of this series is to provide content for beginners who wants to understand enough linear algebra to be confortable with machine learning and deep learning. However, I think that the chapter on linear algebra from the Deep Learning book is a bit tough for beginners. So I decided to produce code, examples and drawings on each part of this chapter in order to add steps that may not be obvious for beginners. I also think that you can convey as much information and knowledge through examples than through general definitions. The illustrations are a way to see the big picture of an idea. Finally, I think that coding is a great tool to experiment concretely these abstract mathematical notions. Along with pen and paper, it adds a layer of what you can try to push your understanding through new horizons.

City didn’t tell all homeowners that some metered homes showed high lead levels

Fran Spielman:

Chicago’s Department of Water Management has known since June that 17.2 percent of tested Chicago homes with water meters had elevated lead levels, but failed to notify owners of all 165,000 metered homes, continued to install meters and is only now offering those homeowners free, $60 filtration systems.

The testing, quietly done by City Hall, found that 51 of 296 tested homes with meters had elevated lead levels above the federal standard of 15 parts-per-billion of lead.

But, Water Management Commissioner Randy Conner and Health Commissioner Dr. Julie Morita refused to say precisely how elevated those levels were. They initially refused to provide any specific test results. The precise figures were provided after-the-fact by the mayor’s press office.

Looking more like deers in the headlights, the two department heads would only say that there was no need to panic.

“When you look at the data here and you see the progress that’s been made, we’re not looking at a public health crisis,” Morita said.

An Interview With Xu Youyu: ‘The Worst Is Yet to Come’

China Change:

Yaxue Cao (YC): Professor Xu, would you mind first introducing yourself to our readers?

Xu Youyu (XY): My name is Xu Youyu (徐友渔); I was born in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, in 1947. I was in the graduating class at the Chengdu No. 1 Secondary School in 1966 when the Cultural Revolution erupted — right when I was enrolling for the national college entrance examination. Later, I got deeply wrapped up in the Cultural Revolution and became a leader of a mass organization, and as a result I gained a great deal of understanding of what it was all about. This has put me at an extraordinary advantage for studying the Cultural Revolution period in my scholarship now. I was one of the first new entrants to university in 1977 when matriculation resumed. But I’d only studied undergraduate for a little over a semester when, unprecedentedly, I was recommended to take the graduate exams. I transferred to the China Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing in 1979 to become a grad student, and worked at CASS from then on until my retirement. During that period, in 1986, I studied at Oxford for a couple of years. I retired in 2008.

YC: You retired in 2008? You were still quite young at that point. What caused you to retire so early?

XY: It was CASS rules that stipulated 60 as the retirement age — and once you reached 60, out you go.

Your DNA Is Out There. Do You Want Law Enforcement Using It?

Kristen Bennett:

On the afternoon of Nov. 18, 1987, Jay Cook and Tanya Van Cuylenborg left Saanich, B.C., their hometown, to pick up some furnace equipment in Seattle for Cook’s father. Saanich and Seattle are a little more than 100 miles apart, but the trip takes almost five hours: a ferry into the U.S. across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, another across Puget Sound, and between them a winding coastal drive through evergreen forests and fishing towns. The young couple planned to make an overnight jaunt of it. A blurry photo snapped at the time shows them beside the bronze Ford van they took. Van Cuylenborg, 18, holds a walk-like-an-Egyptian pose; Cook, two years older and a head taller, looks off to the side half-smiling, his dark hair falling over one eye.

The next day they didn’t show up at the heating-supply store, nor did they return home that night as planned. On Nov. 24, Van Cuylenborg’s partially clothed body, hands bound by a zip tie, was found in a roadside ditch 75 miles north of Seattle. She had been raped and shot in the back of the head. Two days later, hunters spotted Cook’s body, wrapped in a torn blue blanket, under a bridge in a small town outside Seattle. He’d been beaten over the head with a rock and strangled; a pack of cigarettes was stuffed in his mouth.

Google’s smart city dream is turning into a privacy nightmare

Nick Summers:

Sidewalk Labs, an Alphabet division focused on smart cities, is caught in a battle over information privacy. The team has lost its lead expert and consultant, Ann Cavoukian, over a proposed data trust that would approve and manage the collection of information inside Quayside, a conceptual smart neighborhood in Toronto. Cavoukian, the former information and privacy commissioner for Ontario, disagrees with the current plan because it would give the trust power to approve data collection that isn’t anonymized or “de-identified” at the source. “I had a really hard time with that,” she told Engadget. “I just couldn’t… I couldn’t live with that.”

Cavoukian’s exit joins the mounting skepticism over Sidewalk Labs and the urban data that will be harvested through Quayside, the first section of a planned smart district called Sidewalk Toronto. Sidewalk Labs has always maintained that the neighborhood will follow ‘privacy by design’, a framework by Cavoukian that was first published in the mid-1990s. The approach ensures that privacy is considered at every part of the design process, balancing the rights of citizens with the access required to create smarter, more efficient and environmentally friendly living spaces.

Your Clothes Could Be Made in the USA Again

Leonid Bershidsky:

The makers of designer clothing have moved some of their production home in recent years to stress their heritage and increase control over supply chains. Burberry and other British fashion labels have moved some of their production as “Made in England” became attractive to luxury buyers after an import boom in the 1990s and early 2000s. Hugo Bosss, the German fashion label, has started selling a “Made in Germany” collection, produced completely (except for some fabrics) in Metzingen, the company’s corporate seat.

Such “value-based reshoring,” however, isn’t an attractive strategy for low-priced and mid-range clothing producers. They must constantly look for a compromise between a low production cost and a short time to market. In recent years, as wages rose in China, they’ve moved production to countries that are still relatively cheap, such as Vietnam and Bangladesh; in 2017, China’s share of apparel imports dropped both in the European Union and in the U.S. But speeding delivery to market is an increasing necessity, and consumers are increasingly concerned about the low wages and high environmental costs of offshore production.

The Chinese military’s collaboration with foreign universities.

Alex Joske:

While most scientists sent abroad by the PLA appear to be open about which institutions they come from, this report has identified two dozen new cases of PLA scientists travelling abroad using cover to obscure their military affiliations. In at least 17 of these cases, PLA scientists used cover to travel to Australia. These scientists use various kinds of cover, ranging from the use of misleading historical names for their institutions to the use of names of non-existent institutions.

Features of deception by the PLA

An article from 2002 on the website of a Chinese overseas study agency offers insights into the use of cover. In response to a question asking whether having graduated from a military institution would affect one’s ability to get an overseas visa, the company responded:

Many military colleges and military units externally have common names (民间称呼) that don’t reveal their military characteristics. NUDT, for example, is externally known as Changsha Institute of Technology. This is the best way [to avoid having your visa application rejected].56

The Changsha Institute of Technology was a PLA institution subsumed by NUDT in 1975.57 While the quote above doesn’t come from an official source, it at least indicates how these unsophisticated but nonetheless effective covers are understood as tools for hiding one’s military background.

The Party of the University

Rita Koganzon:

This predictable farce gets to the heart of the weirdness of Gray’s memoir. Describing a life studying in, and serving, an impressive series of universities (including Northwestern, where she served as dean from 1972-74; Yale, where she served as provost from 1974-78; and the University of Chicago, where she served as president from 1978-93), the book depicts a world and an ethic that should strike most of us as quaint and anachronistic. It is full of stories of conflicts defused through structured committee meetings and well-designed faculty governance hierarchies. Gray compares the University of Chicago’s elaborate governance structure to “the constitution of the Republic of Venice in the late medieval and early modern eras,” but praises it for “offering an invaluable means of garnering advice and discussion on all kinds of issues … with the faculty at large.” Of course, that matters only if one intends to work with one’s colleagues rather than one’s Twitter followers.

Gray’s memoir is so insistently out of place among higher-education polemics that it might be worthwhile for that reason alone. She is an inveterate institutional loyalist, impervious to the appeal of the movements and ideologies to which many academics have openly and happily hitched their work. To call someone an institutional loyalist now cannot help but sound like an accusation of moral corruption—surely you’re not going defend Yale over justice? But in Gray’s depiction, correcting injustice rarely requires exposing the university to public humiliation, and, conversely, it is very unlikely that such humiliation will correct any injustice.

China’s Military Sends More Scholars Abroad, at Times Without Schools’ Knowledge

Kate O’Keeffe and Melissa Korn:

Scientists from China’s military are significantly expanding research collaboration with scholars from the U.S. and other technologically advanced countries, at times obscuring their affiliation from their hosts, according to a new research report and interviews with academics.

The People’s Liberation Army has sponsored more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad over the past decade, according to research by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. ASPI is a nonpartisan think tank that was created in 2001 by the Australian government, which is engaged in a sharp debate about Chinese Communist Party interference in its domestic affairs.

The volume of peer-reviewed articles produced by PLA scientists working with academics outside China grew nearly eight times during the same period, from 95 in 2007 to 734 last year, the report says.

In some cases, the Chinese scientists masked their ties with the PLA, enabling them to work with professors at leading universities like Carnegie Mellon without the schools’ knowledge of their military affiliation, according to Wall Street Journal interviews.

Does the data we produce serve us, or vice versa?

Joseph Baneth Allen:

You’ve heard the argument before: Genes are the permanent aristocracy of evolution, looking after themselves as fleshy hosts come and go. That’s the thesis of a book that, last year, was christened the most influential science book of all time: Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene.

But we humans actually generate far more actionable information than is encoded in all of our combined genetic material, and we carry much of it into the future. The data outside of our biological selves—call it the dataome—could actually represent the grander scaffolding for complex life. The dataome may provide a universally recognizable signature of the slippery characteristic we call intelligence, and it might even teach us a thing or two about ourselves.

When Adolescents Give Up Pot, Their Cognition Quickly Improves

Rachel Cohen:

Marijuana, it seems, is not a performance-enhancing drug. That is, at least, not among young people, and not when the activity is learning.

A study published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry finds that when adolescents stop using marijuana — even for just one week — their verbal learning and memory improve. The study contributes to growing evidence that marijuana use in adolescents is associated with reduced neurocognitive functioning.

More than 14 percent of students in middle school and high school reported using marijuana within the past month, finds a National Institutes of Health survey conducted in 2017. And marijuana use has increased among high-schoolers over the past 10 years, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

At the same time, the percentage of teens who believe that regular marijuana use poses a great risk to their health has dropped sharply since the mid-2000s. And legalization of marijuana may play a part in shaping how young people think about the drug. One study noted that after 2012, when marijuana was legalized in Washington state, the number of eighth-graders there that believed marijuana posed risks to their health dropped by 14 percent.

Forget the Wall Already, It’s Time for the U.S. to Have Open Borders

Jeffrey Miron:

President Donald Trump’s recent tweets against open borders come as no surprise. Indeed, even fervent immigration advocates worry that open borders would lower the wages of low-skilled natives, erode national security, and overburden the social safety net. Trump doubled down, tweeting that he would be “willing to ‘shut down’ government” unless Congress approves funding for a border wall with Mexico.

Trump, however, has it exactly backwards: The solution to America’s immigration problems is open borders, under which the United States imposes no immigration restrictions at all. If the U.S. adopts this policy, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.

China Plans to Blacklist Citizens for Misusing Social Security

Yang Ziyu:

Chinese authorities plan to introduce a blacklist system by the end of the year that specifically targets those who pocket social security benefits, China News reported Tuesday.

Under the new rule, individuals or companies involved in social insurance misconduct — such as refusing to pay insurance fees and benefits, forging certification materials, and illegally trafficking personal data — could be barred for up to five years from working at public offices and traveling by plane or train, according to the report. China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security first published the draft guideline on Oct. 16 to gauge public opinion.

China’s social insurance system includes several components — such as pensions, medical insurance, work-related injury insurance, unemployment insurance, maternity insurance, and a housing provident fund — which employers are required to cover by law. Loopholes in social insurance levies, as well as individual fraud cases, have contributed to widening the pension-fund deficit, leaving millions of social security-dependent senior citizens in harsher conditions.

Chinese enterprises are also part of the problem, as more and more companies increasingly shy away from their insurance responsibilities. More than 70 percent of companies failed to pay state-mandated social insurance premiums for their employees, and 32 percent of them only paid the standard minimum, according to a report published this year by an independent social insurance agency. In August, a court ordered Changzhou Yuhua Glass Co. Ltd. to pay social insurance worth over 2 million yuan ($290,000) in arrears after they were found not to have provided it to their employees.

The Missing Computer Skills of High School Students

Chris Wellons:

It’s been just over fours years since I started mentoring high school students at work, and I recently began mentoring my fourth such student. That’s enough students for me to start observing patterns. Of course, each arrives with different computer knowledge and experience, but there have been two consistent and alarming gaps. One is a concept and the other is a skill, both of which I expect an advanced high schooler, especially one interested in computers, to have before they arrive. This gap persists despite students taking computer classes at school.

File, Directories, and Paths

The vital gap in concepts is files, directories, or, broadly speaking, paths. Students do initially arrive with a basic notion of files and directories (i.e. “folders”) and maybe some rough idea that there’s a hierarchy to it all. But they’ve never learned the notation: a location to a file specified by a sequence of directory components which may be either relative or absolute. More specifically, they’ve never been exposed to the concepts of . (current directory) nor .. (parent directory).

History for a Post-Fact America

Alex Carp:

What was America? The question is nearly as old as the republic itself. In 1789, the year George Washington began his first term, the South Carolina doctor and statesman David Ramsay set out to understand the new nation by looking to its short past. America’s histories at the time were local, stories of states or scattered tales of colonial lore; nations were tied together by bloodline, or religion, or ancestral soil. “The Americans knew but little of one another,” Ramsay wrote, delivering an accounting that both presented his contemporaries as a single people, despite their differences, and tossed aside the assumptions of what would be needed to hold them together. “When the war began, the Americans were a mass of husbandmen, merchants, mechanics and fishermen; but the necessities of the country gave a spring to the active powers of the inhabitants, and set them on thinking, speaking and acting in a line far beyond that to which they had been accustomed.” The Constitution had just been ratified at the time of Ramsay’s writing, the first system of national government submitted to its people for approval. “A vast expansion of the human mind speedily followed,” he wrote. It hashed out the nation as a set of principles. America was an idea. America was an argument.

The question has animated American history ever since. “For the last half century,” the historian and essayist Jill Lepore told an interviewer in 2011, academic historians have been trying “to write an integrated history of the United States, a history both black and white, a history that weaves together political history and social history, the history of presidents and the history of slavery.” Over the same period, a generation of Americans have had their imaginations narrowed, on one side by populist myths blind to the evidence of the past, and on the other by academic histories blind to the power of stories. Why, at a time when facts are more accessible than at any other point in human history, have they failed to provide us with a more broadly shared sense of objective truth?

Suspicious packages spotlight vast postal surveillance system

Steven Melendez:

As law enforcement investigates possible mail bombs sent to prominent Democratic Party figures and liberal activists, the tools available at their disposal include digital images and delivery metadata commonly associated with mail sent in the United States.

The U.S. Postal Service regularly photographs the front and back of every piece of U.S. mail, or about 150 billion parcels, envelopes, and postcards every year. A longstanding practice known as the “mail cover” program enables law enforcement to obtain address information and images of the outsides of mail as part of an investigation without the need for a warrant through the Postal Inspection Service, the U.S. Postal Service’s policing arm.

Still taboo in mainland China: the Cultural Revolution as seen through the lens of Li Zhensheng

Josephine Ma:

But Li still hopes that one day most his readers will be Chinese.

“The Cultural Revolution took place in China, but research into the Cultural Revolution flourishes in other countries and it has little impact on China. I really cannot accept this.

“My photos were taken in China and most of my readers should be in mainland China, whether or not they have experienced the Cultural Revolution.”

He said the pictures would resonate with those who experienced the Cultural Revolution first-hand, while the younger generations should know about the journey their grandparents or parents had taken.

K-12 Tax & Spending Climate: Illinois’ growing burden

Andrew Ferguson:

Among the 50 states, Illinois’s income tax rate is only middling, ranking from 25th to 36th depending on who’s doing the counting, but overall its total average tax burden, according to the economic research firm WalletHub, is the worst in the country. A home-owning family in Illinois earning the U.S. median income of $55,000 can expect to pay 14.89 percent of that to the state. For comparison’s sake, they would pay 11.86 percent if they moved next door to Indiana and just 5.67 percent for number one Alaska. Only New Jersey—New Jersey!—has higher property taxes. In many Illinois municipalities it’s not unusual for owners of a house assessed in the $150,000-$200,000 range to be paying more in property taxes than in principal and interest on their mortgage.

After he laid out all these unhappy facts with tables and charts at his office at Bradley University’s Foster College of Business in Peoria, I asked Joshua Lewer, chairman of the economics department, how his fellow Illinoisans were reacting to the mess. (Lewer, by the way, has seen his property tax rise by 60 percent over the last decade while the value of his home stayed flat.) “A lot of them just leave,” he shrugged, with that familiar Illinois air of resignation. Out-migration has been a problem in the deindustrialized states of the Midwest for two generations, but Illinois has managed to outdo its rivals. From 2015 to 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau tells us, 114,000 residents left Illinois, an out-migration rate of 9 per 1,000 citizens. The next highest neighboring state was Michigan, with a rate lower than 3 for every 1,000. Jobs are returning with the Trump boom—indeed, nearly every business owner you talk to is hoping to hire—but at a slower pace than elsewhere. Wage growth is second to last in the country since the 2008 recession.

New schemes teach the masses to build AI

The Economist:

Demystifying the subject, to make it accessible to anyone who wants to learn how to build AI software, is the aim of Jeremy Howard, who founded fast.ai with Rachel Thomas, a mathematician. He says school mathematics is sufficient. “No. Greek. Letters,” Mr Howard intones, thumping the table for punctuation.

It is working. A graduate from fast.ai’s first year, Sara Hooker, was hired into Google’s highly competitive AI residency programme after finishing the course, having never worked on deep learning before. She is now a founding member of Google’s new AI research office in Accra, Ghana, the firm’s first in Africa. In Bangalore, some 2,400 people are members of AI Saturdays, which follows the course together as a gigantic study group. Andrei Karpathy, one of deep learning’s foremost practitioners, recommends the course.

Fast.ai’s is not the only alternative AI programme. AI4ALL, another non-profit venture, works to bring AI education to schoolchildren in the United States that would otherwise not have access to it. Andrew Ng, another well-known figure in the field, has started his own online course, deeplearning.ai.

America’s Worsening Geographic Inequality

Richard Florida:

The economic gap between have and have-not places continues to widen.

It’s not just economic inequality—the gap between the rich and the poor—that is growing ever wider. Geographic inequality, the divide between rich and poor places, is too.

America’s growing geographic or spatial inequality is documented in great detail in recent studies from the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) and The Hamilton Project of Brookings Institution.

The EIG report, released earlier this week, uses data on income, jobs, business dynamism, educational attainment, unemployment, vacant housing, and poverty, to track the performance of thousands of zip codes across America over two periods, 2007 to 2011 (defined by the study as the recession) and 2012 to 2016 (recovery). They combine these key measures into a Distressed Communities Index (DCI).

China Telecom diverted internet traffic in U.S. and Canada, report finds

Robert Fife:

China Telecom, a state-owned telecommunications firm, has systematically diverted internet traffic in Canada and the United States by shunting it through its own network in an effort to commit espionage and steal intellectual property, two cybersecurity researchers say.

Yuval Shavitt of Tel Aviv University and Chris Demchak of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, R.I., published a paper recently in Military Cyber Affairs, the journal of the Military Cyber Professionals Association, outlining how China has been rerouting Canadian and U.S. internet traffic via access points it has set up legally in North America, ostensibly to improve service for its customers.

Although the Chinese government has signed no-hacking agreements with numerous Western countries, including Canada and the United States, to prohibit direct attacks on computer networks, the accords did nothing to prevent the diverting of online traffic on key Western internet infrastructure, the authors say.