Monday, March 19, 2018

School of Life Monday:
The Art of Diplomacy

The art of diplomacy is vital if we are to get better at managing our relationships, our friendships and our working lives. None of us are born knowing how to be diplomatic, but the skill can be learnt - and should be to make life more gracious and efficient.
widely practiced.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Skateboarding, not surfing,
Should be California's official state sport

from the Los Angeles Times:

In case you missed the headlines, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi of Torrance has introduced a bill to make surfing the official sport of California. Muratuschi, a member of the Assembly's informal "surf caucus," announced the proposal at a news conference in Hermosa Beach last month, while standing next to a statue of the 1960s surfer Tim Kelly and wearing a Hawaiian shirt. "Nothing represents the California dream better than surfing," he said.

That depends on how you define the California dream, of course. Were he to take a state poll, Muratsuchi would certainly discover that far more Californians skateboard than surf. This is one of many reasons why skateboarding, not surfing, should be California's state sport.

Let's start with the obvious: Surfing as we know it is from Hawaii. The sport has Polynesian roots, and modern surf culture grew up alongside the resorts of Waikiki. That's why surfing is already the official sport of that state.

In fact, it was Hawaiians who brought surfing to California. The first people on record to surf in North America, back in the 1880s, were Hawaiian princes: Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole, David Kawananakoa and Edward Keliiahonui. They fashioned boards out of redwoods and put on a demonstration in Santa Cruz. The pastime was further promoted in California in the early 20th century by two more Hawaiians, George Freeth and Duke Kahanamoku, who traveled around the state and proselytized about the pleasures of wave riding.

Skateboarding, by contrast, is native to California. The sport was born sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s when bored surfers, smarting from flat or otherwise bad wave conditions, screwed roller skate wheels onto wood planks so that they could go "sidewalk surfing."

But there are other virtues to making skateboarding, not surfing, the state sport. Skateboarding is more egalitarian. While surfing can easily cost a newcomer $1,000 in gear, a basic skate set-up can be had for around $100. This difference in cost is one reason why the Surfrider Foundation reported in 2011 that the average household income for surfers was $75,000, while most "core participants" in skateboarding come from households where the median income is between $25,000 and $49,999, according to data from the International Assn. of Skateboard Companies.

Skateboarding is more geographically accessible. To surf, not only do you have to be at the beach, you have to be at a beach with a particular combination of wind and tide conditions. To skate, all you need is a smooth concrete surface.

Because it is both cheaper and easier to do, skating is significantly more widespread than surfing. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Assn., there are about 1.7 million surfers, windsurfers and sailboarders in the United States, and even that figure is thought to be inflated by tourism. There are 6.2 million skaters across the country, according to the IASC.

It's especially popular in Los Angeles. Nearly 1 out of every 10 children between the ages of 6 and 17 in L.A. County knows how to skate, according to a survey by the LA84 Foundation. And 70% of them are nonwhite.

Thanks in part to the Tony Hawk Foundation, which has helped open 544 skate parks in the U.S., there are now skate parks in Watts, San Pedro, Canoga Park, Long Beach and Compton, among other places. The Kelly Slater Wave Company's artificial wave pool in Lemoore may have boosters dreaming of surf contests in landlocked locations around the world, but the sport will have a lot of catching up to do.

There's no question that California has played an important role in the history of surfing. Californians helped surfboards evolve from heavy, canoe-like planks to the thin chips of today. We invented the wetsuit, created a multi-billion-dollar surfing industry, and developed the modern science of wave forecasting, opening the door for big-wave riding. Some of the best surfers in the world, including Kelly Slater and Keala Kennelly, have made California home. And we surely have the edge when it comes to surfing lore, from Butch Van Artsdalen and the hellraisers of Windansea to Miki Dora and the pranksters of Malibu.

But we didn't invent it.

Both surfing and skating will make their Olympic debuts in Tokyo in 2020, before the Games come to L.A. in 2024. Summer surf here is patchy at best, so the conditions could embarrass. Skate ramps and half pipes are consistent.

Assembly Bill 1782 is already winding its way through the Legislature, but it's not too late to reconsider. California should be proud of its truly indigenous pastime.

Dennis Romero is a writer and reporter in Los Angeles.

thx Neftali Williams

Friday, March 16, 2018

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Honda’s tiny urban EV
could be available to order next year

from Inhabitat:

Honda recently announced that the Urban EV Concept they unveiled last year at the Frankfurt Motor Show could be ready to order by 2019. The Verge described this little vehicle with a retro feel as a “Japanese plush toy made real.”

The Urban EV “previews Honda’s first mass-produced battery electric vehicle sold in Europe,” according to the company. At a 2018 Geneva Motor Show press conference, Honda Motor Europe senior vice president Philip Ross confirmed the company anticipates opening order banks for the car early next year, with a production version coming to Europe later in 2019.

The Honda Urban EV’s retro vibe is accompanied by utterly modern features like a wrap-around panoramic screen. Four people can go for a spin in the car, sitting on two bench seats. The design is intended to call to mind the “ambiance of a lounge,” according to Honda.

The dashboard display offers vehicle information, with the screens on the doors acting as side mirrors via digital camera displays. The Verge said there aren’t many switches or buttons in the car, although they pointed out such minimalism isn’t rare in concept car design. Another futuristic feature is the Honda Automated Network Assistant, which “learns from the driver by detecting emotions behind their judgments” to offer recommendations.

Honda has not yet divulged the range of the Urban EV. When they debuted the vehicle in 2017, they mentioned their Electric Vision strategy launched at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show; development of “a dedicated electric vehicle platform, featuring fully-electric powertrain technology” is part of that vision. The automaker said, “Key parts of that powertrain development will include a high-density, lightweight battery pack, integrated heat management and the evolution of energy transfer functions — both to and from the vehicle.”

Monday, March 12, 2018

School of Life Monday
How To Be A Good Teacher

We're used to thinking of 'being a teacher' as a specialised job, but in fact, teaching is a skill required of us in a huge range of contexts, from the home to the workplace.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

How denialists weaponize media literacy
and what to do about it

from Boing Boing:

danah boyd's SXSW Edu keynote, What Hath We Wrought? builds on her essay from 2017 about the relationship of media literacy education to the rise of conspiracy theories and the great epistemological rift in which significant numbers of people believe things that are clearly untrue, from climate denial to flat-earthing.

boyd suggests that media literacy's emphasis on considering the social context of news prepared the way for denialism. The message of media literacy educators is that the motives of a speaker should be considered when evaluating the speaker's claims -- and the message of denialists is that climate change scientists only get paid if they're right; doctors are financially interested in vaccinating your kids; George Soros is paying #blacklivesmatter protesters, etc -- denialism weaponizes the methods of media literacy.

boyd worries that "google it" is being proposed as the answer to "fake news" -- search engines are gameable, and digging for depth about extraordinary claims might well turn up hermetically sealed denial-bubbles of people who are painstakingly making the case that their delusions are truthful.

boyd closes with policy prescriptions: focus on contradictions in claims, not motives. Cultivate the "cognitive strength" to empathize and understand toxic worldviews without being swayed by them.

Empathy is a powerful emotion, one that most educators want to encourage. But when you start to empathize with worldviews that are toxic, it’s very hard to stay grounded. It requires deep cognitive strength. Scholars who spend a lot of time trying to understand dangerous worldviews work hard to keep their emotional distance. One very basic tactic is to separate the different signals. Just read the text rather than consume the multimedia presentation of that. Narrow the scope. Actively taking things out of context can be helpful for analysis precisely because it creates a cognitive disconnect. This is the opposite of how most people encourage everyday analysis of media, where the goal is to appreciate the context first. Of course, the trick here is wanting to keep that emotional distance. Most people aren’t looking for that.

I also believe that it’s important to help students truly appreciate epistemological differences. In other words, why do people from different worldviews interpret the same piece of content differently? Rather than thinking about the intention behind the production, let’s analyze the contradictions in the interpretation. This requires developing a strong sense of how others think and where the differences in perspective lie. From an educational point of view, this means building the capacity to truly hear and embrace someone else’s perspective and teaching people to understand another’s view while also holding their view firm. It’s hard work, an extension of empathy into a practice that is common among ethnographers. It’s also a skill that is honed in many debate clubs. The goal is to understand the multiple ways of making sense of the world and use that to interpret media. Of course, appreciating the view of someone who is deeply toxic isn’t always psychologically stabilizing.

You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You? [danah boyd/Data & Society]

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Do trees really talk to each other?

from Boing Boing:

There's a good, long piece in this issue of Smithsonian about the scientific debate over whether trees talk to one another.

Trees certainly communicate. In forests, they're connected to each other through underground fungal networks (sometimes jokingly referred to as the "wood wide web"), and they'll send carbon back and forth as needed, as ecologist Suzanne Simard explained in her wildly viral TED Talk on tree-to-tree networks.

But while scientists agree that trees pick up on each other's signals, there's a question of intent. Are the trees intentionally trying to send messages to other trees? Or are they just broadcasting messages ambiently -- in the matter of course of, y'know, being trees -- that other trees just happen to pick up? Are some tree scientists overly anthropomorphizing trees, with talk of tree "mothers" that warn their child-trees of danger, or younger trees that actively try to keep alive elder, progenitor trees?

It's a damn cool area of science, either way. Here's a taste of the Smithsonian piece, which is really worth reading in full:

Once, he came across a gigantic beech stump in this forest, four or five feet across. The tree was felled 400 or 500 years ago, but scraping away the surface with his penknife, Wohlleben found something astonishing: the stump was still green with chlorophyll. There was only one explanation. The surrounding beeches were keeping it alive, by pumping sugar to it through the network. “When beeches do this, they remind me of elephants,” he says. “They are reluctant to abandon their dead, especially when it’s a big, old, revered matriarch.”
To communicate through the network, trees send chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals, which scientists are just beginning to decipher. Edward Farmer at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland has been studying the electrical pulses, and he has identified a voltage-based signaling system that appears strikingly similar to animal nervous systems (although he does not suggest that plants have neurons or brains). Alarm and distress appear to be the main topics of tree conversation, although Wohlleben wonders if that’s all they talk about. “What do trees say when there is no danger and they feel content? This I would love to know.” Monica Gagliano at the University of Western Australia has gathered evidence that some plants may also emit and detect sounds, and in particular, a crackling noise in the roots at a frequency of 220 hertz, inaudible to humans.

Trees also communicate through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals. Wohlleben’s favorite example occurs on the hot, dusty savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, where the wide-crowned umbrella thorn acacia is the emblematic tree. When a giraffe starts chewing acacia leaves, the tree notices the injury and emits a distress signal in the form of ethylene gas. Upon detecting this gas, neighboring acacias start pumping tannins into their leaves. In large enough quantities these compounds can sicken or even kill large herbivores.

Giraffes are aware of this, however, having evolved with acacias, and this is why they browse into the wind, so the warning gas doesn’t reach the trees ahead of them. If there’s no wind, a giraffe will typically walk 100 yards— farther than ethylene gas can travel in still air—before feeding on the next acacia. Giraffes, you might say, know that the trees are talking to one another.

above photograph © GEF

Friday, March 9, 2018

There's a documentary on badass Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg: [The Notorious] 'RBG'

from Boing Boing:

Here's a film I'll be lining up to see. It's the story of U.S. Supreme Court Justice/hero/dissenter Ruth Bader Ginsburg and it will be told on the big screen in the upcoming documentary, RBG.
At the age of 84, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has developed a breathtaking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon. But without a definitive Ginsburg biography, the unique personal journey of this diminutive, quiet warrior's rise to the nation's highest court has been largely unknown, even to some of her biggest fans – until now. RBG is a revelatory documentary exploring Ginsburg 's exceptional life and career from Betsy West and Julie Cohen, and co-produced by Storyville Films and CNN Films.

RBG will be in limited theatrical release starting on May 4.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

They Were Trained for This Moment

from SLATE

How the student activists of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High demonstrate the power of a comprehensive education.
The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School returned to class Wednesday morning two weeks and moral centuries after a tragic mass shooting ended the lives of 17 classmates and teachers. Sen. Marco Rubio marked their return by scolding them for being “infected” with “arrogance” and “boasting.” The Florida legislature marked their return by enacting a $67 million program to arm school staff, including teachers, over the objections of students and parents. Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill opted to welcome them back by ignoring their wishes on gun control, which might lead a cynic to believe that nothing has changed in America after yet another horrifying cycle of child murder and legislative apathy.
But that is incorrect. Consumers and businesses are stepping in where the government has cowered. Boycotts may not influence lawmakers, but they certainly seem to be changing the game in the business world. And the students of Parkland, Florida, unbothered by the games played by legislators and lobbyists, are still planning a massive march on Washington. These teens have—by most objective measures—used social media to change the conversation around guns and gun control in America.
Now it’s time for them to change the conversation around education in America, and not just as it relates to guns in the classroom. The effectiveness of these poised, articulate, well-informed, and seemingly preternaturally mature student leaders of Stoneman Douglas has been vaguely attributed to very specific personalities and talents. Indeed, their words and actions have been so staggeringly powerful, they ended up fueling laughable claims about crisis actors, coaching, and fat checks from George Soros. But there is a more fundamental lesson to be learned in the events of this tragedy: These kids aren’t freaks of nature. Their eloquence and poise also represent the absolute vindication of the extracurricular education they receive at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
Despite the gradual erosion of the arts and physical education in America’s public schools, the students of Stoneman Douglas have been the beneficiaries of the kind of 1950s-style public education that has all but vanished in America and that is being dismantled with great deliberation as funding for things like the arts, civics, and enrichment are zeroed out. In no small part because the school is more affluent than its counterparts across the country (fewer than 23 percent of its students received free or reduced-price lunches in 2015–16, compared to about 64 percent across Broward County Public Schools) these kids have managed to score the kind of extracurricular education we’ve been eviscerating for decades in the United States. These kids aren’t prodigiously gifted. They’ve just had the gift of the kind of education we no longer value. 
Part of the reason the Stoneman Douglas students have become stars in recent weeks is in no small part due to the fact that they are in a school system that boasts, for example, of a “system-wide debate program that teaches extemporaneous speaking from an early age.” Every middle and high school in the district has a forensics and public-speaking program. Coincidentally, some of the students at Stoneman Douglas had been preparing for debates on the issue of gun control this year, which explains in part why they could speak to the issues from day one. 
The student leaders of the #NeverAgain revolt were also, in large part, theater kids who had benefited from the school’s exceptional drama program. Coincidentally, some of these students had been preparing to perform Spring Awakening, a rock musical from 2006. As the New Yorker describes it in an essay about the rise of the drama kids, that musical tackles the question of “what happens when neglectful adults fail to make the world safe or comprehensible for teen-agers, and the onus that neglect puts on kids to beat their own path forward.” Weird. 
The student leaders at Stoneman Douglas High School have also included, again, not by happenstance, young journalists, who’d worked at the school paper, the Eagle Eye, with the supervision of talented staff. One of the extraordinary components of the story was the revelation that David Hogg, student news director for the school’s broadcast journalism program, WMSD-TV, was interviewing his own classmates as they hid in a closet during the shooting, and that these young people had the wherewithal to record and write about the events as they unfolded. As Christy Ma, the paper’s staff editor, later explained, “We tried to have as many pictures as possible to display the raw emotion that was in the classroom. We were working really hard so that we could show the world what was going on and why we need change.” 
Mary Beth Tinker actually visited the school in 2013 to talk to the students about her role in Tinker v. Des Moines, the seminal Supreme Court case around student speech and protest. As she described it to me, the school’s commitment to student speech and journalism had been long in evidence, even before these particular students were activated by this month’s horrific events. Any school committed to bringing in a student activist from the Vietnam era to talk about protest and freedom is a school more likely than not to be educating activists and passionate students. 
To be sure, the story of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students is a story about the benefits of being a relatively wealthy school district at a moment in which public education is being vivisected without remorse or mercy. But unless you’re drinking the strongest form of Kool-Aid, there is simply no way to construct a conspiracy theory around the fact that students who were being painstakingly taught about drama, media, free speech, political activism, and forensics became the epicenter of the school-violence crisis and handled it creditably. The more likely explanation is that extracurricular education—one that focuses on skills beyond standardized testing and rankings—creates passionate citizens who are spring-loaded for citizenship. 
Perhaps instead of putting more money into putting more guns into our classrooms, we should think about putting more money into the programs that foster political engagement and skills. In Sen. Rubio’s parlance, Marjory Stoneman Douglas was fostering arrogance. To the rest of the world, it was building adults. 

Dahlia Lithwick

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate and hosts the podcast Amicus.