“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
"It is now two minutes to midnight"
In 1947, following the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a group of atomic scientists created the Doomsday Clock.
The clock represents how close we are to a hypothetical global catastrophe as determined by the members of the Science and Security Board, the group that publishes the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
"Midnight" is when the nuclear armageddon hits and the minutes leading up to midnight symbolizes how close we are to it. Theoretically, of course. The largest time period came in 1991 at seventeen minutes, the shortest is two minutes, in 1953 (when the Soviet Union exploded its first hydrogen bomb), and as of late January, 2018.
Here are a few choice excerpts from a recent post "It's now two minutes to midnight:"
In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.
The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea's nuclear weapons program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.
To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy.
The Doomsday Clock is in a lot of ways, a gimmick. Midnight is a metaphor, minutes aren't actual measurements of time, and there isn't even an actual clock. However, the premise is based on the expertise of atomic scientists, so the clock has gravitas in ways apocalyptic preachers don't. As Popular Science writer Rachel Feltman puts it, the Doomsday Clock is neither art or science, it's in the middle.
In that spirit, let's split the difference between going full off-the-grid ""prepper," and whistling past the nuclear graveyard. At two minutes to midnight, it's important to at least know where the late-night snacks are being stored. Here are ten easy ways to become more self-sufficient in the event of… Well, it's good to be self-sufficient no matter what, right?
1.) Green Up Your Thumbs:
Gardens don't require big backyards. You can grow fruits and veggies anywhere. Window boxes work so long as there's water, soil, and sunlight. Make sure the box is deep enough for 7-inches of potting soil and an inch of water on top with holes in the bottom for drainage to preserve the roots. Particularly sunny spots are great for cherry tomatoes, small peppers, beans, strawberries, short carrots, and mini squash. Lettuce, spinach, chard, and cabbage can flourish in shadier confines. Use organic fertilizer throughout the season and water frequently, more that you think in the hot summer months.
2.) Trade Your Lawn Mower for Salad Tongs:
The well-manicured lawn is a staple of American homes, which is silly, because it could be a giant salad. Edible lawns are a way to have greens for weeks while helping the environment by using way less water. There are all manner of herbs, plants, shrubs, leaves, and even weeds to fortify your body if say zombies come knocking. Lawns aren't natural, gardens are. Here's a starter kit on your way to a lush thick yard of eerily-named roughage like Creeping Rosemary and Lamb's Quarters.
Instead of a lawn, try a vegetable gardenPhoto by Kenan Kitchen
3.) Become an Apiculturist:
No, you won't need to go to a fancy school, all you need to do is learn how to get a buzz on. Apiculture is the technical term for beekeeping, which is inexpensive, doesn't take a lot of time or space, and provides beeswax for candles and delicious honey that doesn't require any processing for consumption. There are cave drawings of honey going back to 6,000 B.C. so trust the little workaholics for survival. All you need is a few healthy hives. Here's a handy-dandy how-to guide to building your own Langstroth Hive from Bee Culture magazine. Will you get stung? Definitely. But bee venom builds up an immunity to stings, so it's a win-win.
4.) Rain on Your Parade:
Rain barrels collect and store runoff from a roof through the gutter. It's a great way to water your edible lawn in the dry months. It can be a basic plastic cistern, or a huge tank that stores enough water for months on end. Great for washing, flushing, watering, and rinsing. Drinking water is even a possibility if you put in a proper filtration system, it depends on the levels of air pollution in your area.
5.) Fire Away:
When it goes down, you're going to need fire for warmth, cooking, and boiling the rain water you've collected. Here's a basic method to start a fire without matches. First, you need to collect tinder (small, dry, flammable material), kindling (a little bigger organic material like wood chips or twigs), and firewood (self-explanatory.) Get a hard piece of wood as a fireboard, make a notch in it with a knife, and put a two-foot stick in the notch. Rapidly twist the stick in your palms. It's sweaty tiresome work, but it will produce enough friction to start smoking and generate tiny embers, which will get the tinder lit. Blow on the fire, add kindling, and then firewood. If this way is too difficult, keep a condom in your pocket. Fill it with water and use it like a magnifying glass. C'mon baby, light my fire indeed.
6.) Stay Fresh and So Clean:
Doomsday may lead to a dirty wars spanning the globe, but you don't need to be dirty to fight in them. Making a simple soap at home is a lot easier than one might think, here's a recipe from DIY Natural that only calls for three types of oil, lye, and cold water. (Lye is no joke, use the utmost precaution.) Soapmaking also offers a perfect way to use leftover herbs and honey in the name of smelling nice.
Soap making is skill you'll need to keep clean Photo by Jennifer Burk
7.) Get Coop-ed Up:
A home-raised chicken offers a lot: Truly tasty eggs, nutrient-rich manure for vegetable gardens, a personal bug and worm exterminator, a recycler of biodegradable garbage, and a goofy friend to entertain the kids. Backyard (or rooftop) chicken coops are popular among adherents to the "eat local" movement, even in densely packed New York City. Chickens need about 3-4-feet of space each, so the smaller the quarters the fewer chickens you'll want to keep, but once you buy or build a coop with a roost, run, and nesting area, the upkeep isn't any more time-consuming than a garden. Make sure to check local laws --cock-a-doodling-roosters are often a no-go-- and win over your neighbors with the best bunker omelettes around.
8.) Harness the Sun:
The power grid could go down but there's no way to block out the sun...Yet. A small home solar kit can be of great use in doses, keeping the lights on during the blackout periods. A writer at EarthEasy built a DIY system with four components (a solar panel, a charge controller, two 6-volt golf cart batteries, and a small inverter) for under $1,000. It powers his laptop, a freezer, a cordless drill, and even an iPod. Being off-the-grid doesn't mean you can't get down. In a broad everyday sense, adding solar power to your home's daily energy requirements will save money in the long run. Use this solar calculator to see how you could add a few dollars to the "Emergency Coffee Can Fund," which you totally have, right?
9.) Pack Your Bag:
The "Bug Out Bag" (or "BOB" if you're in a hurry) is a kit with the proper supplies to survive for 72-hours following a disaster. The staples of the BOB are: Water, purification tablets, food like MRE's or energy bars, cash, flashlight, firestarter, waterproof clothes, a tent, a sleeping bag, medical records, a Swiss Army Knife, etc. You get the point. The basic BOB is for three days, but if it really is armageddon, you might want to pack a bag like this former counterintelligence special agent. He could take on midnight no problem.
10.) Downsize, Downsize, Downsize:
If you're at home, open a closet, any closet, and make a mental note of what you actually use or need in certain situations. If you hate to part with things and need some prodding, here's a handy checklist of crap you can lose. Being self-sufficient doesn't just mean being able to stalk and kill your own dinner, in fact for most of us urban-suburban-ites its doesn't mean that at all. It means living smarter and simpler, so if it is the end of the world as we know it, we'll all feel fine.
Investing on the stock market can be intimidating, but we're here to help
Millennials don't trust the stock market.
That is the finding from the most recent Merrill Edge Report, which found 66% of Millennials trusted their savings accounts would be reliable in 20 years. In contrast, 71% Gen-Xers trust in their 401(k), while 54% of Baby Boomers believe in their pension. Generationally, it makes sense. Rock-solid pensions of the distant past were a foolproof reward for a life's work. The rise of the stock market from the 1980s-2000s made the same 401(k) seem like a safe profitable bet. And, the financial crisis of 2008–spurred on by massive institutional fraud rewarded with federal taxpayer bailouts—combined with years of stagnant wage growth, ever-increasing income inequality, and ever-higher cost-of-living expenses, means younger workers trust their saving accounts and nothing else. Can you blame them?
(Once and for all, avocado toast plays no role in whether Millennials save for a starter home. It's the impenetrable big-bucks-or-GTFO economy, not the breakfast food, stupid.)
It's understandable, but it's not necessarily prudent.
It's good to have savings, of course, but more as a short-term emergency fund. Long-term, there simply isn't enough of a reward. The national percentage yield average of traditional banks is only .07%, going up to 1.0% or a bit higher at at online banks. Look at it this way, banks take money from savings accounts and loan it out at much higher rates, so you're making it easier for fat cats who already live on easy street.
Investing is smarter for future financial health, and it isn't just for the wealthy. Here are some tips to get started, even with a small amount. Warren Buffett defines investing as "the process of laying out money now to receive more in the future." Your portfolio probably won't get up to $87-billion, but a little piece of Buffet's pie will offer future peace of mind. The "Oracle of Omaha" bought his first stock at 11, you've got catching up to do. Thus:
Get Started Today:
Investing can be intimidating, and nobody likes a no-fun eat-your-vegetables spending scold. (See: toast, avocado.) However, adding a few nip-and-spending-tucks, could give you an extra $10 a week, which is $40 a month to invest, almost $500 a year. Start with whatever you can afford because the longer you're in, the more money you'll make. Even if you start out with a saving account, getting in the habit is the important thing.
Collect Change in a Coffee Can:
If formal budgeting of some sort is too tough, try throwing loose change, crumpled dollar bills, and random poker winnings into a coffee can designated for investments. It sounds silly, but it adds up. It takes diligence not to treat the can as a beer slush fund, but it's an easy way to contribute more to your starter investment kit. There are also more options available if you start out with $1,000 than $100, so whatever gets you there.
Talk to a Professional:
Once you've decided investing makes sense, go to your bank and talk to someone about basic investment strategies. You may grasp the difference between low-initial-investment mutual funds (investments in a portfolio of stocks and bonds) and Treasury securities (savings bonds), but it helps to get outside advice on what is a better starting point. For a lot of us, financial literacy begins and ends with our bank accounts, so seek out those who know the basics of expanding your portfolio.
Enroll in Your Employer's Retirement Plan:
Here's a quick story about a stupid Gen-Xer, me. I once spent a year at a company without investing in my 401(k) until a co-worker told me "You know that's free money, right?" (Ron Howard voice: He did not.) The term "free money" is somewhat fungible, but many employers match whatever you contribute to the 401(k), which compounds over time. Start at 1% of your salary if it's all you can afford and increase it over time until it's a full match. Whatever you contribute, the retirement fund doubles. Call your HR department today.
Get Set Up with a Roth IRA:
If you're part of the gig economy and have no 401(k) option, then consider a Roth IRA, a retirement account that can be opened online in a matter of minutes. If you're single, under 50, and make less than $120,000 a year, you can sock away up to $5,500 a year. The beauty of a Roth IRA is your money grows tax-free and can be withdrawn tax-free. There are a number of benefits for Roth IRA enrollees, including for first-time home buyers, which is something you may become even if it seems impossible at the moment. Because down the line, you will have been investing for years, right?
You don't have to wade into the murky bitcoin waters to get into investing online. There are much more basic websites and apps to help you learn and grow as an investor. One to try if you don't trust your ability to pick stocks and bonds at this point, sign up with Betterment, an automatically managed investment account that's user-friendly and charges an annual fee (as opposed to per transaction).
Good luck! And many happy returns.
Opponents say too much homework is killing children's free time and adding unnecessary stress. But is there any evidence to support this?
As the 2017-18 school year heads into the home stretch, kids everywhere yearn for the glorious days and nights free of the dreaded "H-word."
The end of the school year means No. More. Homework.
Summer means freedom from completing assignments on the couch- unless you happen to be one of the 20,000 elementary school students in Florida's Marion County public school district because you never had any in the first place. This year, superintendent Heidi Maier did away with traditional homework in favor of having kids read on their own. Marion County wasn't alone either; other schools doing away with homework can be found in Vermont, Montreal, Virginia, and Texas. In Spain, students went on strike to reclaim their weekend free time from those dastardly textbooks.
Homework has become a lightning rod for controversy, a topic argued with all the fervor, and silliness of 6th-graders re-enacting the Lincoln-Douglas debates.
Some schools are banning homework all together
It all boils down to one simple question; how much is too much?
The answer is… This isn't an SAT test. There is no oval to fill in with a pencil. The answer is there is no right answer.
In 2009, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) performed a study of 15-year-old students among its 38 member countries and found that American kids averaged 6.1 hours of homework a week, ranking them 15th overall. At 9.7 hours a week, Chinese students had the most homework time, while Finnish scholars and their scant 2.8 hours of homework, get to spend way more time doing whatever. Does it matter? Take Singapore, which comes in 3rd with 9.4 homework hours, but is the top dog in the OECD student assessment, PISA. Rounding out the PISA top five? Those lazy Finns, five spots ahead of the Chinese. The United States (which in the PISA survey is defined by 540,000 kids from Massachusetts and North Carolina) came in at #25, so clearly doing a lot of homework, or very little homework, beats doing some homework?
Is there any metric for setting a standard national allotted homework time?
Both the National Education Association (NEA) and the National PTA (NPTA) support a standard of "10 minutes of homework per grade level" and setting a general limit on after-school studying. This means a first-grader has 10 minutes, and a high school senior would have two hours. Sounds reasonable, right? Reasonable, but not scientific. According to a recent Slate article, the 10-minute rule is "not based on any research."
The standard in America is 10 minutes of homework per grade level
Given the role homework plays in the scholastic, social, and cultural development homework plays in a child's life, the lack of wide-ranging research into the topic is maddening.
Even the most basic metric is in dispute. A 2014 University of Phoenix study found high school teachers assign an average of 3.5-hours of homework, while the 2016 American Time Use study of full-time high school students found it took less than an hour to complete the daily outside-of-school assignments. These are not equal equations, both can not be true, except, of course, they can.
The crux of the is matter is the proper amount of homework is intertwined with individual students, which renders hard-and-fast rules moot.
The homework conundrum gets boiled down to personal anecdotes. If a child struggles with homework, it's a problem, one that can affect stress levels at school and home, and turn learning into a chore. A Brown Center on Education Policy report states that the homework burden isn't growing, but try telling that to a parent whose wigged-out child can't stay awake or focus because she's up until 1 a.m. doing schoolwork every night. (The terrific writer Karl Taro Greenfeld tried to live his eighth-grader's scholastic life for a week and declared "My Daughter's Homework is Killing Me.")
The main argument for homework, particularly in the upper grades, is that it prepares kids for their academic future. Well does it? An oft-cited 2006 Duke University meta-analysis looked at the years 1987-2003 to try and determine if homework improved academic achievement. The authors found a "stronger correlation existed in Grades 7-12 than K-6 and when students rather than parents reported on homework," and concluded with "the authors suggest future research." Presumably, outside of class.
This may surprise you, but train wrecks are actually more common than many people realize.
In late January, an Amtrak train ferrying a large group of Republican lawmakers, staff, and family - including House Speaker Paul Ryan - from Washington to White Sulphur Springs collided with a garbage truck in Crozet, Virginia. The train was traveling at roughly 60 mph when the engineer pulled the emergency brake, but it was too late. The driver was ejected from the truck and killed. The crash came on the heels of deadly Amtrak crashes in North Carolina, Washington, and South Carolina. In 2017, there were more than 2,100 crashes at public and private U.S. railroad crossings, killing 274 and injuring 807.
Train wrecks tend to get a lot of media attention, in part because the images are terrifying. The December pictures of a train falling off the tracks and onto Interstate 5 fifty miles south of Seattle are the stuff of nightmares. Three people were killed, more than 80 were injured, and the damage topped $40-million. The photos of the carnage will live on in infamy. Would-be passengers may be asking themselves, is train travel safe?
In a word, yes.
"The Federal Railroad Association safety statics show that train travel remains safe," says Allan M. Zarembski, Professor of Practice and Director of University of Delaware's Railroad Engineering and Safety Program. "The ten-year trends remains down, and the number of fatalities remains very low for both Amtrak and commuter railroads."
The numbers don't lie. The last year there were more than 300 fatalities was in 2007 and two decades ago the number of collisions was nearly double. Dr. Zarembski expects the downward trend in accidents and the increases in train safety to continue. So train travel is safe, but could it be safer?
Train travel is being revamped - it's a beautiful way to see the country Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash
In another word, yes. And it soon will be.
Positive Train Control (PTC) is an advanced system to automatically stop a train and prevent certain types of accidents. Upon full implementation, PTC will avert train-to-train collisions, derailments due to excessive speeds, unauthorized entry in work zones, and train movements through misaligned track switches. PTC is scheduled to be fully implemented in all Class 1 railroads, which includes Amtrak, by the end of 2018. In the Washington crash, the train was traveling 80 mph in a 30 mph zone, which might have been overridden had PTC been in effect. PTC technology was installed on the track where the derailment occurred, but it was still in the testing phase. (It was originally mandated by Congress in 2008.)
"PTC will be implemented by the end of this year for 'most' passenger operations," says Dr. Zarembski. "There are some commuter lines that do not have the funding necessary for full implementation, but most are on their way."
One thing PTC doesn't prevent, however, is "improper vehicular movement through a grade crossing." Yes, our national railroad system is in need of major infrastructure upgrades, and Amtrak is always in the budgetary cross hairs--the Trump administration called for cuts of 50%--but there are fatalities that are entirely preventable. Those that are the result of drivers playing chicken with oncoming trains and pedestrians ambling too close to the tracks.
"That is where the biggest safety issues remain," says Dr. Zarembski.
In Virginia, the garbage truck was on the tracks. The crossing was equipped with crossbars and warning lights.
Are you interacting with a real person, or an automated program? Sometimes, it's hard to tell
For years, science fiction writers have been telling us robots are going to take over the world. It turns out they were right.
But, it's we humans who are doing the androids' dirty work. Unless you've been living in a cabin deep in the woods without the internet (and if so, do you have an extra bunk?), you are probably familiar with the scourge of "Bots," even if you don't recognize the invasion. Bots, short for "robots," are automated programs that run over the internet. On social media, bots have made their presence felt through a wave of fake accounts posing as real people, some 48 million on Twitter alone.
Spotting a bot can be tricky.
Many of the accounts look and feel like real people, but it's worth taking the time and effort to weed out the phonies. Fake social accounts can do real harm through the spreading of misinformation. It's important to be able to recognize and eliminate bots, because according to computer scientist Chengcheng Shao who said to MIT Technology Review, "Social bots play a key role in the spread of fake news."
Perhaps you recall that during the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election, Pope Francis shocked the world by endorsing Donald Trump. It was the top fake news story of 2016 and earned nearly a million Facebook engagements. Fake news works, it always has, and it isn't going anywhere. Which is why last January, Pope Francis said we all need to recognize the "snake-tactics" of the "crafty serpent" that go all the way back to the Book of Genesis. When the Pontiff himself declares, "the truth will set you free," it's time to identify and eliminate the bots in our human lives.
Pope Francis addresses the scourge of fake news at the Vatican https://goo.gl/uz6gFJ
Unfortunately, there isn't a single characteristic to help spot a bot, but there are broad identifiable patterns.
First and foremost, no matter the social media site, ask yourself a simple question when you see a post from someone you don't know personally (or more likely a post from someone you do know, reposting some "person" you don't):
Does this account seem like a real human being? Common sense is on your side. Use it.
Let's start with Twitter, where the homepage of a user can tell a lot. If the bio reads like something Rosey from The Jetsons would spit out, it's a flashing sign of online garbage. Real people write real bios. Is the avatar the default silhouette? Is the Twitter handle gobbledygook no human would choose? Do they post all the time, morning, noon, and night? People sleep, bots not so much. Or conversely, do they only retweet and repost, often to multiple accounts? This isn't how humans engage on social media.
These are the obvious ones, but of course, the bot factories are a lot more complex.
Here are a few more telltale Twitter questions to ask: Does the account follow a ton of people with few followers of its own? Has it followed and unfollowed you in a short amount of time? (Google "Who Unfollowed Me on Twitter" for a simple link), Did you get a reply in microseconds? Do the comments, retweets, and reposts appear to be from other bots? Does the Tweet originate not from the web or mobile, but "from API," which is often automated? Are there multiple posts about breaking news within minutes? (The Parkland shooting unleashed a near-instantaneous torrent of Russian bots.) Does the account interact with friends and foes in the same way you do? If not, chances are, it's a bot. Another trick if you're still stumped is to take the avatar photo and reverse image it. If it pops up all over the web, it's probably a stock photo, which isn't necessarily rock solid--mine is currently of legendary Philadelphia Eagles QB Nick Foles--but it's fairly obvious if it matches up with the other giveaway signs. Two other helpful tools to verify Twitter accounts are Botometer and Botchek.
Facebook has one simple built-in bot eliminator, which is that you have to accept invitations from others.
Use the old childhood axiom of not taking candy from strangers. If you don't know the person, or you have no mutual friends, ignore the request. You can also look up the account to make sure.
Other Facebook warning signs include an older pre-Timeline layout, an attractive female model as the profile picture (men are such easy marks), an empty wall or one with few personal updates and responses, or an enormous amount of "likes" that have seemingly zero in common. Again, does the account look like yours? The Facebook Help Center has a tool to show what bots you followed, but it's limited to bots you directly followed, not your friends, and it doesn't go that far back. Consider it a starting point.
But what about bots on other social platforms?
The New York Times just ran a fascinating story on combatting Instagram bots, which pointed out the most obvious ones, those following 7,500 accounts, the maximum allowed, without a single posted photo or profile picture. Other fishy things to look for are: Accounts with a lot of followers, say 25,000, and little engagement, say two likes, on a photo, an account with a giant inorganic spike in followers, or an account following many more on the 'Gram than it has followers.
Beware of instagram accounts with thousands of followers, and no picturesPhoto by Ben Kolde
Spotting and blocking the fraudulent is key to a healthy social media existence.
But remember, bots aren't the biggest problem. We are. A new study by three MIT scholars found that on Twitter, most fake news is spread by humans, at a speedier rate, and at a much higher volume. Fake news stories are 70% more likely to be spread than actual news stories and reach 1,500 people six times faster. Why? The scholars theorize it's a combination of human impulses. Fake stories, often with insane too-good-to-be-true headlines, seem novel, so we share them to be "in the know." Bullcrap also triggers "surprise and disgust," whereas accurate stories engender sadness, anticipation, and (gasp) trust.
You can train yourself to spot a bot, but it's not enough. Check yourself first. Otherwise, when the robots do officially take over, we'll only have ourselves to blame.
DIY: Do we need to teach kids cursive anymore or is it becoming a thing of the past?
It's been a long time since I was a grade school student (COUGH--late70searly80s--COUGH), but it boggles my mind how different classwork is today for our second-grade daughter. Techniques are so much better in terms of teaching kids' skills and strategies, instead of the rote "repetition and memorization" of my youth. I'm glad kids will never again know the tedium of pulling out a Big Chief tablet and taking dictation day-after-day-after-day. It's all in the name of competing in the global 21st-century economy, but there's one old school skill no longer taught (at least in my daughter's Brooklyn public school) that I have definite mixed feelings about. As she said to me the other day after I wrote something down for her, "Dad, I can't read this, it's in script." Or as we called it back at Kate Fratt Catholic, cursive.
So are the lovely flowing letters going the way of calligraphy? Not so fast. Break out your fountain pen and an ink cartridge, Longfellow… Sorry, ask your parents.
In a 2016 Washington Postarticle, Joe Heim writes that "cursive writing was suppose to be dead by now," but it's actually making a comeback in the age of the texting thumb. A number of states have added some form of cursive requirements, including Louisiana, which mandates all public schools, charters included, teach the sweeping script from 3rd-through-12th grade.
It's popping up all over the country. A Google search of "cursive writing" over the last year found a 4th-grade club in Kentucky, a Minnesota man literally named Loop hosting quarterly gatherings at craft beer bars, a New Hampshire museum exhibit highlighting the skill, and all manner of state legislatures arguing over whether it's a necessary part of childhood education.
The value of handwriting as a skill, separate from keyboarding, is clear. It's fundamental in learning to read and write, but the value of cursive as a form of penmanship on its own is murkier. A 1977 study said it's "possible" the continuous flow aids in higher reading and spelling scores, but forty years is a lifetime in classroom learning ago. A 2015 study hints at the same idea, but it wasn't specific to cursive outside of handwriting, so it's far from definitive. At best, the research is inconclusive and it seems cursive obsessiveness is driven by nostalgia.
The more time spent digging into the importance of cursive, the more it has a "get off my lawn" quality. Almost nobody uses it exclusively anymore, not even handwriting teachers as 55% use a print-cursive hybrid, according to a 2012 conference survey. Ask yourself, is there a time or place in modern society where cursive is even necessary? There is no scenario where cursive is required because print won't suffice. Even new Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin went with a printed signature on the dollar-dollar-bills. In theory, cursive might matter for electronic signatures, but in practice, a squiggly line is good enough. Then there's odd political supposition that kids "won't be able to read our Constitution," as if most Americans read their King James in Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic.
Yet, I hope my daughter learns to write "in script" and not just so we can communicate on paper. Experts say she can easily learn to read it without writing it, so my reason for wanting her to write cursive isn't pragmatic. It's aesthetic.
Perhaps cursive isn't necessary, but it is.
It's a wondrous style of writing created so the pen didn't have to leave the page (I suspect because those fountain pens were prone to major leakage), and there is something about the flow of cursive that tickles me. The swirls and twirls, curlicues and quirky "Qs," the weirdness of the lower-case letter similarities, individual styles and personal artistic flourishes, the indecipherable signature of my physician father and his brother, my priest uncle. Cursive provides an everyday beauty digital screens never can, and regular print rarely does.
Cursive has soul.
Hey, guess what, honey? The state of New York now wants 3rd-graders to learn cursive. Be still my ink-stained heart.
Do you understand the difference between a credit union and a bank?
Big banks and social responsibility don't typically go hand-in-hand, but there is a bedrock financial institution that was formed wholly out of a noble ethos. The brutal winter of 1846-47 led to widespread famine, so Friedrich Raiffeisen, a rural German mayor, set up a system in which wealthier citizens put cash into a fund used to buy grain to be loaned to those suffering from the famine. This, in turn, led to a community bakery. The "bread society" project worked. When the famine ended, the less fortunate paid back the benefators in cash. Raiffeisen would expand on his largesse with an "aid society" that provided low-interest loans to farmers to get around the common usurary practices, and set up a charity for abandoned children. Eventually, in 1864, Raiffeisen established the first rural cooperative lending institution, in effect, creating the first credit union.
Credit unions wouldn't come to the United States until 1909. That year, the first one opened in New Hampshire, and the first comprehensive credit union law passed in Massachusetts with help from Edward Filene of department store fame. It served as the model for the FCU Act, which was signed by Franklin Roosevelt in 1934, authorizing federally chartered credit unions in all the states.Coming in the middle of the Great Depression, the FCU Act gave Americans the chance to join member-driven co-operative non-profit financial institutions like the "bread society" of yore.
"The membership orientation of credit unions is designed to serve the consumer, particularly those of more modern means, through the affiliation with a group," says Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.com. "Today, credit unions and banks have more similarities than differences, although they're generally much smaller and some may have a single branch."
The primary drawback to credit unions is one of size. They don't have branches on every corner and they not offer the 24/7 service of our banking overlords. Credit unions also don't tend to have the full menu of services as the giants, like say wealth management or some small business loans. It varies, of course. The larger credit unions, like top gun 7-million-member $90-billion-in-assets strong Navy Federal Credit Union offers business loans, but most have much smaller holdings.
For the Monopoly Man, size matters. Who else is going to back another major development on Marvin Gardens? Let the monocled oligarch have Wells Fargo. One important facet of credit unions is that they're not Wells Fargo, there's no incentive to conjure 3.5-million fake accounts out of thin air.
"They have the same regulatory rules as banks, but the not-for-profit status shields credit unions from some of the more nefarious practices of their counterparts," says McBride.
Credit unions got a big boost following the 2008 financial crisis and the Occupy Wall Street movement that grew out of it. In 2011, a California woman tired of her high uber-bank fees started a social media event page calling for a "Bank Transfer Day" where money would be moved to credit unions. According to Bill Cheney, CEO of the Credit Union National Association, it worked. Credit unions added a net of some 2.2-million members between June 2011-2012, double the average over the previous ten years. As recently as the second quarter of 2017 saw credit union growth across the country in nearly every category, according to the National Credit Union Administration. There's now 102-million credit union users in the United States, so the big banks have taken notice. Just last week, members of state banking associations called on Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch to tax the larger - yet still non-profit like so many mega-churches-credit unions.
Banking, however, is not an altruistic endeavor. There are still reasons to go with credit unions, such as:
One of the most attractive aspects to credit unions is the money saved. Consumers can get better rates on deposits and loans, lower or at least reduced fees, and the balance requirements are much more user-friendly.
One credit union member, one ballot. Board seats and official positions are voted on by the membership. Non-profit means credit unions are beholden to the community within, not shareholders.
Low barrier to entry
If someone meets the membership requirements - be it geographical, organizational, social, or even philanthropic (Alliant Credit Union is open to anyone who makes a $10 charitable donation to Foster Care to Success) - membership fees are reasonable and don't require a crazy level of assets at all times. Many credit unions are specifically designed to help customers get a foothold in the American baking system. A great example is California's Golden 1 Credit Union, which offers a free account to students ages 16 and 17, so long as they maintain a B average or higher.
Credit unions are an unsung piece of the American financial structure, but they can work for you, even if you're generally happy and at a large bank (that probably has ridiculously punitive overdraft fees.) Keep in mind, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. You can do a piece of your overall banking at a credit union. Greg McBride says too many consumers sign up with a single bank and miss out on opportunities to save money by diversifying. He advocates the same approach Smokey Robinson's mother did for dating.
"It's prudent to include credit unions to look for the best deal," he says. "Consumers should always shop around."You can start right here
Tech is changing the way we use maps and get to our destination. Are we better off?
The first time I was part of a cross-country drive was in a '78 Oldsmobile station wagon, often from the rear-seat vantage point looking backward out on the open road. It was 1980, the family trekking from our Billings, Montana home to sunny Southern California. I still remember so many anachronistic details: Billy Joel's The Stranger on 8-track, ashtrays in the armrests, and a glove box stuffed with fold-out gas station maps. The very maps that, once unsheathed, would never return to their original rectangular origin, and were known to drive anally-retentive drivers to the brink of madness.
Throughout my younger days, I criss-crossed the United States multiple times. I eschewed the fold-outs for the handy-dandy Rand McNally Road Atlas, the first of which, known as the "Auto Chum," was published in 1924, when a Model T could be had for $290. As cars became commonplace, the road trips soon followed. Getting the motor running and heading out on the highway became a staple in pop culture be it Nat King Cole, Jack Kerouac, or Clark W. Griswold. Going out looking for adventure is an American rite of passage, and it used to mean always having a map at the ready.
In 21st-century America, road atlases have been replaced by the smartphone. It's useful, but it isn't a map. Typing in an unknown address for Siri's soothing guidance on a quick A-to-B trip can be a godsend, but unfurl a bigger picture view, and it's plain as an Interstate how much is lost without the cartographic complexity of a map. There's the obvious reason maps are superior, nobody ever says, "My atlas is about to die." Maps don't require batteries, plugs, roaming charges, Wi-Fi, or any level of "g" connectivity, and they aren't ruined if dropped on the blacktop, or in a toilet.
There are also deeper reasons, both intellectual and spiritual, for putting the technology where the fold-outs used to be. For one, maps are literally making us smarter humans. "Spatial Orientation" is the brain's ability to help its owner "move around in an environment using an innate sense of direction." It's an essential skill for navigating through unfamiliar territories - as well as the literal dark - so we, as a species, can keep moving forward. Learning to read and understand maps is a primary way to build spatial orientation. Neural pathways are formed as more mental maps are created, so the brain is actually getting bigger. Map reading is a hugely important but underutilized skill for kids as well. A 2013 National Geographicreport concluded, "A student who has acquired robust spatial thinking skills is at an advantage in our increasingly global and technical society."
Kids recognize something else grown-up drivers tend to forget: maps are fun. An atlas contains endless possibilities, whereas a GPS is strictly a means to an endpoint. Maps open up the world and give the sense of vastness, screens shrink it down to a route that only matters to the driver. As Guardian writer Thomas McMullan notes in this astute essay on maps giving way to GPS, is that now, "we are by default the center of the world." It's yet another example of the collective being lost to the individual. Scale is reduced to only the path of the blinking blue dot, which means people will only get where they need to go. Wanderlust, the strong desire to travel, will still exist, but to wander lost may not.
One of the innate joys of maps are opening them up and eyeballing alternate routes. Not for efficiency, for beauty. The roads less traveled offer the wonderment of having no particular place to go, and maps will help get you there. The chance to tool around aimlessly, free of the omnipresent technology shackles, among this country's pastures, forests, deserts, mountains, plains, shores, and cities is one of life's greatest pleasures.
Today I live in Brooklyn, haven't owned a car in nearly two decades. When I feel a bit of wanderlust, even if it's only in a daydream, I pull out my tattered dog-eared cover-falling-off Rand McNally Road Atlas. GPS is the destination; Maps are the journey.