Thursday, 11 January 2018

n its first year, the Trump administration has reduced public information online

a post by by Andrew Bergman and Toly Rinberg for the Sunlight Foundation blog [with grateful thanks to ResearchBuzz Firehose]

From the redesign of the White House website to the removal of hundreds of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) webpages about climate change, the Trump administration, as part of transforming the federal government in its first year, has already left a distinct mark on federal websites.

In some cases, we’ve observed politically motivated and otherwise unexplained removals of documents and entire websites. The Department of the Treasury removed a non-political, research report about corporate income tax from the Office of Tax Analysis website. According to numerous sources, the report was likely removed because it was at odds with Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s tax policies.

Despite widespread concern in the beginning of 2017, we do not have evidence that data has been removed from federal websites almost a year into the Trump presidency. The one exception we know of is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s animal welfare datasets, which was taken down and then partially returned following public outcry and several lawsuits.

What we have seen are substantial removals and overhauls of webpages, documents, and entire websites, as well as significant shifts in language and messaging across the federal Web domain. We know this because we’ve been monitoring tens of thousands of environmental federal webpages at the Environmental Data & Governance Initiative (EDGI) and keeping tabs on relevant reporting and investigations by members of the press and civil society in our roles as Sunlight Fellows.

Continue reading although be aware that the many links are pale blue on white which I found difficult to follow.

Why Negative Thinking Has Cognitive and Emotional Benefits

a post by Derek Beres for the Big Think blog

Article Image
Grandmaster chess player Garry Kasparov contemplates a move in a match against grandmaster Fabiano Caruana during the final day of the Grand Chess Tour at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center in St. Louis on August 18, 2017. (Photo: Bill Greenblatt/AFP/G

Positive thinking has long been championed in American culture. While optimism is part of our biological inheritance – when we’re not hopeful about the future, anxiety and depression can easily transform into suicidal tendencies – positive thinking and positive psychology grew into billion-dollar industries, beginning with Norman Vincent Peale’s 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking.

Whereas the first self-help book, Self-Help, an 1855 volume by Scottish political reformer Samuel Smiles, was a tribute to the importance of failure, Peale’s objective was quite different. After introducing the concept of “positive thinking”, he taught a continuous and permanent state of optimism. He sold over five million copies while remaining on the NY Times bestsellers list for 186 consecutive weeks, even as he was dubbed a con man and his theories were clinically challenged.

Peale’s message was too seductive for a growingly dissatisfied culture like America, in which more is never enough. This messaging was repeated in 2006 when an equally dubious writer published The Secret, taking the metaphysics of positive thought to new heights. Rhonda Byrne promised that if you weren’t living right, you weren’t thinking right, which set up readers to experience serious guilt – and to purchase subsequent courses, books, workshops, and the rest of the incredible catalog of add-ons that followed.

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Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Into Africa

a post by Adrien Couderc for the DEMOS blog

As the UK looks to enhance its reputation as a ‘global leader in free trade’ after Brexit, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has argued that Britain should look to strike free trade deals with emerging countries. So far, much of the focus has been on deepening trade relationships with India and China – but Africa too has been cited as a potential trade opportunity for Britain. Yet the lazy assumption that emerging countries will automatically queue up for trade partnerships with Britain could exasperate post-colonial tensions. To move beyond this, the government will need to rethink its whole approach to international trade and explore free trade agreements that can balance liberalisation alongside social protection. And in Africa, this will mean establishing a pathway towards reciprocity that understands and recognises the national interest of African countries as well as our own.

Africa’s market of 1.2 billion people holds huge promise in terms of boosting UK trade. First of all, Africa has enormous potential for growth – in 2017, nine of the fastest growing economies in the world were in Africa. Secondly, the emergence of an African middle class, a key potential source of demand for manufactured goods, is an untapped opportunity for British exporters. The growth of African markets will also increase the demand for UK services exports. For example, The City of London is already exploring how the UK fintech industry could be at the forefront of developing innovative solutions to make mobile banking widespread for a continent where nearly 80 per cent of adults do not have access to formal banking services. For instance, WorldRemit, a London startup, is already facilitating online money transfer for millions of people across the continent – providing a crucial lever for financial inclusion in Africa.

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10 for today starts with a "map" of languages and ends with manuscripts found in the Sinai Deszert

Beautiful chart displays native speakers of world’s languages
via Boing Boing by Andrea James
Spanish designer Alberto Lucas López created this gorgeous infographic that shows the proportion of native speakers of each major language.
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You really do need to see the infographic for yourself. At full size it is simply stupendous.

Engraved bones are ‘evidence of cannibalistic rituals by early humans’
via the Guardian by Hannah Devlin, Science correspondent
The researchers suggest the engravings may have been part of an elaborate post-death ritual carried that culminated in the deceased being eaten.
The researchers suggest the engravings may have been part of an elaborate post-death ritual carried that culminated in the deceased being eaten. Photograph: Bello et al (2017)
Engraved bones unearthed in a Somerset cave have revealed new evidence of macabre cannibalistic rituals carried out by early humans in Britain.
The latest analysis of the bones, which were first discovered in the 1980s in Gough’s Cave in the Cheddar Gorge, show signs of having been filleted using sophisticated butchery techniques, decorated and gnawed by fellow humans around 15,000 years ago.
Previous investigations of the remains, belonging to a three-year-old child, two adolescents and at least two adults, already pointed to the grisly possibility that the individuals had been eaten by fellow early modern humans.
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Martin Gardner puzzle: red, white, and blue weights
via Boing Boing by Mark Frauenfelder

Here’s a good puzzle from Martin Gardner's Mathematical Circus. The book is out of print but used copies are cheap.
Problems involving weights and balance scales have been popular during the past few decades. Here is an unusual one invented by Paul Curry, who is well known in conjuring circles as an amateur magician
You have six weights. One pair is red, one pair white, one pair blue. In each pair one weight is a trifle heavier than the other but otherwise appears to be exactly like its mate. The three heavier weights (one of each color) all weigh the same. This is also true of the three lighter weights. In two separate weighings on a balance scale, how can you identify which is the heavier weight of each pair?

Not drowning but suffocating
via 3 Quarks Daily: Edward Lucas in More Intelligent Life
Some cities you go to for the galleries, some for the restaurants, some for the nightlife. You visit Venice to stroll through the alleys, bridges and squares that make up the most beautiful public space in the world. The walk that is richest in architectural delights and historical significance follows the route from the Rialto Bridge to St Mark’s Square. The bridge was the hub of the trading empire that brought in the booty and paid for the city’s unique concentration of artistic masterpieces. The merchants of Venice hung around the bridge for information on promising deals and lost cargoes. “What news on the Rialto?” asks Shylock.
Wiggle eastwards from the business district of the ancient city through the narrow passageways and sotoporteghi (alleys that pass through buildings) and you emerge through the great arch at the base of the 15th-century clock tower and into Venice’s political and religious heart – St Mark’s Square. The walk is a little more than half a mile, and shouldn’t take you longer than ten minutes. It will, though. Much longer. For during the warm months of the year the route is jammed with a slow-moving flotilla of tourists. Many are oblivious to those around them, having tuned out to listen to their guide through their headsets. You become wedged, unable to go forwards or back.
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What happened next to the giant Larsen C iceberg?
via the Guardian by Nicola Davis
View of the A68 iceberg on the 30 July 2017, taken from a European Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite image.
View of the A68 iceberg on the 30 July 2017, taken from a European Copernicus Sentinel-1 satellite image. Photograph: A. Fleming, British Antarctic Survey.
Scientists have revealed exactly how the trillion-tonne A68 iceberg broke free of the Antarctic ice shelf last month – and say it has spawned smaller icebergs
The fate of the giant iceberg that broke free from Antarctica’s Larsen C ice shelf last month has been revealed.
Twice the size of Luxembourg, the trillion-tonne iceberg known as A68 was found to have broken off the ice shelf on 12 July after months of speculation about a rift which had been growing for years, with the iceberg “hanging by a thread” for weeks.
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How to thrive as a fox in a world full of hedgehogs
via 3 Quarks Daily by Ashutosh Jogalekar
The Nobel Prize winning animal behaviorist Konrad Lorenz once said about philosophers and scientists, “Philosophers are people who know less and less about more and more until they know nothing about everything. Scientists are people who know more and more about less and less until they know everything about nothing”. Lorenz had good reason to say this since he worked in both science and philosophy. Along with two others, he remains the only zoologist to win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. His major work was in investigating aggression in animals, work that was found to be strikingly applicable to human behavior. But Lorenz’s quote can also said to be an indictment of both philosophy and science. Philosophers are the ultimate generalists, scientists are the ultimate specialists.
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I found this fascinating. I wonder if you will.

1,650 year old unopened wine bottle looks like it should stay that way
via Boing Boing by Andrea James

Josh Jones at Open Culture looks at the Speyer wine bottle, the oldest (and possibly grossest) unopened bottle of wine.
I'm no sommelier, but it looks as if it turned.
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A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 53: ‘What is your substance, whereof are you made’
via Interesting Literature
A summary of Shakespeare’s 53rd sonnet
‘What is your substance, whereof are you made, / That millions of strange shadows on you tend?’ Sonnet 53 is pored over and analysed by Cyril Graham in Oscar Wilde’s brilliant short story ‘The Portrait of Mr W. H.’ (1889), about a man who thinks he’s discovered the identity of the mysterious dedicatee of the 1609 edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. Believing ‘Mr W. H.’ to be a boy-actor named Willie Hughes, Wilde’s protagonist cites this sonnet as part of his internal evidence: the ‘strange shadows’ are the various roles played by the actor on the Elizabethan stage. Unfortunately, there’s no evidence such an actor as Willie Hughes ever existed. Nevertheless, this makes Sonnet 53 immediately interesting – but as closer analysis reveals, we don’t need any high-flown theories or interpretations to find this sonnet of interest.
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On the value of intellectuals
via OUP Blog by Brad Kent

“George Bernard Shaw near St Neots from the Millership collection” from the Birmingham Museums Trust, CC BY-SA 4.0 viaWikimedia Commons.
In times of populism, soundbites, and policy-by-Twitter such as we live in today, the first victims to suffer the slings and arrows of the demagogues are intellectuals. These people have been demonised for prioritising the very thing that defines them: the intellect, or finely reasoned and sound argument. As we celebrate the 161st birthday of Bernard Shaw, one of the most gifted, influential, and well-known intellectuals to have lived, we might use the occasion to reassess the value of intellectuals to a healthy society and why those in power see them as such threats.
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The Invisible Poems Hidden in One of the World’s Oldest Libraries
via Library Link: Richard Gray in The Atlantic
Two photos of the same pages from an ancient manuscript. The left is a normal image. The right is a special composite image that illuminates underlying erased words.
Two photos of the same pages from an ancient manuscript. The left is a normal image. The right is a special composite image that illuminates underlying erased words.
For centuries they have gathered dust on the shelves of a library marooned in a rocky patch of Egyptian desert, their secrets lost in time. But now a collection of enigmatic manuscripts, carefully stored behind the walls of a 1,500-year-old monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, are giving up their treasures.
The library at Saint Catherine’s Monastery is the oldest continually operating library in the world. Among its thousands of ancient parchments are at least 160 palimpsests – manuscripts that bear faint scratches and flecks of ink beneath more recent writing. These illegible marks are the only clues to words that were scraped away by the monastery’s monks between the 8th and 12th centuries to reuse the parchments. Some were written in long-lost languages that have almost entirely vanished from the historical record.
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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

The forgotten unemployed: 300,000 jobless Britons not claiming benefits

an article by Peter Walker, political correspondent published in the Guardian

Jobcentre Plus
The DWP said anyone who thinks they are entitled to out-of-work benefit should contact Jobcentre Plus. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Study finds many people are not claiming support they are entitled to and warns some are put off by the benefits system

About 300,000 British people without jobs or on very low wages are not claiming benefits they are entitled to, according to a thinktank study urging the government to focus more attention on the issue.

The report from the Resolution Foundation says the “forgotten unemployed” are disproportionately likely to be older women or young men, who are missing out on at least £73 a week and potentially far more.

While many appear not to claim benefits because they have other means of support – for example living with a partner in work or with parents – the report warns that some people, particularly women, are put off by a benefits system viewed as complex and overly punitive.

The report, titled Falling Through the Cracks, urges the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to do more to examine the reasons why so many eligible people do not claim, arguing that the rollout of universal credit would be a good moment for this.

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Time for some housing honesty

a post by Matthew Whittaker for the Resolution Foundation blog

The return to work after Christmas is never easy. Unless you’re an estate agent: they love January. Following the pre-Christmas lull, families rush back into wanting to buy and sell their houses (helped in part by the traditional post-festivity spike in family breakdown). But for an increasing number of us, house hunting is becoming little more than an exercise in window shopping (or ‘property porn’ if you’d rather).

The share of the population owning a home has been falling since 2003, with particularly profound consequences for younger families. As the chart below shows, today’s 30 year olds (that is, the oldest members of the millennial generation born between 1981 and 2000) are only half as likely to own their house as their parents were at the same age.

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The potential for lifelong learning in dementia: a post-humanist exploration

an article by Jocey Quinn and Claudia Blandon (Plymouth University, UK) published in International Journal of Lifelong Education Volume 36 Issue 5 (2017)


Numbers of people with dementia are projected to grow to 682 million globally by 2050. However, despite this escalation, the widely-promoted positive vision of lifelong learning throughout all ages does not extend to people with dementia. Constructions of learning for those with dementia are predominantly limited to the management of symptoms.

The focus on retrieval of memory does not seem to allow for the emergence of the learner as a ‘new beginner’ or as a teacher. This paper focuses on a recent study, Beyond Words, to challenge dominant assumptions about dementia and learning.

Using a post-humanist theoretical framework, this longitudinal qualitative study explores the benefits of community music for those who face problems communicating with words: such as those with dementias, autism, learning difficulties and brain damage.

Rather than characterising them as ‘non-verbal’ it positions them as ‘post-verbal’ and able to communicate in different ways. Moving away from discussions of ‘selfhood’, the paper uses a post-humanist approach to explore an agentic assemblage including one person with dementia from the study and also explores how another participant teaches important lessons about materiality and time.

It demonstrates that learning and ‘new beginnings’ and ‘becomings’ can and do take place at advanced stages of dementia, challenging the assumption that dementia is a wasteland for learning. It also shows how people with dementia have much to teach researchers about living and learning.