Weekly Link Roundup

from The Cave

 Happy National Dictionary Day! I originally planned a word-themed “fun facts roundup” for today, but that post disappeared from my drafts folder, and I didn’t notice far enough in advance to replace it. As I have too many favorite words to choose from to highlight, I will instead leave this link for an AskReddit question titled, “What’s your favorite word?

 The Cruelty Is the Point (The Atlantic): “Once malice is embraced as a virtue, it is impossible to contain. The cruelty of the Trump administration’s policies, and the ritual rhetorical flaying of his targets before his supporters, are intimately connected … It is not just that the perpetrators of this cruelty enjoy it; it is that they enjoy it with one another. Their shared laughter at the suffering of others is an adhesive that binds them to one another, and to Trump.

♥ The Child-Abuse Contrarian (The New Yorker): “In the past seven years, Holick … has consulted or testified as an expert witness in more than three hundred child-abuse cases … In almost every case, he has made the same finding: instead of blaming any injuries on abuse, he has diagnosed the child with a rare genetic disorder, hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a condition that affects the connective tissues of the skin, bones, and joints. A handful of studies on adults have linked EDS to bone fragility, and Holick argues that children with the disorder have weaker bones, which can fracture from normal handling. So far, his theory is not supported by the scientific literature, but Holick is convinced that ‘thousands, if not tens of thousands,’ of parents worldwide have been falsely accused of fracturing their children’s bones … Holick regularly diagnoses children with EDS without seeing them in person.

♥ The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail (The New York Times): “… Emotionally manipulated by their bosses, ashamed of what they do, afraid to trust, the women rarely confide in the police or even their lawyers about their circumstances. They might be supporting a family in China, or paying back a smuggling debt, or choosing this more profitable endeavor over, say, restaurant work. No matter the backstory, the police say their collective silence further complicates law-enforcement efforts to build racketeering and trafficking cases against the operators. But society has become increasingly aware of the complexities and inequities of the commercial sex economy, including a criminal justice system that has tended to target the exploited — often immigrant women and members of the transgender community — while rarely holding accountable their customers and traffickers.

 Why Diving Down Internet Rabbit Holes Won’t Teach You Anything (Wired): “Rabbit holes are what make Beauty YouTube such a colossus, why the Ask Science subreddit has 16 million subscribers. But they also hold a secret: The deeper you go, the tighter it gets. That’s because a rabbit hole is a filter bubble of sorts, albeit one that’s labeled as such and explicitly opted into—you’re there because you’re interested in this Thing, as is everyone else, and under such celebratory scrutiny that Thing distends, its perceived stature far outweighing its real-life impact. Just because there are a million opinions about something doesn’t make it important to anyone outside the bubble, let alone crucial.

♥  The Strange Allure of Pioneer Living (The Atlantic): “Like a disproportionate number of these bloggers, Elliott is a white woman with a bearded husband, homeschooled children, faith in Jesus Christ, and many photos of soulful cows … Generously sprinkled with ol’s and Amens, they read like emails from a down-to-earth friend. Her vision of homesteading is nostalgic but comfortable, escapist but accessible, even to followers who still shop at supermarkets. She milks her cow Cecilia each morning and forages raspberry leaves for tea, but also invests in shabby-chic chandeliers and a refrigerator … Homesteading, romanticized by nearly every generation save the one that originally endured it, has routinely been embraced by Americans during periods of anxiety and upheaval.

♥  The Growth of Sinclair’s Conservative Media Empire (The New Yorker): “Sinclair is the largest owner of television stations in the United States, with a hundred and ninety-two stations in eighty-nine markets. It reaches thirty-nine per cent of American viewers. The company’s executive chairman, David D. Smith, is a conservative whose views combine a suspicion of government, an aversion to political correctness, and strong libertarian leanings … An ardent supporter of Donald Trump, he has not been shy about using his stations to advance his political ideology. Sinclair employees say that the company orders them to air biased political segments produced by the corporate news division … It’s unclear whether Sinclair is attempting to influence the politics of its viewers or simply appealing to positions that viewers may already have—or both … In the past decade, consolidation in the media industry has reduced the number of outlets producing news. With advertising siphoned away by online platforms, dozens of newspapers have closed, leaving many towns with limited or no local coverage. The changing landscape has expanded the influence of companies like Sinclair, with profound political implications. According to the Pew Research Center, fifty per cent of Americans get their news from television.

 (Video Link) I am terrified. Atlas now does Parkour. (Boston Dynamics on YouTube)

Migrant Children in Search of Justice: A 2-Year-Old’s Day in Immigration Court (The New York Times): “At the moment, the government’s rolls include hundreds of children in shelters and temporary foster care programs who were taken from an adult at the border, whether a parent, grandparent or some other companion. About 13,000 children who came to the United States on their own were being held in federally contracted shelters this month, more than five times the number in May 2017 … Until a couple of months ago, most of the children never would have stayed in a shelter long enough to end up alone before a judge. But the bottleneck in the background-check process means longer stays in custody, and the possibility that some children might have to see a judge multiple times before being delivered to their mother or uncle or cousin. The shelters are now almost full — not because more children are entering the country … but because the government has tossed up another obstacle to leaving. Once released, the children must face a different and more difficult courtroom test: In another immigration courthouse, somewhere in America, they will have to make a case that they meet the standard for asylum, or they will be deported.

 Google Admits Chatbots Were a Bad Idea (Fast Company): “One major problem with the chatbot approach was that it was too linear … You might get a visual card when asking about the weather, but if you asked a follow-up about wind chill or a future forecast, the resulting chat transcript would push the original weather card off the screen. This can be disorienting, so now Google will simply update the original card with new information as you ask for it … Besides, not every Google Assistant device is conducive to dialog bubbles … Now, Google Assistant is available in cars through Android Auto, on kitchen counters with devices like the Lenovo Smart Display, and on televisions through Chromecast and Android TV. A chat-like interface doesn’t make as much sense on those devices.

 The Secrets of Getting Into Harvard Were Once Closely Guarded. That’s About to Change. (The Wall Street Journal): “A trial beginning Monday in Boston federal court will examine how the elite institution uses race to shape its student body. It will force Harvard to spill details about its admissions practices … The plaintiffs allege race plays such a decisive role in the admissions prospects of Hispanic and African-American applicants that removing all racial preferences would increase the number of Asian-American admissions by 40%. Harvard says other factors, such as alumni interviews and intended major, play a more significant role in the likelihood of admission than race does.

He Actually Believes He Is Khalid”: The Amazing 30-Year Odyssey of a Counterfeit Saudi Prince (Vanity Fair): “Gignac had not only mastered the art of the con, he had given it his own unique spin. In a stroke of genius, he combined the classic tricks of old-school grifters—stealing a famous name, striking an elaborate pose—with the look-at-me obsessions of the social-media age.

♥  Tech Workers Now Want to Know: What Are We Building This For? (The New York Times): “Across the technology industry, rank-and-file employees are demanding greater insight into how their companies are deploying the technology that they built. At Google, Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce, as well as at tech start-ups, engineers and technologists are increasingly asking whether the products they are working on are being used for surveillance in places like China or for military projects in the United States or elsewhere. That’s a change from the past, when Silicon Valley workers typically developed products with little questioning about the social costs … The difficulties of knowing what companies are doing with technologies is compounded because engineers at large tech companies often build infrastructure … that underpins almost every product a company offers. At Google, for example, a storage system called Colossus is used by Google search, Google Maps and Gmail.

 Can the U.S. Keep Its High-Tech Edge? (The Wall Street Journal): “This looming crisis of American innovation could undermine the nation’s long-running global advantage in bringing to market the next new technology, the next new industry, the next big thing. It may well be the gravest challenge yet to America’s century-plus hold on global economic hegemony … As late as the mid-1990s, the U.S. was home to roughly 95% of all venture capital investment in the world; today its share has dropped to just over 50%. About half of this two-decade decline has occurred in the last five years alone.

 The Rise and Fall of Affirmative Action (The New Yorker): “Instead of claiming that the process is unfair to whites—an increasingly tough sell, at least in the media—the suit suggests that affirmative action, a mechanism intended to help minorities such as Asian-Americans, is actually being used to harm them … What makes this debate so contentious is that it’s about counterfactuals, alternate versions of ourselves. It’s hard not to take things personally, even if the process traffics in a magical impersonality. There are all of the mythologies that intertwine in the process: the farce of a pure meritocracy, of color blindness; a misplaced faith in standard measures of achievement. We suspect that the system is unfair and nonsensical, but we try anyway. We hope that we will be recognized.

Mark Zuckerberg Is Trying to Transform Education. This Town Fought Back. (New York Magazine): “… the learning curve can be just as steep for parents as for students and teachers … That initial frustration … drives a lot of of the parents’ angst … similar complaints usually cease after a semester or two … the organization does conduct research on outcomes, but it has never done aggregate surveys of families’ and teachers’ opinions — let alone had aggregate independent surveys done — because it’s more focused on helping schools meet their individual goals. Nor is there much empirical, independent research on how Summit is working in terms of student achievement, mental health, and other metrics — but then, this is true for all the’personalized learning’ programs being pushed by tech billionaires … as these programs go, Summit appears to be better than most.

 Scrabble Is a Lousy Game (The Wall Street Journal): “The only reason people play it, I suspect, is blind habit. I can think of no other explanation. It’s not that I don’t like words. I love words. But what I love about words is their meaning and etymology—which no real Scrabble player bothers studying, because such details are completely irrelevant to scoring. The game’s only link to word usage in the real world lies in the point values assigned to the various letter tiles … It’s basically a memorization test that makes you feel smug when you pass and stupid when you fail.

 Recently purchased: Ann Taylor Poncho CoatHalogen Ribbed Cashmere Wrap, LOFT Shawl Pocket Open Cardigan, and Madewell Button Detail Cable Knit Pullover Sweater.

Have a great week, everyone!

Hi, I am Elle!

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