The Problem With Wealthy Philanthropists

…With a decaying social welfare state, more and more public amenities exist only as the result of the hyper-wealthy donating them. But when the commons are donated by the wealthy, rather than guaranteed by membership in society, the democratic component of civic society is vastly diminished and placed in the hands of the elite few who gained their wealth by using their influence to cut taxes and gut the social welfare state in the first place.

It’s much like how in my former home of Pittsburgh, the library system is named for Andrew Carnegie, who donated a portion of the initial funds. But the donated money was not earned by Carnegie; it trickled up from his workers’ backs, many of them suffering from overwork and illness caused by his steel factories’ pollution. The real social cost of charitable giving is the forgotten labor that builds it and the destructive effects that flow from it.

— Why the Rich Love Burning Man, Jacobin

To be clear, the issue isn’t so much about individual elites donating their wealth to humanitarian efforts; no doubt at least some of them are benevolent and sincere, and their money often goes a long way for certain causes. But the problem lies in the aggregate, when entire societies — from their political and economic systems, to their media and public education — are at the mercy of a small class of individuals that determines what resources go where, based on what conditions. Being beholden to a handful of elites is not much better than to an overpowering state; indeed, often times it is often indistinguishable.

What are your thoughts?

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How Emmett Till’s Murder Changed the World

Eupraxsophy:

A horrific event that helped energize the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

Originally posted on TIME:

In 1955, when 14-year-old Emmett Till traveled from his home in Chicago to stay with a great-uncle in Tallahatchie County, Miss., his mother was nervous. Though the world was changing — the Brown v. Board of Education decision had come the year before — the Deep South was still a dangerous place to be black. Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, who had grown up in the rural county (a “snake-infested swamp,” as TIME described it that year), warned him of the risks. She told him “to be very careful… to humble himself to the extent of getting down on his knees,” per TIME.

“Living in Chicago,” she explained at the trial of his murderers, “he didn’t know.”

The teenager was abducted at gunpoint from his great-uncle’s home on this day, Aug. 28, 60 years ago, by two white men who accused him of having whistled at a white woman in…

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The world’s most famous gorilla is showing signs of early speech

Eupraxsophy:

“Primatologists have long believed in a limited ‘vocal repertoire’ for each species of ape—rendering them unable to learn new sounds beyond a certain range. This theory suggests that development of verbal language is a uniquely human characteristic. Koko is perhaps on the verge of shattering scientific notion.

Some might wonder what weight, if any, this development might lend to the ape-personhood movement—a movement to have great apes (gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos) recognized as ‘persons’ and thus deserving of protections under higher law. (The implications of such a legal change would make it difficult, if not impossible, to carry out medical or pharmacological testing on apes of any kind.)”

Originally posted on Quartz:

Koko, a 44-year-old gorilla famous for her ability to communicate with keepers using sign language, is now showing signs of early speech. “Koko has developed vocal and breathing behaviors associated with the ability to talk, which were previously thought to be impossible in her species,” The Daily Mail reports. The new development could further blur the line between what distinguishes humans from some of our more hirsute cousins.

(Insert obligatory Rise of the Planet of the Apes joke here.)

Primatologists have long believed (paywall) in a limited “vocal repertoire” for each species of ape—rendering them unable to learn new sounds beyond a certain range. This theory suggests that development of verbal language is a uniquely human characteristic. Koko is perhaps on the verge of shattering scientific notion.

Marcus Perlman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has been working at the Gorilla Foundation, which houses Koko, since 2011. “I went…

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Boston Leads the Way in People-Centered Urban Planning

When it comes to making cities more liveable and efficient, many Americans tend to look abroad for examples, namely to places like Germany, the Netherlands, and Singapore. But it is nice to find a model closer to home, especially since it gives lie to the notion that America’s car-culture poses unique challenges that foreign cities do not face.

As PRI reports, Boston is one of the biggest and most prominent participants a new movement that is sweeping communities of all sizes across the United States. Continue reading

An Amazing Time Lapse of Video of Austria

After two years and about five terabytes of footage, Thomas Pöcksteiner and Peter Jablonowski have created an unforgettable time lapse of their country. In less than three minutes, you can really appreciate the sheer natural and cultural beauty of this alpine nation of 8 million.

Courtesy of Gizmodo.

The First and Only U.S. Museum on Slavery

I was surprised to learn recently that the United States has only one permanent museum dedicated to the history of slavery: the Whitney Plantation near Wallace, Louisiana, which opened just this past December.

According to The Atlantic, the museum is the brainchild of a white, 78-year-old lawyer named John Cummings, who has spent 16 years and $8 million of his own fortune to build the project. Partnering with Senegalese-born scholar Ibrahima Seck, who serves as the museum director, Cummings hopes to use the Whitney Plantation to educate people on the realities of slavery, both historically and in terms of its modern legacy.

You can see a great short film about it here or below.

While American society is known for its poor historical memory in general (though especially as it pertains to uncomfortable matters like slavery), it still intrigued me that there has never been a museum about this seminal topic in U.S. history.

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How to name a baby

Eupraxsophy:

A fascinating, in-depth look at the science of names, including variations by region, generation, and even political affiliation. It makes sense that the most popular names often skip a generation; by the time all the people sharing once-trendy names get old enough, they seek out rarer names to differentiate their kids (who in turn will get older, tire of their now-common names, and seek new ones for their kids).

Originally posted on Quartz:

This post originally appeared at WaitButWhy.com.

The first time a friend of mine had a child, it was intensely jarring.

I’d be living my normal day, and then the thought would hit me—”Matt has a son”—and my whole world would get turned upside down.

Three years and six friend babies later, I’m 32 and have numbed to the whole thing considerably. It’s still weird. But not jarring.

This new phenomenon in my life has introduced several new experiences—things like “having your feelings hurt and losing self-confidence because your friend’s toddler doesn’t like you” and “learning that talking about the baby as a ‘toy’ or a ‘pod’ and commenting on ‘it not having a brain yet’ is less funny to the baby’s parents than it is to you.” But perhaps the most frequent new experience is finding myself in discussions about baby names, both in the form of talking…

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Cancers Cells Programmed Back to Normal

News about the next big breakthrough in cancer treatments are a dime a dozen. But this particular achievement seems worthy of hype and attention. Here is hoping its results can be further verified and replicated.

According to the Telegraph:

For the first time aggressive breast, lung and bladder cancer cells have been turned back into harmless benign cells by restoring the function which prevents them from multiplying excessively and forming dangerous growths.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, US, said it was like applying the brakes to a speeding car.

So far it has only been tested on human cells in the lab, but the researchers are hopeful that the technique could one day be used to target tumours so that cancer could be ‘switched off’ without the need for harsh chemotherapy or surgery.

“We should be able to re-establish the brakes and restore normal cell function,” said Professor Panos Anastasiadis, of the Department for Cancer Biology.

The scientists discovered that the glue which holds cells together is regulated by biological microprocessors called microRNAs. When everything is working normally the microRNAs instruct the cells to stop dividing when they have replicated sufficiently. They do this by triggering production of a protein called PLEKHA7 which breaks the cell bonds. But in cancer that process does not work.

Scientists discovered they could switch on cancer in cells by removing the microRNAs from cells and preventing them from producing the protein.

And, crucially they found that they could reverse the process switching the brakes back on and stopping cancer. MicroRNAs are small molecules which can be delivered directly to cells or tumours so an injection to increase levels could switch off disease.

As always, medical experts are rightly cautious about the results, noting that there is still quite a gap between cells grown in a laboratory and those of a human with cancer. Nevertheless, this is a big step forward, and presents yet another promising approach to consider in combating this scourge.

Foreigners of the American Revolution: The Prussian Who Helped Make the U.S. Army

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (Wikimedia)

Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben (Wikimedia)

In a previous post, I outlined the role of Hessian mercenaries fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War. But plenty of Germans fought for the Patriots, too, of whom the most famous is Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben.

Born in Prussia, he joined the military at age 17, and saw combat in the Seven Years’ War, then one of the biggest conflicts in European history. By the end of the war, he had risen to become captain, and even served as one of the right-hand men of Frederick the Great, one of history’s most brilliant military reformers.

Discharged from the Prussian Army once the war was concluded, Steuben found himself unemployed and deeply in debt. Through a chance meeting with the French minister of war, he was introduced to none other than Benjamin Franklin, the noted Francophile and diplomat who was trying to garner support for the Patriots in Europe. The French believed that the Americans could use an experienced soldier from one of the continent’s leading military powers, and doubtless Franklin agreed.

Steuben’s credentials and force of personality made such an impression on George Washington, that he was immediately appointed as Inspector General. Though a temporary post, it would grant the Prussian considerable influence in managing the training, logistics, and discipline of this ragtag, unprofessional, yet spirited Continental Army (which consisted of various local and provincial militias slapped together). Continue reading

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Nobel-Prize-winning education advocate Malala Yousafzai just finished high school: Here are her grades

Originally posted on Quartz:

For many teenagers, winning a Nobel Peace Prize at the age of 16 might offer some license to coast through the rest of school—but most teenagers are not the young Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai. For her, being the youngest person ever to win the world’s most prestigious award didn’t overshadow the importance of studying for her school-leaving exams.

In recent months, Malala, now 18, has put aside some of her busy agenda of appearances and international talks, and focused exclusively on her studies at Edgbaston High School, the private girls’ school in Birmingham she has been attending since she relocated from Pakistan in 2013. She came to the UK for treatment after surviving being shot in the head at the age of 15 on her way home from school in Pakistan by a Taliban gunman, who targeted her because of her advocacy for girls’ education.

Today her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai, proudly announced her academic success on…

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