(p. A9) Americans believe schools are more unsafe today than they were two decades ago, according to a new poll — even as federal data shows that by most measures, schools have become safer.
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A survey last month of 1,063 adults by The Associated Press and the N.O.R.C. Center at the University of Chicago found that 74 percent of parents of school-age children, and 64 percent of nonparents, believed schools were more unsafe today than they were in 1999. Only 35 percent of parents said they felt “very confident” that their child was safe at school.
Homicide is a leading cause of death for American youth, but the vast majority of those deaths take place at home or in the neighborhood. Between 1992 and 2016, just 3 percent of youth homicides and 1 percent of youth suicides took place at school, according to the federal report.
School crime levels decreased between 2001 and 2017. The number of students between 12 and 18 years old who reported being the victim of a violent crime at school over the past six months dropped from 2 to 1 percent. Incidents of theft, physical fights, the availability of illegal drugs and bullying also went down.
(p. A2) Sen. Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, nicely captured this sentiment by saying about Mr. Moore, an advocate for lower taxes and other conservative causes: “Steve’s nomination has thrown the card-carrying members of the Beltway establishment into a tizzy, and that says little about Steve and his belief in American ingenuity, but a lot about central planners’ devotion to groupthink.”
Anti-elitism is an odd look for Mr. Sasse, Ph.D. (Yale) and former college president (Midland University), but he’s hardly alone.
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Economics can be insular, and even Janet Yellen, who chaired the Fed before Mr. Powell, agrees the Fed has been top-heavy with Ph.D. economists like her. “It’s not always been clear that this led to an improvement in policymaking,” she said in a 2012 interview for an oral history of the Fed, released Friday [April 12, 2019]. She praised the contribution of non-economist governors who, she says, are always asking themselves if the arguments of economists are “relevant to the world as I’m experiencing it through my contacts, whether they’re bankers or businesspeople or whatever?”
(p. B1) “I believe tech can be a road to the middle class for large numbers of Americans,” said Mr. Hsu, a co-founder and the chief executive of Pursuit, a nonprofit social venture. “But there’s real skepticism about that among people who see the winners in technology as a small network of the privileged.”
He is using Pursuit, housed in a former zipper factory in Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood where Amazon had intended to locate, to try to prove those skeptics wrong.
The venture is a small yet innovative player in a growing number of nonprofits developing new models for work force training.
(p. B5) Their overarching goal is upward mobility for low-income Americans and the two-thirds of workers without four-year college degrees.
Pursuit, according to its donors and to work force experts, stands out for the size of the income gains of its graduates and its experiment with a kind of bond to finance growth. It is a program worth watching, they say, and beginning to attract attention nationally.
About 85 percent of Pursuit’s 300 graduates have landed well-paying tech jobs within a year. They work as software engineers both at major corporations like JPMorgan Chase and at start-ups like Oscar Health. They earn $85,000 a year on average, compared with $18,000 before the Pursuit program.
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Max Rosado heard about the Pursuit program from a friend. Intrigued, he filled out an online form, and made it through a written test in math and logic, interviews and a weekend workshop with simple coding drills, joining the 10-month program in 2016.
At Pursuit, Mr. Rosado, who has a two-year community college degree in liberal arts, got an intensive immersion in programming languages, concepts and projects. But the curriculum also covered so-called soft skills like making presentations, working in teams and writing résumés and thank-you notes.
Today, Mr. Rosado, 30, is an engineer at GrubHub, the meal delivery service, working on its smartphone software. In his previous jobs, in back office and sales associate roles in stores, he earned $15,000 to $20,000 a year. He makes nearly $100,000 now, he said.
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Pursuit screens applicants for many characteristics, but those mainly fall into two categories: problem-solving skills and perseverance. The program, Mr. Hsu said, looks for people who are hungry and determined, willing to put in the time and effort to become a software developer, but also able to adapt to new and unfamiliar environments.
(p. A15) A massive academic hoax has taken a surprising twist. Peter Boghossian, an assistant professor of philosophy, faces disciplinary action at Oregon’s Portland State University. The accusations against him raise constitutional questions about federal regulation of academic research. They also implicitly acknowledge that the prank had a serious point.
Mr. Boghossian–along with two confederates, neither of whom has an academic affiliation–set out to expose shoddy scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.” They concocted 20 pseudonymous “academic papers,” complete with fake data, and submitted them to leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in fields like “queer studies” and “fat studies.” The Journal’s Jillian Melchior discovered the deception last summer and broke the story in October, by which time seven of the phony papers had been accepted for publication and four published.
“It had to be done,” Mr. Boghossian tells me. “We saw what was happening in these fields, and we were horrified at the faulty epistemology that these people were using to credential themselves and teach others.” The effort drew praise from some well-known public intellectuals, including Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.
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A hastily formed university committee recommended that Mr. Boghossian be investigated for “research misconduct”–that is, purposely fabricating data. That case would seem to be open and shut, but the investigation has stalled.
More serious are the sanctions against Mr. Boghossian announced Dec. 21 on behalf of Portland State’s Institutional Review Board for conducting research on “human subjects” without submitting his research protocol to the IRB for review as required by the federal National Research Act of 1974. The “human subjects” in question were the editors and peer-reviewers of the duped journals. Portland State ordered Mr. Boghossian to undergo “human subjects research training,” and its letter warns that “further actions may be required,” with no elaboration.
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Philip Hamburger, a law professor at Columbia, argues that the National Research Act and the HHS’s regulations violate the First Amendment, infringing on scholars’ freedom of expression. Mr. Hamburger has likened IRB vetting procedures to the Star Chamber’s licensing of publications that prevailed in 17th-century England–which the Constitution’s drafters were eager not to replicate. “Licensing . . . prohibits generally, and then selectively permits what otherwise is forbidden,” Mr. Hamburger wrote in 2007.
(p. B12) Jerry Merryman, a self-taught electrical engineer who helped design the first pocket calculator, died on Feb. 27  in Dallas.
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In 1965, two years after he joined the electronics maker Texas Instruments without a college degree, the company asked Mr. Merryman and two other engineers to build a calculator that could fit into a shirt pocket.
He designed the fundamental circuitry in less than three days, and when Texas Instruments unveiled the device two years later, the moment marked a transformational shift in the way Americans would handle everyday mathematics for the next four decades.
“Silly me, I thought we were just making a calculator, but we were creating an electronic revolution,” Mr. Merryman told the NPR program “All Things Considered” in 2013.
With this device, Mr. Merryman and his collaborators, Jack Kilby and James Van Tassel, also pioneered rechargeable batteries and “thermal printing,” which used heat to print numbers onto a special kind of paper. Speaking with NPR, Mr. Merryman said he was reminded of their work whenever he used a cellphone or was handed a thermally printed receipt by a grocery store cashier.
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After a stint with the railroad — he packed ice into refrigerator cars carrying bananas — Mr. Merryman worked as an engineer at a local radio station. Then, in the late 1950s, he enrolled at Texas A&M University in nearby College Station. He left without finishing his degree.
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Mr. Merryman immediately joined a team that was developing what were called integrated circuits, the breed of microchip that would later drive personal computers. His boss was Mr. Kilby, who had helped build the first integrated circuit in 1958. (Mr. Kilby, who later shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics for this work. died in 2005.)
Seven years later, these microchips had yet to find their market niche, and Texas Instruments’ president at the time, Patrick E. Haggerty, decided that the company needed to prove its worth with a consumer product. He called for a pocket calculator.
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During his brief stint at Texas A&M, Mr. Merryman entered a contest alongside 600 other students. They competed to see who was best at using a slide rule, the wood and plastic device that helped with multiplication, division, trigonometry and other mathematical calculations.
After buying a used slide rule for $6, Mr. Merryman won the contest with a nearly perfect score. “Hearne Student ‘Pulverized ′em’ in A&M Contest,” the headline in the local paper read.
Just a few years later, he helped make the slide rule obsolete.
(p. A3) Graduates of liberal arts areas like philosophy, foreign languages, ethnic and gender studies, history and English all have a better-than-even chance of landing a job that fits their education level.
They may not pay well, with teaching and social services popular destinations, but graduates can expect to fare better in terms of landing credential-appropriate roles than transportation, culinary services, agriculture and public administration majors.
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The report’s findings are bolstered by research from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, which has found that job prospects and earnings vary widely by college major, with some counterintuitive results. For example, the bottom quartile of architecture and engineering majors earn far less than the top quartile of humanities and social science majors.
(p. 1) Eric Reynolds will tell you that he is on the verge of freeing much of humanity from the deadly scourge of the cooking fire. He can halt the toxic smoke wafting through African homes, protect what is left of the continent’s forest cover and help rescue the planet from the wrath of climate change.
He is happy to explain, at considerable length, how he will systematically achieve all this while constructing a business that can amass billions in profit from an unlikely group of customers: the poorest people on earth.
He will confess that some people doubt his hold on reality.
“A lot of people think it’s too good to be true,” says Mr. Reynolds, a California-born entrepreneur living in Rwanda. “Most people think I am pretty out there.”
The company he is building across Rwanda, Inyenyeri, aims to replace Africa’s overwhelming dependence on charcoal and firewood with clean-burning stoves powered by wood pellets. The business has just a tad more than 5,000 customers and needs perhaps 100,000 to break even. Even its chief operating officer, Claude Mansell, a veteran of the global consulting company Capgemini, wonders how the story will end.
“Do we know that it’s going to work?” he asks. “I don’t know. It’s never been done before.”
Inyenyeri presents a real-world test of an idea gaining traction among those focused on economic development — that profit-making businesses may be best positioned to deliver critically needed services to the world’s poorest communities.
Governments in impoverished countries lack the finance to attack threats to public health, and many are riddled with corruption (though, by reputation, not Rwanda’s). Philanthropists and international aid organizations play key roles in areas such as immunizing children. But turning plans for basic services into mass-market realities may require the potent incentives of capitalism. It is a notion that has provoked the creation of many businesses, most of them failures.
“Profit feeds impact at scale,” says Mr. Reynolds, now in the midst of a global tour (p. 8) as he courts investment on top of the roughly $12 million he has already raised. “Unless somebody gets rich, it can’t grow.”
More than four decades have passed since Mr. Reynolds embarked on what he portrays as an accidental life as an entrepreneur, an outgrowth of his fascination with mountaineering. He dropped out of college to start Marmot, the outdoor gear company named for the burrowing rodent. There, he profited by protecting Volvo-driving, chardonnay-sipping weekend warriors against the menacing elements of Aspen. Now, he is trying to build a business centered on customers for whom turning on a light switch is a radical act of upward mobility.
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To succeed, a stove had to be so convenient and clean burning that women preferred it over their existing cooking method.
Mr. Reynolds began testing stoves made in Italy, India, the United States and China. He tried making his own.
He came to realize that the magic was in the combination of stove and fuel. He experimented with making charcoal out of corncobs. (“A stupid idea,” he says.) He tried burning banana leaves. Then he discovered wood pellets, which involve compressing wood and eliminating water, the element that produces much of the smoke.
He settled on a Dutch-made stove that reduces wood down to clean-burning gases. Using pellets reduced the need for wood by 90 percent compared with charcoal. But those stoves cost more than $75.
Then came the epiphany: Inyenyeri could supply the stoves for free while collecting revenue from subscriptions for pellets. Rwanda was urbanizing rapidly, and city dwellers rely on charcoal. They would be eager to switch to pellets, which were 30 to 50 percent cheaper.
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(p. 9) The business model would get more attractive as the cost of charcoal climbed, and as innovation inevitably made stoves more efficient. Inyenyeri would also stand to collect revenue from an arrangement it later entered into with the World Bank to sell credits for reducing emissions.
In 2010, Mr. Reynolds sold his house in Boulder and went all in on Inyenyeri. He unloaded his wine cellar, liquidated his retirement accounts and moved to Rwanda with no plan to leave.
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“This business model will happen,” he says. “If it’s not Inyenyeri that’s the first mover, then it will be someone else who learns from our mistakes and does it better. It’s too big of an opportunity.”