There are many programs out there to help those in need, including innovative organizations that aim to empowerthose who would otherwise be grasping at the last strings of survival and hope. And there are maybe others, as reported by The Tampa Bay Times on Nov. 29, that hopefully mean well but have struck a discordant note with the public on account of their seeming exploitation of those in need.
In Tampa, Florida, one such program called New Beginnings operates, bringing in numerous homeless, most of whom are veterans, to work at places like construction sites, football games, fairs and race car races. People work in landscaping, home repair and upkeep, telemarketing and even grant-writing.
What these people would be paid goes to the organization that finds them the jobs. That’s right. The workers leave just as “penniless as they arrived” in some sort of scheme that the organization’s CEO, Tom Atchison calls “work therapy.”
It seems shady, and homeless advocates and labor lawyers are calling Atchison into question. The way the organization runs may very well be, not only exploitive, but illegal.
This isn’t a new organization and while the public is currently naysaying New Beginnings’ efforts, it looks as though people who have been “employed” by the organization are very much provided for. “When people enter the program, their most immediate needs are for shelter, food and/or clothing,” states the organization’s website. New Beginnings aims to cover these fundamental needs. The site continues, “Once here, they begin to address other issues that may have contributed to their homelessness,” like mental, emotional or physical health issues, addictions, and trouble with the law. As a part of the program, it looks as though the organization also provides job training and recovery programs for its residents. From the looks of the testimonial page on the New Beginnings website, there have been significant successes.
This all sounds pretty good. It’s hardly illegal to compensate workers in the way New Beginnings has been, as long as said compensation is proven to be equal to or more than what the workers would earn at the current minimum wage. It’s something that The Salvation Army has been doing for a long time, pointed out The Atlantic. The Salvation Army’s model is the one that New Beginnings claims to have based its own.
But then, there are many other glaring issues, as uncovered by The Tampa Bay Times. For one, New Beginnings hasn’t kept track of the hours that the workers have put in, nor have they commented on how much money the workers have earned for the non-profit.
The Times “reviewed thousands of pages of public records about New Beginnings, including police reports, bank statements, grant documents and court proceedings, and interviewed more than 20 current and former New Beginnings residents and employees,” and found that employees and residents of New Beginnings handed over their Social Security checks and food stamps “even if they amounted to more than residents owed in program costs.” It was also found that while the non-profit claims to supply counseling to residents who may need help in the way of mental illness or addiction, no one employed by the organization was trained or qualified to do such work.
One has to wonder. Will New Beginnings meet the same fate that a similar New York organization met in the ‘90s? “The "Pathways to Employment" program — run by the Grand Central and 34th Street Partnerships, business organizations — provided shelter, food and counseling and put its residents to work clearing other homeless people from bank vestibules,” reported the Tampa Bay Times, “While taking in hundreds of thousands of dollars, the partnerships paid their homeless employees $1 to $1.50 an hour.”
The more you look at it, the more the whole thing reeks of indentured servitude, a term that perhaps no one thought would turn up again after the last bits of institutionalized slavery had been taken out of public consciousness. But the issue at hand brings up many more questions in the realm of ethics. For example, what is a better solution that works to empower those who have been disempowered by their circumstances? Ending a program like this without supplying another answer could very well cut off someone’s lifeline. But with illegal activities coming to the fore, one has to wonder if the organization can be fixed at all.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
Though meteorites and the damage they have caused have been reported throughout the ages, none have been proven to have killed humans and there has only been one documented to have struck somebody. There was a report in 1911 about an Egyptian dog being killed by a meteorite and a Ugandan boy who had been seriously injured in 1992. In even more recent news, more than 1000 Russians were injured as a result of an impact event that was much larger than any that had been reported in 20 years. That event lit up the sky as an approximated 7,700 ton meteorite disintegrated and rained onto the city of Chelyabinsk.
According to Slate, the meteorite itself was pretty big and when it broke up in the atmosphere, it created quite the light show that was visible across three whole states. While most of the meteorite bits turned to vapor, at least one bit survived, speeding to the earth at hundreds of kilometers per hour. The speed was such that it crashed through the roof of Hodges’ home, bounced off of the radio furniture and then, hit her in the hip, leaving a doozy of welt that would make news headlines and magazine articles.
Not only did that incident make headlines but skirmishes over who actually owned the meteorite also hit. Ann Hodges and her husband Hewlett were renting their home at the time. The owner of the premises was the one who legally owned the space debris despite public opinion, which held that the meteorite belonged to the Hodges. There was a long dispute in the courts that followed that was all too public. In the end, Ann Hodges used the meteorite as a doorstop for a span of time, despite having received monetary offers from The Smithsonian and other venues. Hewlett thought that they could hold out for more money, and did. However, after bad press squelched any chances of larger offers coming through, Ann Hodges finally donated the meteorite to the Alabama Museum of Natural History, two years after the incident.
The story of the Hodges didn’t get much better. The husband and wife split as a result of the troubles that came after the bit of meteorite had crashed and the legal battles. The media attention and lawsuits caused a regretful emotional impact that the two of them were not able to overcome. Ann Hodges, suffered mental and physical ailments as a result. She never seemed to have recovered.
It’s a shame, too. The Hodges really could have made a small fortune if perhaps they’d known better how to haggle with the press and venues vying for the chunk of rock. Another meteorite had crashed not far from the Hodges and was found by a farmer named Julius K. McKinney. He was able to sell the piece he found to The Smithsonian for enough money with which to buy a small farm and a used car. His hunk of rock was smaller than the one that had busted through the Hodges’ home.
It’s a brush of fame that turned tragedy for the Hodges. That is perhaps why the University of Alabama has marked the event with a special exhibit which features the rock that utterly changed the Hodges’ lives.
*originally published on the now defunct examiner.com
A pun is often considered the lowest form of wit. Sometimes, we might find ourselves shaking our heads a little and laughing at how ridiculous a punnster is. But we never really put an end to the punning and we do our fair share of it, to be sure. Puns are word plays, inevitable results of lingual interactions that even Shakespeare had artfully mastered.
The usage of puns can promote critical and creative thinking, too. They can expand our understanding of certain words and can also become tools for learning. But, sometimes, puns can cause issues in understanding. On Nov. 28, the Guardian reported that in China, this has become such a concern that the need for pun control has come to light and has been addressed. Officials over the matter don’t consider punning a funny thing at all.
In fact, China’s “broadcast and print watchdog” has made moves to outright ban the usage of puns and idioms in print and broadcast media. The reasoning being that punning “breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese” which makes the promotion of cultural heritage more difficult and misleads those who absorb the media, especially children. Officials take the possibility of such imaginable misunderstandings so seriously that they consider puns and idioms risks enough to cause “cultural and linguistic chaos.”
The Chinese language has many words that sound alike, which makes punning more than feasible. The culture is packed with puns as the result of its homophones. This is not just in the media but in everyday speech. Still, officials are very adamant about nixing this kind of wordplay from their media communications. The State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television reportedly said that “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.” Not only that, it has become two clicks short of a requirement for media makers to adhere strictly to the standardized spelling and usage of the Chinese language: What a word or phrase says is what a word or phrase should mean.
Many are saying that this is absolute crazy talk. Wordplay is an inherent feature of the Chinese language (and really, of language, period). Idioms carry so much cultural significance in culture because they contain within them cultural and historical significances that are part of speakers’ lives. Idioms and puns are intertwined with customs and social mores.
David Moser, the director of CET academic programs at Beijing Capital Normal University told the press that moves towards nixing puns and idioms in media may come from a small group of people “who are conservative, humourless, priggish and arbitrarily purist.” He also states that this move could be a preemptive one which will stifle (in the name of “linguistic purity”) “the cute language people use to crack jokes about the leadership or policies.”
This “cute language” has become necessary if any discussion is to be had at all about politics and leadership figures in China. Such talk is something that the government would like to stave off, however, whether it’s puns or other forms of communication. The Guardian wrote that “Internet users have been particularly inventive in finding alternative ways to discuss subjects or people whose names have been blocked by censors.” China, for a long time, has been blocking efforts in discussions such as those mentioned above. It’s obviously dangerous ground and reason for Chinese government to take such action. One has to wonder, what's next?
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
What is your Web IQ? Most of us would confidently testify that we are just two clicks shy of being an expert, if not a complete genius on the matter. What more does anyone need in order to be savvy than an internet connection and something with which to connect? The net is such an ingrained part of most of our daily lives that it seems to go without saying that using that technology is simple enough. We log on. We surf. We watch stuff and interact on social media. What more is there to know about this technology that has become such an integral part of our lives?
Survey results released on Tuesday point to something altogether different than what we might think, reported Time, Nov. 25. “Most Americans don’t understand how the internet works,” states their headline.
Sure, net users know the basic concepts surrounding internet usage and technology but Pew Research Center’s survey results showed that Americans didn’t even know the difference between the terms “Internet” and “The World Wide Web.” Contrary to what one might think, the two terms are not one and the same.
SFGate reported that the survey was conducted between Sept. 12-18 and included the results of 1,066 internet users who were 18 years of age and older. The senior researcher at Pew Research, Aaron Smith, thought it would be interesting to learn where gaps might be in internet users’ knowledge. The information could be very helpful to policy makers and tech designers.
Curious about how you might fair on the survey? A short version of the official quiz is online. Though it will not affect the results as reported in the media today, it will give you an idea on how much you really know about the web and current technologies.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
“New Media” as a term or resource is very difficult to define because of its breadth. The New Media Institute writes that it is a “catchall term used to define all that is related to the internet and the interplay between technology, images and sound.” It goes without saying that technology and New Media is changing every single day at a pace that is difficult for any one medium to keep up with, especially something like an old-school newspaper. It’s a world which seems to say, “flexibility or die.” Newspapers are all but phased and constantly have to come up with new and immediately innovative ways in which to get news to their readers like Facebook pages and smart phone apps.
And now, Facebook is in the game of becoming a personal newspaper for its readers, reported Phys.org on Nov. 23.It’s a prospect that maybe should seem frightening. Already, Facebook has been a game changer in the way that many receive their news. For many, Facebook has become the main, if not sole, news resource that is consulted on a regular basis. Mark Zuckerberg recently stated that he wants to take this idea even further with a clear goal of making Facebook users’ feeds “the perfect personalized newspaper for every person in the world.”
And this certainly sounds like a great idea. Facebook as a newspaper would be able to incorporate family and friends’ updates with world and local news that is specifically tailored to the interests of any Facebook user. Further, Facebook’s newsfeed would streamline all of the above in such a way that traditional newspapers cannot and would work much more efficiently than any news resource on its own could. Facebook as newspaper would simply give readers more of what they want, say some experts. “It’s intimate, it’s relevant, it’s extraordinarily timely and it’s about you,” stated Alan Mutter, former newspaper editor and current digital media ventures consultant, “That’s more than any newspaper can do.”
As time goes on, more and more readers will shirk old print mediums for digital and mobile ones. Further, making the news more personal and related to one’s interests does sound spot on. Haven’t we already been personalizing our newsfeeds to reflect accordingly to our tastes and curiosities? In the days of newspapers and magazines, didn’t we choose the rags that pertained to our interests the most?
In whatever case, it’s appearing more and more that traditional newspapers are just not going to be able to keep up. The model via which news has been broadcast has changed much more slowly since its inception than new and ever-changing models. Old-news mediums are eating New Media’s dust. Companies like Facebook, curated by algorithms, can’t be beat in their span and efficiency.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
Businesses went into the world of billing automation because it just makes things easier. It saves a lot of time and costs a lot less money than hiring whole telephone call centers and staff to do things like stuff envelopes, manually manage bills, and answer recurrent questions like, “When is my bill due?” and “How much do I owe?” We’ve come a long way, baby. Automation just works and saves some businesses hundreds of hours of time and tens of thousands of dollars.
But along with automation's boons, there are also some challenges that cause quite a bit of frustration for payees or even the surviving spouses of former, (spelled D-E-A-D) payees. One woman, widow Maria Raybould, can attest to this. In order to prove her case that her husband had passed, she literally had to take in her husband’s ashes,reported The Telegraph, Nov. 16. But even upon doing so, she still received threatening mail on the matter.
T-Mobile was adamant in collections on a contract from one David Raybould. He wasn’t using his phone, however. The man had passed away after a long fight against cancer and of course was unable to pay his bill.
His widow, Maria Raybould, was left behind to receive the harassment as a result. T-Mobile had sent out the collectors and bailiffs to forcefully collect on the unpaid bills or a cancellation fee after already having proven the death of her husband.
The Rayboulds’ son had called T-Mobile the day after Mr. Raybould had died to try to cancel the contract. It was something that couldn’t be done over the phone. T-Mobile needed to see a death certificate. Fair enough.
Maria Raybould went directly to a T-Mobile shop to show them all the proof she had concerning her husband’s death. She brought the death certificate and more. Funeral bills, an urn of ashes and a letter from the crematorium were also in tow.
But the mobile phone company still would not cancel the contract. Poor Maria lost it. “I went outside and had a panic attack,” she said. And while the young woman at the shop had told her they were going to stop the contract, letters still came that further collections actions were going to be carried out.
Of course, Maria was distraught. “How dare they put me and my sons through this after all we have been through already,” she said.
T-Mobile has since canceled the contract and apologized. The whole thing was apparently a mix-up due to a delay in the company’s billing automation system. Despite the cancellation having gone through, letters had already been in queue and had been sent.
“We apologise to Mrs Raybould for any distress caused at this difficult time. We can confirm that the account has been closed and the balance cleared," said one T-Mobile spokesman.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
NOAA Fisheries states that such acts (which happen globally) are a great threat to sustainability and conservation. Those who take part in illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU) ignore measures put in place that would prevent overfishing and therefore the devastation of oceanic environments.
The tool will be free (which is different than tools already available which are paid) and available to anyone with an internet connection. It uses satellites that usually track boats via an installed Automatic Identification System (AIS) so that they can avoid collisions when they are out to sea. The tool will allow viewers to find “trackable boat’s movements in real-time” as a way to “pinpoint suspicious fishing activities” that should be reported to the authorities. “Global Fishing Watch will ultimately give citizens a simple, online platform to visualize, track and share information about fishing activity worldwide,” writes Oceana on their website.
Similar technology has been used before by Google in efforts to protect endangered species from around the world. There are critics who believe that there is much danger in the way that Google is storing mass amounts of data from these tools. However, others, and perhaps some of the same who mention the danger, feel that this data gathering is important in lieu of the numbers. Illegal fishing “affects more than 35 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks.” It’s a number that could deplete the world’s marine fish stocks. That doesn’t just mean environmental changes. It also means considerably less food for humans.
It seems that the Global Fishing Watch tool is currently in its development stages. Funds for the tool still need to be raised and challenges such as being able to track boats that do not have an AIS installed on board need to be surpassed.
So, poachers, beware. The Global Fishing Watch website is already live and Google and its cohorts have made it clear that the responsibility of watching the planet’s oceans are in our hands: “With hundreds of millions of people around the world depending on our ocean for their livelihoods, and many more relying on the ocean for food, ensuring the long-term sustainability of our ocean is a critical global priority,” writes Global Fishing Watch, “We need a tool that harnesses the power of citizen engagement to hold our leaders accountable for maintaining an abundant ocean.”
The website’s full launch should be soon. It depends on how quickly fundraising efforts go. In all best cases, Global Fishing Watch will be available in 2015.
*originally published on the now defunct Examiner.com
According to some breeders, not only are Great Danes gentle giants but the mothers are excellent parents, as well. For the first two weeks after they have birthed a litter, pet owners barely have to do anything at all.Great Dane mothers are diligent in their care, doing all the things that mothers do like cleaning, feeding and keeping the puppies warm.
And good thing, too, since pet owners may find that once their four-legged friend has puppies, they may become more aggressive than usual. Protection of the little ones becomes a prime aim and reaching in unannounced could get a pet owner’s fingers nicked.
But one has to wonder how aggressive one Pennsylvanian Great Dane named Snowy might get on account of her task. ABC News reported on Nov. 17 that this particular Great Dane birthed a whopping litter of 19 puppies, which is highly unusual. Great Dane mothers typically birth between 7-10. She certainly has her work cut out for her.
The owners knew that fifteen of the little ones were coming. They had taken Snowy to a vet for X-rays and had seen 15 little spines. The day that the puppies were born gave an added surprise which was announced by cat-like meows when the first six of them had appeared.
On top of that, the pups had come early and, despite the early arrival, reports indicate that the puppies are doing just fine. They have just opened their little eyes and have begun exploring and playing.
The puppies are little balls of cute right now, but before too long they will all stand about three feet tall and weigh more than 100 lbs. That's certainly more than a few handfuls of dog for any pet owner to deal with.
What’s unique about the restaurant is that it doesn’t just serve some of the fast food standbys from other countries we have grown to love like falafel without its cultural significance attached. The restaurant is more commentary and social activism than novelty and instead serves food from one country at a time, rotating menus every six months, serving fare from countries with which the United States is in conflict, educating the public about food, culture, and politics.
The Washington Post reported on Nov. 14 that per Jon Rubin and Dawn Weleski, Conflict Kitchen’s aim is to not only expose their community to new food but to also promote understanding of other cultures. The restaurant has so far featured “food from Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, North Korea and Venezuela, dishing up lamb kebabs, kimchi and ceviche for 200 to 300 customers each day,” wrote the Washington Post. Along with their rotating menus, the restaurant hosts events that encourage education and understanding of the cultures they are promoting in any given 6-month span.
Over the years, the restaurant has received some criticism for their work. In recent news, however, criticism had escalated into death threats after the restaurant had changed over to a Palestinian menu last September. The death threats had prompted the restaurant to temporarily close. It seems that some parties wanted the restaurant’s efforts to be silenced.
“In September, Conflict Kitchen announced it would serve Palestinian food and celebrate Palestinian culture,” The Washington Post reported, “This choice — a chance to sell familiar dishes such as hummus and falafel with the lesser known, such as rumaniyya, maftoul and namoura — turned into more than just a menu change.”
But, since the restaurant’s reopening last Wednesday, support has been more than evident. “We are overwhelmed by the generous support we have received this week for the project and the rights of Palestinians to present their perspectives without fear of reprisal,” wrote Conflict Kitchen staff on their blog, on Nov. 13, “We are deeply moved by these responses and are excited to reopen and continue our programming.”
Dawn Weleski took some time to answer some questions about the closure and reopening of Conflict Kitchen this week. Below follows her responses:
What has been the response from the community in regards to the restaurant's reopening?
We’ve received an overwhelming response locally with hundreds of people posting notes in support and letters of encouragement on our restaurant’s facade. Last night, there was a large rally during which the public came and shared their support. Through a variety of social media, we’ve witnessed a huge outpouring of international support for the project, free speech, and the rights of Palestinians to present their perspectives without a fear of reprisal. We are deeply moved by these responses and are excited to reopen and continue our programming. Our Palestinian version has been the most popular iteration that we have presented in the past four years, with over 300 people a day coming to the restaurant. Our public has always approached us with trust and open minds.
Have the culprits who wrote the threatening letters been found out? Is this the first time such letters have been received?
We cannot comment on the matter, as it is still under investigation. We can tell you that this is the first time a letter such as this has been received.
Does Conflict Kitchen have multiple locations or has the restaurant just moved? If the latter, what prompted the move?
We only have one location. We moved two years ago to situate the project in the midst of a more diverse and populated area. We are currently positioned between two universities (Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh), as well as the Carnegie Library, Carnegie Art Museum and Carnegie Natural History Museum. Given these academic and cultural resources, it’s a magnet for a curious and diverse group of people.
Were past versions of the kitchen ever protested, threatened or criticized?
We’ve never been protested or threatened before. We have occasionally been criticized.
For some, the song may be a bit overplayed. Since its debut in 1892, “The Dance of the Sugarplum Fairy” has become quite the holiday staple, maybe even a theme for the snow and Christmas trees the song seems to evoke. But there’s a new band in town that has given the song a new spin, mashing it up with the musical theme from the James Bond 007 films. The two familiar pieces together result in a track that not only gets the ballerinas dancing but the listener, as well. As one of the fans on the band’s Facebook relates, the results of this mashup are “Bada**!”
“Codename Sugarplum” is the first release from an upcoming album by The Mile Heist Club, Denver’s premier “heist” music band. Since the band’s debut of the track on Friday, Nov. 14, it has received quite a bit of positive attention with listeners getting excited for what’s to come. Songs that follow will feature “upbeat retro-style drums ('60s and '70s funk/soul) with a repetitive bass riff and some horn section stabs,” said Mile Heist Club’s founder, Cameron Hays.
The track features Karen Bentley Pollick, Miriam McGilvray, Sarah Rybarik, and Nelson Walker on strings. According to the band’s Facebook page, band members include “Cameron Hays, Brad Smalling, Max Manoles, Scott Clements, Drew Jones, Ryan Jenson and a cast of thousands.” All musicians included are quite accomplished in their own right.
The album release date is TBA and the musicians are in session, rehearsing and recording at Evergroove Studios right now, laying down the horns, drums and guitar for the upcoming tracks. It shouldn’t be long before more tracks appear. In the meantime, you can listen to”Codename Sugarplum," here. If you dig it, give the band a like and follow on the Mile Heist Club’s Facebook page to keep up with upcoming news and releases.