The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings Do your co-workers really need to make their pets or toddlers part of the call? No.

My personal preference. Zoom has a great feature that allows one to choose a virtual background rather than one’s room (see settings):

In the age of coronavirus, many of us have transformed overnight from office workers into telecommuters. And we are increasingly relying on videoconferencing apps like Zoom and FaceTime to correspond with our peers.

But inevitably, with our homes and workplaces merging into one, the boundaries between our personal and professional lives are beginning to erode — and awkward situations have ensued.

By now, you may have had a few video calls with colleagues who took meetings in odd places, like their bathroom or closet, to avoid their children. Then there are the colleagues who surrender their boundaries entirely and let their children and pets be a part of the meeting.

It’s cute and heartwarming. But it can also prolong a meeting or derail it altogether.

“There’s the technical issues and the discomfort of it all — people aren’t used to being onscreen,” said Elaine Quinn, a Chicago entrepreneur who wrote the book “There’s No Place Like Working From Home. “They don’t think to look behind them and see what it is people will see.”

We all get it: No one was really prepared for this transition, and there are limitations to what we can all do. But now feels like an opportunity to bring up how to be kinder to your co-workers in workplace video calls, since they’re the ones the calls are really for in the end.

The bottom line: A bit of preparation goes a long way to making video calls more tolerable for you and your colleagues.

The No. 1 culprit of a painful videoconference is the quality of the call itself. If you can’t see or hear a colleague, what’s the point of a video call?

So before we video-chat with a colleague, the least we can do is a test run to ensure the call looks and sounds good, with minimal tech snafus. A few steps:

  • Preview your webcam. Mac users can launch the Photo Booth app, and Windows users can click the Start button, then Camera. Here, you can check your picture. Adjust your indoor lighting and camera angle to make your face look properly lit. And most important, be mindful of what’s in the background: Anything you wouldn’t want your colleagues to normally see, like your liquor collection or dirty laundry, should be out of the frame.

  • Test the microphone. Make sure you wear a headset with a built-in microphone or use an external microphone — the microphone included on laptops can sound very poor. The easiest way to make sure you sound good is to do a video call with a friend and ask how you sound, then adjust accordingly.

  • Check your internet speeds. Because so many people are staying home and using the internet at the same time, our bandwidth and service are slowing down in many neighborhoods. Visit speedtest.net to gauge your internet speeds. If your speeds are below 20 megabits per second, there’s a high likelihood your video is going to look pixelated and have audio delays. (My last column on the tech headaches of working from home goes over some solutions for slow internet.)

This may seem obvious, but plenty of people forget to mute their microphones before joining a call with multiple people.

That can lead to sounds like barking dogs and screaming children interfering in the call. On video-chatting services like Zoom and Google Hangouts, you have the option to turn off the microphone before joining a meeting, and everyone but the person leading the meeting should do it. Unmute only when it is your turn to speak.

With constrained internet bandwidth, you could even take the extra step and turn off your camera by default until you want to speak to the group. There’s no practical value in people watching you silently look at your camera.

Our families are more important than anyone, but that doesn’t mean our colleagues want to see our partners in their bathrobes, our cats sitting on keyboards or our children throwing toys.

That’s why it’s important to take a video call in a place where you can draw boundaries, if possible. The simplest physical boundary is a room with a door, which can be shut when you are on a video call.

Many of us who are now being required to work from home never had much physical space to begin with. But there are workarounds.

I lack a home office and work on my dining table. On video calls, I have made it a habit to point my web camera at a blank wall, away from common areas like the kitchen and hallway, and my earbuds are a visual cue for being on a video call.

The onus is on managers to make virtual meetings concise and engaging. That was already true for in-person meetings, but for virtual meetings, setting an agenda is even more crucial, said Ms. Quinn, who managed remote employees at pharmaceutical companies before starting the Solopreneur Specialist, a website for remote workers.

“You’re in private, and it’s easy to drift off,” she said.

Managers can take a number of approaches to make videoconferences more organized. For one, they can ask each employee ahead of the meeting to plan to talk about something specific, so that everyone has something to do and can stay engaged.

Conversely, if you have something better to do than be on a video call, it’s more polite to excuse yourself than it is to remain on the call and obviously stop paying attention.

If you do drift off and switch to a different app, like Twitter or Facebook, be aware that people may know. The Zoom app, for example, has a setting that lets hosts see if you have switched away from the Zoom app for more than 30 seconds — a dead giveaway that you aren’t paying attention.

In offices, businesses may feel tempted to rope people into conference rooms for back-to-back meetings. But with remote work, we don’t need to replicate all those meetings into videoconferences, said Jason Fried, a founder of Basecamp, a software company in Chicago that makes remote-working tools.

“That’s not what remote work is about,” said Mr. Fried, who co-wrote the book “Remote: Office Not Required.” “It’s about respecting people’s time and attention and space and giving people room.”

That’s partly because asking your colleagues to join a video call involves more than you might think. Not only do they have to test their tech setups before joining the call, but they have to make other arrangements, like getting a caretaker to take their children on a walk outside.

A good rule of thumb is to book video meetings sparingly. Ideally, reserve them for discussions that require visual aids, like presentations and documents.

There is no universal rule requiring you to use video chat to work from home. The old-fashioned telephone is just as good.

Last year when Mr. Fried’s team used videoconferencing to vet candidates for a marketing position for Basecamp, which is composed of remote workers, their final interviewee joined the call with his camera off. The candidate explained that he had his best conversations when he was walking around instead of sitting stiffly in front of a camera.

“He was like, ‘I want to be looking my best right now, and I’m better moving around,’” Mr. Fried said. “I really appreciated that, because he was just being himself.”

The company ended up hiring him.

Source: The Dos and Don’ts of Online Video Meetings

As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

This article, like so many, would benefit from some hard data to back up the assertions. Are there any studies on the number of university students without a computer? Without web access? Are international students less likely to have computers and web access than Canadian ones? Unlikely, given how they remain in contact with family.

Not to say that there are not digital and other divides but more than anecdotal evidence required before advocating for greater resources:

The COVID-19 pandemic reminds us that in times of turmoil, decisions made for the greater good can have collateral impacts. It’s becoming evident that efforts to contain the virus and limit social distancing are increasing precarity for some people, especially those already in socio-economically disadvantaged positions. Universities are not immune to these collateral impacts, and last week’s decision by most Canadian universities to finish the current term by moving pedagogical components online is one of those times when a small segment of students will be neglected in a move meant to benefit all of them.

The decision is a show of resilience and solidarity by our higher education institutions. But the problem is the digital divide among students. Even in our great cosmopolitan country, not everyone has equal access to the web and all its resources. This digital divide was on the radar a few years ago, with a push to bring broadband to remote constituencies. But less attention has been devoted to the divide in urban settings, and especially within the hubs of knowledge that are universities.

Yet, as is becoming apparent to education professionals like me, the digital divide exists among our students, and, like everywhere else, it reflects deeper socio-economic, gender and race inequalities. Existing disparities influence who are the “haves” and “have-nots” of information and communication technology. Our universities and student bodies are a microcosm of broader society; they reflect society’s divisions. Though digital disadvantage affects Canadian students, we also have a class of students, often from abroad and often women, with little to no economic safety net in Canada, who can be more cut off from the privileges of our affluent and digitally connected world. Though they are not alone in being affected by the digital divide, they are a group of students at risk of being more hurt by the online migration of teaching components.

We have made the right decision, driven by financial reasoning and the pursuit of diversity, to open our higher education institutions to increasing numbers of international students, including from the developing world. Yet we have not always reflected on the hardships many from the Global South face once they arrive in Canada, including high tuition, lack of funding during the summertime, and their need to support dependents here and abroad, which is often the case.

A number of our students cannot afford the technology that allows full access to university resources. Some students do not have data plans or connection speeds that would allow them to follow online courses, take part in virtual meetings on platforms such as Zoom, or have access to the suite of online resources the university has for research.

A 2018 American study showed that students often have the basics such as a cellphone, but 20 percent of students had difficulties accessing information because of hardware, data limits and connectivity issues. Underprivileged groups were likelier to fall within this percentage. For some, their reality is far from the privileged student we often imagine, the one who can go home and be highly connected to all the digital university has to offer.

Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment?

The decision on the part of universities to move all teaching components online is thus leading to heartbreaking decisions – some of the hardest decisions I have had to make in my career. These include: Do we continue to provide online courses to the many, knowingly excluding the few? How do we provide grades in a manner that is fair to all, knowing the constraints that some of our less privileged students will face in an all-digital environment? There are no simple answers. Most professors are adopting a two-tiered strategy: teach online to the many, offer alternatives to the others. In doing so, we are unwillingly reproducing the digital divide and the deeper inequalities that undergird it.

We are working hard to make sure no one will be left behind, but remedial solutions are always second-rate. We can send summaries of online discussions to students who cannot join; we can offer to take questions by email, text or phone. But they pale next to discussions online or recordings of entire lectures.

And, of course, campus libraries, labs remain open – for now – in many cases. Some people will ask: “Couldn’t these students go to campus to avail themselves of wi-fi there or research course material on university equipment?” But with people being told to stay off campuses, this is tantamount to asking our already underprivileged students to accept greater risks to their health and their family’s health so they can keep up with connected students. I have worked in parts of Africa (Great Lakes region, Francophone West Africa) over the last 15 years, and I have seen how the burden of risk is often shifted to those who are most disadvantaged.

Universities have other alternatives, from adopting one low-tech strategy for all, assigning term papers and exams that are less reliant on access to online resources, for example, to simply cancelling the term. Different strategies are being discussed. But for now, courses continue, papers are still due and exams will take place – most of this happening electronically. Digital divide or not, students need to keep accessing information. And they will in all likelihood continue to do so as we begin talking about Spring and Summer terms going online.

To be sure, not all university policies related to COVID-19 have neglected those who face structural discrimination. Many institutions have taken charge of students in residence who cannot return home, though, as of writing, universities are being increasingly more strict about who they agree to keep on campus. But the decision to steadfastly move ahead with an online end of semester is one that reminds us instead that these great institutions of higher knowledge, which we often take be built on a mission of equality and access to all, remain built on important divides and forms of discrimination.

There is little we can do immediately to address these structural inequalities in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. But eventually we must reflect on divides, digital and other, that are woven into the very functioning of our higher education, to address this discrimination and close the digital divide.

A first step would be to cultivate a greater awareness of the structural biases our students face. Universities talk of inclusion and like to show that students are welcome, but they fall short of understanding the real constraints some students live with, and how some of these are grounded in socio-economic, gender and race inequalities.

Measures could then be put in place, for example, to fund laptops, high speed home Internet or cellular data packages for low income students living off campus. The creation of robust funding packages throughout the year could help support international students from the Global South.

The coronavirus crisis reminds us that the use of technological tools can exacerbate exclusion and inequality. Once we have cared for our sick and moved beyond the immediate emergency, we should use our momentum for action to strive for more structurally inclusive higher education institutions.

Source: As universities move classes online, let’s not forget the digital divide

COVID-19 outrage as snowbirds flock across the border, shop and refuse to self-isolate

Too much exposure to Fox “news.” And they should know better:

A flock of homeward-bound snowbirds landed in Brockville on the weekend, settled overnight in the Walmart parking lot, and proceeded to shop in defiance of government directives that they self-isolate for 14 days, multiple witnesses report.

The actions of the returning Canadians struck fear and concern among store employees, fuelled angry social-media posts by residents, tested the patience of politicians and even prompted area municipal officials to take direct action.

On Saturday evening, more than 20 recreational vehicles, the majority of which had Quebec plates, parked in the Walmart parking lot, stayed overnight, and left Sunday morning. On Sunday night the count was 14 RVs, again predominantly Quebecers.

The snowbirds were returning from wintering in the United States, apparently heeding the Canadian government’s advice that they return home as the border was closed to non-essential traffic because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But while heeding the call to return, many of the snowbirds ignored other recommendations, in a pamphlet given to them at the border by customs officials, that they go straight home and stay there for 14 days.

Brockville Police say that people returning to Canada are not breaking any law by refusing to self-isolate so police are powerless to force them to do so.

In a statement, Brockville Police said the parking lots used by the RVs are private property but that police are willing to help enforce a parking ban if asked by the stores.

“We are working with local business to ask them to assist by not permitting overnight camping and screening people before they enter the store,” police said. “If they wish us to police their lots at night, we will certainly assist.”

Local MPP and provincial cabinet minister Steve Clark said he was disturbed to see the “travellers irresponsibly stopping to shop locally.”

“I’m working with officials to stop this serious problem that puts people at risk,” Clark said in a statement to constituents. “My message to those coming back to Canada is simple: Go straight home and stay there for 14 days.”

Mayor Jason Baker drafted a note to the travellers, translated into French by Coun. Nathalie Lavergne, that welcomed them to Brockville and reminded them of the advice to go into isolation for two weeks.

“We are happy to offer you a chance to rest as you are travelling home and need a break,” his notice reads. “We hope you respect the need to remain in isolation for the next 14 days. If you need supplies from these stores please place this form under your windshield wiper and we will try to help. We hope to see you visit our beautiful city again when life returns to normal.”

Baker also had a message for Brockville residents, asking them to be tolerant.

“These are Canadians trying to return home. Brockville can offer them a safe place to rest and we will do our best to make it safe for our front-line workers,” the mayor said.

“Together we can be a welcoming safe haven for our countrymen or we can be a community who turns people away. I know which community I want to lead.”

Two council members from Elizabethtown-Kitley took a more direct approach. Coun. Tom Linton, later aided by Mayor Brant Burrow, took it upon themselves to approach the RVers and inform them of the need to stay out of the stores.

Linton was passing the Walmart on Saturday evening when he estimated about 20 RVs in the parking lot. Burrow also went by and counted 22 in all.

Early the next morning, Linton was in the adjacent parking lot of the Real Canadian Superstore, where his daughter works. Senior citizens, some with canes and walkers, were lining up to enter the store when it opened for a special seniors’ shopping hour at 7 a.m., Linton said.

To his astonishment, an RV with Quebec plates peeled out of the Walmart parking lot from among the other RVs and stopped in front of the Superstore. A woman got out and stood behind the 15 to 20 seniors in line, he said.

Linton said he pulled his vehicle up to the woman and asked if she had just returned from the U.S. The woman admitted that she had.

“I told her that she shouldn’t be standing in that line. You’re putting those people at risk and you’re putting my daughter, who works there, at risk,” Linton said he told the woman, who eventually got back in the RV and left.

Linton then went to the Walmart parking lot and attempted to persuade the RVers, who had camped overnight, to stay out of the stores.

The discussions were polite, Linton said, and the majority of them listened, although a few snuck into the store when his back was turned.

Recorder and Times reporter Ronald Zajac witnessed one of those confrontations and acted as translator for the Quebecer who didn’t speak English and for Linton, who doesn’t speak French.

The man, who had just returned from Florida, was unconvinced by Linton, saying “I’m being careful.” He went into Walmart to buy garbage bags.

The actions of the returning Canadians struck fear and concern among store employees, fuelled angry social-media posts by residents, tested the patience of politicians and even prompted area municipal officials to take direct action. Reuters

Linton concedes it’s above and beyond his job as a councillor to be arguing with people in a parking lot.

But “my daughter works at the Superstore – she’s wiping down things to keep other people safe – and people are taking it upon themselves to put people at risk,” Linton said.

On Monday morning, Linton, accompanied by Burrow, were back in the Walmart parking lot and they managed to persuade all of the people in the 14 RVs to stay out of the store, they said.

Linton said he will be back at the Walmart again.

“As long as my daughter is in danger, her father is not going to stand by with his hands in his pocket,” Linton said.

Burrow took it upon himself to call the managers of major stores in Brockville – Walmart, Superstore, Home Depot, Canadian Tire and Food Basics – to notify them of the problem of Canadians returning from the U.S. He said if Linton managed to chase them away from Walmart, the travellers might try elsewhere and he wanted to warn the other stores.

Burrow said he was talking with Baker to work up a schedule of some Brockville councillors to supplement Linton’s and his efforts in the Walmart parking lot. (Baker, who is self-isolating, can’t be there himself.)

Every new group of RVers returning to Canada will have to be educated because “some people just don’t seem to get it,” Burrow said.

The ultimate aim is to shame Walmart into taking action on its own since it’s their store, their parking lot, Burrow said.

Baker said that city staffers were meeting with Walmart management on Monday to seek a solution.

Source: COVID-19 outrage as snowbirds flock across the border, shop and refuse to self-isolate

How the pandemic is highlighting Canada’s class divide

Not surprising that the impact is greatest on those with precarious employment or low income. Hopefully some of the measures announced today will be effective in attenuating the impact:

While the pasta, beans and toilet paper were being cleared off the shelves of nearby supermarkets on a recent night, Ines Garcia was at home in her Toronto apartment, eating a meal of rice with corn and beef, all made with groceries purchased on sale in bulk before the novel coronavirus panic had truly taken hold of her city. She didn’t have the luxury of building a pandemic stockpile – she was worried about how she was going to pay rent in April.

Ms. Garcia, 54, lives in a subsidized apartment in the city’s Regent Park neighbourhood and her two part-time jobs support her teenaged children and her octogenarian mother. She’ll be missing a large chunk of her income when Ontario schools close for two weeks after March break, since one of her jobs is lunch supervisor at a school. She anticipates the other job, at a women’s clothing store, might abruptly end soon if the government expands orders for non-essential businesses to close.

“People are already living in poverty and then when you’re working part-time and you don’t have that cheque coming in, that makes it worse for all the people who depend on that cheque,” Ms. Garcia said.

The spread of the coronavirus has put a spotlight on the stark class divisions in Canada. Low-income Canadians and the agencies that serve them say directives given by public health officials and relief offered by the federal government are overlooking a huge swath of the population. How do you self-isolate when “home” is a crowded shelter? How do you take time off work when you have no paid sick days? How do you build up a stockpile of food and supplies when you struggle to afford groceries each week?

Many – including part-time workers such as Ms. Garcia, as well as many who are self-employed or part of the gig economy – don’t qualify for employment insurance. And access to paid leave for sickness or other reasons is limited for those with low incomes.

“It is immediately clear that lower-income workers are already substantially more likely to be taking leave that is unpaid – and are therefore far more likely to face the prospect of an unpaid quarantine,” said David Macdonald, an economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in a report published this week. His research found that those in the top income decile had 74 per cent of their leaves covered in 2019, while just 14 per cent of those in the lowest decile did.

“There’s a bit of a middle-class bias to all the interventions,” said Paul Taylor, the executive director of FoodShare Toronto, a non-profit devoted to food education.

And as panic gives rise to a sense of individualism – let me get a month’s supply of food for my family, let me find a nanny to look after my kids – “for folks with low incomes, they are really struggling to figure out, ‘Oh, my goodness, I can’t afford to stockpile food,'” Mr. Taylor said. “There’s no funding support available for those who are going to be struggling with access to childcare.”

An uptick in layoffs and reduced shifts have food banks bracing for an increase in demand and concern about how they’ll continue to operate, especially given a drop in donations as of late, says Kirstin Beardsley, the chief network services officer of Food Banks Canada.

“What we are hearing is that existing clients are very stressed about not being able to assemble two weeks’ worth of food should they need it,” she said.

Many food banks also feel strained because they rely heavily on volunteers, whose numbers have dropped following social distancing recommendations, Ms. Beardsley said. In response, they have been consolidating operations with small teams and using low-touch pickup systems.

Social distancing recommendations have also spelled financial peril for chef Sophia Banks, 40, and her partner. They have poured the past four months of time and funds into creating a product that was to have its debut at Vancouver’s Vegan Night Market on March 19, which has been indefinitely postponed. She had expected to make a few thousand dollars in sales.

“Right now, it’s kind of at the end where it’s like, okay, we have no money left,” she said. With no savings to pull from, she might normally pick up catering gigs, but with widespread event cancellations, no such opportunities exist.

“We’re all going to see our income just completely dry up from all of this,” she said. “This is going to be a huge crisis, like we’re gonna have hundreds of thousands of people in Canada unable to pay rent in a few weeks.”

Organizations who work with low-income earners or the precariously employed agree that a relief package in the form of cash transfers for individuals or families would be most beneficial to offset the current turmoil. In Japan, for example, the government gave out cash subsidies to cover lost wages for parents forced to care for their children because of school closures, or workers who had to self-quarantine at home.

That relief may be coming in Canada, but for those in the most dire situation – the homeless, many of whom struggle with mental illness and addictions – the greatest help would come from the government providing an emergency fund for shelters to increase spaces, said Rick Lees, the executive director at Winnipeg’s Main Street Project.

“There’s absolutely no logical system in place to deal with the most vulnerable and most marginalized,” he said. “While we’re telling people to not congregate in [groups of] greater than 250, or even 50, nobody has a plan for the 110 people that will sleep side by side in our shelter.”

In Toronto, the city announced Tuesday, the shelter system is temporarily expanding into empty municipal facilities that will allow for better social distancing between clients. If someone is being tested for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, they will not be allowed to enter the regular shelter system and instead be taken to an isolated space until they receive their results.

While she welcomed the city’s move to create more space in response to the pandemic, Patricia Mueller, the chair of the Toronto Shelter Network, said general directives from public health – like frequent and thorough hand washing, for example – can be challenging to implement.

She explained that alcohol-based sanitizer dispensers can’t be mounted in public spaces in all shelters because “there have been cases where clients have stolen it in desperation … and some people are afraid to take a shower because they have this paranoia that their things are going to be stolen, right? So we have to work within the realm of all of those issues with all of our clients.”

Source: theglobeandmail.com/canada/article…

Germany tries to halt U.S. interest in firm working on coronavirus vaccine

Pretty reprehensible actions if true (in line with the America first rhetoric):

Berlin is trying to stop Washington from persuading a German company seeking a coronavirus vaccine to move its research to the United States, prompting German politicians to insist no country should have a monopoly on any future vaccine.

German government sources told Reuters on Sunday that the U.S. administration was looking into how it could gain access to a potential vaccine being developed by a German firm, CureVac.

Earlier, the Welt am Sonntag German newspaper reported that U.S. President Donald Trump had offered funds to lure CureVac to the United States, and the German government was making counter-offers to tempt it to stay.

Responding to the report, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, wrote on Twitter: “The Welt story was wrong.”

A U.S. official said: “This story is wildly overplayed … We will continue to talk to any company that claims to be able to help. And any solution found would be shared with the world.”

A German Health Ministry spokeswoman, confirming a quote in the newspaper, said: “The German government is very interested in ensuring that vaccines and active substances against the new coronavirus are also developed in Germany and Europe.”

“In this regard, the government is in intensive exchange with the company CureVac,” she added.

Welt am Sonntag quoted an unidentified German government source as saying Trump was trying to secure the scientists’ work exclusively, and would do anything to get a vaccine for the United States, “but only for the United States.”

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told a news conference that the government’s coronavirus crisis committee would discuss the CureVac case on Monday.

CureVac issued a statement on Sunday, in which it said: “The company rejects current rumors of an acquisition”.

CureVac’s main investor Dietmar Hopp said he was not selling and wanted CureVac to develop a coronavirus vaccine to “help people not just regionally but in solidarity across the world.”

“I would be glad if this could be achieved through my long-term investments out of Germany,” he added.

A German Economy Ministry spokeswoman said Berlin “has a great interest” in producing vaccines in Germany and Europe.

She cited Germany’s foreign trade law, under which Berlin can examine takeover bids from non-EU, so-called third countries “if national or European security interests are at stake”.

EXPERIMENTAL VACCINE

Florian von der Muelbe, CureVac’s chief production officer and co-founder, told Reuters last week the company had started with a multitude of coronavirus vaccine candidates and was now selecting the two best to go into clinical trials.

The privately-held company based in Tuebingen, Germany hopes to have an experimental vaccine ready by June or July to then seek the go-ahead from regulators for testing on humans.

On its website, CureVac said CEO Daniel Menichella early this month met Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force and senior representatives of pharmaceutical and biotech companies to discuss a vaccine.

CureVac in 2015 and 2018 secured financial backing for development projects from its investor the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, working on shots to prevent malaria and influenza.

In the field of so-called mRNA therapeutics, CureVac competes with U.S. biotech firm Moderna and German rival BioNTech, which Pfizer (PFE.N) has identified as a potential collaboration partner.

Drugs based on mRNA provide a type of genetic blueprint that can be injected into the body to instruct cells to produce the desired therapeutic proteins. That contrasts with the conventional approach of making these proteins in labs and bio-reactors.

In the case of vaccines, the mRNA prompts body cells to produce so-called antigens, the tell-tale molecules on the surface of viruses, that spur the immune system into action.

Companies working on other coronavirus-vaccine approaches include Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and INOVIO Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (INO.O).

Source:  Germany tries to stop U.S. from luring away firm seeking coronavirus vaccine

Coren: Change can be intimidating, but that doesn’t justify turning words like ‘woke’ into slurs

Another interesting column by Michael Coren. Best line IMO “while I’ve no idea if I’m “woke” or not, I hope I’m not asleep”:

Back in the late 1970s while living in the U.K., I took a university course on modern British history. In one tutorial we discussed pre-war fascism and its leader, the repugnant Sir Oswald Mosley, whose black-shirted followers would randomly attack Jewish people in London’s East End. One of the young men sitting around the table said, “We had that chap speak at our school once.”

Silence. I broke it by asking if there were any Jewish children at the school. Pause. “I rather think there were,” he drawled. How, I asked, do you think they felt? His reply: “I have absolutely no idea.”

No, he certainly didn’t.It’s increasingly fashionable to make fun of, dismiss, even insult concepts of “political correctness” and “woke,” and to describe progressive comment as “virtue signalling.” The habit, a spasm really, used to be the preserve of the hard right, but has become increasingly common in the mainstream.

The well-known British actor Laurence Fox recently became something of a hero to some, for example, when he appeared on a highly popular weekly television show and made the correct noises for conservative-minded viewers. He then solidified his status by claiming that he would never date a woman under the age of 35 because they are “too woke” and that “woke people are fundamentally racist.”

In Canada, federal Conservative Party leadership contender Erin O’Toole ran an ad in January in which he said he would, “defend our history, our institutions against attacks from cancel culture and the radical left.

Cancel culture — the most important issue to everybody in Canada! No doubt he said it because he thinks, or was told, that it hits home within right-wing circles, among people who genuinely believe that free speech and contrary opinion are distant memories. And it probably did.

Which is odd, because almost every weekend when I look at Twitter I find right-wing journalists trending because of yet another ultra-conservative and provocative opinion expressed in their newspaper column. I also see the same types of people – white, usually male, invariably from similar backgrounds – dominant in politics and business.

I graduated from the University of Toronto last year as a mature student after spending three years studying for a Masters of Divinity degree. Based on all the noise around woke culture, I’d confidently expected a hotbed of censorship and intolerance. In fact, it was incredibly similar to the university I’d attended in Britain three decades earlier, other than the students were generally more studious and less self-indulgent

Which is not to say that there are not problems. As society evolves and power is redistributed, there will be abuses and extremes. The healthier rhythms of a balanced and just culture will eventually settle, but it’s hard to deny that there are people on the far left, sour and jargon-adoring puritans, who seem to define themselves by how offended they are. Sometimes about everything.

They seek to control, curtail and ban, and they can be harsh and even violent. We learn about their excesses, however, not because they are particularly common occurrences, but usually because those who are their victims, tellingly and ironically, have access to media.

But these zealots are a small and vocal minority, and are little different from those on the far right with similar notions.

Six years ago, after I embraced a more open and radical view of my Christian faith and in particular spoke out in support of equal marriage, I was banned from speeches, fired from jobs, harassed and vilified. My children’s Facebook pages were trolled, my wife received letters demanding that she leave me, and I was accused of being a rapist and a thief. By the very sort of people who shout “woke” at those with whom they disagree. I know this because they said it, and still say it, to me.

That alliance of the polarized and irrational is hardly surprising, and both sides — the far left and the far right — are convinced that it’s the other, not them, who is the problem.

I appreciate that change can be intimidating, and I say this as a 61-year-old white, straight man. But this doesn’t justify sweeping generalizations and turning “woke” and similar terms into abuse. It’s not only facile and inaccurate, it also reveals an enormous misreading of life’s realities.What we might think of as political correctness is, at its best, being socially aware and sensitive.

It’s about developing a visceral and emotional understanding, openness to transformation, and the ability to admit painful and often shocking truths about oneself. Privilege isn’t linear, but it is genuine — and about the only people to deny that are those who fail to grasp their own possession of it.

The recently canonized Cardinal Newman, although often adored by modern conservatives, wrote that, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” That implies a permanent revolution of new vision, an ever-expanding circle of sympathy and ideas. It’s not easy, and if it were it probably wouldn’t be the real thing.

It was not very long ago that jokes about racial minorities, LGBTQ2 people, and anybody else outside of society’s circle of dominance were mainstream and common. Today most of us cringe when we recall that time, but some still try to justify it with, “They were just jokes!”

Not for their targets.

I’d much rather signal a virtue than scream a vice. And while I’ve no idea if I’m “woke” or not, I hope I’m not asleep.

The bloodstream of the body politic is receiving a transfusion, and while a few toxins might sometimes be flowing, we’ll all likely be a lot healthier in the end.

Source: Change can be intimidating, but that doesn’t justify turning words like ‘woke’ into slurs

As New Coronavirus Spread, China’s Old Habits Delayed Fight At critical turning points, Chinese authorities put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis and risking public alarm or political embarrassment.

Another example of good detailed reporting on analyzing the timeline and steps taken and not taken, exposing one of the failings of the Chinese government:

A mysterious illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital, and a doctor tried to warn his medical school classmates. “Quarantined in the emergency department,” the doctor, Li Wenliang, wrote in an online chat group on Dec. 30, referring to patients.

“So frightening,” one recipient replied, before asking about the epidemic that began in China in 2002 and ultimately killed nearly 800 people. “Is SARS coming again?”

In the middle of the night, officials from the health authority in the central city of Wuhan summoned Dr. Li, demanding to know why he had shared the information. Three days later, the police compelled him to sign a statement that his warning constituted “illegal behavior.”

The illness was not SARS, but something similar: a coronavirus that is now on a relentless march outward from Wuhan, throughout the country and across the globe, killing at least 304 people in China and infecting more than 14,380 worldwide.

The virus has sickened more than 14,500 people in China and 23 other countries.

The government’s initial handling of the epidemic allowed the virus to gain a tenacious hold. At critical moments, officials chose to put secrecy and order ahead of openly confronting the growing crisis to avoid public alarm and political embarrassment.

A reconstruction of the crucial seven weeks between the appearance of the first symptoms in early December and the government’s decision to lock down the city, based on two dozen interviews with Wuhan residents, doctors and officials, on government statements and on Chinese media reports, points to decisions that delayed a concerted public health offensive.

In those weeks, the authorities silenced doctors and others for raising red flags. They played down the dangers to the public, leaving the city’s 11 million residents unaware they should protect themselves. They closed a food market where the virus was believed to have started, but didn’t broadly curb the wildlife trade.

Their reluctance to go public, in part, played to political motivations as local officials prepared for their annual congresses in January. Even as cases climbed, officials declared repeatedly that there had likely been no more infections.

By not moving aggressively to warn the public and medical professionals, public health experts say, the Chinese government lost one of its best chances to keep the disease from becoming an epidemic.

“This was an issue of inaction,” said Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations who studies China. “There was no action in Wuhan from the local health department to alert people to the threat.”

The first case, the details of which are limited and the specific date unknown, was in early December. By the time the authorities galvanized into action on Jan. 20, the disease had grown into a formidable threat.

It is now a global health emergency. It has triggered travel restrictions around the world, shaken financial markets and created perhaps the greatest challenge yet for China’s leader, Xi Jinping. The crisis could upend Mr. Xi’s agenda for months or longer, even undermining his vision of a political system that offers security and growth in return for submission to iron-fisted authoritarianism.

On the last day of 2019, after Dr. Li’s message was shared outside the group, the authorities focused on controlling the narrative. The police announced that they were investigating eight people for spreading rumors about the outbreak.

That same day, Wuhan’s health commission, its hand forced by those “rumors,” announced that 27 people were suffering from pneumonia of an unknown cause. Its statement said there was no need to be alarmed.

“The disease is preventable and controllable,” the statement said.

Dr. Li, an ophthalmologist, went back to work after being reprimanded. On Jan. 10, he treated a woman for glaucoma. He did not know she had already been infected with the coronavirus, probably by her daughter. They both became sick. So would he.

Hu Xiaohu, who sold processed pork in the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, sensed by late December that something was amiss. Workers were coming down with nagging fevers. No one knew why but, Mr. Hu said, several were in hospital quarantine.

The market occupies much of a block in a newer part of the city, sitting incongruously near apartment buildings and shops catering to the growing middle class. It is a warren of stalls selling meats, poultry and fish, as well as more exotic fare, including live reptiles and wild game that some in China prize as delicacies. According to a report by the city’s center for disease control, sanitation was dismal, with poor ventilation and garbage piled on wet floors.

In hospitals, doctors and nurses were puzzled to see a cluster of patients with symptoms of a viral pneumonia that did not respond to the usual treatments. They soon noticed that many patients had one thing in common: They worked in Huanan market.

On Jan. 1, police officers showed up at the market, along with public health officials, and shut it down. Local officials issued a notice that the market was undergoing an environmental and hygienic cleanup related to the pneumonia outbreak. That morning, workers in hazmat suits moved in, washing out stalls and spraying disinfectants.

It was, for the public, the first visible government response to contain the disease. The day before, on Dec. 31, national authorities had alerted the World Health Organization’s office in Beijing of an outbreak.

How Bad Will the Coronavirus Outbreak Get? Here Are 6 Key Factors

Here’s what early research says about how the pathogen behaves and the factors that will determine whether it can be contained.

City officials struck optimistic notes in their announcements. They suggested they had stopped the virus at its source. The cluster of illnesses was limited. There was no evidence the virus spread between humans.

Wuhan Coronavirus

  • Impact in the U.S.

    Updated Jan. 31, 2020

    • There have been seven confirmed cases in the U.S., but no deaths. Anxiety is intense on college campuses.
    • The 195 Americans who were evacuated from Wuhan to California have been quarantined as one person tried to flee.
    • President Trump has temporarily suspended entry into the U.S. for any foreign nationals who have traveled to China.
    • Delta, United and American Airlines are suspending service from the U.S. and China.

“Projecting optimism and confidence, if you don’t have the data, is a very dangerous strategy,” said Alexandra Phelan, a faculty research instructor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Georgetown University.

“It undermines the legitimacy of the government in messaging,” she added. “And public health is dependent on public trust.”

Nine days after the market closed, a man who shopped there regularly became the first fatality of the disease, according to a report by the Wuhan Health Commission, the agency that oversees public health and sanitation. The 61-year-old, identified by his last name, Zeng, already had chronic liver disease and a tumor in his abdomen, and had checked into Wuhan Puren Hospital with a raging fever and difficulty breathing.

The authorities disclosed the man’s death two days after it happened. They did not mention a crucial detail in understanding the course of the epidemic. Mr. Zeng’s wife had developed symptoms five days after he did.

She had never visited the market.

About 20 miles from the market, scientists at the Wuhan Institute of Virology were studying samples from the patients checking into the city’s hospitals. One of the scientists, Zheng-Li Shi, was part of the team that tracked down the origins of the SARS virus, which emerged in the southern province of Guangdong in 2002.

As the public remained largely in the dark about the virus, she and her colleagues quickly pieced together that the new outbreak was related to SARS. The genetic composition suggested a common initial host: bats. The SARS epidemic began when a coronavirus jumped from bats to Asian palm civets, a catlike creature that is legally raised and consumed. It was likely that this new coronavirus had followed a similar path — possibly somewhere in or on the way to the Huanan market or another market like it.

Around the same time, Dr. Li and other medical professionals in Wuhan started trying to provide warnings to colleagues and others when the government did not. Lu Xiaohong, the head of gastroenterology at City Hospital No. 5, told China Youth Daily that she had heard by Dec. 25 that the disease was spreading among medical workers — a full three weeks before the authorities would acknowledge the fact. She did not go public with her concerns, but privately warned a school near another market.

By the first week of January, the emergency ward in Hospital No. 5 was filling; the cases included members of the same family, making it clear that the disease was spreading through human contact, which the government had said was not likely.

No one realized, the doctor said, that it was as serious as it would become until it was too late to stop it.

“I realized that we had underestimated the enemy,” she said.

At the Institute of Virology, Dr. Shi and her colleagues isolated the genetic sequence and the viral strain during the first week of January. They used samples from seven of the first patients, six of them vendors at the market.

On Jan. 7, the institute’s scientists gave the new coronavirus its identity and began referring to it by the technical shorthand 2019-nCoV. Four days later, the team shared the virus’s genetic makeup in a public database for scientists everywhere to use.

That allowed scientists around the world to study the virus and swiftly share their findings. As the scientific community moved quickly to devise a test for exposure, political leaders remained reluctant to act.

As the virus spread in early January, the mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, was touting futuristic health care plans for the city.

It was China’s political season, when officials gather for annual meetings of People’s Congresses — the Communist Party-run legislatures that discuss and praise policies. It is not a time for bad news.

When Mr. Zhou delivered his annual report to the city’s People’s Congress on Jan. 7 against a backdrop of bright red national flags, he promised the city top-class medical schools, a World Health Expo, and a futuristic industry park for medical companies. Not once did he or any other city or provincial leader publicly mention the viral outbreak.

“Stressing politics is always No. 1,” the governor of Hubei, Wang Xiaodong, told officials on Jan. 17, citing Mr. Xi’s precepts of top-down obedience. “Political issues are at any time the most fundamental major issues.”

Shortly after, Wuhan went ahead with a massive annual potluck banquet for 40,000 families from a city precinct, which critics later cited as evidence that local leaders took the virus far too lightly.

As the congress was taking place, the health commission’s daily updates on the outbreak said again and again that there were no new cases of infection, no firm evidence of human transmission and no infection of medical workers.

“We knew this was not the case!” said a complaint later filed with the National Health Commission on a government website. The anonymous author said he was a doctor in Wuhan and described a surge in unusual chest illnesses beginning Jan. 12.

Officials told doctors at a top city hospital “don’t use the words viral pneumonia on the image reports,” according to the complaint, which has since been removed. People were complacent, “thinking that if the official reports had nothing, then we were exaggerating,” the doctor explained.

Even those stricken felt lulled into complacency.

When Dong Guanghe developed a fever on Jan. 8 in Wuhan, his family was not alarmed, his daughter said. He was treated in the hospital and sent home. Then, 10 days later, Mr. Dong’s wife fell ill with similar symptoms.

“The news said nothing about the severity of the epidemic,” said the daughter, Dong Mingjing. “I thought that my dad had a common cold.”

The government’s efforts to minimize public disclosure persuaded more than just untrained citizens.

“If there are no new cases in the next few days, the outbreak is over,” Guan Yi, a respected professor of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong, said on Jan. 15.

The World Health Organization’s statements during this period echoed the reassuring words of Chinese officials.

It had spread. Thailand reported the first confirmed case outside China on Jan. 13.

The first deaths and the spread of the disease abroad appeared to grab the attention of the top authorities in Beijing. The national government dispatched Zhong Nanshan, a renowned and now-semiretired epidemiologist who was instrumental in the fight against SARS, to Wuhan to assess the situation.

He arrived on Jan. 18, just as the tone of local officials was shifting markedly. A health conference in Hubei Province that day called on medical workers to make the disease a priority. An internal document from Wuhan Union Hospital warned its employees that the coronavirus could be spread through saliva.

On Jan. 20, more than a month after the first symptoms spread, the current of anxiety that had been steadily gaining strength exploded into public. Dr. Zhong announced in an interview on state television that there was no doubt that the coronavirus spread with human contact. Worse, one patient had infected at least 14 medical personnel.

Mr. Xi, fresh from a state visit to Myanmar, made his first public statement about the outbreak, issuing a brief set of instructions.

It was only with the order from Mr. Xi that the bureaucracy leapt into action. At that point the death toll was three; in the next 11 days, it would rise above 200.

In Wuhan, the city banned tour groups from visiting. Residents began pulling on masks.

Guan Yi, the Hong Kong expert who had earlier voiced optimism that the outbreak could level off, was now alarmed. He dropped by one of the city’s other food markets and was shocked by the complacency, he said. He told city officials that the epidemic was “already beyond control” and would leave. “I hurriedly booked a departure,” Dr. Guan told Caixin, a Chinese news organization.

Two days later, the city announced that it was shutting itself down, a move that could only have been approved by Beijing.

In Wuhan, many residents said they did not grasp the gravity of the epidemic until the lockdown. The mass alarm that officials feared at the start became a reality, heightened by the previous paucity of information.

Crowds of people crushed the airport and train stations to get out before the deadline fell on the morning of Jan. 23. Hospitals were packed with people desperate to know if they, too, were infected.

“We didn’t wear masks at work. That would have frightened off customers,” Yu Haiyan, a waitress from rural Hubei, said of the days before the shutdown. “When they closed off Wuhan, only then did I think, ‘Oh, this is really serious, this is not some average virus.’”

Wuhan’s mayor, Zhou Xianwang, later took responsibility for the delay in reporting the scale of the epidemic, but said he was hampered by the national law on infectious diseases. That lawallows provincial governments to declare an epidemic only after receiving central government approval. “After I receive information, I can only release it when I’m authorized,” he said.

The official reflex for suppressing discomforting information now appears to be cracking, as officials at various levels seek to shift blame for the government’s response.

With the crisis worsening, Dr. Li’s efforts are no longer viewed as reckless. A commentary on the social media account of the Supreme People’s Court criticized the police for investigating people for circulating rumors.

“It might have been a better way to prevent and control the new coronavirus today if the public had believed the ‘rumor’ then and started to wear masks and carry out sanitary measures and avoid the wild animal market,” the commentary said.

Dr. Li is 34 and has a child. He and his wife are expecting a second in the summer. He is now recovering from the virus in the hospital where he worked. In an interview via text messages, he said he felt aggrieved by the police actions.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” he said, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”

Source: China Silenced Doctors and Focused on Secrecy as Coronavirus First SpreadChina Silenced Doctors and Focused on Secrecy as Coronavirus First SpreadAt critical turning points, Chinese authorities put secrecy and order ahead of confronting the growing crisis and risking alarm or political embarrassment.The Times reconstructed the crucial seven weeks when it grew into a crisis.

Chinese Universities Are Enshrining Communist Party Control In Their Charters

Sigh. As some have noted, has potential implications in terms of how other countries treat Chinese degrees:

It wasn’t just the fact that one of China’s best universities had changed its charter last December to emphasize loyalty to the ruling Communist Party that raised eyebrows. Shanghai’s Fudan University also deleted principles like freedom of thought, and did so publicly, as if expecting praise.

Furious students staged a rare and risky protest in the school cafeteria in December. They sang the school’s anthem, which praises academic freedom.

“Everyone was enraged,” one of the student protesters told NPR. She withheld her name because of the almost certain repercussions for speaking publicly on the matter.

To disguise their protest plans, the students publicized the event as a marriage proposal.

Fudan is one of at least three universities that have revised their charters since 2018, emphasizing unswerving loyalty to the Communist Party, an NPR analysis found. They have downgraded or erased language about academic freedom from their charters, while adding a new clause: “The university Communist Party committee is the core leadership of the school.”

The move is part of a broader trend that has been growing since 2013, the year Xi Jinping became China’s president. From 2013 to 2017, at least 109 universities unveiled their first-ever charters, affirming party leadership, according to NPR’s analysis.

The new charters effectively hand the party ultimate control over the schools’ administration, mirroring how the party dominates government agencies.

Some of China’s most prestigious universities, including Beijing’s Peking University and Renmin University, have new charters. And Nanjing University, which amended its charter in December, has a prominent international studies program jointly administered with Johns Hopkins University.

Academic freedom has always been precarious in China, although the 2000s saw a brief liberalization. But since Xi took office, academics say, ideological constraints have intensified, stifling discourse and innovation at home even as China seeks a global footprint in academia.

There are still some holdouts. For example, East China Normal University and Wuhan University — which have joint-venture campuses in the Shanghai area with New York University and Duke University, respectively — have not amended their charters, which still contain commitments to academic freedom.

But at the universities that have adopted pro-party charters, say academics interviewed by NPR, the rule change encapsulates some of the difficulties that educators face in China.

“I think it is a good thing that charters now reflect reality more accurately,” says Qiao Mu, who once taught journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University. He left China for the U.S. in 2017 after his career was stymied because of his political outspokenness. “Why include all this pretty language about democratic freedom and freedom of thought if there is none of that?”

Teachers punished

Cao Zhenhua has experienced the restraints firsthand. In 2018, he was fired as a lecturer at Guizhou Minzu University after being accused of questioning the current relevance of Marxism in a seminar.

“The university party secretary, institute director and local party officials tried to move me to library duties because of my political problems, but I put up a huge fight,” Cao remembers. Four professors were docked pay, but because Cao pushed back on his punishment, he was dismissed.

“This kind of ideological thinking is like that of the class-struggle sessions during the Cultural Revolution,” Cao says, referring to a violent period in the 1960s and 1970s in China when Chairman Mao Zedong sought to root out political enemies.

Universities’ local party representatives, backed by an emboldened public security apparatus, increasingly call the shots at school. When Yang Shaozheng, a former economics professor at Guizhou University, came under fire in 2018 for writing and commenting critically on Chinese politics, public security officials called him in and reprimanded him.

“They said, ‘You can no longer use case studies drawn from reality in your lectures. You also must stop publishing political essays online.’ They told me, ‘Shut your stinking mouth.’ I told them, as a university professor, what I choose to talk about is my right,” Yang recounts, his voice rising in anger at the memory.

University administrators did not defend him. Yang was fired that August.

Campus party informants

Much of the control on campuses is implemented through low-tech means: human monitors. Students say classes are quietly seeded with student party members, who secretly report what teachers and students opine during lectures to party committees and school counselors.

“It took so much effort to say even one phrase. You had to pay attention to people’s expressions. One person might hear me and agree. But another person might hear me and report me. I could not give lectures in such circumstances, short of simply reading from the textbook,” says You Shengdong.

You, an economics professor, was sacked in 2018 from Xiamen University, he says, after unknown students reported him for criticizing slogans used by Chinese leader Xi and the growing role of inefficient state-owned enterprises in the economy. Administrators, threatening to draw on footage taken from cameras installed in his classroom, sided with the students who reported him.

Notices at Shaanxi Normal University, one of the three universities that publicly changed their charters to reflect party loyalty in December, detail the responsibilities of student spies, or “information officers,” as they are officially called. These informants must possess “a certain level of political sensitivity,” the notices say, and must report on student and teacher opinions regarding school and national policies as well as any “major social events.”

“We simply keep an eye on things,” says an undergraduate information officer at Peking University who declined to be named because of the political sensitivity of this work.

December’s anthem-singing protest at Fudan University illustrates just how such a monitoring network can mobilize to quickly control small-scale incidents.

A student who created the chat group to organize the protest deleted the group from WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app, in the early morning hours before the event, after his school counselor got wind of the scheme and pressured him to withdraw.

University counselors assigned to students are responsible for their “political thought education,” to make sure they are both on track academically and also steering clear of political activities, according to university hiring notices.

The day after the singing protest, members of the party youth league at Fudan University posted a prewritten statement on WeChat: “The school anthem remains the same. Not only does Fudan have academic independence and freedom of thought, but it also educates the country’s future leaders, strengthens the university and protects the country. The determination that led us to Fudan in the first place hasn’t changed. If given a second chance, I’d still choose Fudan.” Professors who posted veiled statements of support for the protest on WeChat were told to take their posts down.

“I thought Fudan was relatively free. But oftentimes, what the students are told has already been censored from above,” says the Fudan student protester.

“How can innovation happen in a society like this?” asks Shi Jiepeng, a classical-Chinese expert who is now a visiting scholar at University of Tokyo. Shi was also singled out by party inspectors three years ago because of remarks he had made about deceased Chinese leaders such as Mao and Emperor Wu of the Han dynasty.

Anonymous calls from people allegedly offended by his comments also began pouring into his department’s office phone. Online trolls heaped abuse upon Shi on WeChat and another popular social platform, Weibo. Shi was eventually fired in July 2017 from his position as assistant professor of classical Chinese at Beijing Normal University.

He says his managers had received numerous complaints from students about remarks he had made in lectures in previous years, but his managers only quietly reprimanded him before dismissing the claims. “The problem is not that Chinese students and colleagues are reporting their professors. That phenomenon has always existed,” says Shi.

But now, Shi says, China’s political environment has changed in such a way that university administrators are receptive to such complaints and are pressured to take immediate action. “The problem is that the political winds have shifted at the top,” Shi says, “and that shift has been orchestrated by the political leaders themselves.”

Source: Chinese Universities Are Enshrining Communist Party Control In Their Charters

ICYMI – Cohen: Polarized politics, climate havoc, growing authoritarianism – a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020

Depressing:

Last Saturday, on a holiday weekend, the Parliament of Spain convened for a series of crucial votes. Its purpose was to choose a new national government, which the country has been without since elections in November.

In reality, the political paralysis here has lasted years. The most recent elections were the fourth since 2017. This old society but young democracy is becoming ungovernable. Riven with regional, ethnic and ideological divisions, the middle ground – which has sustained governments in Spain – has disappeared.

On Tuesday, the Socialists narrowly won the confidence vote and will form a left-of-centre coalition. This happened only because the Catalans (a regional independence party) abstained.

Some wondered why the legislators were meeting over the holidays. A former Spanish diplomat told me: “You have to get a deal while you can. In Spain, you never know what’s going to happen.”

There is nothing new about uncertainty in politics, but it is a byword for today. Anxiety is the zeitgeist.

The rise of authoritarianism, advance of global warming and growing nationalism and religious intolerance define our time. Despite rising incomes and improving medicine, science and technology, it’s hard to be hopeful.

So here’s a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020 – and beyond.

• In Germany, the engine of Europe, the economy narrowly avoided recession last year and Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing to leave next year. Her “grand coalition” with the Social Democrats is faltering, and will collapse this year.

• In France, President Emmanuel Macron is personally unpopular and his reformist policies are widely opposed, bringing demonstrations and strikes, comme d’habitude, and a rising right.

• In Great Britain, there is more certainty. With a large majority and the Labour Party in disarray, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has wide latitude. Britain will leave the EU and Scotland will clamour to leave the United Kingdom. Scottish nationalists are pushing Westminster for another referendum on independence.

• In Israel, the paralysis continues. The country holds its third election in a year, this one with Benjamin Netanyahu under criminal indictment. Israel’s economy is strong and the prospect of peace is distant. Worse, Israelis don’t seem to care anymore.

• In Russia, Turkey, Hungary, India and beyond, strongmen continue to rule. There is little likelihood of change.

• In China, the aspirations of Hong Kong are a challenge to central authority, one that Beijing will mishandle. It cannot tolerate dissent. The protests will end violently in 2020.

• In the United States, an impeached (but exonerated) president will run for re-election. Democrats struggle to oppose him. Because several of them are well-financed, their race will go into the spring.

The pessimist argument is that Trump will win in November. More likely, Democrats will choose Joe Biden, who will choose Kamala Harris as his running mate (and his successor after only one term.) The Democrats will reclaim the Midwest and carry the day.

If they don’t, America under a re-elected, untethered Trump will enter a new dark age, akin to the Red Scare in the 1920s and McCarthyism in the 1950s.

In Canada, the Liberals will govern with ease this year. Conservatives will have no traction until early summer, but new leadership will scramble the political calculus. If they choose Rona Ambrose or Jean Charest, they will push for an early election, in 2021 or so. Trudeau will not run again.

There is no reason for optimism in discussing climate change, which goes unanswered around the world and in the United States, in particular. The fires burn hotter and longer in California, the seas rise off Florida, the tundra melts in Alaska.

The fires burning today in Australia are the future of our feverish world. This will become the norm. They show not only the fierceness of nature but a failure of leadership; the ineptitude of the country’s prime minister staggers.

Of all the challenges we face today – war with Iran, growing authoritarianism, a belligerent North Korea, swelling anti-semitism – climate change is the greatest threat, the hardest to solve and most resistant to hope.

Source: Cohen: Polarized politics, climate havoc, growing authoritarianism – a pessimist’s guide to our world in 2020

Two States. Eight Textbooks. Two American Stories.

Would be interesting to see a Quebec and Ontario comparison, and an Alberta and Ontario one, although the small size of the Canadian market likely means less variation in texts for English Canada:

The textbooks cover the same sweeping story, from the brutality of slavery to the struggle for civil rights. The self-evident truths of the founding documents to the waves of immigration that reshaped the nation.

The books have the same publisher. They credit the same authors. But they are customized for students in different states, and their contents sometimes diverge in ways that reflect the nation’s deepest partisan divides.

Hundreds of differences — some subtle, others extensive — emerged in a New York Times analysis of eight commonly used American history textbooks in California and Texas, two of the nation’s largest markets.

In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

The left has pushed for students to encounter history more from the ground up than from the top down, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as enslaved people, women and Native Americans.

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening.

All the members of the California panel were educators selected by the State Board of Education, whose members were appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. The Texas panel, appointed by the Republican-dominated State Board of Education, was made up of educators, parents, business representatives and a Christian pastor and politician.

McGraw-Hill, the publisher whose annotated Bill of Rights appears differently in the two states, said it had created the additional wording on the Second Amendment and gun control for the California textbook. A national version of the pages is similar to the Texas edition, which does not call attention to gun rights, the company said in a written statement.

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

How Textbooks are Produced
1Authors, often academics, write a national version of each text.
2Publishers customize the books for states and large districts to meet local standards, often without input from the original authors.
3State or district textbook reviewers go over each book and ask publishers for further changes.
4Publishers revise their books and sell them to districts and schools.

Still, recent textbooks have come a long way from what was published in past decades. Both Texas and California volumes deal more bluntly with the cruelty of the slave trade, eschewing several myths that were common in textbooks for generations: that some slave owners treated enslaved people kindly and that African-Americans were better off enslaved than free. The books also devote more space to the women’s movement and balance the narrative of European immigration with stories of Latino and Asian immigrants.

“American history is not anymore the story of great white men,” said Albert S. Broussard, a history professor at Texas A&M University and an author of both the Texas and California editions of McGraw-Hill’s textbooks.

Here is how the politics of American history play out in California and Texas textbooks, on subjects like race, immigration, gender, sexuality and the economy.

White resistance to black progress is covered differently in the two states.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Continuity and Change,” California, P. 505

California notes the suburban dream of the 1950s was inaccessible to many African-Americans.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 436

Texas does not.

California and Texas textbooks sometimes offer different explanations for white backlash to black advancement after the Civil War, from Reconstruction to housing discrimination in the 20th century.

Southern whites resisted Reconstruction, according to a McGraw-Hill textbook, because they “did not want African-Americans to have more rights.” But the Texas edition offers an additional reason: Reforms cost money, and that meant higher taxes.

Whole paragraphs on redlining and restrictive deeds appear only in the California editions of textbooks, partly as a result of different state standards. Texas’ social studies guidelines do not mention housing discrimination at all.

CALIFORNIA
TEXAS
TAKEAWAY

Texas says that white Southerners opposed Reconstruction because of tax increases as well as racial resentment. California instead includes primary-source quotations from black historical figures about white resistance to civil rights.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 586; McGraw-Hill, “United States History to 1877,” Texas, P. 555

Both states say that breaches of “racial etiquette” led to lynchings after Reconstruction. But only California, whose edition was written more recently, makes clear that the perpetrators of lynchings also hoped to discourage black political and economic power.

HMH, “American History: Reconstruction to the Present,” California, P. 245; HMH, “The Americans: United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 288

Nevertheless, Kerry Green, a high school social studies teacher in Sunnyvale, Tex., a small town east of Dallas, said she discussed redlining with her 11th graders, adding it as a counterpoint to lessons about postwar prosperity — the optimistic story of consumerism, television and the Baby Boom that is emphasized by her state’s standards.

Ms. Green said she preferred to assign primary sources that “encourage students to explore history on their own.” But she said she would welcome textbooks that contain more historical documents and a greater diversity of voices and themes from the past.

“The textbook companies are not gearing their textbooks toward teachers; they’re gearing their textbooks toward states,” she said.

On gender and sexuality, California textbooks include history that is not in Texas editions.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 624

California states that the federal government failed to recognize nonbinary gender identities and female leaders in its early relations with Native Americans.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 111

Texas does not mention gender roles or gender identity in its discussion of efforts to “Americanize” Native Americans.

In Texas textbooks, mentions of L.G.B.T.Q. issues tend to be restricted to coverage of events in recent decades, such as the Stonewall uprising, the AIDS crisis and debates over marriage rights.

But for recent California editions, publishers wrote thousands of words of new text in response to the FAIR Education Act, a law signed by Governor Brown in 2011. It requires schools to teach the contributions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and disabled Americans.

Peppered throughout California books are passages on topics like same-sex families under slavery and early sex reassignment surgery in the 1950s — text that does not appear in Texas versions.

CALIFORNIA
TEXAS
TAKEAWAY

California states that enslaved women faced sexual violence from owners and overseers.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 449; McGraw-Hill, “United States History to 1877,” Texas, P. 443

California mentions the “lavender scare” that targeted thousands of gay men and lesbians.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 486; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 456.

California states that Alfred Kinsey’s research and early sex reassignment surgeries challenged “the postwar ideal” on gender.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 498; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 470.

Both states focus on women’s fight against discrimination in the workplace. Only California says birth control played a role, by “allowing women to exert greater control over their sexuality and family planning.”

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Continuity and Change,” California, P. 627; McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 525.

Stephanie Kugler, an eighth-grade history teacher in West Sacramento, Calif., said she had expanded an idea mentioned briefly in her classroom’s textbook, about women who dressed as men to fight in the Civil War and continued to live as men, into an entire lesson on troops who today would be considered transgender. The students read accounts of those soldiers’ lives alongside more traditional sources, such as letters written by a black Union soldier and a Confederate soldier.

Her goal, Ms. Kugler said, was to “make it really authentic” to talk about diversity in the context of each historical period.

While both states devote many pages to the women’s movement, Texas books, in general, avoid discussions of sex or sexuality.

Immigration and nativism are major themes in American history textbooks.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Continuity and Change,” California, P. 736

California includes an excerpt from a novel about a Dominican-American family.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 609

In the same place, Texas highlights the voice of a Border Patrol agent.

Michael Teague, a Border Patrol agent, is featured in the Texas edition of McGraw-Hill’s 11th grade textbook. He discusses his concerns about drug trafficking and says, “if you open the border wide up, you’re going to invite political and social upheaval.”

Mr. Teague’s story is featured at the end of a chapter on recent immigration, alongside accounts from a Vietnamese immigrant and a second-generation Mexican-American.

That section in the California edition of the same book is devoted to a long excerpt from the novel “How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,” by Julia Alvarez. It deals with intergenerational tensions in a Dominican-American family.

In a written statement, McGraw-Hill said the full-page Border Patrol narrative was not included in the California edition because it would not fit beside the literary excerpt. And at the time the Texas edition was produced, six years ago, state standards called for students to analyze both “legal and illegal immigration to the United States.”

In contrast, California textbooks are more likely to note when a historical figure was an immigrant. And they include more detail on the role immigrants such as Japanese and Filipino farmworkers played in labor movements.

California is one of many states to ask teachers and textbooks in recent years to cover the contributions of specific immigrant groups, including Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, European-Americans and Mexican-Americans.

CALIFORNIA
TEXAS
TAKEAWAY

Only California states that Levi Strauss was a German Jewish immigrant.

McGraw-Hill, “United States History & Geography: Growth & Conflict,” California, P. 416; McGraw-Hill, “United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 417

California tells the story of Wong Kim Ark, whose 1898 Supreme Court case established birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants; Texas’s edition, which is older, does not mention this case, but does cover the Chinese Exclusion Act.

HMH, “American History: Reconstruction to the Present,” California, P. 247; HMH, “The Americans: United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 289

These additions are part of the reason California books are almost always longer than their Texas counterparts.

California’s Board of Education adopted an expansive 842-page social studies framework in 2016. Two years later, Texas’ school board streamlined its social studies standards, which are now laid out in 78 tightly compressed pages.

Critics of California’s approach say that making state standards and textbooks longer and more inclusive can be overwhelming to teachers trying to move quickly through hundreds of years of material.

Both states emphasize the role of big businessfrom the Gilded Age to the present.

HMH, “American History: Reconstruction to the Present,” California, P. 160

California is critical of wealth inequality and the impact of companies like Standard Oil on the environment.

HMH, “The Americans: United States History Since 1877,” Texas, P. 235

Texas is more likely to celebrate free enterprise and entrepreneurs like Andrew Carnegie.

Texas policymakers feel strongly about giving students a positive view of the American economy; since 1995, state law has required that high school economics courses offer an “emphasis on the free enterprise system and its benefits.” That emphasis seems to have made its way into the history curriculum as well.

California’s curriculum materials, by contrast, sometimes read like a brief from a Bernie Sanders rally. “The yawning gap between the haves and have-nots and what is to be done about it is one of the great questions of this time,” says the state’s 2016 social studies framework.

As a result, California textbooks are more likely to celebrate unionism, critique the concentration of wealth and focus on how industry pollutes the environment.

CALIFORNIA
TEXAS
TAKEAWAY

California refers to “the income gap” and explains that “changes in tax structures and safety-net programs” and “higher costs for education, child care, and housing” played a role. Both state editions discuss economic inequality in reference to the Occupy Wall Street movement and the decline of labor unions.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 728; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 687.

The older Texas edition highlights additional Republican critiques of President Barack Obama’s environmental policies, while the California book discusses the threat of rising sea levels.

Pearson, “United States History: The Twentieth Century,” California, P. 749; Pearson, “United States History: 1877 to Present,” Texas, P. 709.

Both the California and Texas 11th-grade textbooks from Pearson state, “The main argument against environmental legislation is that it hurts the economy and the nation’s industries.”

The Texas edition goes further to highlight criticism of federal efforts to subsidize the green energy industry: “Republicans accuse the government of wasting taxpayers’ money, for example by supporting the failed solar manufacturer Solyndra.” The Solyndra controversy was a fixation for conservatives in 2011, when the company went bankrupt after accepting half a billion dollars in federally guaranteed loans.

The Texas book also states that American action on global warming may not make a difference if China, India, Russia and Brazil do not also act.

The California edition does not mention Solyndra or the other nations. However, it does include a section on the threat to American states and cities from rising sea levels, noting that the impact on tourism in Florida could hurt that state’s economy, and that transportation networks and buildings could be threatened.

Pearson said in a written statement that the differences between the books could be attributed mostly to the fact that the California book was published several years later, and that concerns over coastal flooding have become “more heightened in recent years.”