Canadians Adopted Refugee Families for a Year. Then Came ‘Month 13.’ – The New York Times

Good long and nuanced read on the challenges of one Syrian family and their Canadian sponsors:

One year after Canada embraced Syrian refugees like no other country, a reckoning was underway.

Ordinary Canadians had essentially adopted thousands of Syrian families, donating a year of their time and money to guide them into new lives just as many other countries shunned them. Some citizens already considered the project a humanitarian triumph; others believed the Syrians would end up isolated and adrift, stuck on welfare or worse. As 2016 turned to 2017 and the yearlong commitments began to expire, the question of how the newcomers would fare acquired a national nickname: Month 13, when the Syrians would try to stand on their own.

On a frozen January afternoon, Liz Stark, a no-nonsense retired teacher, bustled into a modest apartment on the east side of this city, unusually anxious. She and her friends had poured themselves into resettling Mouhamad and Wissam al-Hajj, a former farmer and his wife, and their four children, becoming so close that they referred to one another as substitute grandparents, parents and children.

But the improvised family had a deadline. In two weeks, the sponsorship agreement would end. The Canadians would stop paying for rent and other basics. They would no longer manage the newcomers’ bank account and budget. Ms. Stark was adding Mr. Hajj’s name to the apartment lease, the first step in removing her own.

“The honeymoon is over,” she said later.

That afternoon, her mind was on forms, checks and her to-do list. But she knew that her little group of grandmothers, retirees and book club friends was swimming against a global surge of skepticism, even hatred, toward immigrants and refugees. The president of the superpower to the south was moving to block Syrians and cut back its refugee program. Desperate migrants were crossing into Canada on foot. Stay-out-of-our-country sentiment was reshaping Europe’s political map. In a few days, an anti-Muslim gunman would slaughter worshipers at a Quebec City mosque.

Ms. Stark and her group were betting that much of the world was wrong — that with enough support, poor Muslims from rural Syria could adapt, belong and eventually prosper and contribute in Canada. Against that backdrop, every meeting, decision and bit of progress felt heightened: Would the family succeed?

Ms. Stark’s most crucial task that day was ushering the Syrian couple to a budget tutorial. Banks were new to them. So were A.T.M. cards. Because the sponsors paid their rent and often accompanied them to make withdrawals, the couple had little sense of how to manage money in a bank account.

Some of Canada’s new Syrian refugees had university degrees, professional skills, fledgling businesses already up and running. But the Hajjes could not read or write, even in Arabic. After a year of grinding English study, Mr. Hajj, 36, struggled to get the new words out. He longed to scan a supermarket label or road sign with ease and had grown increasingly upset about his second-grade education, understanding how inadequate it would prove in the years to come.

The Times’ Idea of Lagging Diversity | commentary

Even though I value the reporting and commentary of the New York Times, valid to point out the contradiction:

In today’s New York Times, there is a front-page article on the new Chairman of Carnegie Hall, Robert F. Smith. Mr. Smith, who made his fortune in software, ranks #268 on the Forbes 400 list, is worth $2.5 billion, and is the country’s richest African-American after Oprah Winfrey.

The Times noted with characteristic snooty disapproval that, with his new appointment, Smith “became the first African-American to hold the post at a time when diversity at leading cultural organizations lags — a recent survey of New York’s cultural institutions found that nearly 78 percent of their board members were white.”

Given the fact that board members of major cultural institutions such as concert halls and museums are expected, along with performing their duties, to write major checks every year, 78 percent white doesn’t seem so disproportionate. However much racial diversity has improved in most of American life, the very, very rich are still mostly white. That can’t be changed by government fiat (although I hate to give the Obama administration any bright ideas). It will take a couple of generations before the Forbes 400 List “looks like America.”

I wondered what percentage of the New York Times editorial board was white, but have found its membership strangely hard to track down on the Internet (the Wall Street Journal editorial board is here). So I looked up the membership of the New York Times Board of Directors instead. It’s over 91 percent white. The top executive team is likewise more than 91 percent white.

As usual with the Times, it seems, it’s do as we say not as we do.

Source: The Times’ Idea of Lagging Diversity | commentary

How is Islam represented on the BBC? And in the New York Times

With respect to the BBC:

What the study showed is that the BBC news tends to reproduce dominant discourses about Islam, partly as a result of news-gathering and production processes. For example, there has been significant criticism of its use of extreme news sources, such as Anjem Choudary, on its flagship news programme Newsnight. However, due to its remit as a PSB, it is required to listen to audiences, and this is sometimes evident in its news reporting – where it has more recently included a wider range of Muslims voices and has been more careful in its use of language.

We were able to demonstrate that, when you step outside the news format, with its extensive focus on conflict and terrorism, there is evidence of more diversity. Sometimes, the BBC makes a point of including Muslims in programming unrelated to Islam such as Eastenders and The British Bake Off. Aaqil Ahmed has continued to commission series that challenge dominant tropes about Islam; Make me a Muslim (2014), Welcome to the Mosque (2015) and Britain’s Muslims Soldiers (2016).

But there is a long way to go. News images of Islam continue to dominate media coverage, and are more likely to be reproduced than the niche programming described here. The last BBC Annual Report (2015) showed a reduction in hours dedicated to religious broadcasting; given that 5% of references to religion came from within this despite only accounting for 1% of airtime, it clearly remains a significant resource for representations of religion.

Some commentators have suggested that, due to media fragmentation which has seen the BBC’s share of the audience drop in recent years, media representation no longer matters, particularly as younger people watch less and less television and consume distinct, personalised services. But the BBC has an influence beyond its television broadcasting and immediate audience. As a PSB, it has a responsibility to reflect national culture(s) and minority interests. And in an era of increased commercialisation and privatisation, it does this better than most providers.

Source: How is Islam represented on the BBC? | openDemocracy

By way of comparisons, another study looked  at the New York Times:

The New York Times portrays Islam and Muslims more negatively than cancer, cocaine and alcohol, according to a report that studied the newspaper’s headlines.

“Since 9/11, many media outlets began profiteering from the anti-Muslim climate. Though you could probably trace a similar trend back to the Iranian Revolution,” said Steven Zhou, head of Investigations and Civic Engagement and co-author of the study ‘Are Muslims Collectively Responsible? A Sentiment Analysis of the New York Times.’

“We talk a lot about media and Islamophobia, but nobody has done the math. So, we thought it is long overdue to have a quantitative investigation of an agenda-setting newspaper,” Zhou told the Middle East U.S. Policy watchdog Mondoweiss Friday.

The study, which was conducted by Toronto-based 416 Labs, looked at New York Times headlines from the period 1990-2014. Researchers found that Islam and Muslims were “consistently associated with negative terms,” at least 57 percent of the time, says the study. Only 8 percent of news headlines about Islam/Muslims was positive.

The most frequent terms associated with Islam/Muslims include “Rebels” and “Militant.” None of the 25 most frequently occurring terms were positive.

Compared to all the other benchmarked terms (such as Republican, Democrat, Cancer, Cocaine, Christianity and Alcohol), Islam/Muslims had the highest incidents of negative terms throughout the 25-year period by a long shot. The following were cocaine and cancer, with 47 and 34 percent of their coverage associated with negative terminology.

“When we went into it we didn’t think it would be surprising if Islam was one of the most negatively portrayed topics in the NYT,” says co-author Usaid Siddiqui. “What did really surprise us was that compared with something as inherently negative as cancer, Islam still tends to be more negative.”

The New York Times Presents Islam More Negatively than Cancer and Cocaine

Amazon-Hachette Dispute: Amazon’s Self-Serving Messaging

Hadn’t been following this dispute that much but when Amazon sent me the letter below, pretending to be on the side of the angels, I reacted in my response to them below:

I am sorry, but this letter and its request, is self-serving and outrageous.

I say this as someone who has both bought and published with Amazon.
I will be contacting the publishers telling them I do not support Amazon’s position as detailed in your letter.
Cloaking your corporate interests in consumer-friendly language, neglecting the content creation aspects of publishing, and shamefully invoking Orwell, is an extremely cynical move.
Will be sharing your letter and my response on my blog.

The NY Times points out that Amazon has misrepresented Orwell:

But Orwell then went on to undermine Amazon’s argument much more effectively than Hachette ever has. “It is of course a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade,” he wrote. “Actually it is just the other way about … The cheaper books become, the less money is spent on books.”

Instead of buying two expensive books, he says, the consumer will buy two cheap books and then use the rest of his money to go to the movies. “This is an advantage from the reader’s point of view and doesn’t hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author and the bookseller, it is a disaster,” Orwell wrote.

The real problem, the writer argued in an essay a decade later, “Books v. Cigarettes,” was with the books themselves. They had a hard time competing against other media — a point people are still making in 2014.

“If our book consumption remains as low as it has been,” he wrote, “at least let us admit that it is because reading is a less exciting pastime than going to the dogs, the pictures or the pub, and not because books, whether bought or borrowed, are too expensive.”

Bits Blog: Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn

The original letter:

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read).  A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures.  And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

The Benefits of Failing at French – NYTimes.com

On the benefits of learning a second language in terms of brain training and “fitness.”

So for all those public servants who struggled to learn French, think of the fringe benefits as you get older:

Last year researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Northwestern University in Illinois hypothesized that language study should prove beneficial for older adults, noting that the cognitive tasks involved — including working memory, inductive reasoning, sound discrimination and task switching — map closely to the areas of the brain that are most associated with declines due to aging. In other words, the things that make second-language acquisition so maddening for grown-ups are the very things that may make the effort so beneficial.

The quest for a mental fountain of youth, pursued by baby boomers who fear that their bodies will outlive their brains, and who have deeper pockets than Juan Ponce de León, has created a billion-dollar industry. There is some evidence that brain exercise programs like Lumosity and Nintendo’s Brain Age can be beneficial, but if my admittedly unscientific experience is any indication, you might be better off studying a language instead. Not only is that a far more useful and enjoyable activity than an abstract brain game, but as a reward for your efforts, you can treat yourself to a trip abroad. Which is why I plan to spend the next year not learning Italian. Ciao!

The Benefits of Failing at French – NYTimes.com.

Professors Are Prejudiced, Too – ICYMI

Not surprising. Other “blind” tests show similar results (e.g., How an ethnic-sounding name may affect the job hunt):

Now for the bad news. We computed the average response rates for each category of student (e.g., white male, Hispanic female), dividing the number of responses from the professors by the number of emails sent from students in a given race or gender category. Our analyses, which we reported recently in a second paper, revealed that the response rates did indeed depend on students’ race and gender identity.

Professors were more responsive to white male students than to female, black, Hispanic, Indian or Chinese students in almost every discipline and across all types of universities. We found the most severe bias in disciplines paying higher faculty salaries and at private universities. In a perverse twist of academic fate, our own discipline of business showed the most bias, with 87 percent of white males receiving a response compared with just 62 percent of all females and minorities combined.

Surprisingly, several supposed advantages that some people believe women and minorities enjoy did not materialize in our data. For example: Were Asians favored, given the model minority stereotype they supposedly benefit from in academic contexts? No. In fact, Chinese students were the most discriminated-against group in our sample. Did reaching out to someone of the same gender or race — such as a black student emailing a black professor — reduce bias? No. We saw the same levels of bias in both same-race and same-gender faculty-student pairs that we saw in pairs not sharing a race or gender (the one exception was Chinese students writing to Chinese professors).

Professors Are Prejudiced, Too – NYTimes.com.

Toronto

Nice piece from the NY Times on Toronto and its diversity and neighbourhoods.

It’s a great walking town, and part of what makes it so much fun to explore is the range and variety of the neighborhoods in which the city takes pride, and which have resisted the homogenization that has occurred throughout so much of New York City — from Yorkville, with its fashionable shops and department stores, to Old Town, where you can find the St. Lawrence Market, an immense covered structure offering a huge selection of foods and crafts, and where, on Saturdays, local farmers sell their produce. Some of the neighborhoods are known for their architectural beauty: the charming Victorian houses along the tree-lined streets of Cabbagetown, originally a working-class Irish enclave; the equally attractive brick mansions and neo-Gothic cottages of the Annex, a district of artists, professors and students who attend the nearby University of Toronto; the brick rowhouses and manicured lawns of Roncesvalles and the mansions of Forest Hill.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/02/travel/torontos-ethnic-buffet.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1