Ultimate clean-slate handbook

students with smartphones

(Credit: Getty/dolgachov)

Common Sense Media

We tell our kids that everyone makes mistakes — and we mean it — but if the last year was a rough one, it can be hard to bounce back. Past struggles with grades, organization, and friends are easy to carry over into the new year. Even determined kids may find themselves playing out the same patterns, engaging in the same old conflicts, or stuck in last year’s situations.

While there’s rarely one answer to a kid’s struggles — and there’s no substitute for open communication — sometimes media can offer a fresh approach to old problems. And if your kids really want to change course, finding what works for them can be a real self-esteem booster.

These books, apps, and websites can help kids gain perspective, as well as practice positive habits around communication, time management, self-regulation, and organization. Check out our Homework Help AppsTime Management Apps, and Note-Taking Apps for Tweens and Teens for even more ideas.

Get organized
Do you need a hazmat suit to explore your kid’s backpack? Does note taking mean scribbling three sentences across a page? Does “I’ll do it tomorrow” really mean, “I already forgot what you said”? Use some tools to create a new routine.

  • Choiceworks Calendar. 8+
    With lots of visuals to choose from, this planner empowers kids to organize their time.
  • 30/30. 10+
    Use this timer to help kids break larger tasks into smaller ones.
  • SoundNote. 14+
    Because kids can sync audio with written notes, this app can help kids get information in multiple ways and keep them organized.

Study smarter
Press the reset button on study habits with some tools that might help build necessary skills.

Communicate clearly
Smooth out the rough edges with some social-skills practice that will help make a fresh start.

  • The Social Express II. 8+
    This game helps kids understand the “hidden rules” of social communication and includes a social network.
  • LikeSo. 11+
    When kids need to tone down teen-speak for formal presentations, this app tracks words and phrases they’d rather omit.
  • ConversationBuilder Teen. 13+
    Through scripts and situations, kids can practice their communication choices.

Forge positive friendships
Leave the drama behind with social networks that encourage positive interaction.

  • Yoursphere. 9+
    This social network is a safer starting place for younger users who want to practice their digital citizenship skills.
  • Kidzworld. 11+
    Short articles, social networking, and self expression come together on this kid-friendly site.
  • Sit With Us. 13+
    Created by a teen, this app helps kids find friends (and a place at a lunch table) without the risk of public humiliation.

Reflect and reframe
Put things in perspective and remind kids they aren’t alone through the pages of these books.

  • About Average. 8+
    This anti-bullying book can help empower kids to seek solutions.
  • Addie on the Inside. 11+
    Told through poetry, Addie’s story covers a lot of emotional ground and features a brave female protagonist.
  • King Dork. 15+
    This realistic coming-of-age book is a relatable read for teens who don’t love high school.

Boost self esteem
Widen kids’ focus to helping others and creating a purpose outside of school.

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If we keep subsidizing wind, will the cost of wind energy go down?

Wind Tax Credits Oklahoma

In this Thursday, April 13, 2017 photo, a truck drives by wind turbines near Okarche, Okla. Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to sign legislation Monday, April 17, that rolls back a 10-year tax credit for electricity generated by zero-emission facilities, an incentive for wind power generators as well as geothermal, solar and hydropower producers that’s been in place since 2003. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki) (Credit: AP)

There are high hopes for renewable energy to help society by providing a more stable climate, better energy security and less pollution. Government actions reflect these hopes through policies to promote renewable energy. In the U.S. since 1992 there’s been a federal subsidy to promote wind energy, and many states require electricity utilities to use some renewable energy.

But when is the right time to stop government support for an energy technology?

This is a timely question: Rick Perry’s Department of Energy is currently working on a grid reliability report that many expect to argue that wind and solar cause reliability problems because they don’t supply power continually. A conclusion like this can be used to justify removal of government subsidies or regulations favoring other sources of energy.

Subsidies need not last forever — there can come a time when its objective has been achieved or experience suggests the subsidy is not working as intended.

Is it time to end subsidies for wind? A big part of the answer to this question lies in whether subsidies are actually making wind cheaper.

Why subsidize energy technology

The justification for subsidizing a given technology is that it delivers public benefits that outweigh the subsidy cost. If a technology shows promise to become cheap enough, the subsidy can be viewed as a temporary stimulus to bring it a point where it can stand on its own.

For example, in the early days of the semiconductor industry, integrated circuits were too expensive for consumer markets. Government demand for military applications provided a critical bridge to bring down costs and activate broader markets.

On the other hand, subsidizing an emerging technology that has trouble bringing down costs may be inefficient. For decades, the U.S. government has subsidized or mandated production of corn ethanol. Yet ethanol is still not market-competitive, at least not with recent crude oil prices.

Wind power’s ‘learning curve’

The price for wind power has gone down over the years, but how cheap is it getting? There is a surprisingly diverse set of answers to this question. There are over 100 existing studies of wind cost trends, with results ranging from wind power becoming more expensive over time to becoming cheaper so quickly that it will soon be cheaper than fossil fuels. Curiously enough, while researchers have recently started to note disparities between studies, no one has yet grappled with explaining and reducing such variability. This is, unfortunately, a common situation in many research domains: Various groups get conflicting results from similar analyses, but no one works on understanding why these differences arise.

In a recent paper, we sought to better understand cost reductions in wind power by finding patterns in historical trends.

Wind costs follow what economists call a learning curve: For every doubling of wind production, the cost goes down by a fixed percentage. For example, if the price of electricity from wind is 10 cents per kilowatt-hour with a given number of wind farms, a 10 percent “learning rate” means that wind electricity would cost 10 percent less, or 9 cents per kilowatt-hour, if one doubles the number of wind farms.

Our main finding was that the learning rate for wind power is in the range of 7.7 percent to 11 percent. That means if more wind power is installed and the cost of energy continues to decline as it has in recent years, the cost of generating electricity with wind will fall from 5.5 cents/kilowatt-hour today to 4.1–4.5 cents/kilowatt-hour in 2030.

Previous studies obtained learning rates from -3 percent to +33 percent, the minus sign indicating wind becoming more, rather than less, expensive over time. Why are the results so different? We showed that one can get very different outcomes depending on the method and data range used.

First, we believe it is important to account for wind power costs in terms of the total cost to generate electricity. Many prior studies measured wind cost as the price to build the capacity to make electricity at peak wind times. But this is a poor measure because much of the progress in wind technology in recent years has been to generate more power when the wind is weaker.

Secondly, it is important to treat wind power as a global industry. The adoption of wind in one country helps the industry develop and grow so that wind becomes cheaper in other countries. Modeling wind adoption in only one nation can skew results.

Finally, results depend strongly on the date range of data used. Even with an identical method, the estimated learning rate can change up to 10 percent depending on which years of data you use.

To subsidize or not to subsidize?

So if wind costs will fall to 4.1–4.5 cents/kilowatt-hour in 2030, as we found, what does this mean for wind subsidies? The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects the cost of natural gas and coal power in 2030 will be 4.5 and 5 cents per kilowatt-hour respectively. Taking these numbers at face value, wind is on track to become cheaper than fossil fuels as a source of electricity.

One must be cautious, however, in feeling too sure of forecasts. Technologies and fuel prices can go in unpredictable directions. Also, wind is an intermittent resource, meaning it can’t provide round-the-clock power as fossil fuels can. There is an additional cost to this intermittency, which is very difficult to predict.

Also, being cheap doesn’t mean we will soon be able to switch to 100 percent wind. To meet electricity demand continually, we will need a combination of energy storage, lowering power consumption at certain times (known as demand response) and traditional “firm” power production.

This said, the past suggests a trajectory in which wind becomes economically competitive with fossil fuels. Our study shows that support policies, such as the current Production Tax Credit, are contributing to lowering wind costs. As such, continued subsidies are expected to enable a smoother and cheaper transition to a sustainable energy system.
The Conversation
Eric Williams, Associate Professor of Sustainability, Rochester Institute of Technology and Eric Hittinger, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Rochester Institute of Technology

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These are the crazy climate records from 2016 you haven’t heard much about

Polar Bears Land Food

In this June 15, 2014 photo, a polar bear dries off after taking a swim in the Chukchi Sea in Alaska. (Credit: AP Photo/U.S. Geological Survey, Brian Battaile)

By now, we’ve all heard that 2016 was the hottest year on record, and that heat-trapping greenhouse gases hit their highest concentration ever, surpassing 400 parts per million for the first time in nearly 1 million years.

But there are other climate change-related records that have flown more under the radar. Several of those records were highlighted Thursday in the annual State of the Climate report, released in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society:

For example, during August, ice-free areas of the Barents Sea (north of Norway and Russia) were up to 20°F (11°C) above average, a figure that stunned climate scientists.

The Chukchi Sea off Alaska and the waters to the west of Greenland were 13°F to 14°F above average. Those warm waters were linked to the smallest annual winter peak in sea ice levels and the second lowest annual minimum.

The average land surface temperature for the Arctic was 3.6°F (2.0°C) above the 1981-2010 average — a 6.3°F (3.5°C) rise in temperatures since 1900. Record-high temperatures were measured below the surface of the permafrost, or permanently frozen ground, across the North Slope of Alaska.

“2016 was a year in the Arctic like we’ve never seen before,” Jeremy Mathis, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Arctic research program and an author of the report, said.

The rate of warming in the Arctic, which is happening at twice the rate of the rest of the globe, has major impacts on local ecosystems, but also further drives the warming of the planet, as the sea ice that would reflect the sun’s rays back to space is lost.

And for the 37th consecutive year, alpine glaciers retreated across the globe. These glaciers are a major source of water for local communities, and their loss has led to concerns about water security, particularly in places like Southeast Asia.

Global sea level was also the highest on record — and sea surface temperatures globally were also record-high — with a sea level 3.25 inches higher than they were in 1993, the beginning of the record. The year marked six consecutive years of global sea levels being higher than the year before. Over the long term, sea level rise is driven by the warming of the oceans (as water expands as it heats up) and the addition of water from melting polar ice.

On a more local level, the year, which was the second hottest on record for the U.S., was the 20th consecutive warmer-than-normal year for the country — a mark of the impact that long-term warming is having.


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The day has finally arrived: America’s pathological liar-in-chief has turned to nuclear saber-rattling

Donald Trump

Donald Trump speaks during a rally in Huntington, W.Va. (Credit: AP/Darron Cummings)


President Trump lies so much no one knows when he’s telling the truth.

But the twisted words of the president-who-cried-wolf took a dark and ominous turn Tuesday, when in a 30-second response to a reporter’s question, Trump threatened to unleash unprecedented military force against North Korea.

“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” he said, arms folded across his chest. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He [Kim Jong-un] has been very threatening — beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire and fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

Trump’s remarks, aimed at a region that two days before marked the anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing of civilians (Hiroshima), and on Wednesday, marks the second (Nagasaki, Japan), are as dangerous as they are surreal. They are dangerous because he is commander-in-chief, has the authority to order military strikes and is as unstable as the North Korean dictator—both are unrepentant bullies. No one knows where this escalation will end up.

There’s nothing about Trump that inspires trust or confidence, because the man himself is as much an egomaniac as he is a pathological liar. Politics is full of egomaniacs, but American politics hasn’t seen a liar like Trump in decades. Now, with nuclear saber-rattling, the deceptive side of Trump has become deadly serious.

Trump can’t stop lying, as the New York Times again pointed out Tuesday, before he threatened North Korea. The White House press office justifies those lies by bending what’s already twisted. Truth squads like PolitiFact have documented that 69 percent of Trump’s assertions fall under the false umbrella. The Times even listed scores of his lies in his first six months in office, and indexed hundreds of people he’s insulted via Twitter since in office, and even more during the campaign.

The world is watching the latest he-man with access to far more than a gun. What Trump’s hall of mirrors and threats is doing to American politics, culture, institutions, professions, and individuals who rely on separating facts from fiction is one thing. But add in the military component and Trump is on the verge of what despots have done throughout history, as Yale historian Timothy Snyder described in his anti-Trump pamphlet, On Tyranny: 20 Lessons from the 20th Century. Trump’s mish-mash of lies, taunts, threats, propaganda, and attacks on the press and any adversary is paving the path toward a new American authoritarianism, Snyder said.

“The way it works is that you first just lie a lot,” Snyder said. “You fill up the public space with things that aren’t true, as Trump has obviously done. Next you say, ‘It’s not me who lies; it’s the crooked journalists. They’re the ones who spread the fake news.’ Then the third step, if this works, is that everybody shrugs their shoulders and says, ‘Well, we don’t really know who to trust; therefore, we’ll trust whoever we feel like trusting.’ In that situation, you can’t control political action and authoritarianism wins.”

When Snyder spoke to AlterNet last winter, he suspected Trump might create a domestic crisis as a pretext to impose some semblance of martial law. He worried that whole slices of the public would be susceptible to his rants and raves, as large populations throughout history have always had vulnerable and ill-informed masses.

“Frankly, we’re in uncharted waters here,” Snyder said. “A lot of people believed in Trump because of his charisma and the simplicity of his promises and because, in many cases, they were facing real problems. What they believed in, unfortunately, has zero substance. It’s very hard for people to recognize that. It’s much easier for people to be fooled than it is for people to be unfooled.”

But now the uncharted waters Snyder warned about include the authoritarian’s time-honored tool, military might. But this escalating argument with North Korea is not the same as sending American drones into Yemen or special forces into Afghanistan. North Korea is determined to keep its nuclear arsenal, just as Trump seems determined to use military firepower to take it away.

Before Trump’s latest threat, the Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote a long piece on the impact of Trump’s lies, suggesting his behavior “reflects a broader decline in standards of truth for political discourse.” In it, historian Doris Kearns Goodwin pondered “whether Mr. Trump, in elevating the art of political fabrication, has forever changed what Americans are willing to tolerate from their leaders.”

“What’s different today and what’s scarier today is these lies are pointed out, and there’s evidence that they’re wrong,” Goodwin said. “And yet because of the attacks on the media, there are a percentage of people in the country who are willing to say, ‘Maybe he is telling the truth.’”

Only last week Trump lied that the head of the Boy Scouts had said his was the best speech ever delivered to its national jamboree. He lied that the president of Mexico had called to say that tough border enforcement was working. But now America’s liar-in-chief is threatening to inundate North Korea with “fire and fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

A representative government like the United States requires the public to trust the words and actions of its leaders, and to hold those elected leaders accountable. What are we to make of this latest apocalpytic threat from Trump? No one knows. And that’s precisely the problem with having a pathological liar as president.

Source: New feed

From “All Lives Matter” to the terror in Charlottesville: How the media’s phony fairness got us here

Confederate Monument Protest

White nationalist demonstrators clash with counter demonstrators at Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va. (Credit: AP/Steve Helber)

The Ku Klux Klan wears white robes because its members are channeling the ghosts of the Confederacy. The Ku Klux Klan burns crosses as a way of intimidating African-Americans and other groups who they deem to be their enemies.

The white supremacists who ran amok in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend do not wear white robes. Nor do they cover their faces. Instead, this new generation of white supremacists wears a uniform that consists of khaki pants, white shirts and red “Make America Great Again” hats in emulation of their idol, the current president of the United States.

Their regalia may differ from that of the white supremacist terrorists who killed at least 50,000 black Americans in the decades following the Civil War, but the threats and intimidation are very much the same.

The neo-Nazis, Kluxers, members of the so-called alt-right and the other white supremacists who descended upon Charlottesville to “Unite the Right” attacked anti-racist counter-protesters with bats, clubs, poles and sticks.

They threatened people with assault rifles and pistols. They threatened to burn down a black church. They assaulted members of the clergy. This was no minor donnybrook or fracas. It was a rampage. And the police did little to stop the attacks.

The effort to unite the right around a politics of hate would culminate in an ISIS-style terrorist attack that killed a 32-year-old woman named Heather Heyer and injured dozens of other people.

The white supremacist terrorist attack in Charlottesville should not come as a surprise: It is the logical and predictable culmination of the violence, racism, intolerance, prejudice and hatred that Donald Trump used to win the 2016 presidential election. Bathing in these social ills was his political baptismal rite. The Republican Party and its voters poured this water over Trump’s head. Their embrace of white supremacy from the “Southern strategy” of the 1960s to birtherism made his victory possible.

The following cannot be reasonably evaded or denied: Donald Trump is the Republican Party as it exists today; the Republican Party is Mr. Trump.

Of course, white supremacy is not new in America. It is a primal force that existed well before the founding of the country. Its influence has modulated and evolved over time. It remains all too powerful in the post-Civil Rights era.

Barack Obama — the country’s first black president — was elected despite white supremacy’s power. Donald Trump — the country’s first fascist president — is a political necromancer and warlock who was able to harness white supremacy’s power to win the presidency.

The mainstream American news media was complicit with Trump’s rise to power. It is estimated that he was given at least $5 billion worth of free coverage. During the 2016 presidential campaign they made excuses for Trump by focusing on his imagined intentions as opposed to the vile things he actually said and did. The mainstream media was obsessed with how and when Trump would inevitably become “presidential.” Further gutting its own tenuous legitimacy, the Fourth Estate also slavishly followed old rules and expectations regarding “fairness” and “balance” and “objectivity” in their discussions of Trump — a man who has no respect for democracy, despises the very idea of a free press and holds the truth in contempt. And of course, too many in the mainstream American news media were drunk — and still are — on the delusion that Mr. Trump led a “populist” campaign that spoke to “white working class economic anxiety.” In reality, Trump’s white voters were largely motivated by racism and bigotry.

Too many voices in the mainstream American news media continued those dangerous and irresponsible habits in their coverage of the Charlottesville white supremacist attacks.

Many in the media repeatedly used the words “white nationalists.” This implies a difference where none really exists. White supremacists and “white nationalists” both believe that nonwhites — especially black people — are inferior.

Many in the media repeatedly talked about the “alt-right.” That label was born of an effort to normalize the abnormal and the foul. The so-called alt-right are white supremacists, neo-Nazis, “white nationalists,” right-wing militia members and wannabe domestic terrorists.

Many in the media described the white supremacists and their allies running amok in Charlottesville as part of a right-wing “fringe” movement. This supposed “fringe movement” shares many of the same attitudes and beliefs held by rank-and-file Republican voters as well as the party’s leaders.

These habits are, of course, not new. They were previewed several years ago when Trump began his political crusade for the White House. These habits also have antecedents, which at the time seemed reasonable and benign to many members of the mainstream American news media specifically and White America more generally.

But others — especially students of the color line and those of us who have to navigate white racism in order to survive — understood the deeper and more menacing implications of these “reasonable” questions.

Several years ago, the human rights campaign Black Lives Matter emerged in response to the continued abuse of black and brown Americans by the country’s police and other institutions. The movement’s slogan is both an existential observation about the value of black people’s lives and a demand for justice and equality in American (and global) society. The statement that “Black Lives Matter” is also an affront and provocation to whiteness because the latter is a social and political identity prefaced on domination and power over people of color.

Thus it was no surprise that “Black Lives Matter ” was rebutted by “White Lives Matter.” This is the new “Sieg Heil!”

Thus it was no surprise that “Black Lives Matter ” was rebutted by “All Lives Matter.” This is the new “White Power!

Thus it was no surprise that “Black Lives Matter” was rebutted by “Blue Lives Matter.” This is an assertion that America’s police have the inherent right to engage in thuggery, murder and brutality against people of color without consequence.

It is no surprise that the white supremacists marching in Charlottesville last weekend shouted, “White lives matter.” Just as it was no surprise that at Trump’s campaign rallies last year his supplicants enthusiastically shouted, “All lives matter!” while assaulting black and brown protesters.

The American news media coughed up many “thinkpieces” and “hot takes” on Black Lives Matter — both the phrase and the movement — speculating about whether “White Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” were more appropriate and “less confrontational” ways of talking about social injustice. Such work legitimates white supremacy and protects white privilege as the status quo in American society and life.

To write favorably about “All Lives Matter,” “White Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter” is to accept the premise that white Americans are disadvantaged in America because of the color of their skin. To assert the obvious value of white lives in a country that was literally built on the murder and enslavement of nonwhites is intellectually and morally perverse. It is also redundant: Every major social, political and cultural institution in American society exists to affirm the inherent value of white people’s lives.

The writers, journalists, editors, websites and publications who trafficked in the bloody currency of “All Lives Matter,” “White Lives Matter,” or “Blue Lives Matter” owe the American people an apology. They helped to elect Donald Trump. They also share responsibility for the white supremacist terror that was unleashed in Charlottesville over the weekend.

Those members of the Fourth Estate who are willing to reevaluate their role in the national calamity of Donald Trump’s regime can learn an invaluable lesson from the past.

During the Civil Rights movement, many white journalists were on the front lines of a life-and-death struggle to end Jim and Jane Crow. These American heroes, through their words and photographs, shamed White America before the world and by doing so helped to bring down Jim and Jane Crow’s reign of terror. These journalists (both white and black) knew that one could not be “objective” or “fair” in the face of evil. To tell the truth meant that “balance” and “neutrality” were by definition not possible. Ultimately, reality and the truth are scales of a sort, but they do not treat both sides equally. This is a lesson that too many members of the American news media have apparently forgotten.

These lessons will need to be relearned — by journalists and by the American people — if they are to be on the right side of history in the struggle against Donald Trump and what he represents.

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The Pacific Northwest’s fiery week warns of hotter times to come

Colorado Wildfire

A helicopter drops water on the fire as crews battle the Sunshine Fire in the Sunshine canyon area of Boulder, Colo. on Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Jeremy Papasso/Daily Camera via AP) (Credit: AP)

It’s feeling a little apocalypse-y in the Pacific Northwest this week.

With excessive heat warnings and temperatures reaching the triple digits from northern California through Washington state (places where air conditioning is far from a given), it’s a bit hard to fathom that this week should have been even hotter.

All-time records could have been set up and down the coast, if it hadn’t been for the thick smoke streaming down from more than 100 massive forest fires in British Columbia, about 500 miles north.

You heard that right — the smoke in places like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouverwas so thick it changed the weather. At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, smoke even kept flights from taking off. (From the air, you couldn’t even see the ground.) In Seattle on Thursday, the air quality was worse than in Beijing.

Welcome to climate change, 2017 edition.

This interplay between fire and hot weather has inspired a bleak and eerie feeling for people in this part of the country. As climate scientist Sarah Myhre writes for Seattle’s alternative newspaper, the visceral experience of climate change in the future might feel a lot like it does this week in the Emerald City.

Hot temperatures increase evaporation rates and dry out the soil, resulting in even hotter temperatures. Drier weather makes wildfire more likely, and wildfires in a hot and dry environment can spark pyrocumulus clouds — freak thunderstorms borne literally of the heat of the fires themselves, whose lightning can spark new fires. (This actually happened in northern California on Wednesday.)

It’s no wonder it feels like a sneak peak at the end of the world.

It’s normally fairly dry this time of year from Sacramento to Juneau, but the last six weeks have been exceptional. This summer’s wildfires in British Columbia are the worst in more than half a century. If it doesn’t rain this weekend — and it’s not forecast to — Seattle will set a new a new all-time record for consecutive days without measurable rainfall.

In a normal year, Seattle reaches 90 degrees only three times. In this week’s heatwave alone, Seattle may reach that mark seven days in a row. In parts of southern Oregon, temps rose above 110 degrees this week even despite the smoke. And the latest forecast shows that the smoke might stick around for at least another week.

Overnight lows, in particular, were record warm this week — a classic signal of global warming. The changing atmosphere is effectively becoming a thicker blanket, preventing heat from escaping into space at night, making overnight temperatures warm even faster than daytime highs. That’s a worrying trend for public health.

At 1 a.m. on Thursday morning in Seattle, the temperature was still 77 degrees, equivalent to the average high for this time of the year. Without the smoke, the high on Thursday would likely have breached 100 for just the fourth time since weather records began in Seattle, back in 1894.

As the New York Times points out, only about one-third of Seattle’s homes have air conditioning. The inability to cool down is a public health hazard in extended heatwaves like this; studies of hyperthermia consistently show that it’s the lack of overnight recovery time that can become deadly.

new study out this week projected that, should global carbon emissions continue unchecked, more than 500 million people in South Asia alone could be subjected to heatwaves so intense by the end of this century that they could kill even healthy people that happened to venture outdoors.

That’s exactly what scientists mean when they say climate change could render parts of our planet uninhabitable. This week’s weather, as mild as it is in comparison, is yet another warning sign.

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From helping farmers to saving wildlife, here are 7 ways drones are being used for good

Drones Agriculture

(Credit: AP/Alex Brandon)


When you hear the word drone, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably the fact that they are used by the U.S. military for missile strikes. And that association is giving drone technology a serious PR problem.

Drones were first employed as a tool of war, during the siege of Venice in 1849, when Austrians launched the first air raid in history, using unmanned, bomb-carrying balloons over the Italian city. In 1935, Great Britain launched the first successful unmanned, remote-controlled aircraft. Named the Queen Bee, it appears to have been the inspiration for calling these craft “drones.” (Technically, they are known as unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.) Today, drone strikes are a regular tool of the U.S. military in overseas missions.

The entertainment industry has also often highlighted the unwelcome and somewhat sinister elements of drones in storylines, from alien invaders using drones to monitor occupied human cities in the TV series “Colony” to the weaponized drones terrorizing the streets of Los Angeles in the film “Furious 7.”

When drones first entered the commercial market, they were pricey, snatched up by rich hobbyists, many of whom seemed content to simply annoy their neighbors with privacy invading flyovers. But the drone is slowly shedding its negative image, thanks to scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs finding new ways to put this developing technology to work for non-lethal—and much less annoying—reasons.

Here are six ways drones can help protect — and even save — the environment.

1. Reducing carbon emissions and air pollution.

The famous “last mile” logistical problem — the final leg of a supply chain that gets the product to the consumer — has preoccupied Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who wanted to get packages to his customers economically and without adding on a shipping charge. “One memorable fever dream involved storing products in the homes and apartments of local bike messengers in major cities,” writes Bloomberg’s Brad Stone.

Bezos now has his solution: parcel delivery drones. These automated delivery drones would not only help Amazon’s packages arrive on time and in a cost-effective manner, they could have a powerful environmental benefit by reducing the carbon emissions associated with trucks.

A new study by researchers at the University of Washington found that drones have less of a carbon impact than trucks for delivering packages in certain circumstances, particularly if the distance isn’t too far, the route has few stops and the packages are small and light.

“Flight is so much more energy-intensive — getting yourself airborne takes a huge amount of effort. So I initially thought there was no way drones could compete with trucks on carbon dioxide emissions,” said senior author Anne Goodchild, a UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. “In the end, I was amazed at how energy-efficient drones are in some contexts. Trucks compete better on heavier loads, but for really light packages, drones are awesome.”

In addition to replacing some truck deliveries, drones could deliver small packages you might otherwise have to use your car to get, like groceries or pizza. Eventually, the impact of drones will be felt across several areas of transportation, resulting not only in lower carbon emissions, but in improved air quality.

Outside the U.S., drones have been successful delivering food, mail and medicine. It might take a little while for the U.S. to get there. While the Federal Aviation Administration recently established the legal space for drone experimentation, official authorization for commercial operations is still far off.

2. Identifying illegal logging operations.

Over the past decade, illegal logging has destroyed nearly 3,000 square miles of the Brazilian Amazon every year. In the Peruvian Amazon, the figure is closer to tens of thousands of square miles.

For local authorities and conservationists, preventing such operations — many of which are part of organized crime rings — is a difficult task, as the logging often occurs in remote parts of rugged terrain.

But drones are helping level the playing field. The Amazon Basin Conservation Association’s Los Amigos conservancy concession, for example, uses two small drones to monitor the Los Amigos conservation land trust located in Peru’s Madre de Dios region. With only five rangers to patrol 145,000 hectares (550 square miles) in a dense jungle with no paved roads, defending the region is made much easier with the deployment of a pair of camera drones, allowing the team to respond quickly to reports of deforestation.

“We can go straight to the point, not just walking everywhere trying to find it in the forest,” said Carlos Castaneda, the trust’s coordinator. They’ve already found evidence of both illegal logging and mining.

3. Measuring wildlife populations and preventing poaching.

Wild elephants are particularly sensitive to encounters with humans. Sometimes elephants migrate out of protected parks in search of food and wind up on private farmland. In efforts to preserve their livelihood, farmers often retaliate with aggressive measures, hurling firecrackers at elephants, poisoning them, or merely taking a blind eye to the poachers who hunt the animals for their ivory.

Rangers have been successfully using drones to herd elephants away from farmlands and communities. Like humans, elephants don’t like the noise drones create and so are easily herded by them. The buzzing sound is put to good use to keep elephants in the parks, away from harm and safe from poachers.

“The greater interaction distance the UAVs provide lends a much-needed safety buffer for our rangers, the farmers and the elephants,” said Angela Mwakatobe, head of research management at the Tanzanian Wildlife Research Institute and a co-author of a paper about the use of drones to protect elephants in Tanzania. “Here is a useful piece of technology we didn’t have in our tool kit one year ago.”

In addition to being anti-poaching tools, drones have been successfully used to measure wildlife populations around the globe, from rhino populations in India to black bears in Minnesota.

4. Measuring air, water and marine health.

In addition to being able to keep some vehicles off the road, which reduces air pollution, drones can be used effectively to measure air quality, including measuring and analyzing ozone levels, the radiation following nuclear accidents and the ash cloud after volcanic eruptions.

And not all drones are airborne. Oceanographers, climatologists and marine biologists are using underwater drones to measure sea levels, marine populations, ocean acidification, coastal erosion and assess the health of marine mammals.

Currently, NOAA scientists are using unmanned ocean vehicles called Saildrones to analyze places such as the Arctic and the tropical Pacific that are difficult to access. These water-based drones will help them understand how oceanic changes impact the weather, climate, fisheries and marine mammals.

5. Saving water and monitoring crops.

Cannon Michael is a farmer who grows tomatoes, melons, carrots, onions, cotton and almonds at Bowles Farming Co. near Los Banos, 120 miles southeast of San Francisco. He’s keenly aware of how climate change has affected water supplies. Like some other drought-stricken farmers, Michael has turned to drones to detect water irrigation leaks across his fields.  “I’ve always been a big fan of technology,” he said. “I think it’s really the only way we’re going to stay in business.”

One study suggested California wine production could plummet as much as 70 percent by the middle of the century due to rising temperatures associated with climate change. Some winemakers, like Jackson Family Wines in Sonoma County, are relying on drone technology to help. The Jacksons are monitoring their vineyard with drones armed with sensors that evaluate the colors of the plants to detect moisture. The wrong color can mean leaks in the irrigation or that the crops are missing key nutrients.

Katie Jackson, the vice president of sustainability and external affairs, calls it “data-driven farming.”

6. Reducing chemical run-off.

Because they are sprayed across entire agricultural fields, more than 98 percent of sprayed insecticides and 95 percent of herbicides impact something other than their target species. Runoff can carry these toxic chemicals far beyond the fields, to aquatic environments, animal grazing areas and other areas, where they can sicken or kill a host of other species.

Drones outfitted with multispectral cameras can help limit runoff by measuring the health of crops through photographs that reveal things the human eye does not.

7. Delivering clean energy.

Since strong winds blow more reliably the higher you go, high-altitude drones known as wind drones or energy kites could become a dependable source of wind power.

The Economist reports that Makani, a startup acquired by Google in 2013, “reckons a single energy kite can generate 50 percent more electricity than a single wind turbine while using only 10 percent of the materials.”

Power tool

As with all forms of technology, it’s not all butterflies and unicorns. We don’t appreciate the drones that spy on us or simply invade our space. Aside from causing these obvious downsides for the general public, drones can also be disruptive to other species.

Wildlife may experience increased stress when they see a camera drone in the sky. A 2015 study on black bears in the U.S. showed that the animals experienced increased heart rates when drones flew over. Drones can cause herds of animals to scatter, separating mothers from babies. And birds have been known to injure themselves in midair collisions with drones. Hopefully the technology and its implementation will evolve to reduce these negatives.

In the meantime, drones are here to stay — hopefully to do more good than bad. As prices go down and there are more inexpensive drones to choose from, environmentalists, conservationists, scientists and entrepreneurs will surely devise many more ways that drones can help the environment.

Drones may have gotten a bad rap, but they aren’t essentially bad. As British philosopher and politician Jeffrey Sacks observed, “Technology gives us power, but it does not and cannot tell us how to use that power.” By being put into service to help farmers and scientists in myriad ways, the power of drone technology is becoming an important tool for doing good.


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Want to understand white privilege? Look at college golf teams like mine

College Football Golf

(Credit: AP/Keith Srakocic/Charles Rex Arbogast)

More and more discussion has become centered around what white privilege is. But very little dialogue has taken place around white privilege in college sports and the labor of African-American athletes on the football and basketball teams who make it possible for other sports to exist at universities.

So, as college football season begins in a couple weeks, I reflected back on my time at the University of Washington while playing on the women’s golf team.

For a good 20 years of my life, I was a competitive golfer. I played on a full athletic scholarship and eventually turned pro, playing a short while on the LPGA and developmental tours.

While it is no secret golf is made up of a majority of white men, I never fully recognized the privilege I had to play on a golf scholarship, and this realization came to me after reading a Facebook post from another white woman who I used to play on tour with: “If college is free for everyone, then it will be equivalent to a high school degree,” she lamented.

My first reaction was, “But you went to school for free on an athletic scholarship . . . also, your parents are millionaires.”

Then I wondered, “How do golf programs exist at universities?”

In 2011, when Washington’s football program went 0-11 for the season, the football program made a profit of close to $15 million. The basketball program, which did very well that year, pocketed around $6 million.

As one can imagine, when a basketball or football team wins a Bowl game or makes it into the Final Four, the financial stakes are considerably higher — not just for the schools, but for the NCAA itself.

So it should surprise no one that during March Madness in 2016, the NCAA raked in close to $1 billion in three weeks from ad revenue, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships and media rights.

While it is no secret that the basketball and football programs at universities can make a ton of money for schools, there are also plenty of athletic programs that cost the universities and colleges money. Golf happens to be one of those programs.

First, I went back and tallied what my scholarship was worth. As an out-of-state student, my tuition was about $35,000 a year, my monthly stipend was $1,100 for nine months of year, plus about $1,000 in books for the year, totaling $183,000 for the four years.

This was just the cost of me as a student, not as an athlete.

I called my coach, Mary Mulflur, and asked, “How much did I cost the university to play on the team per year?”

She laughed and said, “Around $60K.”

The cost of playing on the women’s golf team included my equipment, travel to tournaments, physical therapy and insurance on me. In total, my time at the university cost the school around $424,000.

When I asked how the school could afford to have a golf program, without hesitation she responded, “Well, the football and basketball program, of course.”

Knowing this I quickly realized that in essence I was the freeloader that America loathes, the one we hear about so often in elections, one of those who takes advantage of a system set up to make people feel entitled.

In particular, other university sports like tennis, golf, swimming and gymnastics (mostly made up of white athletes) ride off the backs of mostly African-American athletes. According to a study conducted by University of Pennsylvania researcher Shaun R. Harper, black men only make up 2.5 percent of undergraduate students, but comprise 56 percent of college football teams and 61 percent of college basketball teams.

While it’s not completely fair to paint all golfers with a broad stroke, I would be remiss to say that in the confines of our perfectly manicured golf courses it becomes easy to forget that 43 million Americans live in poverty and it becomes easier to turn a blind eye to our privilege.

Many people are surprised to learn that several LPGA players support Donald Trump. And why do they support him? Because he has supported the LPGA throughout the years. Their support for him was rooted in the fact that he couldn’t possibly be that bad of a guy if he supported the LPGA tour (never mind the fact that he benefitted from from supporting the tour). It is also a blind spot on their part to think that Trump’s support of the LPGA equates to support of women, as we can see with programs he has overturned or dismantled so far.

LPGA professional Natalie Gulbis gave a glowing speech about Trump at the Republican National Convention, stating, “I believe this is the greatest time to be a woman in the greatest country in the history of the world, but I have no delusions that there isn’t a mess to clean up. And we desperately need someone to clean up that mess. That person is Donald Trump.”

A few months later, Gulbis penned a piece for espnW about what it was like to support Donald Trump. The essay was written after he signed the executive order banning refugees and immigrants from seven Muslim majority countries.

“And while Donald’s aggressive stand on immigration has been controversial, the LPGA is a very international tour, and LPGA officials say there have been no visa issues so far,” she wrote.

Well, of course there haven’t been any issues, because there are no players on the tour from the banned countries.

Talk about a real disconnect.

Another issue that presents itself is that entitlement is embedded in golf.

A week did not go by on tour where we as players did not complain about something: the greens were too bumpy; the greens were too fast; the lunch provided by the course was terrible; the fairways were not in perfect condition; the course was too short; the course was too long. You name it, we complained about it.

As I have further separated myself from the world of golf, focusing on writing about the sport rather than playing, I have a better sense of awareness of the privilege afforded to me to play a sport that is inaccessible to most.

Growing up, I was often the only girl at the golf course when practicing, and to my memory, I only met two black junior golfers in my area, both of whom were from the same family. While this should have stood out to me, as an adolescent my mind hyper-focused on being the best golfer, not on societal issues.

(Since the LPGA tour’s beginning in 1950, it has had only eight African-American golfers join the tour. The PGA tour has only had seven African-Americans participate since its founding in 1929.)

Upon entering high school, though, I began to see more clearly the divide still engrained in the sport. My high school golf team was filled with girls who came from upper-middle class families. Of the 10 girls on the team, none were minorities, except me, although I did not fully identify as Mexican.

I have a vivid memory of one girl’s father who flew his private plane to pick her up from an event when she decided she didn’t want to be in Ardmore, Oklahoma. I roomed with her when she made that phone call to her father to pick her up, and the thought that came to mind was, “You’re sitting here crying about not liking this town, but we get to play golf! Like how cool is it that we get to skip school to play golf, paid for by our school?”

During this time my mother was cleaning houses as a way to support me and my sister. She started cleaning houses because of the flexibility it provided. After scrubbing toilets (and inevitably, the toilets that belonged to the family of one of my golf teammates), she would take me to the golf course and sit in the snack bar for upwards of five hours, watching me through the window as I chased my dreams.

While there were certainly families that also made sacrifices to give their child the opportunity to play golf competitively, they were very few and far between. I wore cheap clothes from Walmart, and my mother drove a beat up 10-year-old Toyota Corolla, which left me feeling like an outsider.

The sacrifices my mother made so I could earn an athletic scholarship have left me feeling eternally grateful. However, while I loved college golf, there is a sense of guilt that I have zero debt from college for playing a sport that in all honesty does little to nothing promote a university. A good golf program only matters to the golfer playing on the team, and it is only because of the labor of mostly African-American athletes that we are able to play.

As my political and societal views have begun to evolve over time, the privilege and past discriminatory practices embedded in golf have weighed heavily on me. In particular, I notice how it has shaped the views of my golfing companions who have lived in a world of privilege.

I don’t consider myself fully “woke,” as people say these days. Moments come and go where I surprise myself for thinking a particular thought, and I can’t help but wonder if my time spent in such an elite world contributed to my ignorance.

Perhaps my views were shaped by wanting to feel like I belonged, and belonging meant ignoring that the golf community, which is mostly still white and male, does little voluntarily to make the sport more inclusive and accessible.

One thing is clear though: Golf is a perfect example of the world we live in terms of the haves and have nots. But whether through golf or through something else, my hope is that one day everyone will have access to the same indulgence of happiness and opportunity.

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The untold stories of women in the 1967 Detroit rebellion and its aftermath


Detroit (Credit: Annapurna Pictures)

The movie “Detroit,” which tells the story of the 1967 Detroit rebellion, has received mixed reviews since its release. Some praised the film for tackling a complex, little-known story, while others criticized it for its representation of the the city, the historical events and actors involved. In many respects, the film is limited, with the voices and perspectives of women and girls lacking.

I moved to Michigan in the fall of 2013 to begin teaching theater for social change and performance studies at Michigan State University. As a Chicago native, I knew little about the history of Michigan and Detroit.

I began researching the 1967 Detroit rebellion to answer my own questions about what had happened. When I began to review the wealth of materials found in oral history collections and newspaper archives, I was struck by the lack of any sort of perspectives from the women and girls who witnessed and participated in the uprising.

In photo after photo, women and girls appear alongside men and boys. Of the over 7,000 people arrested from July 23 to July 28, 1967, between 10 and 12 percent were women or girls. (The youngest was 10 years old.) Forty-three people were killed, including two white women and one little girl, Tanya Lynn Blanding, shot and killed by the National Guardsmen who opened fire on her building.

Who were these women and these girls? What were they doing on the street? What roles and responsibilities did they take during and after the military occupation, and later, when industry and investments fled the city?

Those questions inspired me to develop a new play called “AFTER/LIFE,” which focuses on the experiences of women and girls in Detroit before, during and after the rebellion.

Rather than beginning that story with the raid on the unlicensed after-hours club on July 23, 1967 — as the film does — I decided to focus on the activism that emerged following the police murder of Cynthia Scott in Detroit four years earlier. Long before 1967, the issue of police brutality was at the forefront of Detroiters’ minds, with women and girls going on to play prominent and important roles in the rebellion and its aftermath.

A 1963 police murder sparks outrage

The history of police brutality in Detroit is long and complex, but at no time have men or boys been the exclusive targets of their violence. In the early morning hours of July 5, 1963, police stopped Cynthia Scott and a male companion as they walked down John R Street near Edmond Place.

Scott was a young, African-American woman with a history of engaging in sex work to survive. According to several witnesses who spoke to the Detroit Free Press, despite Scott’s repeated assertions that she was with her boyfriend and that they had the right to walk down the street, Detroit police moved to arrest Scott on suspicion of prostitution. She broke away and officer Theodore Spicher shot her three times. She fell face down on the pavement dead.

Witnesses contested Spicher’s official statement that she had pulled a knife on him before he shot her. Local activists took up the case as a rallying cry. The Illustrated News, a grassroots circular published by civil rights leaders, carried a two-page story accompanied by detailed pictures of community members picketing the police headquarters.

On the front lines

Segregation in 1967 Detroit meant there were few opportunities for blacks to live, work or socialize freely. Racist public policies called for the overpolicing and underprotection of Detroit’s black communities. Underground bars called “blind pigs” filled a vital need for safe places for adults to relax, mingle and exchange ideas.

In the scorching hot, early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967, Detroit police raided the “blind pig” run by William Walter “Bill” Scott II at 9125 12th Street. As the police slowly loaded the 80-odd partygoers into paddy wagons, neighbors gathered on the street to watch. A rumor circulated through the crowd that the police had manhandled at least one woman. For Scott’s 19-year-old son, William Walter Scott III, a lifetime of frustration over police misconduct fueled the first bottle he threw. The chaos spilled into the street, the police pulled back and looters broke into local stores. The disturbance would escalate as the crowds — and the response by law enforcement — would turn increasingly violent and deadly over the next several days.

In 1967, women worked in many of the businesses that were impacted by shoplifting and arson. Some of the women I spoke with — who were girls at the time – recalled that older women, including their aunts and mothers, discouraged shoplifters from taking items from the grocery stores and dry cleaners where they worked on 12th Street.

I learned from interview subjects that in other instances — recognizing that the food and goods would rot or be destroyed — women encouraged people to take what they could carry for themselves and their families. Many understood that 12th Street, one of the most vibrant corridors for black businesses, was being destroyed, and that it would take some time for these much-needed jobs and services to return, if they ever would.

Despite the fires and rampaging police and National Guardsmen, black women took to the streets and put their lives on the line. For some, this meant taking food and other items they needed for friends and family; for others it meant personally ensuring family members made it out alive.

During performances of “AFTER/LIFE,” patrons were asked to share their memories. One man recalled that his mother piled her children into a car to evacuate them out of the city. Another woman told us that her mother faced down a National Guardsmen’s rifle and bayonet to get her children home. Teaching their children to load weapons, to hit the floor and duck for cover to avoid getting shot by the police, and to be forever wary of men in uniform — all of these things became a necessary part of mothering during the rebellion.

Women organize and rebuild

As police and National Guardsmen escalated their attacks on black Detroiters and local businesses came under fire, black women also worked to deescalate the violence. Oral histories and archival materials reveal that they carried sandwiches and lemonade to guardsmen and police who were deployed without provisions in their communities. Most importantly, women activated longstanding community organizing networks to provide food, water and shelter to those Detroiters who had been displaced by the violence. Women in positions of influence, from Grace Episcopal and New Bethel Baptist churches to the Temple Beth El synagogue, rallied together.

This vital, “behind-the-scenes” work would have been impossible without a concerted effort on the airwaves. Martha Jean “The Queen” Steinberg, a prominent black radio host, convinced her station managers at WCLB-AM1400 to interrupt their regular programming and allow her to go on air. For the next 48 hours, she would urge calm while giving her majority-black listeners the latest updates, including how local, state and national leaders were responding to the crisis and where they might get help.

Some of the hardest tasks fell to women such as Margaret Gill, Rebecca Pollard and Viola Temple, the mothers of the teenage boys killed by police at the Algiers Hotel. Along with June Blanding, whose four-year-old daughter, Tanya, was murdered by National Guardsmen while she slept, these women organized immediate aid for the victims and led the longer-term charge for justice.

Women also played key roles in a “People’s Tribunal,” which was organized to hold the police and National Guard accountable. On August 30, 1967 at the Central United Church of Christ (later the Shrine of the Black Madonna), Rosa Parks, a veteran of civil rights organizing, sat as the lead juror in the mock trial that drew hundreds of spectators and ultimately found the police guilty of murder. While the tribunal would have no impact on the formal, criminal proceedings, it provided a necessary and important space for the community to tell the truth, express its anger and frustration, and receive a measure of social justice.

Fifty years later, Detroiters are engaged in a large-scale act of commemorating the 1967 Rebellion. Art and history museum exhibits, panel discussions, book releases and performances have been staged across the city by grassroots organizations and cultural institutions. Men continue to figure prominently in the coverage.

Curators at the Detroit Historical Museum acknowledged as much when they posted a sign in their exhibit that asked patrons, “What’s missing?”

Their answer: the perspectives of people of color and women. As long as our stories about the 1967 Detroit Rebellion overlook the knowledge and experiences of women and girls, they will continue to circulate half-truths and false representations of the city, the causes of the uprising and the world Detroiters inhabit today.
The Conversation
Lisa Biggs, Assistant Professor, Theatre and Performance Studies, Residential College in the Arts and Humanities, Michigan State University

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Trump campaign releases divisive ad one day after calling for national unity

Donald Trump

(Credit: Getty/Chip Somodevilla)

It was clear from President Donald Trump’s remarks on the Charlottesville protests Sunday that he was in campaign mode. He went through considerable lengths to avoid condemning white nationalism in fear of ostracizing his base.

The president did call for an effort of national unity, saying that Americans “have to love each other.”

In a new campaign ad, for, ostensibly, the 2020 presidential election, there was no love loss for the Democratic Party or the press.

“Democrats obstructing, media attacking our president, career politicians standing in the way of success. But President Trump’s plan is working,” the ad said.

“One million jobs created, more Americans working than ever before, unemployment: lowest since 2001, the stock market: all time record high, the strongest military in decades. The president’s enemies don’t want him to succeed, but Americans are saying ‘let president Trump do his job’,” the ad added.

Since Trump has entered the White House, he has only tried to reach out to his voters, virtually ignoring half of the country. His dangerous rhetoric reached a new low Sunday when he failed to explicitly call out  the white nationalist ideology that was responsible for the death of an innocent woman.

Trump said there were many sides in the wrong in Charlottesville on Sunday before telling the American people that we all have to get along.

“We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation and true affection for each other,” he said in a short speech. “We must remember this truth, no matter our color, creed, religion and political party, we are all Americans first.”

“We must love each other, respect each other and cherish our history and future together,” Trump added. “So important. We have to respect each other. Ideally, we have to love each other.”

The president’s new ad hardly practices what he preached.

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