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NYU really is a sleazy institution

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I keep coming across NYU’s name for various sleazy practices (often involving perks and salaries), but this latest story, reported by Nina Bernstein in the NY Times, really takes the cake:

One died in her multimillion-dollar apartment. Another left $1.3 million to charity. A third was an opera costume designer who took regular trips to Europe with his devoted partner. All three donated their bodies to medical science, and eventually served as cadavers for first-year medical students at the New York University School of Medicine. All three had signed forms that promised cremation and the disposal of their ashes by the medical school “in an appropriate and dignified manner.”

So how did their dissected corpses end up instead in mass graves on Hart Island, where New York City buries the dead it considers unclaimed and indigent?

Those cases, discovered during an investigation by The New York Timesinto Hart Island burials, shocked surviving family members and friends. But they also raised larger questions about body donations at a time when medical schools throughout the country increasingly rely on such gifts, rather than on unclaimed bodies, to teach future doctors.

Now, after searching through anatomical records at The Times’s request, N.Y.U. is apologizing, and acknowledging that the cases were part of a practice that went on for years. Until 2013, the school was sending a subset of privately donated cadavers to a city morgue for burial at public expense.

“As an institution, we weren’t aware that this was happening,” Lisa Greiner, a spokeswoman for NYU Langone Medical Center, said. “I promise you it’s not happening now.”

But the revelation reinforces longstanding concerns by some anatomists about the lack of regulation and oversight in a national patchwork of body donation operations. And it could have repercussions at the 16 medical schools in New York State, which use more than 800 donated bodies a year.

How many bodies donated to N.Y.U. ended up on Hart Island is unknown, Ms. Greiner said, partly because some records were lost in Hurricane Sandy, and also because the longtime director of the program, Dr. Bruce Bogart, who withdrew from most university responsibilities in 2011 and officially retired in 2013, now has dementia.

Medical schools often share an excess supply of cadavers with other schools that have run short, and some bodies donated elsewhere were passed to N.Y.U. Indeed, among the privately donated cadavers that N.Y.U. dispatched to Hart Island was the body of Leo Van Witsen, the author of an influential book on costume design for opera, who had actually donated his corpse to Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.

According to N.Y.U.’s records, Columbia’s program did not need Mr. Van Witsen’s body when he died at 96 in 2009, in the apartment on West 73rd Street in Manhattan that he and his partner had shared for decades. So with permission from the executor of his will, Columbia transferred his body to N.Y.U., Ms. Greiner said. Three years later, apparently because his executor had checked off a box on an N.Y.U. form stating that the family did not want the remains returned, the school sent Mr. Van Witsen’s corpse to a city morgue as unclaimed instead of cremating it.

“He deserved something much better than that, even if it was scattering his ashes in Central Park,” said Sharon Stein, a former neighbor who described Mr. Van Witsen as “thorny, interesting and dapper,” and recalled that he had escaped the Holocaust as a refugee from the Netherlands in 1938.

Without public records on body donations, there is no systematic way to identify how many donors have wound up on Hart Island. The Times stumbled on the cases it linked to N.Y.U. while combing through a database of 62,000 Hart Island burials since 1980, originally compiled by volunteers for the Hart Island Project, a nonprofit organization. A gap of one to three years between death and burial typically was a sign that the deceased had served as a medical cadaver. But among hundreds of such cases, sometimes only an unusual name or another exceptional piece of information in the records made further investigation possible.

One of the most striking involved Marie Muscarnera, who was buried in a pauper’s grave in 2008, three years after her death at 91. Her brother Joseph, who died a few months before her, lies in another Hart Island trench. Yet an estate bearing Ms. Muscarnera’s name is on a 2009 list of donors of money to N.Y.U.’s medical school, in the $550,000-to-$999,000 category.

Ms. Muscarnera, it turns out, grew up in Brooklyn in dire poverty, the oldest of 10 children in an Italian immigrant family that depended on her teenage labor to survive. But by the time she died, in 2005, her fierce drive, dressmaking talent and shrewd investments had earned her a nest egg of more than $1.3 million. She left it all to charity, including $691,700 to N.Y.U.’s medical school. Separately, like Joseph, who was disabled and lived for years under her care until he died at NYU Langone, she gave the medical school her body for use as a cadaver.

The N.Y.U. form she signed stated, “I wish my remains to be cremated and the New York University School of Medicine to be responsible for burying or spreading the cremains in a dignified manner.”

Instead, after using her body as a cadaver for three years, the anatomy program paid a funeral home $225 to transport it to a city morgue in the Bronx, to be boxed in pine and ferried to Hart Island, where the city pays inmates 50 cents an hour to do the burying. Cremation costs the school $155 more per body.

Ms. Greiner said money had nothing to do with it. “It really does not appear that any of these individuals were buried on Hart Island for any savings,” she said.

She said she was unable to explain the reasoning behind N.Y.U.’s practice, but she linked it to confusing notification letters sent out to survivors, sometimes months after a donor’s body had been accepted as a cadaver. Notwithstanding the written wishes of the donor, unless a surviving relative or executor responded to that notification within 90 days by checking the right box, the body was not cremated but dispatched to the city morgue for a Hart Island burial.

The wording of the notification changed a few times, but no version disclosed the plan for a mass grave on Hart Island, and one form in use for several years falsely stated that after cremation, cremains that went uncollected would be buried by the City of New York. In fact, New York does not bury ashes, and unlike many other major cities in the United States, it is barred by state law from cremating bodies considered unclaimed. . .

Continue reading.

Despite Ms. Greiner’s statement, it seems perfectly evident that the reason for dumping the bodies in Potter’s Field instead of following the wishes and conditions specified by the decedent was exactly the money. NYU was externalizing a cost by foisting it off on the taxpayers instead of paying the cost itself, even though required ignoring the explicitly stated wishes of the person donating his or her body.

NYU is a contemptible organization. And Ms. Greiner is quite clearly lying throug her teeth.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 May 2016 at 8:59 am

Posted in Education

Privatization of education, here and there

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There, where privatization took over completely and crushed a generation with debt.

Here, where universities are becoming corporations in structure and sometimes in ownership.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2016 at 3:30 pm

Absolutely brilliant: Coaching parents as a way to help impoverished children

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A direct attack on dysfunctional memes by inoculation with a benign meme, and one that is self-sustaining at that. Paul Tough writes in the NY Times:

IN 1986, in a few of the poorest neighborhoods in Kingston, Jamaica, a team of researchers from the University of the West Indies embarked on an experiment that has done a great deal, over time, to change our thinking about how to help children succeed, especially those living in poverty. Its message: Help children by supporting and coaching their parents.

The researchers divided the families of 129 infants and toddlers into groups. The first group received hourlong home visits once a week from a trained researcher who encouraged the parents to spend more time playing actively with their children: reading picture books, singing songs, playing peekaboo. A second group of children received a kilogram of a milk-based nutritional supplement each week. A control group received nothing. The interventions themselves ended after two years, but the researchers have followed the children ever since.

The intervention that made the big difference in the children’s lives, as it turned out, wasn’t the added nutrition; it was the encouragement to the parents to play. The children whose parents were counseled to play more with them did better, throughout childhood, on tests of I.Q., aggressive behavior and self-control. Today, as adults, they earn an average of 25 percent more per year than the subjects whose parents didn’t receive home visits.

The Jamaica experiment helps make the case that if we want to improve children’s opportunities for success, one of the most powerful potential levers for change is not the children themselves, but rather the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of the adults who surround them [i.e., their defining memes – LG].

More recent research has helped to uncover exactly how that change can take place. Psychologists including Mary Dozier at the University of Delaware and Philip Fisher at the University of Oregon have studied home-visiting interventions in which parents of infants and young children are provided with supportive, personalized coaching that identifies and reinforces the small moments — such as the face-to-face exchanges sometimes called “serve and return” interactions — that encourage attachment, warmth and trust between parent and child.

The impact of this coaching can be powerful. In one series of experiments, infants and toddlers whose foster parents received just 10 home visits showed fewer behavior problems than a control group and significantly higher rates of “secure attachment” (a close, stable connection with the adults in their lives). The children’s ability to process stress improved, too. In fact, the daily patterns in their levels of cortisol, a key stress hormone, came to resemble those of typical, well-functioning, non-foster-care children.

These positive influences in children’s early lives can have a profound effect on the development of what are sometimes called noncognitive skills.

These capacities may be harder to measure on tests of kindergarten readiness than skills like number and letter recognition, but they are inordinately valuable in school, beginning on the first day of kindergarten. Unlike reading and math skills, though, they aren’t primarily developed through deliberate practice and explicit training. Instead, researchers have found, they are mostly shaped by children’s daily experience of their environment. And they have their roots in the first few years of life. When children spend their early years in communities and homes where life is unstable and chaotic — which is true of a disproportionate number of children growing up in poverty — the intense and chronic stress they often experience as a result can seriously disrupt, on a neurobiological level, their development of these important capacities.

This is why interventions such as home visits with parents can be so effective. . .

Continue reading.

One’s self really does seem to be a collection of memes, and it turns out to make a big difference which memes you acquire.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 May 2016 at 1:48 pm

When the oil boom went bust, Oklahoma protected drillers and squeezed schools

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Oklahoma is also the state that denied that extensive fracking could have had anything to do with the rash of earthquakes suffered by the state. It is not a state that inconvenience businesses merely for the public good. Luc Cohen and Joshua Schneyer report in Reuters:

Oilmen won a big victory when legislators made permanent one of the juiciest tax breaks in the United States. Schools, meanwhile, are having to cut classes, administrators and teachers to make up a growing revenue shortfall.

NEWCASTLE, Oklahoma  – After intense lobbying, Oklahoma’s oilmen scored a victory two years ago. State lawmakers voted to keep in place some of the lowest taxes on oil and gas production in the United States – a break worth $470 million in fiscal year 2015 alone.

The state’s schools haven’t been so fortunate. In Newcastle, 23 miles from the capital of Oklahoma City, John Cerny recently learned that the school attended by his five-year-old granddaughter, Adelynn, will open just four days a week next year. The Bridge Creek school district will slash spending because of a projected $1.3 billion state budget shortfall next year.

Beth Lawton teaches first grade at Broadmoore Elementary in Moore, a city of 59,000  bordering the capital. In April, she and several colleagues were told their contracts won’t be renewed because of funding cuts. Broadmoore’s class sizes are expected to rise next year as a result.

“I think our lawmakers have failed us, and I don’t understand how little they value education,” Lawton said.

Oklahoma’s school-funding crisis is part of the pain inflicted by falling oil prices on energy-rich states across America that rely on natural-resources taxes to pay their governments’ bills. But the crisis in Oklahoma is especially dire, exacerbated by a legacy of large tax breaks bestowed upon oil companies.

Before the recent 60 percent decline in oil prices, a drilling bonanza minted millionaires and billionaires in Oklahoma. The boom turned sleepy Oklahoma City into a thriving hub for drillers like Devon Energy, Chesapeake Energy and Continental Resources – the troika that lobbied hardest for the tax-break extension. The rebuilt downtown hosts top notch dining, hotels, arts venues, and a top NBA basketball team.

But as private oil wealth created these emblems of prosperity, public services have come under severe strain. In contrast to other energy states, Oklahoma didn’t fill state coffers during flush years.

Oklahoma taxed new oil and gas production from its prolific horizontal wells — the big money-makers of the fracking industry — at rates as low as 1 percent throughout the shale boom. In North Dakota’s giant Bakken oilfield, the going rate was 11.5 percent.

The state actually began cutting back on funding for Oklahoma school children before the bust, and education funding is likely to contract much further, said Ryan Owens, a co-director at the Cooperative Council for Oklahoma School Administration, a professional association of educators.

“Oil was $100 a barrel, and we still had less money per student,” Owens said. “We had an opportunity and we missed it.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 May 2016 at 9:36 am

What an intense subculture: Elementary-school chess

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And pre-elementary. John Leland writes in the NY Times:

Benjamin Kwon does not look like a gladiator, but you should see him play the Fried Liver Attack, a wildly aggressive chess opening that wages an all-out assault on the opposing player’s king. The opening is not for the fainthearted.

On a recent Friday afternoon, he beamed as he rattled off the first moves for both sides: pawn to E4, pawn to E5, bishop to C4, and so on, until he got to the real moment of attack, knight to G5. This is where the Fried Liver Attack gets hairy. “Nothing can block it,” he said, his face lighting up.

Benjamin Kwon is 6 years old.

We were sitting in small wooden chairs at Public School 77, the Lower Lab School, a school for gifted and talented students on the Upper East Side. “Sitting” might be an imprecise word for Ben’s state of constant up-and-down motion.

Last month, Lower Lab’s team of kindergartners and first graders finished first in the state chess tournament, defeating elite private schools like Dalton and Avenues: The World School. Earlier in the school year, a Lower Lab team of first graders won the national championship for their grade. The next national tournament is in May.

For Ben, a first grader who did not go to the nationals, the state tournament in Saratoga was a weekend to remember.

“The team trophy was taller than me,” he said, almost jumping out of his seat. “The dinner place was so yum — Applebee’s. The first thing you got was nachos.”

Chess is enjoying a boom in New York, and much of it is because of schools like Lower Lab, which have brought the game to very young players, often as part of the regular curriculum. Educators cite research showing that chess helps students develop analytical thinking, set goals, concentrate for extended periods and learn to delay gratification. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2016 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Games

Madeleine Albright get protest over (for example) defending the death of 500,000 Iraqi children

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Ben Norton reports in Salon:

Students and faculty alike have joined in protests at California’s Scripps College, where former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was booked to headline the graduation commencement ceremony.

Critics have blasted the ex-Clinton official as a “war criminal” and “repeated genocide enabler,” and have pledged to boycott commencement if she is not disinivited.

The protests have reinvigorated the debate around Albright and her legacy.

Scripps is a prestigious all-women college in Claremont, California. It is relatively small, with just around 1,000 students.

Class President Jennie Xu booked Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. secretary of state, in early 2015. “She was our top choice,” Xu told the Los Angeles Times. “I was really, really ecstatic.”

Students and faculty did not share the enthusiasm.

Nearly 30 Scripps staff members published an open letter in the student newspaper in April expressing “outrage” at the selection and declaring that they will not participate in the May 14 graduation ceremony in protest.

As former secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Albright “supported several policies that led to the deaths of millions of people,” the faculty wrote.

They cited numerous examples of extreme crimes of which Albright has been accused, in Iraq, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Colombia.

In the 1990s, the Clinton administration pressured the U.N. Security Council to impose one of the most brutal sanctions regimes in history on Iraq, ostensibly in order to punish dictator Saddam Hussein — whom the U.S. had backed throughout the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s — for his 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

A U.N. report found that, from 1991 to late 1995, as many as 576,000 Iraqi children died because of the harsh economic sanctions, of which Albright was a staunch supporter.

The Clinton administration responded not by lifting the sanctions, but rather by helping to create the U.N.’s Oil-for-Food Program, a corruption-plagued agreement in which Iraq gave away its oil in return for basic necessities like food and medicine, which the sanctions restricted.

In an Emmy Award-winning 1996 interview on CBS program “60 Minutes,” the Clinton-era secretary of state was asked whether the deaths of half a million Iraqi children was worth it. “The price is worth it,” Albright bluntly replied.

After working for 34 years at the U.N., Humanitarian Coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday resigned in 1998 in protest of the sanctions, saying they amounted to “genocide” in Iraq.

“We are now in there responsible for killing people, destroying their families, their children, allowing their older parents to die for lack of basic medicines,” Halliday said. Other longtime U.N. officials joined Halliday in resigning in protest.

Albright later apologized for seemingly justifying the genocide of Iraqi children, and claimed she was asked a loaded question.

This is perhaps Albright’s most infamous moment, but the Scripps faculty cited other crimes of which she has been accused. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2016 at 1:33 pm

On writing in English while daily life is conducted in a foreign language

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In the NY Review of Books Tim Parks has a very interesting column on what it’s like to write in your native language while conducting your daily life in a foreign language. It’s not quite the same as writing in a foreign language you’ve learned (cf. Joseph Conrad, Vladimir Nabokov, or any writer of Esperanto poetry or fiction).

It has become commonplace, in this age of globalization, to speak of novelists and poets who change language, whether to find a wider audience or to adapt to life in a new country. But what about those writers who move to another country and do not change language, who continue to write in their mother tongue many years after it has ceased to be the language of daily conversation? Do the words they use grow arid and stiff? Or is there an advantage in being away from what is perhaps only the flavor of the day at home, the expressions invented today and gone tomorrow? Then, beyond specifically linguistic concerns, what audience do you write toward if you are no longer regularly speaking to people who use your language?

The most famous candidate for a reflection on this situation would be James Joyce, who left Ireland in 1904 aged twenty-two and lived abroad, mainly in Trieste and Paris, until his death in 1941. Other writers one could speak of would be W. G. Sebald, writing in German while living in England, Dubravka Ugrešić writing in Croatian while living in Holland, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky, who went on writing in Russian after being forced into exile in the United States. One could go back and look at Robert Browning’s fifteen years in Italy, or Italo Calvino’s thirteen years in Paris. There are many others. Yet the easiest example, the only one I can write about with some authority, and, frankly, one of the most extreme, for length of time away and level of engagement with the foreign language and foreign country, is myself. What has happened to my English over thirty-five years in Italy? How has this long expatriation—I would never call it exile—changed my writing?

One’s age at the time of leaving home and reasons for doing so are important. I left London in 1981 at twenty-five, in part because my wife, who was Italian and whom I had met in the States, wasn’t happy with England, and again because, having failed to secure a publisher for any of my first four novels, I needed to get away from friends and family who were pressing me to settle on a decent career before it was too late. I knew no Italian. I had no desire to leave England. Indeed, I was extremely anxious about losing touch with English. Two years previously, I had abandoned a Ph.D. at Harvard because I wanted to be in England to write about the English, not the Americans. So this new move felt a little like a failure. My hope was that I’d be back in a couple of years bringing a publishable novel with me. What changed my mind was learning Italian.

It was a huge effort. I had never been good at languages, at least orally. At school I regularly failed the oral side of German and French exams, and at Cambridge chose Latin for my language requirement precisely to avoid the oral. Also, I love to talk; not knowing the language is a big privation for me. Added to which, my wife spoke four languages fluently, so there was quite a shift in the relationship as I found myself obliged to rely on her. I was floundering.

We had chosen to live in Verona because my wife’s brother was studying there. There was not a large English community in the city at the time, and anyway we did our best to avoid it so that I could learn Italian. For four or five years, aside from the language lessons I taught to make ends meet, I spoke little English and read even less, concentrating entirely on Italian fiction, Italian newspapers, Italian history books, checking every word I didn’t know in the dictionary. It was exhausting. There was no radio in English, no satellite TV, no Internet. I was immersed in Italian in a way that I think has become difficult today.

I say I was learning Italian, but in fact I was learning English too. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2016 at 11:08 am

Posted in Books, Education, Writing

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