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Who Do You Have for Science This Year, I Have Mr. YouTube Again

Robert Papion of Lake Charles, Louisiana, works on a math problem at T.M. Landry. Papion travels 150 miles round-trip each day to attend school. (Marlisa Harding/American Press via AP)

T.M. Landry made headlines for getting so many black students into elite colleges. Now it’s making headlines again because of the fraudulent methods it employed to do that. Erica L. Green and Katie Benner have the story at the New York Times, painting a picture of a school that not only falsified application materials, but sent students out into the world completed unprepared thanks to laughably ineffective pedagogy.

The school is based loosely on a Montessori model that emphasizes mastery, so classes are optional, the Landrys said. Younger students described their education as learning from computer programs and YouTube videos. Instructors and textbooks are on hand, but the students teach one another. Math and English lessons are taught by the Landrys, who devote most of their attention to older students preparing for the ACT.

Adam Broussard, a Landry parent, noticed last fall that his 8-year-old, who had attended the school since he was 3, was writing “chicken scratch.” Mr. Broussard had been happy with the school — his older son had been admitted to Brown after two years at Landry — but he confronted Mr. Landry about his younger son’s progress. Mr. Landry responded that he did not teach sentence structure and just wanted students to love to write.

An independent assessment at Sylvan Learning Center revealed that Mr. Broussard’s younger son was performing two grade levels behind.

“I gave him my son for six years, almost every day, 12 months of the year,” Mr. Broussard said of Mr. Landry. “The longer these kids stayed there, the further behind they were.”

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Shoot First, Ask Questions Later (Or Don’t)

Photo by Tony Webster via Flickr (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Officer Stephen Mader was fired from the Weirton, West Virginia police force after R.J. William was shot and killed. Mader’s not the one who shot him — Mader was trying not to shoot.

The Weirton Police Department, like almost every other, has a policy on the use of lethal force: If someone is a threat to life — a civilian’s or an officer’s — an officer can shoot to kill.

Mader said it was scary in the dimly lit street. His adrenaline was pumping. It felt, he said, like it could be one of those “oh, shit” moments.

But Mader did not regard Williams as a threat. Williams seemed distraught. He avoided eye contact. He was looking around to see if anyone was watching. He wasn’t being belligerent. He was only repeating a single sentence:

“Shoot me.”

The requests felt to Mader like pleadings.

“It’s a red flag,” Mader later said. “Suicide by cop.”

Williams was waving a gun around; it turned out not to have been loaded. He was ultimately shot by another officer who showed up on the scene a few minutes later. Mater’s firing, subsequent smearing by the force, and ultimate exoneration are documented in fascinating, maddening detail at ProPublica by Joe Sexton in a thought-provoking piece on police culture.

Alexander, it turns out, had not fired the officer who shot Williams. He had fired Stephen Mader, who had chosen not to shoot the young man.

Alexander had concluded that the young officer had frozen in a life-and-death moment. He had determined that Mader, in not eliminating what he said was the threat posed by Williams, had put the lives of fellow officers at risk. Kuzma, the officer who had killed Williams, thought Mader should have shot him first.

Mader’s actions at 119 Marie Ave. in May 2016 had instantly become the subject of analysis and gossip among the ranks of the tiny department. The word “coward” was being tossed around. Kuzma and Baker had taken the remarkable step of asking Alexander in writing never to assign them to work again with Mader. Two other members of the force signed on as well, and the memo was quietly slid under the chief’s door.

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No Justice For Old Men

Labor Secretary Alex Acosta attends a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Julie K. Brown’s Miami Herald story on serial sex offender’s Jeffrey Epstein sweetheart plea deal is a masterwork of investigative reporting. After abusing and trafficking dozens of underage girls, Epstein went to prison for 13 months (months!!) and his co-conspirators got immunity from prosecution. His victims weren’t told about the deal until it was too late to change. The prosecutor who okayed the deal? Trump’s Secretary of Labor, who is now charged with enforcing U.S. labor laws, including laws around human trafficking.

Most of the girls came from disadvantaged families, single-parent homes or foster care. Some had experienced troubles that belied their ages: They had parents and friends who committed suicide; mothers abused by husbands and boyfriends; fathers who molested and beat them. One girl had watched her stepfather strangle her 8-year-old stepbrother, according to court records obtained by the Herald.

Many of the girls were one step away from homelessness.

“We were stupid, poor children,’’ said one woman, who did not want to be named because she never told anyone about Epstein. At the time, she said, she was 14 and a high school freshman.

“We just wanted money for school clothes, for shoes. I remember wearing shoes too tight for three years in a row. We had no family and no guidance, and we were told that we were going to just have to sit in a room topless and he was going to just look at us. It sounded so simple, and was going to be easy money for just sitting there.”

Epstein’s plea is vile not just for the way it allowed him to skirt any real punishment — he spent his 13 months on a work-release program, even though sex offenders aren’t eligible for work-release — but for the way it bent over backward to minimize his actual crimes and smear the victims.

Despite substantial physical evidence and multiple witnesses backing up the girls’ stories, the secret deal allowed Epstein to enter guilty pleas to two felony prostitution charges. Epstein admitted to committing only one offense against one underage girl, who was labeled a prostitute, even though she was 14, which is well under the age of consent — 18 in Florida.

“She was taken advantage of twice — first by Epstein, and then by the criminal justice system that labeled a 14-year-old girl as a prostitute,’’ said Spencer Kuvin, the lawyer who represented the girl.

“It’s just outrageous how they minimized his crimes and devalued his victims by calling them prostitutes,’’ said Yasmin Vafa, a human rights attorney and executive director of Rights4Girls, which is working to end the sexual exploitation of girls and young women.

“There is no such thing as a child prostitute. Under federal law, it’s called child sex trafficking — whether Epstein pimped them out to others or not. It’s still a commercial sex act — and he could have been jailed for the rest of his life under federal law,” she said.

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Carl Weathers, You Deserved Better

1985 "Rocky IV" trading card featuring Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren).

Creed is a fantastic movie, I’m excited to see Creed II, and if you want to disagree with me I’ll fight you. Okay, not really, but it is a great movie — not just as a well-put together, cast, and paced film, but for the way it posthumously transforms the Apollo Creed character and re-centers the story, shifting the whole racial subtext of the Rocky series. Adam Serwer explains things in The Atlantic.

At the end of Rocky III, Creed and Rocky have one last private showdown, but we don’t learn the outcome until CreedRocky IV begins with Creed fighting an “exhibition” match against the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago, who is meant to evoke the Nazis (at one point, Drago’s trainer comments that Rocky lacks the “genetics” to defeat Drago). Creed is elevated into the ring wearing an Uncle Sam outfit as James Brown performs in the background; a literal golden calf towers over the boxer’s head, marking him as a false god. Drago then promptly murders him in the ring. After three films in which he functions as little more than a means to illustrate Rocky’s greatness, Apollo is offered the highest of honors: He dies to provide the franchise’s white protagonist with motivation and character development. In almost every sense the movies can communicate, Apollo is deemed a fraudulent champion.

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Sign On the Dotted Line to Ensure Your Own Destruction

Photo by Kevin via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

When small business loans from traditional banks dried up in the financial crisis, people like David Glass of Yellowstone Capital stepped into the breach with usurious loans, structured as cash advances to get around lending regulations, with triple-digit interest rates. And when borrowers can’t repay them — and sometimes even when they can — these lenders take advantage of some arcane New York state law to seize their assets. It’s ruthless, destructive, and completely legal, and Zachary R. Mider and Zeke Faux explain it all at Bloomberg Businessweek

In August, Bush closed his business, laid off his 20 employees, and stopped making payments on his loans. Yellowstone never filed its signed confession in court, but other lenders went after him over theirs. One sunny day that month, he walked to a wooded area near his home, swallowed a bottle of an oxycodone painkiller, and began streaming video to Facebook. To anyone who might have been watching, he explained that he’d taken out cash advances in a failed attempt to save his business. Now the lenders had seized his accounts, Bush said, his voice wavering. One had even grabbed his father’s retirement money.

“I signed ’em, I take the blame for it,” he said. “This will be my last video. I am taking this on me.” He asked his friends to take care of his family, then sobbed as he told his wife and teenage son he loved them.

Someone who saw the video alerted the police. They found Bush unconscious in the woods a few hours later—he credits them with saving his life. But the pressure from his confessions of judgment hasn’t relented. “I wake up every morning afraid what else they will take,” he says. “And every morning I throw up blood.”

Bush’s contracts with Yellowstone show that the company advanced him a total of about $250,000 and that he paid them back more than $600,000. Davis, who parted ways with Yellowstone in August, says he didn’t mistreat Bush or other borrowers and always followed the company’s protocols. “You know why people put the blame on me is because I’m successful,” he says. “It’s just haters.”

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The Californians Who Can’t Budge

A Christmas decoration sits among the burned ruins of a store in Paradise, Calif., Monday, Nov. 26, 2018. homes and businesses. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

Thousands of people have fled their California communities in the face of rampant, destructive wildfires. But not everyone in the fires’ paths left. At Slate, April Glaser spends time with people who wouldn’t or couldn’t leave their homes — because they had loved ones who couldn’t move, because they wanted to try to save their homes, because the fires bore down too fast, because if they leave now they won’t be allowed back — and are trying their best to protect their families and communities.

“Time is different for me right now,” said Jeff Evans, who prevented fires from engulfing his home, where he remains now with parents Chuck, 91, and Janet, 82. Living with them are eight dogs Jeff rescued from all over their backcountry town of Concow, plus three dogs of his own. The Evanses are surviving off of a gas-guzzling generator. Jeff described how on the day the fire started, after things had calmed enough that Chuck could take care of any spot fires still threatening the property, he canvassed the area to look for others who could use assistance: “So I said I’m going to go up the road and see if I can help anybody. So, I went up Hoffman Road, and you saw the vehicles there on the side of the road?”

I did see the cars. They were lined up on the shoulder, adjacent to a lake, and had pink plastic ribbons tied to their side mirrors. Those ribbons, Evans told me, meant that there were no bodies inside and no need for further inspection. “That’s where most of the dogs came from—those cars,” he said. The cars parked there were abandoned with their keys inside by people fleeing their homes only to drive straight into a firestorm that was barreling down Concow Road, forcing them to jump into the lake and swim across for refuge.

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Leaving Barrio 18

A Barrio 18 leader after his arrest in San Salvador, El Salvador, in 2015. (AP Photo/Salvador Melendez)

At The Intercept, Danielle Mackey writes about what it’s like for young El Salvadoreans to try and leave gangs like MS-13 or Barrio 18. Of the four young people she followed, one is in hiding, one is being forced to buy her child’s safety with criminal favors, and one has been murdered.

Kids like Benjamin try to leave their gangs by hiding in plain sight. They bury their pasts and attempt to start over. They do it in myriad ways and so well that often they’re even unaware of each other. Alone, they shed skin like any wild creature and take on a new identity.

But their needs are akin to those of child soldiers or war veterans — and the devastating cruelty wrought by gangs leaves little public will to provide that kind of support. As a result, the process is like burrowing through a boulder with a screwdriver. Exhausting. Seemingly impossible. You sweat it out alone.

Benjamin, who joined Barrio 18 at age 12, is the fourth. He managed to negotiate a retirement from the gang, but it’s not an easy or peaceful one.

The first thing Benjamin did on his first morning of freedom was smoke pot. “Habit,” he told me. Also terror. Still in bed, he burned through five blunts, paralyzed by a refrain: “What will come of me?”

Every day of the past decade of his life had been determined by the gang. The gang’s interests were his duties, its members were his peers. The gang’s risks were his and its forms of protection were too. But not anymore. He didn’t even have a place to live; he had woken up in the gang house, and today he must leave. Then, a scarier thought: There was a trade-off implicit in his decision. Yesterday he had an identity, but today he had freedom.

He bounced between hostels until just before Christmas, when he found an affordable apartment in an old brick structure near the National University of El Salvador, four stories tall and packed with people. He was relieved to have a room. He needed to lock himself in it for protection from former enemies and police — “people who want me dead” — but also from himself. He had spent most days high on marijuana or acid or cocaine before leaving the gang, and his zealous new evangelical identity prohibited drugs, so he was antsy to wean himself off them. He needed to whittle himself down to his acceptable parts, his holy parts.

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Bagels are the Best Ring-Shaped Breakfast Food and I Will Brook No Other Opinion

Biggie Bagel wins a race with a Dunkin Donut and a cup of coffee during a football game between the Detroit Lions and the Atlanta Falcons, 2012. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

I love bagels. A fresh everything bagel with scallion cream cheese is one of the world’s most perfect foods when done well. But I don’t know if I love bagels as much as Lloyd Squires, owner of Myer’s Bagels in Burlington, Vermont, loves bagels. His day starts at 1:15 AM (!!), ends at 7:15 PM, involves 3,600 hand-rolled bagels, and has been lovingly chronicled by Evan Weiss in the Burlington Free Press.

3:32 a.m.

The rolling begins.

The room already smells of honey and toasted sesame seeds.

3:40 a.m.

The boiling begins.

As Lloyd drops the first gluten-full bagels, he says he sees money differently. “When I bought a car, I went, ‘That’s 15,000 bagels. I have to make those!'”

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Bread, Disrupted

People — frequently women — have been baking bread without recipes, or measurements, or fanfare, for 6,000 years. In the past few years, people — mostly men — have been been baking bread with spreadsheets, and multi-volume cookbooks, and intensive Instagramming of “crumb shots.” At Eater, Dayna Evans explores the (classist, gendered) sourdough boom running rampant among tech bros.

Hallelujah, bread is back. But these new bread beasts are not the bakers of yore, early risers peacefully toiling at their craft, their secrets trapped just beneath the crust of a fresh loaf whose sweet smells are wafting through the streets. No, this bread is engineered. With custom-made bread ovens, temperature-controlled proofing boxes, at-home grain mills, laser thermometers, and a $600, 52-pound cookbook. A sample caption from breadstagram: “Loaf from yesterday’s cut video. 80% bread flour, 20% whole wheat, 80% hydration, 2% salt, Leaven was 100% hydration, whole wheat, young (4 hours), and comprised of 10% of total *dough* weight (60g for a 600g loaf). Hand mixed via Rubaud Method for 10 minutes. Bulk for 3.5 hours, low 80s F, with coil folds at 60 minutes and 120 minutes (around 40% rise in volume).”

Bread requires little and it has existed in some form for thousands of years, relatively unchanged, because it’s simple to make and it feeds you. But if you were to scroll through Instagram, or watch recent YouTube tutorials, or read the libraries of blogs and self-published e-books, you might come away thinking that making bread was more challenging than performing brain surgery. That’s because bread-baking in America has, of late, found a friend in the unlikeliest of people: engineers, technologists, and the Silicon Valley-centric and adjacent. The image of a folksy baker laboring from muscle memory over her humble daily loaf, this is not.

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But Who Gets Custody of the Dog?

Image by ninjatacoshell via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

America is an uneasy amalgam of people with very different ideas of what government — and life — should look like. So what if we codified the political and cultural divisions that already exist? Secession is one option, but almost no one actually wants that. The U.S. Constitution provides another mechanism that would allow a constructive split while still maintaining a federal government: interstate compacts.

In New York Magazine, Sasha Issenberg walks us through what that version of the U.S. might look like. Some of it’s great. Some of it’s not. All of it’s fascinating.

It was not just manufacturing and resource extraction that boomed in the Red Fed. As soon as the Blue Fed established its single-payer system, medical specialists began taking their practices to states where they wouldn’t be subject to the Regional Health Service’s price controls or rationing. Sloan Kettering now treats New York as little more than an administrative base; the majority of its hospital rooms are in Texas. Johns Hopkins considered closing its medical school when nearly half the faculty decamped en masse to Baylor. Wealthy Blue Fed residents willing to pay out of pocket now invariably travel to Houston when they want an immediate appointment with a specialist of their choice. The arrivals area at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport is packed with chauffeurs from van services run by clinics supported by specializing in such medical tourism.

Auctions of public lands across the interior west, along with the privatization of the Tennessee Valley Authority, generated a quick gusher of cash. Vowing not to let the new government wealth create more bureaucracy, Red Fed leaders deposited it all in a Free States Energy Trust Fund that would pay out an annual dividend to every adult and child in the region — a no-strings-attached cash transfer of hundreds of dollars per year. The Southern Baptist Convention encouraged its members to tithe their dividend checks directly into new aid societies to help the least fortunate. The most popular charitable cause has been a relief society to aid religious conservatives in the Blue Fed seeking to migrate to the Red Fed.

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