This is the absolute worst way to teach your kids to read

Apps that force kids to log book time as a way to earn Internet and TV access are a huge mistake

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Recently, while cooling my heels at the airport, I overheard a boy of about 6 begging his mom to let him play with the family iPad. “No screen time until you do an hour of reading first,” was her reply. The child flung himself back in his seat and opened a paperback book with a disgruntled sigh.

I winced. Of course parents need to supervise their kids’ use of digital devices and the Internet. God only knows, plenty of adults have a hard enough time managing their own screen time, including people with a fundamental investment in literary culture, like novelists Zadie Smith (who uses the Internet-blocking software Freedom) and Jonathan Franzen (who has disabled the Ethernet portal on his writing computer). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no exposure at all to television, computers and cellphones for children under the age of 2 and suggests that older children’s “total entertainment screen time” be limited to one or two hours per day.

Most parents are also acutely aware of the importance of good reading skills to their children’s academic future. If they’re particularly well-informed, they’re aware that a recent report from Common Sense Media indicates the number of children aged 8 to 17 reading for pleasure has dropped significantly in the past few years. Digital media is frequently blamed for distracting kids from books, and so perhaps it’s not surprising that some parents have gotten the idea of using screen time as an incentive for page time.

The site, for example, was set up by parents who decided to “put a system in place whereby their kids had to earn TV or game console time by reading: 1 minute TV time for every minute of reading.” Recently, FreeTime, a user-profile control app on the Kindle Fire, introduced a new setting by which parents can require their kids to spend a certain amount of time reading e-books before they can access the device’s games. In essence, these are digital versions of a clever “game token” allowance system created by a contributor to the Instructables website; her kids earn handmade chips good for computer time by doing chores around the house.

But there’s the rub: Reading should not be a chore. Chores are tasks that nobody wants to do but that have to be done all the same. Life is full of such activities. Part of being an adult is learning to suck it up and take care of them, yet another thing parents have to teach their kids. Kids often have to be bribed to do this with an allowance or game tokens or some other treat because kids aren’t big on the long view. They don’t care that if they don’t wash the dishes tonight; there will be no clean ones to eat off of tomorrow because tomorrow seems so irrelevantly far away.

To make an hour spent with a book into the equivalent of loading the dishwasher is to send the strong, implicit message that reading is a similar task, one that will never be a source of pleasure. You may end up with kids who have logged in lots of hours of reading, but that won’t make readers out of them. There’s a vast difference between dutiful, grudging, joyless reading and the kind of hungry, engaged reading that makes for a good student and a thoughtful citizen. It’s hard to be good at something you don’t enjoy.

The FreeTime read-for-play control makes this bad idea even worse by shucking the enforcement of it off onto a mindless bot. It reinforces the idea that reading is the intellectual equivalent of the spinach you have to eat in order to get dessert, and it suggests that the whole transaction is so tedious your parents can’t even be bothered to enforce it in person. Is it any wonder, then, that reading rates drop precipitously once kids enter their teens and begin to scrutinize the double standards of the adults in their lives?

There’s abundant research indicating that the primary way children learn to love reading is by growing up with adults who frequently choose to read for pleasure. Having plenty of books around the house is another contributing factor. Just as important, though less discussed, is making an effort to help kids find books that appeal to them. Even parents who like to read can be discouraged when their own childhood favorites don’t win over their offspring. However, children are just like adults; each one is an individual with his or her own particular taste, and helping them find the books that speak to those tastes is the major part of improving their reading skills.

There are some digital tools that might help with this, such as Wandoo Planet’s “interest tree” generator, designed to coax out a child’s preferences and provide some tailored recommendations. Book subscription services, like Epic, the kids’ equivalent of Oyster and Scribd, can provide a broad selection of e-books to browse through. But the best guide will almost always be an observant and helpful adult: a teacher, a librarian, a children’s bookseller — in other words, the kind of person who has devoted her whole life to helping children fall in love with books and who appreciates just how personalized the process should be. (That’s who did it for me — thanks again, Mrs. Belden!) The way to get kids to invest their time in reading is to be willing to invest some time and energy in it ourselves


Revealed: NSA plans to hack potentially millions of computers

Snowden leaks reveal agency has tools to infect computers with malware on a mass scale with little human oversight


Reporting for the Intercept Wednesday on the latest revelations from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks, Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher expose the spy agency’s plans to hack millions of computers.

According to classified documents, the NSA has developed new technologies with which to reduce reliance on human work and oversight and to enable the automatic infection of potentially millions of computers with malware. Via the Intercept:

In some cases the NSA has masqueraded as a fake Facebook server, using the social media site as a launching pad to infect a target’s computer and exfiltrate files from a hard drive. In others, it has sent out spam emails laced with the malware, which can be tailored to covertly record audio from a computer’s microphone and take snapshots with its webcam. The hacking systems have also enabled the NSA to launch cyberattacks by corrupting and disrupting file downloads or denying access to websites.

The implants being deployed were once reserved for a few hundred hard-to-reach targets, whose communications could not be monitored through traditional wiretaps. But the documents analyzed by The Intercept show how the NSA has aggressively accelerated its hacking initiatives in the past decade by computerizing some processes previously handled by humans.

Fracking suspended after earthquakes rock Ohio

Officials say the wells were closed “out of an abundance of caution”

A fracking operation in northeastern Ohio has been shut down by the state Department of Natural Resources following a series of earthquakes that may have been caused by the drilling.

The quakes were nothing major: a 3.0 and a 2.6 magnitude temblor that were followed, later Monday, by smaller aftershocks. But they were large enough to be felt in neighboring towns, and for the department to put a halt to drilling at the well, along with six others operated by Hilcorp Energy.

The department said in a statement that it acted “out of an abundance of caution” in suspending work at the wells, adding that it was too early to determine whether the drilling was directly responsible for the quakes.

As the New York Times explains, it’s rare for the process of fracking itself to be linked to earthquakes. But injection wells, used to dispose of fracking wastewater, are a different story. Back in 2011, a well in Youngstown, Ohio, was shut down for investigation after a wave of over 100 minor earthquakes were experienced in the previously stable area. A study later confirmed that the quakes were likely linked to a wastewater injection well.

FBI Agents Will Investigate The Disappearance Of Malaysia Airlines Jet

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation will be deploying agents and technical experts to investigate the disappearance of a Malaysia Airlines flight, The Los Angeles Times reports.
While the multinational search continues for the whereabouts of the aircraft which carried 239 people, the FBI — citing at least three American citizens who were passengers — will investigate the circumstances surrounding the jet’s strange disappearance from radar screens in Vietnam airspace as it traveled at 35,000 feet.

The Times has more:

U.S. officials said they are looking at whether this could be terrorism, as they would with any plane crash until proved otherwise. Though two passengers apparently used stolen passports, “there is no indication this is a terrorist attack; stolen passports are certainly not indicative of a terrorist attack,” a senior counter terrorism official said.

The official said there was “no evidence” of terrorism thus far. Law enforcement officials were not authorized to speak publicly.

Two large oil slicks have been spotted near the southern tip of Vietnam that could possibly indicate the location of a crash site, although nothing has yet been confirmed.

FBI personnel will join others in the region already assisting in search-and-rescue, including planes, ships, and personnel from Malaysia, Singapore, China, Vietnam, and the U.S.

A U.S. law enforcement official speaking to The Times also said the NTSB would likely investigate the crash as well since the aircraft involved was made by Boeing, an American company.

Facebook cops are a horrible idea

Proof our system of government is broken: When private corporations start bankrolling public security

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Mark Zuckerberg

All of a sudden, Silicon Valley corporations are falling over themselves to be good civic citizens. Last week Google donated $6.5 million to pay for free Muni passes for Bay Area youth and announced a $5 million grant program for San Francisco nonprofits. The latest act of beneficience? Facebook, reports NBC News, is paying for a full-time beat cop for the city of Menlo Park.

“This is a generous gift,” Menlo Park Mayor Ray Mueller told NBC Bay Area before the meeting. “And it’s a way to keep the community safe.” He noted that the contract states the officer will spend most of his or her time near the schools, and not patrolling the campus of Facebook.

I am all for corporations being good citizens of their communities, but private bankrolling of public cops sets a horrible precedent. For starters, it presents obvious conflict-of-interest challenges. How will police departments treat Facebook employees who might be caught in criminal behavior, when their own budget is partially paid for by Facebook? Everyone involved is swearing up and down that nothing of the sort will ever happen, but if this model spreads, there are bound to be abuses.

But much worse is what this news item reveals about the general bankruptcy of our system of government. Menlo Park is a rich town in one of the wealthiest regions of the United States. The median household income is $103,000, which is almost twice California’s median. The median home price is $925,000, more than double California as a whole. If a community like this can’t afford to pay for an adequate police force, then just imagine what’s happening in poorer communities that lack generous tech companies?

Sex at the Satan Club

At the height of ’60s counterculture, the sexual revolution found itself an unexpected bedfellow: Devil worship


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A still from “Eyes Wide Shut”

Excerpted from “Sex Scene: Media and the Sexual Revolution”

A mining expedition in the South American jungle: Edward MacKensie, jealous of his business partner’s lover and wanting to keep the expedition’s riches for himself, engineers an “accident” that kills the partner and his lover. Twenty years later, MacKensie is a rich and successful man, married with a teenage daughter. Despite (or perhaps because) of his wealth and success, MacKensie finds himself bored with life, in particular, his sex life. He pays the office boy and secretary to have sex in front of him, and then cruelly mocks them when they do not perform to his expectations. He searches for hookers who might better understand his peculiar “tastes,” which center on sadistic forms of torture and humiliation, and longs for the Victorian era for the fabled abandon of its sexual underground. “Now there was an era,” he laments to himself, “when a woman like Mrs. Berkeley would earn a thousand pounds for inventing a whipping horse on which a pretty girl could be postured in a thousand different lascivious ways for the lash.” After another humiliating failure with a prostitute, MacKensie meets the mysterious Carlos Sathanas, a worldly, rich sophisticate. Their conversation quickly turns to “unusual pleasures.” “To put it bluntly,” he tells MacKensie, “for all this talk about the new sexual freedom, I for one fail to perceive it except in the huge dissemination of titallitory books and magazines and movies, which are nothing more or less than pure psychic masturbation. They depict fantasies that are not in existence, but perhaps were in another century.” Sathanas confides that he is the founder and sole proprietor of “the Satan Club,” an organization devoted to fulfilling the most bizarre sexual desires of its secret, exclusive membership. MacKensie joins eagerly and soon finds himself participating in a series of increasingly exotic sexual scenarios.

If you have trouble following “True Detective’s” dialogue, you’ll love this parody

Joel McHale and Jim Rash mock the hit show’s hard-to-follow-dialogue
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There’s one problem (OK, a few?) with “True Detective,” the only show that might fill the void that “Breaking Bad” has left in your life: the dialogue is hard to follow. Although Matthew McConaughey as misanthropic detective Rust Cohle and Woody Harrelson as his self-righteous partner, Marty Hart, will draw you into the hunt for a serial killer in Louisiana, you will find this side dialogue happening a lot:

You: What did he say?

Friend: I don’t know.

You: Who are they looking for, now?

Friend: I don’t know.

You: Well, why didn’t you say anything earlier? I thought I was the only one who didn’t get it!

Friend: I don’t know!

You will scowl at your soft-spoken friend and question whether he is really as invested in “True Detective” as you are, but you will continue to watch it together because your friendship is strong, and because you both are transfixed by Matthew McConaughey’s gaunt face and you know some serious. shit. is about to go down.