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The Bird Way – Jennifer Ackerman


The Bird Way

A New Look at How Birds Talk, Work, Play, Parent, and Think

Jennifer Ackerman

Genre: Nature

Price: $14.99

Publish Date: May 5, 2020

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group


From the New York Times bestselling author of The Genius of Birds , a radical investigation into the bird way of being, and the recent scientific research that is dramatically shifting our understanding of birds — how they live and how they think. “There is the mammal way and there is the bird way.” But the bird way is much more than a unique pattern of brain wiring, and lately, scientists have taken a new look at bird behaviors they have, for years, dismissed as anomalies or mysteries –– What they are finding is upending the traditional view of how birds conduct their lives, how they communicate, forage, court, breed, survive. They are also revealing the remarkable intelligence underlying these activities, abilities we once considered uniquely our own: deception, manipulation, cheating, kidnapping, infanticide, but also ingenious communication between species, cooperation, collaboration, altruism, culture, and play. Some of these extraordinary behaviors are biological conundrums that seem to push the edges of, well, birdness: a mother bird that kills her own infant sons, and another that selflessly tends to the young of other birds as if they were her own; a bird that collaborates in an extraordinary way with one species—ours—but parasitizes another in gruesome fashion; birds that give gifts and birds that steal; birds that dance or drum, that paint their creations or paint themselves; birds that build walls of sound to keep out intruders and birds that summon playmates with a special call—and may hold the secret to our own penchant for playfulness and the evolution of laughter. Drawing on personal observations, the latest science, and her bird-related travel around the world, from the tropical rainforests of eastern Australia and the remote woodlands of northern Japan, to the rolling hills of lower Austria and the islands of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay, Jennifer Ackerman shows there is clearly no single bird way of being. In every respect, in plumage, form, song, flight, lifestyle, niche, and behavior, birds vary. It is what we love about them. As E.O Wilson once said, when you have seen one bird, you have not seen them all.

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The Bird Way – Jennifer Ackerman

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Birds by the Shore – Jennifer Ackerman


Birds by the Shore

Observing the Natural Life of the Atlantic Coast

Jennifer Ackerman

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: May 7, 2019

Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group


From the bestselling author of The Genius of Birds , the revised and reissued edition of her beloved book of essays describing her forays along the Delaware shore For three years, Jennifer Ackerman lived in the small coastal town of Lewes, Delaware, in the sort of blue-water, white-sand landscape that draws summer crowds up and down the eastern seaboard. Birds by the Shore is a book about discovering the natural life at the ocean's edge: the habits of shorebirds and seabirds, the movement of sand and water, the wealth of creatures that survive amid storm and surf. Against this landscape's rhythms, Ackerman revisits her own history–her mother's death, her father's illness and her hopes to have children of her own. This portrait of life at the ocean's edge will be relished by anyone who has walked a beach at sunset, or watched a hawk hover over a winter marsh, and felt part of the natural world. With a quiet passion and friendly, generous intelligence, it explores the way that landscape shapes our thoughts and perceptions and shows that home ground is often where we feel the deepest response to the planet.

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Birds by the Shore – Jennifer Ackerman

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Donald Trump Promises to Sue Women Who Accused Him of Assault

Mother Jones

On Saturday, Donald Trump vowed to sue the 11 women who have come forward over the last few weeks with accusations of sexual assault against the Republican presidential nominee.

“Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign,” Trump claimed. “Total fabrication, the events never happened—never. All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.”

Trump’s threat came during a speech in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, which was plugged as a major policy speech to lay out his first 100 days in office should he win the election next month. His promise to sue his accusers wasn’t the only notable moment.

While taking a hard line on his accusers, he seems to be softening on a key campaign promise: That the US will build a wall along its southern border and that Mexico will pay for it. Now, according to his speech, his position is that the United States will pay for the wall but Mexico will reimburse the US.

Trump also promised to break up Comcast and NBC as part of a response to media bias against him during the campaign.

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Donald Trump Promises to Sue Women Who Accused Him of Assault

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Jennifer O’Connor’s Lyrics Cut Straight to the Heart of a Desperate Situation

Mother Jones

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Jennifer O’Connor
Surface Noise

Courtesy of Kiam Records

Thanks to her dry, deadpan delivery, Jennifer O’Connor could fool a careless listener into thinking she’s cool and detached. Au contraire. On her fine sixth album, and first outing in five years, this unassuming yet gifted singer-songwriter quietly injects her catchy folk-pop with shots of undiluted raw emotion, telling gripping stories of hearts in turmoil without slipping into cheesy melodrama. As evidenced by the use of her music in an iPhone ad and such TV shows as Orange Is the New Black, O’Connor can craft smooth melodies you’ll want to hum all day, but her real gift is the casually tossed-off lyric that cuts straight to the heart of a desperate situation. “Where do you go, when the road ahead just ends?/’Cause you made the same wrong turn over and over again,” she murmurs in “The Road,” while “It’s Gonna Get Worse” finds her calmly asking, “Tell me why you stand there, staring at your feet,” adding tersely, “Take out the trash.” Elsewhere, the hushed closing track “Black Sky Blanket” would do Lou Reed proud. Title to the contrary, Surface Noise is insightful, subtle, and intriguing.

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Jennifer O’Connor’s Lyrics Cut Straight to the Heart of a Desperate Situation

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The Horrific Attack That Led This Reporter to the Bravest Woman in Seattle

Mother Jones

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In July 2009, a horrific crime shook Seattle’s South Park neighborhood: A man with a knife climbed through an open window into the home of Teresa Butz and Jennifer Hopper early one morning and proceeded to torture, rape, and repeatedly stab them both. Hopper survived the attack; Butz did not. Soon after, police arrested Isaiah Kalebu, a 23-year-old with a history of mental illness and intellectual disability. Kalebu was convicted in the summer of 2011 and given a life sentence.

Journalist Eli Sanders has followed the story since the attack with a series of features for The Stranger, the Seattle alt-weekly where he’s an associate editor. In 2012, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his deeply empathetic narrative about Hopper’s testimony at trial, “The Bravest Woman in Seattle.” Now Sanders has compiled and expanded his reporting into a book, While the City Slept: A Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent Into Madness, released Tuesday by Viking. More than just a true crime story, While the City Slept is a compassionate tribute to the lives of the victims, and a rigorous accounting of the mental-health and criminal-justice systems that failed Kalebu and his victims in the years leading up to the crime.

We spoke to Sanders about his reporting process, the origins of the crime, and the need for mental-health-system reform:

Mother Jones: How did you begin your reporting?

Eli Sanders: The crime occurred early on a Sunday morning, and we heard about it at The Stranger not long after. I was sent out to South Park to see what was going on. It was clear that something really awful had happened, but it was not clear what exactly motivated it. In many senses, it remains not very clear.

I ended up doing a feature about the neighborhood processing this crime, and the trauma of being proximate to a crime like this. As I was writing that report, the manhunt for the person who did this was underway, and Isaiah Kalebu ended up being arrested and charged with a crime just as i was finishing that piece. So, after that, I began another feature. For this one, I wanted to see what I could learn about the man who had been arrested for the crime. Even then, I could see there were some cracks that he had slipped through in the criminal-justice and mental-health system in Washington state.

MJ: At what point did it become clear that this would become a different, deeper story than what you’d written before?

ES: I had gone to the courthouse to watch the trial when I could, not knowing if I would write anything about it at all. When I experienced Jennifer Hopper’s testimony, that was the moment. It was instantly clear that this was an incredible act of bravery, of bearing witness, of following through on a promise she had made to herself and to Teresa. And an incredible recounting of their love and what was lost. It compelled a response. At that point I felt that there was more could be told about this intersection of lives. And I didn’t really figure out what it was—what that larger story—for a bit longer.

MJ: The book follows Hopper, Butz, and Kalebu through most of their lives, starting with childhood. Why did you decide to go so far into the personal histories of your subjects?

ES: I had been writing as a journalist in Seattle since 1999, and I had written a lot about different crimes. But for me, it was never satisfying. I would write about a crime, and even when I went into some depth, I would feel that there was a lot more there. The crime does not begin at the moment that we hear about it, and it does not end at the moment of a guilty verdict. The causes, so to speak, are really not something you can comprehend quickly. So I thought, “What would happen if I stayed with a crime long enough to create as full a picture as possible?”

MJ: There’s a moment in the book, during jury selection, when one of the trial attorneys asks potential jurors whether they would need to know why the crime took place in order to convict Kalebu. Were you looking back at their lives for an answer to that question?

ES: There’s no culpability for the crime in the paths that Jennifer and Teresa traveled. Their paths have their own wide tributaries, and I thought they were interesting, inspiring, and also a reminder that victims of crimes are not one-dimensional. We often have a one-dimensional sympathy for them: “Oh that’s terrible.” It is terrible. But it’s actually more than just that. It is a disruption of a long path of an individual’s triumphs and failures and heartbreaks, loneliness, and overcoming that loneliness—and finally, for Jennifer and Teresa, finding each other despite a lot of odds. And then winding up, due to their own choices and forced beyond their control, in a house that they shared and loved, in a relationship that they loved, together, in South Park.

Yes, Isaiah’s path is traced with hope of understanding more deeply where his actions may have come from, but also with the hope of trying to understand him, to the extent that that can be done

MJ: Do you think you found those answers?

ES: It’s really for the reader to judge. I’m not a psychiatrist, I’m not a sociologist—I’m a journalist. I don’t think anyone has the answers as to where exactly your actions come from. And so I hope that this shows an interplay, a convergence, and at the same time, an absence of resistance or helpful intervention in Isaiah Kalebu’s life at moments when he really needed it. He’s someone who came out of difficult circumstances as a child. But as a young adult and as an adult, he was in and out of the criminal-justice and mental-health systems for years before this crime occurred. It’s easier to show with clarity what was not done at moments when something different being done could have made a big difference.

MJ: Does focusing on Kalebu’s psychiatric struggle run the risk of reinforcing people’s false belief that mental illness leads to violent crime?

ES: It’s something that I’ve thought about. The vast majority of people who could describe themselves as mentally ill are nonviolent. There is—as there is in any community—a small percentage with violent tendencies, and I think Isaiah Kalebu falls into that subset. But it would be a terrible mistake to say that because one individual who struggles with mental illness committed a crime, all mentally ill people are dangerous. That kind of stigma is exactly what people who are in mental-health advocacy have been trying to push the culture away from.

However, there’s an opportunity in a crime like this to see in very stark relief the terrible and extreme consequences of our failure to construct a public mental-health system that is sufficient for the needs of our citizens. That’s not to say that every person who needs something from that public mental-health system is like Isaiah Kalebu. But his case can show very starkly how fragile and how flawed the system is.

MJ: What did you see as root failures in the mental-health and criminal-justice systems?

ES: These systems fail for lack of public investment in a state that you might think would have a stronger social safety net. Actually, it’s not so much different than other states where you might expect the social safety net to be in tatters. It really is a microcosm of the whole country, especially in the period described—the financial crisis, the recession afterward, when programs that could help people like Isaiah Kalebu were cut and cut and cut.

MJ: Have you seen any progress?

ES: Some. But it’s not nearly sufficient to the scale of the need. It’s connected, I think, to the economic recovery, to a slightly increased awareness that we cannot simultaneously to expect taxes to be perpetually cut and to demand more of government. Sadly, in our politics, so much moves around cost. If we can get the sense that so often, it is so much more expensive not to invest in preventative measures, then it would be a huge change in mindset. The downstream effects of that change in mindset would be transformative for individuals and communities. But it’s a really hard sell for a politician. The average person will say, “Oh, you’re always asking for more money.” When it really works, you can’t see what it prevented from happening.


The Horrific Attack That Led This Reporter to the Bravest Woman in Seattle

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Angela Lansbury Is 90 Years Old Today. She Is Why You Are Named Jessica.

Mother Jones

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Come with me down a rabbit hole, won’t you?

The most popular name for baby girls in the United States from 1970 until 1984 was Jennifer. In 1985, Jessica surpassed Jennifer and stayed the top name until 1990.

Most common baby name for girls Jezebel/Reuben Fischer-Baum

What could have caused the change? Murder, She Wrote, in which Angela Lansbury played Jessica Fletcher, premiered on September 30, 1984, on CBS.

Did the one cause the other? Maybe! Maybe not! I think it did.

Today is Angela Lansbury’s 90th birthday. If your name is Jessica and you are between the ages of 25 and 30, you should thank her.

Unless you hate your name, in which case you should blame her. But it’s her birthday, so keep it to yourself.

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Angela Lansbury Is 90 Years Old Today. She Is Why You Are Named Jessica.

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Screw U: How For-Profit Colleges Rip You Off

Mother Jones

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The folks who walked through Tressie McMillan Cottom’s door at an ITT Technical Institute campus in North Carolina were desperate. They had graduated from struggling high schools in low-income neighborhoods. They’d worked crappy jobs. Many were single mothers determined to make better lives for their children. “We blocked off a corner, and that’s where we would put the car seats and the strollers,” she recalls. “They would bring their babies with them and we’d encourage them to do so, because this is about building motivation and urgency.”

McMillan Cottom now studies education issues at the University of California-Davis’ Center for Poverty Research, but back then her job was to sign up people who’d stopped in for information, often after seeing one of the TV ads in which ITT graduates rave about recession-proof jobs. The idea was to prey on their anxieties—and to close the deal fast. Her title was “enrollment counselor,” but she felt uncomfortable calling herself one, because she quickly realized she couldn’t act in the best interest of the students. “I was told explicitly that we don’t enroll and we don’t admit: We are a sales force.”

After six months at ITT Tech, McMillan Cottom quit. That same day, she called up every one of the students she’d enrolled and gave them the phone number for the local community college.

With 147 campuses and more than 60,000 students nationwide, ITT Educational Services (which operates both ITT Tech and the smaller Daniel Webster College) is one of the largest companies in the burgeoning for-profit college industry, which now enrolls up to 13 percent of higher-education students. ITT is also the most profitable of the big industry players: Its revenue has nearly doubled over the past seven years, closing in on $1.3 billion last year, when CEO Kevin Modany’s compensation topped $8 million.

To achieve those returns, regulators suspect, ITT has been pushing students to take on financial commitments they can’t afford. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is looking into ITT’s student loan program, and the Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating how those loans were issued and sold to investors. (Neither agency would comment about the probes.) The attorneys general of some 30 states have banded together to investigate for-profit colleges; targets include ITT, Corinthian, Kaplan, and the University of Phoenix.

A 2012 investigation led by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) singled out ITT for employing “some of the most disturbing recruiting tactics among the companies examined.” A former ITT recruiter told the Senate education committee that she used and taught a process called the “pain funnel,” in which admissions officers would ask students increasingly probing questions about where their lives were going wrong. Properly used, she said, it would “bring a prospect to their inner child, an emotional place intended to have the prospect say, ‘Yes, I will enroll.'”

For-profit schools recruit heavily in low-income communities, and most students finance their education with a mix of federal Pell grants and federal student loans. But government-backed student loans max out at $12,500 per school year, and tuition at for-profits can go much higher; at ITT Tech it runs up to $25,000. What’s more, for-profit colleges can only receive 90 percent of their revenue from government money. For the remaining 10 percent, they count on veterans—GI Bill money counts as outside funds—as well as scholarships and private loans.

Study Haul

How for-profit schools leave their students high and dry

96% of students at for-profit colleges take out loans. 13% of community college students, 48% of public college students, and 57% of nonprofit private college students do.

For-profit colleges enroll 13% of higher-education students but receive 25% of federal student aid.

The 15 publicly traded for-profit colleges receive more than 85% of their revenue from federal student loans and aid.

42% of students attending for-profit two-year colleges take out private student loans. 5% of students at community colleges and 18% at private not-for-profit two-year colleges do.

1 in 25 borrowers who graduate from college defaults on his or her student loans. But among graduates of two-year for-profit colleges, the rate is 1 in 5.

Students who attended for-profit schools account for 47% of all student loan defaults.

Sources: Sen. Harkin, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, Education Sector

Whatever the source of the funds, the schools’ focus is on boosting enrollment. A former ITT financial-aid counselor named Jennifer (she asked us not to use her last name) recalls that prospects were “browbeaten and hassled into signing forms on their first visit to the school because it was all slam, bam, thank you ma’am.” The moment students enrolled, Jennifer would check their federal loan and grant eligibility to see how much money they qualified for. After students maxed out their federal grants and loans, there was typically an outstanding tuition balance of several thousand dollars. Jennifer says she was given weekly reports detailing how much money students on her roster owed. She would pull them from class and present them with a stark choice: get kicked out of school or make a payment on the spot. For years, ITT even ran a (now discontinued) in-house private loan program, known as PEAKS, in partnership with Connecticut-based Liberty Bank, with interest rates reaching 14.75 percent. (Federal student loans top out at 6.8 percent.)

Jennifer, who had previously worked at the University of Alabama, says she felt like a collection agent. “My supervisors and my campus president were breathing down my neck, and I was threatened that I was going to be fired if I didn’t do this,” she says. Yet she knew that students would have little means to get out from under the debt they were signing up for. Roughly half of ITT Tech students dropped out during the period covered by the Harkin report, and the job prospects for those who did graduate were hardly stellar. Even though a for-profit degree “costs a lot more,” Harkin told Dan Rather Reports, “in the job market it’s worth less than a degree from, say, a community college.”

Jennifer says the career services office at her campus wasn’t much help; students told her they were simply given a printout from Monster.com. (ITT says its career counselors connect students with a range of job services and also help them write résumés, find leads, and arrange interviews.) By the time she was laid off, Jennifer believed the college “left students in worse situations than they were to begin with.”

It’s not just whistleblowers who are complaining about ITT. There’s an entire website, myittexperience.com, dedicated to stories from disappointed alumni. That’s how we found Margie Donaldson, a 38-year-old who says her dream has always been to get a college degree and work in corporate America: “Especially being a little black girl in the city of Detroit, a degree was everything to me.”

Donaldson was making nearly $80,000 packing parts at Chrysler when the company, struggling to survive the recession, offered her a buyout. She decided to use it to get the college degree that she never finished 13 years before. Five years later, she is $75,000 in debt and can’t find a full-time job despite her B.A. in criminal justice from ITT. She’s applied for more than 200 positions but says 95 percent of the applications went nowhere because her degree is not regionally accredited, so employers don’t see it as legitimate. Nor can she use her credits toward a degree at another school. Working part time as an anger management counselor, she brings in about $1,400 a month, but there are no health benefits, and with three kids ages 7, 14, and 18, she can barely make ends meet. She has been able to defer her federal student loans, but the more than $20,000 in private loans she took out via ITT can’t be put off, so she’s in default with 14.75 percent interest—a detail she says her ITT financial-aid adviser never explained to her—and $150 in late fees tacked on to her balance each month. Donaldson says she has tried to work out an affordable payment plan, but the PEAKS servicers won’t agree until she pays an outstanding balance of more than $3,500—more than double her monthly income. “It puts me and my family, and other families, I’m sure, in a very tough situation financially,” she says.

Donaldson says she didn’t understand how different ITT was from a public college. If she had attended one of Michigan’s 40-plus state and community colleges, her tuition would have been roughly one-third of what it was at ITT. Now, she says, all that time and money feels wasted: “It’s almost like I’m like a paycheck away from going back to where I grew up.”

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Screw U: How For-Profit Colleges Rip You Off

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