What should I teach my children to prepare them to race with the robots?

I must prepare my sons to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution but that means sending them to schools that are equipped to exceed the averages

Years ago, as a reporter in Seattle, I watched Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decry Washington states education system. He said Microsoft couldnt hire enough locals because our schools dont produce the kinds of minds he needed.

At the time, I was angry. He and his cohort, most notably Jeff Bezos of Amazon, contributed serious money to the campaign against a state income tax on the wealthy that would have funneled billions to our schools. Now I feel a pinch deep in my stomach, an emotion so primal I hesitate to name it.

As a mother, my time is come, or nearly done, and my childrens just begun.

Automation will absorb all of the jobs it can reach, whether on the factory floor or in an office. Artificial intelligence has already taken over the corporate earnings analyses I once produced as a business journalist. By the best measures Ive been able to find, machines will displace about half of American jobs by the time my toddlers look for work.

This new era has been called the second machine age, the fourth industrial revolution, the information economy.

From certain angles, Seattle residents seem well positioned to access the highly paid and creative jobs that arise from combining cutting-edge technologies with the exponential powers of computing and big data. My city is now considered a global city not because of the port, which put our state on the maps when they were still being drawn, but because of the presence of Microsoft, Amazon and numerous tech startups.

Amazon occupies one fifth of all office space in downtown Seattle, a short ride from my neighborhood on light rail. Incoming waves of well-educated tech workers have helped double the median home price during the past five years.

Many of these rich young people call themselves progressive. Are they proud to be joining the nations most regressive tax structure? In our state, poor people pay eight times as much of their family income to taxes as the wealthy 1%. Lacking a personal income tax, Washington state relies on sales tax and has long looked to levies to fund schools, parks and other social needs.

When I moved to Seattle in 2004, I marveled that the state didnt take a cut of my income from the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It took me a while to contemplate what it means for an entire society to act against the interests of its children.

College-level tuitions before college

To survive the extinction of an entire class, I must prepare my two- and three-year-old sons to race with the robots, and not against them.

Our kids are going to meet an economy with far fewer entry-level positions and will have to clamber up a receding ladder. That means being in schools equipped to exceed the averages, not rising to meet them.

Washington state has underfunded our schools so long that our governments negligence was deemed unconstitutional by our state supreme court, which fined the state $100,000 a day for failing to provide a future for our children.

Years into this public shaming, the legislature came up with a multibillion-dollar package to fund basic education in our state, though they didnt manage to pass a capital budget before students went back to school after a long, dry summer.

Amazon
Amazon Go opens to Amazon employees in its Beta program in Seattle. Photograph: Paul Gordon/Zuma Press / eyevine

From my porch, I can see the chain-link fence blur into gray around the asphalt playground of our neighborhood public school. On weekday mornings, my closest friends walk to Hawthorne Elementary with their children, ducklings that cluster at crosswalks along streets known for gunfire. A new home just sold for nearly a million dollars at the end of our block, but people keep getting shot and dying at our community playfield.

Despite valiant efforts by its admirable principal, committed educators, engaged parents and resilient students, Hawthorne has been labeled failing since long before my husband and I bought a peeling house from a nice couple who raised their family here.

Less than half of the schools fourth and fifth graders meet the states standards in math, which makes me doubt that our educational system is preparing these kids to thrive in the glittering economy they were born under. Five years ago, the office of the superintendent of public instruction ranked Hawthorne among the bottom 5% of the state, according to test passage rates.

This, in a city known for minting billionaires.

In The Second Machine Age, authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both MIT professors, recommend Montessori programs to prepare children for their future, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Thats Steam, for those not versed in educational acronyms.

Developed to help poor children realize their own innate potential, Montessori schools practice self-directed learning with tactile materials that encourage the freewheeling creativity that formed tech CEOs such as Bezos and Googles co-founders.

The private bilingual Montessori kindergarten I found 30 minutes away costs $20,000 a year.

Despite college-level tuitions, about one quarter of Seattle students opt out of the public school system to study at private or parochial schools. To send my sons to Seattles best private schools would cost more than $700,000, and thats before they get to college.

A survey of public schools in Seattle shows no Montessori options that my children can access, though a nearby program in Leschi was a success at first, drawing wealthier students into the public school system, bringing with them the engagement of their families.

The Leschi teachers were so distressed by the resulting racial, linguistic and housing disparities between the traditional and Montessori classes that they melded the programs, rather than working to recruit more students of color into the Montessori program, which they could not afford to expand. A taskforce opted against including technology in the curriculum, fearful they would attract too many white families.

I believe in diversity; my own blood is blended. A first generation Latinx, Ive invested years of effort to raise my sons to be bilingual. I also want to work toward equity in a city whose neighborhood schools reflect the segregation compelled by redlining and white flight.

Leschis students are learning hard truths about equity, but theyre improving together. Maybe thats enough. But I worry when well-intentioned people lacking the resources to serve their students equally decide against teaching technology, the lingua franca of our world. Even the state administers student tests by computer.

I sought answers from Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction. The injustice of it all is that we have never seen technology as a core learning, Reykdal said. Do we still consider technology an enrichment, or should it be a more profound part of basic education? The state hasnt made that decision yet.

Washington has hundreds of school districts overseen by elected boards that enact tangled mandates without the resources to see them through. All over the state, schools used levy monies to take care of basics and pay their teachers, rather than acquiring and teaching technology.

Deb Merle is Governor Jay Inslees K-12 education adviser. Merle said that designating technology as part of basic education, which would ensure that the dollars flowed to their purpose, is not a state priority, though she recognized that Reykdals predecessor also advocated for keeping technology funds separate.

I dont think we teach enough science, period. Thats what I spend a lot of time worrying about, not what kind of science, Merle said. Our elementary schools teach less than one hour per week of science.

Steam as a social justice issue

I kept dialing, determined to maintain the education-fueled trajectory of my family.

My kin have lived in dictatorship-induced diaspora since famine swept Spain under Franco; they later fled Batista, who ruled Cuba before Castro. I am not conditioned to expect social stability as a condition of being for any country.

The meeting I most dreaded was closest to home. On the short walk to our neighborhood school, I decided to come right out and tell its principal, Sandra Scott, that I am afraid to send my kids to Hawthorne because the schools test scores, though on the rise, are low enough to make me wince.

Luckily, Scott is a pragmatic visionary, the kind of principal who inspires parents to put down the remote and join the PTA. Since 2009, Scott has led Hawthornes revitalization, winning admiration and awards from Johns Hopkins University for her program of school, family and community partnerships.

Test scores dont define who the students are. Our kids are not a number, Scott said. There were things we needed to do differently or better like improving the academics and the school culture to bring families back into the community.

To
To face the age of automation, it is recommended children are taught a program with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Photograph: Will Walker / NNP

Recognizing the opportunity that Seattles tech economy presents, Scott retooled Hawthorne to focus on Steam programming. Rather than cluster the high-performing test takers together which has segregated programs within diverse schools Hawthorne distributes them throughout classrooms. If a student excels in math, outstripping peers in that grades curriculum, the teacher walks that child to the next grade for math.

When it comes to fifth-grade science, those efforts more than doubled the test passage rates over three years, from 20% to 46%. I ache upon rereading that last sentence the hope and pride in the increase, the grimace I cant help but make at where they started, and what remains to be accomplished.

Scott and her staff find ways to make progress. But she doesnt have the funds for a technology teacher or trainings, so the lab will be largely unused this year. As a mother who cares about the kids who go to Hawthorne, I cant afford to wait for someone else to find those resources.

The leaders of this school are working to undo the effects of intergenerational poverty that dates back to slavery and other forced migrations. More than half of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. A quarter of the students are learning the language theyre taught in. Scores reflect circumstances, which is why Reykdal is refocusing the state on racial gaps, poverty gaps and English language gaps, down to the school level.

Many of the jobs first displaced by automation belong to peoples of color, women and others who depend on a combination of part-time positions. A federal council of economic advisers found an 83% likelihood that, by 2040, automation would displace jobs paying less than $20 per hour.

In Washington, Steam-related jobs pay double the median wage, for starters. The people moving here to work for Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing make much more. When we choose not to provide public schools with the resources needed to provide educational access to those opportunities, we are consigning local students to lesser-paid sectors of the economy, the very same that are vulnerable to automation. In other words, we are allowing our government to consecrate our children to poverty in real time.

Mass unemployment would make American society more violent, our law enforcement more brutal and our peoples more vulnerable to genocide. Automation is a social justice issue, and if history is any teacher, it shows us that vast swaths of disenfranchised peoples are a harbinger of war.

Problems that reflect the world

Whenever I have a problem thats too big to solve, I call my dad, and we argue about what to do. He told me the solution was simple. I should move. The only financially feasible choice would be the suburbs.

Something in me balks at leaving a city I love, and especially our neighborhood, where my children are happy. As a community, we just celebrated our 10th annual block party, a Cuban pig roast that my husband and I organize for our wedding anniversary. Our neighbors come bearing side dishes, canopies and games, and we dance until the DJs stop playing. The conversations we start on that night have lasted a decade. I want to stay.

As native Spanish speakers, my sons could option into the bilingual public schools on the other side of our gridlocked downtown, north of the covenants which kept people of color from buying homes. Those schools wait lists are legendary, but I am uncomfortable with the mostly white and relatively well-off demographics produced by saving only 15% of seats for native speakers. I want my kids to feel at home in a country that contains multitudes, which is why we moved to one of our nations most diverse zip codes.

Computers solve the problems theyre given. And so we must ask ourselves what we value, and whom.

Not every child wants to be a robotics engineer. But without the modes of thought elicited by learning computer science from an early age, many Washington state students will not be competitive for the jobs that remain. I want my own sons to be chosen and better yet, able to choose as I was, though I fell for a profession whose financial structures imploded five years after my college graduation.

I hope my privileged vulnerability encourages you to reflect on those truly trapped by our system. This essay invokes my worries as a mother, and with them, my socioeconomic position. Hawthorne is a happy place with diverse classrooms whose problems reflect the world, but I am glad of the years I have left to decide what my kids truly need to learn.

There can be no denying that I am one of the gentrifiers of this neighborhood, and with the honor of living here comes the responsibility to contribute. Looking at whats coming in the second machine age tremendous opportunities, to be sure, but also massive loss of what weve known as jobs I feel compelled to join those working toward a better future, minds whirring whenever problems arise.

Two nonprofits, FIRST Washington and XBOT Robotics, have offered support and equipment for Hawthorne to start a Lego robotics league after school. Four parents signed up to lead teams during last nights PTA meeting, my very first.

Its a start.

Get involved

To bolster Steam education for students, hybridized systems have sprung up as non-profits seek to prepare our children for the economy we will leave to them.

First Washington: This nonprofit helps start and sustain after-school Lego robotics leagues from K-12.

XBOT Robotics: Operating in one of the nations most diverse zip codes, offering robotics programming K-12.

Code.org: Free online programming for learners at all levels. Work through problems with your kids.

Technology Access Foundation: Helping people of color access Stem-related education in middle school, high school and beyond.

Washington State Opportunity Scholarship: A non-profit that funds thousands of Stem scholarships for Washingtons college-bound high school graduates. More than half of those scholarship recipients are students of color, women and/or the first in their family to access a higher education, if not all three.

Teals (Technology, Education and Literacy in Schools): Matches professionals with teachers to co-teach computer science in classrooms.

Seattle Mesa (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement): Provides scholarships, in-class math and science projects, advanced learning opportunities, tutoring, math camp and teacher trainings.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/18/what-should-i-teach-my-children-to-prepare-them-for-jobs-in-their-era

When bias beats logic: why the US can’t have a reasoned gun debate

Mass shootings in the US are consistently followed by calls for action and then political paralysis. Thats because people refuse to see nuance, experts say

In the week since the mass shooting in Las Vegas left nearly 60 people dead and hundreds injured, Americans have spoken out in outrage and grief, demanding action. They have asked, again: why cant the US pass any gun control laws?

At the same time, just as they did after Sandy Hook and San Bernardino and Orlando, these passionate advocates have endorsed some gun control laws with very little evidence behind them, even some policies that experts have labeled fundamentally not rational or a hysterical violation of civil rights. The great bipartisan gun control victory of this year may be new restrictions on bump stocks, a range toy used to make a semi-automatic rifle fire more like a fully automatic rifle, which arguably should never have been legal in the first place. That wont do much to reduce Americas more than 36,000 annual gun suicides, homicides, fatal accidents, and police killings.

Why does the US feel so paralysed every time it is confronted by a new attack?

Jon Stokes, a writer and software developer, said he is frustrated after each mass shooting by the sentiment among very smart people, who are used to detail and nuance and doing a lot of research, that this is cut and dried, this is black and white.

Stokes has lived on both sides of Americas gun culture war, growing up in rural Louisiana, where he got his first gun at age nine, and later studying at Harvard and the University of Chicago, where he adopted some of a big-city residents skepticism about guns. Hes written articles about the gun geek culture behind the popularity of the AR-15, why he owns a military-style rifle, and why gun owners are so skeptical of tech-enhanced smart guns.

He watches otherwise thoughtful friends suddenly embrace one gun control policy or another, as if it were a magic bullet.

Some kind of animal brain kicks in, and theyre like, No, this is morally simple.

Even to suggest that the debate is more complicated that learning something about guns, by taking a course on how to safely carry a concealed weapon, or learning how to fire a gun, might shift their perspective on whichever solution they have just heard about on TV just upsets them, and they basically say youre trying to obscure the issue.

I dont want to see that kid dead any more than you do, Stokes said. If there was a magic fix, I promise you I would support it.

In early 2013, a few months after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school, a Yale psychologist created an experiment to test how political bias affects our reasoning skills. Dan Kahan was attempting to understand why public debates over social problems remain deadlocked, even when good scientific evidence is available. He decided to test a question about gun control.

Kahan gave study participants all American adults a basic mathematics test, then asked them to solve a short but tricky problem about whether a medicinal skin cream was effective or ineffective. The problem was just hard enough that most people jumped to the wrong answer. People with stronger math skills, unsurprisingly, were more likely to get the answer right.

Then Kahan ran the same test again. This time, instead of evaluating skin cream trials, participants were asked to evaluate whether a law banning citizens from carrying concealed firearms in public made crime go up or down. The result: when liberals and conservatives were confronted with a set of results that contradicted their political assumptions, the smartest people were barely more likely to arrive at the correct answer than the people with no math skills at all. Political bias had erased the advantages of stronger reasoning skills.

The reason that measurable facts were sidelined in political debates was not that people have poor reasoning skills, Kahan concluded. Presented with a conflict between holding to their beliefs or finding the correct answer to a problem, people simply went with their tribe.

It wasa reasonable strategy on the individual level and a disastrous one for tackling social change, he concluded.

When it comes to guns, Americans want it both ways. A recent Pew study found that just over half of Americans want stronger gun laws. Even stronger majorities of Americans also believe that most people should be allowed to legally own most kinds of guns and allowed to carry them in most places.

There is room for thoughtful gun control within these constraints. But the extreme polarization of Americas gun debate the assumption, as the late-night television host Stephen Colbert argued when talking about the Las Vegas shooting, that the bar is so low right now that Congress can be heroes by doing literally anything obscures how symbolic and marginal some of the most nationally prominent gun control measures are. Like closing the terror gap, so that people on terror watchlists are not allowed to buy guns, or rolling back an Obama order on guns and mental illness that had been opposed by disability rights groups and civi liberties campaigners.

After the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, Australia imposed a mandatory buyback and melted down more than 600,000 semi-automatic rifles and other long guns, about a third of the countrys gun stock. They have not had a high-casualty mass shooting since.

American politicians and pundits are always asking: Australia tackled their mass shooting problem. Why cant we? But no one actually proposes an equivalent Big Melt in the United States, which would require a mandatory buyback of 90m American rifles, at a cost that might be in the billions of dollars.

Instead, an American assault weapons ban, which lasted from 1994 to 2004, allowed everyone to keep the military-style guns they already had, and defined assault weapons in such a technical way that gun companies were able to make cosmetic tweaks to certain models and produce virtually identical, but now legal, guns. A former Obama White House official told the Guardian candidly that the assault weapon ban does nothing and though Obama had nominally endorsed it in 2013, we would have pushed a lot harder if we had believed in it.

Part of the weakness of major gun control proposals is the result of the NRAs catch-22, said Adam Winkler, a gun politics expert at the University of California Los Angeles law school. The NRA waters down the gun laws and makes them ineffective and then says, Look, the gun laws are ineffective, we told you that gun laws never work.

But the biggest distortion in the gun control debate is the dramatic empathy gap between different kinds of victims. Its striking how puritanical the American imagination is, how narrow its range of sympathy. Mass shootings, in which the perpetrator kills complete strangers at random in a public place, prompt an outpouring of grief for the innocent lives lost. These shootings are undoubtedly horrifying, but they account for a tiny percentage of Americas overall gun deaths each year.

The roughly 60 gun suicides each day, the 19 black men and boys lost each day to homicide, do not inspire the same reaction, even though they represent the majority of gun violence victims. Yet there are meaningful measures which could save lives here targeted inventions by frontline workers in neighborhoods where the gun homicide rate is 400 times higher than other developed countries, awareness campaigns to help gun owners in rural states learn about how to identify suicide risk and intervene with friends in trouble.

When it comes to suicide, there is so much shame about that conversation and where there is shame there is also denial, said Mike McBride, a pastor who leads Live Free, a national campaign for gun violence prevention and criminal justice reform. When young men of color are killed, you have disdain and aggression, fueled by the type of white supremacist argument which equates blackness with criminality.

First-hand experience can be profoundly transformative the guitarist Caleb Keeter, who was caught up in the Las Vegas shooting, said afterwards: Ive been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the event of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We need gun control. RIGHT. NOW.

But as Nicole Hockley, the mother of Dylan, one of the children killed at Sandy Hook, put it, many Americans seem exhausted and alienated by the gun debate itself, that cyclical conversation that moves from assault weapons to arming more Americans to mental illness to policy proposals that may or may not relate at all to what actually occurred.

Its time to open up the conversation, she argues to focus on different ways to save lives, rather than the same old gun law stalemate.

Otherwise, she wrote: By the end of next week this story will be almost gone as if it never happened, even while those most impacted are still reeling from shock and grief.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/oct/07/us-gun-control-debate-bias

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer: ‘A love affair that just kept on and on and on’

The 84-year-old widow behind the landmark supreme court decision on gay rights fought $363,000 estate tax and won

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were together for 40 years before they married in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009 Windsor, in the midst of her grief, was ordered to pay $363,000 in estate taxes as the federal government did not recognise the pair’s marriage.

Windsor appealed, and won. The supreme court agreed to hear her challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, or Doma, in December, a decision Windsor told the Guardian had left her “delirious with joy“.

“I think Doma is wrong for all of the various ways in which it discriminates against same-sex married couples and against gays all together,” Windsor said. “It’s enormously satisfying and fulfilling and exciting to be where we are now.”

Spyer, she said, would have been proud of her achievement. “I think she’d be so proud and happy and just so pleased at how far we have come. It’s a culmination of an engagement that happened between us in 1967 when we didn’t dream that we’d be able to marry.”

Windsor, now a snappily dressed 83-year-old who is rarely seen without a long string of pearls around her neck, seems to have easily slotted into her position as the public face of marriage equality. But it is a role which must have seemed hard to imagine when in her early 20s, the then Edith Schlain married Saul Windsor, a friend of her brother’s. The two separated in 1952 after less than a year.

“I told him the truth,” Windsor recalled in an interview with NPR this year. “I said: ‘Honey, you deserve a lot more. You deserve somebody who thinks you’re the best because you are. And I need something else.'”

Windsor was born in Philadelphia in 1929, in the midst of the Depression. Her parents lost their home and business not long after her birth. In interviews she has recalled identifying with the leading men in the movies she went to watch while growing up, not the woman he was attempting to woo. Despite those feelings, she said she had no awareness of what life as a lesbian could be like.

“I could not imagine a life that way,” she told Buzzfeed. “I wanted to be like everybody else. You marry a man who supports you it never occurred to me I’d have to earn a living, and nor did I study to earn a living.”

Edith
‘Something like three weeks before Thea died she said: “Jesus we’re still in love, aren’t we”?’ Photograph: Richard Drew/AP

The divorce meant Windsor now had to do just that. She retained her name from the marriage but changed her life by moving to New York and concentrating on her career. Windsor worked as a secretary while studying at New York University. When she graduated with a master’s degree in mathematics she took a job at IBM.

Windsor said she would feel envious when she saw other women out together, but still found it hard to be openly gay in pre-Stonewall New York City. Finally, however, she decided she had had enough.

“About 1962, I suddenly couldn’t take it any more,” she recalled in Edie & Thea: A very long engagement, a 2009 film made about her and Spyer’s life and wedding.

“And I called an old friend of mine, a very good friend and I said if you know where the lesbians go please take me. Somebody brought Thea over and introduced her and we just started dancing.”

That was in Portofino, a restaurant in Greenwich Village. The pair kept dancing until, as Windsor tells it, she got a hole in her stocking. They would go to parties, dancing all the while, for two years until they started dating. Spyer proposed in 1967, with a brooch rather than a ring Windsor did not want to face questions from co-workers about the assumed husband-to-be.

“It was a love affair that just kept on and on and on,” Windsor said. “It really was. Something like three weeks before Thea died she said: ‘Jesus we’re still in love, aren’t we’.”

The couple moved into an apartment near Washington Square in Manhattan, where Windsor still lives, and bought a house together in Southampton, Long Island. Windsor rose to the highest technical position within IBM, and Spyer saw patients in their apartment. In the years following the Stonewall riots they both marched and demonstrated for equal rights.

In 1977, aged 45, Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. They could still dance, Windsor told Buzzfeed, with Spyer ditching her crutches at the dance floor and leading with her good leg.

As Spyer’s health deteriorated, Windsor eventually became her full-time care giver. Getting ready for bed could take an hour, preparing to leave the house in the morning three or four, she said in an interview with the NYU alumni magazine.

In 2007, Spyer’s doctors told her she had one year left to live.

“Having gotten the bad prognosis she woke up the next morning and said: ‘Do you still want to get married?’,” Windsor said. “And I said ‘Yes’. And she said: ‘So do I’.”

The pair flew to Canada that year with six friends and were married in Toronto. Windsor wore white, Thea was in all black. The ceremony was officiated by Canada’s first openly gay judge, justice Harvey Brownstone.

“Many people ask me why get married,” Windsor said in remarks on the steps of the supreme court in March, the day the court heard arguments in her case against Doma.

“I was 77, Thea was 75, and maybe we were older than that at that point, but the fact is that everybody treated it as different. It turns out marriage is different.

“I’ve asked a number of long-range couples, gay couples who they’ve got married, I’ve asked them: ‘Was it different the next morning and the answer is always: ‘Yes’.’ It’s a huge difference.”

Less than two years after they were married, Spyer died. A month after that, Windsor had a heart attack.

“In the midst of my grief I realised that the federal government was treating us as strangers, and it meant paying a humongous estate tax. And it meant selling a lot of stuff to do it and it wasn’t easy. I live on a fixed income and it wasn’t easy,” she said.

Two lower courts had already ruled that it was unconstitutional for Windsor to have to pay the $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Attorneys representing Windsor argued in the supreme court that Doma violates the constitution in not recognising her marriage to Spyer.

When the Guardian spoke to Windsor back in December, the day the the court agreed to hear her case, the joy in her voice was clear. She felt optimistic, too.

“I really believe in the supreme court. First of all, I’m the youngest in my family and justice matters a lot the littlest one gets pushed around a lot. And I trust the supreme court, I trust the constitution so I feel a certain confidence that we’ll win.”

It turns out she was right.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/26/edith-windsor-thea-spyer-doma

Year of the woman: the Democrats inspired by Trump to run for office

Those committed to electing Democratic women to office worried Hillary Clintons loss would repel female candidates. But then the sun came up

Election night 2016 was devastating for Democratic women who had hoped to elect the first female president. But it was doubly so for the organizers committed to electing Democratic women to office. They worried Hillary Clintons loss to a man who boasted on tape about grabbing women would repel female candidates from entering politics. But then the sun came up.

It really started immediately, said Andrea Steele, the president and founder of Emerge America, a national organization that recruits and trains Democratic women to run for office. The next day our phone began to ring and it didnt stop. Emails poured in. Women all over the country woke up and decided to take some action.

Since the 8 November election, Emerge America has reported an 87% increase in applications to its training programs.

Emilys List, an organization dedicated to helping elect pro-choice Democratic women, said more than 16,000 women have expressed interest in running for office since the election, while that number was 920 during the entire 2016 election cycle. Similarly She Should Run, a nonpartisan organization that trains female candidates, said 15,000 women inquired about running in an election,compared to about 900 during the same period last year.

Donald Trumps election has led to a surge in political activism among Democratic women, according to a June survey of college-educated voters by Politico, American University and Loyola Marymount. But so far, the survey found, that energy hasnt totally translated yet into more women wanting to run for office.

Jennifer Lawless, a professor of government at American University and the co-author of the study, said backlash to Trump may have planted a seed but that it could take several more election cycles for that seed to bloom.

Organizers agree that political parity is still years away. But even so, theyre optimistic the interest will usher in another year of the woman.

We look at this not just as our crop of candidates for 2018, because theyre not all going to run right away, Emilys List president Stephanie Schriock told reporters earlier this summer. This is an extraordinary pipeline of future candidates for the next decade.

The Guardian spoke with a handful of candidates who are putting their names on the ballot next year for the first time, and asked what drove them to run.

Elissa Slotkin, congressional candidate for Michigans eighth district

A few months into the Trump presidency, Elissa Slotkin was still on the fence about running. And then her congressman Mike Bishop voted for the House Republican healthcare bill.

Slotkin said she was shocked that he would cast such a consequential vote without at least holding a town hall and hearing from the constituents.

Too many politicians in Congress have forgotten that they are public servants, that they are voted in by people and that their one responsibility their one job is to improve the lives of their constituents, Slotkin said. It just seemed like a hell of a lot of people who had forgotten that.

Slotkin, a former intelligence official, worked at the Pentagon, the state department and the CIA during the Bush and Obama administrations. As a Middle East analyst at the CIA, she served three tours in Iraq.

During her 15 years working in intelligence and defense, she said no one ever asked her party affiliation. And thats the approach shes taking to her campaign.

Voters are surprised that she is openly critical of the national Democratic party, but she reminds them that her job was to give frank assessments of a controversial war to two presidents with very different perspectives.

I think they take that as a sign that I still understand how to speak truth to power, she said.

Throughout her career, Slotkin said she was often one of the few women in the room or in the combat zone where she deployed.

I have really worked hard to be in some instances twice as competent and twice as capable, she said. But Ive always found that if you know your stuff and youre willing to put yourself out there then people respect that and your gender means less than your competence.

Jena Griswold, candidate for Colorado secretary of state

After the election, Jena Griswold watched in horror as Trump claimed without any basis that millions of people had voted illegally, costing him the popular vote. And then he convened an election integrity commission to prove it.

Griswold, a former voting rights lawyer for Obamas 2012 campaign, decided she couldnt stay on the sidelines.

We saw firsthand how our election could be affected, she said, referring to the conclusion by the intelligence community that Russia interfered in the US election, which Trump has repeatedly doubted.

And now this commission should have us all on high alert. We need secretaries of state who will stand up and say: No, were not going to roll back our democratic institutions on false allegations.

She noted that after the commission started requesting voter data, hundreds of Colorado residents canceled their voter registrations, and that county elections offices reported a flood of calls from voters concerned about their data privacy.

Our democracy requires participating and when people are taking themselves out of voter rolls, were decreasing participation, she said.

Before launching her campaign, Griswold spent hours mulling the decision with fellow female politicians. Griswold had questions about what to expect from running at such a young age and though she felt qualified to do the job, this would be her first campaign.

Eventually, she said, a mentor told her: If youre excited about this, you should run. Maybe not having run for office before will be a benefit.

At just 32, Griswold is running her first campaign and pitching her youth as an asset.

Younger people are being turned off by how our politics work, she said. I understand that. And as a younger person running, I have innovative ideas and a fresh perspective on how to change that.

January Contreras, candidate for Arizona attorney general

For most of her career, January Contreras has disregarded the calls to run for office, choosing instead to serve in other ways. That is, until now.

It became clear that were at this very important crossroads, Contreras said of her decision to run. I decided to step forward and give Arizona a choice that they can trust.

Contreras said special interests have been pulling the strings for too long and that, if elected, she intends to shift the focus of the attorney generals office back to fighting for working families and small businesses.

I came into the race feeling like I have to fight hard for all of these people in vulnerable positions because I know the choices they have to make, she said.

But what I have been surprised by since starting the campaign is that there are a lot of people who have a good home, have a job but are afraid of their government.

Though shes a political novice, Contreras has a lengthy resume with a record of public service.

She worked as an assistant attorney general in the office she now hopes to run, an ombudsman with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and a senior advisor to Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. In 2013, she founded the nonprofit Arizona Legal Women and Youth Service, which provides no-cost legal services to survivors of sex and labor trafficking and vulnerable children.

Contreras said she has been fortunate to work for and with female leaders throughout most of her career, like Napolitano, who was one of Arizonas four female governors.

Seeing other women step up to run for office has been inspiring, Contreras said. If we achieve getting more women elected, well see more work across the aisle and more problem-solving because lets face it, moms get stuff done.

Kim Schrier, congressional candidate for Washingtons eighth district

Kim Schrier spent election day on the phone pleading with voters in Florida to turn out for Hillary Clinton. Hours later the state would fall to Trump, along with the rest of the south and a large swath of the midwest.

The election was a real wake-up call for me, said Schrier, a pediatrician in Washington state. It felt like the world changed overnight.

The next morning, her eight-year-old son asked if they were going to have to move to another country.

I knew right away that this was one of those times when youre called upon to stand up and protect everything you love, she said.

The idea of leaving her practice where she has worked for the last 16 years to seek elective office would have sounded absurd a year ago, she said. But as she watched Republicans lead the effort to repeal Obamacare, Schrier saw an opportunity.

As a pediatrician in Washington [DC] I could serve all the children of the country far more than I could serve one ear infection at a time in my office, she said.

The final straw was when her congressman, Dave Reichert, refused to hold town halls with his constituents as the healthcare debate raged in the capital. In a campaign video, Schrier announced her candidacy next to an empty chair meant to symbolize Reicherts reluctance to meet with voters.

If elected, Schrier said she would naturally gravitate toward issues involving healthcare and science. She noted that there are currently no female doctors serving in Congress.

I think having a woman doctor at the table is an important perspective, especially during discussions of womens health and reproductive rights, she said.

Mikie Sherrill, congressional candidate for New Jerseys 11th district

When Mikie Sherrill told her family she was considering running for Congress, the former Navy pilot expected to be called crazy. Instead, they wholeheartedly agreed.

Now the Democrat is running to take on Trump and the districts nine-term Republican senator, Rodney Frelinghuysen.

I started this campaign because I was really disturbed by Trumps attack on the institutions of our democracy, Sherrill said, adding that Trumps equivocating response to the deadly violence in Charlottesville have brought his presidency into sharp relief.

I think now there is a feeling things have come to a head and this is simply not who we are as a country.

As a US Navy pilot, Sherrill spent nine years flying helicopters in Europe and the Middle East. After leaving the Navy, Sherrill attended law school at Georgetown University and later became a federal prosecutor with the US attorneys office in New Jersey.

During the 2016 election, Sherrill said she was especially appalled by Trumps treatment of Gold Star families and his disregard for Senator John McCain of Arizona, who spent more than five years in captivity during the Vietnam war.

Sherrill said she is encouraged but not surprised that so many veterans are running for office.

Veterans at one time in their life have signed up to serve their country, Sherrill said. Whats happening to this country now is a grave concern to a lot of people but veterans in particular feel the need to get engaged and help protect this country and the institutions of our government.

Sherrill said knowing she is joining a fleet of Democratic women around the country in seeking office in 2018 has been empowering.

Ive always found being a woman to be a double-edged sword, Sherrill said. Ive run into corners where Ive experienced some veiled sexism and some not so veiled sexism. But after this election the women are so engaged and that support has really gotten my campaign to where it is.

Olivia Scott, candidate for Charlotte school board – district three

Olivia Scott thought she was too young, too inexperienced, too soft-spoken for politics. The thought of running had crossed her mind but she quickly dismissed it as afar-fetched dream. But then Trump won and that equation changed.

I thought, if he can win the presidency I can definitely win a seat on the school board, Scott said.

At just 25, Scott said shes running for school board to try to change the trajectory for young students in Charlotte, where children born into poverty have little chance of escaping it.

As an undergraduate student at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Scott studied English with a concentration in childrens studies. She now works as a director-in-training at a five-star child care center in Charlotte and is a volunteer with the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program.

Scott said she is the right person to serve on the District 3 school board because she attended a similar school growing up. As a student, Scott said she was acutely aware of the disparities between school districts.

I couldnt figure out why the schools I went to were so depressing on the inside or why students I went to school with didnt always succeed, she said.

Scott has a three tier platform that she believes will help address some of the obstacles that exist, especially for the poor African American students in her district, including improving communication skills and boosting test scores in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Being young can seem like an obstacle sometimes, but its also an opportunity, she said.

I get a lot of How old are you again? she said. Most people are extremely supportive. When I introduce myself to millennials, a lot of them are impressed and ask how they can get involved.

Hala Ayala, candidate for Virginia House of Delegates district 51

Like so many women, she marched and now shes running.

Hala Ayala has been active in Democratic politics for more than a decade, but it wasnt until after she helped organize a contingent of Virginia women of the Womens March on Washington that she saw her name on the ballot.

We woke up the next day and I dont even know if this is clinically correct but we had political depression, she said. But then I went to the march and the experience, marching with these women, it really energized me and inspired me to take the next step.

For years, Ayala has worked to promote women in politics and civic life. She revived her county chapter of the National Organization for Women and serves on Governor Terry McAuliffes Council on Women.

As a single mother of two boys, one of whom has a serious medical condition, Ayala relied on welfare and Medicaid for support. At one point, she worked as a cashier at the local gas station before enrolling in a training program that put her on a path to a career in cyber security.

Ayala recently left her job as a cyber security specialist with the Department of Homeland Security to join a record number of women to seek a seat in the Virginia legislature. The decision was not without risks and she said she still occasionally wonders if it was the right decision for her family.

There is a lot of sacrifices that we make to run for office and those are not taken lightly, she said.

So far this risk has been rewarding. In June, Ayala won her primary. She is now among 10 women challenging Republican incumbents.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/04/democrats-inspired-by-trump-to-run-for-office-hillary-clinton

Conservative groups shrug off link between tropical storm Harvey and climate change

Myron Ebell, who headed the EPAs transition team when Trump became president, said the last decade has been a period of low hurricane activity

Conservative groups with close links to the Trump administration have sought to ridicule the link between climate change and events such as tropical storm Harvey, amid warnings from scientists that storms are being exacerbated by warming temperatures.

Harvey, which smashed into the Texas coast on Friday, rapidly developed into a Category 4 hurricane and has drenched parts of Houston with around 50in of rain in less than a week, more than the city typically receives in a year. So much rain fell that the National Weather Service had to add new colours to its maps.

Quick Guide

Tropical storm Harvey and climate change

Is there a link between the storm and climate change?

Almost certainly, according to astatementissued by the World Meteorological Organization on Tuesday. Climate change means that when we do have an event like Harvey, the rainfall amounts are likely to be higher than they would have been otherwise, the UN organisations spokeswoman Clare Nullis told a conference. Nobody is arguing that climate change caused the storm, but it is likely to have made it much worse.

How did it make it worse?

Warmer seas evaporate more quickly. Warmer air holds more water vapour. So, as temperatures rise around the world, the skies store more moisture and dump it more intensely. The US National Weather Service has had to introduce a new colour on its graphs to deal with the volume of precipitation. Harvey surpassed the previous US record for rainfall from a tropical system, as 49.2 inches was recorded at Marys Creek at Winding Road in Southeast Houston, at 9.20am on Tuesday.

Is this speculation or science?

There is a proven link known as theClausius-Clapeyron equation that shows that for every half a degree celsius in warming, there is about a 3% increase in atmospheric moisture content. This was a factor in Texas. The surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico is currently more than half a degree celsius higher than the recent late summer average, which is in turn more than half a degree higher than 30 years ago,accordingtoMichael Mannof Penn State University. As a result there was more potential for a deluge.

Are there other links between Harvey and climate change?

Yes, the storm surge was greater because sea levels have risen 20cm as a result of more than 100 years of human-related global warming. This has melted glaciers and thermally expanded the volume of seawater.

The flooding has resulted in at least 15 deaths, with more than 30,000 people forced from their homes. Fema has warned that hundreds of thousands of people will require federal help for several years, with Greg Abbott, governor of Texas, calling Harvey one of the largest disasters America has ever faced. Insurers have warned the cost of the damage could amount to $100bn.

Some scientists have pointed to the tropical storm as further evidence of the dangers of climate change, with Penn State University professor of meteorology Michael Mann stating that warming temperatures worsened the impact of the storm, heightening the risk to life and property.

Conservative groups, however, have mobilized to downplay or mock any association between the storm and climate change. Myron Ebell, who headed the Environmental Protection Agencys transition team when Donald Trump became president, said the last decade has been a period of low hurricane activity and pointed out that previous hurricanes occurred when emissions were lower.

Instead of wasting colossal sums of money on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, much smaller amounts should be spent on improving the infrastructure that protects the Gulf and Atlantic costs, said Ebell, who is director of environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian thinktank that has received donations from fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil.

Thomas Pyle, who led Trumps transition team for the department of energy, said: It is unfortunate, but not surprising, that the left is exploiting Hurricane Harvey to try and advance their political agenda, but it wont work.

When everything is a problem related to climate change, the solutions no longer become attainable. That is their fundamental problem.

Pyle is president of the Institute of Energy Research, which was founded in Houston but is now based in Washington DC. The nonprofit organization has consistently questioned the science of climate change and has close ties to the Koch family.

The Heartland Institute, a prominent conservative group that produced a blueprint of cuts to the EPA that has been mirrored by the Trump administrations budget, quoted a procession of figures from the worlds of economics, mathematics and engineering to ridicule the climate change dimension of Harvey.

In the bizarro world of the climate change cultists … Harvey will be creatively spun to prove there are dire effects linked to man-created climate change, a theory that is not proven by the available science, said Bette Grande, a Heartland research fellow and a Republican who served in the North Dakota state legislature until 2014.

Facts do not get in the way of climate change alarmism, and we will continue to fight for the truth in the months and years to come.

Harvey was the most powerful storm to hit Texas in 50 years, but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it is premature to conclude that there has already been an increase in Atlantic-born hurricanes due to temperatures that have risen globally, on average, by around 1C since the industrial revolution.

Scientists have also been reluctant to assign individual storms to climate change but recent research has sought to isolate global changes from natural variability in disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, which devastated New Orleans in 2005.

However, researchers are also increasingly certain that the warming of the atmosphere and oceans is likely to fuel longer or more destructive hurricanes. A draft of the upcoming national climate assessment states there is high confidence that there will be an increase in the intensity and precipitation rates of hurricanes and typhoons in the Atlantic and Pacific as temperatures rise further.

Harvey may well fit that theory, according to climate scientist Kevin Trenberth, as the hurricane managed to turn from a tropical depression to a category four event in little more than two days, fed by a patch of the Gulf of Mexico that was up to 4C warmer than the long term average.

When storms start to get going, they churn up water from deeper in the ocean and this colder water can slow them down, said Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. But if the upwelling water is warmer, it gives them a longer lifetime and larger intensity. There is now more ocean heat deep below the surface. The Atlantic was primed for an event like this.

While the number of hurricanes may actually fall, scientists warn the remaining events will likely be stronger. A warmer atmosphere holds more evaporated water, which can fuel precipitation Trenberth said as much as 30% of Harveys rainfall could be attributed to global warming. For lower-lying areas, the storm surge created by hurricanes is worsened by a sea level that is rising, on average, by around 3.5mm a year across the globe.

The oil and gas industry has sought to see off the threat in the Gulf of Mexico with taller platforms post-Katrina, offshore rigs are around 90ft above sea level compared to 70ft in the 1990s but the Houston, the epicenter of the industry, is considered vulnerable due to its relaxed approach to planning that has seen housing built in flood-prone areas.

Barack Obamas administration established a rule that sought to flood-proof new federal infrastructure projects by demanding they incorporate the latest climate change science. Last week, Trump announced he would scrap the rule, provoking a rebuke from Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican congressman who called the move irresponsible.

Curbelo, who has attempted to rally Republicans to address climate change, wouldnt comment on the climate change link to Harvey. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, Texass Republican senators, didnt respond to questions on the climate link, nor did Abbott, the states governor, or Dan Patrick, Texass lieutenant governor. All four of the Texas politicians have expressed doubts over the broad scientific understanding that the world is warming and that human activity is the primary cause.

Its essential to talk about climate change in relation to events like Hurricane Harvey and its sad a lot of reports dont mention it in any way, said Trenberth.

You dont want to overstate it but climate change is a contributor and is making storms more intense. A relatively small increase in intensity can do a tremendous amount of damage. Its enough for thresholds to be crossed and for things to start breaking.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/aug/30/tropical-storm-harvey-climate-change-conservatives-donald-trump

Guardian of the galaxy: Nasa seeks new ‘planetary protection officer’

Role involves safeguarding Earth from extra-terrestrial infection, and stopping other planets being contaminated by robotic or human explorers

Nasa is looking for a planetary protection officer who will help safeguard Earth from alien bacteria.

No, it isnt the script of an elaborate science fiction film, but an actual job advertisement on the US governments website.

According to the site, the unusual role involves creating policies to ensure the avoidance of organic-constituent and biological contamination in human and robotic space exploration.

The job description says the three-year position involves frequent travel and comes with an annual handsome salary of up to $187,000 (141,000). The roles security clearance level is secret.

NASA People (@NASApeople)

Interested in @NASA‘s opportunity to become a Planetary Protection Officer?! Vacancy is open! Learn more on @USAJOBS https://t.co/qj10DH6s3M

August 2, 2017

The successful candidate, who must be a US citizen or national and hold a degree in physical science, engineering, or mathematics, will make sure that no microbial life travels from Earth to infect other planets, and vice versa.

The planetary protection officer will oversee all space flight missions that may intentionally or unintentionally carry Earth organisms and organic constituents to the planets or other solar system bodies, and any mission employing spacecraft, which are intended to return to Earth and its biosphere with samples from extraterrestrial targets of exploration, the ad says.

The ad was created on 13 July but this week started to gain more attention after it was posted on Twitter, prompting a slew of mildly amusing jokes and faux job applications.

Townie Bagels (@TownieBagels)

.@NASA was this the idea for planetary protection officer you had in mind? pic.twitter.com/JPpBrt5yhA

August 2, 2017

Steve Rogers (@Supes252)

Dear .@nasa I hear you’re looking for ‘Planetary Protection Officer’ we’ll now submit our interest in the position pic.twitter.com/HTOnMgSiJ1

August 2, 2017

jillthrash (@jillthrash)

There’s one other name you may know me by . . . Planetary Protection Officer. #nasa #PlanetaryProtectionOfficer pic.twitter.com/5Lz9FctcRB

August 3, 2017

The job was created in 1967 in order to make the US compliant with the International Outer Space Treaty.

In 2014, Catherine Conley, the current previous planetary protection officer, told Scientific American that one of her concerns was that humans travelling to Mars could contaminate the planet if they died there.

She said it was important not to pollute other planets and repeat the mistakes humans have made on Earth.

If you wanted to drill into an aquifer on Mars, it would be in the interest of future colonists that you keep the drilling clean because organisms can grow in the aquifer and change the conditions so that it is no longer available. Weve seen that happen on Earth. That would be really unfortunate.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/03/guardian-of-the-galaxy-nasa-seeks-new-planetary-protection-officer

Michelle Obama tells of being wounded by racism as first lady

Pretending experiences didnt hurt would let perpetrators off hook, says Obama as she praises womens strength

Michelle Obama has spoken about the racism she faced as first lady, as she encouraged women to strive to succeed despite setbacks.

During an armchair conversation in front of 8,500 people in Denver, Colorado, Obama was commended for breaking the glass ceiling by becoming the first black first lady.

Asked which of the falling glass shards cut the deepest, she said: The ones that intended to cut, referencing an incident in which a West Virginia county employee called her an ape in heels, as well as people not taking her seriously because of her colour. Knowing that after eight years of working really hard for this country, there are still people who wont see me for what I am because of my skin colour, she told the crowd.

In the speech, made on Tuesday at the Pepsi Centre in Denver as part of the Womens Foundation of Colorados 30th anniversary fundraising celebration, Obama said she couldnt pretend the experiences didnt hurt because that would let the perpetrators off the hook.

Women, we endure those cuts in so many ways that we dont even know were cut, she said, according to a report in the Denver Post. We are living with small tiny cuts, and we are bleeding every single day. And were still getting up.

She said the wounds of failure hurt deeply but healed with time, and if women acknowledged their scars they could encourage younger girls to strive and succeed.

The Post reported that while Obama largely stayed away from politics, she received cheers from the crowd when she took a few thinly veiled shots at the Trump administration, and boos when she reiterated that she would not be seeking public office.

Public service and engagement will be a part of my life and my husbands life for ever, she added. Both Michelle and Barack Obama have signed book deals with Penguin Random House.

The former lawyer warned against the notion of a nation falling apart, saying that America was a young country that would learn from its mistakes and successes.

The people in this country are universally good and kind and honest and decent. Dont be afraid of the country you live in. The folks here are good, she said, adding that instead of relying on national policies, women needed to take charge in their own lives and communities.

She also talked on a range of topics she advocated for as first lady, including education for girls and health and nutrition for schoolchildren.

If we want girls in Stem (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), we need to rethink how we deliver education. Teachers, a kind word can mean the world to a young girl, she said.

As first lady, Obama launched several campaigns around education, including Reach Higher, which inspires students to complete education past high school, and Let Girls Learn, which helps facilitate educational opportunities for young girls in developing countries.

In May, she made her strongest political intervention by attacking the Trump administrations reversal of regulations to help improve school lunches.

Addressing the crowd in Denver, she mentioned Barack Obamas campaign slogan. It was never yes he can; it was yes we can, she said. When we put so much on a person, on a leader, we absolve ourselves of doing anything else. Were all on a journey together We all want someone who will fix things, but were going to have to fix it together.

She advised people to surround themselves with other powerful figures and never be afraid to fail and to protect what they love. What is going on within us [women] that we dont feel worthy enough to protect the things we value? she asked.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/27/michelle-obama-wounded-racism-first-lady

Maryam Mirzakhani, first woman to win mathematics’ Fields medal, dies at 40

Stanford professor, who was awarded the prestigious prize in 2014, had suffered breast cancer

Maryam Mirzakhani, a Stanford University professor who was the first and only woman to win the prestigious Fields medal in mathematics, has died. She was 40.

Mirzakhani, who had breast cancer, died on Saturday, the university said. It did not indicate where she died.

In 2014, Mirzakhani was one of four winners of the Fields medal, which is presented every four years and is considered the mathematics equivalent of the Nobel prize. She was named for her work on complex geometry and dynamic systems.

Mirzakhani specialized in theoretical mathematics that read like a foreign language by those outside of mathematics: moduli spaces, Teichmller theory, hyperbolic geometry, Ergodic theory and symplectic geometry, the Stanford press announcement said.

Mastering these approaches allowed Mirzakhani to pursue her fascination for describing the geometric and dynamic complexities of curved surfaces spheres, doughnut shapes and even amoebas in as great detail as possible.

Her work had implications in fields ranging from cryptography to the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist, the university said.

Mirzakhani was born in Tehran and studied there and at Harvard. She joined Stanford as a mathematics professor in 2008. Irans president, Hassan Rouhani, issued a statement praising Mirzakhani.

The grievous passing of Maryam Mirzakhani, the eminent Iranian and world-renowned mathematician, is very much heart-rending, Rouhani said in a message that was reported by the Tehran Times.

Irans foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said her death pained all Iranians, the newspaper reported.

The news of young Iranian genius and math professor Maryam Mirzakhanis passing has brought a deep pang of sorrow to me and all Iranians who are proud of their eminent and distinguished scientists, Zarif posted in Farsi on his Instagram account.

I do offer my heartfelt condolences upon the passing of this lady scientist to all Iranians worldwide, her grieving family and the scientific community.

Mirzakhani originally dreamed of becoming a writer but then shifted to mathematics. When she was working, she would doodle on sheets of paper and scribble formulas on the edges of her drawings, leading her daughter to describe the work as painting, the Stanford statement said.

Mirzakhani once described her work as like being lost in a jungle and trying to use all the knowledge that you can gather to come up with some new tricks, and with some luck you might find a way out.

Stanford president Marc Tessier-Lavigne said Mirzakhani was a brilliant theorist who made enduring contributions and inspired thousands of women to pursue math and science.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrk, and daughter, Anahita.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jul/15/maryam-mirzakhani-mathematician-dies-40

From Apu to Master of None: how US pop culture tuned into the south Asian experience

For years, the Simpsons character was the most famous Indian on US screens. But now actors and comedians such as Riz Ahmed, Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari and Hasan Minhaj are pop royalty. What took so long?

US culture has a new mantra: its down with brown. In the past few years, entertainers of south Asian origin have gone from being a minor footnote in American popular culture to a headline event. You can see a snapshot of this new America in a picture British-Pakistani actor Riz Ahmed tweeted this month at the Met Gala, the annual gathering of pop-culture royalty. Captioned Taking over the #metgala2017, it showed Ahmed standing next to comedians Mindy Kaling, Aziz Ansari, and the Daily Shows senior correspondent, Hasan Minhaj.

South Asians arent just taking over the Met Gala, theyre popping up everywhere. Last month, Minhaj headlined the annual White House correspondents dinner. In April, Ahmed was one of the cover stars for Time magazines list of the 100 most-influential people in the world. And Kaling and Ansari are both first-generation Indian-Americans who have created, written and star in major TV shows The Mindy Project and Master of None, respectively. Theres also Kumail Nanjiani, who plays the leading man in The Big Sick, a romcom produced by Judd Apatow, which comes out in July. Not to mention Oscar-nominated Dev Patel, Priyanka Chopra, who plays an FBI agent in Quantico, and Archie Panjabi in The Good Wife. In music, theres Vijay Iyer, a first-generation Indian-American who is one of the most famous living jazz musicians in the world. Theres Zayn Malik who is, perhaps, the most famous Bradford-born Muslim to quit a boy band in the world. And thats without mentioning Ahmeds musical side project, Swet Shop Boys, or Brit-Sri Lankan rapper MIA, whose south Asian identity politics have played out on the blogosphere since her first release in 2003.

If youre British then this sudden surge of brown faces on US screens may seem a little been-there-done-that. After all, the relationship between Britain and south Asia goes all the way back to the founding of the East India Company in 1600 and, you know, that whole colonialism thing. South Asians have played a significant part in British culture for a while. Hell, even Britain First supporters go out for a curry.

But things are very different in the US, where south Asians make up a far newer, far smaller percentage of the population and have traditionally occupied little, if any, space in the national consciousness. You can see this reflected in the different nomenclature: in Britain, Asian refers to south Asians; in the US, it refers to east Asians. South Asians are a subgroup of a subgroup. It is not an exaggeration to say that, for decades, the most famous south Asian in the US was Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, proprietor of the Kwik-E-Mart in The Simpsons. And not only is Apu a cartoon character, hes voiced by Hank Azaria, a white man.

Indeed, for a long time, if there was a south Asian in a US production, chances are that it would be a white guy in brownface affecting a hilarious Indian accent. Peter Sellers, for example, plays Hrundi V Bakshi, a bumbling Indian actor, in the 1968 movie The Party; Azaria has said that he based Apus accent, in part, on Sellers performance. In Short Circuit 2, a 1988 comedy about a robot who befriends an Indian scientist, the Indian is played by Fisher Stevens (They got a real robot and a fake Indian, Ansari jokes in one episode of Master of None). Dont think we left the brownface behind when we entered the 21st century. Divya Narendra, an Indian student in the 2010 movie The Social Network, is played by Max Minghella, who is decidedly not-Indian. And, in 2012, a Popchips advert featured the very white Ashton Kutcher impersonating a Bollywood producer.

Apu
Apu Nahasapeemapetilon. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo

South Asian actors are still asked to do accents and play stereotypical roles. This year, Kal Penn (of Harold and Kumar fame) shared some of the audition scripts he was given at the beginning of his career. These demanded an accent and were for roles such as Gandhi lookalike, snake charmer and perspiring Pakistani computer geek. In a 2015 essay for the New York Times, Ansari recounted similar experiences: Even though Ive sold out Madison Square Garden as a standup comedian and have appeared in several films and a TV series, when my phone rings, the roles Im offered are often defined by ethnicity and often require accents. It should be noted that the perspiring geek stereotypes and fresh-off-the-boat accents tend to be reserved for men: south Asian stereotypes tend to emasculate the men and eroticise the women.

Stereotypes dont just affect the sort of roles south Asians are offered, they have an impact on the way that south Asian creativity is parsed. In a profile in the New Yorker, Iyer notes that: Critical writing used to attempt to place me by othering me, by putting me outside the history of jazz. Everything I did was seen as different and not as the continuity of a tradition. Critics never describe black music as rigorous or cerebral or mathematical, although [John] Coltrane was interested in mathematics. Since I was Asian, I was seen as having only my intellect to use.

Why have these stereotypes gone relatively unchallenged for so long? When the Popchips ad first aired in 2012, blogger Anil Dash wondered how the American media could be blind to the obvious offensiveness of this campaign. Dash pointed out that both the New York Times and the Washington Post covered the campaign with no note of how obviously offensive the featured ad is Its astounding that this wouldnt be obvious on first glance to those who are paid to understand media and culture.

The reason it wasnt obvious, perhaps, is because 99% of those who are paid to understand media and culture in elite American media come from homogeneous white backgrounds. But, explains Shilpa Dav, assistant professor of media studies and American studies at the University of Virginia, another reason may be that south Asians have always been in an ambiguous racialised space in the United States. In the early 20th century, south Asians were thought of as white in the US. This changed in 1923 when a court ruled that they were Asian others and aliens something that had huge ramifications, as it meant they were unable to become naturalised citizens. So, theyre one of the only groups who had citizenship and then had it taken away, Dav notes. That ambiguity has followed how south Asians have been characterised in the United States. Theyre not quite white, but theyre not as other as African-Americans. Which means that making fun of south Asians isnt seen as full-blown racism.

Mindy
Mindy Kaling in The Mindy Project. Photograph: Fox via Getty Images

In her book Indian Accents, Dav looks at the racialisation of south Asians through what she terms brown voice in American TV and film. An accent highlights the norm and it also points out its own difference, she says. An accent piece of furniture, for example, acts as a complement and contrast to the rest of the furniture in the room. Dav hypothesises that Indians have worked as a sort of accent piece in popular culture; an exotic set decoration that spices things up without being too threatening. The way Indians function in representations of Hollywood is oftentimes as an acceptable form of difference. Yes, they are different, but its a difference that we can accommodate.

US immigration policy has also been very clear about the sort of difference it is willing to accommodate. While south Asians have been emigrating to the US for more than a century, they didnt start arriving in large numbers until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. This allowed far more immigrants from south Asia into the US than before (previously, 70% of all immigrant slots were allocated to people from the UK, Ireland and Germany), but gave preference to people with medical and science backgrounds.

Pawan Dhingra, professor of sociology and American studies at Tufts University, explains that this meant many of the south Asians who came in the 60s, 70s, even the 80s, were of a relatively finite number of occupations. They came as physicians or engineers and then, later, as computer scientists. This helped create a self-perpetuating stereotype of south Asians being doctors and engineers. Its very common, regardless of your ethnicity, for children of people in these kinds of occupations to continue in these occupations, says Dhingra. Demographics, then, are one reason why were starting to see more south Asians in American popular culture. South Asians have been in the US long enough to have children who have broken through into creative professions.

Perhaps more importantly, weve also got to a point where south Asians arent just starting to get a seat at the table, theyre criticising the seating arrangement. Ansari, for example, has brought issues of representation and racism directly into the plotline of Master of None. Indeed, theres a whole episode in the first season called Indians on TV, which begins with a montage of how Indians have been represented ranging from monkey-brain eaters in Indiana Jones to Zac in Saved By the Bell making jokes about 7-Elevens in a fake Indian accent. Ansaris character, Dev, then finds himself grappling with the difficulties of trying to push back against these stereotypes while still making a living as an aspiring actor. He refuses to do an accent for the role of Unnamed cab driver on a TV show, for example, and doesnt get the part. His friend Ravi goes up for the same part and does an accent. I think about [stereotypes], too, Ravi tells Dev. But Ive got to work.

Master
Master of None. Photograph: KC Bailey/Netflix

Minorities can often feel a pressure to shut up and put up with things and avoid being seen as an Angry Ethnic, if they want to get ahead. A pressure to be a subservient Uncle Taj, as Dev puts it on Master of None. And its fair to say that for a long time, south Asians havent been particularly vocal about critiquing the racial divide in the US. After all, its a racial divide thats traditionally been very black and white with south Asians grudgingly being allowed to stand on the white side if they behaved themselves and didnt draw too much attention to their otherness.

September 11 changed all that. Suddenly, it didnt matter if you were Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Hindu, Sikh or Muslim after 9/11, being brown meant being a potential terrorist. The response to 9/11 has created a generation of highly politicised south-Asian Americans who are pushing back against the model-minority label and finding new commonality with black America. As Ahmed raps on the Swet Shop Boys album: My only heroes are black rappers / So, for me, Tupac was a true Paki.

This politicisation is particularly marked now, with Donald Trump in charge and hate crimes against south Asians spiking. Anupama Jain, the author of How to Be South Asian in America and a teacher at the University of Pittsburgh, says she feels that there is a widespread raising of south Asian consciousness at the moment. Her south Asian students are reaching out to her, saying: People are killing south Asians right now, and asking what they should be doing.

Entertainment has become one way of doing something. Minhaj, for example, did not mince his words at the White House correspondents dinner something that clearly made the largely white crowd quite uncomfortable. A sample joke: As a Muslim, I like to watch Fox News for the same reason I like to play Call of Duty. Sometimes, I like to turn my brain off and watch strangers insult my family and heritage.

Hasan
Hasan Minhaj passes Bob Woodward (centre) and Reuters editor-in-chief, Steve Adler, at the White House correspondents dinner. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

In these Trumpian times, the high-profile success of so many talented brown people is a truly heartening thing. However, its worth remembering that progress isnt necessarily linear and that the prominence of minority narratives is often cyclical. In the UK, for example, there was a boom in British-Asian culture in the 90s; shows such as Goodness Gracious Me were mainstream entertainment and Cornershops Brimful of Asha was No 1 in the charts. But, as Ahmed and actor and comedian Meera Syal have recently pointed out, ethnic-minority representation on British film and television is at its lowest point since the early 80s. Lets hope what were seeing happen in the US is more long-lived.

Digital media has also helped give a new generation of south Asians a chance to share their stories without establishment approval. Rather than be subject to traditional gatekeepers, desis are doing it for themselves. Last year, Canadian-Indian Lilly Singh who goes by IISuperwomanII online, was the third-highest-paid vlogger on YouTube (and the highest-paid female), earning a reported $7.5m (5.8m) in 2016 with videos such as Sh*t Punjabi Mothers Say, The Rules of Racism, and When a Brown Girl Dates a White Boy. Now, more south Asians are hoping to emulate her success. Krishna Kumar, a 26-year-old YouTuber, explains: When someone tells us no, we can still say yes to ourselves. Kumar is, with his friend Kausar Mohammed, currently working on a parody of Ariana Grandes Dangerous Woman music video called Dangerous Muslims. The video is an open letter directed to Trump, which the pair hope will help dispel fear about Muslims. Im a strong believer that artistic expression is a strong catalyst of social change, Mohammed says. Comedy comes from a place of hurt often. You either laugh about it or cry about it. Like many minority comedians before them, theyre choosing to laugh.

Series two of Aziz Ansaris Master of None is on Netflix from 12 May.

Hasan Minjajs Homecoming King is on Netflix from 23 May.

The Big Sick is in cinemas in July

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2017/may/09/from-apu-to-master-of-none-how-us-pop-culture-tuned-into-the-south-asian-experience

Will Ivanka Trump be a great policy ‘moderator’ or a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Recent TV interview adds to confusion about the first daughter, who has said so little that the influence she plans to exert from her White House role is unclear

Ivanka Trump, who months ago stated her intention to be just a daughter to Donald Trump, has given her first television interview since being appointed to a formal White House position as special assistant to the president.

The first daughter toed a difficult line, seemingly embracing the role of policy moderator to her father, while at the same time telling CBSs Gayle King: Im still my fathers daughter.

Where I disagree with my father, he knows it and I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda, Trump said in the interview which aired on Wednesday.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/05/ivanka-trump-tv-interview-moderator-policy-white-house