The tree rings of US immigration

Here’s an unusual way of representing population growth. Pedro M Cruz, from Northeastern University in Boston, takes two centuries of US census data and shows the increasing population as rings of a tree, one for each decade.

For a radical new perspective on immigration, picture the US as an ancient tree
According to Cruz, the tree metaphor ‘carries the idea that these marks in the past are immutable’ and it ‘embodies the concept that all cells contributed to the organism’s growth’. As with so many renderings of US history, indigenous populations are conspicuously absent from the tableau. Still, Cruz’s skilfully deployed data doubles as a resonant work of cultural commentary, offering a rich and often surprising look at the ever-evolving makeup of the country.

There’s more information on the video’s Vimeo page.

Simulated dendrochronology of U.S. immigration (1830-2015)
Trees in their natural setting have annual growth rings that reflect varying environmental conditions; the rings’ forms are neither perfect circles nor ellipses. The algorithm is inspired by this variation and accordingly deposits immigrant cells in specific directions depending on the geographic origin of the immigrant. Rings that are more skewed toward the country’s East, for example, show more immigration from Europe, while rings skewed South show more immigration from Latin America. With this, it is possible to observe the quantity of immigration through the thickness of the rings. The color of the cells corresponds to specific cultural-geographical regions.

Exam stress

It’s that time of year again.

Top performing Leeds school makes exam blunder leaving pupils clueless on rogue question
Year 11 students at Prince Henry’s Grammar School in Otley were dumbfounded on Monday, May 20, when a question appeared on their GCSE paper in Religious Studies asking about a topic they had not been taught. …

Headteacher Janet Sheriff confirmed the school has launched an immediate investigation and called on the exam board to apply ‘special consideration’ – although pupils and parents will only find out if the appeal has been successful when they open the envelope containing their results in August.

A few weeks ago, The Guardian ran this story.

Sajid Javid urged to act in immigration scandal ‘bigger than Windrush’
The drive to find and deport potential cheats began during Theresa May’s tenure as home secretary, when she promised to create a “hostile environment” for migrants deemed to be in the country illegally.

Thousands of students who have remained in the UK to fight to clear their reputations have spent the past five years attempting to prove that they are not guilty of cheating, but most have struggled because the Home Office has told them they have no right of appeal in the UK and must leave the country.

But then today we have this.

English test students may have been wrongly accused, says watchdog
About 2,500 students have been forcibly removed from the UK after being accused of cheating in the exam and a further 7,200 left the country after being warned that they faced detention and removal if they stayed. Many have protested their innocence; 12,500 appeals have been heard in UK courts, and so far 3,600 people have won their appeals.

Small dioramas, big issues

Compare and contrast these two recent posts from Web Urbanist. Similar levels of ingenuity and skills, but eliciting very different emotional responses.

Refugee Baggage: Suitcase dioramas show dark scenes from countries fled
The project of a Syrian-born artist and architect and an Iraqi-born author, this installation invites viewers to imagine what refugees leave behind when the pack up the few things they can carry and flee an oppressive regime or war-torn country.

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The UNPACKED: Refugee Baggage installation by Mohamad and Ahmed Badr “sculpturally re-creates rooms, homes, buildings and landscapes that have suffered the ravages of war. Each is embedded with the voices and stories of real people — from Afghanistan, Congo, Syria, Iraq and Sudan — who have escaped those same rooms and buildings to build a new life in America.”

Some really important stories being told. Meanwhile, over in Japan, Tanaka Tatsuya is continuing his miniature photography series. It’s been going since 2011.

Miniature Calendar: Micro-city scenes made daily from household objects
It takes just one artist to raise this annual micro-village, putting out a fresh scene daily featuring miniature people going about their everyday lives, navigating repurposed objects designed for different purposes at larger scales.

The new Miniature Calendar by Tastuya Tanaka is the latest in a series of 7, each one featuring 365 snapshots of lives lived small. The figures are often framed by items that are easy to recognize and yet also simple to reimagine in context.

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Making of MINIATURE CALENDAR

A year of (mostly bad?) news

They say we all love bad news, which is all we ever get these days.

The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences
News is about things that happen, not things that don’t happen. We never see a journalist saying to the camera, “I’m reporting live from a country where a war has not broken out”— or a city that has not been bombed, or a school that has not been shot up.

And so we have another something of the year article, this time a hundred news photographs from Reuters.

Pictures of the year 2018

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Lots of shouting, lots of people in dreadful situations, lots of heart-wrenching tragedies. None of it I really want to show here, to be honest.

It wasn’t all like that, though, thankfully. Remember these, for instance?

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And if you want more, there’s this year’s Atlantic In Focus series:

2018 in photos: How the first months unfolded

2018 in photos: A look at the middle months

2018 in photos: Wrapping up the year

Will 2019 look any different, I wonder.

Understanding EAL students’ backgrounds

A teacher at the school I work at shared these news reports from the last couple of weeks, to give us an insight into the background of some of our EAL students; what they may have experienced in their countries and why they may have come here. I thought I’d share them here too.

Far right in Czech Republic: the politicians turning on Roma
Hostility towards Roma people is so ingrained in Czech political life, the country’s president recently called them “work shy”, and in this weekend’s Czech municipal elections some politicians are openly stirring up virulent anti-Roma sentiment.

I know one should never read YouTube comments, but the majority under that video make for difficult reading.

‘It’s just slavery’: Eritrean conscripts wait in vain for freedom
With their hopes dashed that peace with Ethiopia would bring an end to national service, young Eritreans must either accept a life of forced labour or flee.

Happy Windrush Day, grandma and grandad

It’s Windrush Day.

UK makes Windrush Day official with £500k grant to support events
Windrush Day will take place on 22 June, the day when around 500 migrants from the Caribbean arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex in 1948 aboard the MV Empire Windrush. […] The communities minister, Lord Bourne, said the annual celebration will help to “recognise and honour the enormous contribution” of those who arrived between 1948 and 1971.

I mentioned before about my grandad being on the Windrush. Here he is.

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He and my grandma had first met during the war. They got married in September 1948.

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The only black guy at the wedding. In the village, probably.

Look at all these happy faces.

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They went on to have seven kids, my mum being one of them. Never got to meet him, sadly, as he died in a traffic accident in 1958. So it goes. And it would have been my grandma’s birthday tomorrow, too, if she was still around.

Anyway, happy Windrush Day, the pair of you.

Counting the uncountable

“Not all things worth counting are countable and not all things that count are worth counting.”
Albert Einstein (Or was it?)

Chris Dillow reviews The Tyranny of Metrics by Jerry Muller, a book about “how the obsession with quantifying human performance threatens our schools, medical care, businesses, and government.”

The Tyranny of Metrics: a review
Muller provides lots of examples of this, mostly from the US. But you’ll all have examples of your own. In universities the Research Assessment Exercise (now the REF) contributed to increased administration costs and perhaps to the replicability crisis by incentivizing the publication of mediocre research. In schools, targets can encourage teaching to the test, endless revision and a focus upon the marginal student to the neglect of both the strongest and weakest. Waiting-time targets might distort clinical priorities. Immigration targets deter foreign students and lead to the harassment of people who have lived here for decades. Sales targets encourage workers to mis-sell financial products, cook the books, or increase risk by encouraging “liars’ loans. And so on.

It’s not all bad news, though. It’s just a question of balancing the quantitative with the qualitative.

The Tyranny of Metrics is not, however, a diatribe against targets. Muller points to the experience of some US hospitals to show that metrics can work. They do so, he says, when they are “based on collaboration and peer review”:

Measurements are more likely to be meaningful when they are developed from the bottom up, with input from teachers, nurses and the cop on the beat.

In other words, metrics can succeed when they are complements to knowledge: when they organize the tacit and dispersed professional judgements of people who know ground truth.

Counting scapegoats

Two articles from The Guardian caught my eye recently, about immigration.

That working-class lives are more fraught is not down to immigration
Economic, social and political developments have, in recent years, coalesced to make working-class lives far more precarious – the imposition of austerity, the rise of the gig economy, the savaging of public services, at the same time as the growing atomisation of society, the erosion of the power of labour movement organisations and the shift of the Labour party away from its traditional constituencies.

Immigration has played almost no part in fostering these changes.

2VCs on … what does 2018 look like for universities?
“There can be few if any rational arguments for including international students in the net migration figures,” Humphris says unequivocally. “The evidence is there. They do not overstay. They add hugely to the enrichment of our universities that should be global and outward-looking. They make a massive contribution. The whole debate around immigration and international students creates very unhelpful mood music.”

Some things are easier to quantify than others, but just because something is countable doesn’t mean that that is where we should be focusing attention or laying blame, surely.

Overseas students are not the problem #2

How to ruin a global brand: Foreign students are going off English universities
In contrast to the visa regime for private schools, which is extremely lax (the Home Office counts private schools as favoured sponsors) student visas have been tightened. Foreign students used to be allowed to work for up to two years after graduating. They now have only four months to find a job paying upwards of £20,600 if they want to stay in Britain.

Overseas students are not the problem

Decline in global demand for English higher education
A study by HEFCE demonstrates that growth in overseas entrants to higher education in England has reduced significantly since 2010 – the first decline in 29 years.

Well, that’s hardly surprising. Or unexpected.