Girls in Your Community Want You to Mentor Them

mentor

Ann Fudge, a successful corporate executive who was a recipient of Glamour magazine’s Woman of the Year Award and is often written about in the pages of BLACK ENTERPRISE, is retired—sort of.

“I serve on several corporate boards and do a lot of traveling,” she told me recently. “So, it’s hard for me to say, ‘I’m retired.’”

 

Mother Caroline Academy

 

In addition to remaining involved in the corporate space, Fudge is pursuing a long-held dream: to volunteer in girls education, specifically with low-income girls of color.

Through a friend, Fudge learned about a remarkable school in Boston that’s making a great difference in the lives of young women during the critical middle school years: Mother Caroline Academy.

Rooted in the Catholic tradition, Mother Caroline Academy educates about 80 girls of all faiths in grades 4–8. Many live in Dorchester and hail from immigrant families.

 

Professional Teachers, Engaged Parents

 

The school is led by Ed Hudner, who professionalized the teaching staff, ending the school’s dependence on volunteer teachers to enable the pursuit of academic excellence. The difference shows. With professional teachers now making use of assessment data to inform their instruction, the students are being accepted into competitive high schools, including boarding schools as far away as California.

Fudge also told me about the Parenting Journey, a mandatory program. Developed by Karen Dottin-Ricketts, the program helps parents support their daughters and become more invested in the school’s success. As a result, there is 100% parent engagement from those who complete it.

“The parents work as a team for their child’s success,” Fudge said. “Once a week they get together.”

 

Irrepressible Girls

 

Fudge has worked to get speakers to come to the school and provide other opportunities for greater exposure. After reading Hidden Figures, she told the school about it. Then, one of the English teachers developed a unit study, which involved the girls writing from the perspective of one of the human NACA computers.

Mother Caroline Academy enjoys a 100% graduation rate; 82% of its graduates enroll in college, and 78% of them graduate in four years. (According to Complete College America, only a minority of students graduate on time.)

Fudge is impressed with the girls’ intelligence and confidence. In the U.S. poverty is often a barrier, but people like Hudner, Dottin-Ricketts, and Fudge are helping these students to leap over it.

Fudge urges others to get involved, as well. Dorchester isn’t the only community that has bright, low-income girls—or boys. “Find a way to get engaged in your community,” she said. “Even if you mentor just one child, it’s huge.”

For more, visit the Mother Caroline Academy website.

Source: Black Enterprise

Brain Machines / Blinking your way to relaxation

A Brain Machine

I love gadgets. A quick glance around my office, living room, or Web site would probably make that pretty clear. In particular, I seem to have the gene that favors small, battery-powered boxes with blinking lights—my iPod, PowerBook, cell phone, digital camera, and PDA, for example, all meet that general description. Even so, I only buy gadgets that I think will actually perform a useful activity or make my life better in some way. Tempted as I was by that watch with the built-in Global Positioning System receiver or the current selection of electronic book readers, I had to admit that these things would not in fact be valuable as part of my lifestyle. It was therefore with a mixture of gadget-crazed glee and circumspect puzzlement that I first looked at a device sometimes known as a “brain machine” a number of years ago at a Sharper Image store.

Relaxation in a Box
That it was a small box containing batteries and blinking lights was enough to induce me to pick it up; it also had cables running to a set of headphones and what appeared to be sunglasses with a bunch of LEDs mounted on the inside. The marketing propaganda said that the device was supposed to promote relaxation and “synchronize” one’s brain waves, whatever that meant. Out of idle curiosity I put the apparatus on and pressed the button. The LEDs on the glasses started blinking and synthesized sounds poured out of the headphones. I only used the device for a minute or so, but I was almost immediately struck by the sensation that I was somehow moving into an altered state of consciousness. To be quite honest, it was a bit freaky—fascinating, sure, but not something I really cared to experience standing in the middle of a store. I thought it would be well worth about US$50 to take home and experiment with, but the cost was quite a few times that, and I really couldn’t bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on a box that made sunglasses light up.

Years later, I stumbled upon a much lower-tech (and cheaper) version of the device in another store, and I decided the price was low enough for me to satisfy my latent curiosity. Once again, the literature stated that it aids relaxation, promotes mental clarity, relieves tension, improves creativity and learning ability and so on—all rather vague and unfalsifiable claims. I took it home and tried out several of the programs.

This Is Your Brain on a Machine
The first thing I noticed was that the blinking lights—which you see through closed eyelids—produce a subjective impression of complex patterns, colors, and motion, even though the only things that vary are the rate of blinking and alternations between the lights on left and right sides. Depending on which program I chose, the pattern of blinking differed significantly over a period ranging from 10 minutes to an hour. All the while, a wavelike drone of white noise came through the headphones—a distinct disappointment compared to the higher quality (and more interesting) synthesized tones of that first unit I tried. I could have just plugged in a CD player and listened to whatever I wanted, but I was hoping for an integrated audiovisual experience.

Using the brain machine was indeed relaxing, though some sessions were more successful than others. On a few occasions, I had the distinct impression of viewing a scene before me—such as a room full of furniture—even though my eyes were closed and the only visual stimulus was the blinking LEDs. And once or twice, I spontaneously felt a very strong emotional response, almost like the terror of falling, that I could not attribute to anything external. So clearly the device had some effect, though precisely what it was doing I can’t say. It’s also not clear whether my experience would have been the same with other models; it seemed the particular device I chose was designed rather sloppily, without any real attention to the underlying principles of how the brain works.

That Syncing Feeling
And what are those principles? The idea behind brain machines is relatively straightforward and scientifically sound (as far as it goes). For many years, medical researchers have known that there is a correlation between the frequency of people’s brainwaves and their mental states. Higher frequencies are associated with normal waking consciousness; progressively lower frequencies correspond to relaxation, sleep, and deep meditation. The brain also has a tendency to synchronize its frequency with external stimuli such as lights and sounds, in much the same way as a tuning fork vibrates when exposed to a sound of the right pitch. The brain’s synchronization process is called entrainment, and it is exactly what the brain machines aim to produce. In theory, at least, by blinking lights or playing sounds at certain frequencies, the machines can encourage the brain to fall into sync, inducing very relaxed, meditative states.

Every brain machine on the market—and there are many different varieties—claims to aid relaxation, and used properly, they usually will. Other claims are somewhat more dubious. For example, I’ve read in several places that by using a brain machine, you can achieve meditative states that would take a monk or yogi 20 years of training to reach. I have to wonder about that. It’s a claim that’s tough to verify, since the brain machines don’t include an EEG to produce a record of the actual state of your brain or provide biofeedback. But even if it is true that one’s brain is operating at the same frequency as a Zen master’s, that by itself doesn’t mean much; the same could also be true of someone on drugs. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that simply reaching a certain brainwave frequency is somehow equivalent to the experience of spending years of disciplined training in meditation. On the other hand, unlike drugs, brain machines are legal, safe, and nonaddictive—which must count for something.

Making Light of It
In addition to the standard “light and sound” brain machines, there are several audio-only programs that purport to have approximately the same effect. You can also buy machines that eschew light and sound altogether for a more direct approach: delivering tiny electrical pulses through electrodes attached to your head. Supposedly this accomplishes the same thing, but I find the idea of zapping my skull a bit off-putting.

Without question, not all brain machines are created equal, but there is no good way to evaluate competing models objectively; you have to try them out. Unfortunately, they’re all far too expensive for what they do, so experimenting with a range of models is not a reasonable prospect for most people. Still, the experience of using a brain machine is one worth having, and depending on what type of machine you have and how you use it, you may find its value in promoting relaxation or reducing stress well worth the price. As for me, I’ll be looking on eBay for a high-end unit whose owner says he’s selling it because he’s achieved enlightenment and wants money to give to the poor. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about Brain Machines…

This article was featured in The Synapse, Issue 1 and All in the Mind III.

There are numerous online articles about brain machines, such as What are Brain Machines? at BrainMachines.com and Sound-and-Light Show as a Stress Reducer, a New York Times “premium content” article available for US$2.49.

cover art

One of the largest manufacturers of brain machines is Photosonix, which makes several different models as well as glasses with every conceivable color of LEDs. Most Photosonix Light and Sound machines are programmable using your computer, and you can also download new patterns (called sessions) from their Web site.

Online stores that carry a wide selection of brain machines from a variety of manufacturers include:

If you want to build your own brain machine, you can order plans or a kit from Future Horizons. Let me just say, though…they’ve got some weird stuff there. Caveat emptor.

For an audio-only approach to brainwave synchronization, check out Centerpointe Research Institute. Their program (on cassette or CD) is extraordinarily expensive (just the first of 13 progressively deeper phases costs $159). On the other hand, I must say I found the free online demo extremely convincing. Your mileage may vary, of course.

The Sharper Image no longer sells brain machines.

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Now is the Time to Buy Real Estate and Create Significant Wealth

wealth

Despite the explosive outcry against the political sentiment and executive orders being pushed under the Trump administration, Shawn Baldwin, chairman of the AIA Group, says there are plenty of ways for African Americans to prosper in our current economic and political environment. In fact, Baldwin explained 4 Ways Black People Can Thrive Under the Trump Administration earlier this month. In a follow-up phone interview with Black Enterprise, the internationally renowned investor discussed how and why African Americans should purchase property while Trump is in office as a means to generate wealth.

“For most people, the acquisition of real estate is one of the best ways for them to become wealthier,” he told BE. “For the average person, their wealth is concentrated in their home and non-depreciating assets,”—unlike a car or “retail jewelry, which is purchased at a markup and not worth as much as fine jewelry. However, now is a prime time for people of color to invest in urban re-development, which he says will be a primary focus under Trump’s administration. In turn, this will create opportunities for people of color.

“The acquisition of additional real estate can create wealthmainly because [Trump] will try to make the focus of the development of communities a prioritythis is going to create two opportunities: One, to add to your balance sheet, [and] two, to create places where other people of color are going to want to come and live.”

According to Baldwin, rather than just applying for a small business loan, people of color should invest in property and then use it as a stream of revenue to fund their business ventures. “Systematically, we have been denied loans, but we can do other things that can create significant wealth,” he said. “It’s more difficult to get a bank to fund you as a business.”

He continued, “They’re not going to give us money that they deem is risky. [Banks] are going to want to give a loan that is based on collateral,” he said, adding that 25 percent of all bank activities are commercial real estate based. “Most of the time, the loans that most people of color can get is a home or real estate loan.”

Rather than applying for a business loan, he advises entrepreneurs to what he calls the “backdoor method.” After you accumulate real estate, he says you can mortgage it and use that money to fund your own ideas. “If you acquire a bunch of real estate and it’s cheap, then use it as cash flow by leasing it out to people,” he adds.

Baldwin also suggests that people of color focus on areas “where there have been significant mortgage defaults because the banks will have pressure to lend in those areas. They don’t have pressure to lend in development because it is incredibly risky.”

“We’re not going to get back to prices that there were set in 2007, but the prices will climb and if you can get the properties on a discounted basis, then you can make significant wealth doing that.”

Source: Black Enterprise

Lawyer Search Engine Optimization

SEO for attorneys is a promotional approach that launches law firms into new levels of community awareness. Acquire new clients while you are in the courtroom, sleeping, enjoying golf, and enjoying time with your loved ones. As a business owner and law firm owner, you understand the restraints of time. This web marketing strategy cooperates with time management! Discover more about how your business can benefit from Internet marketing. Lawyer SEO provides legal representatives with keyword optimized websites which draw a large number of traffic and potential clientele through Google and Yahoo searches. Provide your community with awareness of the services which you provide through Lawyer search engine optimization.

Lawyers are employing SEO for attorney competence to provide them with essential marketing that targets Google searches about their specialties. This strategic marketing service is utilized to obtain new customers as they use Yahoo or Google to search for a service which is provided by their facility. Lawyer search engine optimization provides legal representatives with a strategically keyword optimized business website that uses the strength of the Internet to grow their law practice. This is a valid marketing technique in our modern society. Internet searches for local businesses are commonly performed daily through a variety of Internet-connected devices such as Blackberries, smart phones and laptop computers. This is a significant way to build your Law Practice.

Perhaps you have a website that you spent thousands of dollars on, but it is not producing business. This is ineffective and a waste of time and effort. That same website can be properly keyword optimized and registered through Google places. The result will be a website that is active and producing new clients. This is a powerful marketing tool that is being utilized by many professional businesses including doctors, dentists, lawyers, and more. Each month a printout is provided displaying the activity produced through Lawyer search engine optimization. You can track how many individuals used keywords that connected with your Google places registration and website. You will also be able to track how many new customers are gained each month through Internet marketing. This strategy is efficient and productive. Not all Internet marketing is the same! Ask your expert to provide you with proof concerning his capacity to advance your business. Internet marketing evidence is measurable. New clients can be counted and the paperwork will show Internet traffic increasing to your site.

The sky is the limit when it comes to marketing through the Internet. A trained marketing expert will be able to provide you with insight about developing and maintaining strong community awareness via the Internet. Lawyer SEO is an invaluable resource for obtaining and maintaining new clients on a regular basis. Move your business to a new level of success and visibility within your community today.

 

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Home Insurance Information

When purchasing a brand-new house it is necessary to buy the kind of homeowner’s insurance coverage that you need. The amount and kind of protection you need might differ related to the location of your home and the surrounding area. Read this advice on the most effective ways to make the very best choice on acquiring insurance.

It is very necessary to keep in mind, that damage brought on by earthquakes and floods to your home is not usually covered by your homeowner’s insurance. If you will require to include unique protection provisions to your policy, you need to assess the likelihood of an earthquake or a flood in your location and determine.

Having a working alarm system that is monitored at a main station or can call the police immediately will help lower the cost of residential property owner’s insurance. It might decrease the rate by as much as 5%. You would have to show that you have the alarm linked at your house by offering the costs to your insurance provider.

Water damage las vegas nvIf you live in a flood-prone area, never ever assume that you can rely solely on federal disaster support rather than buying flood insurance coverage. In the first place, a large portion of all flooding incidents never ever get approved for federal disaster relief. You may pay more in interest for a federal catastrophe loan than you would pay for flood insurance coverage.

Document all of your prized possessions and keep the photos or videos of the items that you want covered under your home insurance coverage, in a fire-resistant lockbox. This will protect your files and make filing a case for the missing or destroyed products with your home insurance provider, much easier and quicker.

Keeping your records up to date can assist make your insurance coverage claim procedure much simpler if something should happen. If you have actually made any considerable restorations, let your insurance coverage company understand.

 

See more at Las Vegas Home Restoration

Gross National Happiness / Bhutan's bottom line

by Morgen Jahnke

Although I don’t often give a lot of attention to news about economic indicators and analysis, preferring the much more enthralling subject of tax law to fill any spare time I have left to think about these kinds of things, I recently found out about an economic phenomenon that interested me greatly. I learned that the tiny nation of Bhutan, located between its gigantic neighbors, China and India, has a different way of measuring its success. Known as gross national happiness, this measurement of the quality of its citizens lives’ as opposed to their productivity, turns the usual economic indicator, gross domestic product (GDP), on its ear.

Gross Domestic Products
Also known as gross national product (GNP), gross domestic product refers to the total value of goods and services produced by a country within a certain time period. This measurement is meant to show the size of a country’s economy, and is sometimes used to track the standard of living, as it is assumed that increased productivity translates into better living conditions for citizens.

There are some flaws to this approach, however. Since GDP does not discriminate between positive and negative causes of productivity, a natural disaster can add to the GDP (because of the resources and work put into counteracting its effects), although the event itself is hardly in the best interests of society. Similarly, environmental catastrophes (such as oil spills), the ravages of war, and medical procedures inflate the GDP while having an ill effect on human life and the environment.

Another deficiency of using the GDP as a measurement of national advancement is that it has an extremely narrow focus. For example, using the GDP measurement, the unpaid work of child rearing and housekeeping has no value, nor do non-monetary transactions such as bartering for goods and services.

In short, the whole sphere of human existence cannot be reflected using the GDP, and in fact, GDP distorts the picture because it counts all economic activity as positive, without the counterbalance of what has been lost in terms of environmental damage and human suffering.

For these reasons, economists have come up with another measure of economic growth—the Genuine Progress Indicator, or GPI. This indicator takes into account both the positive and negative effects of a country’s economic activity, in theory providing a much clearer picture of the well-being of its citizens.

WWBD (What Would Buddha Do)?
In 1972, the king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, coined the term gross national happiness (GNH) to describe the path Bhutan would take to economic development. Drawing on the spiritual tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, GNH is designed to balance economic progress with the well being of the Bhutanese people.

In the words of the Royal Government of Bhutan, “Gross national happiness comprises four pillars: economic self-reliance, environmental preservation, cultural promotion, and good governance. These four goals are mutually linked, complementary, and consistent. They embody national values, aesthetics, and spiritual traditions.”

This approach has had admirable results; not only has the wildlife and landscape of Bhutan been protected (including the endangered snow leopard, and much of the country’s forests), but its cultural traditions have been preserved as well. Its citizens have benefited in other ways, including an extremely high rate of government spending on education and health care (almost 18% of the national budget).

Not surprisingly, GNH has captured the attention of economists around the world, including those who advocate for GPI as opposed to GDP as an economic indicator. In response to this interest, there have been two international conferences on GNH: one in Bhutan in February 2004, and most recently in Nova Scotia in June 2005.

A Nepal-ing Situation
While Bhutan can be held up as a model for other countries to follow in creating a more humane economy, it has not been entirely successful in creating its own peaceful and productive society. The government’s concern with conserving the country’s cultural traditions, and restricting outside influences, has led to some measures that might not be tolerated by citizens of other countries, including restrictions on television and internet access and a traditional dress requirement.

Of more concern is the mass exodus in 1990 of 100,000 citizens of Nepalese descent in response to a government ban on the use of the Nepalese language in schools and colleges. Since 1990, these refugees have been living in camps in Nepal, while Bhutan, Nepal, and India have failed to agree on how they should be accommodated.

I Can’t Believe It’s Not Bhutan
Despite these problems, there is something very attractive about belonging to a society that views the pursuit of gross national happiness as its prime objective. It would be extremely interesting to see the same dynamic going on in other countries: how would our world change if the U.S., the European Union, and other large economies implemented this policy? Maybe we could take the snow leopard off the endangered list once and for all. —Morgen Jahnke

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More Information about Gross National Happiness…

Interested in writing an article for Interesting Thing of the Day? See our author information page.

This article was featured in Carnival of the Green #42.

More information about Gross National Happiness:

  • Orville Schell, dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, writes about his visit to Bhutan in the article Gross National Happiness, found on the PBS Frontline Web site.
  • On the Travel Bhutan Web site, Gopilal Acharya provides some details about the first international conference on GNH.
  • Thinley Choden’s article, Bhutan’s Emphasis on Expanding “Gross National Happiness” on WorldandI.com describes how the Buddhist practice of jimba corresponds with GNH.
  • You can find more information about GDP, GPI, and GNH in the Wikipedia
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A classic of nature writing, Peter Matthiessen’s The Snow Leopard tells of his trek through Tibet in search of the rare cat.

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This Integrative Doctor Wants You To Go To Sleep

Tiffany LesterTiffany Lester (Image: Dr. Tiffany Lester)

 

Whether you’re starting your own business, working the nine-to-five, juggling college courses and a part-time job, or trying to balance between caring for the family and getting projects done, the need for quality sleep is crucial.

Dr. Tiffany Lester, an integrative medicine doctor based in Cincinnati, recently spoke to Black Enterprise about the effects of poor sleep on established executives and those working to make it to the C-Suite. She noted that restorative rest is the key to having it all and making it all work. It’s the reason why she created The Unconscious Workout, a 21-day digital plan that is similar to a high-intensity, interval training workout and aims to get you into the best sleep shape of your life.

Check out Dr. Lester’s prescription for getting better sleep every night:

Black Enterprise: How can lack of sleep affect how we operate and do things, like managing finances, making important life decisions, leading a company or a group of people, and so forth?

Dr. Lester: Sleep is one of the only things that we literally cannot live without.  If we don’t sleep, we will go clinically insane. If you’re trying to lead a company or any type of business, or if you are just trying to do your job at your company, a lack of good sleep makes it take longer to complete certain tasks. It can also make you irritable. It contributes to brain fog: when the mind gets cobwebbed and cannot process or think clearly. Sleep is absolutely critical for anyone that wants to be successful.

BE: Why should women of color consider The Unconscious Workout? Are there any ailments that they are more likely to get that The Unconscious Workout and quality sleep in general can help to prevent?

Dr. Lester: There are no specific ailments; it’s a universal thing for all people. Culturally, for black women, there’s this guilt—I think—that we tend to carry. [We feel like] we have to do it all. If you want to try to do it all, go for it. But, you can’t do it that if you’re not sleeping well.

BE: What can we do every day to ensure that we are on our way to better sleep?

Dr. Lester: There are four stages, and each one is essential.

  • Stage 1: This is the pre-sleep stage, or the “warm-up.” We warm-up before we exercise to prepare our bodies and protect against injury. The same concept goes for sleep. You can’t expect to watch the latest episode of Game of Thrones and then just fall asleep. It doesn’t work that way. Our bodies and mind need to be gently eased into sleep. Takeaway: Set a bedtime alarm.
  • Stage 2: This is the “light” stage, and it is similar to LIIT (low-intensity interval training). This is the stage where we first start to nod off, and we can still be woken up with little effort. Most people don’t need to improve this stage, unless they are absolutely exhausted and can go straight into a deep sleep. Often, people can be woken up in this stage by a barking dog or passing ambulance, and they have to start all over. Protect this stage of your sleep by wearing ear plugs or a sleep mask, so you aren’t disrupted.
  • Stage 3: This is the “deep” stage, and it is similar to MIIT (moderate-intensity interval training). During this stage, our brain produces relaxing, slow waves to aid our body in healing. This is critical to our health, to clean out all of the cobwebs that have accumulated throughout the day. One of the most important aspects of sleeping well is that it allows our bodies to detox and restore. This is a critical stage, in order to feel awake during the day and for our bodies to function optimally. The best way to ensure you are getting to the deep sleep stage is to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes each day, preferably in the morning.
  • Stage 4: This is the REM stage, or the often elusive dream stage. This stage is similar to HIIT (high-intensity interval training). Most people who say they sleep well are still not dreaming. When you reach this stage on a regular basis, you are able to access your deepest intuition. It is a way for our consciousness to solve a problem for a project at work or express what we really wanted to say to our partner who upset us. In terms of HIIT workout, this is also where we burn the most calories to maintain a healthy weight. To get your best sleep ever, we must allow our bodies to dip into the REM stage of sleep. Our coffee-addicted society is the most common way we rob ourselves of this essential stage. Give yourself a caffeine curfew, and do not consume it in any form after 12 noon. Caffeine has been shown to reduce or eliminate REM stage sleep.

BE: What is one important thing a person can do to get restorative deep sleep, if they don’t want to commit to the three-week digital program?

Dr. Lester: Turn off your phone and step away from the electronics, including the TV or Netflix. The biggest thing is people don’t give themselves time for their body and brain to wind down. Just as you set an alarm in morning, set an alarm for bed. Plus, invest in some comfy sleeping clothes, a good eye mask that doesn’t mess up your hair, ear plugs, and make it a priority–make it a ritual. We should do this ideally an hour before bed, and at least 30 minutes before [going to sleep].

BE: How crucial is it to also exercise?

Dr. Lester: It’s vital. What’s also vital is the time at which you workout. Working out in the morning is best, as it activates the parasympathetic nervous system. It sets you up for the whole day, and [helps you] sleep better that night. If you do workout at night, don’t do anything too intense, like running on a treadmill.

 

Source: Black Enterprise

Assateague Island / The beach where people go to enjoy . . . the beach

Guest Article by Jillian Hardee

When I was young, my friends and their families would head out to the commercial beaches for their vacations. By “commercial beaches,” I mean the ones with oceanfront hotels, boardwalks, and a dizzying array of lights. My vacations, however, were quite different, as they were spent at Assateague, a 37-mile-long island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia. The island is owned by both states, and the state line divides it in two. Because it is a national seashore and wildlife refuge, buildings on this island are few and far between. Not a hotel, restaurant, or arcade can be found here. The beach offers a 360° view of the sea and sky, with nothing to mar the experience except for horseflies and kamikaze kites.

What do you mean there’s no boardwalk?
Assateague is a natural barrier island, so it is constantly battered by water and wind. Its topography changes often. Since 1866, it has “moved” a quarter of a mile inland. My vacations were spent on the Virginia side of Assateague, and as a child I remember wooden steps and walkways that would take you up and over the high sand dunes. After being away from Assateague for a few years and then coming back as an adult, I found the high dunes were gone, and smaller, less-protective dunes had taken their place. Water and sand are constantly moving on this island. Changes in landscape and scenery on Assateague are expected and accepted.

Most visitors to the Virginia side of the island stay on the nearby island of Chincoteague. Because there are no hotels on Assateague itself, vacationers must drive onto the island and then out to the beach, a short 5–10 minute car ride from Chincoteague. Due to this relative isolation, you might find yourself wondering what appeal this island could have. Not for entertainment junkies, Assateague has many things to offer those who love an unspoiled beach. A short walk up or down the coast will take you away from the summer crowds and into remoteness, where you may only encounter a lone fisherman or wandering beachcombers. On the southern end of the island, 4-wheel drive vehicles are allowed (by special permit) to drive out on the sand, allowing access to the southern tip of the island and more secluded areas.

Aside from swimming, sunbathing, and fishing, the island has many outdoor activities. Nature tours are diverse and can range from marsh walks to bird-watching expeditions. Canoe and boat rentals allow for more personal and scenic views of the island and its waterways. There are also a myriad of chartered excursions for inland and ocean fishing. For those who don’t have their sea legs, crabbing and clamming are popular and easy. The Assateague Lighthouse, reached by a short walk through a pine forest, is occasionally open for visitors to ascend. Additionally, there are many bike paths that transverse the marshes and forests, allowing for close views of the vast populations of waterfowl, migratory birds, and mammals. At any other beach, an encounter with wildlife usually involves a seagull stealing your sandwich. At Assateague, wildlife and nature take center stage, and humans are merely visitors just passing through.

Pony Penning
Although a harsh environment, Assateague has a herd of wild ponies, more casually referred to as the “Chincoteague Ponies.” These horses have inhabited the island for at least 300 years. Originally thought to have swum ashore from a wrecked Spanish galleon, it is more widely believed that settlers brought them on the island to graze. Today they survive on marsh grass and other island roughage. Two separate herds exist, one belonging to each state, and they are kept isolated from one another by a fence at the border. Although true horses, they are often referred to as ponies due to their small stature, which is most likely a consequence of their marsh diet.

To keep the population numbers of the Virginia herd down, the ponies are annually driven across the channel in late July to the neighboring town of Chincoteague. Here, the horses (mostly foals) are auctioned off and the money collected benefits the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. In recent years, individual horses were sold for an average of US$2,000, with the largest bid being $10,500 in 2001 for a single horse! The last few Pony Penning events have auctioned off an average of 85 horses per year. The number of horses auctioned is dictated by herd size, as the Virginia side of Assateague Island is only permitted a maximum of 150 horses. After the auction, the remaining horses swim back across the channel and resume their lives on the island. The actual pony swim officially dates to the 1920s, although some form of pony herding has occurred since the 1700s. Pony Penning is an extremely popular event, and festivities span an entire week. Large crowds of hopeful bidders as well as spectators crowd onto the island. Today, Chincoteague ponies can be found all across the United States as a result of this auction.

Marguerite Henry wrote a notable series of children’s books about the horses and the annual swim. The first and most popular book, called Misty of Chincoteague, was written around 1948 and was based on a real Chincoteague family and their pony. This pony (the “real Misty”) died in 1972, and was allegedly stuffed and put on display. I don’t recall ever seeing the stuffed version of Misty while vacationing in Chincoteague, and I prefer to keep it that way.

Today the ponies can be seen in a variety of places on the island at different points of the day. They usually roam in smaller herds, and it is common to see them off in the distance relaxing under a copse of trees or grazing in the marshy fields. Closer encounters occur frequently along the wildlife trails and beach road; here tourists with cameras will crowd around, snapping photos as the horses languidly amble about. Signs posted all over state that “Wild Ponies Bite and Kick,” but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone from sidling up to them. They are part of the landscape and culture of Assateague as well as Chincoteague, and they make this already fascinating area even more extraordinary.

The way it should be
As an adult, I still love to visit Assateague Island. Even though the nightlife is limited, and there are no boardwalks or flashy rides, a vacation here is what it should be: relaxing. There is no sense of hurry, no rush, no multilane highway packed full of cars ready to crowd the shore. It’s a shame to see how commercialized many beaches are becoming. But I guess we each have our own ideas as to how a vacation should be spent. Give me a view of the ocean in one direction, a dune full of sea grass in the other, and the possibility of ponies stomping up the shore. I want to enjoy the sun without a great big hotel looming over my shoulder. I can only hope that Assateague will always stay the way it is. —Jillian Hardee

Guest author Jillian Hardee is a graduate student at West Virginia University studying cognitive neuroscience.

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Airbnb Releases Anti-Discrimination Battle Plan

airbnb new logo

Amid increasing outrage over discriminatory practices by some Airbnb hosts’ refusal to accept guest requests from black people, Airbnb released specifics on its strategy to fight racism on its platform.

Starting Nov. 1, Airbnb users must check off on the Airbnb Community Commitment. This is an agreement to “treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”

Policy Details

Open Doors is another new policy providing alternative hosts or accommodations for any Airbnb guest who feels they have been subject to discrimination.

These guests will also receive booking assistance with their next reservation. This policy goes into effect Oct. 1. It will apply retroactively to anyone who complained about discriminatory treatment as of Sept. 8.

Less reliance on photos for booking is another area Airbnb is exploring to fight racism on its platform. CEO Brian Chesky said in a blog post that the Instant Booking feature, which lets hosts make bookings immediately, would be expanded.

The new anti-discrimination guidelines stem from Airbnb’s work with experts in the area of legal matters and racism.

Click here for more on the legal matters.

Mighty Help

In July, the company announced that it had enlisted the help of former Attorney General Eric Holder, to craft a new anti-discrimination policy. The company also turned to Laura Murphy, the former chief of the ACLU’s Washington office, Dr. Robert Livingston of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and Dr. Peter Glick of Lawrence University.

“Airbnb has conducted a rigorous, thorough, and inclusive review of its technology and its policies. The review included conversations with employees at every level of the company, Airbnb hosts and victims of discrimination, and outside experts. It also included outreach to civil rights organizations, regulators, and federal and state lawmakers,” wrote Holder in a Huffington Post op-ed.

 

Source: Black Enterprise

The Beale Ciphers / Yet another story of secret codes and hidden treasure

Leaving aside religious symbology and questions of historical accuracy, The Da Vinci Code is just the latest in a long line of stories that follow roughly the same plot: someone discovers a series of mysterious clues (often with a code or a map thrown in) that supposedly lead to an absurdly valuable treasure. The hero undertakes a perilous adventure, outwitting villains who want to steal the treasure (as well as, perhaps, guardians who want to protect it), and eventually succeeds—only to discover that the treasure was not quite as it had been imagined after all. From Raiders of the Lost Ark to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to National Treasure, I’ve seen variations on this basic outline countless times. Few subjects ignite the imagination of the book-buying and filmgoing public as reliably as that of hidden treasure.

In the real world, stories of codes leading to buried treasure rarely have tidy endings—and indeed, even separating fact from fiction can be nearly impossible. Such is the case with one of the most intriguing cryptographic puzzles in modern history: a series of encrypted messages dating from the 19th century known as the Beale ciphers. These messages might lead to a hidden stash of gold, silver, and jewels worth tens of millions of dollars, they might be genuine directions to a treasure that no longer exists, they might be a hoax or a joke, or, intriguingly, they might be a misunderstood charity fundraising gimmick. But whether or not the codes lead to treasure, what captivates and infuriates cryptographers is that despite more than a century’s worth of effort by the best minds and machines, the most important parts of the messages remain stubbornly opaque.

Genesis of a Mystery
The story goes approximately like this. A man named Thomas Beale, along with about 30 companions, set out to hunt game in New Mexico in 1817, and unexpectedly came upon a large deposit of gold and silver. After mining the treasure, the group made two trips across the country, in 1819 and 1821, to Bedford County, Virginia, where they buried the gold and silver, along with some jewels they obtained along the way, in a stone-lined vault under 6 feet of soil. The men wanted to return to their mining site to retrieve a third batch of treasure in 1822, but before doing so, took out an insurance policy of sorts in case something should happen to them.

Beale wrote three encrypted messages, which contained, respectively, the exact location of the vault, its contents, and the names of the men in his party and their next of kin. He put these, along with two letters of explanation, in an iron box, which he entrusted to an innkeeper named Robert Morriss. Beale mailed Morriss a third letter from St. Louis some time later saying that if he didn’t return within 10 years, Morriss was to open the box and follow the instructions inside, some of which Morriss would need a key to decipher. That key was to arrive in a fourth letter, which Beale had asked a friend in St. Louis to mail to Morriss in ten years’ time.

Well, Beale and his entire party were never heard from again, and the promised fourth letter never arrived. Morriss waited a full 23 years before opening the box. When he read the enclosed letters, he discovered that Beale wanted him to decipher the secret messages, retrieve the treasure, and divvy it out to the men’s families (keeping a share for himself for his troubles). Without the missing key, though, Morriss couldn’t make sense of the encrypted messages, which consisted of nothing but long lists of numbers. After a further 17 years, and shortly before his death, Morriss passed the box on to a friend, who was able to decipher one of the three messages—the one detailing the treasure’s contents—but not the other two. In 1885, a man named James Ward, acting on behalf of Morriss’s friend, published and sold a 23-page pamphlet (known as The Beale Papers) that included the text of Beale’s letters and encrypted messages, as well as the solution to the deciphered message. Ever since, treasure hunters and code breakers have tried unsuccessfully to decrypt the other two messages and find Beale’s treasure.

By the Book
The message Morriss’s friend successfully deciphered used a cryptographic technique called a book cipher. To make a book cipher, you start with a document—any document, as long as the person writing the message and the person reading it have identical copies—and number all the words consecutively. This becomes your key. Then, to create your ciphertext, you look through your key for each word you want to encode and write down its number.

In this case, the message was encrypted letter-by-letter, with each number in the ciphertext referring to the first letter of the corresponding word in the key. For example, if my key were “Interesting [1] Thing [2] of [3] the [4] Day [5],” the cipher 5 3 1 2 would represent “Do it.” Beale used a version of the Declaration of Independence as the key for his second message, but no one has been able to determine what key was used for the other two—or, in fact, whether they even use the same encryption method.

Doubts and Suspicions
Predictably, after many decades of failed attempts to decipher the two remaining messages, popular opinion began leaning toward the notion that the whole thing had been a hoax, and that the encryption could not be broken because there was no underlying message. Numerous analyses by professional and amateur cryptanalysts over the years have yielded some interesting observations. For example, statistical evidence strongly suggests that the same person who wrote The Beale Papers also wrote Beale’s letters, casting doubt on the authenticity of both. Likewise, an analysis of one of the undeciphered messages using the Declaration of Independence as a key revealed patterns that are mathematically unlikely to have occurred with any other key. In other words, someone may have used the Declaration of Independence to encipher random gibberish.

Furthermore, the story itself contains many suspicious elements. There appear to be no records of any of the thirty men in Beale’s party, and even the existence of Thomas Beale himself is a matter of some uncertainty. His messages contain some historical errors and apparent anachronisms. And there would appear to be no good reason to encrypt each of three messages individually, using separate keys. In all, the story sounds too much like the plot of a cheap novel, which, according to one theory, is exactly what it was.

Some researchers believe that The Beale Papers was written anonymously by a playwright and novelist named John W. Sherman and distributed by Ward—a close relative—not as a hoax or a scam but as a fundraiser. The pamphlet was published shortly after a major fire in Lynchburg, Virginia that killed five men. Ward and Sherman may have cooked it up to help raise money to provide for the bereaved families, with the assumption that purchasers would realize it was a work of fiction. According to this theory, only later, after the story had gained some popularity, was it sold more widely and with less virtuous goals.

Another theory holds that the pamphlet was written by none other than Edgar Allan Poe, to be published posthumously as a sort of final mystery from the great beyond. The text does contain many similarities to Poe’s writings, so it seems likely that if even if Poe did not write it, the author tried deliberately to emulate his style in numerous details.

Take It on Faith
Many people, however, still believe that the messages are just what they appear to be. In 2001, a Web site appeared claiming that a man named Daniel Cole had deciphered the two remaining messages and located the spot where the treasure had been buried, only to find that it was already gone. Mr. Cole apparently died that same year, and although the site shows the supposedly decrypted messages (as well as pictures of the alleged burial spot), the site’s maintainers have not revealed the key (or keys) they used—meaning that no one can verify or disprove their claim.

Whichever of these theories, if any, is correct, the world may never know the truth. Just as an empty hole is no proof that it once contained treasure, statistical analysis of a still-undeciphered message is no proof that it’s meaningless. It might have been a laundry list, a practical joke, or the real thing, but The Beale Papers did contain a cautionary note, which read in part, “Again, never, as I have done, sacrifice your own and your family’s interests to what may prove an illusion…” Those who followed the author’s advice not to waste more time than they could spare on cracking the code may have been the wisest of all. —Joe Kissell

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More Information about The Beale Ciphers…

This article was featured in the 33rd History Carnival and in Carnival of Bad History #6.

There are many excellent sources of general information about the Beale ciphers on the Web, including:

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As far as I know, the only book about the Beale ciphers currently in print is The Beale Papers: Lost Legacy by Robert N. Williams.

You can read The Beale Papers in its entirety and draw your own conclusions.

To learn more about various analyses that cast doubt on the authenticity of the ciphers, see:

The Last Haunting of Edgar Allan Poe by Robert Ward (no relation, as far as I know) proposes that Poe was the likely author of The Beale Papers.

One of the most thorough explorations of the Beale ciphers, and the one that concludes they were written by Sherman as part of a fundraising effort, is Beale Ciphers Analyses, also by Ron Gervais.

The Decoded Cipher site is the one claiming to have cracked the remaining Beale messages, but take it with a grain of salt. Oh, and turn down your computer’s speakers first: every page contains annoying music that you can’t stop.

For those interested in the type of encryption employed by the Beale ciphers, the Wikipedia contains entries on book ciphers and, more generally, homophonic substitution ciphers.

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