All posts tagged: nonprofit organization

The ‘Southern Lady’ Who Beat the Courthouse Crowd

The ‘Southern Lady’ Who Beat the Courthouse Crowd

In 1976, a little southern lady “dressed like a fairy princess”—as she later recounted the moment—stepped to the microphone at a shareholder meeting in Boston and lavishly praised the chair of W. R. Grace & Co. for his commitment to preserving her community. Rae Ely knew perfectly well this was a lie; W. R. Grace was planning to strip-mine for vermiculite in her bucolic Virginia town. In fact, the whole “southern lady” thing was a bit of a lie. But Ely, who had fought the scheme for years, was prepared to use every tool at her disposal to stop the plan, whether eye-catching outfits that captured the attention of the news cameras or entirely unearned flattery. The crowd stood and cheered. The board chair soaked in the applause. And Ely—determined to demonstrate that W. R. Grace had more to gain from goodwill than from vermiculite—had made her point. This article has been adapted from Balogh’s new book. Many at the time dismissed the activism of women like Ely—the press, their opponents, even their own allies. …

Lee Caggiano Didn’t Try to Cure Stuttering

Lee Caggiano Didn’t Try to Cure Stuttering

My friend Lee Caggiano, who died several weeks ago, was not famous. But through her work, she changed one particular corner of the world: Lee made people who stutter, like me, want to talk. Like 99 percent of the population, Lee was fluent, meaning she never knew what it was like to stutter herself. But her son did. His experience with stuttering made her pivot her life and go back to school. She completed a master’s degree in speech-language pathology in her early 40s and went on to treat patients and teach at NYU and elsewhere. Her greatest accomplishment, and the reason hundreds of stutterers across the country have been mourning her death, is the profound work she did to de-pathologize this disorder. Lee didn’t see stuttering as a weakness, a failure, a flaw. She didn’t think she could “cure” you. She didn’t try to. She refused to infantilize us because of the way we speak. Do you know how good that feels? Lee helped me see a purer version of myself, even if it …

Donald Trump’s Unlikely Legal Doppelgänger

Donald Trump’s Unlikely Legal Doppelgänger

In a few weeks, a judge in Colorado will hold a trial to decide whether to bar Donald Trump from the presidential ballot on the grounds that he “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the United States in violation of the Constitution. The proceeding has unsettled many people: Can an unelected judge really stop voters from supporting a candidate of their choosing? The answer is yes. Just ask Abdul Hassan. Hassan ran for president in the 2012 election as an independent, on a platform of reducing the national debt. He created a website and a YouTube channel, and bought digital ads to spread his message. But he had a problem: To get on the ballot in some states, including Colorado, Hassan had to complete a form swearing that he met the requirements for president spelled out in the Constitution. Been a resident of the United States for at least 14 years? Check. 35 years old? Check. Natural-born citizen? That’s where the trouble began. Hassan, who was born in Guyana, is a naturalized U.S. citizen, not …

The Digital Town Square Doesn’t Exist Yet

The Digital Town Square Doesn’t Exist Yet

Many people have put forth theories about why, exactly, the internet is bad. The arguments go something like this: Social platforms encourage cruelty, snap reactions, the spreading of disinformation, and they allow for all of this to take place without accountability, instantaneously and at scale. Clearly, we must upgrade our communication technology and habits to meet the demands of pluralistic democracies in a networked age. But we need not abandon the social web, or even avoid scalability, to do so. At MIT, where I am a professor and the director of the MIT Center for Constructive Communication, my colleagues and I have thought deeply about how to make the internet a better, more productive place. What I’ve come to learn is that new kinds of social networks can be designed for constructive communication—for listening, dialogue, deliberation, and mediation—and they can actually work. To understand what we ought to build, you must first consider how social media went sideways. In the early days of Facebook and Twitter, we called them “social networks.” But when you look …

The Worst DEI Policy in Higher Education

The Worst DEI Policy in Higher Education

Attacks on faculty rights are frequent in academia, where professors’ words are now policed by illiberal administrators, state legislators, and students. I’ve reported on related controversies in American higher education for more than 20 years. But I’ve never seen a policy that threatens academic freedom or First Amendment rights on a greater scale than what is now unfolding in this country’s largest system of higher education: California’s community colleges. Roughly 1.9 million students are enrolled in that system. Its 116 colleges admit almost everyone who applies. Students who’ll transfer up to UC Berkeley or Cal Poly San Luis Obispo study alongside others seeking an associate degree or a certificate in fields as wide-ranging as nursing, welding, and law enforcement. And per-unit costs are low, with financial aid for the needy. All told, these colleges represent the best version of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Any adult can attempt to improve their lot with help from educators and a realistic shot at success. But frustratingly––even tragically––the same system is implementing new DEI rules, mandated by state bureaucrats, …

Ron DeSantis’s Prolific (Legal) Corruption

Ron DeSantis’s Prolific (Legal) Corruption

By this stage in the presidential campaign, much has been made of the severely conservative politics of Ron DeSantis. Voters have also become well acquainted with what a clumsy campaigner he is. But those two facts have perhaps eclipsed a third essential characteristic of the Florida governor: the astonishing sweep of his (apparently legal) corruption. DeSantis has demonstrated a prolific ability to use the power of government to raise money and reap other perks while working to shield that behavior from public view. “I could sell golf for $50k this morning,” one DeSantis aide wrote to others in 2019, in an email obtained by The Washington Post and published over the weekend. It was part of a broader strategy: Once DeSantis took office, his aides made a list of 40 lobbyists with a goal of raising millions for the governor’s political-action committee and other funds. For the golf scheme, the idea was to get a lobbyist to shell out, using his client’s cash, to play a round with DeSantis and his wife, Casey. Experts told …

Before a Bot Steals Your Job, It Will Steal Your Name

Before a Bot Steals Your Job, It Will Steal Your Name

In May, Tessa went rogue. The National Eating Disorder Association’s chatbot had recently replaced a phone hotline and the handful of staffers who ran it. But although it was designed to deliver a set of approved responses to people who might be at risk of an eating disorder, Tessa instead recommended that they lose weight. “Every single thing that Tessa suggested were things that led to the development of my eating disorder,” one woman who reviewed the chatbot wrote on Instagram. Tessa was quickly canned. “It was not our intention to suggest that Tessa could provide the same type of human connection that the Helpline offered,” the nonprofit’s CEO, Liz Thompson, told NPR. Perhaps the organization didn’t want to suggest a human connection, but why else give the bot that name? The new generation of chatbots can not only converse in unnervingly humanlike ways; in many cases, they have human names too. In addition to Tessa, there are bots named Ernie (from the Chinese company Baidu), Claude (a ChatGPT rival from the AI start-up Anthropic), …