All posts by mbiyimoh g.

Mbiyimoh (pronounced Bee-Mo) Ghogomu was born in Cameroon, West Africa in October of 1991. Upon leaving Cameroon in 1993, his family spent a few years in Chicago before finally settling in Houston, Texas in 1999. Following high school graduation in 2009, Mbiyimoh spent two years playing basketball in the Ivy League at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. After playing for 3 different head coaches in two seasons, Mbiyimoh decided to return home to Houston and re-evaluate his life goals. It was during this time that he, along with longtime friend Dylan Dement, first came up with the concept of The Higher Learning. Mbiyimoh is now finishing undergrad at the University of Texas at Austin, studying Sociology and Business, with plan to pursue Finance and Journalism as well.

Despite All the Depressing News, The World Is Not Getting Worse, It’s Getting Much, Much Better

Today, I woke up and skimmed the world news headlines. 80% of the stories were about the Israeli-Palestinian crisis or the Malaysian aircraft shot down in Ukraine. The other 20% was mostly news on the Air Algerie flight which disappeared earlier this morning and ISIS’s exile and persecution of the Christians in Mosul.

It was a very depressing experience. But then, I thought to myself: are things really that bad? And I realized, the answer is undoubtedly NO.

What we must realize here is that it’s only in the last 10 years or so that the average person has really had unlimited access to news and information with the emergence of the internet. And it’s only in the last five or so years that social media emerged as a platform to share news.

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It may seem like more bad things are going on, but really we are just more aware of world events than we have ever been in the past.

Ignorance may be bliss, but awareness solves problems. It can be hard to read about the bad things happening in other places, but often times, the only reason those bad things persist is because not enough people around the world have been made aware of them.

And, with all that being said, the world is actually getting better- much, much better. Here’s a few pieces of evidence to support that claim.

First off, our health and medicine is improving at an extremely fast pace. Infant mortality is down about 50% since 1990, and we have significantly reduced the number of deaths from treatable disease like measles and tuberculosis as well.

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Click to enlarge

A second indicator is the rapid decline in poverty worldwide. Since 1981, the proportion of people living under the poverty line ($1.25/day) has decreased by 65%. 721 million fewer people were living in poverty in 2010 than in 1981.

The third indicator is violence. Or more specifically, the lack thereof. It may seem like the world is constantly embroiled in one conflict or another, but overall, war is almost non-existent when compared to past decades:

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Click to enlarge

And while we regularly see reports of gang violence and constantly debate how much guns should be regulated, violent crime and murders has been plummeting:

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Click to enlarge

So when you start getting too down from watching, reading, or listening to the news, just remember:

We can change the world for the better. We are changing the world for the better.

(h/t Think Progress)

“Concrete Facts” and “Irrefutable Evidence” Aren’t Needed to Add Someone to the Terrorist Watch List

Recently, I reported on the rapidly growing terrorist watch list in the United States. In the past 5 years, the government has been adding names to the list at an increasingly fast pace, peaking last year with 468,749 names being added.

Well, it seems part of that ridiculously high number may be explained by a new set of counterterrorism guidelines that were quietly implemented last year.

The Intercept is an online media outlet founded earlier this year by the man who broke the Snowden story, Glenn Greenwald, after he left The Guardian. Recently, they obtained a copy of a 166-page document from the National Counterterrorism Center called the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance”.

The document outlined new guidelines for adding names to the terrorist watch list. One of the key sections outlined how to establish “reasonable suspicion”. The new guidelines state that,

“Although irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary, to be reasonable, suspicion should be as clear and as fully developed as circumstances permit.”

One of the charts in the report. Click to enlarge

This basically means that the Counterterrorism Center can place any individual, foreigner or American, on the terrorist watch list without any real evidence.

This “irrefutable evidence or concrete facts are not necessary” clause also allows the Center to designate individuals as members of specefic terrorist organizations without any evidence that they are actually connected.

Surprisingly enough, the guidelines are officially labeled as unclassified, meaning that the public is technically able to view them.

However, both the Bush and Obama administrations have fought to keep the watch-list criteria a secret. In a recent example, Attorney General Eric Holder went so far as to invoke the state secrets privilege to avoid disclosing the criteria (he was defending the government from a lawsuit brought by a number of Muslims who were placed on the no-fly list with minimal supporting evidence).

News of these new guidelines comes just a day after UK’s official counter-terrorism watchdog said that Britain’s new definition of terrorism, “could catch political journalists and bloggers”.

You can check out all 166 pages of the “March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance” here. Read a full report on the document’s full contents in this exclusive piece from The Intercept.

12 Pieces of Street Art That Seamlessly Mesh With the Nature Around Them (Photo Gallery)

Street art is one of the more creative art forms around today. Because of its visibility, it is often used to make political or social statements, like the street art that emerged in Brazil before and during the World Cup.

But some street artists like to use their work to bring out parts of the natural environment that we might otherwise take for granted. Check out some of the best examples below (click an image to enlarge):

(h/t Bored Panda)

How In the World Is This Tree Able to Produce 40 Different Kinds of Fruit??

Sam Van Aken is an art professor at Syracuse University in New York. He wasn’t always immersed of the world of art though- as a child, he grew up working on his family’s farm before pursuing his art career.

So, in 2008, when Van Aken learned that the orchard at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station was about to be destroyed because of a lack of funding, he knew he had to put his farming past to use.

Many of the trees in the orchard were 150-200 years old, and grew ancient, antique native stone fruits varieties that have been mostly hybridized or modified by modern agricultural practices (commercially-grown fruits are selected for their look and size more than any other factors, including taste).

Syracuse art professor and “Tree of 40 Fruits” creator Sam Van Aken

Aken knew he had to save these rare and ancient fruit varieties, so he bought the orchard and spent the next couple years trying to figure out how to graft parts of multiple trees onto one single tree.

He started by creating a timeline of when all the varieties of fruit (about 250 total) blossomed, so he could know precisely when to graft a new variety onto the main tree.

The grafting process basically involves making an incision in the main tree, and then inserting a shoot from the tree you want to add.

When the tree was young, he grafted directly onto its root structure. Once it reached two years old, Aken began using “chip grafting” to add new varieties of fruit to various branches.

An illustration of the grafting process

Chip grafting involves cutting a small notch into a branch of the main tree. Then, a sliver of the tree to be added (including a bud) is inserted into the notch and taped in place. Over winter, the tree heals the incision, and in doing so incorporates the new fruit variety into that branch.

After five years, Aken completed his first “Tree of 40 Fruit”, as he calls them.

For most of the year, it looks pretty much like a normal tree, but in spring, it explodes with white, red and pink blossoms before bearing its various ancient varieties of plums, peaches, apricots, nectarines, cherries and almonds.

Since then Aken has planted 15 more “Trees of 40 Fruit” in museums, community centers and art galleries around the country. His next plan is to create an orchard of them in a city setting.

Read the original story from Science Alert here.

You can watch a TEDx talk that Van Aken gave about his Tree of 40 Fruit below:

China Seals Off 30,000 People After A Man Dies of Bubonic Plague

The Chinese government has sealed off about 30,000 residents in parts of Yumen, a city in northeast China.

The move comes a week after a 38-year-old man died from the bubonic plague (also known as the black death). The man is said to have contracted the disease after coming in contact with a marmot- a rodent similar to the groundhog.

Residents have been told they cannot leave the area, and police have set up roadblocks to enforce that decree. Yumen has a population of 100,000 people, but only certain portions of the city have been isolated.

One of the police blockades

Besides the 30,000 people sealed off, the government has also put 151 people who had direct contact with the man under quarantine.

There is no word yet on how long the situation will last, but city officials have said they have enough rice, flour and oil to supply the 30,000 residents for a month.

China has sent in hundreds of extra “standby” medical workers to help contain the plague

Although the bubonic plague is rare in China, it is not totally unheard of. Since 2009, there have been an estimated 12 cases in China, with four deaths.

The plague can work extremely fast, sometimes killing a person within 24 hours of the initial infection. However, modern antibiotics have proven effective in treating the disease if it is detected quickly. Beijing officials say the chances of the outbreak spreading are low.

Check out the original story from the Daily Mail here.

Why Keith Olbermann’s Assault On Tony Dungy Is TERRIBLE for the LGBT Cause (Opinion)

Foxnews and conservative media outlets are regularly eviscerated for their biased coverage and/or their views on social issues, with homosexuality being at the forefront.

Some of this criticism is definitely valid, but it is also important to call out those who do the same thing on the other side.

Keith Olbermann is a prime example. MSNBC is basically the liberal version of Foxnews, and Olbermann is the liberal Bill O’Reilly.

On his show last night, he called former Colts coach Tony Dungy the “World’s Worst in Sports” because of comments he made about Michael Sam recently. Here’s Olbermann’s segment:

He starts off trying to make Dungy look like a hypocrite by pointing out that in February, Dungy said the NFL draft was, at the end of the day, based on merit.

It is not hypocritical for him to say that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam because he, “didn’t want to deal with all of it,” if he were still a coach.

As a coach, you do a risk-reward evaluation of any potential draft prospect. Unfortunately, the reality of our society is that drafting an openly gay player brings a lot of controversy, even if 95% of it is created by the media (if you don’t the media will try to divide the Rams locker room by asking the players all kinds of questions in search of a controversial headline, you’re delusional).

If Michael Sam was a once in a lifetime talent, that media circus might be well worth it. But he’s an undersized defensive lineman and a poor tackler, whose average quickness and athleticism doesn’t quite make up for his lack of size.

Michael Sam's combine grade
Michael Sam’s combine grade. Click to enlarge

Why do you think Tim Tebow isn’t in the NFL right now? Because his talent wasn’t enough to make up for the media circus that inevitably followed him around everywhere.

As Dungy said though, “…guys who produce and play well will be welcome in the league.” If Sam turns out to be a solid player, I don’t think Dungy would have had any problem picking him up in a few years after he had proven himself at the pro level.

Olbermann then calls out Dungy for supporting a ban on gay marriage in Indiana. Dungy has always admitted to being guided by his Christianity so this shouldn’t surprise anyone.

But him stating his support for a same-sex marriage ban seven years ago really isn’t relevant to the discussion of whether or not he would have drafted Sam today.

Every coach in the league, whether they were Tea Party Conservatives or bleeding-heart liberals, took into account the fact that Sam would bring with him a media circus and potential issues in the locker room.

Joanthon VIlma was one of a number of players who admitted being uncomfortable with the idea of playing with Sam: “Imagine if he’s the guy next to me, and you know, I get dressed, naked, taking a shower, the whole nine, and it just so happens he looks at me, how am I supposed to respond?” (from an interview with NFL Network)

Why? Because regardless as to how the coach feels, there are 52 other players in that locker room, many of whom may have a serious issue with Sam’s lifestyle. Whether or not you agree with their views on homosexuality, that’s the reality of the league right now, and it’s foolish to act like we shouldn’t take that into account.

Olbermann then calls out Dungy for volunteering to be Michael Vick’s mentor after he finished his sentence for dog-fighting. Two things here.

Firstly, Dungy wasn’t coaching, so he didn’t have to take into account the distractions that Vick’s history would bring. Are we really going to sit here and attack him for helping Vick reinvent himself and his image?

If Dungy was coaching, I’m sure he would have taken more time to think about the decision of putting Vick on his team. Which brings me to my second point: Vick’s potential rewards were much higher than Sam’s.

Michael Vick led the Eagles to the playoffs in 2010 with an impressive season that earned him a spot in the Pro-Bowl

Vick was a perennial all-star and was regularly among the league’s top quarterbacks when he was arrested on the dog-fighting charges. It made a lot more sense for a team (like the Eagles) to take a risk on him than it does for a team to take a big risk on the unproven Michael Sam (which is why he wasn’t drafted until the 7th round).

It’s also worth noting that while Vick’s dog-fighting is clearly much worse than Sam’s gayness, it is less likely to create issues in the locker room. Again, that’s messed up, but that’s reality.

Olbermann saves the worst for last, insinuating that Dungy is a bigot because he had to deal with similar discrimination as a black player, coach and broadcaster throughout his years working with the NFL.

Standing up for your values is always a noble thing to do. But we also have to realistic. Dungy knew this when he was passed over for head coaching positions in the late 80s and early 90s in favor of less qualified candidates.

But he also understood the reality of the situation. He understood that calling out the racial bigotry of NFL owners when it came to hiring coaches would only hurt his chances of becoming a head coach himself.

It was this combination of self-confidence and realism that allowed him to become the first black coach to win a Super Bowl in 2007. Now, he has the platform to speak out and actually affect real change in terms of racial discrimination in the NFL.

Dungy hoists the Bill Lombardi trophy after the Colts’ 2007 Super Bowl victory

The point is this: attacking somebody for being homophobic when they are clearly just being realistic is not only unfair, it makes that person less open-minded about homosexuality and less willing to discuss it.

People like Olbermann use this fake homophobia because they know it will get people riled up, the same way people like O’Reilly use issues like gun control or censorship of religion in schools on Foxnews.

I’m all for gay marriage and equality, but if we really want people to be more accepting of homosexuality, we have to put them in a position where they feel comfortable talking about it candidly. Pulling out the pitchforks on your politically-charged “news” segment to get more viewers is doing more damage than anything.

So to Keith Olbermann: stop taking advantage of people’s emotions and trying to put yourself on the moral high ground. Then, just maybe, I’ll consider listening to what you have to say.

Why This Man Climbed A 130 Foot Tree With Only A Vine to Steal Honey from Angry Bees (Video)

To the Bayaka people, who inhabit the jungles of the Central African Republic, honey is an extremely valuable commodity. Besides being a rare and delicious delicacy, it provides essential energy and nutrition.

So, when a beehive is found in the jungle, some men are willing to take extreme measures to secure the precious honeycombs for their family.

Tete is an hour into a 40 meter (131ft) climb to a beehive way up in the canopy of a massive tree when we join him:

Not only does Tete climb without a harness (he uses only a vine wrapped around the tree), but once he gets to the crown of the tree, he still has to battle the angry bees as he carefully makes his way to the hive.

“When climbing trees, you have to empty your heart of fear… If you have fear you will fall.”

he says.

Once Tete arrives at the hive, he has to break into the interior. He passes the honeycomb down to his eager family via a basket pulley system. Even bee stings don’t stop his wife and kids from thoroughly enjoying the feast.

(h/t BBC’s Human Planet)

Intercepted Phone Calls Show Russia Directing Separatists to Seize MH17′s Black Boxes

The Ukrainian government has released recordings of alleged phone calls between pro-Russian separatists discussing the fate of Malaysian Flight MH17′s black boxes.

Ukrainian security officials released the tapes on Sunday, claiming that they proved Russia had directed the separatists to find and hide the black boxes.

The call is between Alexander Khodakovsky, leader of the Vostok (East) battalion of pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine and one of his men (“Oleksiy”) at the crash site. You can listen to the conversations below:

In the first of the recordings, Khodakovsky urges Oleksiy to find MH17′s black boxes, saying,

“Do it really quick, urgently. Moscow is asking where the boxes are… [they] must be under our control”.

In a second call less than an hour later, Khodakovsky talks to another man at the crash site (“Andriy”), telling him,

“I have a request for you. It is not my request. Our friends from high above are very much interested in the fate of the black boxes. I mean people from Moscow.”

He also tells Andriy to,

“Try to take everything that you find so that it doesn’t get into somebody else’s hands.”

Around the time that the recordings were released, Reuters released footage of what appears to be the black boxes being removed from the crash site by the separatists:

Earlier this morning, the news service Interfax reported that rebel Russian separatists in Ukraine had handed over the black boxes to Russia’s Interstate Aviation Committee.

Andrei Purgin is the self-proclaimed deputy prime minister of the Donetsk People’s Republic, the separatist government in the rebel-held city of Donetsk. Purgin told Interfax:

“Of course, we most likely will give them [the black boxes] to the Interstate Aviation Committee, to Moscow. High-level experts, who will be able to determine exactly the reason of the catastrophe, work there.”

So it seems that the black boxes are on their way to Moscow, if they’re not there already. This will definitely raise a lot more suspicion about Russia’s involvement in the MH17 tragedy.

But, for the sake of objectivity, it is definitely worth noting that these tapes have not been independently verified yet, and are being released by the Ukrainian government, who has every reason in the world to want Russia to be responsible for the tragedy.

That doesn’t mean I believe the tapes are fabricated- it’s just a reminder to tread carefully when trying to make sense of such a complex issue.

Check Out Some Rare Photos from Man’s First Walk on the Moon 45 Years Ago Today (Photo Gallery)

On July 20, 1969, at 9:30 p.m. Houston time (where NASA’s command center is located), American astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong arrived on the surface of the moon aboard their lunar lander the Eagle.

Armstrong was the first to exit the Eagle. 600 million people sat glued to their TV screens as he took his first step onto the moon, saying the now-famous line,

“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”

A photo Armstrong took of Aldrin exiting the Eagle. Click to enlarge
A photo Armstrong took of Aldrin exiting the Eagle. Click to enlarge (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive/composite by Ed Hengeveld)

Aldrin followed closely behind Armstrong. As he disembarked from the lander, he said,

“Beautiful! Beautiful! Magnificent desolation.”

The astronauts gathered 50 pounds of lunar rock, did a number of experiments and planted an American flag on the surface (that flag was actually blown over by the exhaust from the lander as the astronauts left the surface of the moon).

They also took quite a lot of pictures. Check out some of the more rare photos from NASA’s archives of the Apollo 11 mission. Click an image to enlarge:

(h/t Sploid)

States That Increased Minimum Wage Have Seen 40% Faster Job Growth Than Those Who Didn’t

There’s has been a big debate lately about whether or not raising the minimum wage is a good thing for the overall economic health of America.

On one side, those in favor say that putting more disposable income into the pockets of consumers would mean that they purchase more stuff, increasing sales and profits for businesses.

On the other side, those opposed mainly argue that raising the minimum wage will increase costs for employers, forcing them to lay off workers to avoid having to increase how much they spend on wages.

Well, new data released by the Department of Labor just dealt a blow to that opposing argument.

The report, released on Friday, found that the 13 states that recently increased their minimum wages saw an average job growth of 0.85% for the first six months of 2014. The 37 states that didn’t raise the minimum wage saw job growth of only 0.61%.

Though the data has a small sample size (only 6 months) and doesn’t necessarily establish cause and effect between higher minimum wages and job growth, it definitely pokes a big hole into the idea that raising the minimum wage leads to a disaster in the job market.

The Economist also points out that the U.S. minimum wage is relatively low compared to other developed countries around the world.

The OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) compiles and compares economic data for different countries. One of its indicators of economic health is how the minimum wage in a country compares to its median and average wages.

Minimum wage compared to average wage for a number of developed countries. Click to enlarge
Minimum wage compared to average wage for a number of developed countries. Click to enlarge

The American minimum wage is only 38% of the median wage and 27% of the average wage. These numbers are lower than almost every other country on the OECD’s list.

Also worth noting, Costco, which pays it’s employees a minimum of $15 an hour, has been outperforming Wal-Mart in profitability recently.

Read the original story from NPR here.