Later On

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The Swedish philosophy of lagom: how “just enough” is all you need (a lesson often learned the hard way)

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Jonny Thomson writes in Big Think:

The night is going well. Everyone is laughing, and there is a happy energy in the air. The conversation flows easily and you’re the merry, relaxed kind of drunk. Then Josh swaggers over with a tray of something. Then you see what it is. Oh no.

“Time to do shots!” he shouts. You’re not sure, and you see others aren’t too keen either. But you don’t want to be a spoilsport. A grimace and a cough later, and the night changes. You feel sick, the room is spinning, and within a few minutes, everyone is too drunk to talk.

There comes a point when a thing becomes too much. If you’re not the outgoing, drinking sort, you could replace the opening example with something else. It might be at the end of the meal when that final slice of pizza turns you from “comfortably full” to “ergh”; when the car karaoke goes from being huge fun to a throat aching chore; or when that Tarantino movie you’re liking so far still has another two hours to go. Anything in excess becomes miserable, even the good things in life.

The fact that humans have unquenchable thirst and insatiable appetites is not new wisdom. It’s found in early Vedic texts, in Ancient Greece, and in most of the world’s religions today (most starkly in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism). But in the Swedish idea of lagom (lah-gomm), it has been given fresh life.

It’s an idea that might change how you see your life.

Just the right amount

Lagom translates as “just the right amount.” It means knowing when enough is enough, and trying to find balance and moderation rather than constantly grasping for more. Lagom is that feeling of contentment we all get when we have all that we need to make us comfortable. It’s neither a millionaire’s splurge in Vegas, nor a pauper’s cold winter night. It means having a roof over your head, food in your belly, friends at your back, and money — just enough money — in your pockets. If Goldilocks had a catchphrase, it would be “let’s lagom this bear house.”

There are two separate strands to lagom. The first is a kind of social awareness that recognizes that what we do affects other people. In this, we might see lagom more as a kind of “fair use” policy. If you take three cookies from the plate, two other people aren’t going to get one. If you hoard and grab everything you can, elbowing and cursing your way to the front of the line, then at best, that makes you a bit of an ass. At worst, it leaves others in ruin.

The second strand, however, is a mental shift that . . .

Continue reading.

The article has a link to a “fulfillment wheel.” Here is such a wheel. (See this post for explanation.)

Written by Leisureguy

18 August 2022 at 10:09 am

Behind Enemy Lines, Ukrainians Tell Russians ‘You Are Never Safe’

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Andrew E. Kramer has an interesting report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times. The report begins:

They sneak down darkened alleys to set explosives. They identify Russian targets for Ukrainian artillery and long-range rockets provided by the United States. They blow up rail lines and assassinate officials they consider collaborators with the Russians.

Slipping back and forth across the front lines, the guerrilla fighters are known in Ukraine as partisans, and in recent weeks they have taken an ever more prominent role in the war, rattling Russian forces by helping deliver humiliating blows in occupied areas they thought were safe.

Increasingly, Ukraine is taking the fight against Russian forces into Russian-controlled areas, whether with elite military units, like the one credited on Tuesday with a huge explosion at a Russian ammunition depot in the occupied Crimean Peninsula, or an underground network of the guerrillas.

Last week, Ukrainian officials said, the partisans had a hand in a successful strike on a Russian air base, also in Crimea, which Moscow annexed eight years ago. It destroyed eight fighter jets.

“The goal is to show the occupiers that they are not at home, that they should not settle in, that they should not sleep comfortably,” said one guerrilla fighter, who spoke on condition that, for security reasons, he only be identified by his code name, Svarog, after a pagan Slavic god of fire.

In recent days the Ukrainian military made Svarog and several other of the operatives available for interviews in person or online, hoping to highlight the partisans’ widening threat to Russian forces and signal to Western donors that Ukraine is successfully rallying local resources in the war, now nearly six months old. A senior Ukrainian military official familiar with the program also described the workings of the resistance.

Their accounts of attacks could not be verified completely but aligned with reports in the Ukrainian media and with descriptions from Ukrainians who had recently fled Russian-occupied areas.

Svarog and I met over lemonade and cheese pastries at a Georgian restaurant in Zaporizhzhia, a city under Ukrainian control about 65 miles north of the occupied town of Melitopol.

He spoke with intimate knowledge of partisan activities, providing a rare glimpse into one of the most hidden aspects of the war.

The Ukrainian military began training partisans in the months before the invasion, as Russia massed troops near the borders. The effort has paid off in recent weeks as . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 2:19 pm

Saudi woman given 34-year prison sentence for using Twitter

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And, lest we forget, 15 of 19 terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks were Saudi nationals — just under 80%. And, of course, Saudi Arabia’s leader, Mohammed bin Salman, had a Washington Post journalist murdered and dismembered because MBS did not like what the journalist wrote. Saudi Arabia has a God-awful culture.

Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports in the Guardian:

A Saudi student at Leeds University who had returned home to the kingdom for a holiday has been sentenced to 34 years in prison for having a Twitter account and for following and retweeting dissidents and activists.

The sentencing by Saudi’s special terrorist court was handed down weeks after the US president Joe Biden’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which human rights activists had warned could embolden the kingdom to escalate its crackdown on dissidents and other pro-democracy activists.

The case also marks the latest example of how the crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has targeted Twitter users in his campaign of repression, while simultaneously controlling a major indirect stake in the US social media company through Saudi’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF).

Salma al-Shehab, 34, a mother of two young children, was initially sentenced to serve three years in prison for the “crime” of using an internet website to “cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security”. But an appeals court on Monday handed down the new sentence – 34 years in prison followed by a 34-year travel ban – after a public prosecutor asked the court to consider other alleged crimes.

According to a translation of the court records, which were seen by the Guardian, the new charges include the allegation that Shehab was “assisting those who seek to cause public unrest and destabilise civil and national security by following their Twitter accounts” and by re-tweeting their tweets. It is believed that Shehab may still be able to seek a new appeal in the case.

By all accounts, Shehab was not a leading or especially vocal Saudi activist, either inside the kingdom or in the UK. She described herself on Instagram – where she had 159 followers – as a dental hygienist, medical educator, PhD student at Leeds University and lecturer at Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University, and as a wife and a mother to her sons, Noah and Adam.

Her Twitter profile showed she had 2,597 followers. Among tweets about Covid burnout and pictures of her young children, Shehab sometimes retweeted tweets by Saudi dissidents living in exile, which called for the release of political prisoners in the kingdom. She seemed to . . .

Continue reading. The Saudi government seems to operate on principles of terrorism.

Later in the article (and do read the whole thing):

Twitter declined to comment on the case and did not respond to specific questions about what – if any – influence Saudi Arabia has over the company. Twitter previously did not respond to questions by the Guardian about why a senior aide to Prince Mohammed, Bader al-Asaker, has been allowed to keep a verified Twitter account with more than 2 million followers, despite US government allegations that he orchestrated an illegal infiltration of the company which led anonymous Twitter users to be identified and jailed by the Saudi government. One former Twitter employee has been convicted by a US court in connection to the case.

One of Twitter’s biggest investors is the Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns more than 5% of Twitter through his investment company, Kingdom Holdings. While Prince Alwaleed still serves as chairman of the company, his control over the group faced questions in the US media, including the Wall Street Journal, after it emerged that the Saudi royal – a cousin of the crown prince – had been held captive at the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh for 83 days. The incident was part of a broader purge led by Prince Mohammed against other members of the royal family and businessmen, and involved allegations of torture, coercion and expropriation of billions in assets into Saudi coffers.

The Trumps are good friends of MBS.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 1:56 pm

Another take on Miso-Tahini sauce, and miscellaneous cooking notes

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I liked the Miso-Tahini sauce enough to make it again, though of course somewhat differently. As always, my recipes are just descriptions of what I did; vary as you wish.

Miso-Tahini Sauce

Put into blender (or beaker that comes with immersion blender):

• 1 large lemon, peeled
• about 1″ fresh ginger root, sliced thinly
• 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped a bit
• 3-4 tablespoons genmai miso (really, any miso will do)
• about 1/4 cup Soom tahini (I really like that brand)
• about 1 tablespoon Kadoya toasted sesame oil
• about 1.5 tablespooon Kozlik’s Sweet & Smokey Mustard
• dash of tamari
• dash of rice vinegar
• pinch of MSG
• 1/4 cup water (I recently got a Brita filter, so I use filtered water)
• if you want spicy, add a fresh hot pepper, chopped (I didn’t, this time — I had included some yellow cayenne peppers in the stir-fry for which the sauce is intended)

Blend until smooth. Add water for thinner consistency. 

Miscellaneous cooking

Fermentation Starter
A week ago I started a fermentation starter, and today if finally seems to have taken off. I think now I’ll strain out the fruit, preserving the liquid, and add the liquid to another pint jar with some fresh fruit — some raisins, a chopped plum or two, some sliced ginger, and some chopped apple. Once that is going well, I’ll refrigerate and use the liquid to start fermentation as described in the video in my general fermenting post.

Fermented Potatoes
Now that I have a fermentation starter, I’m going to try fermenting some Stokes Purple® potatoes. The Yukon Gold experiment worked reasonably well, so I’m eager to try Stokes Purple (because purple potatoes are extremely nutritious). One thing that appeals to me is that all the starch in fermented raw potatoes is resistant starch. I’ll use the diced fermented potatoes as snacks and in salads. — I did start the purple potatoes. Unlike the Yukon Gold I made earlier, the purple potatoes tend to float. No problem: I just used a fermentation weight.

Red Cayenne Pepper Sauce
This is on the docket for today, and I expect to fill at least two 1-liter jars, perhaps more. I have been wanting to make this after reading a post about it, and now that red cayenne peppers are suddenly available in my market, this is the time to do it. I shall, of course, blog the effort.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 1:09 pm

The Loire River now dry

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I wonder how climate-change deniers (such as the Republican Party) will greet this news. The problem with denying reality is that reality endures and will ultimately prevail. The photo is from a Facebook post, which notes:

This is the current state of the Loire, the longest river in France. This has not happened before in at least the 2000 years since literate people inhabited France. The Romans would have written about this. The medieval Franks would have written about this. To the best of our historical knowledge, nowhere in the past 2000 years has the Loire run dry, and likely never long before that. The drought that now grips southwestern Europe may well be unprecedented in recorded human history.

This is in the heart of wine country where grapes grow in abundance and wheat waves like golden seas- but not now. Now the wheat burns and the grapes whither to raisins on the vine. This is the end of days. And on Monday morning I’ll return to work and pretend this isn’t happening. It’s complete madness.

More information on the Loire River situation (including many more photos in “Images”).

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2022 at 9:08 am

How Was Abortion Understood Historically?

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Nautilus‘s newsletter today had a one-question interview by Brandon Keim:

One question for Claudia Ford, an herbalist and midwife turned environmental historian at SUNY Potsdam whose Ph.D. dissertation examines the use of plants for reproductive health by women in 18th and 19th century America.

This idea of a fetus as a person is only as recent as this incredible book that came out in the 1960s, A Child Is Born, which was the first time that somebody made high-quality pictures of live fetuses in utero. When that book came out, it really changed things. Until we could actually visualize that, we understood pregnancy and periods and cycles, but not to the extent of naming a fetus as a person.

Going back time, there was no moral restriction against abortion, even in the Catholic church. For many millennia the fetus was not considered an entity until quickening, which is when the mother can feel the fetus move. In the first baby, that’s usually around 16 weeks, and it can be a little earlier in subsequent babies because you know what to feel. But until such time as that movement started to happen, it was not a thing. Even if a woman realized she wasn’t having her menses, and she might know she was pregnant, still there was no association with a fetus.

So terminating a pregnancy was seen more as part of the menstrual cycle, not part of pregnancy. Pregnancy is something that led to labor and childbirth; terminating a pregnancy was part of your menstrual cycle.

At that time, somebody with a uterus is bleeding every month unless something else is going on. And that “unless something else is going on” was pretty big because we didn’t have as much knowledge. If you had a late period, the first thing people would think would not necessarily be pregnancy. They might know that, but they would be thinking “OK, how do I bring on this period?” Not, “How do I not have a baby?”

I know that is semantics. But Dobbs is all about semantics, right? And that’s a really important thing. I think somebody else has said that abortion is not an alternative to having a baby; let’s separate those things. Historically the termination of pregnancy was seen as part of the menstrual cycle. Some women were having periods that were too little; some, too much; some were too painful, too frequently, not frequently enough. There was always a desire: What can I do? Are there some plants that can help me to regulate these cycles so that I can feel healthy? And sometimes that absolutely included, “I’m late. I want my period to come. How can I bring it on?”

There was knowledge that if the period didn’t come, it would lead to a pregnancy. But in those first three months, it wasn’t thought of as, “I’m pregnant, I’m going to stop this.” It was thought of as more, “I haven’t had my period. Do I want my period? Or do I want to see where this is going to go?” I know it sounds like it’s splitting hairs, but it’s a very different perspective.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 8:00 pm

When Parents Tell Kids to ‘Work Hard,’ Do They Send the Wrong Message?

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Michael Blanding writes at the Harvard Business School:

It takes more than grit to succeed in a world rife with systemic inequity. So why don’t we tell children that? Research by Ashley Whillans and colleagues shows how honest talk about social barriers could empower kids to break them down.

“Work hard, and you’ll be successful.”

How often do we tell children that the key to success is putting forth effort? That advice might seem like admirable inspiration to encourage kids to work hard as they pursue their goals. However, new research in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology suggests that those messages may have an unintended consequence, making people believe that someone who isn’t succeeding isn’t bothering to try. And those perceptions can perpetuate inequality in society.

“How do all of these lessons about working hard potentially carry over to our beliefs about other people?” asks Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, who co-authored the study. “If you are learning that effort is the way to achieve success, and you see people who have less, you might assume they didn’t work hard enough—as opposed to recognizing the systems and institutions we know can stand in the way.”

Whillans explored these questions in a trio of studies of parents and children along with Antonya Gonzalez, assistant psychology professor at Western Washington University; and Lucia Macchia, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Public Policy.

The research is particularly relevant, they say, given that many early educators today are focusing on willpower, grit, and a “growth mindset,” teaching kids that intelligence can be grown like a muscle, and that it’s not inherited or predetermined.

“There is such an emphasis now with kids on effort and taking control of your own learning and abilities,” says Gonzalez. “But it’s not possible for everyone to overcome certain challenges.”

The belief that effort is the key to success could also influence people’s perceptions of workers in various jobs, particularly low-wage positions, the researchers say.

“This overemphasis on effort could lead people to believe that workers in low-wage jobs are not deserving of increased pay or better working conditions,” says Whillans, which is an idea that is consistent with some of her ongoing research with HBS doctoral student Elizabeth Johnson.

Studying luck, ability, or effort—with aliens

To test the effects of these messages, the researchers considered three possible explanations for why one person might be more successful than another. The cause might be situational, based on where a person grew up, the family they were born into, or the educational opportunities they had—in other words, luck. It might be individual, based on factors beyond a person’s control, such as raw intelligence or athletic skill—meaning ability. Or it might be individual but based on controllable factors, such as hard work or persistence—in other words, effort.

The researchers conducted an online survey of 200 Americans, presenting them with a fictional story about a planet with two alien species, Blarks and Orps, who differed in their amount of wealth, educational attainment, job status, or hierarchy. Parents were asked to imagine how they might explain a discrepancy in achievement between the two species to their children—attributing it to luck, ability, or effort. They chose to use these study details based on past research to make the study cleanly about inequality as opposed to pre-existing beliefs about certain groups in society.

More respondents, about 41 percent, chose to explain the species with lower achievement levels as . . .

Continue reading.

And see also “The Making of the Self-Made Man” in Current Affairs.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 7:43 pm

How a simple, Bauhaus-designed chair ended up everywhere over the past 100 years.

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Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:38 pm

Road to war: U.S. struggled to convince allies, and Zelensky, of risk of invasion

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I don’t believe that Donald Trump as President was even capable of the kind of leadership President Biden has shown in responding to Russian’s invasion of Ukraine. I understand that Trump would not want to lead our allies; my point is that, even if he did want to, he is incapable of doing it.

Shane Harris, Karen DeYoung, Isabelle Khurshudyan, Ashley Parker, and Liz Sly have a remarkable report (gift link, no paywall) in the Washington Post. The report begins:

On a sunny October morning, the nation’s top intelligence, military, and diplomatic leaders filed into the Oval Office for an urgent meeting with President Biden. They arrived bearing a highly classified intelligence analysis, compiled from newly obtained satellite images, intercepted communications, and human sources, that amounted to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war plans for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

For months, Biden administration officials had watched warily as Putin massed tens of thousands of troops and lined up tanks and missiles along Ukraine’s borders. As summer waned, Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser, had focused on the increasing volume of intelligence related to Russia and Ukraine. He had set up the Oval Office meeting after his own thinking had gone from uncertainty about Russia’s intentions, to concern he was being too skeptical about the prospects of military action, to alarm.

The session was one of several meetings that officials had about Ukraine that autumn — sometimes gathering in smaller groups — but was notable for the detailed intelligence picture that was presented. Biden and Vice President Harris took their places in armchairs before the fireplace, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined the directors of national intelligence and the CIA on sofas around the coffee table.

Tasked by Sullivan with putting together a comprehensive overview of Russia’s intentions, they told Biden that the intelligence on Putin’s operational plans, added to ongoing deployments along the border with Ukraine, showed that all the pieces were now in place for a massive assault.

The U.S. intelligence community had penetrated multiple points of Russia’s political leadership, spying apparatus and military, from senior levels to the front lines, according to U.S. officials.

Much more radical than Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and instigation of a separatist movement in eastern Ukraine, Putin’s war plans envisioned a takeover of most of the country.

Using mounted maps on easels in front of the Resolute Desk, Milley showed Russian troop positions and the Ukrainian terrain they intended to conquer. It was a plan of staggering audacity, one that could pose a direct threat to NATO’s eastern flank, or even destroy the post-World War II security architecture of Europe.

As he absorbed the briefing, Biden, who had taken office promising to keep the country out of new wars, was determined that Putin must either be deterred or confronted, and that the United States must not act alone. Yet NATO was far from unified on how to deal with Moscow, and U.S. credibility was weak. After a disastrous occupation of Iraq, the chaos that followed the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and four years of President Donald Trump seeking to undermine the alliance, it was far from certain that Biden could effectively lead a Western response to an expansionist Russia.

Ukraine was a troubled former Soviet republic with a history of corruption, and the U.S. and allied answer to earlier Russian aggression there had been uncertain and divided. When the invasion came, the Ukrainians would need significant new weaponry to defend themselves. Too little could guarantee a Russian victory. But too much might provoke a direct NATO conflict with nuclear-armed Russia.

This account, in previously unreported detail, shines new light on the uphill climb to restore U.S. credibility, the attempt to balance secrecy around intelligence with the need to persuade others of its truth, and the challenge of determining how the world’s most powerful military alliance would help a less-than-perfect democracy on Russia’s border defy an attack without NATO firing a shot.

The first in a series of articles examining the road to war and the military campaign in Ukraine, it is drawn from in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials about a global crisis whose end is yet to be determined. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence and internal deliberations.

The Kremlin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

As Milley laid out the array of forces on that October morning, he and the others summed up Putin’s intentions. “We assess that they plan to conduct a significant strategic attack on Ukraine from multiple directions simultaneously,” Milley told the president. “Their version of ‘shock and awe.’ ”

According to the intelligence, the Russians would . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall) This is a gripping account.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:12 pm

An orange salad dressing (color, not flavor)

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Just now: put into a blender or the beaker that comes with an immersion blender:

• 1 large lemon, peeled
• about 1/2-3/4″ fresh ginger root in thin slices
• 1 large garlic clove, sliced or chopped
• 1 Medjool date, pitted and chopped
• 1 red Fresno pepper, stem removed and then chopped
• 1-1.5 tablespoons Dijon mustard
• about 1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
• small pinch of MSG
• dash of tamari

Blend that until smooth. Then add slowly while blending:

• 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Notes: Lately we’ve been getting lemons from South Africa: very large, very juice, fairly thin skin. Very nice for this. Using the entire lemon provides more nutrients because you get the pulp as well as the juice. I used a clove of Russian red garlic; if you use regular garlic, you might want two cloves. Chopping the garlic (and slicing the ginger root) assists with the blending.The date was to add some some sweetness, the Fresno pepper to add some spice.. The date must be chopped or it might jam the blender. 

The idea is that the mustard blended with the non-oil ingredients will work to create an emulsion with the olive oil so that it does not separate.

It was tasty, and I have quite a bit for future salads.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 6:00 pm

Finally! F.D.A. Clears Path for Hearing Aids to be Sold Over the Counter

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I have strong feelings about giving the public affordable access to hearing aids (excellent news in a NY Times article — and that’s a gift link, no paywall). My step-father worked as a carpenter and builder for most of his life, long before it was thought important to provide hearing protection around power tools (which are extremely loud and you work extremely close to them). As he aged, he became increasingly deaf. He did finally get hearing aids, but those early models were uncomfortable, and often he would not wear them, preferring to sit among us and just smile as we talked, isolated from the conversation.

Then it became clear (not so much to me as to my wife and others around me) that my own hearing had started to fail. I got a hearing test and indeed my hearing at higher frequencies was poor. I bought a pair of hearing aids at the eye-watering price of US$3500 for a pair. I was told that I would probably want to replace them in about five years, but I thought “Hah! Not likely!” Regardless of how nifty any new designs were, I would just stick with the ones I had.

As it turns out, it’s not so much “want” to replace them as “have to.” Hearing aids are worn on one’s head, behind the ear, means that it spends its days in a humid environment — and 1) it’s electronic, and 2) it has small openings (for microphone input, for one thing). As a result. over time, slow corrosion will take it down, and indeed just five years later one unit stopped working and the other was subpar. (Hearing aids worn inside the ear canal instead of behind the ear are in an even more humid environment and have an even shorter life.)

My new pair cost CA$5100, and this time (3 years ago) I spent an additional US$78 to get a hearing aid dryer — a small unit that plugs into the wall and has a chamber into which I put my opened hearing aids at night. The little unit gently warms the hearing aids, drying them out and slowing corrosion. The cost of hearing aids has been high enough that the dehumidifier will almost pay for itself if it extends hearing-aid life by just one month over five years — and if I get two more months of life, the device has more than paid for itself.

So less costly but still effective hearing aids (and, given competition beyond the five-company hearing-aid cabal, likely more effective) is of great personal interest.

But it goes beyond that. Millions of people who need hearing aids don’t even go to get tested because the cost of the devices is so high. And yet, as I noted a while back, uncorrected hearing loss “is associated with cognitive decline, depression, isolation and other health problems in older adults.”

There are few pairs of words that strike more terror into my heart than “cognitive decline.” When I was walking around with uncorrected hearing lost — and like my step-father, wearing a more or less constant smile of incomprehension and/or too frequently repeating “Huh? Say again?” — I was able to tolerate my hearing loss (though, I now realize, while being rather irksome company). When I learned that hearing problems cause cognitive decline, I was in an audiologist’s office in a New York minute.

I did turn out to have serious high-frequency hearing loss, so I bought a pair of hearing aids, and — wow! — the world seemed to go from black-and-white to color, from a flat surface to three-dimensional. It’s astonishing how hearing opens up one’s immediate access to the world around them, far beyond mere conversation. The sounds of the world make it real. I have that sense of entering a richer reality each morning when I put on my hearing aids: the world becomes alive around me. And The Wife reported that my cognition did seem better — I had very gradually become duller, but with the hearing aids, I was again snappy on the uptake and seemed more cognitively present.

As Matt Stoller pointed out, the hearing-aid cartel of five companies strongly fought the legislation to allow competition that would provide inexpensive hearing aids. (And Stoller found that his column caused “quite a shitstorm” in the industry.) But now the FDA has finally moved, after dragging its feet for years, and the picture should quickly change. I have been following this (see this scrollable list of previous posts), and I’m so pleased the day will have finally come (a couple of months from now) when good and affordable hearing aids hit the market.

Written by Leisureguy

16 August 2022 at 9:16 am

A Fascinating Demonstration of the Differences Among English, German, Dutch, and Afrikaans

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An article by Lori Dorn at Laughing Squid includes two videos. Here’s one:

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 9:04 pm

Posted in Daily life

Tagged with

What happened in 1926?

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In an earlier post — What is the optimal diet? — I included a chart that I captured from the video of the mortality rate in England and Wales from coronary disease:

I could not think of what might have caused that inflection point and subsequent rapid and steady rise of heart disease, and I asked if anyone had any ideas. Arne, in a comment, pointed to this interesting chart from the video ‘Diseases of Civilization: Are Seed Oil Excesses the Unifying Mechanism?‘ by Dr. Chris Knobbe.

Three obvious caveats:

  1. The USA is not England and Wales — however, seed-oil consumption might well have increased in both countries as the technology of industrial refinement of crop by-products was established.
  2. The dates don’t quite line up, but of course the effects (if any) of increased consumption of seed oils would not show up immediately but after some time. 
  3. Correlation is not causation — however, causation does create a correlation, and it seems worth considering whether the correlation in this case might indeed indicate a cause, especially given that diet in general and fats in particular have been demonstrated to have causative effects on coronary disease. 

I have not eaten seed oils for a long time, but recently started eating canola (rapeseed) oil in Hollyhock salad dress. I think I’ll discontinue that dressing, tasty as it is, and resume my usual olive oil vinaigrette, but perhaps with some nutritional yeast added for flavor (though of course I could just sprinkle the yeast on the salad). This is the dressing I have in mind:

• 1 lemon, peeled
• 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
• 1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (perhaps flavored: tarragon, blue cheese, etc.)
• pinch of salt
• pinch of MSG

Put that into a blender or into the beaker that comes with an immersion blender and blend well for a minute or so. Then gradually add, while still blending:

• 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

That makes enough for multiple salads. An Asian variation: 

• add to the initial list of ingredients 2 tablespoons tamari
• include with the olive oil 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil 

That is, put 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame oil in a measuring cup and add enough olive oil to make a total of 1/2 cup

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 8:44 pm

Amazing Bicycle Cars – Human Powered Vehicles

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Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 2:24 pm

Your employer will be always watching: The Rise of the Worker Productivity Score

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Jodi Kantor and Arya Sundaram have a disheartening report (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times. The article conveys the feeling of being a worker tracked by the corporation by providing surveillance feedback as you read the article.

The article begins:

A FEW YEARS AGO, Carol Kraemer, a longtime finance executive, took a new job. Her title, senior vice president, was impressive. The compensation was excellent: $200 an hour.

But her first paychecks seemed low. Her new employer, which used extensive monitoring software on its all-remote workers, paid them only for the minutes when the system detected active work. Worse, Ms. Kraemer noticed that the software did not come close to capturing her labor. Offline work — doing math problems on paper, reading printouts, thinking — didn’t register and required approval as “manual time.” In managing the organization’s finances, Ms. Kraemer oversaw more than a dozen people, but mentoring them didn’t always leave a digital impression. If she forgot to turn on her time tracker, she had to appeal to be paid at all.

“You’re supposed to be a trusted member of your team, but there was never any trust that you were working for the team,” she said.

Since the dawn of modern offices, workers have orchestrated their actions by watching the clock. Now, more and more, the clock is watching them.

IN LOWER-PAYING JOBS, the monitoring is already ubiquitous: not just at Amazon, where the second-by-second measurements became notorious, but also for Kroger cashiers, UPS drivers and millions of others. Eight of the 10 largest private U.S. employers track the productivity metrics of individual workers, many in real time, according to an examination by The New York Times.

Now digital productivity monitoring is also spreading among white-collar jobs and roles that require graduate degrees. Many employees, whether working remotely or in person, are subject to trackers, scores, “idle” buttons, or just quiet, constantly accumulating records. Pauses can lead to penalties, from lost pay to lost jobs.

Some radiologists see scoreboards showing their “inactivity” time and how their productivity stacks up against their colleagues’. At companies including J.P. Morgan, tracking how employees spend their days, from making phone calls to composing emails, has become routine practice. In Britain, Barclays Bank scrapped prodding messages to workers, like “Not enough time in the Zone yesterday,” after they caused an uproar. At UnitedHealth Group, low keyboard activity can affect compensation and sap bonuses. Public servants are tracked, too: In June, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority told engineers and other employees they could work remotely one day a week if they agreed to full-time productivity monitoring.

Architects, academic administrators, doctors, nursing home workers and lawyers described growing electronic surveillance over every minute of their workday. They echoed complaints that . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

The only way to combat this sort of surveillance is through the government — Congress can pass laws and regulations to restrict this sort of Orwellian nightmare. Read this interview with Zephyr Teachout. It begins:

Zephyr Teachout opens “The Boss Will See You Now,” her essay from the Review’s Summer Issue about the proliferation of surveillance at work, with an anecdote about working as a personal assistant to a wealthy writer. Teachout fondly remembers the cadre of three other full-time employees who worked alongside her, and their occasional lunches together spent gossiping and laughing. But, she cautions, “Our wages and raises were all unpredictable. Two of the staff relied on green cards. These circumstances, which had been the subject of so many conversations, suddenly became the source of insecurity. We gradually, then all at once, stopped having lunch together.” The paranoia Teachout identifies—the question of what employers know about their employees’ communications, and what they might do with it—is also, she elaborates, a method of alienating workers from one another.

Teachout is an attorney and organizer, a professor at Fordham Law School, and, as of January 2022, a special advisor and senior counsel for economic justice for the New York state attorney general’s office. This week I e-mailed her to ask about resisting surveillance regimes, enforcing labor law, and life on the stage.

Daniel Drake:
 I’m curious about the current legal status of surveillance at the workplace. You note that “nothing except for unionization or new laws would stop an employer from taking all the data it is gathering and…using them to more precisely adjust wages.” What kinds of protections, if any, do current laws offer employees, both against being surveilled in general and against the kind of capricious, tournament-style wage fixing you describe?

Zephyr Teachout: It’s a messy, weak, and unstable web of protections. At the state level, the common law tort of invasion of privacy usually doesn’t help, because courts typically find that employees have no reasonable expectation of privacy at work so long as the employer can give any semblance of a business justification for intrusion. A California court found that an employer using access to an e-mail account to investigate compensation claims clearly represented a privacy intrusion, but those wins are rare. Searches at any time are expected, and any use of work e-mail, phones, work social media, or other tools can be studied without permission. Some states have protections for public-sector workers. A handful of states forbid employers from demanding access to passwords, and others have placed limits on employers’ use of social media data. (While some states require consent before gathering some communications information, the typical power dynamic is such that employees will almost always agree.) There are no federal laws that meaningfully limit surveillance in the private sector, except that employers can’t spy on labor organizing activities.

What might effective enforcement of labor laws look like? Is union pressure a necessary component, or could the NLRB be pressured into pursuing companies that break the law?

Strong labor laws make it easier for workers to coordinate. Strong antimonopoly laws make it harder for capital to coordinate. We need better enforcement of both at every level, and we are starting to see that. I hope my essay shows that surveillance makes worker coordination and solidarity harder, and big data makes capital coordination easier, so the need for both pro-labor and antitrust laws is greater than ever before. At the same time, if we are going to have a public sphere, everybody has got to spy less, and that requires simple bans on data collection in many of the spheres we’ve allowed it to creep into. If we rely on consent-based models, the power dynamic won’t change—the power dynamic will lead to consent, and surveillance that has seemingly been ratified by the people being spied upon.

Something I appreciated about your essay was its emphasis on how worker solidarity is not just a useful tactic, but in fact one of the major pleasures (or consolations) of work. What do you think are the fundamental impediments to successful unionization drives and other methods of creating workplace solidarity? 

We are in a moment right now. Over two hundred Starbucks stores have  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 1:30 pm

7 charts that show the effects of overturning Roe v. Wade

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Saima May Sidik has a very interesting article in Nature, which begins:

In June, the US Supreme Court ruled that the constitution does not confer the right to an abortion. Now, 13 states have greatly restricted access to the procedure, and about a dozen more are expected to follow suit.

For a high-income country to take such a giant leap towards prohibiting what many people consider a basic human right is nearly unprecedented. Health researchers are scrambling to predict the effects of such changes. Most experts expect that abortions will continue to happen, but will be harder to obtain legally — sometimes requiring extensive travel — and could become less safe. Less certain are the long-term effects on abortion rates, public health and pregnant people’s economic prospects. “If people want me to extrapolate from prior evidence to what’s going on now, I don’t think there’s any comparable evidence,” says sociologist Jonathan Bearak at the Guttmacher Institute, a policy group in New York City focused on sexual and reproductive health rights.

As the United States hurtles into the unknown (see ‘Changing landscape’), evidence suggests that enacting abortion restrictions will create substantial burdens, both for people seeking abortions and for the clinics that continue to offer these procedures. . .

There’s more, including the seven charts. I’ll show two, with the introductory info.

Abortions won’t stop

Evidence from around the world suggests that restricting abortion doesn’t put an end to it. In fact, sometimes the opposite is true. Bearak and Bela Ganatra, a behavioural scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, and their colleagues compiled 2,415 data points, including survey results and health records, to estimate the number of unwanted pregnancies and the rate of abortions in 195 countries and territories around the world1. The analysis found that high-income countries where abortion is broadly legal have the lowest rates of abortion (see ‘Legality and reality’).

And one more of the seven charts:

Maternal deaths are likely to rise

When carried out safely, an abortion poses less risk to a person’s health than does carrying a baby to term. As a result of reduced access, the number of pregnancy-associated deaths is expected to rise.

In a preprint study8, Amanda Stevenson, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her colleagues modelled what would have happened in 2020 if no one had had access to abortions in 26 states that have imposed bans or are reasonably likely to do so in the future. The authors of the study made some assumptions: for example, that people who request abortions have the same age distribution as do those who have babies, and that the risk of maternal death is the same in people who have abortions as in those who don’t. With those and other limitations in mind, they estimated that if there had been no abortions in 2020, an additional 64 pregnant people would have died — an increase of 14% (see ‘Death rates rising’).

It’s worth reading the entire article to get an idea of how much damage Republicans have done in this area.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 11:53 am

Climate change and drought

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Update: Loire River runs dry.

This morning I read an article in the Boston Globe on the effects on Monterrey, Nuevo León, Mexico, from the drought there: people no water in their homes and businesses for a few days each week, with some not having had water for a month — and when the water does flow, the pressure can be too low to fill a tank to save water for future use. (The article might be behind a paywall. However, I was able to read it because the Globe just had a subscription offer of $1 for six months. It’s a very good paper, so I jumped at the opportunity to have it for six months, though I doubt I’ll renew at the full rate.)

From that article:

Faced with this situation, the government of Nuevo León announced that there would be water restrictions: Once a week we would not have water for a day. However, the cuts began to be more frequent.

Sometimes there is water only in the mornings, other times there is water all day, but sometimes two, three, four days can pass without water. This has been my experience, but there are people who have had to go up to a month without water in their homes. This has caused demonstrations where people have blocked avenues demanding water for their neighborhoods.

Most of the houses were not equipped with water tanks. People have purchased them, but sometimes it is hard to fill the tanks because there is not enough pressure or enough water on the days they have running water. So they have to buy water from water tankers to fill them because the government does not bring water to all the neighborhoods.

On days when there is water at home, we store it in buckets so we are prepared when there isn’t. We also buy bottles of water at the supermarket (in some stores you cannot buy more than a certain number of bottles).

When there is water, we take advantage of it to take a shower, wash dishes and clothes because we don’t know if there will be water in the following hours or days. We have to do everything we need to do with water because there is always the question of whether there will be any tomorrow. It is also important to mention that women are the ones who have carried out the most work during this situation because in most households in Mexico, women are in charge of the majority of the domestic labor and care activities. They have been forced to adjust their schedules and drop everything the minute they notice that water is available in order to perform those activities and collect water to store it for the rest of the day or the week.

One day, I posted on Facebook: “Has anyone around here had to call a water tanker? Do you have any situation in your home, neighborhood, or business that you consider to be more serious than the rest? Send me a message, please.”

I was surprised by the number of friends who answered. That afternoon I spent taking calls and messages. “I’ve been without water for a week”; “I had to move in with my parents who do have water”; “We have to pee in a single toilet, and wait until the end of the day to flush it because we can’t waste the little water we have”; “Everyone in my house had COVID-19, we had no water in the house, it was the worst week of our lives. I was sick, sweating and couldn’t wash my sheets.”

It is difficult to listen to these experiences and know that there are people who are having a worse time. I think of the houses where older adults or sick people live. It is also important to consider that not everybody has the means to buy water bottles, install a water tank system, or buy water from a water tanker.

The drought in Mexico is a bad sign for the American Southwest, already struggling with the drying up of the Colorado River, which affects agriculture and the lives of millions who dwell in cities in that region. Seven states are now working out what they will do when that water is no longer available.

And The Eldest point out an article in Sky News on how Europe is suffering the worst drought in 500 years. From the article:

The latest data from the European Drought Observatory (EDO) shows some 47% of the bloc’s territory under “warning” conditions, the second of three drought categories, during the 10 days leading to 30 July.

More worrying is the 17% of land that has moved into the most severe “alert” state, meaning not only is the soil drying out after low rain, but plants and crops are suffering too.

When water becomes scarce, not only are there food shortages (from crop failures and loss of livestock), but also people also must move away, so I expect there will be mass migrations from regions that lack water. That seems likely to lead to conflict.

The Great Famine in China under Mao resulted in millions dying (see this earlier post). The impact of climate change will almost certainly be worse.

It’s a great tragedy that humanity seems incapable of facing this on-coming crisis with constructive actions. (And “on-coming” is a bit of a misnomer: from the CO2 already added to the atmosphere, even if we discontinued today the use of all fossil fuels so that humans add no more CO2, conditions would still worsen for decades. The crisis has already happened; the effects will unfold over the coming decades.)

The best hope is a technology that would enable direct capture of CO2 from the atmosphere, and certainly people are working on that.

However, there are still a great many who deny that climate change is caused by human activity and who strongly resist any efforts to address climate change (because such efforts would be an admission that climate change is real)— the Republican party is a prime example. (I think in the case of Republicans, a stumbling block is that effectively addressing climate change requires large-scale group effort and almost certainly government leadership. That’s hard for Republicans to accept, since their philosophical outlook is that problems are solved through individual effort, heroic loners who require no help. In this view, help is for sissies. Republicans believe that problems should be addressed through competition, not cooperation. Libertarians take this attitude to an extreme, so that its failure is more immediately evident.)

Some states in the Southeast whose Atlantic coasts face ocean-level rise have passed laws to forbid the use of the words “climate change,” which seems a lot like magical thinking: “If we don’t say it aloud, it will not happen.” Examples: North Carolina and Miami (which already routinely sees sunny-day flooding). While such laws do show an effort to confront climate change, I do not see that that approach will be effective in addressing the problem, even in the relatively short term. It does, however, illustrate the first and most primitive psychological defense mechanism: denial.

Written by Leisureguy

15 August 2022 at 9:02 am

The Universe According to Frank Wilczek

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An interesting long read profiling an interesting person. Garbriel Popkin writes for the John Templeton Foundation:

When Frank Wilczek was a teenager in New York in the 1960s, he sometimes went shopping with his mother. In the store he noticed a brand of laundry detergent called “Axion.” Countless people had probably seen and used the product, but the precocious Wilczek was almost certainly the first to think it might offer a good name for an elementary particle. Wilczek seized the chance in 1978, when he realized that a potential solution to an unsolved problem in physics implied the existence of a never-before-seen particle. His proposed name: the “axion,” because it “cleaned up” the problem.

Wilczek had formidable competition. The venerable physicist Steven Weinberg, on the cusp of winning a Nobel Prize for other work, had postulated the new particle independently and suggested naming it the “Higglet.”

Wilczek won the friendly contest. But he didn’t yet know how much of a celebrity his particle would become. The axion soon became a leading candidate for dark matter, a mysterious substance that appears to pervade the universe in nearly six times the abundance of normal matter, yet is invisible, nearly undetectable, and now one of the greatest enigmas in modern physics. Physicists around the world, including Wilczek himself, are hunting it.

The anecdote also contains the elements of a singular career that has made Wilczek one of the most successful and influential physicists and physics communicators of the last 50 years: a hyperproductive creativity born of relentless curiosity and intellectual rigor, a nose for important problems that expand the horizons of human knowledge, a flare for communication and a lightness and humor that pervade everything he does.

It’s a formula Wilczek has used again and again to craft a career that has not only touched just about every major area of theoretical physics and launched a small armada of new specialties, but also reached and inspired millions of non-scientists through books, newspaper columns, collaborations with artists and public talks.

Wilczek, says Paul Davies, a physicist and director of Arizona State University’s Beyond Center, “is something of a legend in his own lifetime.”

An early triumph

Frank Wilczek is a curious, inventive and restless scientist. The curiosity and inventiveness have earned him a Nobel Prize, a MacArthur Fellowship, and now, the Templeton Prize. The restlessness has garnered, among other things, a bevy of far-flung positions and affiliations: MIT, Arizona State, Stockholm University and Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China. Only the pandemic managed—for a time, at least—to curb his ocean-hopping; he’s spent much of the past two years at home in Concord, Massachusetts, where, among other things, he’s taken up juggling.

Wilczek was born in 1951 in Mineola, New York and went to high school in Queens. He has described his upbringing as “lower middle class,” with parents who valued education and encouraged his interest in math and science, giving him plenty of toys and puzzles to play with. Early confirmation of intellectual gifts through standardized tests gave him confidence, he says. “Confidence is a very, very powerful tool for a scientist.”

He headed to the University of Chicago at 15 for undergrad, then arrived at Princeton in 1970 to study math. But he soon found his way to the research group of David Gross, a young, already well-known theoretical physicist. It was a heady time: Experiments had recently shown that the proton and neutron—long held to be fundamental building blocks of atoms—weren’t fundamental at all, but rather made of even smaller units called quarks. But physicists were baffled by why electrically charged quarks, which should powerfully repel each other at short distances, seemed to interact only weakly with each other at close range and remain bound together inside tiny sub-atomic particles.

Wilczek and Gross decided to attack the problem head on. Through what he calls “an arduous calculation” that brought in  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2022 at 9:47 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

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NPR has an informative report on the new 988 number to call for a mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide. Aneri Pattani reports:

When the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launched last month, many mental health providers, researchers and advocates celebrated. Although a national suicide hotline had existed for years, finally there was an easy-to-remember three-digit number for people to call, they said. The shorter number would serve as an alternative to 911 for mental health emergencies.

But not everyone felt the same way. Some advocates and people who had experiences with the mental health system took to social media to voice concerns about 988 and warn people not to call it.

One Instagram post said, “988 is not friendly. Don’t call it, don’t post it, don’t share it, without knowing the risks.” The post, which had garnered nearly a quarter of a million likes as of early August, went on to list the risks as police involvement, involuntary treatment at emergency rooms or psychiatric hospitals, and the emotional and financial toll of those experiences.

Other posts on Instagram and Twitter conveyed similar concerns, saying that the hotline sends law enforcement officers to check on people at risk of suicide without their consent and that people, especially from LGBTQ+ communities and communities of color, may be forced into treatment.

So is 988 a critical mental health resource or a cause for concern? We decided to dig into these questions, figure out how 988 works, and explain what you need to know before dialing.

Why are some people saying not to call 988?

We reached out to the creators of some of the social media posts to ask them directly.

Liz Winston, who authored the Instagram post calling 988 “not friendly,” said she wanted people to understand all the potential outcomes of calling so they wouldn’t be blindsided by the “traumatizing system” that she experienced.

Last summer, Winston was having suicidal thoughts and visited a hospital in New York. She hoped to speak with a psychiatrist but instead was involuntarily detained in the psychiatric wing of the emergency room. She said that she did not receive any counseling during the 24 hours she spent there and that the experience was “extremely traumatic.”

Winston hadn’t called the hotline [emphasis added – LG], but she said those who do can end up in a similar situation. It’s true that when police respond to calls about people in mental health crises, they often take them to an emergency room or psychiatric hospital.

“I realize there is an urge to rescue people in crisis, but the reality is the services that exist make the problem much, much worse,” said Winston, who works in mental health peer support and has started an online support group for people recovering from involuntary treatment.

Research shows suicide rates increase drastically in the months after people are discharged from psychiatric hospitals. Those who were sent involuntarily are more likely to attempt suicide than those who chose to go, and involuntary commitments can make young people less likely to disclose their suicidal feelings in the future. Some people also get stuck with large bills for treatment they didn’t want.

Emily Krebs, a suicide researcher and assistant professor joining Fordham University this fall, said that involuntary treatment is viewed as a necessary part of suicide prevention in the U.S., but that other countries don’t see it that way. The United Nations has called forced mental health treatment a human rights abuse and asked countries to ban it.

Like Winston, Krebs wanted people to be fully informed before deciding to call 988. That’s why she wrote on Twitter that 988 can and will “send police if they deem it necessary.”

That can be dangerous, she said, given that 1 in 5 fatal police shootings in 2019 involved a person with mental illness. Some years, the share has been even higher.

What does 988 say about how it handles crisis situations?

Officials from 988 say they recognize the risks of having law enforcement officers involved in mental health emergencies. That’s why 988 was created as an alternative to 911, said John Draper, executive director of the hotline and a vice president at Vibrant Emotional Health, the company tasked with administering it.

“We know the best way for a person to remain safe from harm is for them to be empowered and to choose to be safe from harm,” Draper said. Dispatching police is a last resort, he said.

Counselors who answer the phones or respond to texts and online chats for 988 are supposed to be trained to actively listen, discuss the callers’ concerns and wishes, and collaborate with them to find solutions. Most calls about suicide are de-escalated without law enforcement, Draper said. Instead, counselors talk through people’s reasons for dying and reasons for living; have callers connect with supportive family, friends, religious leaders or others in their community; refer callers to outpatient treatment; or set up follow-up calls with 988.

Only when the caller cannot or will not collaborate on a safety plan and the counselor feels the caller will harm themselves imminently should emergency services be called, according to the hotline’s policy.

At that point, Draper said, “we have the choice of just letting [harm] happen or doing whatever we can to keep them safe.”

In previous years, before the 988 number launched, emergency services were dispatched in 2% of the hotline’s interactions, the service reported. With about 2.4 million calls a year, that means emergency services were initiated for roughly 48,000 calls. Those services can be mobile crisis teams, consisting of people trained in mental health and de-escalation, but in many rural and suburban communities, it is often police.

Contrary to some information circulating on social media, 988 cannot geolocate callers, Draper said. When emergency services are called, 988 call centers share with 911 operators information they have about the location of the person who contacted the hotline — typically a caller’s phone number, with area code, or a chat user’s IP address — to help first responders find the individual.

Starting this fall, Draper said, 988 will update its policies to require supervisors to review all calls that result in the use of emergency services. Counselors for 988 nationwide will also receive additional training on the alternatives to involving law enforcement and the consequences callers can face when police respond.

So should I use 988 or not?

We know it’s not satisfying, but the honest answer is: It depends.

The 988 hotline is the nation’s most comprehensive mental health crisis service and can provide crucial help to those in emotional distress. If you’re thinking about suicide but not taking steps to act on it, 988 is unlikely to call law enforcement without your consent. Instead, 988 counselors can provide resources, referrals and a kind ear. However, if you’re at imminent risk and could act on a plan to kill yourself, police may be called, and you could be taken to a hospital involuntarily.

Sonyia Richardson, a licensed clinical social worker who owns a counseling agency that serves mostly Black and brown clients in Charlotte, N.C., said she didn’t immediately tell her clients about 988 when it launched. Even though she’s a member of her state’s 988 planning committee, she said she needed time to develop trust in the service herself. When she learned at a recent committee meeting that fewer than 5% of 988 calls in North Carolina led to a law enforcement response, she felt reassured. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

14 August 2022 at 8:43 am

87 years of Social Security

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Heather Cox Richardson:

Since it seems clear we will be deciding whether we want to preserve the Social Security Act by our choice of leaders in the next few elections, I thought it not unreasonable to reprint this piece from last year about why people in the 1930s thought the measure was imperative. There is more news about the classified material at Mar-a-Lago, but nothing that can’t wait another day so I can catch this anniversary.

By the time most of you will read this, it will be August 14, and on this day in 1935, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law. While FDR’s New Deal had put in place new measures to regulate business and banking and had provided temporary work relief to combat the Depression, this law permanently changed the nature of the American government.

The Social Security Act is known for its payments to older Americans, but it did far more than that. It established unemployment insurance; aid to homeless, dependent, and neglected children; funds to promote maternal and child welfare; and public health services. It was a sweeping reworking of the relationship between the government and its citizens, using the power of taxation to pool funds to provide a basic social safety net.

The driving force behind the law was FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins. She was the first woman to hold a position in the U.S. Cabinet and still holds the record for having the longest tenure in that job: she lasted from 1933 to 1945.

She brought to the position a vision of government very different from that of the Republicans who had run it in the 1920s. While men like President Herbert Hoover had harped on the idea of a “rugged individualism” in which men worked their way up, providing for their families on their own, Perkins recognized that people in communities had always supported each other. The vision of a hardworking man supporting his wife and children was more myth than reality: her own husband suffered from bipolar disorder, making her the family’s primary support.

As a child, Perkins spent summers with her grandmother, with whom she was very close, in the small town of Newcastle, Maine, where the old-fashioned, close-knit community supported those in need. In college, at Mount Holyoke, she majored in chemistry and physics, but after a professor required students to tour a factory to observe working conditions, Perkins became committed to improving the lives of those trapped in industrial jobs. After college, Perkins became a social worker and, in 1910, earned a masters degree in economics and sociology from Columbia University. She became the head of the New York office of the National Consumers League, urging consumers to use their buying power to demand better conditions and wages for the workers who made the products they were buying.

The next year, in 1911, she witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in which 146 workers, mostly women and girls, died. They were trapped in the building when the fire broke out because the factory owner had ordered the doors to the stairwells and exits locked to make sure no one slipped outside for a break. Unable to escape the smoke and fire in the factory, the workers—some of them on fire—leaped from the 8th, 9th, and 10th floors of the building, dying on the pavement.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Fire turned Perkins away from voluntary organizations to improve workers’ lives and toward using the government to adjust the harsh conditions of industrialization. She began to work with the Democratic politicians at Tammany Hall, who presided over communities in the city that mirrored rural towns and who exercised a form of social welfare for their voters, making sure they had jobs, food, and shelter and that wives and children had a support network if a husband and father died. In that system, the voices of women like Perkins were valuable, for their work in the immigrant wards of the city meant that they were the ones who knew what working families needed to survive.

The overwhelming unemployment, hunger, and suffering caused by the Great Depression made Perkins realize that state governments alone could not adjust the conditions of the modern world to create a safe, supportive community for ordinary people. She came to believe, as she said: “The people are what matter to government, and a government should aim to give all the people under its jurisdiction the best possible life.”

Through her Tammany connections, Perkins met FDR, and when he asked her to be his Secretary of Labor, she told him that she wanted the federal government to provide unemployment insurance, health insurance, and old-age insurance. She later recalled: “I remember he looked so startled, and he said, ‘Well, do you think it can be done?’”

Creating federal unemployment insurance became her primary concern. Congressmen had little interest in passing such legislation. They said they worried that unemployment insurance and federal aid to dependent families would undermine a man’s willingness to work. But Perkins recognized that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

13 August 2022 at 10:18 pm

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