Later On

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Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

And the flood gates open: US Covid-19 deaths jump — UPDATE: False alarm.

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Apparently it doesn’t work to simply deny that Covid-19 is a problem. The denial does allow the US not to address the problem, particularly in states that still believe President Trump and his minions like Mike Pence, but that denial has a price:

Kevin Drum updated the chart to remove the jump. He notes:

UPDATE: I originally showed a sharp uptick in deaths, but it turns out this was because New Jersey reported a whole bunch of “probable” deaths all at once on June 25, which caused the spike. I’ve now corrected for that and the chart shows roughly the same plateau that we’ve had for the past few days.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 June 2020 at 9:57 am

Weeks after PTSD settlement, Facebook moderators ordered to spend more time viewing online child abuse

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Sam Biddle reports in The Intercept:

WITH THE INK still drying on their landmark $52 million settlement with Facebook over trauma they suffered working for the company, many outsourced content moderators are now being told that they must view some of the most horrific and disturbing content on the internet for an extra 48 minutes per day, The Intercept has learned.

Following an unprecedented 2018 lawsuit by ex-Facebook content moderator Selena Scola, who said her daily exposure to depictions of rape, murder, and other gruesome acts caused her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder, Facebook agreed in early May to a $52 million settlement, paid out with $1,000 individual minimums to current and former contractors employed by outsourcing firms like Accenture. Following news of the settlement, Facebook spokesperson Drew Pusateri issued a statement reading, “We are grateful to the people who do this important work to make Facebook a safe environment for everyone. We’re committed to providing them additional support through this settlement and in the future.”

Less than a month after this breakthrough, however, Accenture management informed moderation teams that it had renegotiated its contract with Facebook, affecting at least hundreds of North American content workers who would now have to increase their exposure to exactly the sort of extreme content at the heart of the settlement, according to internal company communications reviewed by The Intercept and interviews with multiple affected workers.

The new hours were announced at the tail end of May and beginning of June via emails sent by Accenture management to the firm’s content moderation teams, including those responsible for reviewing Child Exploitation Imagery, or CEI, generally graphic depictions of sexually abused children, and Inappropriate Interactions with Children, or IIC, typically conversations in which adults message minors in an attempt to “groom” them for later sexual abuse or exchange sexually explicit images. The Intercept reviewed multiple versions of this email, apparently based off a template created by Accenture. It refers to the new contract between the two companies as the “Golden SoW,” short for “Statement of Work,” and its wording strongly suggests that stipulations in the renewed contract led to 48-minute increases in the so-called “Safety flows” that handle Facebook posts containing depictions of child abuse.

“For the past year or so, our Safety flows (CEI,IIC) as well as GT have been asked to be productive for 5.5 hours of their day,” reads one email reviewed by The Intercept, referring to “Ground Truth,” a team of outsourced humans tasked with helping train Facebook’s moderation algorithms. “Over the last few weeks the golden sow, Accenture’s contractual agreement with Facebook, was signed. In the contract, it discussed production time and the standard that all agents will be held to.” Accenture moderators, the email continues, “will need to spend 6.3 hours of their day actively in production” — meaning an extra 48 minutes per day viewing the arguably most disturbing possible content found on the internet.

The email then notes that Accenture is “aligning to our global partners as well as our partners in MVW,” a likely reference to Mountain View, California, where, the email suggests, moderators were already viewing such content for 6.3 hours per day. It is understood, the email said, that there could be “one offs every now and then when you are unable to meet the daily expectation of 6.3″ hours of exposure, but warned against letting it become a pattern.

Pusateri, the Facebook spokesperson, told The Intercept, “We haven’t increased guidance for production hours with any of our partners,” but did not respond to questions about Accenture’s announcement itself. Accenture spokesperson Sean Conway said only that they had not been instructed to enact any change by Facebook, but would not elaborate or provide an explanation for the internal announcement.

Not only does the increase in child pornography exposure seemingly run afoul of Facebook’s public assurances that it will be “providing [moderators] additional support through this settlement and in the future,” it contradicts research into moderator trauma commissioned by the company itself. A 2015 report from Technology Coalition, an anti-online child exploitation consortium co-founded by Facebook and cited in Scola’s lawsuit, found that “limiting the amount of time employees are exposed to [child sexual abuse material] is key” if employee trauma is to be avoided. “Strong consideration should be given to making select elements of the program (such as counseling) mandatory for exposed employees,” the paper also noted. “This removes any stigma for employees who want to seek help and can increase employee awareness of the subtle, cumulative effects that regular exposure may produce.” The Accenture announcement, however, appears to fall well short of mandatory counseling: “Agents are free to seek out wellness coaches when needed,” the email states. A request for comment sent to Technology Coalition was not returned.

Accenture’s “wellness” program is a contentious issue for Facebook moderators, many of whom say such quasi-therapy is a shoddy stand-in for genuine psychological counseling, despite the best intentions of the “coaches” themselves. Last August,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

FWIW, I make a small monthly contribution to The Intercept.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 11:08 am

Deaths of despair

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Joshua Cohen talks to Angus Deaton in the Boston Review:

Angus Deaton, Dwight D. Eisenhower Professor of Economics and International Affairs Emeritus at Princeton University, has been widely recognized for his work on capitalism and inequality. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 2015 for “his analysis of consumption, poverty, and welfare,” the British American scholar was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II the following year for “for his services to research in economics and international affairs.” In the mid 2010s, he and economist Anne Case turned their attention to what seemed to be a startling trend: the reversal of declines in mortality rates for white working-class Americans in middle age. That research culminated in the March 2020 publication of their book Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. Last month, Boston Review editor Joshua Cohen spoke with Deaton about this new work—the narrowing economic horizons for the U. S. working class, the relationship between culture, financial hardship, and health, and prospects for change.


Joshua Cohen: In mid-March you and Anne Case published Deaths of Despair. As the book appeared, much of the country was shutting down because of COVID-19. But the book is about a terrible problem that significantly predates COVID-19, will almost certainly outlive COVID-19, and in all likelihood will be made worse by COVID-19. We’ll come back to the COVID-19 connection at the very end, but I want to focus the conversation on the terrible problem that the book identifies. What were the initial reasons that led you to what you call “deaths of despair”?

Angus Deaton: Like many things that surprise you, you fall over it accidentally. We were working together on suicide, and discovered a remarkable increase in suicides among white non-Hispanics in midlife. We were going to present that at a conference, and it seemed like a good idea to put it in the context of all-cause mortality.

When we pulled that data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we were astonished to find that the long-term decline in mortality in the twentieth century for all racial groups—a trend I’d written about for my previous book, The Great Escape (2013)—had stalled or reversed for white non-Hispanics in midlife. That seemed extraordinary. I should note that African Americans, who have historically had higher all-cause mortality rates, and indeed still do, were making real progress in terms of falling mortality rates.

At the same time, Anne was working on pain—she suffers from very severe lower back pain herself—and she knew there’d been an increase in pain and other morbidity in the same group. And we saw very quickly that this was happening to both men and women, and, most importantly, that this decline was only happening to white people who didn’t have college degrees. Those of us with at least a bachelor’s degree, the educational elite, were somehow exempted from these horrors.

So first we wrote about it in a 2015 paper. When we saw the rise or cessation of fall in all-cause mortality rates, we did what seems like a reasonable thing: we looked at what other things were rising really rapidly and found three that Anne later christened “deaths of despair”: suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholic liver disease. What we got wrong at the time—as Jon Skinner and Ellen Meara picked up very quickly—was that even the rapid rise in these three things could not account for the increase in all-cause mortality. Deaths from heart disease, which had been falling rapidly in the last quarter of the twentieth century, had stopped declining. Lots of people die from heart disease; adding that to the deaths of despair that were going up very fast accounted for the all-cause mortality rates. We had missed that.

We also missed—and the book is clear about this—that these deaths of despair are getting worse not just for white people in middle age (45–55 years old), but for younger people as well. When we wrote in 2015, it was also too early to see the increase in drug overdose among African Americans once fentanyl reached the inner cities after 2013.

JC: In the book you focus on these deaths of despair: 158,000 in 2018, about 100,000 of which are above and beyond what we would normally expect, an excess that is almost entirely among white non-Hispanic men and women without a college degree. The category covers three different causes of death: alcohol, opioids, and suicide. Could you talk about why you group them together?

AD: Initially, “deaths of despair” was a label of convenience. It helped express the sense that these deaths were sort of caused by your own hand—unlike COVID-19, say. We had this sense that you have to look at what’s happening to people in their lives, rather than some fault in the medical systems. Anne thought up that term in an interview, I think. And that led us back to Durkheim, whose thinking about suicide proved very useful and provided some intellectual framework—not something that economists are brought up on.

JC: Yes, it’s not exactly a common American Economic Review reference, but it’s important. To what extent is this fundamentally an opioids issue, rather than an issue of alcohol and suicide as well?

AD: Some have taken the position that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 May 2020 at 3:21 pm

The rightwing groups behind wave of protests against Covid-19 restrictions

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Jason Wilson reports in the Guardian:

A wave of planned anti-lockdown demonstrations that have broken out around the country to protest against the efforts of state governments to combat the coronavirus pandemic with business closures and stay-at-home orders have included far-right groups as well as more mainstream Republicans.

While protesters in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and other states claim to speak for ordinary citizens, many are also supported by street-fighting rightwing groups like the Proud Boys, conservative armed militia groups, religious fundamentalists, anti-vaccination groups and other elements of the radical right.

On Wednesday in Lansing, Michigan, a protest put together by two Republican-connected not-for-profits was explicitly devised to cause gridlock in the city, and for a time blocked the entrance to a local hospital.

It was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition, which Michigan state corporate filings show has also operated under the name of Michigan Trump Republicans. It was also heavily promoted by the Michigan Freedom Fund, a group linked to the Trump cabinet member Betsy DeVos.

But the protest also attracted far-right protest groups who have been present at pro-Trump and gun rights rallies in Michigan throughout the Trump presidency.

Placards identified the Michigan Proud Boys as participants in the vehicle convoy. Near the state house, local radio interviewed a man who identified himself as “Phil Odinson”.

In fact the man is Phil Robinson, the prime mover in a group called the Michigan Liberty Militia, whose Facebook page features pictures of firearms, warnings of civil war, celebrations of Norse paganism and memes ultimately sourced from white nationalist groups like Patriot Front.

The pattern of rightwing not-for-profits promoting public protests while still more radical groups use lockdown resistance as a platform for extreme rightwing causes looks set to continue in events advertised in other states over coming days.

In Idaho on Friday, protesters plan to gather at the capitol building in Boise to protest anti-virus restrictions put in place by the Republican governor, Brad Little.

The protest has been heavily promoted by the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF), which counts among its donors “dark money” funds linked to the Koch brothers such as Donors Capital Fund, and Castle Rock, a foundation seeded with part of the fortune of Adolph Coors, the right-wing beer magnate.

IFF have added their slogan for the event, “Disobey Idaho”, to stickers which they plan to distribute among the crowd.

The event is also being promoted on a website dedicated to attacking Little for his response to Covid-19. That website was set up by the Idaho businessman, pastor and one-time Republican state senate candidate, Diego Rodriguez.

Rodriguez launched the website at an Easter service held in defiance of the governor’s orders on Easter Sunday, which was also addressed by Ammon Bundy, the leader of the militia occupation of the Malheur national wildlife refuge in 2016 that become a rallying point for the anti-government right in the US.

Bundy has been holding similar gatherings for weeks in Emmett, Idaho, where he now lives. On Sunday, he . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2020 at 2:37 pm

Virginia pastor who defiantly held church service dies of coronavirus

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Lee Brown reports in the NY Post:

An evangelical pastor died of COVID-19 just weeks after proudly showing off how packed his Virginia church was — and vowing to keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.”

In his last known in-person service on March 22, Bishop Gerald O. Glenn got his congregation at Richmond’s New Deliverance Evangelistic Church to stand to prove how many were there despite warnings against gatherings of more than 10 people.

“I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus. You can quote me on that,” he said, repeating it a second time to claps, saying that “people are healed” in his church.

Happily announcing he was being “controversial” by being “in violation” of safety protocols — with “way more than 10 people” at the church — he vowed to keep his church open “unless I’m in jail or the hospital.”

“I am essential,” he said of remaining open, adding, “I’m a preacher — I talk to God!”

On Sunday, his church announced “with an exceedingly sorrowful and heavy heart” that the pastor had died a week after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

His wife, Marcietia Glenn, is also sick with the bug, with church members offering their prayers.

Their daughter, Mar-Gerie Crawley, told WTVR that her father initially dismissed his symptoms because he has a condition that often leads to fevers and infections.

She is now urging everyone to stay home.

“It becomes very real to you,” she told WTVR after her parents’ diagnoses. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2020 at 9:14 am

Trump didn’t suspend China flights. The airlines did.

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2020 at 6:31 pm

What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis

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Grim but accurate. Jennifer Senior writes in the NY Times:

Since the early days of the Trump administration, an impassioned group of mental health professionals have warned the public about the president’s cramped and disordered mind, a darkened attic of fluttering bats. Their assessments have been controversial. The American Psychiatric Association’s code of ethics expressly forbids its members from diagnosing a public figure from afar.

Enough is enough. As I’ve argued before, an in-person analysis of Donald J. Trump would not reveal any hidden depths — his internal sonar could barely fathom the bottom of a sink — and these are exceptional, urgent times. Back in October, George T. Conway III, the conservative lawyer and husband of Kellyanne, wrote a long, devastating essay for The Atlantic, noting that Trump has all the hallmarks of narcissistic personality disorder. That disorder was dangerous enough during times of prosperity, jeopardizing the moral and institutional foundations of our country.

But now we’re in the midst of a global pandemic. The president’s pathology is endangering not just institutions, but lives.

Let’s start with the basics. First: Narcissistic personalities like Trump harbor skyscraping delusions about their own capabilities. They exaggerate their accomplishments, focus obsessively on projecting power, and wish desperately to win.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump says we’ve got plenty of tests available, when we don’t. He declares that Google is building a comprehensive drive-thru testing website, when it isn’t. He sends a Navy hospital ship to New York and it proves little more than an excuse for a campaign commercial, arriving and sitting almost empty in the Hudson. A New York hospital executive calls it a joke.

Second: The grandiosity of narcissistic personalities belies an extreme fragility, their egos as delicate as foam. They live in terror of being upstaged. They’re too thin skinned to be told they’re wrong.

What that means, during this pandemic: Narcissistic leaders never have, as Trump likes to say, the best people. They have galleries of sycophants. With the exceptions of Drs. Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Trump has surrounded himself with a Z-team of dangerously inexperienced toadies and flunkies — the bargain-bin rejects from Filene’s Basement — at a time when we require the brightest and most imaginative minds in the country.

Faced with a historic public health crisis, Trump could have assembled a first-rate company of disaster preparedness experts. Instead he gave the job to his son-in-law, a man-child of breathtaking vapidity. Faced with a historic economic crisis, Trump could have assembled a team of Nobel-prize winning economists or previous treasury secretaries. Instead he talks to Larry Kudlow, a former CNBC host.

Meanwhile, Fauci and Birx measure every word they say like old-time apothecaries, hoping not to humiliate the narcissist — never humiliate a narcissist — while discreetly correcting his false hopes and falsehoods. They are desperately attempting to create a safe space for our president, when the president should be creating a safer nation for all of us.

Third: Narcissistic personalities love nothing more than engineering conflict and sowing division. It destabilizes everyone, keeps them in control.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is pitting state against state for precious resources, rather than coordinating a national response. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2020 at 7:54 pm

Religious pigheadedness

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Kevin Drum notes:

Italy’s disastrous coronavirus epidemic was kicked off by a soccer match in Bergamo that authorities decided not to cancel. In South Korea it was meetings of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. In Spain it was—again—soccer matches, which weren’t shut down until mid-March. In Louisiana it was Mardi Gras. In Florida it was spring break. In France it was a five-day gathering of the Christian Open Door church. So count me as disgusted by this:

At any other time, in a predominantly Christian nation that enshrines freedom of worship in the Constitution, the news would sound absurd or terrifying: “Pastor arrested after holding church services.” But that’s what happened this week when sheriff’s deputies handcuffed a Tampa, Fla., minister for violating municipal stay-at-home orders by gathering hundreds to worship….Brown, now out on bail, has complained of “religious bigotry.”

….In Louisiana, police issued a summons Tuesday to the pastor of Life Tabernacle Church in Central, La., near Baton Rouge, after he held services for 1,200 people in violation of state limits. “Never been more proud to be persecuted for the faith like my savior,” the Rev. Tony Spell shot back.

…R.R. Reno, editor of First Things, a prominent conservative Christian magazine, recently said in an article that politicians have been correct to put forth “stern measures to slow the spread of the virus.” But he added that churches should stay open. “When we worship, we join the Christian rebellion against the false lordship of the principalities and powers that claim to rule our lives, including sickness and death,” Reno wrote this month.

Idiots. I won’t pretend to offer Biblical advice to these guys, but at the very least they should care about . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 April 2020 at 12:03 pm

Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure

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Aisah S. Ahmad writes in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Among my academic colleagues and friends, I have observed a common response to the continuing Covid-19 crisis. They are fighting valiantly for a sense of normalcy — hustling to move courses online, maintaining strict writing schedules, creating Montessori schools at their kitchen tables. They hope to buckle down for a short stint until things get back to normal. I wish anyone who pursues that path the very best of luck and health.

Yet as someone who has experience with crises around the world, what I see behind this scramble for productivity is a perilous assumption. The answer to the question everyone is asking — “When will this be over?” — is simple and obvious, yet terribly hard to accept. The answer is never.

Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened. And so, while it may feel good in the moment, it is foolish to dive into a frenzy of activity or obsess about your scholarly productivity right now. That is denial and delusion. The emotionally and spiritually sane response is to prepare to be forever changed.

The rest of this piece is an offering. I have been asked by my colleagues around the world to share my experiences of adapting to conditions of crisis. Of course, I am just a human, struggling like everyone else to adjust to the pandemic. However, I have worked and lived under conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. I have experienced food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement. I have conducted award-winning research under intensely difficult physical and psychological conditions, and I celebrate productivity and performance in my own scholarly career.

I share the following thoughts during this difficult time in the hope that they will help other academics to adapt to hardship conditions. Take what you need, and leave the rest.

Stage No. 1: Security

Your first few days and weeks in a crisis are crucial, and you should make ample room to allow for a mental adjustment. It is perfectly normal and appropriate to feel bad and lost during this initial transition. Consider it a good thing that you are not in denial, and that you are allowing yourself to work through the anxiety. No sane person feels good during a global disaster, so be grateful for the discomfort of your sanity. At this stage, I would focus on food, family, friends, and maybe fitness. (You will not become an Olympic athlete in the next two weeks, so don’t put ridiculous expectations on your body.)

Next, ignore everyone who is posting productivity porn on social media right now. It is OK that you keep waking up at 3 a.m. It is OK that you forgot to eat lunch and cannot do a Zoom yoga class. It is OK that you have not touched that revise-and-resubmit in three weeks.

Ignore the people who are posting that they are writing papers and the people who are complaining that they cannot write papers. They are on their own journey. Cut out the noise.

Know that you are not . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 March 2020 at 9:20 am

A Complete Guide To Actually Getting Somewhere With Meditation

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David at Raptitude has an interesting and useful introductory guide to meditation. It’s well worth reading. It begins:

It seems as though we’ve entered the “What do I do with myself?” phase of social distancing. Over the last week or two, several billion daily routines essentially evaporated, and now each of us has to make a new one. Indoors.

The wonderful comments from last week’s post offer a glimpse into the still-forming routines of more than 500 people. A major theme is getting back to things that ground us and keep us present: reading, arts and crafts, phoning old friends, yoga, baking, and meditation.

Basically, everyone’s trying to stay healthy, sane, connected, and as helpful as they can be from home. My hope is that we’ll come out of this experience changed in exactly those ways: some degree healthier, saner, more connected and more helpful.

Not everyone has more time these days, but with everything closed, we have fewer ways to spend it. So it’s a good time to dive into home-based pursuits that make us healthier and more resilient. As one person put it, “It’s bad time for many things, but it’s a good time to read the classics, bake bread, and learn to meditate.”

I can’t help anyone with their baking goals, but I can definitely help anyone who wants to use this time to become a meditator. Given my platform and my particular skills, perhaps the most useful thing I can do for our species right now is to help some of its members finally get somewhere with meditation.

After all, it can be learned without leaving the house, it requires no equipment, and its benefits are especially pertinent right now: the ability to cultivate calm, focus, and emotional resilience in the midst of uncertainty. It can help people work better from home, and sleep better at night.

Meditation is also something you can do now — today, despite all the current restrictions on normal life ­­– that will begin moving you towards a place of less anxiety and more clarity of mind.

Making Meditation Click

I say “get somewhere” with meditation because, while most aspiring meditators do experience some benefit, most probably don’t experience the life-changing level of calm and focus meditation is known for.

They may continue to do meditate a little, and get something out of it, but it never becomes transformative. It doesn’t have the profound quality-of-life benefits they probably hoped for when they started. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Note later in the post the free small course in Three-Minute Mindfulness.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 March 2020 at 11:02 am

Great list of ideas for being home with kids

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The list begins:

  • Have each kid pick a topic they’d like to learn about and spend 30 mins each day on that topic
  • Spend one day reading every single picture book we have in the house
  • Go through all the old mail laying around (ok, that one’s not for kids although they do enjoy helping tear stuff up)
  • Bake something every day
  • Have each kid write a letter and/or emails to a different friend or family member each day
  • Use all of our building toys on one giant structure
  • Wash our hands!!!!
  • Races of various kinds in the backyard (hopping on one foot, crabwalk, walking backwards, etc.)
  • Try stop motion animation with playdough
  • Facetime grandparents a lot
  • . . .

Continue reading — many more items in the list. It fails to include:

  • Get two short lengths of light rope and learn to tie a variety of knots using (say) YouTube — cf. the Zeppelin Bend. It’s always good to know how to tie knots.
  • Learn Esperanto with your children.
  • Use to send emails to your future self about what it’s like the day you write and/or your predictions about the near-term future. You can pick any future day you want on which to receive the email — try 3 months from now, or 6 months from now.
  • Learn how to force checkmate with only Bishop and Knight as the remaining pieces.


Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 7:29 am

How to Not Let the Coronavirus Steal Your Mental Health While You’re At Home

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This is good information in these troubled times. It begins:

by Kara Bowman, MFT, CT, CCTP, C-GC

We are fortunate to be going through this pandemic in the age of electronic communication that provides us with information, connection, productivity and entertainment. We are equally fortunate that we have decades of psychological research to guide us in getting through an experience of isolation in a way that will stave off depression and anxiety while helping us grow and thrive.

My county was one of the first in the country to adopt a legal Shelter in Place order. Residents are not to leave their homes other than for essential activities or to be in nature six feet apart from anyone from another household. As a mental health professional, I would like to share some tips about how to be physically isolated without letting it take a mental toll.

Create Structure:  Make a schedule each day and keep to it. You may want to vary it on the weekends or different days for variety. If you don’t consciously fill your time, your time will fill up for you. Listen to podcasts, watch videos, read, exercise, talk to friends, work on a project, create art, listen to music, dance, play games, cook, take a bath or do whatever you’re going to feel good about at the end of the day. Just be proactive, rather than reactive.

Get Physical: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

In the “Learn something” category, let me point out Duolingo also offers Esperanto lessons. But seems particularly good.

Esperanto is useful because even young children find it easy to learn (and it will help them if they later learn another non-English language) — and perhaps it can serve as a family “secret language” in the future. 🙂

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2020 at 6:35 am

Inside the Pro-Trump Facebook Group Where First Responders Call Coronavirus a Hoax

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Isaac Arnsdorf reports in ProPublica:

In a 27,000-member private Facebook group for first responders who support President Donald Trump, firefighters and paramedics have posted thousands of comments in recent weeks downplaying the coronavirus pandemic that they are responsible for helping to handle.

Posts in the group, which is called IAFF Union Firefighters for Trump and has been endorsed by Trump, scoffed at the seriousness of the virus, echoing false assertions by Trump and his allies comparing it to the seasonal flu. “Every election year has a disease,” read one meme, purporting to be written on a doctor’s office whiteboard. “This is a viral-pneumonia being hyped as The Black Plague before an election.”

As of Monday, there were 4,464 cases and 78 deaths in the U.S., according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

As confirmed cases and deaths expanded and officials began shutting down mass gatherings and public places, the posts intensified their attacks on Democrats and the media. “I believe this is all by design,” wrote a Texas firefighter whose identity was corroborated by ProPublica. “Democrats have wanted to slow down and even kill the economy. It’s the only hope they have of beating Trump. Sad and disgusting the depths of shit the Democrats will descend to in order to gain power.”

Posts containing factual information or firsthand experiences with the virus were met with more accusations of plots to harm Trump’s reelection. When a Florida firefighter said action was required now to prevent a crisis like is currently underway in Italy, where 27,980 have been infected and 2,158 have died, because the virus spreads at an exponential rate, the first reply was poop emojis and “Trump2020.”

Some comments promoted a baseless conspiracy theory that the virus is a biological weapon developed by the Chinese in collaboration with Democrats.

“By the Chinese to stop the riots in Hong Kong,” one member wrote.

“[Y]ou are absolutely correct,” another replied. “I said that in the beginning. Democrats saw an opportunity to use it against Trump and get rid of older people which they have been trying to do for a while.”

Commenters contacted by ProPublica declined to answer questions or didn’t respond to messages. ProPublica reviewed hundreds of screenshots provided by co-workers of members of the group who asked to be anonymous, fearing retaliation. Those people said the social media posts are not idle online venting — they reflect real-world attitudes that are leading some first responders to potentially shun special plans and protective equipment. That dismissiveness, the people said, could put first responders and others at risk as they attend to emergency calls with potentially infected people. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 March 2020 at 2:38 pm

“I Quit Smoking After Many Failed Attempts”

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I would say “practice attempts” rather than “failed attempts,” but in any even the Medium story Felix Wankel writes about what he discovered is worth reading — and applying. He begins:

In 2018, I was working at an office on the 4th floor. I took the stairs for the first time on the day the elevator broke down. Until that moment, I didn’t know my lungs were not capable of climbing stairs, even to the 4th floor. I was out of breath and almost started to sweat when I finally sit at my table. I thought about how my life will be like in 10 years while waiting for my breath to get back to normal. I imagined myself covered in tubes and wires lying in a hospital bed, maybe I’ll not be able to speak properly, even thinking about it was terrifying. On that day, thanks to the elevator, I decided to quit smoking.

After quick research on the internet, I found Allen Carr’s famous method. There were hundreds of people saying that they finally quit smoking by following his advice despite their previous unsuccessful attempts. Comments on the internet were convincing, I decided to give it a try. The method helped me to understand the addiction, also clearly showed me that biases and fears play an important role as well as the physical effects of nicotine. It worked for me but didn’t last long, I found myself smoking a cigarette after 4 days. But I didn’t see it as a failure, not smoking for 4 days was a record for me. I tried to quit several more times by the same method but the results didn’t change, I kept smoking after short periods.

I was determined to quit so I continued my research for alternative techniques and read a couple of books that focus on addiction in general. Among various other suggestions, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2020 at 5:37 pm

Tips for the Depressed

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Though in fact, the tips offered seem to me to be good for anyone. n+1 has an excerpt from George Scialabba’s How to Be Depressed, out this month from the University of Pennsylvania Press. It begins:

THE PHENOMENOLOGY of depression is endlessly varied. Some of these tips may be useful to many readers; some to a few; some to none at all. If any of them helps lighten anyone’s suffering by a grain, it will be worth the effort. There is no authority behind any of these suggestions beyond my own long experience of depression and what I’ve gathered from reading about others’. I don’t think any of them are risky, but if you have any doubts, talk them over with partners, friends, caregivers, or fellow sufferers.

Waking Up

FOR MANY DEPRESSED PEOPLE—for me when depressed—waking up is the worst moment of the day. Emerging from unconsciousness, you are completely undefended. Sometimes there’s an instant of blankness and you wonder: is it gone, am I free? Then the horror seeps or surges back. Whatever strength you’ve gathered during sleep just seems to have amplified it. You’ve recharged the battery, but the static is louder than ever.

I don’t know what you can do about this, except be prepared for it. And see “Sleep” below.

Getting Out of Bed

A HIDEOUS ORDEAL. Probably the best way is to have an obnoxiously loud alarm clock on the other side of the room. It should have a “snooze” button, in case you crawl back into bed, as you probably will. At some point, perhaps after the third or fourth snooze, try to slip into the bathroom and splash cold water on your face.

You’ll know you’ve decided to stay up when you start shaking all over. Maybe you won’t, but I do. Just one semi-voluntary spasm after another for anything from five minutes to an hour. Take deep breaths, stretch, splash more cold water.

Years ago, somewhere or other, I read this advice: “The most important thing a depressed person can do is: Get dressed!” Curiously, it helps. Lying in bed seems like a natural response to agonizing pain, but usually the pain just gets worse. Maybe the few minutes it takes to make the bed, wash up, and put on clothes are enough to break some deadly mental circuit. Try.

Getting from One Room to Another

USUALLY CANNOT BE DONE with dignity. You will lurch, shuffle, careen. Your head will hang down, your shoulders hunch, you will be a slumping shambles. And when you get to the next room, you will discover that you forgot something you need in the room you just left.

How to Keep Your House from Becoming a Disaster Area

THIS IS STRAIGHTFORWARD: you pay someone to do it. Otherwise, forget it. After a while, depression is exhausting beyond words. Vacuuming, dusting, laundry, changing the sheets, washing the dishes, cooking, shopping—together these are as hard as running the Boston Marathon would be for the average out-of-shape non-depressed person. You will forget things, lose things, drop things, spill things, break things, run into things. Don’t be mad at yourself—remember, you’re being invisibly, silently, savagely tortured. You have a perfect right to let things go a bit.


DON’T DEHYDRATE. Drink plenty of water, on a regular schedule. Don’t wait till you’re thirsty. Your urine should be pale, not vividly colored.

For some reason, being depressed burns up a lot of energy. Of course there’s no output—you don’t achieve anything—but your metabolism is racing. And you cry. Not enough water and you become slightly feverish and groggy. It’s very unpleasant, and it’s unnecessary. Fill three or four water bottles at the beginning of the day and put them around your house or workplace, where you can’t miss them. In cold weather, make yourself a lot of tea.


EVERYTHING IS HARD when you’re depressed, even eating. And besides, you’re probably not moving around much, so you don’t build up an appetite easily. I always lose a lot of weight when depressed.

To minimize the damage, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2020 at 4:57 pm

Impostor syndrome: do you sometimes feel like a fraud?

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Clancy Martin writes in The Economist 1843:

My big brother and I were standing at the door to the showroom at Fort Worth Gold and Silver Exchange, the largest, busiest and most successful jewellery store in Texas.

“I can’t do it, Darren. I can’t face them.”

“It’s just talking to them. It’s not that hard, bud,” said Darren.

It was late November 1982 and Christmas music was playing. I was 15 years old, newly dropped out of high school and learning to be a jewellery salesman.

“I’m telling you I’m too nervous,” I replied. I’d suffered from acute shyness since early childhood.

“Well you’re just going to have to pretend,” said Darren.

The store had started me selling on the phones because it was easier to feign being older and more experienced. But it was almost Thanksgiving and they needed more bodies on the floor. Darren took me by the arm and we slipped behind the long row of twenty-something salespeople working the brass-and-glass counters. We called a number and my first real customer pushed her way through the crowd to the front.

I still remember that woman. She bought twister beads, a pair of very small diamond studs on promotion, and a gold bracelet. I was shaking as I showed her the goods, shaking as I took her money and still shaking as I called the next customer. But by the end of the day I could look a shopper in the eye and say, “I’m Clancy. What can I show you?”

That first Christmas season I didn’t believe I was a real jewellery salesman. I was performing. But every day I’d prepare by reciting stock sales lines to myself: “And what else can I show you?” or “Who else is on your Christmas list?” I’d talk with the other members of staff about sales I’d made the day before, or my targets for that week, or my plan to sell a Rolex. All of this helped me persuade myself that I could go in front of customers and pretend to know what I was doing.

To them I must have seemed barely a teenager, pimply in an oversized suit and a cheap Tabasco tie. Trembling and pretending to know what I was talking about, I acted as though I sold thousands of dollars of jewellery every day.

But after a week or two, I was doing exactly that. I remember the first Rolex I ever sold: a men’s President. The customer asked me if I was allowed to sell the watch. I lied and said this was my third Rolex that day. By the time he’d handed over his credit card, he told me that he had a car dealership, and if I ever wanted to make real money, I could come and work for him.

Every time I wrote up another sale and saw my name near the top of the day’s sales boards, I believed a little more that I actually was the salesman I was pretending to be. But, though the evidence was clear that I really could do this job, I still felt as though I was cheating, perpetually on the brink of being found out. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and the writer does move beyond his own direct experience. Imposter syndrome is not uncommon. The article is worth reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 March 2020 at 8:52 am

Top Economists Study What Happens When You Stop Using Facebook

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Cal Newport writes at Study Hacks Blog:

In the most recent issue of the prestigious American Economic Review, a group of well-known economists published a paper titled “The Welfare Effects of Social Media.” It presents the results of one of the largest randomized trials ever conducted to directly measure the personal impact of deactivating Facebook.

The experimental design is straightforward. Using Facebook ads, the researchers recruited 2,743 users who were willing to leave Facebook for one month in exchange for a cash reward. They then randomly divided these users into a Treatment group, that followed through with the deactivation, and a Control group, that was asked to keep using the platform.

The researchers deployed surveys, emails, text messages, and monitoring software to measure both the subjective well-being and behavior of both groups, both during and after the experiment.

Here are some highlights of what they found:

  • “Deactivating Facebook freed up 60 minutes per day for the average person in our Treatment group.” Much of this time was reinvested in offline activities, including, notably, socializing with friends and family.
  • “Deactivation caused small but significant improvements in well-being, and in particular in self-reported happiness, life satisfaction, depression, and anxiety.” The researchers report this effect to be around 25-40% of the effect typically attributed to participating in therapy.
  • “As the experiment ended, participants reported planning to use Facebook much less in the future.” Five percent of the Treatment group went even farther and declined to reactivate their account after the experiment ended.
  • “The Treatment group was less likely to say they follow news about politics or the President, and less able to correctly answer factual questions about recent news events.” This was not surprising given that this group spent 15% less time reading any type of online news during the experiment.
  • “Deactivation significantly reduced polarization of views on policy issues and a measure of exposure to polarizing news.” On the other hand, it didn’t significantly reduce negative feelings about the other political party.

This study validates many of the ideas from Digital Minimalism (indeed, the paper even cites the book in its introduction). People spend more time on social media than they realize, and stepping away frees up time for more rewarding offline activities, leading, in turn, to an increase in self-reported happiness and a decrease in self-reported anxiety.

The main negative impact experienced by the Treatment group was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 March 2020 at 9:52 am

How Trump is destroying the civil service and bending the government to his will

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The US turned out to be much more fragile than expected. George Packer writes in the Atlantic:

When donald trump came into office, there was a sense that he would be outmatched by the vast government he had just inherited.

The new president was impetuous, bottomlessly ignorant, almost chemically inattentive, while the bureaucrats were seasoned, shrewd, protective of themselves and their institutions. They knew where the levers of power lay and how to use them or prevent the president from doing so. Trump’s White House was chaotic and vicious, unlike anything in American history, but it didn’t really matter as long as “the adults” were there to wait out the president’s impulses and deflect his worst ideas and discreetly pocket destructive orders lying around on his desk.

After three years, the adults have all left the room—saying just about nothing on their way out to alert the country to the peril—while Trump is still there.

James Baker, the former general counsel of the FBI, and a target of Trump’s rage against the state, acknowledges that many government officials, not excluding himself, went into the administration convinced “that they are either smarter than the president, or that they can hold their own against the president, or that they can protect the institution against the president because they understand the rules and regulations and how it’s supposed to work, and that they will be able to defend the institution that they love or served in previously against what they perceive to be, I will say neutrally, the inappropriate actions of the president. And I think they are fooling themselves. They’re fooling themselves. He’s light-years ahead of them.”The adults were too sophisticated to see Trump’s special political talents—his instinct for every adversary’s weakness, his fanatical devotion to himself, his knack for imposing his will, his sheer staying power. They also failed to appreciate the advanced decay of the Republican Party, which by 2016 was far gone in a nihilistic pursuit of power at all costs. They didn’t grasp the readiness of large numbers of Americans to accept, even relish, Trump’s contempt for democratic norms and basic decency. It took the arrival of such a leader to reveal how many things that had always seemed engraved in monumental stone turned out to depend on those flimsy norms, and how much the norms depended on public opinion. Their vanishing exposed the real power of the presidency. Legal precedent could be deleted with a keystroke; law enforcement’s independence from the White House was optional; the separation of powers turned out to be a gentleman’s agreement; transparent lies were more potent than solid facts. None of this was clear to the political class until Trump became president.

But the adults’ greatest miscalculation was to overestimate themselves—particularly in believing that other Americans saw them as selfless public servants, their stature derived from a high-minded commitment to the good of the nation.

When Trump came to power, he believed that the regime was his, property he’d rightfully acquired, and that the 2 million civilians working under him, most of them in obscurity, owed him their total loyalty. He harbored a deep suspicion that some of them were plotting in secret to destroy him. He had to bring them to heel before he could be secure in his power. This wouldn’t be easy—the permanent government had defied other leaders and outlasted them. In his inexperience and rashness—the very qualities his supporters loved—he made early mistakes. He placed unreliable or inept commissars in charge of the bureaucracy, and it kept running on its own.

But a simple intuition had propelled Trump throughout his life: Human beings are weak. They have their illusions, appetites, vanities, fears. They can be cowed, corrupted, or crushed. A government is composed of human beings. This was the flaw in the brilliant design of the Framers, and Trump learned how to exploit it. The wreckage began to pile up. He needed only a few years to warp his administration into a tool for his own benefit. If he’s given a few more years, the damage to American democracy will be irreversible.

This is the story of how a great republic went soft in the middle, lost the integrity of its guts and fell in on itself—told through government officials whose names under any other president would have remained unknown, who wanted no fame, and who faced existential questions when Trump set out to break them. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 March 2020 at 6:18 pm

Why extremism is a question of psychology, not politics

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The Eldest pointed out this article by Quassim Cassam in New Statesman:

Responding to the revelation that Extinction Rebellion (XR) had been identified as extremists by counterterrorism police, Sara Khan, the government’s chief adviser on extremism, called for a clearer definition of extremism. Khan was quoted as saying that a clearer definition would “help build a whole-society response by providing a better understanding”.

It’s hard to disagree with this but actually developing a clear definition is not easy. The cynical view is that an extremist is simply someone whose political stance I strongly disagree with, and that there is no neutral way of determining who is an extremist. On this account, “extremist” is a term of abuse rather than a serious tool of political analysis. But the notion that there is no factual means of determining whether, say, Isis is extremist seems absurd. Isis really is an extremist group. This is not just a matter of personal opinion. But then we are back to the challenge of defining “real” extremism.

The simplest suggestion is that extremists use or support the use of violence in pursuit of their political objectives. Since it is a fact that Isis uses extreme violence in support of its objectives, it is a fact that it is extremist. By the same token, XR is not extremist given that its strategy is one of non-violent civil disobedience. The Guardian commentator George Monbiot has argued that “if seeking to defend life on Earth defines us as extremists, we have no choice but to own the label”. But can XR afford to “own the label” if it wants to dissociate itself from any suggestion that it endorses the use of violence?

[See also: How the rhetoric of weaponisation is undermining liberal ideals]

The use of violence alone is not enough to provide a clear definition of extremism. The African National Congress used violence in its struggle against apartheid in South Africa, but this did not necessarily make it an extremist movement. Nelson Mandela defended the ANC’s commitment to armed struggle on two compelling grounds: it was violence in a just cause, and there was no alternative. This suggests that whether using or endorsing violence makes one an extremist is highly context-dependent. Arguments about whether using violence makes an organisation “extremist” are therefore partly arguments about the justice of its cause, and the availability of effective alternatives.

Another way to think about extremism is in terms of left and right. Suppose that political outlooks are arranged on a left-right spectrum. Extremists can be defined as those whose political views are at the far ends of the spectrum. Yet there are extremists who are hard to classify in left-right terms. Isis is a case in point, despite suggestions that its ideology is fascist – and fascism is itself difficult to place on the left-right spectrum.

A more promising approach is to define extremism in psychological terms. To be an extremist is, first and foremost, to have an extremist mindset. It is often pointed out that people at opposite ends of the political spectrum have much in common. What they have in common is their mindset: their preoccupations, attitudes, thinking styles and emotions. To understand these elements is to understand why the extremist label is not one that anyone should be happy to own.

A key extremist preoccupation is victimisation – the perception of themselves as victims of persecution. While extremism can be a reaction to genuine persecution, many extremists are obsessed with fantasies of persecution. For example, so-called “incels”, men who describe themselves as “involuntarily celibate”, believe that they are oppressed by women who refuse to have sex with them. This is a classic extremist persecution fantasy.

Another extremist preoccupation is purity. The purity that extremists are obsessed with can be ideological, religious, or ethnic. Ideological extremists are not just strongly committed to a specific ideology or belief system. Their commitment is to what they see as the purest or most unadulterated version of their favoured ideology. Their biggest fear is dilution, and they see themselves as virtuous because of the purity of their beliefs.

Extremism’s preoccupation with purity explains one of its key attitudes: its attitude to compromise. Extremists hate compromise because it detracts from purity. Being an extremist is as much a matter of how one believes as what one believes. Extremists see compromise as a form of betrayal, and while extremists may hate their opponents, this is usually milder than their hatred of people on their own side who have, as they see it, “sold out”.

Another key extremist attitude is indifference to . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2020 at 3:39 pm

How to Make Your Marriage Gayer

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I recall many predictions that making same-sex marriage legal would totally destroy traditional marriage, predictions that struck me as false. (In states most strongly resistant to same-sex marriage, traditional marriage wasn’t doing all that well — those states had high divorce rats — so perhaps it’s understandable that those states were quite worried about the fragility of traditional marraige, fearing that any social change would make things even worse.)

However, same-sex marriage has been legal for several years now, and it seems that those predictions of the breakdown of traditional marriage have proven as false as they seemed at the time. (One indication that they were false is that those making the predictions could never explain how allowing same-sex marriage would undermine traditional marriage.)

And it turns out that, on the whole, same-sex marriages are happier than traditional marriages. Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage, writes in the NY Times:

It’s been legal across the country for nearly five years now, and same-sex marriage hasn’t yet killed heterosexual marriage. In fact, it appears that many different-sex couples would have happier and more satisfying marriages if they took a few lessons from their same-sex counterparts.

Researchers recently asked three sets of legally married couples — heterosexual, gay and lesbian — to keep daily diaries recording their experiences of marital strain and distress. Women in different-sex marriages reported the highest levels of psychological distress. Men in same-sex marriages reported the lowest. Men married to women and women married to women were in the middle, recording similar levels of distress.

What’s striking, says the lead author of the study, Michael Garcia, is that earlier research had concluded that women in general were likely to report the most relationship distress. But it turns out that’s only women married to men.

There are powerful historical reasons heterosexual marriages are subject to more tension, miscommunication and resentment than same-sex relationships. What distinguished heterosexual marriage through the ages was not how many people were in it but the sharp distinctions it mandated regarding the duties and authority of its members.

Sometimes one husband exercised authority over the work of one wife, sometimes over two or more. Occasionally, as in many of the 80-plus societies known to have practiced polyandryseveral husbands exercised power over one wife. Right up to the 1970s, when an American woman married, her husband took charge of her sexuality and most of her finances, property and behavior.

By that time, though, many Americans were already rejecting traditional marriage. During the 1970s and 1980s, wives won legal equality with husbands and courts redefined the responsibilities of spouses in gender-neutral terms. By 1994 a majority of Americans repudiated the necessity for gender-specialized roles in marriage, saying instead that shared responsibilities should be the ideal.

Indeed, sharing domestic tasks has become an increasingly important component of marital stability, and lack of sharing an increasingly powerful predictor of conflict. In marriages formed before 1992, couples seemed satisfied to have the wife do most of the housework and child care. But that has changed. Studies in 2006 found that the happiest and most sexually satisfied couples are now those who divide housework and child care the most equally. Couples where the wife does the bulk of routine chores, such as dishwashing, report the highest levels of discord.

Still, fewer than a third of the different-sex couples studied in 2006 had achieved approximate equality in sharing housework. For most heterosexuals, marriage continues to increase the gender stereotyping of duties. A 1999 study found that when a never-married man married, he reduced his routine housework, on average, by three and a half hours a week. When a woman married, she increased her routine housework — the numbing work that must be done each day — by almost that much.

Once children come along, old marital traditions reassert themselves even more. A University of Texas researcher, Joanna Pepin, and her colleagues recently found that married mothers spend more time on housework than single mothers and have significantly less leisure time than cohabiting mothers. As Dr. Pepin told me, “The gender expectations traditionally associated with being a wife seemingly encourage married mothers to do more housework than their unmarried counterparts, and their husbands to accept that as normal.”

Here’s where same-sex couples can offer their different-sex counterparts useful tips. Since same-sex couples can’t use imputed male-female differences to sort out who does what, they rely less on stereotypes. Heterosexual parents tend to see tasks such as child care, laundry and dishes as part of a package that is handed to one partner. Same-sex couples are far more likely to each take on some traditionally “feminine” and some “masculine” chores.

They are also more likely to share the routine tasks. A 2015 survey found that almost half of dual-earner, same-sex couples shared laundry duties, compared with just under a third of different-sex couples. And a whopping 74 percent of same-sex couples shared routine child care, compared with only 38 percent of straight couples.

Like heterosexual couples with children, same-sex parents often have one partner quit or cut back at work for a while. Gay-male couples have about the same percentage of stay-at-home parents as do heterosexuals. But same-sex couples are less likely than different-sex couples to assign “women’s work” to the partner with fewer work hours. They are also more likely to talk through their individual preferences about who does what at home. This is especially true for gay males and is probably why they express the most satisfaction with the division of labor.

When it comes to parenting, the fact that same-sex parents can’t slide into default gender patterns creates some striking differences. An analysis of American Time Use Surveys from 2003 to 2013 found that men with female partners spent the least amount of total time and the lowest proportion of their nonwork time engaged with their children.

But men with same-sex partners spent as much time with their children as did the average woman partnered with a man. The result? Children living with same-sex parents experienced, on average, three and a half hours of parenting time per day, compared with two and a half for children living with a heterosexual couple. . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more — including more charts.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2020 at 6:35 am

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