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The Tech Elite’s Favorite Pop Intellectual: Julia Galef on bringing the rationalist movement to the mainstream.

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Benjamin Wallace writes in New York:

n 2012, Julia Galef, the host of a podcast called Rationally Speaking, moved from New York to Berkeley to help found a nonprofit called the Center for Applied Rationality. It was the early days of the rationalist movement: a community formed on the internet whose adherents strove to strip their minds of cognitive biases and subject all spheres of life to the glare of scientific thought and probabilistic reasoning. Galef and her CFAR co-founders — mathematician Anna Salamon, research scientist Andrew Critch, and math and science educator Michael Smith — wanted to translate these principles to everyday life. They did this through multiday workshops, where participants could learn to make better decisions using techniques like “goal factoring” (breaking a goal into smaller pieces) and “paired debugging” (in which two people help identify each other’s blind spots and distortions).

Over the next several years, as rationalism became not only the de facto brand of self-help in Silicon Valley but also an intellectual movement followed by pundits and executives alike, CFAR’s profile grew; soon, the nonprofit was running workshops across the country and teaching classes at Facebook and the Thiel Fellowship. But for CFAR’s founders, it was the empirical confirmation of their work that mattered most. Early on, they began conducting a controlled study to determine whether the workshops were demonstrably helpful. They surveyed 40 participants, assessing their before-and-after answers to questions like “How together is your life?” and “How successful do you feel in your social life?” The study found that, one year after the workshop ended, participants showed decreased neuroticism and increased self-efficacy, but to Galef, the results weren’t sufficiently rigorous. “What was it about the workshop?” she says. “Was it the classes or hanging out with like-minded people that makes the difference?” Conducting more tests would have been too expensive. “My vision was we’d come up with hypotheses about techniques, keep the ones that work, and discard the ones that don’t. It turned out to be much harder than I’d realized.”

In 2016, Galef left CFAR, unsatisfied with what she had been able to accomplish there. Instead, she began working on her first book, which, after five years, will be published by Penguin on April 13. The Scout Mindset: Why Some People See Things Clearly and Others Don’t is a fitting debut for someone who has considered herself a “populizer” of the rationalist movement. “I take these ideas I think are great and try to explain them to a wider audience,” she says.

When we speak over Zoom, Galef is in Franklin, North Carolina, her face evenly lit by the ring lamp she travels with. Since she and her fiancé left their San Francisco studio this past July, they’ve been doing the digital-nomad thing. Right now, they are near Great Smoky Mountains National Park in a golf-course Airbnb. Galef holds her laptop camera up to the window, revealing a burbling creek outside. “It suits our personalities and lifestyle,” she says. “We both work remotely” — he’s a program officer focused on artificial intelligence at the effective-altruism organization Open Philanthropy — “we’re both introverts, we’re both minimalists, and we both like novelty.”

To the extent that the rationalist movement has been written about, its eccentricities have tended to get outsize attention: Some rationalists live in group houses with names like Event Horizon and Godric’s Hollow; polyamory and a preoccupation with the existential risk posed by AI are both overrepresented. In opposition to mainstream online culture, which believes that certain arguments should be off-limits, the rationalsphere wants to be able to talk about anything. Slate Star Codex — recently renamed Astral Codex Ten — the most prominent rationalist blog, has caused controversy by countenancing free-flowing discussion of topics such as race science and female harassment of men. And because of their devotion to hyperanalysis, some members of the community can present as arrogant and lacking in EQ.

Galef, however, is an amiable ambassador for the movement, adept at distilling its concepts in an accessible and plainspoken manner. The speech of rationalists is heavy on the vernacular, often derived from programming language: “updating your priors” (keeping an open mind), “steel-manning” (arguing with the strongest version of whatever point your opponent is making), “double-cruxing” (trying to get to the root of a disagreement). But . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 3:11 pm

Amazon shows how trickle-down inequality works

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Sarah Jones writes in the “Intelligencer” section of New York:

Bill Bodani liked his old job. He cleaned slag out at the Sparrows Point steel mill in Maryland, cleared the flues and the broken brick out of the blast furnace. He loved it despite the asbestosis it gave him, writes Alec MacGillis in his new book, Fulfillment. “I enjoyed the people,” Bodani told MacGillis. “They made it enjoyable. The Black, the white. It was a family thing. I don’t care if you knew them for five minutes, they took you in. No matter how bad I got hurt, or how bad things got, there was always a bright side. You had those guys with you.”

Until he didn’t. The mill closed, and Bodani needed a new job. He found one with Amazon, working in a Baltimore-area fulfillment center. He started out at $12 an hour — much less than he’d made at the mill. He’d traded his old friends for a place that would, as MacGillis put it, fire workers “by algorithm.” And Bodani had a problem. He was older, and he needed to use the bathroom more often than did his younger co-workers. When he had used up his breaks, he resorted to an undignified option. He’d piss in a corner of the warehouse, using a forklift as a privacy shield.

MacGillis completed Bodani’s story before the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union announced that it would try to unionize the first Amazon warehouse in the country in Bessemer, Alabama. Workers there reported their own versions of Bodani’s problem. The company regimented their days so strictly that they often didn’t have the time they needed to use the restroom. The union still lost, an election now contested before the National Labor Relations Board. Despite the outcome, the stories stick. Workers said they couldn’t stay six feet apart from each other in the middle of a pandemic, spoke of dirty workstations that never got clean. Amazon, they insisted, was a bad place to work. Why, then, are cities so desperate to bring Amazon home?

In Fulfillment, MacGillis, a reporter for ProPublica and the author of 2014’s The CynicThe Political Education of Mitch McConnell, offers answers. The digital economy has fattened a handful of cities while others, often old industrial hubs, fall behind. There is historical precedent for industries to cluster: “History,” he writes, “is the story of cities with the right confluence of people in close quarters to spin the world forward, whether in classical Athens or Renaissance Florence or industrial-age Glasgow.” That dynamic, however, has “trebled” in recent years, he claims, with innovation the new resource to mine. Amazon and Microsoft swelled Seattle, brought it new wealth, a new class of resident, and a new set of problems. That wealth never reached a number of Seattle’s long-term residents, who could recall an older, more livable version of a vibrant city. What dispersed out from Seattle was not wealth, either, but something else. Inequality trickled down.

MacGillis understands the bargain Amazon offers the public and explores the consequences of that bargain with a sharp, humane eye. He succeeds in telling a story about Amazon from the bottom up — the right way to scrutinize a company that projects a progressive image. Amazon wants us to believe it treats its workers well: It pays them $15 an hour now, a fact it has repeatedly tweeted to its congressional critics. Other companies, even governments, ought to follow Amazon’s stellar example, the company says. MacGillis argues that governments have already been too eager to take Amazon at its word, and that the consequences, for workers and for the places they live, have been catastrophic.

To cities in need of jobs, Amazon can look like a savior. But salvation is an exchange: a soul for a different future. MacGillis argues that this trade is good for Jeff Bezos alone; workers and cities lose out in both a psychological and material sense. Bill Bodani has nothing to offer the new economy but his body. Amazon accepts, and forces him to accept something even more nefarious than a pay cut. To take a job at the mill was to join a community. Young high-school graduates, MacGillis writes, had walked into a union and the welcoming arms of their uncles and fathers. By contrast, the warehouse is a sterile place. Workers are welcomed not with warm introductions but with “a sheet of paper scrawled with AMAZON” and representatives for an Amazon subcontractor. The job itself can be isolating, as Amazon workers themselves have reported; steep quotas and pervasive surveillance offer few opportunities to socialize. This is a useful union-avoidance strategy. It’s also a spiritual blow.

Once cities like Sparrows Point offer up their souls, Amazon gives them a cheap future. Corporations rarely make decisions out of abundant public spirit; Amazon is no exception to the rule. Instead, it eludes taxes. MacGillis calls Amazon’s approach to tax avoidance “a veritable Swiss Army knife, with an implement to wield against every possible government tab,” and the description lines up with reality. Amazon paid no federal income tax for two years before coughing up a paltry $162 million in 2019. It settles upon cities and towns like a locust, chewing up tax breaks totaling $2.7 billion by 2019, according to MacGillis. In 2018, Amazon threatened to cancel a planned expansion in Seattle, its home turf, over an employee-hours tax intended to address the city’s homelessness crisis. The city council passed it, only to reverse itself less than a month later.

In smaller cities, the costs of attracting Amazon can be especially steep. Consider . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 2:53 pm

Curbing gun violence in the United States

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In a post yesterday, I set out the reasons that suicide should, like homicide, be viewed as part of the serious gun violence problem the US has. What can be done to implement ways of combating gun violence? Colleen Walsh describes in the Harvard Gazette some steps that could be taken.

In the wake of several deadly mass shootings, President Biden announced a list of executive orders last Thursday aimed at reducing gun-related violence, and called for Congress to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Biden’s orders included better regulation of “ghost guns” — homemade weapons that lack traceable serial numbers — and stabilizing braces that transform pistols into more lethal, short-barreled rifles. They also called for increased support for violence-intervention programs, and model “red flag” legislation to make it easier to get guns away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Stopping gun violence will take myriad approaches, including a range of public health efforts, according to David Hemenway, professor of health policy at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and author of the 2006 book “Private Guns, Public Health.” Hemenway, who is working on a new book about firearms and public health while the Elizabeth S. and Richard M. Cashin Fellow at Harvard Radcliffe Institute, spoke with the Gazette about what needs to be done to curb gun violence in the U.S.

Q&A with David Hemenway

GAZETTE: What was your impression of Biden’s executive orders around gun control?

HEMENWAY: Biden’s overall plan seems excellent—a response that is more than just more law enforcement — and these executive actions are good first steps to reduce the terrible problem of firearm violence in the U.S. There are various specific actions taken, such as beginning to address the issues of ghost guns (which aren’t subject to background checks), and they are all important. He could do more, but there are so many important things he can’t do by himself with executive orders. Overall, I think it’s a nice first step, but he needs Congress to work with him to do many of the most important things.

GAZETTE: What are some of those things?

HEMENWAY: Universal background checks need to be passed by Congress, but even more important than that would be universal gun-licensing laws (which implies universal background checks) and handgun registration. Just as everyone who drives a motor vehicle needs to have a license and vehicle registration, the same should be true for anyone who owns a firearm. Only a few U.S. states have gun licensing, but as far as I can tell, virtually every other developed country has some form of gun licensing, and their levels of gun violence are all far lower than ours. Licensing and registration helps keep guns out of the wrong hands.

There are so many other actions the federal government could take to help further reduce firearm violence. For example, the federal government could model what good training for gun owners should look like. In our work at the School of Public Health, we sent people out to take dozens of basic gun training classes throughout the Northeast. Some of the trainings were excellent, but some were horrible. Only half of the trainers discussed how you should store your guns appropriately, while a few said if you have kids you can just hide your guns. Almost no one discussed the role of guns in suicide, the curiosity of children, methods of de-escalating conflict, alternative methods of self-defense, or the type of continual training one needs to effectively use a gun in self-defense. The federal government could play an important role in helping to create and model rules around training.

We also need better gun-safety standards. Many children (and some adults) don’t know that when you take out the magazine from a semi-automatic pistol, the gun is still loaded, not realizing that there is a bullet left in the chamber and that if you pull the trigger you could kill somebody. This is the most common way that children are killed unintentionally with guns in this country. Even better than teaching every child or even having guns that make it apparent when they can still be fired, semi-automatic pistols can be made so the gun won’t fire when the magazine has been removed. We should also have childproof guns. Many 2- to 4-year-olds kill themselves when they find a loaded firearm. We made childproof aspirin bottles because children would find aspirin bottles and die from ingesting the aspirin, but we still make it too easy for toddlers to find guns and kill themselves.

I also think we need strict liability laws for gun owners. One of the reasons accidental pool drownings decreased in many parts of the world is because people who don’t properly fence and protect their pools became liable in the case of accidental injury, especially to children who gained access to the pool and drowned. The same should be true for something as dangerous as a gun. If you own TNT, or anything which is extremely dangerous, you have to be safe and responsible with it. Right now, that’s not the case for many guns, which are too commonly stored insecurely. Roughly 350,000 guns are stolen each year and end up in the wrong hands.

GAZETTE: Picking up on the issue of liability, Biden said during his press conference if he could do one thing it would be to eliminate immunity for gun manufacturers.

HEMENWAY: That’s certainly important. The reason the law was passed during the Bush administration was to protect the gun manufacturers and distributors who saw what had happened in the tobacco arena, and they didn’t want it to happen to them, so they got Republicans to pass a law giving them incredible immunity compared to other products. So yes, that would be a useful thing.

GAZETTE: Why do you think there is so little appetite in America, even after so many mass shootings, for any additional controls on the sale and use of guns?

HEMENWAY: I think it’s a combination of misinformation and the culture wars. I looked at Google news this morning, and the headline about the Biden initiatives was from Fox News: “Sen. Hawley: Biden ultimately seeks civilian gun confiscation while permitting rioters and crime.”

GAZETTE: What do you think of Biden’s pick to head the ATF, David Chipman?

HEMENWAY: I know David. I think he’s great. He’s very smart, very personable, hard-working, and quite experienced. He was an ATF agent for years ­— he’s certainly well-qualified. It would be good if he could strengthen the ATF’s oversight of gun dealers. The agency has been hamstrung through the years, and there seem to still be too many bad-apple gun dealers who make it too easy for the wrong people to gain access to firearms.

GAZETTE: Biden’s plan also calls for a new report on gun trafficking to be conducted by the Justice Department. In your mind, why is that data so important?

HEMENWAY: Reports are good, but perhaps even more important would be

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 12:07 pm

How spanking may affect brain development in children

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I earlier blogged about studies that show that physically punishing children (by spanking, for example) adversely affect them, leading to social and emotional problems later on. Those studies demonstrated the cause and effect relationship but did not focus on the mechanism by which the result followed. Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite has an article in the Harvard Gazette that describes the likely mechanism. The article begins:

Spanking may affect a child’s brain development in ways similar to more severe forms of violence, according to a new study led by Harvard researchers.

The research builds on existing studies that show heightened activity in certain regions of the brains of children who experience abuse in response to threat cues.

The group found that children who had been spanked had a greater neural response in multiple regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC), including in regions that are part of the salience network. These areas of the brain respond to cues in the environment that tend to be consequential, such as a threat, and may affect decision-making and processing of situations.

“We know that children whose families use corporal punishment are more likely to develop anxiety, depression, behavior problems, and other mental health problems, but many people don’t think about spanking as a form of violence,” said Katie A. McLaughlin, John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences, director of the Stress & Development Lab in the Department of Psychology, and the senior researcher on the study, which was published Friday in the journal Child Development. “In this study, we wanted to examine whether there was an impact of spanking at a neurobiological level, in terms of how the brain is developing.”

According to the study’s authors, corporal punishment has been linked to the development of mental health issues, anxiety, depression, behavioral problems, and substance use disorders. And recent studies show that approximately half of parents in U.S. studies reported spanking their children in the past year and one-third in the past week. However, the relationship between spanking and brain activity had not previously been studied.

McLaughlin and her colleagues — including Jorge Cuartas, first author of the study and a doctoral candidate in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and David Weissman, a postdoctoral fellow in the Stress & Development Lab — analyzed data from a large study of children between the ages of 3 and 11. They focused on 147 children around ages 10 and 11 who had been spanked, excluding children who had also experienced more severe forms of violence.

Each child lay in an MRI machine and watched a computer screen on which were displayed different images of actors making “fearful” and “neutral” faces. A scanner captured the child’s brain activity in response to each kind of face, and those images were analyzed to determine whether the faces sparked different patterns of brain activity in children who were spanked compared to those who were not.

“On average, across the entire sample, fearful faces elicited greater activation than neutral faces in many regions throughout the brain … and children who were spanked demonstrated greater activation in multiple regions of PFC to fearful relative to neutral faces than children who were never spanked,” the researchers wrote.

By contrast, “There were no regions of the brain where activation to fearful relative to neutral faces differed between children who were abused and children who were spanked.”

The findings are in line with similar research conducted on children who had experienced severe violence, suggesting that “while we might not conceptualize corporal punishment to be a form of violence, in terms of how a child’s brain responds, it’s not all that different than abuse,” said McLaughlin. “It’s more a difference of degree than of type.”

Researchers said the study is a first step toward . . .

Continue reading. There’s more (and no paywall).

And note these earlier posts on parenting in general: first, a better way to parent; second, avoiding having bossy, unhelpful kids; and third, best practices in parenting.

Written by LeisureGuy

13 April 2021 at 4:20 am

“Less is more” is intrinsically difficult for the human psyche, which seems always to want to add

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Joe Dominguez, in his (invaluable) book Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence, pointed out that one route to financial independence was to accumulate enough money to satisfy all your wants and needs, but an easier route was to trim your wants and needs to fit with a smaller amount of money. In either case, financial independence is achieved, but one way is faster and easier. (The book describes the tactics he used.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 3:53 pm

Americans are still spanking their kids. A new study shows how harmful that is.

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I have long maintained that parents should not strike their children, and now research backs up that idea. Caitlin Gibson reports in the Washington Post:

When developmental psychologist Liz Gershoff began studying the effects of spanking and harsh parenting discipline in the 1990s, the topic was still the subject of intense debate in scientific circles: Was physical punishment actually harmful to kids?

In the decades since, a growing body of research has offered a clear and resounding answer. Spanking and other forms of severe discipline — such as verbally berating or humiliating a child — have been repeatedly linked to behavioral, emotional, psychological and academic problems, a conclusion that prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue a new policy statement in 2018, strengthening its stance that parents should not use physical punishment.

But spanking is still prevalent in American families, and legal in all states. Though it appears to be steadily falling out of favor among younger generations, the 2018 General Social Survey — a long-running biennial national survey of American adults — found that 66 percent of Americans agreed that “a good, hard spanking” is sometimes necessary to discipline a child.

Why you just can’t choose: Parenting through pandemic decision fatigue

And one common argument in support of spanking has lingered: How can we be sure that a child’s lack of achievement or antisocial behavior can be traced back to physical punishment specifically, versus an innate or genetic factor?

Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, set out to settle the question of nature vs. nurture with her newest study, published in the March volume of Psychological Science. Gershoff and her research team analyzed more than a thousand pairs of twins — including more than 400 identical twins, who share the same DNA — many of whom were disciplined differently by their parents. The researchers found that the child who was hit or yelled at more often was consistently more likely to display delinquent or antisocial behavior.

“Identical-twin studies are sort of the classic way that psychologists have of differentiating what is innate behavior from what is learned behavior, so this study follows in a long tradition,” says Robert Sege, a pediatrician at Tufts Children’s Hospital and director of the Center for Community-Engaged Medicine at Tufts Medical Center who co-authored the American Academy of Pediatrics’s 2018 statement. “This is yet another, different way of looking at this, but all the data points to the same direction. As a scientist, when you see that, no matter how you do the experiment, no matter how you ask the question, you get the same result — that’s conclusive.”

Gershoff spoke with The Washington Post about her decades of research into physical discipline in parenting, and the implications of her newest study. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: You’ve been studying the effects of spanking for a long time. How has the scientific understanding of this issue changed over your career?

A: When I began studying physical punishment, there was a lot of resistance to the idea that it might be harmful. I went into this with an open mind, thinking, ‘Well, maybe parents are right, maybe it does work, maybe that’s what the research shows.’ By then we had several-hundred studies that had been looking at it, but no one had taken an overview to say, ‘What did we find overall?’ So that’s what I did in 2002. There have been many, many more studies since then, and they have all continued to show that the more children are physically punished, the worse their behavior, the worse their mental health. Now we also have research showing they do worse in school, they have lower achievement.

Q: It seems like those conclusions are generally accepted among scientists and pediatricians, but what have you observed about our social and cultural perceptions of spanking?

A: It used to be that we only learned how to parent from our own parents, that was it, and maybe a couple friends. I think in the last 20 years we’ve seen more parents have access to parenting information from parenting books, from the Internet. Now we can talk to people across the world and find out how they’re parenting, what works for them. There has been more public discussion about physical punishment that we hadn’t really seen before — you started seeing figures like Oprah talk openly about how she was physically punished, and how harmful she thought that was. That was a big deal.

But there are still many parents who are under the impression that you have to hit children in some circumstances. That pattern cuts across cultural groups and racial groups and different areas of the country. So yes, there are still some parents to convince.

Q: Tell me about your new study, and why you focused on twins specifically. .. .

Continue reading. There’s much more. Later in the interview:

. . . parents see twins as individuals, they’re not parenting them as a set. And that much is good, but it’s just too bad that one kid is getting singled out for the harsh parenting. We didn’t ask them about the circumstances, so we don’t know why. But what we found was that the twin who was spanked more or yelled at more within each pair, they were the ones who had more antisocial behavior. It was the same for the kids who were identical twins and for kids who were not identical twins. The amount of genetic material they shared didn’t matter. It came down to how much harsh parenting they received.

And the interview concludes:

Q: Do you think this study settled that question then, of whether a child’s innate characteristics might be to blame for their behavior, rather than harsh discipline?

A: We are pretty convinced that this is definitive. There is just absolutely no evidence for a genetic component.

Q: You mentioned earlier that there are still clearly some parents left to convince. In light of these results, what would you most want those parents to know?

A: To me, it’s just further evidence that the way we parent our children really does impact them. And if parents are on the fence about physical punishment, this is just additional evidence that it’s not doing any good for the children, and in fact it seems to be making their behavior worse. And that in turn makes our jobs harder as parents — that’s the irony. People are trying to improve their children’s behavior when they’re using physical punishment, but they’re in fact making it worse.

See also the book Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Human.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 11:17 am

Republicans going off in all directions

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Heather Cox Richardson has a post that’s worth reading because it sets out a variety of developing issues, including a serious conflict within the Republican party regarding the direction it should take. She writes:

Congress has been on break since March 29, and tomorrow members will go back to Washington, D.C., to resume work. The next weeks are going to be busy for the lawmakers, not least because the political ground in America appears to be shifting.

In the two weeks the lawmakers have been back in their districts, a lot has happened. The Biden administration released the American Jobs Plan on March 31, calling for a $2 trillion investment in infrastructure. The plan includes traditional items like railroads and bridges and roads; it also uses a modern, expansive definition of infrastructure, including support for our electrical grid, green energy, and clean water delivery, as well as the construction of high-speed broadband to all Americans. The plan also defines childcare and eldercare as infrastructure issues, an important redefinition that will not only help more women regain a foothold in the economy, but will also help to replace manufacturing jobs as a key stabilizer of middle-class America. The administration is selling the infrastructure plan, in part, by emphasizing that it will create jobs (hence “American Jobs Plan” rather than something like “American Infrastructure Act”).

President Biden has proposed paying for the plan by raising the corporate tax from 21% to 28% (it was 35% before Trump’s 2017 tax cut) and by increasing the global minimum tax from 13% to 21% (so that companies cannot stash profits in low-tax countries). He has also proposed saving money by ending the federal tax breaks for fossil fuel companies and by putting teeth in the enforcement of tax laws against corporations who have skated without paying taxes in the past.

The president also put together a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to look at the question of adjusting the Supreme Court to the modern era. While people are focusing on the question of whether the number of justices on the Supreme Court should be increased—it has held at 9 since 1869, even as three more circuits have been added—the commission is also looking at “the length of service and turnover of justices on the Court.” It is only very recently that justices grimly held onto a Supreme Court appointment until death; the positions used to turn over with some frequency. The commission is an astonishingly distinguished group of scholars, lawyers, and judges.

Nonetheless, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) claimed the establishment of the commission displayed “open disdain for judicial independence.” And yet, the Supreme Court itself undermined his position in favor of a nonpartisan judiciary late Friday night. It issued an unsigned opinion in which the court decided, by a vote of 5-4, that state restrictions on private religious gatherings during the pandemic infringed on people’s First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Chief Justice John Roberts joined the minority.

Biden has also asked Congress to take on the issue of gun control, after yet more mass shootings in the country. And overshadowing all is the Democrat’s demand for the passage of voting rights legislation that would protect voting, end gerrymandering, and curb the influence of big money in U.S. elections.

While the legislative world has been rocking, so has the world of the Republicans. The party is torn between the Trump wing and the business wing, and in the course of the past few weeks, that rift has widened and destabilized.

On March 25, Georgia passed a sweeping new voting restriction law. Legislators argued that they were simply trying to combat voter fraud, but the law, in fact, significantly restricts voting hours and mail-in voting, as well as turning over the mechanics of elections to partisan committees. The Georgia law came after a similar set of restrictions in Iowa; other states, including Texas, are following suit.

But this attack on voting rights is not playing well with the corporate leaders who, in the past, tended to stand with the Republicans. Leaders from more than 170 corporations condemned the new Georgia law, saying, “We stand in solidarity with voters 一 and with the Black executives and leaders at the helm of this movement 一 in our nonpartisan commitment to equality and democracy. If our government is going to work for all of us, each of us must have equal freedom to vote and elections must reflect the will of voters.” Major League Baseball grabbed headlines when it decided to move this summer’s All-Star game out of the state.

Following the corporate pushback over the Georgia law, the leader of the business Republican faction, Mitch McConnell, said that it was “stupid” for corporations to weigh in on divisive political issues, although he specified he was “not talking about political contributions.” Republican lawmakers have said that corporations should not take political stances, a position that sits uneasily with the 2010 Supreme Court Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision, which said that corporate donations to political candidates were a form of political speech and could not be limited by the government. The so-called “Citizens United” decision opened up a flood of corporate money into our political system.

Yesterday, more than 100 corporate executives met over Zoom to figure out how . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and some interesting aspects are discussed later in the column.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 April 2021 at 10:47 am

“I Needed a Job. He Asked If I Was Proposing Marriage.”

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The creepiness and moral turpitude of Donald Trump and his administration have far-reaching ripple effects. Deboarh Kopaken provides examples in the Atlantic:

I was 8 when Patty Hearst was kidnapped. For several years, I was afraid to sit in a well-lit room after sundown, because I was next on the kidnappers’ list, and they were lurking in my backyard. I was sure of this.

Was my fear justified? Of course not. Was it real? One hundred percent yes.

Bill Clinton pardoned Hearst on his last day in office. When I heard the news, I cheered. The woman had been kidnapped at 19, raped, and held in a dark closet for 57 days, after which, suffering from Stockholm syndrome, she robbed a bank with her captors. Pardoning her seemed not only fair, but just.

Exactly 20 years later, on his last day in office, Donald Trump pardoned Ken Kurson. When I read the news, I cursed. This pardon was neither fair nor just.

Kurson was the editor of the Observer when it was owned by his friend Jared Kushner. Last fall, Kurson was arrested and charged with cyberstalking three people and harassing two others. According to the federal complaint, Kurson posted multiple malicious professional reviews of a former friend he spuriously blamed for the end of his marriage. He used an alias to send the friend’s colleagues and others threatening emails accusing her of sleeping with her boss, then stalked her at her workplace until her employers were forced to hire a security firm to protect her. His lawyer argued in a statement that the charges were overblown, and he was pardoned before the case went to trial.

After Kurson’s arrest, I kept scanning the news, hoping that Trump would be too busy being a sore loser and inciting insurrection to pardon Kurson. I was wrong. Which meant I would now spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder.

From November 2014 to late 2016, Ken Kurson sexually harassed me. I wrote about the degrading experience for this magazine in 2018. I composed the essay in the form of a tongue-in-cheek listicle (“How to Lose Your Job From Sexual Harassment in 33 Easy Steps”), because all too often, as we keep learning (and learning and learning), sexual harassment is not just one event or off-color comment, nor is it just the suggestive emails that followed: “In another life, I’d be Mr. Copaken”; “I love your sloppy seconds”; “Are you proposing marriage to me?” It’s a systematic abuse of power that can deny its victims work, money, and health insurance.

Kurson invited me to lunch after one of my stories for another publication went viral, and said he had a full-time job for me with benefits. I told my current boss I was quitting, only for Kurson to say that it was never an actual job offer, and that he couldn’t match my salary. But he dangled the possibility of a full-time position if I kept freelancing for him, while sending me wildly inappropriate emails about his crumbling marriage. I worried that he might be vengeful. “I consider this the Observer’s story,” he once wrote about one of my article pitches, “and you know I come from a grudge-holding desert people.”

I thought he was joking, but after that story was published in The New York Times, he stopped answering my emails for more than a month. Later, when I asked about a late payment for an article, he replied to say the money had finally been deposited in my account, adding, “Sorry you’re broke… Are you in love w anyone?”

(When The Atlantic asked Kurson for comment, he denied that there had been a job offer. About the emails, he said, “All of us have used language in the past that we now wish had been more artful,” adding, “I try my best to treat everyone I meet with kindness and respect.”)

At the time, I was a solo mother of three––two of them in college. With crushing tuition bills, an expensive cascade of illnesses requiring surgeries, and an empty bank account, I’d had to move to cheaper digs and nab the first full-time job with benefits I could find, as a flack for the pharmaceutical industry. This, along with ageism and a shrinking media industry, has derailed my journalism career to this day.

Following the publication of my story in The Atlantic in 2018, I was not surprised to be inundated with similar tales of woe. I was surprised by the number of tales featuring the same antagonist. I created a spreadsheet to organize them. Here are some excerpts:

“Ken was a creep to me, condescending as well … ”

“Your frightening experience with him gave me flashbacks … The way he spoke to me haunts me to this day … Drag the ogre into the daylight.”

“I woke up to your article about Ken Kurson. I had an insane, if not criminal, experience with him that I’d love to talk to you about.”

This last one was chilling. It came from a woman who knew one of the people Kurson was later charged with cyberstalking, and said she had received threatening emails from Kurson herself. When I called her, she recounted both stories of harassment. The behavior she described did indeed sound criminal. And vindictive. I shared it with Jesse Drucker, an investigative journalist at the Times. “Jesse, I need help,” I said. “I want to help this woman, but I feel like I’m out of my league.”

I forwarded him my spreadsheet, with the obvious caveat not to share it further. Then, just as Drucker started looking into each allegation, Trump nominated Kurson to the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Because of course this happened.

Drucker’s story, “The Trump Administration Considers an Old Friend: Ken Kurson,” appeared on May 11. “Concerning Ms. Copaken’s account, Mr. Kurson said, ‘I categorically deny any claim of inappropriate behavior.’”

In response to his denial, I posted a Twitter thread presenting some of the written evidence, email by creepy email.

At the end of the thread, I wrote the following: . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and the FBI gets involved.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 5:36 pm

“After Working at Google, I’ll Never Let Myself Love a Job Again”

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Emil Nietfeld, a software engineer, learns that corporations, as persons, are sociopaths. She writes in the NY Times:

I used to be a Google engineer. That often feels like the defining fact about my life. When I joined the company after college in 2015, it was at the start of a multiyear reign atop Forbes’s list of best workplaces.

I bought into the Google dream completely. In high school, I spent time homeless and in foster care, and was often ostracized for being nerdy. I longed for the prestige of a blue-chip job, the security it would bring and a collegial environment where I would work alongside people as driven as I was.

What I found was a surrogate family. During the week, I ate all my meals at the office. I went to the Google doctor and the Google gym. My colleagues and I piled into Airbnbs on business trips, played volleyball in Maui after a big product launch and even spent weekends together, once paying $170 and driving hours to run an obstacle course in the freezing rain.

My manager felt like the father I wished I’d had. He believed in my potential and cared about my feelings. All I wanted was to keep getting promoted so that as his star rose, we could keep working together. This gave purpose to every task, no matter how grueling or tedious.

The few people who’d worked at other companies reminded us that there was nowhere better. I believed them, even when my technical lead — not my manager, but the man in charge of my day-to-day work — addressed me as “beautiful” and “gorgeous,” even after I asked him to stop. (Finally, I agreed that he could call me “my queen.”) He used many of our one-on-one meetings to ask me to set him up with friends, then said he wanted “A blonde. A tall blonde.” Someone who looked like me.

Saying anything about his behavior meant challenging the story we told ourselves about Google being so special. The company anticipated our every need — nap pods, massage chairs, Q-Tips in the bathroom, a shuttle system to compensate for the Bay Area’s dysfunctional public transportation — until the outside world began to seem hostile. Google was the Garden of Eden; I lived in fear of being cast out.

When I talked to outsiders about the harassment, they couldn’t understand: I had one of the sexiest jobs in the world. How bad could it be? I asked myself this, too. I worried that I was taking things personally and that if anyone knew I was upset, they’d think I wasn’t tough enough to hack it in our intense environment.

So I didn’t tell my manager about my tech lead’s behavior for more than a year. Playing along felt like the price of inclusion. I spoke up only when it looked like he would become an official manager — my manager — replacing the one I adored and wielding even more power over me. At least four other women said that he’d made them uncomfortable, in addition to two senior engineers who already made it clear that they wouldn’t work with him.

As soon as my complaint with H.R. was filed, Google went from being a great workplace to being any other company: It would protect itself first. I’d structured my life around my job — exactly what they wanted me to do — but that only made the fallout worse when I learned that the workplace that I cherished considered me just an employee, one of many and disposable.

The process stretched out for nearly three months. In the meantime I had to have one-on-one meetings with my harasser and sit next to him. Every time I asked for an update on the timeline and expressed my discomfort at having to continue to work in proximity to my harasser, the investigators said that I could seek counseling, work from home or go on leave. I later learned that Google had similar responses to other employees who reported racism or sexism. Claire Stapleton, one of the 2018 walkout organizers, was encouraged to take leave, and Timnit Gebru, a lead researcher on Google’s Ethical AI team, was encouraged to seek mental health care before being forced out.

I resisted. How would being alone by myself all day, apart from my colleagues, friends and support system, possibly help? And I feared that if I stepped away, the company wouldn’t continue the investigation.

Eventually, the investigators corroborated my claims and found my tech lead violated the Code of Conduct and the policy against harassment. My harasser still sat next to me. My manager told me H.R. wouldn’t even make him change his desk, let alone work from home or go on leave. He also told me that my harasser received a consequence that was severe and that I would feel better if I could know what it was, but it sure seemed like nothing happened.

The aftermath of speaking up had broken me down. It dredged up the betrayals of my past that I’d gone into tech trying to overcome. I’d made myself vulnerable to my manager and the investigators but felt I got nothing solid in return. I was constantly on edge from seeing my harasser in the hallways and at the cafes. When people came up behind my desk, I startled more and more easily, my scream echoing across the open-floor-plan office. I worried I’d get a poor performance review, ruining my upward trajectory and setting my career back even further.

I went weeks without sleeping through the night.

I decided to take three months of paid leave. I feared that going on leave would set me back for promotion in a place where almost everyone’s progress is public and seen as a measure of an engineer’s worth and expertise. Like most of my colleagues, I’d built my life around the company. It could so easily be taken away. People on leave weren’t supposed to enter the office — where I went to the gym and had my entire social life.

Fortunately, I still had a job when I got back. If anything, I was more eager than ever to excel, to make up for lost time. I was able to earn a very high performance rating — my second in a row. But it seemed clear I would not be a candidate for promotion. After my leave, the manager I loved started treating me as fragile. He tried to analyze me, suggesting that I drank too much caffeine, didn’t sleep enough or needed more cardiovascular exercise. Speaking out irreparably damaged one of my most treasured relationships. Six months after my return, when I broached the subject of promotion, he told me, “People in wood houses shouldn’t light matches.”

When I didn’t get a promotion, some of my stock grants ran out and so I effectively took a big pay cut. Nevertheless, I wanted to stay at Google. I still believed, despite everything, that Google was the best company in the world. Now I see that my judgment was clouded, but after years of idolizing my workplace, I couldn’t imagine life beyond its walls.

So I interviewed with and got offers from two other top tech companies, hoping that Google would match. In response,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 12:43 pm

Vaccine Refusal Will Come at a Cost—For All of Us

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Edward Isaac-Dovere writes in the Atlantic:

Imagine it’s 2026. A man shows up in an emergency room, wheezing. He’s got pneumonia, and it’s hitting him hard. He tells one of the doctors that he had COVID-19 a few years earlier, in late 2021. He had refused to get vaccinated, and ended up contracting the coronavirus months after most people got their shots. Why did he refuse? Something about politics, or pushing back on government control, or a post he saw on Facebook. He doesn’t really remember. His lungs do, though: By the end of the day, he’s on a ventilator.

You’ll pay for that man’s decisions. So will I. We all will—in insurance premiums, if he has a plan with your provider, or in tax dollars, if the emergency room he goes to is in a public hospital. The vaccine refusers could cost us billions. Maybe more, over the next few decades, with all the complications they could develop. And we can’t do anything about it except hope that more people get their shots than those who say they will right now.

If the 30 percent of Americans who are telling pollsters they won’t get vaccinated follow through, the costs of their decisions will pile up. The economy could take longer to get back to full speed, and once it does, it could get shut down again by outbreaks. Variants will continue to spread, and more people will die. Each COVID-19 case requires weeks of costly rehabilitation. Even after the pandemic fades, millions of vaccine refusers could turn into hundreds of thousands of patients who need extra care, should they come down with the disease. Their bet that they’ve outsmarted the coronavirus or their insistence that Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates were trying to trick them will not stop them from going to the doctor when they’re having trouble breathing, dealing with extreme fatigue, or struggling with other lasting effects of COVID-19. (A new study found that 34 percent of COVID-19 survivors are diagnosed with a neurological or psychological condition within six months of recovering from the initial illness.)

The economic costs of vaccine refusal aren’t yet a major part of the political conversation. That’s likely to change as we move past the first year of the pandemic. “You have a liberty right, and that unfortunately is imposing on everyone else and their liberty right not to have to pay for your stubbornness. And that’s what’s maddening,” Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, told me. Inslee is 70, and fully vaccinated. The three-term Democrat was in a good mood because he was on his way to see his baby granddaughter, whom he hadn’t hugged in a year. But after what he’s gone through since early 2020—the first American COVID-19 outbreak and the first explosion of COVID-denialist demonstrations were both in Washington—he’s angry and sad that so many people are refusing to get their shots.

He had the latest numbers: 15 Washingtonians had died of COVID-19 the day we spoke. More than 300,000 state residents who had been eligible for a vaccine for at least three months still hadn’t gotten one, including 27 percent of those over 65. Some of those people hadn’t been able to get appointments. Some may have been nervous, but would eventually get a vaccine. Some had just refused, and will continue to do so. Those people are “foisting [their] costs on the rest of the community,” Inslee said. “There’s a long, long economic tail of disease prevalence as a result of people who refuse to get vaccinated.” But, he stressed, “it pales in comparison to people losing their lives.”

Inslee read me some data he had gotten from the Republican messaging maven Frank Luntz, which the governor said was going to inform new public-awareness campaigns that the state is developing to break through to Republican men, the people most likely to say they won’t get vaccinated, according to polling. Two appeals seem to work best: First, the vaccines are safe, and they’re more effective than the flu vaccine. Second, you deserve this, and getting vaccinated will help preserve your liberty and encourage the government to lift restrictions. (That last idea is what Jerry Falwell Jr. focused on in the vaccination selfie he posted this week, captioned, “Please get vaccinated so our nutcase of a governor will have less reasons for mindless restrictions!”) Inslee hopes that emphasizing those points will persuade more Republican men to get their shots. But he’s not sure it will work.

The prospect of lower health-care costs has led conservatives to back health-related regulations in the past. In 1991, Pete Wilson, then the Republican governor of California, signed a law mandating helmets for motorcyclists, and made a conservative argument for the new regulation. “We don’t know exactly how much money and how many lives will be saved with this legislation,” Wilson said at the signing ceremony, which was held at a hospital in the state capital. “But we do know that the cost of not enacting it is too great for a civilized society to bear.” Then again, President Ronald Reagan was famously resistant to seatbelt and airbag laws, which also reduce health-care spending.

Though there are some notable vaccination holdouts among Republican officials, most in Congress and in state leadership positions have encouraged their constituents to get the shots. “I saw on some program last week that Republican men, curiously enough, might be reluctant to take the vaccine. I’m a Republican man, and I want to say to everyone: We need to take this vaccine,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said at an event in Kentucky this week. Brad Wenstrup, who worked as a podiatrist before becoming a Republican congressman from Ohio, has been so eagerly promoting the vaccines that he got trained to administer them. But the Republican politics around COVID-19 remain treacherous, and when I reached out to several Republican members of Congress, telling their aides I’d be eager to have them make a Wilson-esque fiscally conservative argument for vaccination, I couldn’t find anyone willing to make that case to me.

Calculating the exact long-term costs is tricky; we have only a year’s worth of data on the lasting health consequences of COVID-19, and even less on the efficacy of the vaccines and Americans’ resistance to getting them. Krutika Amin, who conducts economic and policy research for the Kaiser Family Foundation, tried to sketch out what the taxpayer bill might be. Before the pandemic, about . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2021 at 11:17 am

The Rules That Made U.S. Roads So Deadly

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Bloomberg City Lab has an interesting article. It was particularly interesting to me since I recently had an extended discussion on Facebook with a man who (strongly and stubbornly) believed that highway and intersection design had nothing to do with accidents and that accidents are always the fault of the driver who wasn’t paying attention. He in fact strongly opposed efforts to make intersections and highways safer since that just coddles these inattentive drives. Instead, he proposed telling drivers to pay closer attention and be more careful, and that would solve the problem.

In any case, the article is interesting (and disagrees with this man’s analysis):

A 25-year-old Yale Law student. A crossing guard. A 78-year-old woman. A high-school teacher. These are but four of the pedestrians and bikers counted among the 310 motor-vehicle-related deaths seen in 2020 in Connecticut, where I live. Our state saw one of the highest increases in the U.S. for such deaths: 22% more than in 2019.

Connecticut’s fatality spike is part of a national trend. Earlier this month, the National Safety Council reported that more than 42,000 people in the U.S. died in motor vehicle crashes in 2020, an 8% increase over 2019. What makes this so surprising is that Americans traveled 13% fewer miles by car, because of coronavirus-related lockdowns. So the 8% increase is really a 24% increase on a per-mile-traveled basis — the highest year-over-year jump in 96 years.

Unfortunately, this tragic loss of life was predictable. Outdated, industry-written laws lock in street designs that encourage excessive speed, and we drive vehicles known to be deadly to non-drivers.

You might think that these numbers were boosted by Americans’ heavy-footed driving habits, or that we have a distracted driver (and pedestrian) crisis. While both may be factors, they would not make us unusual — while our fatality rate is. Compare us with Germany, for example, where a love for speed and widespread cellphone use has not resulted in the death rates we see in the U.S. German traffic deaths fell 12% in 2020, which tracks the country’s 11% decrease in traffic volume.

People drive the speeds the roads “tell” them to drive. And they drive the cars that are allowed to be built. As I’ve written in a recent law review article, U.S. laws dictate both.

Let’s talk about U.S. road design rules first. They prioritize one thing: speed. A design manual known as the “Green Book” plays a leading role. Never heard of it? That’s because it’s written without public input by traffic engineers at the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). The Green Book has been used for decades by the federal government, all 50 states, and countless municipalities. In general, it requires lanes that are too wide, which encourages cars to drive faster, and practically ignores pedestrians and bikers.

Fire codes, too, mandate overly wide streets, requiring 20 feet of unobstructed path for new or significantly improved streets. But city residents can’t get involved in drafting fire codes, either. They are primarily drafted by an organization of building code officials that recently sued a group who put the code online, so people could actually read it. Despite efforts in some cities to reduce fire-code-mandated street widths, these codes dominate street design nationally.

And then there is the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), which governs signalization and, more importantly, speed limits. This manual is published by the Federal Highway Administration, a federal agency, which is a better alternative to the private rule-making of the Green Book and fire codes. But in one big way, it is deeply problematic: The MUTCD recommends setting speed limits that match the 85th percentile of actual free-flowing traffic, rounded up to the nearest 5 miles per hour. In effect, drivers breaking the law by speeding justifies raising speed limits even more. The MUTCD also standardizes signaling and pavement markings that often prioritize cars over all other road users.

Vehicle design regulations aren’t much better: U.S. safety regulators prioritize the people inside the vehicle, largely ignoring the non-passenger impact of passenger vehicles. Unregulated, car manufacturers have flooded the market with oversized SUVs and pickup trucks with huge frontal surfaces and poor forward vision — design features that would fail to meet Europe’s more stringent vehicle safety standards, and that make such machines more dangerous for pedestrians and those in smaller cars.

SUVs have contributed to the 81% increase in pedestrian fatalities between 2009 and 2018, and roads are deadlier for bikers and pedestrians than they have been in 30 years. Disproportionately represented among these fatalities are Black people, Native people and the elderly. Our laws value drivers and car passengers over everyone else who uses our roads.

5 Ways to Rewrite the Rules of the Road

To reverse these horrific trends, it’s not just popular culture, which romanticizes speed, that must change. It’s our regulatory culture. Design standards dictate how streets and vehicles look and function. Here are five things we can do to revise them.

First, we need to diversify the people who codify road design. AASHTO, the code councils and the federal agency writing the MUTCD are dominated by white, male engineers who are trained to prioritize driver speed. We need women, people of color, transit users and bike-pedestrian advocates to bring new perspectives and cultural competencies into the conversation. We must also adopt the techniques already deployed by designers of slow or complete streets, which incorporate such features as narrower lanes, curb extensions (or bulb-outs), and chicanes to bring vehicle speeds down. This change must start at the top: The Department of Transportation and other federal agencies must no longer accept lopsided rules, written largely in secret, with a disparate impact on so many diverse road users. It’s time to update and revise those federal standards, which will allow state and local standards to evolve as well.

Second, we must boost public input in the eleventh edition of the MUTCD. The Federal Highway Administration is now seeking public comment on its proposed updates to the MUTCD through a formal process all federal agencies must undergo when seeking to amend or create new policies. The proposed draft is riddled with problems. The 85th percentile rule, which raises speed limits when people speed, remains a central part of the draft. A few half-hearted attempts to address pedestrians, bicycles and transit are not enough. The MUTCD needs a complete overhaul, because it dictates the signage, crosswalks and signalization on practically every road in the country. Submit comments by May 14 asking the FHWA to go back to the drawing board.

Third, we need to establish non-driver safety as a formal priority of federal, state and local traffic agencies. The principal priority now is driver speed and convenience.

Fourth,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2021 at 1:54 pm

A Shift in American Family Values Is Fueling Estrangement

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Joshua Coleman, a psychologist and senior fellow at the Council on Contemporary Families and the author of the forthcoming book Rules of Estrangement: Why Adult Children Cut Ties and How to Heal the Conflict, writes in the Atlantic:

Sometimes my work feels more like ministry than therapy. As a psychologist specializing in family estrangement, my days are spent sitting with parents who are struggling with profound feelings of grief and uncertainty. “If I get sick during the pandemic, will my son break his four years of silence and contact me? Or will I just die alone?” “How am I supposed to live with this kind of pain if I never see my daughter again?” “My grandchildren and I were so close and this estrangement has nothing to do with them. Do they think I abandoned them?”

Since I wrote my book When Parents Hurt, my practice has filled with mothers and fathers who want help healing the distance with their adult children and learning how to cope with the pain of losing them. I also treat adult children who are estranged from their parents. Some of those adult children want no contact because their parents behaved in ways that were clearly abusive or rejecting. To make matters worse for their children and themselves, some parents are unable to repair or empathize with the damage they caused or continue to inflict. However, my recent research—and my clinical work over the past four decades—has shown me that you can be a conscientious parent and your kid may still want nothing to do with you when they’re older.

However they arrive at estrangement, parents and adult children seem to be looking at the past and present through very different eyes. Estranged parents often tell me that their adult child is rewriting the history of their childhood, accusing them of things they didn’t do, and/or failing to acknowledge the ways in which the parent demonstrated their love and commitment. Adult children frequently say the parent is gaslighting them by not acknowledging the harm they caused or are still causing, failing to respect their boundaries, and/or being unwilling to accept the adult child’s requirements for a healthy relationship.

Both sides often fail to recognize how profoundly the rules of family life have changed over the past half century. “Never before have family relationships been seen as so interwoven with the search for personal growth, the pursuit of happiness, and the need to confront and overcome psychological obstacles,” the historian Stephanie Coontz, the director of education and research for the Council on Contemporary Families, told me in an email. “For most of history, family relationships were based on mutual obligations rather than on mutual understanding. Parents or children might reproach the other for failing to honor/acknowledge their duty, but the idea that a relative could be faulted for failing to honor/acknowledge one’s ‘identity’ would have been incomprehensible.”

The historian Steven Mintz, the author of Huck’s Raft: A History of American Childhood, made a similar observation in an email: “Families in the past fought over tangible resources—land, inheritances, family property. They still do, but all this is aggravated and intensified by a mindset that does seem to be distinctive to our time. Our conflicts are often psychological rather than material—and therefore even harder to resolve.”

In The Marriage-Go-Round, the Johns Hopkins University sociologist Andrew Cherlin wrote that starting in the late 19th century, traditional sources of identity such as class, religion, and community slowly began to be replaced with an emphasis on personal growth and happiness. By the second half of the 20th century, American families had gone through changes that, Cherlin said, were “unlike anything that previous generations of Americans have ever seen.”

Deciding which people to keep in or out of one’s life has become an important strategy to achieve that happiness. While there’s nothing especially modern about family conflict or a desire to feel insulated from it, conceptualizing the estrangement of a family member as an expression of personal growth as it is commonly done today is almost certainly new.

Of course, not all individuals base their ideas of family on these more individualized principles. “Most immigrant families, especially those in the first generation, still value interdependence and filial duty,” Mintz noted. “However, in recent decades the majority of American families have experienced weakening [extended] kin ties and high rates of mobility and dispersion. I would argue that these factors have made the opportunities for familial alienation greater than in the past.”

Estrangement seems to affect a small but significant portion of families in the United States, and it is happening today against a backdrop of record-high parental investment. During the past 50 years, people across the classes have been working harder than ever to be good parents. They have given up hobbies, sleep, and time with their friends in the hope of slingshotting their offspring into successful adulthood.

On the positive side, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2021 at 1:28 pm

The case of Norman Douglas: When pederasts are accepted and even lionized

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Rachel Hope Cleves, a historian and professor at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, has an interesting and lengthy extract from her book Unspeakable: A Life Beyond Sexual Morality (2020) in Aeon. Let me quote the conclusion:

. . . Popular toleration of pederasty, in Italy and elsewhere, took the form of wilful ignorance. As the American literary theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick pointed out in Epistemology of the Closet (1990), ignorance is not a singular ‘maw of darkness’ but a multiple phenomenon. Ignorance can entail intentional not-knowing, making the closet a performance of silence as a speech act. The Australian anthropologist Michael Taussig called communal expressions of wilful ignorance ‘public secrets’ that rested on ‘active not-knowing’. The experiences of the German photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden demonstrates how such a public secret, or active not-knowing, operated. Gloeden lived in Taormina, in Sicily, from 1878 to his death in 1931. During his decades of residence, he photographed generations of boys, frequently posing them naked in Hellenic ruins, adorned with laurel crowns and other symbols of ancient Greece. Gloeden’s photographs were popular with many early gay activists, including Symonds. The people of Taormina, who benefitted from the tourist trade that Gloeden’s photography brought to their town, also liked him. Gloeden and other foreign men often paid local youths for sexual encounters, an open secret in the community. Locals silenced any journalists, priests and politicians who attempted to criticise Gloeden, since they felt that these criticisms dishonoured the community and threatened their economic wellbeing. As Mario Bolognari, a historian of Taormina, concluded in 2017: ‘having chosen not to see does not imply being blind. It only means having decided that it was preferable not to notice certain things.’

Active not-knowing happens at the intimate level as well as the communal level. Families engage in active not-knowing about sexual wrongdoing in the home. This applies not only to child sexual abuse, but to all sorts of misbehaviours, including adultery, sibling incest and domestic violence. The motivations for active not-knowing are various, ranging from love and loyalty for the offender, to fear of retribution, to a desire to shield the family from public shame. Active not-knowing applies to more than sexual misbehaviour, and extends beyond the family. Friends exercise active not-knowing on behalf of friends, not wanting to risk meaningful relationships. Fans of artists engage in active not-knowing about their idols, motivated by awe and admiration, or by a desire to protect a favourite artwork from scrutiny and rejection. And disempowered people engage in active not-knowing about the powerful, from fear of the consequences that might result from confronting the truth, or from appreciation for the benefits that accrue from maintaining ignorance. Lastly, everyone benefits from silence by avoiding being implicated themselves in the bad thing that they know about.

Many of these ways of not-knowing helped Douglas escape condemnation. Some members of his extended family disowned him because of the abusive way he treated his wife, who was his first cousin and thus their relation as well. But his sons, who witnessed firsthand his sexual encounters with children (and might even, in the case of his older son, have experienced abuse) maintained loyalty to their father and defended him from posthumous accusations. Some writer friends wrote off Douglas after his arrests, but many loved his books and maintained a deliberate ignorance about what actually happened between Douglas and the boys and girls he recounted meeting in the pages of his travel books. The children themselves knew the most about Douglas’s sexual predations, but they had the most to gain financially – and often emotionally – from keeping close to him. There’s almost no evidence of children speaking out against Douglas either during their connections or afterwards, as adults. One exception is a 16-year-old whose complaint led to Douglas’s initial arrest in London in 1916.

The lack of panic about paedophilia during Douglas’s lifetime made it easier for all these people to look the other way, even when he flaunted his predilections. Douglas went so far as to write about how he’d purchased children for sex in his memoir, Looking Back (1933). Very few reviewers took issue with the material, at least until after Douglas’s death, when, freed from the fear of a libel suit, they pointed out how unseemly it was for Douglas to have admitted to such behaviour. The author and former politician Harold Nicolson complained that he was ‘shocked by people who, when past the age of 70, openly avow indulgences which they ought to conceal’. In the eyes of reviewers who wanted to maintain the pretence of active not-knowing, Douglas’s admission might have been a worse crime than the acts themselves, since they implicated the readers by forcing them into a state of knowing.

If Douglas escaped condemnation during his lifetime, he couldn’t escape the assault on his reputation following the intensification of anti-paedophilic sentiment after his death. The shift in public mores during the 1980s towards viewing paedophiles as monsters made it impossible to defend Douglas. He disappeared from literary memory, except as an example of historical villainy – the role he plays in two novels published after the 1980s, Francis King’s The Ant Colony (1991) and Alex Preston’s In Love and War (2014). Most readers would consider that a salutary change and welcome the expulsion of paedophiles from acceptable society. However, the rise of the ‘monster’ discourse doesn’t seem to have made people much more willing to speak out against child sexual abuse in the present.

Looking at the example of Epstein, one can see the same old dynamics of active not-knowing operating among the leadership of the MIT Media Lab (who accepted donations from Epstein) and the scholars who turned a blind eye to his abuse, even after his conviction. The Media Lab didn’t want to lose Epstein’s financial patronage or be shamed by association. Individual scholars might have enjoyed his company (and the company of the girls and young women Epstein surrounded himself with), or they might have wanted funding from him, or feared the consequences to their careers if they spoke out against him. In an even more striking parallel to Douglas, Matzneff wrote and spoke openly about his paedophilia without censure, protected by fellow writers’ and publishers’ unwillingness to disturb the dense network of literary connections in which they all played a role, until one of his victims of abuse, the French publisher Vanessa Springora, broke the silence in 2019.

Is it possible that elevating the paedophile to the status of a monster has in fact, rather than making it easier to speak out against child abuse, made it more imperative for friends, family members and fans to engage in active not-knowing? Who wants to expose someone they love as a monster? More than that, people are inclined to disbelieve tales of extraordinary monstrosity. Who wants to disturb their own situation by making such explosive allegations? The stakes are too high to risk getting it wrong. Maybe it would be easier to counter the problem of child sexual abuse if we were able to acknowledge it as both bad and ordinary. In Douglas’s day, such sex was seen as questionable but mundane. Today, it’s seen as terrible but exceptional. If we could create a world where people agreed that sex between adults and children was not healthy for children, and that many ordinary adults engaged in such behaviour nonetheless, maybe more people would feel empowered to witness and speak out against everyday abuse.

This sort of wilful ignorance that accompanies acceptance is (as I fairly frequently mention) discussed in Daniel Goleman’s interesting book Vital Lies, Simple Truths.

This is also related to what is happening in France, where the acceptability of sexual harassment and rape, particularly by men in positions of power, is losing ground fairly rapidly. See Norimitsu Onishu’s NY Times article “Powerful Men Fall, One After Another, in France’s Delayed #MeToo.” (And the articles to which that report links are worth reading as well.) From the report:

. . . Since the beginning of the year, a series of powerful men from some of France’s most prominent fields — politics, sports, the news media, academia and the arts — have faced direct and public accusations of sexual abuse in a reversal from mostly years of silence. At the same time, confronted with these high-profile cases and a shift in public opinion, French lawmakers are hurrying to set 15 as the age of sexual consent — only three years after rejecting such a law.

The recent accusations have not only led to official investigations, the loss of positions for some men and outright banishment from public life for others. They have also resulted in a rethinking of French masculinity and of the archetype of Frenchmen as irresistible seducers — as part of a broader questioning of many aspects of French society and amid a conservative backlash against ideas on gender, race and postcolonialism supposedly imported from American universities.

. . . Ms. Haas said that France was going through a delayed reaction to #MeToo after a “maturation” period during which many French began to understand the social dimensions behind sexual violence and the concept of consent.

That was especially so, Ms. Haas said, after the testimony in the past year of Adèle Haenel, the first high-profile actress to speak out over abuse, and of Vanessa Springora, whose memoir, “Consent,” documented her abuse by the pedophile writer Gabriel Matzneff.

“The start of 2021 has been a sort of aftershock,” Ms. Haas said. “What’s very clear is that, today in France, we don’t at all have the same reaction that we did four, five years ago to testimonies of sexual violence against well-known people.”

Last month, Pierre Ménès, one of France’s most famous television sports journalists, was suspended indefinitely by his employer after the release of a documentary that exposed sexism in sports journalism, “I’m Not a Slut, I’m a Journalist.”

Just a few years ago, few criticized him for behavior that they now don’t dare defend in public, including forcibly kissing women on the mouth on television and, in front of a studio audience in 2016, lifting the skirt of a female journalist — Marie Portolano, the producer of the documentary.

“The world’s changed, it’s #MeToo, you can’t do anything anymore, you can’t say anything anymore,” Mr. Ménès said in a television interview after the documentary’s release. He said he didn’t remember the skirt incident, adding that he hadn’t been feeling like himself at the time because of a physical illness. . .

There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 April 2021 at 12:12 pm

The Rite of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky — An animated account of its debut

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2021 at 7:57 pm

How an Abstinence Pledge in the ’90s Shamed a Generation of Evangelicals

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Clyde Haberman reports in the NY Times:

To the uninitiated, Christianity’s evangelical movement can seem like a monolith that brooks no dissent on certain core issues: Same-sex relationships are sinful, men’s spiritual dominance over women is divinely ordained and, on the political front, Donald J. Trump was an improbable but nonetheless valued protector of the faith.

Not everything is what it appears to be. The movement is in fact rife with division, a reality reinforced last month when Beth Moore, an evangelical writer and teacher with a huge following, formally ended her long affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention, principally because of its tight embrace of the licentious, truth-challenged Mr. Trump.

It was a rupture several years in the making. As Ms. Moore told Religion News Service, disenchantment took hold when Mr. Trump became “the banner, the poster child for the great white hope of evangelicalism, the salvation of the church in America.” But the former president’s behavior is not the only issue buffeting the evangelical movement. White supremacy, male subjugation of women, a spate of sexual abuse cases, scandals involving prominent figures like Jerry Falwell Jr. — all have combined to undermine the authority of religious leaders and prompt members like Ms. Moore to abandon the Southern Baptist Convention.

Retro Report, which examines through video how the past shapes the present, turns attention to an artifact of religious conservatism from the movement. This is the so-called purity pledge, taken in the main by teenagers who pledged to abstain from sex until they married. Some swore to not so much as kiss another person or even go on a date, for fear of putting themselves on the road to moral failure.

Devotion to this concept took hold in the early ’90s, when fear of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases bolstered the evangelical movement’s gospel of teen abstinence. It was a view put forth as God-commanded and had the support of like-minded political leaders, from the White House of Ronald Reagan to that of Mr. Trump.

Many people certainly found lifelong contentment because of having waited for the right mate. But for others, as the Retro Report video shows, the dictates of the purity movement were so emotionally onerous that their adulthoods have been filled with apprehension and, in some instances, physical pain. They are people like Linda Kay Klein, who embraced the movement in her teens but left it in disenchantment at 21, two decades ago.

She described the trauma and the shame she felt this way: “I would find myself in tears and in a ball in the corner of a bed, crying, my eczema coming out, which it does when I’m stressed, and scratching myself till I bled, and having a deep shame reaction.” Ms. Klein found she was far from alone. She collected tales of enduring anxiety in a book, “Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free” (Touchstone, 2018). “We went to war with ourselves, our own bodies and our own sexual natures,” she wrote, “all under the strict commandment of the church.”

It was under the aegis of the Southern Baptist Convention that the vow of virginity took distinct form, in True Love Waits, a program begun in 1993. As the movement grew in the ’90s, estimates of teenage adherents reached as high as 2.5 million worldwide. Youngsters wore purity rings, signed purity pledge cards and attended purity balls, with girls dressed in white and escorted by their fathers.

The fundamental message, inspired by a verse from Paul the Apostle’s First Epistle to the Thessalonians, was this: “I am making a commitment to myself, my family and my Creator that I will abstain from sexual activity of any kind before marriage. I will keep my body and my thoughts pure as I trust in God’s perfect plan for my life.”

Separate from religious imperatives, American teenagers in general have become warier of premarital relations — and certainly of unprotected sex. According to the federal government, there were 61.8 births in 1991 for every 1,000 young women in the 15-to-19 age group. By 2018, that figure had dwindled to 17.4, a decline that cut across racial and ethnic lines.

Among those who regarded purity in terms of spiritual enlightenment, few in the ’90s came to be more celebrated than Joshua Harris, a young man who preached that even sex-free dating was a dangerous first step on the slippery slope of a compromised life. His 1997 book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” sold roughly a million copies. In his writings and speeches, Mr. Harris advocated courtship under the watchful eyes of a couple’s parents.

His message back then, he recalled for Retro Report, was that one should avoid conventional dating just as an alcoholic ought to steer clear of a bar. “It was, like, if you don’t want to have sex,” he said, “then don’t get into these sorts of short-term romantic relationships where there is an expectation to become intimate.”

Controlling teenage hormones, however, is easier said than done. Mr. Harris, who lives in Vancouver, eventually pulled his book from circulation, and has apologized for the role he played in causing anyone feelings of shame, fear and guilt. Today, he no longer considers himself a Christian.

Part of the problem for some critics of the movement is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 April 2021 at 7:49 pm

The harmful ableist language people unknowingly use

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Sara Nović writes in Equality Matters:

Some of our most common, ingrained expressions have damaging effects on millions of people – and many of us don’t know we’re hurting others when we speak.

I like being deaf. I like the silence as well as the rich culture and language deafness affords me. When I see the word ‘deaf’ on the page, it evokes a feeling of pride for my community, and calls to me as if I’m being addressed directly, as if it were my name.

So, it always stings when I’m reminded that for many, the word ‘deaf’ has little to do with what I love most – in fact, its connotations are almost exclusively negative. For example, in headlines across the world – Nevada’s proposed gun safety laws, pleas from Ontario’s elderly and weather safety warnings in Queensland – have all “fallen on deaf ears”.

This kind of ‘ableist’ language is omnipresent in conversation: making a “dumb” choice, turning a “blind eye” to a problem, acting “crazy”, calling a boss “psychopathic”, having a “bipolar” day. And, for the most part, people who utter these phrases aren’t intending to hurt anyone – more commonly, they don’t have any idea they’re engaging in anything hurtful at all.

However, for disabled people like me, these common words can be micro-assaults. For instance, “falling on deaf ears” provides evidence that most people associate deafness with wilful ignorance (even if they consciously may not). But much more than individual slights, expressions like these can do real, lasting harm to the people whom these words and phrases undermine – and even the people who use them in daily conversation, too.

Not a small problem

About 1 billion people worldwide – 15% of the global population – have some type of documented disability. In the US, this proportion is even larger, at about one in four people, with similar rates reported in the UK.

Despite these numbers, disabled people experience widespread discrimination at nearly every level of society. This phenomenon, known as ‘ableism’ – discrimination based on disability – can take on various forms. Personal ableism might look like name-calling, or committing violence against a disabled person, while systemic ableism refers to the inequity disabled people experience as a result of laws and policy.

But ableism can also be indirect, even unintentional, in the form of linguistic micro-aggressions. As much as we all like to think we’re careful with the words we choose, ableist language is a pervasive part of our lexicon. Examples in pop culture are everywhere, and you’ve almost certainly used it yourself.

Frequently, ableist language (known to some as ‘disableist’ language) crops up in the slang we use, like calling something “dumb” or “lame”, or making a declaration like, “I’m so OCD!”. Though these might feel like casual slights or exclamations, they still do damage.

Jamie Hale, the London-based CEO of Pathfinders Neuromuscular Alliance, a UK charity run for and by people with neuromuscular conditions, notes that the potential for harm exists even if the words are not used against a disabled person specifically. “There’s a sense when people use disableist language, that they are seeing ways of being as lesser,” says Hale. “It is often not a conscious attempt to harm disabled people, but it acts to construct a world-view in which existing as a disabled person is [negative].”

Using language that equates disability to something negative can be problematic in several ways.

First, these words give an inaccurate picture of what being disabled actually means. “To describe someone as ‘crippled by’ something is to say that they are ‘limited’ [or] ‘trapped’, perhaps,” says Hale. “But those aren’t how I experience my being.”

Disability as metaphor is also an imprecise way to say of saying what we really mean. The phrase ‘fall on deaf ears’, for example, both perpetuates stereotypes and simultaneously obscures the reality of the situation it describes. Being deaf is an involuntary state, whereas hearing people who let pleas ‘fall on deaf ears’ are making a conscious choice to ignore those requests. Labelling them ‘deaf’ frames them as passive, rather than people actively responsible for their own decisions.

Hale adds that using disability as a shorthand for something negative or inferior reinforces negative attitudes and actions, and fuels the larger systems of oppression in place. “We build a world with the language we use, and for as long as we’re comfortable using this language, we continue to build and reinforce disableist structures,” they say.

Say what?

If ableist language is so harmful, why is it so common? Why might someone who would never purposefully insult a disabled person outright still find ableist expressions among their own vocabulary?

Ableist language as colloquialism functions like any other slang term: people repeat it because they’ve heard others say it, a mimicry that on its face suggests use is undiscerning. However, according to University of Louisville linguistics professor DW Maurer, while anyone can create slang term, the expression will only “gain currency according to the unanimity of attitude within the group”. This suggests ableist slang is ubiquitous because, on some level, the speakers believe it to be true.

It’s possible for individuals to be truly unconscious of these biases within themselves, and unaware of the ableism couched in their own everyday sayings. But the fact is, discussions about the negative effect of a word such as “dumb” – a term originally denoting a deaf person who did not use speech, but which now functions as slang for something brutish, uninteresting or of low intelligence – have been happening in deaf and disabled circles for centuries.

According to Rosa Lee Timm, the Maryland, US-based chief marketing officer of non-profit organisation Communication Service for the Deaf, these conversations have remained largely unexamined by the mainstream because non-disabled people believe that ableism doesn’t affect them, and ableist language perpetuates and justifies that belief.

“Ableist language encourages  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and it’s good to know.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 April 2021 at 6:25 pm

Posted in Daily life, Memes

The case against Shakespeare in secondary schools

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In The Walrus Allan Stratton explains why Shakespeare should have a much smaller role in the secondary school curriculum:

WE’VE CANCELLED six Dr. Seuss titles. Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird appear to be on the block. But, if we’re on a bend to reform our approach to teaching the English language, there are bigger fish to fry. Shakespeare is the curriculum’s Moby Dick. We need a harpoon. More than any other experience, the yearly dissection of Shakespeare turns kids off literature.

I speak as a writer, teacher, and lifelong fan. My mom took me to see Twelfth Night when I was five. It was 1956, the last year that the Stratford Festival performed in a tent; Christopher Plummer played Sir Andrew Aguecheek. I went every year after that, my forehead tingling every time I heard the preshow trumpet fanfare. Before age twelve, I’d read and reread Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare (1807) a million times. And summer jobs variously included festival usher, dresser, and spear carrier.

So, no, I’m not saying Shakespeare should be beached in his entirety. But, at the moment, as Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “He doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus,” taking up a quarter to a third of each year’s high school English course. You’d think no other playwright existed—why, barely another author.

This has serious consequences for what ought to be the primary function of high school study: developing a love of reading that will last a lifetime. This is next to impossible when your major contact with literature is a guy from the 1500s who wrote with a quill in what might as well be a second language. And when your teachers aren’t theatre people who can bring the works from page to stage, for which they were intended and where they shine.

Shakespeare began to be studied in high schools in 1870. The language still required translation, but at least the Victorians were used to long sentences. They were also steeped in the Bible and the Greek and Roman literatures necessary to understand Shakespeare’s allusions. Even in my day, we’d been taught the ancients’ myths.

Today’s students aren’t so much studying Shakespeare as learning to do linguistic and cultural archaeology. Or autopsies. Shakespeare is used for purposes of literary “dissection” and “analysis.” That means spotting metaphors and similes, like those kindergarten puzzle games where you find the bananas hiding in the picture. It’s like pulling the wings off flies to see how they work. Or studying a joke to understand why it’s funny.

Sure, it’s good for students to learn those literary terms and others, like iambic pentameter. General knowledge is useful if you don’t want to look like a dummy; it also helps connect ideas from disparate sources. But the truth is, terms in a subject area matter only for the people in that field. I drive a car, but damned if I can remember the physics that make it run.

Besides, literature doesn’t exist for its symbols and imagery, nor are they the reason authors write. What’s important is character and story and the discussions around the meanings that grow out of them. In that respect, Shakespeare is singularly unfit for purpose. There’s too much baggage.

For purposes of analysis, it would be far better to teach one of his sonnets. For instance, “Sonnet 18”—“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”—is perfect for demonstrating metaphor, symbol, iambic pentameter, and a major, if now rarely used, poetic structure. For those of you with gauzy memories, read those fourteen lines and imagine you’re a teenager today. Bright students will be excited, which is terrific. For those who are lost, it’s an hour, not a month, in the dentist’s chair.

That said, although I think Shakespeare’s plays should be curtailed, students shouldn’t totally miss out. Managing a work is something they can be proud of, and it gives them a taste of one of the finest writers in the language. But I’d save it for their senior year, when they have more under their belts. And I’d present it as performance rather than as text.

I’d start with a film version to get . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 April 2021 at 3:08 pm

The health-care industry doesn’t want to talk about this single word

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A clear example of the extent of systemic racism in the United States is offered in a Washington Post column by Ron Wyatt, co-chairof the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s equity advisory group and faculty for the IHI Pursuing Equity Initiative. Wyatt was the first Black chief medical resident at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine. He writes:

When I write about health policy or speak with medical colleagues about barriers to care, there is one word — and one word only — that evokes a wide range of responses. Some respond with silence; others with avoidance. Some respond with anger and defensiveness.

The word appeared at the top of a paper I submitted to the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2015 with David R. Williams, a professor of public health and African American studies at Harvard University. The title: “Racism in Health and Healthcare: Challenges and Opportunities.”

The editor of the journal at that time, Howard Bauchner, advised us that the word could not be published and that “racial bias” would be substituted into the title before publication. Using “racism,” he said, would result in “losing readers.” As authors and scientists, we compromised. We agreed to the change, and the article was published.

Just a few weeks ago, six years after that decision to compromise, Bauchner and I spoke by phone. He apologized, saying that progress has been made since then.

Has progress been made? JAMA recently announced that following controversial comments on racism in medicine made by a deputy editor, Bauchner was placed on administrative leave on March 25 while an independent investigation is completed.

Entrenched systemic racism — and the deliberate omission of the word in patient safety circles — is the cause of an astonishing level of preventable harm and death among communities of color that have been devalued and discounted for more than 400 years.

The covid-19 pandemic has laid bare the racial inequities of the U.S. health-care system. Too many health-care executives still perpetuate the ahistoric perspective that our country’s model provides safe and equal care for all. Yet the disproportionate number of deaths to covid-19 among racial and ethnic minority groups exposes the systemic and lethal barriers to care.

Last month, a major health-care trade magazine accepted another article that I contributed to with three colleagues, once again with “racism” in the title. When our editor sent us the final authors’ agreement, we noticed the word had been removed from the title and replaced with “intolerance.” This time, we were not willing to compromise. Our editor later informed us that the article would not be published in the May/June issue as scheduled. We were not given a reason.

I have worked all over the United States and internationally as a champion of addressing health inequity. I can say without hesitation — both as a doctor and a citizen — that racism in the United States is a public health crisis.

Having lived in rural Alabama, my family experienced these inequities personally. When my great uncle, who was like a father to me, fell ill, he was taken to a clinic that was segregated by skin color, and was subsequently admitted to a hospital in Selma in 1973. He died one day later. In 2015, I learned he had a ruptured appendix and was never seen by a physician.

I have advised and worked with large, complex health-care systems in the United States, Britain, Australia and Africa. I have collaborated with organizations such as the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and the Joint Commission. I have even discussed race as a risk factor for death with White health leaders, such as former president of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Don Berwick.

Yet, I still sometimes feel that survival mechanism kick in to compromise and veil the truth that structural and systemic racism is a root cause of preventable harm and death across U.S. health care. I have been warned that if I did not continue to compromise, I would be labeled an “angry Black man” and that colleagues would distance themselves from me.

The days of compromise are over.

Solving systemic racism in public health must start with naming it. We must publish the word. We must say the word. If health-care providers are to be competent in caring for communities that have been marginalized and oppressed for centuries, then they must understand the role racism plays in poor health. This includes . . .

Continue reading.

Racists don’t like it when you point out their racism.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 April 2021 at 5:51 pm

A Tale of Two Tongues: English and Esperanto

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Stephanie Tam writes in The Believer:

I. THE ISLANDER 

Ever since Orlando Raola was a boy, he harbored a curiosity that stretched across the seas. Growing up in Havana, Cuba, in the 1960s, he perused the encyclopedia sets of his elementary school and pressed his ear to his shortwave radio to listen to programs on Radio Sweden. Always, he wondered what lay beyond the horizon.

“Having been born on an island, and being an islander by nature, I always had this great curiosity: What is beyond the sea?” Orlando told me. “What is the world out there? I understood early that the only way to communicate with humans is through language, and I was interested in many different cultures.”

Of all the cultures out there, he developed a special fascination with those of the European Nordic countries, compelled by exotic visions of snow-capped mountains and blue-eyed Swedes. In 1981 he joined the Swedish Institute, a public agency devoted to promoting interest in Sweden around the world. Eventually, he decided to learn the language, and the institute shipped him a package containing dictionaries, cassette tapes, reading material, and textbooks.

As he sifted through the contents of the box, he felt overwhelmed. His heart sank as he realized the magnitude of time and effort it would require for him to master Swedish. He would study for years and years—and then what? He would be able to speak to a small sliver of the world. True, he found Swedish culture fascinating. But he was also curious about the cultures of Japan, Hungary, and China.

“Do I have time to learn all of these languages?” he asked himself. “No, there won’t be time.” Sitting amid the piles of books and cassettes, he realized something. What he longed for was not just any language, but a universal language: one that would connect him not just to one people, but to the whole of humanity.

“That day,” he recounted with a slight smile, “that’s the day I became an Esperantist.”

II. THE DREAM OF A UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE

The dream of a universal language traces back millennia. One of our oldest stories about the origins of linguistic difference, the tale of Babel, is recounted in Genesis, the first book of the Torah. In it, men seek to build a tower that reaches the heavens: a rebellion of cosmic dimensions. To stop them, God scatters them into many nations and tongues across the earth. At its heart, Babel is an origin story about human miscommunication—language as a symbol for that which divides us. [1]

The history of universal languages tracks what its inventors believed divided humanity throughout the centuries. In the thirteenth century, the Catalan mystic and poet Ramon Llull developed a language that he believed would convert “infidels” to God’s truth. In his book Ars Magna, he designed a system of disks that could be rotated to combine theological concepts and generate 1,680 logical propositions by which the enterprising missionary might transcend linguistic barriers. (His eventual death at the hands of the Saracens suggests that the infidels felt otherwise.)

During the Enlightenment, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz also attempted to create a logical language that transcended words. He planned to create a universal language out of symbols and equations that could not only perfectly mirror the mechanics of human intelligence but also calculate new knowledge and resolve disputes, which has led some to believe that his philosophy of mind and language anticipated artificial intelligence. “This language will be the greatest instrument of reason,” he wrote in The Art of Discovery in 1685. “….When there are disputes among persons, we can simply say: Let us calculate, without further ado, and see who is right.”

Each effort to create a language intelligible to the whole of humanity was informed by its creator’s understanding of what could allow or impair communication—conversion, heathenism; rationality, irrationality—and a desire to solve the problems that proliferated among our “natural” languages. In other words, language has always evolved as both a bridge and a barrier.

III. THE OPHTHALMOLOGIST AND THE EDUCATOR

One hundred years before Orlando Raola despaired in front of his box from the Swedish Institute, a young ophthalmologist by the name of Ludovik Lazarus Zamenhof looked with anguish at the rampant anti-Semitism ravaging his hometown of Białystok. Born as a Jew in the Russian Empire in 1859, Zamenhof was acutely aware of the forces that threatened to tear apart the fabric of his society—rising nationalism, ethnic divisions, the formation of nation-states—and that would eventually draw Europe into the first of two world wars.

Zamenhof had grown up believing that all people were part of the same human family, but when he looked around his neighborhood he saw only tribes divided by language. “In Białystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies,” he recalled. “….the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies.”

In his teens, Zamenhof began work on a language that could serve as a bridge for all cultures. His creation would eventually become known as Esperanto, the world’s most successful “constructed” language. Zamenhof wanted his international language to be easy to learn, so he created a simplified grammar consisting of sixteen rules. There are no gendered nouns—no feminine moon or masculine sun, as is the case in French. Each word ending indicates its part of speech: all adjectives end in a, all nouns in o, all adverbs in e. For instance, Eŭropo (Europe)is the noun; Eŭropa (European)is the adjective. To make a noun plural, one simply adds j to the end of the root; there is also an accusative case, in which words end in n (Eŭropon). That’s about all the rules when it comes to nouns.

Unlike in English, verbs do not change for person or number, and there is only one ending, -as, for verbs in the present indicative: for example, mi estas (I am), vi estas (you are), li/ŝi/ĝi estas (he/she/it is). Verbs do conjugate for present (-as), past (-is), and future (-os) tenses, unlike Chinese and Indonesian, which rely mostly on context. The spelling is phonetic, with each letter corresponding to a single sound—in contrast to many natural languages, which often disappear consonants from words as their pronunciation evolves, like poignant and Worcester in English.

As a universal language, Esperanto was intended to be unaffiliated with any particular nationality or ethnicity. Zamenhof compiled nine hundred root words primarily from Indo-European languages: German, English, French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian. These could in turn be used to create new words, in a compound structure similar to those of languages like Chinese and Turkish. The word for steamship, for example, is vaporŝipo = vapor (steam) + ŝip (ship) + (noun ending). In this way, vocabulary can be built up from the base of root words with suffixes and affixes: for instance, the verb manĝi (to eat) + the suffix –aĵo (a thing) = manĝaĵo (food). A truly “neutral” language was beyond this well-intentioned polyglot creator (Zamenhof learned nearly a dozen languages over the course of his life), given his European origins and influences; its phonology is essentially Slavic, and its vocabulary derives primarily from Romance languages. But Zamenhof succeeded in creating a language that was simple to pick up. [2] One study among Francophone children found Esperanto an average of ten times faster to learn than English, Italian, or German.

In 1887, Zamenhof published his language manifesto in a Russian-language pamphlet under the pseudonym DoktoroEsperanto(“Doctor Hopeful”). He referred to his creation simply as the “lingvo internacia” (“international language”). Eventually, though, it came to be known by the name—or, in this case, pseudonym—of its inventor: Esperanto.

Behind Esperanto’s humble linguistic LEGO blocks lay a vast vision. “La interna ideo de Esperanto…,” Zamenhof declared in 1912, “estas: sur neŭtrala lingva fundamento forigi la murojn inter la gentoj…” The core idea of the language was a neutral linguistic foundation to facilitate communication between peoples: in other words, it was intended to create world peace through mutual understanding. The idea was not for Esperanto to supplant natural languages, but to work alongside them as an auxiliary language to bridge nations. The global establishment of this “interna ideo” would be the “fina venko”—the final victory—and the undoing of Babel.

As for Doktoro Esperanto himself, he ceded its evolution to the public, inviting others to take the language into their own hands: “From this day the future of the international language is no longer more in my hands than in the hands of any other friend of this sacred idea. We must now work together in equality… Let us work and hope!”

Even before Zamenhof set to work on Esperanto, the foundation was being laid for a different sort of world language. In 1835, Thomas Babington Macaulay delivered a treatise on Indian education that would have lasting repercussions for the spread of the English language in the British Empire. Macaulay had witnessed the struggles of a small number of British administrators to govern a massive local population. As chairman of the East India Company’s Committee of Public Instruction, he emphasized the need for his fellow colonialists to “form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern—a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect.” He supported his argument with glowing praise of the English language and an equally flamboyant savaging of Sanskrit literature:

It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected from all the books written in the Sanscrit [sic] language is less valuable than what may be found in the most paltry abridgments used at preparatory schools in England. In every branch of physical or moral philosophy, the relative position of the two nations is nearly the same…. The claims of our own language it is hardly necessary to recapitulate. It stands pre-eminent even among the languages of the West.

For Macaulay, the English language was a way to inject Englishness into the minds and hearts of colonial subjects. Like Zamenhof, he had a vision for language, but it was not of bridging ethnic divisions; it was of building empire. In 1820, the Prussian philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt had articulated a view of language as the activity that shaped an individual’s and a nation’s Weltansichten: “The diversity of languages is not a diversity of sounds and signs but a diversity of the views of the world.” However, this was no diversity of equals. Humboldt, like most of his European contemporaries, believed . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

See also on this page the section “Language Learning with Esperanto” for more information on the language and resources for learning it.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 April 2021 at 10:35 am

The radical aristocrat who put kindness on a scientific footing

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Lydia Syson has an interesting article in Psyche, which begins:

Five years had passed since Czar Alexander II promised the emancipation of the serfs. Trusting in a map drawn on bark with the point of a knife by a Tungus hunter, three Russian scientists set out to explore an area of trackless mountain wilderness stretching across eastern Siberia. Their mission was to find a direct passage between the gold mines of the river Lena and Transbaikalia. Their discoveries would transform understanding of the geography of northern Asia, opening up the route eventually followed by the Trans-Manchurian Railway. For one explorer, now better known as an anarchist than a scientist, this expedition was also the start of a long journey towards a new articulation of evolution and the strongest possible argument for a social revolution.

Prince Peter Kropotkin, the aristocratic graduate of an elite Russian military academy, travelled in 1866 with his zoologist friend Ivan Poliakov and a topographer called Maskinski. Boat and horseback took them to the Tikono-Zadonsk gold mine. From there, they continued with 10 Cossacks, 50 horses carrying three months’ supply of food, and an old Yukaghir nomad guide who’d made the journey 20 years earlier.

Kropotkin and Poliakov – enthusiastic, curious and well-read young men in their 20s – were fired by the prospect of finding evidence of that defining factor of evolution set out by Charles Darwin in On the Origin of Species (1859): competition. They were disappointed. As Kropotkin later wrote:

We saw plenty of adaptations for struggling, very often in common, against the adverse circumstances of climate, or against various enemies, and Polyakoff wrote many a good page upon the mutual dependency of carnivores, ruminants, and rodents in their geographical distribution; we witnessed numbers of facts of mutual support … [but] facts of real competition and struggle between higher animals of the same species came very seldom under my notice, though I eagerly searched for them.

Kropotkin pursued this contradiction for decades. Observation and wide reading convinced him that what he’d seen in Siberia was no exception, but a rule. In the 1860s, he watched a vast exodus of fallow deer gather in their thousands to cross the river Amur at its narrowest point to escape an early snowfall. In 1882, he was fascinated by a crab stuck on its back in a tank in Brighton Aquarium; it was painstakingly rescued by a band of comrades. Kropotkin collected descriptions from all over the world of the sociable behaviours of ants, bees, termites, falcons, swallows, horned larks, migrating birds, gazelles, buffalo, colonies of beavers, squirrels, mice, flocks of seals, herds of wild horses, tribes of dogs, wolf packs, marmots, rats, chinchillas, as well as apes and monkeys. He wrote that:

[A]s we ascend the scale of evolution, we see association growing more and more conscious. It loses its purely physical character, it ceases to be simply instinctive, it becomes reasoned.

It proved impossible for Kropotkin, a man ‘amiable to the point of saintliness’ according to George Bernard Shaw, to dedicate himself entirely to the ‘highest joys’ of scientific discovery, when all around him he saw ‘nothing but misery and struggle for a mouldy bit of bread’, as he put it in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899). In 1872, in Switzerland, he became an anarchist, impressed by the egalitarian fraternity he found among the watchmakers of Jura. Back in Russia, he joined the revolutionary Circle of Tchaikovsky, disseminating underground literature and lecturing to the workers of St Petersburg disguised as Borodin the peasant agitator. His propaganda landed him in prison, but he escaped in 1876 with the help of comrades. By 1883, he was a political prisoner once again, this time in France. This second confinement gave him time to develop his arguments about evolution: he started to address systematically the conflicting interpretations of Darwin emerging in different parts of the world.

In England, the biologist, anthropologist and anatomist Thomas Huxley had quickly emerged as ‘Darwin’s bulldog’. Self-described as sharp of ‘claws and beak’, Huxley was prepared to ‘go to the Stake if requisite’ to defend evolutionary doctrine. His views on human nature and political economy were defined by Thomas Hobbes and Thomas Robert Malthus: life was an endless fight for scarce resources. The libertarian Herbert Spencer likewise applied natural selection to economics, using his infamous coinage the ‘survival of the fittest’ to justify laissez-faire capitalism. Popularly labelled ‘social Darwinism’, this view became gospel for Gilded Age industrialists such as John D Rockefeller. Although Huxley himself didn’t recommend the ‘survival of the fittest’ rule as a basis for morality – quite the reverse – he certainly believed that human beings were brutal and competitive, their sociability merely a recent veneer, rationalised by self-interest.

After Huxley published his pessimistic essay ‘The Struggle for Existence and Its Bearing Upon Man’ (1888) in The Nineteenth Century, an influential Victorian monthly review, Kropotkin was in a good position to launch an attack on Huxley’s idea of nature as a ‘gladiator’s show’. By this time, having been released from prison following an international outcry, Kropotkin was established in England, becoming quite a celebrity in the socialist and anarchist circles that blossomed through the mid-1880s. He promoted his political ideas in the international Left-wing press, and cofounded a London-based journal called Freedom, but made a living writing for scientific periodicals.

Between 1890 and 1915, in a series of interdisciplinary essays, Kropotkin drew on biology, sociology, history, (anti-racist) ethnology and anthropology to argue that species can organise and cooperate to overcome the natural environment and ensure their future survival. In 1902, the first eight essays were brought together in a book entitled Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, an account of mutual support in action across the animal world (from microorganisms to mammals), ancient and modern ‘barbarian’ and ‘savage’ societies, medieval city-states and, finally, among modern humanity.

Kropotkin sought to recover an uncorrupted Darwin, whose metaphors should not be read too literally. But his call to understand compassion as ‘a powerful factor of further evolution’ cleared the way for a very particular political vision: human beings could overcome competitive struggle by voluntarily restructuring and decentralising society along principles of community and self-sufficiency.

Kropotkin became enamoured with mutual aid after reading an 1880 lecture on the subject by the celebrated zoologist Karl Kessler. Like other Russian naturalists at the time, Kessler didn’t deny the struggle for existence, but his own fieldwork in harsh and sparsely populated regions of the Russian empire strongly suggested that ‘the progressive development of the animal kingdom, and especially of mankind, is favoured much more by mutual support than by mutual struggle’. But, as Kropotkin mourned: ‘like so many good things published in the Russian tongue only, that remarkable address remains almost entirely unknown’.

Neither was Kropotkin alone politically. The historian of science Eric Johnson has recently demonstrated that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 April 2021 at 3:15 pm

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