Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Jingle Bell blocked: 10 holiday songs that have been censored

  A viral story once claimed that playing holiday music before Thanksgiving was a federal crime. But it was a joke. That couldn't happen thanks to the First Amendment.

  The First Amendment protects freedom of expression. That includes music. It also protects freedom of religion. That includes celebrating religious holidays with song.

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

ChatGPT turns 1: AI chatbot’s success says as much about humans as technology

  ChatGPT was launched on Nov. 30, 2022, ushering in what many have called artificial intelligence’s breakout year. Within days of its release, ChatGPT went viral. Screenshots of conversations snowballed across social media, and the use of ChatGPT skyrocketed to an extent that seems to have surprised even its maker, OpenAI. By January, ChatGPT was seeing 13 million unique visitors each day, setting a record for the fastest-growing user base of a consumer application.

  Throughout this breakout year, ChatGPT has revealed the power of a good interface and the perils of hype, and it has sown the seeds of a new set of human behaviors. As a researcher who studies technology and human information behavior, I find that ChatGPT’s influence in society comes as much from how people view and use it as the technology itself.

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Pollution from coal power plants contributes to far more deaths than scientists realized, study shows

  Air pollution particles from coal-fired power plants are more harmful to human health than many experts realized, and it’s more than twice as likely to contribute to premature deaths as air pollution particles from other sources, new research demonstrates.

  In the study, published in the journal Science, colleagues and I mapped how U.S. coal power plant emissions traveled through the atmosphere, then linked each power plant’s emissions with death records of Americans over 65 years old on Medicare.

  Our results suggest that air pollutants released from coal power plants were associated with nearly half a million premature deaths of elderly Americans from 1999 to 2020.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Airlines are frustrating travelers by changing frequent flyer program rules – here’s why they keep doing it

  As the U.S. holiday travel season picks up, many people are noticing that their frequent flyer benefits aren’t going as far as they used to.

  In September 2023, Delta Air Lines revamped its frequent flyer program to make it tougher to earn status — a tiered system offering travel privileges based on the reward points earned — only to partially reverse course a month later and make it easier. American Airlines also made big changes to its loyalty scheme in 2022 and minor changes in spring 2023. And British Airways recently announced that it is adjusting the way it awards points for travel.

Friday, December 1, 2023

A tortured and deadly legacy: Kissinger and realpolitik in US foreign policy

  Henry Kissinger, who died on Nov. 29, 2023, at age 100, exercised more than 50 years of influence on American foreign policy.

  I am a scholar of American foreign policy who has written on Kissinger’s service from 1969 to 1977 as national security adviser and secretary of state under the Nixon and Ford administrations. I have seen how his foreign policy views and actions played out for good and, mostly, for ill.

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Being homeless means not being free − as Americans are supposed to be

  Homelessness is a state of deprivation. Those who are homeless need shelter to be safe; they don’t have it. They need a toilet for basic bodily functions; they don’t have one. They need a shower to keep clean; they don’t have that either.

  Because such deprivation dramatically affects the well-being of people who are homeless, public discussion of homelessness tends to focus on whether and to what extent the government should carry out anti-homelessness policy as a way of improving people’s overall quality of life.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What is fentanyl and why is it behind the deadly surge in US drug overdoses? A medical toxicologist explains

  Buying drugs on the street is a game of Russian roulette. From Xanax to cocaine, drugs or counterfeit pills purchased in nonmedical settings may contain life-threatening amounts of fentanyl.

  Physicians like me have seen a rise in unintentional fentanyl use from people buying prescription opioids and other drugs laced, or adulterated, with fentanyl. Heroin users in my community in Massachusetts came to realize that fentanyl had entered the drug supply when overdose numbers exploded. In 2016, my colleagues and I found that patients who came to the emergency department reporting a heroin overdose often only had fentanyl present in their drug test results.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Lost in the coffee aisle? Navigating the complex buzzwords behind an ‘ethical’ bag of beans is easier said than done

  You’re shopping for a bag of coffee beans at the grocery store. After reading about the effects of climate change and how little farmers make – typically $0.40 per cup – you figure it might be time to change your usual beans and buy something more ethical. Perusing the shelves in the coffee aisle, though, you see too many choices.

  First up is the red tub of Folgers “100% Colombian,” a kitchen staple – “lively with a roasted and rich finish.” On the side of the tub, you see the icon of Juan Valdez with his donkey, Conchita – a fictional mascot representing the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Christmas isn’t always holly jolly – even some of its best-loved songs are bittersweet

  In American culture, Christmas is supposed to be synonymous with joy. The familiar carols proclaim this message, with “Joy to the World” resounding in thousands of churches, while its secular counterpart exhorts listeners to have “A Holly Jolly Christmas.”

  The real emotions of the season are a bit more complex. For many people, late December produces a kind of toxic brew of nostalgia and melancholy. It’s difficult not to remember loved ones missing from the holidays. People move, grow apart, pass on – all these hit home with a special poignance at this time of year, and other kinds of changes, too. Parents might even remember with nostalgic sadness a more innocent time when their children still believed in Santa. Nearly everyone has too much to do, and gift-giving can be a minefield.