Tuesday, August 31, 2021

The history of the Taliban is crucial in understanding their success now – and also what might happen next

  The rapid takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban left many surprised. To Ali Olomi, a historian of the Middle East and Islam at Penn State University, a key to understanding what is happening now – and what might take place next – is looking at the past and how the Taliban came to prominence. Below is an edited version of a conversation he had with editor Gemma Ware for our podcast, The Conversation Weekly.

Monday, August 30, 2021

The U.S. government vs. the United States

  Advocates of empire and interventionism are saying that even given the debacle in Afghanistan, America should not “retreat” from the world. Even though our nation has lost “credibility” in the world, they say, it is imperative that the United States continue to project power and influence around the world. To do otherwise, they say, would create a “vacuum” into which would flow Russia, China, Iran, the terrorists, or some other adversary, opponent, or enemy. Some of them are even bringing up the dreaded "I" word — isolationism! 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Biden’s new arms transfer policy must balance security and values

  U.S. arms transfer policy strives to strike a balance between promoting human rights and the need to develop strong security partners. President Biden’s arms transfer policy will reportedly increase the emphasis on human rights. Exactly how much this will change the status quo remains to be seen.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

How Aretha Franklin asserted control over her career, paving the way for female musicians

  “I need a change,” Aretha Franklin says at one point in “Respect,” the new film starring Jennifer Hudson as the Queen of Soul. “I want to sing what I want to sing.”

  For all her talent, Franklin’s rise to superstardom wasn’t easy. When she left the world of gospel music to try to become a mainstream pop star, it meant a move into a segment of the industry that was dominated by men who had very specific assumptions about how a woman should sing – and what she should sing about.

Friday, August 27, 2021

The oil and gas industry’s dangerous answer to climate change

  No one is immune to the effects of the climate crisis—not even those responsible for its causes. Rising sea levels, record heat, unprecedented extreme weather disasters, and increasingly unstable environmental conditions are making it costlier and more difficult for oil and gas companies to operate in environments that their own destructive practices have altered. The same ecological fallout that hurts communities is hitting the industry’s bottom lines.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

I studied people who think leisure is a waste of time – here’s what I found

  When I first took my now-husband to Turkey, I tried to prepare myself for anything that could go wrong – delayed flights, language difficulties, digestion issues.

  But I wasn’t ready when, as we walked into a beautiful beach club on the Aegean coast, he grumbled, “What are we going to do?”

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Climate change is an infrastructure problem – map of electric vehicle chargers shows one reason why

  Most of America’s 107,000 gas stations can fill several cars every five or 10 minutes at multiple pumps. Not so for electric vehicle chargers – at least not yet. Today the U.S. has around 43,000 public EV charging stations, with about 106,000 outlets. Each outlet can charge only one vehicle at a time, and even fast-charging outlets take an hour to provide 180-240 miles’ worth of charge; most take much longer.

  The existing network is acceptable for many purposes. But chargers are very unevenly distributed; almost a third of all outlets are in California. This makes EVs problematic for long trips, like the 550 miles of sparsely populated desert highway between Reno and Salt Lake City. “Range anxiety” about longer trips is one reason electric vehicles still make up fewer than 1% of U.S. passenger cars and trucks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

What does full FDA approval of a vaccine do if it’s already authorized for emergency use?

  Thirty percent of unvaccinated American adults say they’re waiting for the COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for emergency use to be officially approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has since granted that approval for those age 16 and older for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Aug. 23, 2021. What had to happen for the FDA to advance from emergency use authorization, or EUA, to full approval?

Monday, August 23, 2021

Hospitals often outsource important services to companies that prioritize profit over patients

  Hospitals have long embraced the practice of outsourcing some services to specialized companies. Much of this outsourcing is for nonclinical tasks such as laundry, information technology, and cybersecurity, and outsourcing those types of services can boost efficiency and quality.

  However, over the past few years, there has been a fast-growing trend of hospitals outsourcing clinically relevant services – like anesthesiology and emergency medicine – to companies separate from the hospital. When that happens, hospitals relinquish some of the control they have over quality of care.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

The story of Nearest Green, America’s first known Black master distiller

  When you hear the name Jack Daniel, whiskey probably comes to mind.

  But what about the name Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green?

  In 2016, The New York Times published a story about the distiller’s “hidden ingredient” – “help from a slave.” In the article, the brand officially acknowledged that an enslaved man, Nearest Green, taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. Since then, scholars, researchers, and journalists have descended upon Lynchburg, Tennessee hoping to learn more about a man who, until then, had appeared as a mere appendage in the story of the country’s most popular whiskey brand.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

The peculiar concept of “ethics laws”

  Cynicism about the ethics of elected officials may be at an all-time high, continually fueled by new stories of outright corruption or bad judgment. At every level of government there are politicians who can’t seem to recognize or resist conflicts of interest, inappropriate gifts, improper use of the power or property entrusted to them, or the discrediting impact of shameful private conduct.

  Thus, it’s no surprise that news media are continually shining light on real and perceived improprieties and putting the heat on federal, state, and city legislatures to pass new and tougher ethics laws to restore public trust.

Friday, August 20, 2021

The US is taking a bite out of its food insecurity – here’s one way to scrap the problem altogether

  The U.S. Department of Agriculture is set to permanently increase the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits by 25% above pre-pandemic levels in October 2021.

  It’s the biggest change since 1979 to this anti-hunger program, commonly known as SNAP, which currently helps over 40 million Americans.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Can health insurance companies charge the unvaccinated higher premiums? What about life insurers? 5 questions answered

  The current COVID-19 wave in the U.S. is mostly affecting unvaccinated Americans, who represent more than 95% of current cases of hospitalization and death.

  Given the average cost of a COVID-19 hospitalization in 2020 ran about US$42,200 per patient, will the unvaccinated be asked to bear more of the cost of treatment, in terms of insurance, as well?

Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A century after the Appalachian Trail was proposed, millions hike it every year seeking ‘the breath of a real life’

  The Appalachian Trail, North America’s most famous hiking route, stretches over 2,189 mountainous miles (3,520 kilometers) from Georgia to Maine. In any given year, some 3 million people hike on it, including more than 3,000 “thru-hikers” who go the entire distance, either in one stretch or in segments over multiple years.

  The AT, as it’s widely known, is a national icon on par with conservation touchstones like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geyser, and the Florida Everglades. It symbolizes opportunity – the chance to set out on a life-altering experience in the great outdoors, or at least a pleasant walk in the woods.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Organic food has become mainstream but still has room to grow

  Organic food once was viewed as a niche category for health nuts and hippies, but today it’s a routine choice for millions of Americans. For years following the passage of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990, which established national organic standards, consumers had to seek out organic products at food co-ops and farmers markets. Today over half of organic sales are in conventional grocery store chains, club stores, and supercenters; Walmart, Costco, Kroger, Target, and Safeway are the top five organic retailers.

Monday, August 16, 2021

How religious fervor and anti-regulation zealotry laid the groundwork for America’s $36 billion supplement industry

  Spend any time watching television or scrolling through social media and you’ll inevitably see advertisements for pills, powders, and potions that promise to grow muscle, shed body fat, improve your focus, and resurrect your youth.

  Most of us have used them. At last count, the National Center for Health Statistics found that over 50% of all adults in America have used a supplement in the past 30 days. The center used data from 2017 and 2018, but more recent polls suggest this figure to be closer to over 70%.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Paradoxical Commandments

  In 1968, when Kent M. Keith was a 19-year-old sophomore at Harvard University, he wrote “The Paradoxical Commandments” as part of a booklet for student leaders. He describes the Commandments as guidelines for finding personal meaning in the face of adversity:

Saturday, August 14, 2021

New documentary tells truth about Confederacy, tracks root of ‘Lost Cause’ myth

  Living in New Orleans in 2015, CJ Hunt was frustrated that Confederate symbols still occupied the city’s common spaces – or “neutral grounds” – intended for all citizens, which he called “absurd.” At the time, the nation was reeling from the deadly attack at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where nine Black people were killed by a young white supremacist who had posted a picture of himself with a Confederate flag.

  But when the state of South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its capitol, Hunt could tell a powerful movement was brewing to remove Confederate symbols nationwide. In New Orleans, the organizers of Take ‘Em Down NOLA, a grassroots organization that has fought for the removal of Confederate monuments, were already marching in the streets, and the mayor took the calls to remove those statues seriously when he demanded the removal of four monuments. The backlash, Hunt said, was intense.

Friday, August 13, 2021

The illusion of success

  Reach for the stars. Pursue goals beyond your grasp. These are good life strategies. We never know how much we can accomplish until we try.

   But what happens when we’re told we must reach the stars or suffer consequences?

Thursday, August 12, 2021

The water cycle is intensifying as the climate warms, IPCC report warns – that means more intense storms and flooding

  The world watched in July 2021 as extreme rainfall became floods that washed away centuries-old homes in Europe, triggered landslides in Asia, and inundated subways in China. More than 900 people died in the destruction. In North America, the West was battling fires amid an intense drought that is affecting water and power supplies.

  Water-related hazards can be exceptionally destructive, and the impact of climate change on extreme water-related events like these is increasingly evident.

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Millions of kids get suspended or expelled each year – but it doesn’t address the root of the behavior

  Each school year, nearly 3 million K-12 students get suspended and over 100,000 get expelled from school. The offenses range from simply not following directions, to hitting or kicking, to more serious behaviors like getting caught with drugs or a weapon.

  And it starts early in students’ education – it’s not uncommon for preschoolers as young as 3 years old to be suspended or expelled from their childcare program.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Why refusing the COVID-19 vaccine isn’t just immoral – it’s ‘un-American’

  Decades ago, I helped organize a conference that brought together vaccine skeptics and public health officials. The debate centered on what governments can and cannot demand from citizens, and what behaviors one can rightly expect from others.

  It took place many years before the current coronavirus pandemic, but many things that happened at that conference remind me of our circumstances today. Not least, as a political theorist who also studies social ethics, it reminds me that arguments grounded in self-interest can often be correct – but still deeply inadequate.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Forget the American Dream – millions of working Americans still can’t afford food and rent

  The Biden administration is likely celebrating a better-than-expected jobs report, which showed surging employment and wages. However, for millions of working Americans, being employed doesn’t guarantee a living income.

  As scholars interested in the well-being of workers, we believe that the economy runs better when people aren’t forced to choose between paying rent, buying food, or getting medicine. Yet too many are compelled to do just that.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Responsibilities of management

  Modern managers often utter clichés about wanting employees to “think outside the box,” take risks, and be creative. And while I’m sure companies do appreciate break-through innovative ideas that increase profits, productivity, or quality, the fact is that most organizations are inhospitable to those who challenge old ways of doing things, even practices that are inefficient, useless, or counterproductive.

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Making peace between Israelis and Palestinians – is now the time for a different approach?

  The violence in May 2021 between Israelis and Palestinians was the latest deadly eruption of a decadeslong conflict that has proved immune to attempts at forging a comprehensive peace. We asked two Middle East experts to assess what can be done now to promote peace. Scholars Raslan Ibrahim, assistant professor of political science and international relations at the State University of New York at Geneseo, and David Mednicoff, chair of the Department of Judaic and Near Eastern Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, both imagine there’s a way forward, though their scenarios are very different.

Friday, August 6, 2021

Understanding evangelicalism in America today

  A precipitous decline in the number of Americans identifying as white evangelical was revealed in Public Religion Research Institute’s 2020 Census on American Religion. In 2006, almost a quarter of the American population identified as white evangelical, but only 14.5% the population does so today.

  Evangelical is an umbrella category within Protestant Christianity. The category of evangelical is complicated; unlike Catholics, who have a centralized authority, evangelicals do not maintain a single spokesperson or institution. Instead, evangelicalism in the United States today is composed of several institutions, churches, and a network of largely conservative spokespersons.

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Is lying necessary to success?

  What do you think? In today’s society, does a person have to lie or cheat at least occasionally to succeed?

  The question isn’t whether occasional liars and cheats sometimes get away with dishonesty; we all have to agree with this. The question is whether you believe people can succeed if they're not willing to lie or cheat.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Four ways extreme heat hurts the economy

  Summer 2021 will likely be one of the hottest on record as dozens of cities in the West experience all-time high temperatures. The extreme heat being felt throughout many parts of the U.S. is causing hundreds of deaths, sparking wildfires, and worsening drought conditions in over a dozen states.

  How does all this broiling heat affect the broader economy?

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

What the pandemic can teach us about vulnerabilities in our defense supply chain

  You only have to go back to March 2020, when grocery store shelves were stripped bare and toilet paper became a scarce commodity, to understand how vulnerable people are when supply doesn’t meet demand. Unfortunately, the U.S. military can easily be put in the same position.

  America’s defense supply chain—that is, the large network of manufacturers who produce our weapons platforms and equipment—is neither reliable nor secure. Defense production is vital in maintaining a strong national defense, and such fragility in our supply chains is an enormous liability. It directly hinders our ability to win the next war.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Freeing Britney requires reconsidering how society thinks about decision-making capacity

  Britney Spears’ impassioned remarks in court have raised many questions about conservatorships, including when they’re necessary and whether they effectively protect someone’s best interests.

  When one loses the capacity to make decisions for oneself, the court appoints a guardian, or conservator, to make those decisions. Appointing someone to make decisions about personal and financial matters on another’s behalf has been part of civil society since the ancient Greeks. Today, all jurisdictions in the U.S. have conservatorship laws to protect people who lack the ability to make their own decisions.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1781 - A little knowledge is a dangerous thing

  "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” This quote is attributed to Alexander Pope. The full statement from his 1709 An Essay On Criticism, is as follows: “A little learning is a dangerous thing; Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring: There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain. And drinking largely sobers us again” I was reminded of this saying when I read several striking facts concerning vaccinations for COVID-19. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.