Sunday, October 31, 2021

Tricking and treating has a history

  Over the past few decades, Halloween celebrations have gained in popularity, not only with children and families but with all those fascinated with the spooky and scary.

  As a scholar of myth and religion in popular culture, I look at Halloween with particular interest – especially the ways in which today’s Halloween tradition came to evolve.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

More ‘disease’ than ‘Dracula’ – how the vampire myth was born

  The vampire is a common image in today’s pop culture, and one that takes many forms: from Alucard, the dashing spawn of Dracula in the PlayStation game “Castlevania: Symphony of the Night”; to Edward, the romantic, idealistic lover in the “Twilight” series.

  In many respects, the vampire of today is far removed from its roots in Eastern European folklore. As a professor of Slavic studies who has taught a course on vampires called “Dracula” for more than a decade, I’m always fascinated by the vampire’s popularity, considering its origins – as a demonic creature strongly associated with disease.

Friday, October 29, 2021

Ancient Americans made art deep within the dark zones of caves throughout the Southeast

  On a cold winter’s day in 1980, a group of recreational cavers entered a narrow, wet stream passage south of Knoxville, Tennessee. They navigated a slippery mud slope and a tight keyhole through the cave wall, trudged through the stream itself, ducked through another keyhole, and climbed more mud. Eventually they entered a high and relatively dry passage deep in the cave’s “dark zone” – beyond the reach of external light.

  On the walls around them, they began to see lines and figures traced into remnant mud banks laid down long ago when the stream flowed at this higher level. No modern or historic graffiti marred the surfaces. They saw images of animals, people, and transformational characters blending human characteristics with those of birds and those of snakes with mammals.

Thursday, October 28, 2021

What happens to your life stories if you delete your Facebook account?

  If the latest deluge of Facebook controversies has you ready to kick the app to the digital curb, you are not alone. There are plenty of good guides out there on how to do it right. Even Facebook makes it pretty easy to understand the nuances of saying “see ya later” (deactivating) or “never speak to me again” (deleting).

  But before you go, you might want to consider this: What happens to your life stories?

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Teachers must often face student attacks alone

  When “Ms. Kyles,” a social studies teacher in a suburban district, heard her colleague scream in a nearby classroom, she ran to her aid. It appeared that a female student had attacked a classmate.

  “I grabbed the student to restrain her, and I said to the teacher, ‘You go back to your students, I’ll take care of her,’” Ms. Kyles said.

  After locking herself in an empty classroom with the student, Ms. Kyles – that’s a pseudonym to protect her privacy – learned that the student had stabbed a female classmate four times in the chest and back, killing her. Then the student threatened Ms. Kyles.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Will Congress act to shore up its financing?

  Social Security has grown far beyond its original mission. It now costs workers two and a half times what was originally planned, yet even so, the program faces a $19.8 trillion shortfall—the equivalent of $154,000 per household.

  Propping up the program through benefit cuts or tax increases alone would be a raw deal for current and future workers. There's a better way.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The science of fright: Why we love to be scared

  Fear may be as old as life on Earth. It is a fundamental, deeply wired reaction, evolved over the history of biology, to protect organisms against perceived threats to their integrity or existence. Fear may be as simple as a cringe of an antenna in a snail that is touched or as complex as existential anxiety in a human.

  Whether we love or hate to experience fear, it’s hard to deny that we certainly revere it – devoting an entire holiday to the celebration of fear.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

How many lives have coronavirus vaccines saved? We used state data on deaths and vaccination rates to find out

  More than 200 million U.S. residents have gotten at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine with the expectation that the vaccines slow virus transmission and save lives.

  Researchers know the efficacy of the vaccines from large-scale clinical trials, the gold standard for medical research. The studies found the vaccines to be very effective at preventing severe COVID–19 and especially good at preventing death. But it’s important to track any new treatment in the real world as the population-level benefits of vaccines could differ from the efficacy found in clinical trials.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

State government takes more revenue from citizens than ever before

  In 2021, Alabama’s state government took more money from taxpayers than ever before. The big question is, what will state government leadership do with it? It should be used to provide tax relief to citizens and businesses, not to continue to grow government. 

  According to end of fiscal year 2021 data from, the Education Trust Fund and General Fund budgets took in a whopping $11.2 billion in revenue last year. That’s nearly $1.2 billion (11.6%) more than the state collected in fiscal year 2020.

Friday, October 22, 2021

E-cigarettes get FDA approval: 5 essential reads on the harms and benefits of vaping

  After being on the U.S. market for around 15 years, an e-cigarette has, for the first time, been authorized for sale by the Food and Drug Administration.

  The government agency announced on Oct. 12 that three products from the vaping company Vuse had been given the green light to be marketed, along with one device in which the approved cartridges are placed.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

4 reasons Americans are still seeing empty shelves and long waits – with Christmas just around the corner

  Walk into any U.S. store these days and you’re likely to see empty shelves.

  Shortages of virtually every type of product – from toilet paper and sneakers to pickup trucks and chicken – are showing up across the country. Looking for a book, bicycle, baby crib, or boat? You may have to wait weeks or months longer than usual to get your hands on it.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Why believing in ghosts can make you a better person

  Halloween is a time when ghosts and spooky decorations are on public display, reminding us of the realm of the dead. But could they also be instructing us in important lessons on how to lead moral lives?

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Why North Korea unleashed a flurry of missile tests

  Pyongyang continues to augment and diversify its threat to U.S. allies in Asia with mobile missiles more difficult to detect and more adept at evading missile defenses. In September, North Korea revealed three new offensive missiles, a new rail-based launch system, and claimed to have developed a quicker missile fueling system.

  The regime is rapidly implementing Kim Jong-un’s January directive to develop and test numerous new missiles. Pyongyang may yet test two new submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and a massive multi-warhead ICBM revealed during recent parades. Doing so would significantly escalate tensions in the region and push North Korea to the top of the Biden administration’s security agenda.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Is social distancing unraveling the bonds that keep society together?

  With birthday celebrations being downsized, religious services moving back online, and indoor playdates getting canceled, millions of Americans are having fewer social interactions because of persistently high case numbers and high rates of transmission.

  It’s not just interactions with friends and families that are getting cut. Routine yet beneficial interactions with people at fitness and child care centers and volunteer organizations are also being eliminated.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Why charter schools are not as ‘public’ as they claim to be

  Proponents of charter schools insist that they are public schools “open to all students.” But the truth is more nuanced. As an education policy researcher – and as an author of a new book about charter schools I wrote with fellow researcher Wagma Mommandi – I have discovered that charter schools are not as accessible to the public as they are often made out to be.

  This finding is particularly relevant in light of the fact that charter school enrollment reportedly grew at a rapid rate during the pandemic. Specifically, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, enrollment increased 7% from 2019-20 to 2020-21. The organization says that is the biggest enrollment jump in a half-decade.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

The brutal trade in enslaved people within the US has been largely whitewashed out of history

  For my recently published book, “The Ledger and the Chain,” I visited more than 30 archives in over a dozen states, from Louisiana to Connecticut. Along the way, I uncovered mountains of material that exposed the depravity of the men who ran the largest domestic slave trading operation in American history and revealed the fortitude of the enslaved people they trafficked as merchandise.

  But I also learned that many Americans do not realize that a domestic slave trade existed in the U.S. at all.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Halloween isn’t about candy and costumes for modern-day pagans

  This Halloween, there are likely to be fewer pint-sized witches going door to door in search of candy. Concerns over the coronavirus have meant that in many places, trick-or-treating is off the menu. Even in Salem, Massachusetts, the place associated with the infamous witch trials of 1692 and the epicenter of Halloween gatherings, festivities are expected to be subdued.

  But for members of the minority religion of Wicca and witchcraft, part of contemporary paganism, Halloween has never been primarily a children’s holiday. As a sociologist doing research on contemporary pagans for over 30 years, I have observed how it is marked as a sacred day known as Samhain in which death is celebrated.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Cherry-picking the Bible and using verses out of context isn’t a practice confined to those opposed to vaccines – it has been done for centuries

  A devout evangelical Christian friend of mine recently texted to explain why he was not getting the COVID-19 vaccine. “Jesus went around healing lepers and touched them without fear of getting leprosy,” he said.

  This story that St. Luke tells in his gospel (17:11-19) is not the only Bible verse I have seen and heard evangelical Christians use to justify anti-vaccine convictions. Other popular passages include Psalm 30:2: “Lord, I called to you for help, and you healed me.”; 1 Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?”; and Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of a creature is in the blood.”

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

How education reforms can support teachers around the world instead of undermining them

  World Teachers’ Day, held on October 5 each year since 1994, is an annual event to reflect on the progress teachers have made.

  But in many countries, including the United States, the professional status of teachers has declined in the last decade.

  For example, studies in Britain, Japan, and Hong Kong show an erosion of teacher autonomy and public confidence in teachers, which leads to teachers feeling disempowered and demoralized. Job satisfaction has also deteriorated among teachers in the U.S., where teacher education itself has become a target of policymakers who think it requires higher standards and greater state control.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The ultimate drug-war crackdown

  Throughout the long sordid history of America’s war on drugs, drug-war proponents have claimed that if only government officials would really crack down on drug use and drug distribution, the decades-old war on drugs could finally — finally! — be won. 

  But one big problem is that throughout the decades of drug warfare, there have been crackdowns — big crackdowns. 

Monday, October 11, 2021

‘Imagine’ at 50: Why John Lennon’s ode to humanism still resonates

  Fifty years ago, John Lennon released one of the most beautiful, inspirational, and catchy pop anthems of the 20th century: “Imagine.”

  Gentle and yet increasingly stirring as the song progresses, “Imagine” is unabashedly utopian and deeply moral, calling on people to live, as one humanity, in peace. It is also purposely and powerfully irreligious. From its opening lyric, “Imagine there’s no heaven,” to the refrain, “And no religion too,” Lennon sets out what is, to many, a clear atheistic message.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

More Americans couldn’t get enough to eat in 2020 – a change that hit the middle class hardest

The big idea

  Americans in households with annual incomes from $50,000 to $75,000 experienced the sharpest increase in food insufficiency when the COVID-19 pandemic began – meaning that many people in the middle class didn’t have enough to eat at some point within the previous seven days, according to our peer-reviewed study that will soon be published in the Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics.

  We also found that food banks, food pantries, and similar emergency services helped reduce food insufficiency, especially for middle-income Americans, by the end of 2020.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

How oil lobbyists use a rigged system to hamstring Biden’s climate agenda

  During President Joe Biden’s first week in office, he announced a pause on all new lease sales on public lands and waters alongside a review of the entire federal oil and gas program. Despite these attempts, a Trump-appointed U.S. District Court Judge Terry A. Doughty in Louisiana blocked the leasing pause, and the Biden administration announced they would hold lease sales both on and offshore in the coming months. The onshore lease sales are poised to offer up 740,000 acres of public lands, and offshore plans will offer a whopping 80 million acres of public ocean to oil companies to lease. Federal leases lock in oil development for decades, and the offshore lease sale alone has the potential to emit 723 million metric tons of CO2* into the atmosphere over its lifetime, equivalent to operating more than 70 percent of the United States’ coal-fired power plants for a year.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Can healthy people who eat right and exercise skip the COVID-19 vaccine? A research scientist and fitness enthusiast explains why the answer is no

  I’m a fitness enthusiast. I also adhere to a nutrient-dense, “clean” eating program, which means I minimize my sugar intake and eat a lot of whole foods for the purpose of optimizing my health.

  You might wonder how effective such a diet and exercise plan would be in the fight against COVID-19, since some have suggested – without supporting evidence – that vaccination may be unnecessary if a detailed wellness lifestyle is closely followed.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Who pays and who benefits from a massive expansion of solar power?

  Electricity generation produces a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change. The electric grid also is highly vulnerable to climate change effects, such as more frequent and severe droughts, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.

  For both of these reasons, the power sector is central to the Biden administration’s climate policy.

  President Joe Biden’s proposal to produce 45% of the nation’s electricity from solar energy by 2050 seeks to transform the power sector from problem child into child prodigy. As the details evolve, two cornerstones have emerged.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Facebook’s scandals and outage test users’ frenemy relationship

  When Facebook was down for most of the day on Oct. 4, 2021, did you miss it, were you relieved, or some of both? Social scientists have compiled an expansive body of research that shows how people have come to develop a love-hate relationship with the social media giant with nearly 3 billion users.

  Many users have felt their relationship with the platform devolve into a messy codependence, mired by ambiguity and mistrust. For others, reliance on the platform is taken for granted, if occasionally appreciated in moments of pandemic isolation.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

How lawyers could prevent America’s eviction crisis from getting a whole lot worse

  Lawyers may be the only thing standing in the way of eviction for millions of renters.

  With the end of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium on Aug. 26, 2021, most landlords can now ask courts to evict tenants who haven’t been paying their rent. As a result, new eviction filings are already spiking across the country. Data shows that once an eviction court begins a case, it’s very likely the tenant will quickly be out on the street – unless they have legal representation.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Global supply-chain woes may imperil more than Christmas shopping

  A global shipping crisis has been quietly brewing for months. Soon it will lead to layoffs, higher prices, and fewer options at the grocery store. In time, it could threaten our nation’s security. 

  Vice President Kamala Harris caught a glimpse of the unfolding problem during her recent swing through Asia. In Singapore, a global hub for maritime trade, she learned that congestion at its piers was causing shipping companies to bypass the port. 

Sunday, October 3, 2021

21 million Americans say Biden is ‘illegitimate’ and Trump should be restored by violence, survey finds

  A recent Washington demonstration supporting those charged with crimes for the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol fizzled, with no more than 200 demonstrators showing up. The organizers had promised 700 people would turn out – or more.

  But the threat from far-right insurrectionists is not over.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Changing your mind about something as important as vaccination isn’t a sign of weakness

  Culturally, this is an era in which people are held in high esteem when they stick with their beliefs and negatively labeled as “flip-floppers” or “wishy-washy” when they change what they think.

  While the courage of convictions can be a plus in situations where people are fighting for justice, sticking with beliefs in a dynamic world is shortsighted and dangerous because new evidence can and should be taken into account. Rapidly changing environments are uncomfortable for people because you can’t effectively use experience to guide choices about the future.

Friday, October 1, 2021

How did the superstition that broken mirrors cause bad luck start and why does it still exist?

  Every human culture has superstitions. In some Asian societies, people believe that sweeping a floor after sunset brings bad luck and that it’s a curse to leave chopsticks standing in a bowl of rice. In the U.S., some people panic if they accidentally walk under a ladder or see a black cat cross their path. Also, many tall buildings don’t label their 13th floors as such because of that number’s association with bad luck.