Monday, October 31, 2022

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.

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Halloween isn’t about candy and costumes for modern-day pagans – witches mark Halloween with reflections on death as well as magic

  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.

  This Halloween they might have something to teach us – both about the acceptance of death and staying safe.

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Why has Halloween become so popular among adults?

  Halloween used to be kid stuff. To quit dressing up was an important rite of passage. It meant you were one step closer to becoming an adult.

  Not anymore. Today adults have become avid Halloween revelers, especially young adults.

Friday, October 28, 2022

What is Fog Reveal? A legal scholar explains the app some police forces are using to track people without a warrant

  Government agencies and private security companies in the U.S. have found a cost-effective way to engage in warrantless surveillance of individuals, groups, and places: a pay-for-access web tool called Fog Reveal.

  The tool enables law enforcement officers to see “patterns of life” – where and when people work and live, with whom they associate, and what places they visit. The tool’s maker, Fog Data Science, claims to have billions of data points from over 250 million U.S. mobile devices.

Thursday, October 27, 2022

The disease of low expectations

  The serious damage done to our economy, social institutions, and personal relationships by widespread cheating and dishonesty is bad enough. But widespread acceptance of such behavior as inevitable threatens to make our future a lot worse. In effect, our culture is being infected by a disease: the disease of low expectations.

  The disease is manifested by the corrosive assumption that human nature can’t be expected to withstand pressures or temptations. In other words, when there’s a conflict between self-interest and moral principles, self-interest – in fact, short-term self-interest – will generally prevail.

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Why the US House of Representatives has 435 seats – and how that could change

  As the population of the U.S. has grown over the past century, the House of Representatives has gotten worse at being representative of the people it serves. That doesn’t have to happen – and it wasn’t always the case.

  The House is the one segment of the federal government that was created from the beginning to directly channel the views of the people to Washington, D.C. But over the past century, the ability of any individual members of the House to truly represent their constituents has been diluted.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Alex Jones got what he deserved

  Whatever one might think about Alex Jones, it’s difficult for me to understand how anyone can question the rightfulness of the multimillion damage awards that juries in Connecticut and Texas recently assessed against him. In my opinion, Jones got exactly what he deserved.

  For limited-government libertarians, a proper role of government is to provide a judicial forum in which people can resolve their legal disputes. If someone commits a wrong — a “tort” in legal language — against another person, the latter has the right to file suit against the former for damages. 

Monday, October 24, 2022

With the movie ‘Till,’ Mamie Till-Mobley’s quest to educate the world about her son’s lynching marches on

  After 14-year-old Emmett Till was kidnapped, severely beaten, and killed in the Mississippi Delta on Aug. 28, 1955, his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, made the courageous decision to reveal her son’s corpse for all to see.

  Till-Mobley’s choice allowed audiences to bear witness to an act of racial violence, and the new film “Till” promises to unveil the complete story of how she responded to her son’s brutal death.

Sunday, October 23, 2022

Why is it fun to be frightened?

  Audiences flock to horror films. They get a thrill from movies like “Halloween,” with its seemingly random murder and mayhem in a small suburban town, a reminder that picket fences and manicured lawns cannot protect us from the unjust, the unknown, or the uncertainty that awaits us all in both life and death. The film offers no justice for the victims in the end, no rebalancing of good and evil.

  Why, then, would anyone want to spend their time and money to watch such macabre scenes filled with depressing reminders of just how unfair and scary our world can be?

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Good faith and the honor of partisan election officials used to be enough to ensure trust in voting results – but not anymore

  As the U.S. moves closer to the 2022 midterm elections, a sizable number of Americans express a lack of confidence in the accuracy of the vote count.

  That distrust is built largely on the widespread – and false – assertion that Donald Trump was re-elected in the 2020 presidential election and that Joe Biden’s win was based on fraud. Despite the 2020 election being the most secure in American history, and the courts and U.S. Department of Justice uncovering no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome, consistently about 70% of Republican voters suspect election fraud, and overall mistrust in the neutrality of the election process remains high.

Friday, October 21, 2022

Challenges to voters are growing before the midterms – and have a long history as a way of keeping down the Black vote

  Voters who want to cast their ballot on Election Day this November may be in for an unpleasant surprise – the very real possibility that they will be unable to vote.

  That’s because any registered voter can challenge the right of another voter, or group of voters, to cast a ballot by alleging that they are not qualified to do so.

  Potential challenges range from the wrong address on a voter’s registration to not being old enough to vote to having been barred from voting as a felon. Once a challenge is made, election officials have to determine whether it is valid and whether a voter should be removed from the list of eligible voters.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

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.

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Quiet quitting and the great resignation have a common cause – dissatisfied workers feel they can’t speak up in the workplace

  U.S. workers have been at the forefront of three big trends in recent months.

  First, there was the “great resignation,” in which record numbers of workers were quitting their jobs. That coincided with a flurry of unionizing efforts at major U.S. companies, including Starbucks and Apple. Most recently, you’ve probably heard about “quiet quitting,” an often-misunderstood phrase that can mean either doing your job’s bare minimum or just not striving to overachieve.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

How the dead danced with the living in medieval society

  In the Halloween season, American culture briefly participates in an ancient tradition of making the world of the dead visible to the living: Children dress as skeletons, teens go to horror movies, and adults play the part of ghosts in haunted houses.

  But what if the dead played a more active, more participatory role in our daily lives?

Monday, October 17, 2022

Black women endure legacy of racism in homeownership and making costly repairs

  Yolanda, 61, owns a home in the predominantly Black 7th Ward neighborhood in New Orleans.

  To fix her leaking roof in 2020, she had to borrow money.

  “It’s one of them credit card loans,” she said. “Like interest of 30% and all that, you know. I was kind of backed up against the wall, so I just went on and made the loan, a high-interest loan.”

Sunday, October 16, 2022

The big reason Florida insurance companies are failing isn’t just hurricane risk – it’s fraud and lawsuits

  Hurricane Ian’s widespread damage is another disaster for Florida’s already shaky insurance industry. Even though home insurance rates in Florida are nearly triple the national average, insurers have been losing money. Six have failed since January 2022. Now, insured losses from Ian are estimated to exceed US$40 billion.

  Hurricane risk might seem like the obvious problem, but there is a more insidious driver in this financial train wreck.

  Finance professor Shahid Hamid, who directs the Laboratory for Insurance at Florida International University, explained how Florida’s insurance market got this bad – and how the state’s insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance, now carrying more than 1 million policies, can weather the storm.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

12 hard-won life changing insights

  Perhaps the only major advantage of getting older is the prospect of getting wiser. I think I’ve learned a great many things over the years but here are a dozen of my most treasured insights.

Friday, October 14, 2022

Why you really should start your Christmas shopping now

  It has begun. Shops are – already – starting to put out their Christmas displays. I can hear many of you groaning already. Who wants to think about Christmas this early, right?

  Well, before you get your tinsel in a tangle, you may wish to consider that there are benefits to starting your Christmas shopping early.

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Butter, garage doors and SUVs: Why shortages remain common 2½ years into the pandemic

  Shortages of basic goods still plague the U.S. economy – 2½ years after the pandemic’s onset turned global supply chains upside down.

  Want a new car? You may have to wait as long as six months depending on the model you order. Looking for a spicy condiment? Supplies of Sriracha hot sauce have been running dangerously low. And if you feed your cat or dog dry pet food, expect empty shelves or elevated prices.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Hurricane Ian capped 2 weeks of extreme storms around the globe: Here’s what’s known about how climate change fuels tropical cyclones

  When Hurricane Ian hit Florida, it was one of the United States’ most powerful hurricanes on record, and it followed a two-week string of massive, devastating storms around the world.

  A few days earlier in the Philippines, Typhoon Noru gave new meaning to rapid intensification when it blew up from a tropical storm with 50 mph winds to a Category 5 monster with 155 mph winds the next day. Hurricane Fiona flooded Puerto Rico, then became Canada’s most intense storm on record. Typhoon Merbok gained strength over a warm Pacific Ocean and tore up over 1,000 miles of the Alaska coast.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Holocaust comparisons are frequent in US politics – and reflect a shallow understanding of the actual genocide and the US response

  Robert Keith Packer, a 57-year-old Virginian, achieved a measure of infamy at the Jan. 6 Capitol riot when he was photographed wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with a skull and crossbones along with the words “Camp Auschwitz.” “Work Brings Freedom,” the front said, a translation of the notorious motto “Arbeit macht frei” that appeared on the gates of Auschwitz and several other Nazi concentration camps. On the back was the word “Staff.”

  Packer was sentenced to 75 days in prison on Sept. 16, 2022 for his role in the riot – he was tried for his actions, not his clothing. But his sweatshirt was far from the only Holocaust reference on Jan. 6 or in its aftermath.

Monday, October 10, 2022

A teacher's dilemma over grades

  When I was a law professor, I administered multiple choice tests that I corrected by hand. One day, Ron came to my office informing me that I made a scoring error – in his favor.

  I was impressed with his honesty and told him so as I was changing my records. Ron was horrified. “You’re going to lower my grade?” he sputtered. “Of course” I said, “I’m entering the correct score.”

Sunday, October 9, 2022

Ron DeSantis and “waste, fraud, and abuse”

  Republicans and conservatives are still celebrating Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s immigration antic with respect to his shipping and dumping immigrants in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. They are convinced that what DeSantis did was a brilliant political move because it supposedly exposed the hypocrisy of rich, elite progressives/liberals/Democrats who say they favor immigrants but then won’t take them into their homes to live.

Saturday, October 8, 2022

Native Americans’ decadeslong struggle for control over sacred lands is making progress

  Who should manage public land that is sacred to Native Americans?

  That is the question that the United States government and some states hope recent policy changes will address by giving Indigenous people greater input into managing such land. Co-management, as the policy is called, might alleviate the friction that emerges when sacred landscapes are managed without Native American input.

Friday, October 7, 2022

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - New fiscal year begins, teachers and state employees looking good

  The new state fiscal year begins October 1, and the two state budgets are flush. Both the General Fund and the State Special Education Budgets will be the largest in state history.  

  The General Fund Budget is a record-breaking $2.7 billion. It increases the revenue to mental health and prisons. Medicaid continues to be a money-eating monster. State employees are getting a 4% cost of living raise. This is the third time in recent history that state workers have gotten a back-to-back pay raise. In addition, retired state employees will get a bonus. State Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Escambia) and Rep. Steve Clouse (R-Ozark), the budget chairmen, deserve accolades.  

Thursday, October 6, 2022

A seismic change has taken place at the Supreme Court – but it’s not clear if the shift is about principle or party

  In the summer of 2022, the U.S. witnessed a dramatic change in how the majority of Supreme Court justices understand the Constitution.

  At the end of a single term, the court rejected the long-standing constitutional right to abortion, expanded gun rights, and ruled that religion can have a bigger role in public institutions.

  These outcomes reflect a seismic shift in U.S. law and policy, but scholars of the court dispute what kind of change it was, exactly – a principled or partisan one. As a close observer of constitutional politics, I believe this is an important debate with deep consequences for the perceived legitimacy of the court.

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

‘There’s only so far I can take them’ – why teachers give up on struggling students who don’t do their homework

  Whenever “Gina,” a fifth grader at a suburban public school on the East Coast, did her math homework, she never had to worry about whether she could get help from her mom.

  “I help her a lot with homework,” Gina’s mother, a married, mid-level manager for a health care company, explained to us during an interview for a study we did about how teachers view students who complete their homework versus those who do not.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

When should you get the new COVID-19 booster and the flu shot? Now is the right time for both

  At this point in the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly everyone has experienced the panic and uncertainty that come with having mild COVID-like symptoms – such as a cough and sore throat – only to test negative day after day. With cold and flu season just around the corner, that state of frustrating uncertainty is likely to strike most of us again.

  Both COVID-19 and the flu are contagious respiratory illnesses that have similar symptoms, making it difficult to distinguish between the two viral infections without a lab test. Testing is the only way to know which virus is causing your symptoms. In fact, labs are working to create one test that can detect both COVID-19 and the flu.

Monday, October 3, 2022

Halloween, home haunts, and horror movies are about escaping reality

  What is it about horror movies and Halloween that get me (and millions of other people) excited each fall? Is it the crisp autumn air or the candy corn that puts sparkles in our eyes? Is it classic horror movies, such as Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street, that get us excited? Not exactly. It is the sense of escape that Halloween brings that gets us excited.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Loopholes and slippery slopes

  As a former law professor, I know all about loopholes.

  I trained students to find omissions and ambiguities in wording — a perfectly legal way to evade the clear intent of laws and agreements. After all, that’s what lawyers are paid to do. And, despite commonly expressed disdain when lawyers do this, that’s precisely what most clients want and expect when they hire a lawyer.

Saturday, October 1, 2022

When it comes to First Amendment rights, do we want a sword or a shield?

  When it comes to your core freedoms, which would you rather wield to protect them: a sword or a shield?

  The 45 words of the First Amendment haven’t changed since it was adopted in 1791, but how those five freedoms are interpreted and applied is shifting — alarming some even as it empowers others.

  For much of our history, the amendment’s core freedoms have served as a shield. Our individual rights were protected from government overreach and persecution, defending what University of Virginia professor G. Edward White decades ago called “oppressed mavericks and despised dissenters.”