Tuesday, October 31, 2023

When Halloween became America’s most dangerous holiday

   The unquiet spirits, vampires, and the omnipresent zombies that take over American streets every October 31 may think Halloween is all about spooky fun. But what Halloween masqueraders may not realize is that in the early 1970s and well into the next decade, real fear took over.

  The media, police departments, and politicians began to tell a new kind of Halloween horror story – about poisoned candy.

  No actual events explained this fear: It was driven by social and cultural anxieties. And there is a lesson in that about the power of rumors on this day of dark fantasy.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Halloween’s celebration of mingling with the dead has roots in ancient Celtic celebrations of Samhain

  As Halloween approaches, people get ready to celebrate the spooky, the scary, and the haunted. Ghosts, zombies, skeletons, and witches are prominently displayed in yards, windows, stores, and community spaces. Festivities center around the realm of the dead, and some believe that the dead might actually mingle with the living on the night of Halloween.

  Scholars have often noted how these modern-day celebrations of Halloween have origins in Samhain, a festival celebrated by ancient Celtic cultures. In contemporary Irish Gaelic, Halloween is still known as Oíche Shamhna, or Eve of Samhain.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Tracking daily step counts can be a useful tool for weight management – an exercise scientist parses the science

  Over the last decade, smartphones have become ubiquitous not just for sending texts and staying abreast of news but also for monitoring daily activity levels.

  Among the most common, and arguably the most meaningful, tracking method for daily physical activity is step counting.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

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?

Roots of Halloween

  The origins of modern-day Halloween go back to “Samhain,” a Celtic celebration for the beginning of the dark half of the year when, it was widely believed, the realm between the living and the dead overlapped and ghosts could be commonly encountered.

Friday, October 27, 2023

America’s farmers are getting older, and young people aren’t rushing to join them

  On October 12, National Farmers’ Day, Americans honor the hardworking people who keep the world fed and clothed.

  But the farming labor force has a problem: It’s aging rapidly.

  The average American farmer is 57 and a half years old according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That’s up sharply from 1978 when the figure was just a smidge over 50.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Let the community work it out: Throwback to early internet days could fix social media’s crisis of legitimacy

  In the 2018 documentary “The Cleaners,” a young man in Manila, Philippines explains his work as a content moderator: “We see the pictures on the screen. You then go through the pictures and delete those that don’t meet the guidelines. The daily quota of pictures is 25,000.” As he speaks, his mouse clicks, deleting offending images while allowing others to remain online.

  The man in Manila is one of thousands of content moderators hired as contractors by social media platforms – 10,000 at Google alone. Content moderation on an industrial scale like this is part of the everyday experience for users of social media. Occasionally a post someone makes is removed, or a post someone thinks is offensive is allowed to go viral.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Israeli invasion of Gaza likely to resemble past difficult battles in Iraq and Syria

  Israel appears to be preparing for the next phase of its military operation: a ground campaign to “crush and destroy” Hamas, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has put it.

  Israel has signaled that it might be willing to delay an invasion – but not call it off entirely – if Hamas releases more hostages. But that means an invasion is still very likely, which raises questions about how Hamas has prepared for a ground invasion and whether Israel is prepared for what could be a long, drawn-out fight.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

10 Things you didn't know about the history of Halloween

10) While today's costumes channel an inner fantasy, they started with a much more solemn purpose.

  One of the earliest examples we have of people donning costumes comes from Hallow Mass, a ceremonial mass dedicated to prayers for the dead. People appealed to their ancestors for everything from happy marriages to fertility, and costumes were a part of that.

Monday, October 23, 2023

Amish culture prizes peace − but you wouldn’t necessarily know it from a stop in Amish Country tourist towns

  Ohio’s Amish Country, located in the northeastern part of the state, draws over 4 million visitors every year – second only to Cedar Point amusement park as the Buckeye State’s most popular tourist attraction.

  October, with its cooler temperatures and spectacular colors, is the region’s peak month for tourist traffic. Hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the area in the fall to shop for Amish-made furniture, enjoy buggy rides, and visit small towns that many Americans romanticize as bucolic escapes from the world.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

What do a Black scientist, nonprofit executive and filmmaker have in common? They all face racism in the ‘gray areas’ of workplace culture

  American workplaces talk a lot about diversity these days. In fact, you’d have a hard time finding a company that says it doesn’t value the principle. But despite this – and despite the multibillion-dollar diversity industry – Black workers continue to face significant hiring discrimination, stall out at middle management levels, and remain underrepresented in leadership roles.

Saturday, October 21, 2023

What if Alabama had never taken anyone’s vote away?

  There’s a chance — not a guarantee, but a better-than-average possibility — that two Black Alabamians will represent the state in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2025. 

  A federal court created two new congressional districts for the state, one with a Black Voting Age Population (BVAP) of 51.9% and one with a BVAP of 48.7%.

  To this point, the declared or likely candidates for the districts are nearly all Black Democrats. Because voting in Alabama is racially polarized — white Alabamians tend to support Republicans and Black Alabamians tend to support Democrats — it’s a good bet that two Black Alabamians will serve in the state’s seven-member U.S. House delegation. 

  That’s never happened before. 

Friday, October 20, 2023

As witchcraft becomes a multibillion-dollar business, practitioners’ connection to the natural world is changing

  Witches, Wiccans, and other contemporary Pagans see divinity in trees, streams, plants, and animals. Most Pagans view the Earth as the Goddess, with a body that humans must care for, and from which they gain emotional, spiritual, and physical sustenance.

  Paganism is an umbrella term that includes religions that view their practices as returning to those of pre-Christian societies, in which they believe the Goddess was worshipped along with the gods and the land was seen as sacred. Wicca focuses specifically on the practice of the British Isles.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Today’s white working-class young men who turn to racist violence are part of a long, sad American history

  In recent years, the United States has seen a surge of white supremacist mass shootings against racial minorities. While not always the case, mass shooters tend to be young white men.

  Some journalists and researchers have argued that class and ideals of white masculinity are partly to blame.

  This argument is not surprising. Throughout U.S. history, white men’s anxieties over their manhood and social class help explain many violent attacks on Black people, whom the perpetrators blame for denying them their rightful privileges.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Listen up, ladies and gentlemen, guys and dudes: Terms of address can be a minefield, especially as their meanings change

  A male colleague could be forgiven for not knowing if using “guys” to refer to female co-workers is acceptable in the modern workplace. But should he address them as “ladies,” he risks a trip to HR, or at the very least being labeled a condescending creep.

  So what in the name of Messrs Merriam and Webster is going on with what we linguists call “address terms” – that is, the words we use to address individuals – and their gender? All languages have such terms, with the most common being “you,” or the second-person pronoun.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Vaccines against COVID-19, the seasonal flu and RSV are our best chance of preventing a winter surge

  As cold and flu season ramps up, health care experts are once again on high alert for the possibility of a tripledemic, or a surge brought on by the respiratory viruses that cause COVID-19, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. The good news is that this year, health officials have more tools at their disposal to combat them.

  Americans ages 6 months and older are eligible to receive the newest COVID-19 vaccine and the annual flu vaccine. In addition, this year the Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine against RSV for use in late pregnancy and adults 60 years of age and older.

Monday, October 16, 2023

How to keep your jack-o’-lantern from turning into moldy, maggoty mush before Halloween

  For many Americans, pumpkins mean that fall is here. In anticipation, coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores start their pumpkin flavor promotions in late August, a month before autumn officially begins. And shoppers start buying fresh decorative winter produce, such as pumpkins and turban squash, in the hot, sultry days of late summer.

  But these fruits – yes, botanically, pumpkins and squash are fruits – don’t last forever. And they may not even make it to Halloween if you buy and carve them too early.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Hammering Alabama elections in search of a nail

  Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen doesn’t want to make voting easier. He’s always been clear on that.

  Take an interview Alabama’s elections chief did a few weeks ago. Allen said he opposed automatic voter registration (AVR), a program where a qualified voter gets registered when they do something like renew a driver’s license.

  “Registering to vote is a First Amendment issue in my mind,” he told a conservative radio host. “You’re exercising your speech. And I think that’s a slippery slope you go down when the government just automatically tells somebody that they’re going to be registered to vote. As long as I’m secretary of state, we’re not going down that path.”

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Traffic tickets can be profitable, and fairness isn’t the bottom line in city courts where judges impose the fines

  When city governments spend more money than they take in, officials often search for ways to generate revenue. One increasingly common source of money is traffic tickets. And research shows police officers issue more traffic tickets when cities are financially in a deficit.

  But police represent only one aspect of this revenue-generating system. Judges and their courts also use traffic citations to generate money for the cities that employ them.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Why is 13 considered unlucky? Explaining the power of its bad reputation

  Would you think it weird if I refused to travel on Sundays that fall on the 22nd day of the month?

  How about if I lobbied the homeowner association in my high-rise condo to skip the 22nd floor, jumping from the 21st to 23rd?

  It’s highly unusual to fear 22 – so, yes, it would be appropriate to see me as a bit odd. But what if, in just my country alone, more than 40 million people shared the same baseless aversion?

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Calling the war in Ukraine a ‘tragedy’ shelters its perpetrators from blame and responsibility

  Russia’s war against Ukraine continues to cause unspeakable, unimaginable suffering. By now, the word “tragedy” is firmly installed in the lexicon of the war and has become almost a cliche.

  Journalists record tragedies in Ukraine in their many heartbreaking manifestations. Marking the first anniversary of the war in February 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden said, “This war was never a necessity; it’s a tragedy.”

  The label of “tragedy” is liberally applied to most every development in this war. Russia’s breach of the Kakhovka dam on June 6, 2023, and the humanitarian and ecological disaster it caused was “the latest tragedy,” according to an Associated Press headline.

Wednesday, October 11, 2023

The Gaza Strip − why the history of the densely populated enclave is key to understanding the current conflict

  The focus on conflict in the Middle East has again returned to the Gaza Strip, with Israel’s defense minister ordering a “complete siege” of the Palestinian enclave.

  The military operation, which involves extensive bombing of residences, follows a surprise attack on Oct. 7, 2023 by Hamas militants who infiltrated Israel from Gaza and killed more than 900 Israelis. In reprisal airstrikes, the Israeli military has killed over 800 Gazans. And that figure could escalate in the coming days. Meanwhile, an order to cut off all food, electricity, and water to Gaza will only worsen the plight of residents in what has been called the “world’s largest open-air prison.”

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Short naps can improve memory, increase productivity, reduce stress and promote a healthier heart

  Napping during the day is an ancient custom that is practiced worldwide.

  While some people view napping as a luxurious indulgence, others see it as a way to maintain alertness and well-being. But napping can come with drawbacks as well as benefits.

Monday, October 9, 2023

Humility is the foundation to a virtuous life

  The default psychological setting for human beings is an unavoidable self-centeredness. We each stand at the center of our own thoughts, feelings, and needs, and thus experience them in a way that we cannot experience the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others.

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Hell, no! Halloween is not ‘satanic’ – it’s an important way to think about death

   American televangelist Pat Robinson once claimed children who celebrate Halloween were unknowingly “worshipping Satan”.

  Despite the absurdity that a child dressing up as a witch is devil worship, the idea that Halloween is linked to something satanic continues to have purchase among some conservative Christians. However, the traditions behind this increasingly popular holiday are far more complex. It has less to do with anything satanic and more to do with superstition and our relationship with death.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

The importance of shining a light on hidden toxic histories

  Indianapolis proudly claims Elvis’ last concert, Robert Kennedy’s speech in response to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and the Indianapolis 500. There’s a 9/11 memorial, a Medal of Honor Memorial, and a statue of former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning.

  What few locals know, let alone tourists, is that the city also houses one of the largest dry cleaning Superfund sites in the U.S.

Friday, October 6, 2023

AI disinformation is a threat to elections − learning to spot Russian, Chinese and Iranian meddling in other countries can help the US prepare for 2024

  Elections around the world are facing an evolving threat from foreign actors, one that involves artificial intelligence.

  Countries trying to influence each other’s elections entered a new era in 2016 when the Russians launched a series of social media disinformation campaigns targeting the U.S. presidential election. Over the next seven years, a number of countries – most prominently China and Iran – used social media to influence foreign elections, both in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. There’s no reason to expect 2023 and 2024 to be any different.

  But there is a new element: generative AI and large language models. These have the ability to quickly and easily produce endless reams of text on any topic in any tone from any perspective. As a security expert, I believe it’s a tool uniquely suited to internet-era propaganda.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Athletes, activism and the First Amendment: A conversation with Nate Boyer

  When Nate Boyer sat down with Colin Kaepernick in a hotel lobby in 2016, just days before the 15-year anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, and suggested that the San Francisco 49ers quarterback kneel, rather than sit, during the national anthem, he couldn't have imagined the backlash that would follow.

  Seven years later, the U.S. Army veteran and former NFL player says he "would not have done anything different," and that's due in large part to one thing: The First Amendment.

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Steve Marshall doesn’t know what Jim Crow was

  Last Tuesday, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall issued a “statement on redistricting to the people of Alabama.”

  It said his office would abide by a federal court order creating a second majority or near-majority Black congressional district while appealing the ruling.

  That’s a standard comment when one loses cases like these. (The office on Friday appeared to have abandoned an immediate appeal of the order.)

  But Marshall said a lot more.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Rupert Murdoch: His Fox News legacy is one of lies, with little accountability, and political power that rose from the belief in his power

  Rupert Murdoch, 92, one of the world’s most influential modern media figures, announced on Sept. 21, 2023, that he is stepping down as chair of Fox Corp. and executive chairman of News Corp. By mid-November, he will no longer be at the helm of the multibillion-dollar media empire that has stirred so much controversy over decades.

  Through Fox News, Murdoch is leaving a lasting impression on American journalism and politics. It just may not be what most people think.

Monday, October 2, 2023

Why managers’ attempts to empower their employees often fail – and even lead to unethical behavior

  A majority of American workers right now are not feeling very motivated on the job, a new survey suggests.

  Management experts often encourage business leaders to motivate employees by empowering them. The idea is that when workers are free to make decisions and manage their workday, they become more motivated, perform better, and work more creatively.

Sunday, October 1, 2023

How do credit scores work? 2 finance professors explain how lenders choose who gets loans and at what interest rate

  With the cost of borrowing money to buy a home or a car inching ever higher, understanding who gets access to credit, and at what interest rate, is more important for borrowers’ financial health than ever. Lenders base those decisions on the borrowers’ credit scores.

  To learn more about credit scores, The Conversation consulted with two finance scholars. Brian Blank is an assistant professor of finance at Mississippi State University with expertise related to how firms allocate capital as well as the role of credit in mortgage lending. His colleague at Mississippi State, Tom Miller Jr., is a finance professor who has written a book on consumer lending, in addition to providing his expertise to policymakers.