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.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

The Christmas tree is a tradition older than Christmas

  Why, every Christmas, do so many people endure the mess of dried pine needles, the risk of a fire hazard, and impossibly tangled strings of lights?

  Strapping a fir tree to the hood of my car and worrying about the strength of the twine, I sometimes wonder if I should just buy an artificial tree and do away with all the hassle. Then my inner historian scolds me – I have to remind myself that I’m taking part in one of the world’s oldest religious traditions. To give up the tree would be to give up a ritual that predates Christmas itself.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Forgiving without condoning or forgetting

  I suspect all of us have been hurt in deep and lasting ways by the words or acts of another. It’s normal in such situations to feel hostility toward, be angry with, and make negative judgments about the person who hurt us. If we continue to think we’re right to be offended, the tendency is to carry the hurt and resentment in the form of a grudge. Usually this causes far more unhappiness for us than the person we’re mad at.

Friday, November 24, 2023

Retail rage: Why Black Friday leads shoppers to behave badly

  The manic nature of Black Friday has at times led shoppers to engage in fistfights and other misbehavior in their desperation to snatch up the last ultra-discounted television, computer, or pair of pants.

  What is it about the day after Thanksgiving – a day meant to celebrate togetherness and shared feasting – that inspires consumers to misbehave?

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Top 25 Thanksgiving quotations

  "It is therefore recommended ... to set apart Thursday the eighteenth day of December next, for solemn thanksgiving and praise, that with one heart and one voice the good people may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor ..." -Samuel Adams, father of the American Revolution on November 1, 1777 (adopted by the 13 states as the first official Thanksgiving Proclamation)

  "Gratitude is the sign of noble souls." -Aesop's Fables

  "Thanksgiving is possible only for those who take time to remember; no one can give thanks who has a short memory." -Anonymous

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Passeth the cranb'rry sauce! The medieval origins of Thanksgiving

  How and why did the dishes served at Thanksgiving dinner come to be so fixed?

  Many assume that most of them were simply eaten by the Pilgrims during the first Thanksgiving. For this reason, they continue to be eaten today. And it’s true that most of the ingredients are American in origin: the turkey, cranberries, pumpkin, sweet potatoes – even the green beans in the casserole and the pecans in the pie.

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Are you as grateful as you deserve to be?

  As a physician, I have helped to care for many patients and families whose lives have been turned upside down by serious illnesses and injuries. In the throes of such catastrophes, it can be difficult to find cause for anything but lament. Yet Thanksgiving presents us with an opportunity to develop one of the healthiest, most life-affirming, and convivial of all habits – that of counting and rejoicing in our blessings.

Monday, November 20, 2023

Does chicken soup really help when you’re sick? A nutrition specialist explains what’s behind the beloved comfort food

  Preparing a bowl of chicken soup for a loved one when they’re sick has been a common practice throughout the world for centuries. Today, generations from virtually every culture swear to the benefits of chicken soup. In the U.S., the dish is typically made with noodles, but different cultures prepare the soothing remedy their own way.

  Chicken soup as a therapy can be traced back to 60 A.D. and Pedanius Dioscorides, an army surgeon who served under the Roman emperor Nero, and whose five-volume medical encyclopedia was consulted by early healers for more than a millennium. But the origins of chicken soup go back thousands of years earlier, to ancient China.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

Mass shootings often put a spotlight on mental illness, but figuring out which conditions should keep someone from having a gun is no easy task

  Every time the country is shaken by a tragic mass shooting and the loss of innocent lives, mental illness and its role in the actions of the mass shooter come under scrutiny.

  Mental illness again became a central theme after the mass shooting in Maine on Oct. 25, 2023, in which records suggest that the shooter had a history of serious mental health issues. Months before the tragedy, the family of gunman Robert Card, as well as Army Reserve staffers, had contacted law enforcement expressing high levels of concern about his mental health and noting his access to guns.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Alabama needs a new statehouse. Alabamians deserve to know its cost.

  Alabamians have every right to be cynical about their state government.

  After all, there’s a long history of Montgomery politicians enriching themselves or enriching business allies while distracting voters with attacks on those least able to respond.

  It’s an old, ossified attitude. We live under a Jim Crow constitution passed in 1901. Georgia has had three different governing documents during that time.

Friday, November 17, 2023

The futility and destructiveness of the Drug War

  The U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of Louisiana just sent out a press release reporting that a New Orleans federal judge has sentenced a 28-year-old man, Derek Nolan, to 15 years in a federal penitentiary for drug-related crimes. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

Gun deaths among children and teens have soared – but there are ways to reverse the trend

  Firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death among U.S. children and teens following a huge decade-long rise.

  Analyses published on Oct. 5, 2023 by a research team in Boston found an 87% increase in firearm-involved fatalities among Americans under the age of 18 from 2011 to 2021.

  Such an increase is obviously very concerning. But as scholars of adolescent health and firearm violence, we know there are many evidence-based steps that elected officials, health care professionals, community leaders, school administrators, and parents can implement to help reverse this trend.

Trends in firearm deaths

  The latest study is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This data also provides information on whether firearm deaths were the result of homicide, suicide, or unintentional shootings.

  We have seen increases over time in all three areas. The steepest increase has been in the rate of firearm homicides, which doubled over the decade to 2021, reaching 2.1 deaths per 100,000 children and teens, or about 1,500 fatalities annually. Firearm-involved suicides have also increased steadily to 1.1 deaths per 100,000 children and teens in 2021.

  Whereas the proportion of youth firearm-involved deaths due to unintentional shootings is typically highest during childhood, the share of gun deaths due to suicide peaks in adolescence.

  In 2021, homicide was the most common form of firearm-involved deaths in almost every age group under the age of 18, with the exception of 12- and 13-year-olds, in which suicide was the leading cause of firearm fatalities.

  Racial disparities in firearm deaths, which have been present for multiple generations, are also expanding, research shows.

  Black children and teens are now dying from firearms at around 4.5 times the rate of their white peers.

  This disparity is the consequence of structural factors, including the effects of systemic racism and economic disinvestment within many communities. Addressing racial disparities in firearm-involved deaths will require supporting communities and disrupting inequity by addressing long-term underfunding in Black communities and punitive policymaking.

  More research is needed to fully understand why firearm-involved deaths are universally increasing across homicide, suicide, and unintentional deaths. The COVID-19 pandemic and its exacerbation of social inequities and vulnerabilities likely explain some of these increases.

How to reduce gun fatalities

  Reducing young people’s access to unsecured and loaded firearms can prevent firearm-involved deaths across all intents — including suicide, homicide, and unintentional shootings.

  Gun-owning parents can help by storing all firearms in a secure manner – such as in a locked gun safe or with a trigger or cable lock – and unloaded so they are not accessible to children or teens within the household.

  Data shows that only one-third of firearm-owning households with teens in the U.S. currently store all their firearms unloaded and locked.

  In addition to locking household firearms, parents should consider storing a firearm away from the home, such as in a gun shop or shooting range, or temporarily transferring ownership to a family member if they have a teen experiencing a mental health crisis.

  Families, including those that don’t own firearms, should also consider how firearms are stored in homes where their children or teens may spend time, such as a grandparent’s or neighbor’s house.

  Community-based and clinical programs that provide counseling on the importance of locked storage and provide free devices are effective in improving the ways people store their firearms. In addition, researchers have found that states with child access prevention laws, which impose criminal liability on adults for negligently stored firearms, are associated with lower rates of child and teen firearm deaths.

  Reducing the number of young people who carry and use firearms in risky ways is another key step to prevent firearm deaths among children and teens. Existing hospital- and community-based prevention services support this work by identifying and enrolling youth at risk in programs that reduce violence involvement, the carrying of firearms, and risky firearm behaviors.

  While researchers are currently testing such programs to understand how well they work, early findings suggest that the most promising programs include a combination of reducing risky behaviors – through, for example, nonviolent conflict resolution; enhancing youth engagement in pro-social activities and with positive mentors; and supporting youth mental health.

Support structures

  In addition to ongoing focused prevention efforts, hospital-, school-, and community-based interventions that support youth in advancing social, emotional, mental, physical, and financial health can reduce the risk of firearm deaths. Such measures include both creating opportunities for children and teens – building playgrounds, establishing youth programs and providing access to the arts and green spaces – and community-level improvements, such as improved public transportation, economic opportunities, environmental safety conditions, and affordable and quality housing. Allocating resources toward these initiatives is an investment in every community member’s safety.

  Over the past decade, we have seen an 87% increase in firearm-involved fatalities among children and teens in the United States. But we also have the strategies and tools to stop and reverse this troubling trend.

  About the authors: Rebeccah Sokol is an assistant professor of social work at the University of Michigan. Marc A. Zimmerman is a professor of public health at the University of Michigan. Patrick Carter is the co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention and an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Michigan.

  This article was published by The Conversation.  

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Looking for your ‘calling’? What people get wrong when chasing meaningful work

  As a professor, I’m fortunate to teach a course called World Religions for Healthcare Professionals that prepares students for the spiritual and ethical issues they may encounter in their careers. But the class often boils down to life’s big questions: What makes life worth living, and how should we live? How do you find your “calling”?

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

Why humans can’t trust AI: You don’t know how it works, what it’s going to do or whether it’ll serve your interests

  There are alien minds among us. Not the little green men of science fiction, but the alien minds that power the facial recognition in your smartphone, determine your creditworthiness, and write poetry and computer code. These alien minds are artificial intelligence systems, the ghost in the machine that you encounter daily.

  But AI systems have a significant limitation: Many of their inner workings are impenetrable, making them fundamentally unexplainable and unpredictable. Furthermore, constructing AI systems that behave in ways that people expect is a significant challenge.

Monday, November 13, 2023

Lessons for today from the overlooked stories of Black teachers during the segregated civil rights era

  My grandmother’s name was Mrs. Zola Jackson.

  As one of the handful of Black teachers in Mississippi during the Jim Crow era of racially segregated public schools, she faced a daunting challenge in providing a first-class education to students considered second-class citizens.

Sunday, November 12, 2023

Entrepreneurs, beware: Owning your own business can make it harder to get hired later

  If you’ve been thinking about starting your own business lately, you’re not alone. Americans began launching ventures in record numbers during the pandemic, with an above-trend pace continuing through 2023.

  Unfortunately, many of these enterprises won’t last long: 30% of new businesses fail within two years, and half don’t last past five, according to the Small Business Administration. While some of these unlucky founders will pursue new ventures, many others will try to rejoin the traditional labor force.

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Veterans Day: Crossing out war

  Armistice Day, which was first celebrated on November 11, 1918, was changed to Veterans Day when our government passed a bill to that effect on June 2, 1954. Originally, it was a celebration of the ending of World War I, but today it commemorates the service of those who fought in all wars. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could cross out war?

Friday, November 10, 2023

Tommy Tuberville is losing

  Let’s remember the stakes of Tommy Tuberville’s months-long blockade of military promotions.

  The Pentagon in February announced a new policy to help service members get abortion services, months after the U.S. Supreme Court gave states like Alabama the green light to impose draconian restrictions on the procedure.

  The policy gives members of the armed forces up to 21 days’ leave for abortion or fertility treatments. It reimburses them for travel expenses. And it prevents a health care provider from telling a commander about the nature of the person’s treatment.

Thursday, November 9, 2023

Biden administration executive order tackles AI risks, but lack of privacy laws limits reach

  The comprehensive, even sweeping set of guidelines for artificial intelligence that the White House unveiled in an executive order on Oct. 30, 2023 show that the U.S. government is attempting to address the risks posed by AI.

  As a researcher of information systems and responsible AI, I believe the executive order represents an important step in building responsible and trustworthy AI.

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Politicians love to cite crime data. It’s often wrong.

  When Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis announced his presidential campaign in May, he proudly told the nation that Florida’s crime rate in 2021 had reached a 50-year low.

  But really, DeSantis couldn’t say for sure.

  That’s because fewer than 1 in 10 law enforcement agencies in his state had reported their crime statistics to the FBI. In fact, more than 40% of the Sunshine State’s population was unaccounted for in the data used by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in its 2021 statewide crime report.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Trump’s violent rhetoric echoes the fascist commitment to a destructive and bloody rebirth of society

  Former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric has regularly bordered on the incitement of violence. Lately, however, it has become even more violent. Yet both the press and the public have largely just shrugged their shoulders.

  As a political philosopher who studies extremism, I believe people should be more worried about this.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Name the problem

  A few months ago, the Alabama Resilience Council convened to discuss ways to prepare the state for extreme weather events.

  Interesting ideas surfaced, especially on fortifying homes against storm and wind damage.

  What wasn’t discussed?

  Climate change.

Sunday, November 5, 2023

The complex chemistry behind America’s spirit – how bourbon gets its distinctive taste and color

  Few beverages have as rich a heritage and as complicated a chemistry as bourbon whiskey, often called “America’s spirit.” Known for its deep amber hue and robust flavors, bourbon has captured the hearts of enthusiasts across the country.

  But for a whiskey to be called a bourbon, it has to adhere to very specific rules. For one, it needs to be made in the U.S. or a U.S. territory – although almost all is made in Kentucky. The other rules have more to do with the steps to make it – how much corn is in the grain mixture, the aging process, and the alcohol proof.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

New FBI hate crime report sparks concern, prompts action

  On May 14, 2022, an 18-year-old white supremacist drove over 200 miles to Buffalo and murdered 10 Black people, injuring three others, at a supermarket. The young man had come to believe the false conspiracy theory that Jewish people and liberal politicians are leading a covert plot to replace the political power and culture of white populations in Western nations with immigrants of color.

  The act of terror was one of 11,643 hate crime incidents documented in the FBI’s new hate crime report, covering bias crimes committed in 2022.

Friday, November 3, 2023

New House Speaker Mike Johnson leads a GOP majority weakened by decades of declining party authority

  After the House of Representatives took the unprecedented step on Oct. 3, 2023 of removing its own speaker, Kevin McCarthy of California, with eight Republicans joining all 208 voting Democrats to “vacate the chair,” what followed was weeks of uncertainty. Until conservative Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson was elected speaker of the House on Oct. 25, no candidate had been able to secure the necessary number of Republicans to win a vote on the House floor. And without an elected speaker, the chamber was effectively stuck.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Being humble about what you know is just one part of what makes you a good thinker

  What does it mean to be a good thinker? Recent research suggests that acknowledging you can be wrong plays a vital role.

  I had these studies in mind a few months ago when I was chatting with a history professor about a class she was teaching to first-year students here at Wake Forest University. As part of my job as a psychology professor who researches character – basically, what it means to be a good person – I often talk to my colleagues about how our teaching can develop the character of our students.

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Why separating fact from fiction is critical in teaching US slavery

  Of all the debate over teaching U.S. slavery, it is one sentence of Florida’s revised academic standards that has provoked particular ire: “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

  Does this sentence constitute “propaganda,” as Vice President Kamala Harris proclaimed, “an attempt to gaslight us?”

  Or is it a reasonable claim in a discussion of a difficult topic?