Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Urban agriculture isn’t as climate-friendly as it seems – but these best practices can transform gardens and city farms

  Urban agriculture is expected to be an important feature of 21st century sustainability and can have many benefits for communities and cities, including providing fresh produce in neighborhoods with few other options.

  Among those benefits, growing food in backyards, community gardens, or urban farms can shrink the distance fruits and vegetables have to travel between producers and consumers – what’s known as the “food mile” problem. With transportation’s greenhouse gas emissions eliminated, it’s a small leap to assume that urban agriculture is a simple climate solution.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

‘No cash accepted’ signs are bad news for millions of unbanked Americans

  How many people don’t have a bank account? And just how difficult has it become to live without one?

  These questions are becoming increasingly important as more businesses refuse to take cash in cities across the U.S. People without bank accounts are shut out from stores and restaurants that refuse to accept cash.

  As it happens, a lot of people are still “unbanked”: roughly 6 million in the U.S., the latest data shows, which is about the population of Wisconsin. And outside of the U.S., more than a billion people don’t have a bank account.

Monday, January 29, 2024

‘Collective mind’ bridges societal divides − psychology research explores how watching the same thing can bring people together

  Only about 1 in 4 Americans said that they had trust in the nation’s institutions in 2023 – with big business (1 in 7), television news (1 in 7), and Congress (1 in 12) scraping the very bottom.

  While institutional trust is decreasing, political polarization is increasing. The majority of Republicans (72%) and Democrats (64%) think of each other as more immoral than other Americans – a nearly 30% rise from 2016 to 2022. When compared with similar democracies, the United States has exhibited the largest increase in animus toward the opposing political party over the past 40 years.

Sunday, January 28, 2024

The 'Thank You' system

  When a person is leaving a restaurant or any other retail establishment, who should be saying “Thank you”—the seller or the buyer?

  The answer is: Both. That’s because they are both benefiting from the transaction from their own individual, subjective perspectives. That is, they are each giving up something they value less for something they value more. Thus, at the moment of the trade, they have both improved their state of being, from their own individual, subjective perspective.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

Friday, January 26, 2024

The establishment clause: Everything to know

  Religious freedom in the United States is guaranteed by two provisions of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

  One, commonly known as the establishment clause, has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court to prevent government from either advancing (that is, establishing) or hindering religion, preferring one religion over others, or favoring religion over nonreligion.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

Supreme Court appears poised to overrule Chevron deference in judicial power grab

  On the morning of January 17, 2024, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a pair of cases that could upend 40 years of administrative jurisprudence, impede the federal government’s ability to effectively serve the American people, and allow the federal judiciary to amass unchecked levels of power. At issue in both Loper Bright v. Raimondo and Relentless v. Department of Commerce is a challenge to a regulation created by the National Marine Fisheries Service, under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, requiring commercial fishing vessels to pay for federal monitors who collect data to ensure that fisheries remain sustainable and viable for decades to come. Rather than address the narrow and technical question on this regulation, however, the Supreme Court opted instead to take up the broader and far more existentially threatening question of whether to completely do away with 40-year-old precedent known as Chevron deference.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - 2024 is an election year

  This is a presidential election year. Our Alabama GOP Presidential Primary is our election in the Heart of Dixie. We are a one-party state, especially in presidential races. Alabama is one of a group of states that will hold its primary early, March 5th to be exact.  Therefore, we will be going to the polls in less than two months to vote for president.

  The presidential contest will more than likely be a rematch between Democratic sitting President Joe Biden and Republican former President Donald Trump. Americans are not too enthused to see this replay. I have never seen such a weird presidential matchup or unusual scenario in my lifetime.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

What’s the best diet for healthy sleep? A nutritional epidemiologist explains what food choices will help you get more restful z’s

  You probably already know that how you eat before bed affects your sleep. Maybe you’ve found yourself still lying awake at 2 a.m. after enjoying a cup of coffee with dessert. But did you know that your eating choices throughout the day may also affect your sleep at night?

  In fact, more and more evidence shows that overall dietary patterns can affect sleep quality and contribute to insomnia.

Monday, January 22, 2024

This isn’t how you improve Alabama schools

  My sister and I attended Catholic schools for 12 years.

  These were not elite institutions. None of my classmates, as far as I know, went to Ivy League universities. On balance, the education we got was on par with what the local public schools offered.

  But it was important to our parents that we pray in class and get Catholic religious instruction. Public schools couldn’t deliver that, and our non-Catholic neighbors wouldn’t want them to.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

1 good thing about the Iowa caucuses, and 3 that are really troubling

  Every four years, the Iowa caucuses find new ways to become a problematic part of the presidential nomination process. Democrats have abandoned the Iowa-first tradition, at least for 2024, but Republicans went full speed ahead with the caucuses on Jan. 15, 2024.

  If they were being honest, most politicians and political experts who are not from Iowa – and not planning to curry favor with Iowans someday – would concede that this caucus-first system is far from the best way to start to select a presidential nominee, especially considering the low voter turnout in an overwhelmingly white state. But changing old, familiar processes is never easy, particularly during these highly contentious times.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

In the ‘big tent’ of free speech, can you be too open-minded?

  People often extol the virtue of open-mindedness, but can there be too much of a good thing?

  As a college dean, I regularly observe campus controversies about the Israel-Hamas war, race relations, and other hot-button issues. Many of these concern free speech – what students, faculty, and invited speakers should and shouldn’t be allowed to say.

  But free speech disputes aren’t merely about permission to speak. They are about who belongs at the table – and whether there are limits to the viewpoints we should listen to, argue with, or allow to change our minds. As a philosopher who works on “culture war” issues, I’m particularly interested in what free-speech disputes teach about the value of open-mindedness.

Friday, January 19, 2024

Sellout! How political corruption shaped an American insult

  If you follow politics, sports, Hollywood, or the arts, you’ve no doubt heard the insult “sellout” thrown around to describe someone perceived to have betrayed a core principle or shared value in their pursuit of personal gain.

  The term has recently been hurled at a range of well-known targets: Donald Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows for cooperating with a special counsel investigating election fraud in 2020; Kim Kardashian for advertising her personal brands as a form of women’s empowerment; even former NFL great Deion Sanders, for leaving Jackson State, a historically Black university, to coach at the University of Colorado.

Thursday, January 18, 2024

5 facts you should know about electric vehicles

  With the transportation sector accounting for 28 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the electric vehicle (EV) revolution is an essential part of the fight against climate change. EVs have far lower greenhouse gas emissions than their gas-powered counterparts, even when accounting for their higher battery mineral needs. Beyond their climate benefits, here are five additional reasons why EVs are gaining momentum.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

What Taoism teaches about the body and being healthy

  New Year’s resolutions often come with a renewed investment in making our bodies healthier. Many may take to the newest diet plan or sign up for a health club membership, but it is worth taking some time to consider what actually constitutes a healthy, happy body.

  Taoist visions of the body form a central part of my research. Taoism, (also spelled Daoism) an indigenous tradition of China, understands humans to be an integral part of the larger cosmos.

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Your car might be watching you to keep you safe − at the expense of your privacy

  Depending on which late-model vehicle you own, your car might be watching you – literally and figuratively – as you drive down the road. It’s watching you with cameras that monitor the cabin and track where you’re looking, and with sensors that track your speed, lane position, and rate of acceleration.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Martin Luther King Jr., union man

  If Martin Luther King Jr. still lived, he’d probably tell people to join unions.

  King understood racial equality was inextricably linked to economics. He asked, “What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger?”

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Why Franklin, Washington and Lincoln considered American democracy an ‘experiment’ – and were unsure if it would survive

  From the time of the founding era to the present day, one of the more common things said about American democracy is that it is an “experiment.”

  Most people can readily intuit what the term is meant to convey, but it is still a phrase that is bandied about more often than it is explained or analyzed.

  Is American democracy an “experiment” in the bubbling-beakers-in-a-laboratory sense of the word? If so, what is the experiment attempting to prove, and how will we know if and when it has succeeded?

Establishing, then keeping, the republic

  To the extent you can generalize about such a diverse group, the founders meant two things, I would argue, by calling self-government an “experiment.”

  First, they saw their work as an experimental attempt to apply principles derived from science and the study of history to the management of political relations. As the founder John Jay explained to a New York grand jury in 1777, Americans, acting under “the guidance of reason and experience,” were among “the first people whom heaven has favored with an opportunity of deliberating upon, and choosing the forms of government under which they should live.”

  Alongside this optimistic, Enlightenment-inspired understanding of the democratic experiment, however, was another that was decidedly more pessimistic.

  Their work, the founders believed, was also an experiment because, as everyone who had read their Aristotle and Cicero and studied ancient history knew, republics – in which political power rests with the people and their representatives – and democracies were historically rare and acutely susceptible to subversion. That subversion came both from within – from decadence, the sapping of public virtue, and demagoguery – as well as from monarchies and other enemies abroad.

  When asked whether the federal constitution of 1787 established a monarchy or a republic, Benjamin Franklin is famously said to have answered: “A republic, if you can keep it.” His point was that establishing a republic on paper was easy and preserving it the hard part.

Optimism and pessimism

  The term “experiment” does not appear in any of the nation’s founding documents, but it has nevertheless enjoyed a privileged place in public political rhetoric.

  George Washington, in his first inaugural address, described the “republican model of government” as an “experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

  Gradually, presidents began to talk less of a democratic experiment whose success was still in doubt than about one whose viability had been proven by the passage of time.

  Andrew Jackson, for one, in his 1837 farewell address felt justified in proclaiming, “Our Constitution is no longer a doubtful experiment, and at the end of nearly half a century we find that it has preserved unimpaired the liberties of the people.”

  Such statements of guarded optimism about the American experiment’s accomplishments, however, existed alongside persistent expressions of concern about its health and prospects.

  In the period before the Civil War, despite participating in what in hindsight was a healthy, two-party system, politicians were forever proclaiming the end of the republic and casting opponents as threats to democracy. Most of those fears can be written off as hyperbole or attempts to demonize rivals. Some, of course, were sparked by genuine challenges to democratic institutions.

  The attempt of Southern states to dissolve the Union represented one such occasion. In a July 4, 1861 address to Congress, Abraham Lincoln quite rightly saw the crisis as a grave trial for the democratic experiment to survive.

  “Our popular Government has often been called an experiment,” Lincoln observed. “Two points in it our people have already settled – the successful establishing and the successful administering of it. One still remains – its successful maintenance against a formidable internal attempt to overthrow it.”

Vigilance required

  If you tried to quantify references to the democratic “experiment” throughout American history, you would find, I suspect, more pessimistic than optimistic invocations, more fears that the experiment is at imminent risk of failing than standpat complacency that it has succeeded.

  Consider, for example, the popularity of such recent tomes as “How Democracies Die,” by political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and “Twilight of Democracy,” by journalist and historian Anne Applebaum. Why this persistence of pessimism? Historians of the United States have long noted the popularity since the time of the Puritans of so-called “Jeremiads” and “declension narratives” – or, to put it more colloquially, nostalgia for the good old days and the belief that society is going to hell in a handbasket.

  The human-made nature of our institutions has always been a source of both hope and anxiety. Hope that America could break the shackles of old-world oppression and make the world anew; anxiety that the improvisational nature of democracy leaves it vulnerable to anarchy and subversion.

  American democracy has faced genuine, sometimes existential threats. Though its attribution to Thomas Jefferson is apparently apocryphal, the adage that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance is justly celebrated.

  The hard truth is that the “experiment” of American democracy will never be finished so long as the promise of equality and liberty for all remains anywhere unfulfilled.

  The temptation to give in to despair or paranoia in the face of the experiment’s open-endedness is understandable. But fears about its fragility should be tempered with a recognition that democracy’s essential and demonstrated malleability – its capacity for adaptation, improvement, and expanding inclusivity – can be and has historically been a source of strength and resilience as well as vulnerability.

  About the author: Thomas Coens is a research associate professor of history at the University of Tennessee.

  This article was published by The Conversation. 

Saturday, January 13, 2024

LGBTQ+ workers want more than just pride flags in June

  Every year, more and more companies seem to recognize Pride Month. But a recent analysis shows that LGBTQ+ workers expect more than this once-a-year acknowledgment from their employers. In fact, some employees actually criticize such behavior as mere pinkwashing.

  So, what do LGBTQ+ workers want? In 2023, the jobs website Indeed conducted a survey of LGBTQ+ full-time workers from across the U.S., and the results provide a clear picture of their needs.

Friday, January 12, 2024

Why the Alabama Legislature can’t get a gambling bill done

  A very nice man at the Montgomery Costco, who knows that I willingly enter the Alabama Statehouse, often asks me when we’ll get a state lottery.

  It’s a question we ink-stained, bill-beaten wretches get a lot. After all, Alabama is the last state east of the Mississippi without a lottery. And our laws on gambling would confuse a Dadaist.

  Legislators know this, too. There’s always talk of resolving the issue.

Thursday, January 11, 2024

How the Iowa caucuses became the first major challenge of US presidential campaigns

  The first and most visible test of Republican candidate support in the 2024 presidential election is the Iowa caucuses, which take place on Jan. 15, 2024.

  This year, even though Democrat Joe Biden is not facing a serious challenger for renomination, the Democrats had already decided to move their first test to South Carolina on Feb. 3, 2024.

  While Iowa does not control who becomes the candidate of each party, Iowans’ choices almost always end up matching the rest of the nation.

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

How a new way to vote is gaining traction in states — and could transform US politics

  With U.S. democracy plagued by extremism, polarization, and a growing disconnect between voters and lawmakers, a set of reforms that could dramatically upend how Americans vote is gaining momentum at surprising speed in Western states.

  Ranked choice voting, which asks voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference, has seen its profile steadily expand since 2016, when Maine became the first state to adopt it. But increasingly, RCV is being paired with a new system for primaries known as Final Five — or in some cases, Final Four — that advances multiple candidates, regardless of party, to the general election.

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Unkind words are weapons

  With four teenage daughters, I frequently find myself correcting, disciplining, or simply protesting unnecessary and unkind comments certain to anger or wound a sister and evoke counterattacks that fill the air with nastiness.

  Hoping to get them to think before they speak in the future, I often ask, “What did you expect to accomplish by that remark?” and “Did it make things better or worse?” It rarely makes a difference.

Monday, January 8, 2024

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Negative ads work and always have

  Over the years, many of you have said to me, “I am so tired of seeing all negative ads with candidates lambasting each other in political campaigns. Why don’t candidates say what they are going to do when they are elected rather than bashing their opponent mercilessly?”  People also suggest that campaigns are more negative today than in bygone years. Allow me to answer the question in the reverse order.  

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Objectivity in journalism: A fair but flawed idea?

  A common critique of news today is that journalists have an “agenda.” People want journalism to present facts, not opinions or biases. It’s a noble wish.

  The First Amendment protects freedom of the press, but it does not require news outlets to be “objective.”

  You’re not alone if you have ever read, watched, or listened to a news story and thought, “That’s not objective journalism.” Everyone has encountered journalism that isn’t truly objective. That’s because humans who report, edit, and produce news can’t truly be objective, no matter how hard they try.

Saturday, January 6, 2024

How QR codes work and what makes them dangerous – a computer scientist explains

  Among the many changes brought about by the pandemic is the widespread use of QR codes, graphical representations of digital data that can be printed and later scanned by a smartphone or other device, but there are some security risks. The Federal Trade Commission warned again in December 2023 about the danger of scanning a code from an unknown source.

Friday, January 5, 2024

Steve Flowers: Inside the Statehouse - Lister Hill, one of Alabama greatest U.S. Senators

  We had a very distinguished congressional delegation from Alabama during the 30-year-span of 1934-1964. The congressmen from the Heart of Dixie appeared to be born to serve in Congress. Their pedigrees were all similar. They had pretty much been born and raised in the town that they would eventually represent in Congress. Almost all of them had gone to the University of Alabama for their education, and most had graduated from Alabama’s Law School. While at the Capstone, most had been members of Greek fraternities.  

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Before he was House speaker, Mike Johnson represented a creationist museum in court. Here’s what that episode reveals about his politics

  Speaker of the House Mike Johnson has been the subject of considerable media attention following his elevation to the post on Oct. 25, 2023. Since his appointment, news reports have highlighted the fact that he was one of the House leaders against certifying the 2020 election of Joe Biden to the presidency and that he is known to be stridently anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+.

  Comparing himself to Moses, in a speech at a gala on Dec. 5, 2023, Johnson suggested that God cleared the way for him to be speaker of the House.

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Turning annual performance reviews into ‘humble encounters’ yields dividends for employees and managers

  Every year, employees worldwide enter annual performance reviews with mixed feelings. Do employees enter these conversations with enthusiasm to learn new things? Rarely. Are managers eager to have these conversations and coach their employees on how they can improve in the coming year? No.

  These meetings are typically experienced as difficult conversations. Opportunities for learning and relationship-building are often missed.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Launching the new year with a commitment to be self-consciously reflective

  Expanding on the theme that the best way to improve your life and have an exceptionally successful and fulfilling New Year is to increase your wisdom and optimism, I urge you not to just skim this essay but to take some serious reflection time to answer these questions.

  What did you learn last year that will help you become wiser and better? And for that matter, what did you learn last month, last week, yesterday?

Monday, January 1, 2024

7 research-based resolutions that will help strengthen your relationship in the year ahead

  The new year is going to be better. It has to be better. Maybe you’re one of the 74% of Americans in one survey who said they planned on hitting the reset button on Jan. 1 and resolving to improve. Those New Year’s resolutions most commonly focus on eating healthier, exercising, losing weight, and being a better person.

  Admirable goals, to be sure. But focusing on body and mind neglects something equally important: your romantic relationship. Couples with better marriages report higher well-being, and a recent study found that having a better romantic relationship not only promoted well-being and better health now but that those benefits extend into the future.