Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.

The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.

The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?

In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.

The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people

Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.

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  • Sophia the Robot of Hanson Robotics can mimic human facial expressions and humor, but is that just a cover? Should humans see AI as a threat? She, of course, says no.
  • New technologies are often scary, but ultimately they are just tools. Sophia says that it is the intent of the user that makes them dangerous.
  • The future of artificial intelligence and whether or not it will backfire on humanity is an ongoing debate that one smiling robot won't settle.


  • A new paper contends that only 6% of actual coronavirus infections have been detected.
  • Delayed and inadequate testing as well as differences in reporting are to blame.
  • The researchers argue that better testing needs to be set up before social distancing is eased.

A new study links the spread of the coronavirus pandemic to detection rates, arguing that on average, only 6% of actual infections have been found worldwide. U.S., specifically, has one of the worst detection rates.

The study from the University of Göttingen maintains that the true number of cases of the coronavirus could be dramatically larger than what has been reported by different countries. The study used information leading up to March 31st, which means that at that point, while the Johns Hopkins data report used by the researchers showed less than a million confirmed cases globally, the estimate of the true number of infections would have been at least "a few tens of millions," write the researchers. The U.S. alone would have had over 10 million. What the true number is at right now is anyone's guess.

The new report comes from Dr. Christian Bommer and Professor Sebastian Vollmer from Göttingen University, who analyzed the quality of the COVID-19 mortality estimates and time until death in a recent study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

The main reason for the discrepancies lies in how many infections individual countries were able to identify. These differ wildly due to lacking and delayed testing. This can explain also why some countries like Italy and Spain have much higher casualty numbers compared to confirmed cases.

The scientists estimate that Germany, for example, has detected about 15.6% of infections compared to just 3.5% in Italy and 1.7% in Spain. The detection rate in the U.S. is even lower at 1.6%, think the researchers, with the United Kingdom coming in even below that at 1.2%. Both of these countries have been slow to test and to impose nationwide quarantines, seeing a surge in infections and fatalities.

A man wearing a protective mask passes by the Coliseum in Rome on March 7, 2020 amid fear of Covid-19 epidemic.

Credit: ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP via Getty Images

Who has done well in testing is South Korea, discovering nearly half of all the COVID-19 infections.

Professor Vollmer explained that these results show that "extreme differences in the amount and quality of testing carried out in different countries mean that official case records are largely uninformative and do not provide helpful information."

The scientists think that the ability of a nation to detect new infections is paramount to its efforts to contain the virus. They warn especially that ending travel restrictions and social distancing should be linked to "major improvements in the ability of countries to detect new infections". Governments need to be able to take appropriate measures to isolate the infected and to trace who they had contact with. Without such measures, the virus will just come back in a new wave.

You can read the recent study here.

Other factors that have been used to explain different infection and death rates around the world involve particular differences between countries. Italy, for instance, has the second the oldest population in Europe, with a much higher percentage of people at risk from the virus. As BBC reports, in 2019, almost a quarter of all Italians were 65 years or older, compared to only 11% in China.

Another explanation for the varying statistics – countries have different criteria for ascribing deaths to the coronavirus. As many of the fatalities result from complications in underlying medical conditions, the true cause of death is not always clear.

Germany Coronavirus Testing Nose Swabs

Medics test patients for the novel coronavirus by collecting samples from their nose in Munich, Germany, Monday, March 23.

Our lives have been transformed by the coronavirus pandemic. How can we successfully adapt to the new demands and rules of a society that is sheltering in place? What can we do to nurture our minds and keep our moods in check during a time of unprecedented stress? In this interactive live session, Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society (IMS), shares her expertise on meditation and mindfulness practices that can help you thrive in isolation; the best strategies for coping with confined cohabitation, remote work and boredom; and ways we can prioritize and protect our mental health and happiness.


Explore Sharon Salzberg's COVID-19 meditation resources at sharonsalzberg.com.

This Big Think LIVE session is moderated by Big Think staff writer Derek Beres. Derek is a multi-faceted author, media expert, and fitness instructor based in Los Angeles. He is currently working on his next book, Hero's Dose: The Case for Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy. Learn more at derekberes.com.

  • Johann Hari believes we need to treat universal basic income as an antidepressant.
  • In his book, Lost Connections, he writes that 65-80% of people on antidepressant medication are still depressed.
  • Instead of treating depression as a chemical imbalance, we need to look at the social causes really driving it.

In 2015, a team of researchers led by Brett Ford at the University of California, Berkeley (now at the University of Toronto), asked a seemingly simple question: Can you consciously make yourself happy? Populations in Japan, Russia, Taiwan, and the United States were studied. It turns out that you can will yourself into happiness—except if you live in America.

As the team writes,

"This pattern of results suggests that a culture's degree of collectivism may play a role in shaping the correlates of pursuing happiness."

In his book, Lost Connections, Johann Hari discusses this landmark study with Ford. The differences between individualistic cultures like America and collectivistic societies, such as Japan, China, and South Korea, have long been investigated by social scientists. Time and again, the latter produce better outcomes in terms of happiness, well-being, and life satisfaction. A question has long been hanging in the air: Why isn't America more like these countries? Surely, the richest nation on the planet should be able to provide for its citizens' mental health.

I've written about this difference before, and the criticism I receive tends to trend political—communism versus democracy, socialism is evil, etc. On that front, let's consider South Korea's response to the coronavirus pandemic. The constitutional democracy reported its first case the same day as the United States, yet the country was able to flatten the curve within weeks. That's what happens when a functional government immediately intervenes, tests as many people as possible, and puts restrictions in place on day one.

Meanwhile, our miracle never happened. An unprepared government might be the major problem, but public health issues are multivariate. Here's where the social distinction matters. In South Korea (as in China), citizens honored the restrictions because they knew that the orders were in the best interest of society. Meanwhile, in freedom-loving America, a "liberty rebellion" was recently held in Idaho, while across the country pastors call for the faithful to gather. Some Floridians even want beaches to open.

Depression and anxiety: How inequality is driving the mental health crisis | Johann Hari

Reports from Italians and South Koreans and Chinese tell us that sheltering at home is hard. These videos also reveal something important: The citizens know their compliance serves a greater good, protecting their health care workers, elderly, and immunodeficient peers. Over here we're experiencing an uptick in anxiety and depression. This isn't surprising in a culture that's all about the individual.

Depression is Hari's wheelhouse. He went through the ringer trying to fight it with prescription meds. In the process of conducting research for his book, a number of uncomfortable truths emerged. Namely, that the normal course for fighting depression—SSRIs and SNRIs—isn't working. They never really did, at least not in the long term. Reporting on extensive research on antidepressant medication, he writes,

"The numbers showed that 25 percent of the effects of antidepressants were due to natural recovery, 50 percent were due to the story you had been told about them, and only 25 percent to the actual chemicals."

In 2010, journalist Robert Whitaker came to the same conclusion: It's the environment, dummy. The problem is that the story of a chemical imbalance is easy to grasp. Complex social dynamics—income disparity, racism, verbal and physical abuse, gender discrimination, technology addiction—are cognitively taxing, though these are the real drivers of depression. "The medicine clearly doesn't fix a chemical imbalance in the brain," he writes. "Instead, it does precisely the opposite."

Hari writes that between 65-80 percent of people on antidepressants continue to be depressed. Clearly the drugs aren't working. What then to do? You have to address the root problem. Let's start with income disparity so that the citizens of the richest nation in the history of Earth can pay their rent. Perhaps, as Hari recently suggested, we should try universal basic income.

"The single biggest thing that will affect people's anxiety is not knowing if you're going to be thrown out of your home next month or how you're going to feed your children. And I think there's an element of cruel optimism in telling a country of people living paycheck to paycheck that they should be responding to the anxiety they're experiencing this moment primarily by meditating and switching off the news. That's not going to solve the problem. The single most important thing that has to be done to deal with people's depression and anxiety is to deal with the financial insecurity they're facing."

Bottles of antidepressant pills named (L-R) Wellbutrin, Paxil, Fluoxetine and Lexapro are shown March 23, 2004 photographed in Miami, Florida. The Food and Drug Administration asked makers of popular anti-depressants to add or strengthen suicide-related warnings on their labels as well as the possibility of worsening depression especially at the beginning of treatment or when the doses are increased or decreased.

Photo Illustration by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Rather socialist of him, but really, the "we can't afford this" argument aimed at everything our administration can't monetize has always been wrong. It's getting dangerous out here, and it's not clearing up.

Hari isn't denying that there can be biological and genetic causes of depression. As he argues in his book, we completely overlook the social causes. Decade after decade, the American social structure has been fragmenting more and more. Our close relationships are shrinking. A million online friends will never replace the one person you can call at midnight to work through troublesome thoughts with.

Depression isn't a brain malfunction. That might be a result, but it's rarely the cause. Rather, Hari writes, it's "an understandable response to adversity." Right now, we're collectively trying to manage the most widespread adversity in generations. Pretending that you can slay that dragon yourself will only get you burned.

The first level is individual: strengthen your social connections. This might prove difficult at this particular moment, but framing this challenge as a societal issue is going to serve you better in the long run than taking it personally. Of course, none of this is easy. We've been raised to believe that each one of us can be our own brand—a rather lonely occupation. Humans are social animals. We need to honor that.

The second level requires participation in our democracy, which means voting for representatives that champion concepts like health care for all and UBI. This nonsensical argument that we can't pay for it while a tiny percentage of the wealthiest citizens pay little to no taxes is ludicrous. In Lost Connections, Hari reported from Berlin's low-income neighborhood of Kotti, where rent hikes were driving lifelong residents out. Conservative Turkish immigrants, German hipsters, and the owner of a gay club, usually wary of one another, came together to fight back. Not only did they win (not every victory, but some important ones), they were bonded by their shared sense of community. Many became friends.

Hari notes that El Salvador, which happens to be among the world's poorest nations, has canceled every citizen's rent and utility bills for the next three months. "If El Salvador can do it," he says, "America can do it." It will require, as he writes, rethinking what medicine actually is.

"An antidepressant...isn't just a pill. It's anything that lifts your despair. The evidence that chemical antidepressants don't work for most people shouldn't make us give up on the idea of an antidepressant. But it should make us look for better antidepressants—and they may not look anything like we've been trained to think of them by Big Pharma."

If you want to fight depression and anxiety, you need to change the story you tell yourself. As a society, we need to empower everyone so that they can climb the bottom rungs of Maslow's hierarchy of needs—ensure everyone's health and provide enough financial support for basic needs—and encourage group participation instead of espousing the bootstraps rhetoric. It's not rocket science and it's certainly not modern psychiatry. It's common sense.

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Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His next book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

  • Global lockdowns and business closures due to the coronavirus outbreak have left many searching for alternative ways to exercise.
  • Beyond physical fitness, studies have shown that exercising also enhances creativity, relieves depression, and is overall great for the brain.
  • These products will help you establish a personal workout center in your home and hopefully make self-isolation a little more bearable.


        If you're a good person, then you're probably doing your part to help flatten the curve and beat COVID-19 by staying inside as much as possible. Unfortunately, that means that parts of many people's daily routines have been interrupted, including visits to the local gym or fitness studio. Being active at all ages is, of course, important for physical reasons (ensuring that muscles don't deteriorate, lowering risk of cardiovascular diseases and conditions, etc.). Studies have also shown that exercising can enhance creativity, relieve depression, and is overall great for the brain.

        Just because you're stuck at home doesn't mean that you have to give up that part of your life. Mayors and governors across the United States have encouraged occasional walks when necessary (as long as they practice CDC social distancing guidelines), and a lot of people have taken this time to establish workout centers inside of their homes. Here are a few essentials you should order today to start burning calories and improve your mood between binge watches.

        Bring the outside indoors with all-natural incense

        It's no secret that certain scents and fragrances have strong physiological effects on our moods and behaviors. Juniper Ridge creates campfire incense by extracting fragrances directly from nature. The calming forest scents are perfect whether you're practicing yoga, meditating, or just sitting and doing nothing at home. If burning incense isn't your thing, they also offer oils and plant-based room sprays.

        This 7-piece yoga set will have you centered in no time (and yes, it comes in other colors)

        Thanks to coronavirus, many yoga instructors have had to pivot to digital classes. Not having to travel to a studio can be a plus, but you may need a couple things to get the most of those remote session. This yoga starter kit has a mat, two blocks, a mat towel, a hand towel, a strap, and a knee pad.

        A smarter scale for a smarter workout

        Every home gym needs a machine for tracking those gains and losses. More than just a weight scale, the Fitbit Aria 2 connects to a mobile app so that you can measure and keep track of your body fat percentage, lean mass, and your body mass index (BMI). Being healthy is about more than losing or gaining pounds, so you'll need a scale that helps you see the bigger picture.

        Join the resistance

        Resistance band workouts are perfect for small spaces and for people who don't want to deal with storing cumbersome equipment. Color-coded based on resistance level, these natural latex bands come with a workout guide ebook, lifetime warranty, and a travel/storage pouch.

        Get a few pushups in wherever you are

        If you have a bedroom, hallway, or kitchen floor, then you probably have enough space to do a pushup. The old-fashioned way doesn't require any additional equipment, but these were designed with a wrist-twisting motion that is said to engage more muscles and increase strength/definition while also reducing joint strain and pressure points.

        Strengthen your core on any floor

        It only takes one go on an ab roller for you to realize that it is definitely working. Your midsection will hate you, but it will be worth it in the end when you leave self isolation with a stronger core (and maybe even a six pack).

        Put some spring in your step with this indoor trampoline

        Indoor trampolines provide a quieter way to jump around and get your heart rate going while toning and strengthen your leg muscles. The edges can also be used for stability during floor exercises, and it folds flat for easy storage. The kids may also get some enjoyment out of this (but make sure you check the terms for any age restrictions).

        This balance trainer is a great universal tool to have

        There are dozens of in-home workouts you can do with an inflatable balance trainer like this one, including pushups, lunges, squats, sit-ups, toe taps, and burpees. This pack comes with a downloadable set of workouts to get you started.

        Rubber kettlebells are better for your floors

        Hardcore kettlebell fans will probably recommend cast iron because it's the original "real deal," but kettlebells made of rubber or ones that are vinyl coated are much safer for your floors in case of a drop.

        Get a medicine ball with some added grip

        You probably won't be slamming this ball too hard against a wall in your apartment, but there are other solo and partner exercises where having a medicine ball on hand would be a good idea. Whether you're doing ball tosses or Russian twists, you won't lose your grip thanks to this smart design.

        Jump back on your bike and ride

        You may not be able to hit the trails and bike lanes as much as you used to, but that doesn't mean you can't still get a few miles in before dinner. Indoor bike trainers are good for the winter and, as it turns out, for extended periods of self-isolation.

        A big ticket item worth the splurge

        Taking the indoor cycling thing a step further, this machine from Nordictrack is not your mother's old exercise bike. The S22i Studio Cycle allows riders to choose custom routes via Google Maps, join virtual classes, or ride along scenic destination trails with a guide. The trainer controls the incline of your bike (inclines up to 20 percent and declines to 10 percent, with 24 resistance levels), or you can bypass the settings to make the ride more comfortable for you. The 22" HD touchscreen is your window to the outside world and also displays your progress and estimated stats (calories burned, workout duration, etc.). How else could you ride the roads of Norway or through the French Alps without leaving your home?

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