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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  • SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
  • Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
  • Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.


Today is a historic date for human spaceflight. For the first time in human history, a private company has taken astronauts, not just for a poke above the Karman line (the arbitrary line at 62 miles that divides the stratosphere from space) as Virgin Galactic has done, but much deeper into orbit, some 220 miles to the International Space Station. A feat that requires not only much higher altitude but a precise rendezvous with an object moving at over 17,000 miles per hour. In addition, this launch marks a huge milestone for US Spaceflight, as the US has now rectified the embarrassing fact that it has had no way of transporting its astronauts to space without relying on the Russian Federation. A circumstance that has persisted since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011. How did SpaceX, which was founded in 2002, achieve nation-level capability in 18 short years? How did it go from not being entrusted with the lowliest of payloads, to flying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley? And do so by delivering launch services at a fraction of the cost of both the US and Russia?

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley

Photo: SpaceX

The humblest of beginnings

SpaceX was an inside joke for many in the space industry establishment even years after its founding. Its first three launches famously and spectacularly failed, leading to not only snickers among the industry elite, but stressing SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, down to literally their last dollar. As Musk has related several times, SpaceX's fourth launch was a "make or break." Had it failed, the company would have filed for bankruptcy. Thankfully, that launch was successful and SpaceX has really never looked back. The industry insiders who doubt SpaceX still exist, but their snickers have turned to more nuanced criticism, including that SpaceX unfairly benefits from government contracting. Which is ironic for an industry that has been built on a defense contracting model. The truth is, SpaceX has made space cool again. One only needs to compare its rocket launch telecasts with those of their competitors. One has Hollywood-level production quality and attracts over 1 million live viewers per launch and the others seem dated, uninspired and draw 25,000 viewers on their best day. This has led to SpaceX being one of the employers of choice in the space industry, despite its legendary long hours and difficult working environment. Attracting top talent has been one of the reasons SpaceX has been able to achieve its miraculous product success.

A big bet

Once SpaceX learned to launch rockets, Musk's product vision became more futuristic. Just like it doesn't make sense to fly a $400M Airbus 380 from Dubai to Los Angeles only to throw the airplane away after landing, Musk challenged the industry to reuse its rocket boosters. This vision was audacious and was faced with massive skepticism in the industry. Despite this, SpaceX stuck its first landing of a single rocket booster on April 8, 2016. Stuck its first dual rocket booster landing on February 6, 2018 and even stuck a triple landing on April 12, 2019. It has now landed 49 out of its last 51 attempts. This has literally changed the game in terms of both launch costs, but also cycle time (the amount of time needed between launches). It is a game changer that will be further stretched when the potentially revolutionary heavy rocket Starship is rolled out sometime in the next year. In addition to the boosters, SpaceX also recovers other parts from the launch including the fairing, which houses the actual payload of the launch.

NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside Crew Dragon.

Photo: SpaceX

Criticism and triumph

Elon Musk has his critics, and certainly he has his lieutenants who do not get enough credit for their impact on SpaceX's achievements, such a SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, but, regardless, it is indisputable that SpaceX has achieved a level of capability that is truly shocking in a relativity short period of time. Should SpaceX be celebrated for its persistence, entrepreneurism, innovation and ultimate value creation? Without question. Is SpaceX finished pushing boundaries and achieving what others thought was impossible? Not even close. If Musk stays healthy and avoids a Howard Hughes moment, as many fear, it is hard to doubt his ability to make his dream of landing humans on Mars a reality within his next 18 years (if not sooner).

The Crew Dragon demonstration of the launch escape system.

Photo: SpaceX

  • Scientists speculate imitation helps develop social cognition in babies.
  • A new study out of Lund University shows that six-month-olds look and smile more at imitating adults.
  • Researchers hope the data will spur future studies to discover what role caregiver imitation plays in social cognition development.

    • The human mind is one of evolution's marvels, and it's never more marvelous than in our youth. In our first few years of life, our brains create more than a million new neural connections per second. Three months after birth, our cerebellums double in volume to manage those tricky motor functions. We acquire language with no formal instruction. By the time we're toddlers, we develop the realization that oneself and others have desires, emotions, experiences, and intentions.

      That last one may seem a heavy lift for munchkins still grappling with the fact that cows go moo, but research has shown that we come to that realization young. It's a critical piece in the development of our social cognition, our ability to analyze and apply our knowledge of other people and ourselves within social situations.

      Where things become difficult is understanding when and how social cognition develops in children. Because researchers can't ask infants questions directly, they have to conceive of experiments to perceive thought by way of action. This leads to questions of interpretation. Some researchers think babies are already aware of others, while some argue that our theory of mind solidifies during the social hazing of preschool.

      A new clue comes from research recently published in PLOS One, which shows that six-month-olds can recognize when they are being imitated.

      Adults see, adults do?

      Babies imitated by the researcher (shown in green) gave their imitator more attention, smiles, and approaching behavior than babies who received a non-imitative response (blue).

      (Photo: PLOS One)

      According to the study, the experience of being imitated provides infants the scaffolding for their social cognition. When infants see their actions mimicked, it leads them to realize that these actions have social consequences. They learn that movements, vocalizations, and facial expressions cause others around them to behave in certain ways. It's much like how they'll later experiment with cause and effect by banging about blocks.

      To measure the effects imitation has on infants, the researchers set up an experiment with six-month-old babies. A researcher would go to the baby's home and play with them in four different ways. They would either:

      • Imitate everything the baby did (green/MI on the graph),
      • Imitate the reverse of the baby's actions (red/CI).
      • Imitate the baby but remain expressionless (orange/BI), or
      • Respond with a "contingent response" action (blue/CR).

      A contingent response means the researcher acted as most adults would. Instead of imitating the act of reaching for a toy, they would pick it up and hand it to the baby.

      The researchers found that the closer they emulated a baby, the longer they held his or her attention. Such imitation was also correlated with more smiling and a greater desire to approach the researcher.

      "Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them. The mothers were quite surprised to see their infants joyfully engaging in imitation games with a stranger, but also impressed by the infants' behaviours," Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, a researcher at Lund University and the study's lead author, said in a press release.

      According to the release, the babies being imitated also initiated testing behavior. If a baby smacked the table and the research imitated the action, the baby would then repeat the action several times to see how the adult responded.

      "This was quite interesting. When someone actively tests the person who is imitating them, it is usually seen as an indication that the imitated individual is aware that there is a correspondence between their own behaviour and the behaviour of the other," Sauciuc said.

      The sincerest form of flattery

      The study had 16 baby participants, five girls and 11 boys, a small but meaningful sample size. In the study, the researchers note that they hope their data will spur additional research into imitation recognition as well as how infants perceive body language and their awareness of another's intentions toward them.

      "By showing that 6-month-old infants recognise when they are being imitated, and that imitation has a positive effect on interaction, we begin to fill up this [research] gap. We still have to find out when exactly imitation begins to have such effects, and what role imitation recognition actually plays for babies," Sauciuc noted in the same release.

      Those are important questions to answer as early caregiver interactions provide the foundation for many social traits. These may include empathy, self-awareness, reading others' intentions, and cultural norms like turn-taking. They may further expand to other areas of social competency like creativity and confidence. Best of all, for babies and caregivers, imitation provides a fun, and fruitful, way to play.

      • Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
      • The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
      • The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.

      When sheltering at home began in Los Angeles, a crew of ambitious Angelenos didn't let gym closures stop their workouts. #100miles30days spread to over 400 participants around the world. It didn't matter how you split up the distance; you just had to walk or run 100 miles in April. While a lot of fitness culture hashtags rely on gimmickry, this challenge was social media at its best.

      Exercise is always important, especially during a time when isolation negatively impacts mental health. Initiatives like the above keep individuals motivated while the term "community" temporarily loses meaning. A workout partner or group fitness class holds you accountable. Some people need responsibility to keep moving, even if one as simple as a hashtag.

      Whether you work out in a group or by yourself, movement is necessary. Reams of research detail the importance of regular exercise. Besides physical health, staying fit leads to good mental health. A year-long study at UT Southwestern again confirms this fact.

      Published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 30 volunteers (median age: 66) either ran or stretched for 25-30 minutes three times a week. Each participant had no recent experience with exercise. Every volunteer showed some sign of memory impairment, which was a requirement, as this was a study on memory.

      The stretch group performed a series of flexibility and balance exercises designed to keep their heart rate stable while strengthening their upper and lower bodies. The cardiovascular group completed a number of heart-raising exercises. After a year of continuous exercise, researchers measured cerebral blood flow in each participant.

      The aerobic group showed increased blood flow to two regions key to memory retention: the anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for attention allocation, reward anticipation, impulse control, and more) and the prefrontal cortex (decision making, personality, planning complex behavior, and more). While the stretching group experienced minimal improvement in memory tests over the course of the year, the aerobic group saw a 47 percent jump in test scores.

      Lithuania's Austra Reinberga (C) runs next to New Zealand's Marcia Petley (L) and Columbia's Maria Pastora Londono (R) during the women's 100m final for athletes between 85 and 89 years old, during the World Masters Athletics Championships on August 7, 2015 in Lyon, southeastern France.

      Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images

      As lead author of the study, Binu Thomas, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for BrainHealth at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says, aerobic exercise works in your favor at any age. Noting the study was only a small group, he continues,

      "Cerebral blood flow is a part of the puzzle, and we need to continue piecing it together. But we've seen enough data to know that starting a fitness program can have lifelong benefits for our brains as well as our hearts."

      This study follows a wealth of data detailing the impact of exercise on cognition. A University of Vermont study suggests mental health patients consider exercise before starting prescription medication, going so far as to recommend medical centers build gyms in a new therapeutic model.

      A prior review of 33 studies advocated weightlifting as an important protocol for curbing depression. Another study based in Amsterdam called exercise an ideal intervention for treating anxiety disorders and depression. Oxford and Yale researchers discovered the same.

      In 2013, the RAND Corporation estimated that diseases of dementia cost America between $157 billion to $215 billion annually. Previous research specifically cites cardiovascular exercise as key for fighting dementia, including this 2010 study and this study from 2017. In 2013, epidemiologist Bryan James told NPR that aging does not have to result in memory loss.

      "It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia."

      While Thomas speculates that a drug could target blood flow in the regions cited in his study, perhaps we should consider what's kept us healthy for hundreds of thousands of years: regular movement. Your body is in the shape you train for, so best to train it well. Your brain will thank you.

      ----

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

      • Canadian polyglot Steve Kaufmann says there is indeed a fast track to learning a new language. It involves doubling down on your listening and reading.
      • By taking the focus off grammar rules that are difficult to understand and even more difficult to remember, you can instead develop habits by greater exposure to the language. Kaufmann likens the learning process to a hockey stick.
      • In the beginning you make major progress as you climb the steep hill of the hockey stick, whereas the long shaft of the stick is the difficult part. Because you're not seeing day-to-day changes, you might lose motivation. So, stay the course by consuming content that interests you.

      Over the past few years, articles and blog posts have started to ask some version of the same question: “Why are all websites starting to look the same?"


      These posts usually point out some common design elements, from large images with superimposed text, to hamburger menus, which are those three horizontal lines that, when clicked, reveal a list of page options to choose from.

      My colleagues Bardia Doosti, David Crandall, Norman Su and I were studying the history of the web when we started to notice these posts cropping up. None of the authors had done any sort of empirical study, though. It was more of a hunch they had.

      We decided to investigate the claim to see if there were any truth to the notion that websites are starting to look the same and, if so, explore why this has been happening. So we ran a series of data mining studies that scrutinized nearly 200,000 images across 10,000 websites.

      How do you even measure similarity?

      It's virtually impossible to study the entire internet; there are over a billion websites, with many times as many webpages. Since there's no list of them all to choose from, performing a random sample of the internet is off the table. Even if it were possible, most people only see a tiny fraction of those websites regularly, so a random sample may not even capture the internet that most people experience.

      We ended up using the websites of the Russell 1000, the top U.S. businesses by market capitalization, which we hoped would be representative of trends in mainstream, corporate web design. We also studied two other sets of sites, one with Alexa's 500 most trafficked sites, and another with sites nominated for Webby Awards.

      Because we were interested in the visual elements of these websites, as data, we used images of their web pages from the Internet Archive, which regularly preserves websites. And since we wanted to gather quantitative data comparing millions of website pairs, we needed to automate the analysis process.

      To do that, we had to settle on a definition of "similarity" that we could measure automatically. We investigated both specific attributes like color and layout, as well as attributes learned automatically from data using artificial intelligence.

      For the color and layout attributes, we measured how many pixel-by-pixel edits we would have to make to transform the color scheme or page structure of one website into another. For the AI-generated attributes, we trained a machine learning model to classify images based on which website they came from and measure the attributes the model learned. Our previous work indicates that this does a reasonably good job at measuring stylistic similarity, but it's very difficult for humans to understand what attributes the model focused on.

      How has the internet changed?

      We found that across all three metrics – color, layout and AI-generated attributes – the average differences between websites peaked between 2008 and 2010 and then decreased between 2010 and 2016. Layout differences decreased the most, declining over 30% in that time frame.

      The graph shows website similarity of companies in the Russell 1000. Lower values mean that the sites studied were more similar, on average. (Sam Goree, Author provided)

      These findings confirm the suspicions of web design bloggers that websites are becoming more similar. After showing this trend, we wanted to study our data to see what kinds of specific changes were causing it.

      You might think that these sites are simply copying each other's code, but code similarity has actually significantly decreased over time. However, the use of software libraries has increased a lot.

      The graph on the left shows a decline in code similarity among Russell 1000 websites, while the graph on the right indicates an increase in library overlap. (Sam Goree, Author provided)

      Libraries feature collections of generic code for common tasks, like resizing a page for mobile devices or making a hamburger menu slide in and out. We looked at which sites had lots of libraries in common and how similar they looked. Sites built with certain libraries – Bootstrap, FontAwesome and JQuery UI – tended to look much more similar to each other. This could be because these libraries control page layout and have commonly used default options. Sites that used other libraries, like SWFObject and JQuery Tools, tended look much different, and that might be due to that fact that those libraries allow for more complex, customized pages.

      The changes of websites from 2005 to 2016 illustrate what's happening.

      Sites with average similarity scores in 2005 tended to look less similar than those with average similarity scores in 2016.

      For example, in 2005, Webshots.com and Yum.com were considered relatively similar, but had somewhat different color schemes and very different layouts. While they both mostly use white, blue and black, the site on the right has a blue background.

      Screenshots from 2006 of Webshots.com and Yum.com. (Sam Goree, Author provided

      Two 2016 sites, Xfinity.com and Gilt.com, on the other hand, are even more similar: They both have a menu bar on the top and are primarily white and black with images. These pages have much less text and make better use of the higher resolution monitors that exist now.

      Screenshots from 2016 of Xfinity.com and Gilt.com. (Sam Goree)

      Is conformity healthy?

      What should be made of this creeping conformity?

      On the one hand, adhering to trends is totally normal in other realms of design, like fashion or architecture. And if designs are becoming more similar because they're using the same libraries, that means they're likely becoming more accessible to the visually impaired, since popular libraries are generally better at conforming to accessibility standards than individual developers. They're also more user-friendly, since new visitors won't have to spend as much time learning how to navigate the site's pages.

      On the other hand, the internet is a shared cultural artifact, and its distributed, decentralized nature is what makes it unique. As home pages and fully customizable platforms like NeoPets and MySpace fade into memory, web design may lose much of its power as a form of creative expression. The Mozilla Foundation has argued that consolidation is bad for the "health" of the internet, and the aesthetics of the web could be seen as one element of its well-being.

      And if sites are looking more similar because many people are using the same libraries, the large tech companies who maintain those libraries may be gaining a disproportionate power over the visual aesthetics of the internet. While publishing libraries that anyone can use is likely a net benefit for the web over keeping code secret, big tech companies' design principles are not necessarily right for every site.

      This outsize power is part a larger story of consolidation in the tech industry – one that certainly could be a cause for concern. We believe aesthetic consolidation should be critically examined as well.

      Bardia Doosti, David Crandall and Norman Su contributed to this article.

      Sam Goree, PhD Student in Informatics, Indiana University

      This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.