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.
- Conformity is not conducive to good problem solving, says economist and author Tim Harford.
- The opposite of conformity? Diversity.
- The kind of discussions that diversity facilitates actually improve the ability of groups to arrive at effective solutions.
- Alan Lightman, physicist and author of Einstein's Dreams, examined 30 great scientific discoveries of the 20th century.
- Here he explores the habits of mind that push innovators toward creative breakthroughs.
- His advice for reaching creative heights? Embrace stuck-ness and don't rely on inspiration.
- Current translators break down the translation process into three steps, based on converting the speech to text.
- The new system uses machine learning to bypass the text representation steps, converting spectrograms of speech from one language into another language.
- Although it's in early stages, the system can reproduce some aspects of the original speaker's voice and tone.
Google's Translatotron is a new translation system that could soon be able to translate your speech into another language without losing key aspects of your voice and tone. The system is still in its early stages, but you can get an idea of how the technology might sound by listening to the audio samples below (around the 1:00 mark).
It's not a perfect reproduction, but Google suggests its new system could soon provide a far more seamless translation experience than current translators.
Such systems, like Google Translate, break down the translation process into three steps, as Google wrote in a blog post: "automatic speech recognition to transcribe the source speech as text, machine translation to translate the transcribed text into the target language, and text-to-speech synthesis (TTS) to generate speech in the target language from the translated text." The result is that your spoken words are converted to text, that text is converted into a different language, and then machine intelligence speaks your words in a different language.
Translatotron is different because it bypasses the intermediate text representation steps. Google accomplishes this by using a neural network to convert spectrograms of speech from one language into another language. (Spectrograms are visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies in a sound.)
"It makes use of two other separately trained components: a neural vocoder that converts output spectrograms to time-domain waveforms, and, optionally, a speaker encoder that can be used to maintain the character of the source speaker's voice in the synthesized translated speech," Google wrote in its blog post.
Google added that its new approach brings several advantages, including:
". . . faster inference speed, naturally avoiding compounding errors between recognition and translation, making it straightforward to retain the voice of the original speaker after translation, and better handling of words that do not need to be translated (e.g., names and proper nouns)."Google is still working out the kinks in Translatotron (you can check out some of the system's less impressive translation efforts here.) But it's not hard to see how Translatotron could soon make foreign-language interactions run more smoothly, by capturing and reproducing some of the nuances that get lost when a robotic voice synthesizes text into speech.
- Workplace choirs are becoming increasingly popular in the U.K. and USA, particularly in companies such as Boeing, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google.
- Proponents tout choirs as a way to avoid employee burnout, and the research seems to suggest they're right.
- Singing in choirs comes with a slew of psychosocial benefits that can make the workday a little more bearable.
In some workplaces, you might find yourself taking a break from filling out TPS reports to working on hitting the high notes of "Bohemian Rhapsody." More and more businesses are encouraging their employees to start work choirs to improve their physical and mental health and promote social cohesion.
It might seem like an odd solution, but workplace choirs are an effective response to employee burnout. A recent Gallup study found that 23 percent of employees feel burned out at work often or all the time, and another 44 percent feels burned out some of the time. Employees who feel burned out are more than twice as likely to actively seek out other employment and 63 percent more likely to take sick days. They're less confident in their performance, less likely to work with their managers toward goals, and more likely to visit the emergency room.
How did workplace choirs come to be and what are the benefits?
But why is singing being implemented as a solution to this? Part of the reason has to be attributed to the popularity of the 2012 British TV show, The Choir: Sing While You Work, in which choirmaster Gareth Malone trains amateur workplace-based choirs to compete against one another. Over time, more and more businesses in the U.K. began implementing workplace choirs, including Wellington Place's workplace choir in the video below.
Now, it's not just U.K.-based businesses that are assembling choirs. Boeing, Facebook, and LinkedIn all have their own choirs as well, and Google has its own a capella group called Googapella. The city of Cincinnati even has its own city-wide choir competition called CincySings that pits different company choirs together.
Jordan Shue, a representative of Americans for the Arts, told the Chorus Connection blog that "[An employee choir] is a way to show employees that you value them and want them to have fun at work. It also challenges them to show their creative sides and work as a team on a project vastly different from what they do in the office day to day. That can have a huge impact on the way they work together in the future and how connected they feel to their company."
Research backs this up, too. Choirs have been shown to promote a sense of togetherness and social cohesion. Choral singing can be good for your heart as well and can even cause the heart rates of choral group members to rise and fall in tandem. Choirs reduce stress and depression, improve respiratory health and self-esteem, and stimulate cognition. And, crucially for the workplace, singing promotes social bonding.
There's a good reason why so many companies set time aside for often-underwhelming team-building exercises. Human beings can't simply spend 8 hours a day as robots; they need to bond with other human beings and be social. Doing so doesn't just make for happier workers, it also makes for more productive ones — both because of improved personal outcomes and because of the interpersonal connections that singing promotes.
Not a new idea
While implementing a choir in the workplace might seem like something of a fad or a product of a modern-day obsession with creating hip workplaces, singing at work is actually quite old — ancient, in fact. Musician Ted Gioia's book Work Songs explores the many different historical contexts where laborers sang during their work, whether that was enslaved plantation workers, miners, chain gangs, oyster shuckers, or any other kind of laborers.
"It made the work less arduous, it made the hours roll by," said Gioia. "It allowed them to have some sort of mastery over their work conditions, which were often very demeaning ones." Though one might make argue that this kind of hard labor differs significantly from the modern, sterile office, the rising rates of worker burnout belies that contrast and underscore the value of music in the workplace.
- Scientists originally thought bedbugs evolved on bats roughly 50 million years ago.
- New research used DNA to map the bedbug ancestry and found the species evolved as far back as the Cretaceous.
- The researchers hope that understanding how bedbugs evolve will help us curb their ability to spread and transmit diseases to people.
An international team of scientists have been on a quest. They have traveled to Africa, South America, and South East Asia. They have scaled cliff faces, explored shadow-stained caves, bushwhacked through sweltering jungles, and dodged dangerous wildlife. What treasure did they seek: a golden idol, an ancient codex, a city lost to time?
Nope. They endured all this to procure a blood-sucking parasite that most of us can't wait to be rid of: bedbugs. For 15 years, these scientists traveled the world collected specimens of the family Cimicidae. Their goal was to create a molecular phylogeny — essentially a bedbug ancestral tree mapped through DNA analysis.What they found surprised them.
Bedbugs: Our Mesozoic bedfellows
A bedbug ingests its bloody meal on a human host. Though we do all we can to be rid of them, bedbugs survived the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs. (Photo: CDC/Wikimedia Commons)
Bedbugs were previously thought to have evolved with bats, their most common, and long-assumed first, hosts. This origin story kick-starts the bedbug lineage roughly 50 million years ago.
To learn more about these infectious pests, researchers began collecting as many bedbug species they could. Natural history museums and colleagues donated some specimens, but others had to be obtained in the field.
Over the course of 15 years, the scientists traveled the world collecting bedbugs from their natural hosts. These travels took them in proximity to dangerous wildlife like buffalo and leopards, not to mention a few wadings through knee-high guano. In the end, they collected 34 Cimicidae species from 62 locations.
After mapping their molecular phylogeny, the team discovered that bedbugs evolved about 115 million years ago. This new lineage predates bats by about 50 million years, stretching back into the Cretaceous period. Bedbugs roamed the earth alongside dinosaurs such as Triceratops, Velociraptor, and Tyrannosaurs rex.
The team published their results in Current Biology earlier this month.
"To think that the pests that live in our beds today evolved more than 100 million years ago and were walking the earth side by side with dinosaurs was a revelation. It shows that the evolutionary history of bedbugs is far more complex than we previously thought," Professor Mike Siva-Jothy, study co-author from the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, said in a release.
This also means that bedbugs survived the K-T extinction event, the cataclysmic end of the Mesozoic era that saw the extinction of approximately 70 percent of all species living at the time, including, of course, dinosaurs. This puts bedbugs in league with nature's other K-T survivors and all-around badasses sharks, crocodiles, cockroaches, and the platypus.
Did bedbugs nosh on T-rex?
Probably not. While bedbugs evolved alongside the king of the thunder lizards, they likely didn't feed on its blood or any other dinosaur species. As the researchers point out, bedbugs and their relatives favor hosts who have "homes": birds with their nests, bats with their roosts, and humans with their beds. Dinosaurs likely employed a drifter lifestyle, and so wouldn't have been a favored host.
But if neither bats nor dinosaurs were the bedbug's original host, who was? We don't know. The species original host remains elusive.
If that answer is unsatisfactory, take heart that avian dinosaurs — or, as they are commonly known, birds — remain a potential candidate.
Others believe bats, or a bat ancestor, are still in the mix. "The fossil record for [both bed bugs and mammals] are patchy…that makes it hard to make definitive statements," Jessica Ware, an entomologist and evolutionary biologist at Rutgers University, told PBS. "It's possible bats are older, and we've just underestimated."
Evolving pest control
The researchers then used their data to explore the frequency at which bedbugs jump from one host to another. Broadly speaking, some bedbugs become specialized to a single host, but others are more generalized and able to jump between hosts.
The bedbugs that pester humans, Cimex lectularius and Cimex hemipterus, are just two of more than 100 Cimicidae species. These human-gorging bedbugs were thought to have diverged around the time our species entered the game of life — as is true of other human parasites such as lice.
However, the data showed that these bedbugs had evolved already, likely on bats. They opportunistically began snacking on slumbering humans when our species began using caves as dwellings. Throughout our shared history, a new bedbug species has jumped to human hosts about every 500,000 years. However, the way humans have reshaped our environments may speed up that pace.
"These species are the ones we can reasonably expect to be the next ones drinking our blood, and it may not even take half a million years, given that many more humans, livestock, and pets that live on earth now provide lots more opportunities," Professor Klaus Reinhardt, study co-led and bedbug researcher at Dresden University, said in the same release.
According to Siva-Jothy, the team hopes their findings will allow us to better understand the history and abilities of these pests. Understanding their evolution may help us control their ability to spread and transmit diseases to humans.