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.
America is experiencing some of its most widespread civil unrest in years following the death of George Floyd.
Floyd was killed in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May, and his death has underscored the many ways race and ethnic background drives unequal experiences among many Americans.
These charts help illustrate key gaps impacting everything from opportunity to health.
1. Wide educational gaps
In the 70 years since the US Supreme Court ruled racial segregation of public schools unconstitutional, progress in improving racial educational divides has been slow and uneven. Gaps have narrowed by 30-40% when compared to the 1970s, but divides remain large.Improvement in 9-year-olds' NEAP math test scores (Image: Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis)
2. Limited access to improved earnings, mobility
For people of colour in America, education does not provide the same economic return as it might for other groups. People of colour, particularly women of colour, typically have lower salaries than white and male workers with similar levels of education.Even with similar educational levels, wen of colour are still earning less. (Image: Equitable Growth)
Income inequality is also stifling intergenerational mobility – the American Dream of children having a higher standard of living than their parents. Research from economist Raj Chetty in 2016 showed that at age 30 people born in 1940 had around a 90% chance of out-earning their parents. But for people born in 1980 this chance had fallen to half.
3. Outsized unemployment burdens
A lack of access to higher education or skilled work can make people of colour more vulnerable to unemployment during downturns and periods of economic growth. As researchers explained in one report from The Russell Sage Foundation and The Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality: "An African American cannot count on education as providing the same relief against the risk of unemployment that it provides to other groups."
4. Health care insurance and life expectancy dynamics
Life expectancy gaps between white Americans and people of colour have begun to narrow, but inequities still exist thanks to a range of socio-economic factors such as income inequality, access to health insurance and adequate health care.
The disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on black Americans demonstrates some of the vulnerabilities the population faces.
5. Black imprisonment in the US is falling but remains disproportionate
The imprisonment rate among black Americans has fallen by over a third since 2006, and stands at around 1,500 prisoners for every 100,000 adults. But black Americans remain far more likely to be in prison than Hispanic and white Americans. The figures are particularly stark among some age groups: in the 35-39 age bracket about 1 in 20 black men were in state or federal prison in 2018.
Imprisonment Rates. (Image: Pew Research)
Black Americans made up a third of the sentenced prison population in 2018 – nearly triple their representation in the US adult population as a whole. They also make up a disproportionate number of fatal police shootings.
- Being outside of Earth's atmosphere while also being able to look down on the planet is both a challenge and a unique benefit for astronauts conducting important and innovative experiments aboard the International Space Station.
- NASA astrophysicist Michelle Thaller explains why one such project, known as NICER (Neutron star Interior Composition Explorer), is "one of the most amazing discoveries of the last year."
- Researchers used x-ray light data from NICER to map the surface of neutrons (the spinning remnants of dead stars 10-50 times the mass of our sun). Thaller explains how this data can be used to create a clock more accurate than any on Earth, as well as a GPS device that can be used anywhere in the galaxy.
I've lived much of my life with anxiety and depression, including the negative feelings – shame and self-doubt – that seduced me into believing the stigma around mental illness: that people knew I wasn't good enough; that they would avoid me because I was different or unstable; and that I had to find a way to make them like me.
It took me some time – I'm a classic late bloomer – but just before I turned 60, I discovered that sharing my story by drawing could be an effective way to both alleviate my symptoms and combat that stigma.
Mental health disorders are complicated. There are 22 sections of criteria and codes in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – and that's just for anxiety. Meanwhile, the psychiatric literature on depression is enormous, with hundreds of scholarly articles and books published in the past two years alone.
One thing we seem to know for certain is that, somehow, anxiety and depression made it through the evolutionary process.
“Since antiquity," writes William Styron in “Darkness Made Visible: A Memoir of Madness," “in the tortured lament of Job, in the choruses of Sophocles and Aeschylus – chroniclers of the human spirit have been wrestling with a vocabulary that might give proper expression to the desolation of melancholia."
My first anxiety attacks happened early in life. By the time I was 13, I knew the signs: quickened breathing and an increased heart rate, blurry vision, sweaty palms, and sudden fight or flight impulses. Once, when on deck to bat in Little League, I became so panicked I dropped my bat and fled the ball field. I rode my bike all the way home, barely able to see five feet in front of me.
Growing up, I also spent countless hours drawing. I drew or scribbled on every scrap of paper I could find, and I copied those funny characters that appeared on the back of each week's issue of TV Guide. While I took one art class in high school, I was mostly self-taught. I always knew I loved to draw, but I never wondered why. It was just something I did.
As I grew older, I continued to suffer from panic attacks and depressive episodes, which I managed to hide from others. I eventually became a theater professor at Penn State University, where I still teach today. In addition to teaching history and literature, I make autobiographical solo performance pieces. But in 2014, my sister died after spending two years in a vegetative state due to a traumatic brain injury. It was as if the one thread capable of unraveling my entire life was pulled.
Drawing became almost an obsession.
'Sister Sam.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)
I did over 200 drawings of my sister and eventually created a play and solo performance piece titled “Drifting." I visually archived her journey to death. In the midst of this, I started what became the Anxiety Project, which now contains over 500 drawings and two performance pieces. I didn't really think too much about its purpose. I just knew I had to make drawings about anxiety and depression.
I made a lot of this work without any initial plans to share it. I was just trying to survive. As I slowly began to share some of the work, there was a strange mix of relief from sharing my feelings and dread that the work would ultimately fail to mean anything to others, or that people would think I was crazy for making this kind of work. (These same feelings have cropped up while writing this article.)
And then I pretty much crashed. I still couldn't emerge from my grief or separate it from my ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression.
'Time Lies.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)
I was in trouble. And I knew I had to get help. So I started to tell my wife and family the truth – that this struggle went beyond the death of my sister, that for most of my life, I had been in an almost constant battle with anxiety and depression, and that I was afraid I was finally losing and might go crazy. I found an excellent therapist. I started doing the hard work of living with my anxiety and depression honestly and openly, which, for me, includes taking an antidepressant. Acknowledging and accepting the need for medication was perhaps the most difficult stigma to face. I felt like a failure. Getting past that feeling took some time.
'Dark/Light.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)
Living openly with my anxiety and depression has helped me better understand my drawing and creative work as efforts to make meaning out of the volcanic feelings of fear and despair – and the almost catatonic shutdowns that could happen inside me at any time.
This new understanding eventually led me to become intentional about drawing as a way to imagine myself as mentally healthy, rather than define myself by my mental illness. I drew upon the work of artists like Frederick Franck and his books “The Zen of Seeing" and “The Awakened Eye," which outline simple meditative approaches to drawing.
I work almost solely in ink- and water-based mediums because of the gestural and fluid ways I can translate feelings into lines and movement of color. I draw every day, and sometimes I'll simply draw what I see – birds, flowers, landscapes, people, myself – to stay grounded in the here and now.
'RoseHips Meditation.' (William Doan, CC BY-ND)
Sharing what it's like to live with anxiety and depression feels like undressing in front of strangers, but I thought it might help decrease stigma, which nearly 90% of people with mental health problems say has a negative effect on their lives.
As I learned more about the connection between drawing, wellness and stigma, it turns out that I was onto something.
In 2016, psychologist Jennifer Drake and her team of researchers studied the benefits of drawing over four consecutive days, and discovered that the simple daily act has benefits. “You can get a positive effect with just 15 minutes of drawing," she concludes. “Drawing to distract is a simple and powerful way to elevate mood, at least in the short term." Meanwhile, researchers across many scientific fields have explored the ways art making can combat stigma about mental illness.
As Jenny Lawson writes in “Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things," “When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive."
For me, it was the kind of shame that shepherds you right into the waiting arms of the stigma around mental illness. I needed to find a way through – for myself and, hopefully, for others.
Art became the way.
- A joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher cognitive abilities in older age.
- The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
- The differences in testosterone (the male sex hormone) and oxytocin (a predominantly female hormone) may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Countless studies have been done on the health benefits of sex - from an orgasm giving you clearer skin and a boosted immune system, to the physical activity keeping your blood pressure at a healthy level. A lowered risk of heart disease, the ability to block pain, a lowered risk of prostate cancer, less stress which leads to improved sleeping patterns...all of these are proven benefits of sexual activity.
The health benefits of sex have been studied again and again, and yet, there are still new things we're learning about the benefits on the human body and brain.
Study links sexual activity to higher cognitive function in old age
The results of this study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men and a significant association between sexual activity in word recall in women.
Image by Jirsak on Shutterstock
Cognitive function has been associated with various physical, psychological, and emotional patterns in older adults - from lifestyle to quality of life, loneliness, and mood changes as well as physical activity levels.
A 2016 joint study by the universities of Coventry and Oxford in England has linked sexual activity with higher/better cognitive abilities in older age.
This longitudinal study used a newly available wave of data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing to explore the connections between sexual activity in the older population (50+) with cognitive function.
The study consisted of 6,833 participants between the ages of 50-89 years old.
Two different cognitive function tests were analyzed:
- Number sequencing, which broadly relates to the brain's executive functions.
- Word recall, which relates to the brain's memory functions.
The results of these tests were then adjusted to account for each person's gender, age, education level, wealth, physical activity, and mental health. The reason for this is that the researchers noticed there are often biases in other studies that examine the links between sexual activity and overall health.
For example, in this scenario, without taking those things into account, healthy older Italian men with a continued interest in sex would score higher on these tests. Women, who are more likely to become widowed and lose their sexual partner, would score lower.
While studying the impact of sexual activity on overall health, there are not many studies that focus on the link between sexual activity and cognitive function, and no other study that focuses on sexual activity and cognitive function in older adults.
The results of this one-of-a-kind study suggest there are significant associations between sexual activity and number sequencing/word recall in men. In women, however, there was a significant association between sexual activity in word recall alone - number sequencing was not impacted.
You can see the breakdown of this information here.
Why were the results for males and females so different?
One of the highlights of this study was exploring the differences sexual activity has in cognitive function in older males and older females.
Photo by Gligatron on Shutterstock
Exploring the differences when it comes to the improved cognitive ability between the older males and the older females in this study was one of the highlights of the research.
Testosterone versus oxytocin
Testosterone, which is the male sex hormone, reacts very differently to the brain than oxytocin, which is released in females during sexual activity.
Testosterone plays a key role in many different areas such as muscle mass, facial and pubic hair development, and mood changes. It also impacts your sex drive and your verbal memory and thinking ability.
Testosterone belongs to a class of male hormones, and although the ovaries of a woman do produce minimal amounts of testosterone, it's not enough to compare the impacts on the male and female bodies.
Oxytocin, on the other hand, is produced in the male and female bodies quite similarly, but ultimately the hormone reacts differently in the female body, triggering the portion of the brain responsible for emotion, motivation, and reward.
These differences in testosterone and oxytocin may factor into why the male cognitive level changes much more during sexual activity in older age.
Women's ability for memory recall remains a mystery…
Another study, this time back in 1997, looked at the relationship between gender and episodic memory. The results of this study proved that women have a higher level of performance on episodic memory tasks (for example, recalling childhood memories) than men. The reason for this was not further explored in this study and has remained something of a mystery, even now.
The female brain deteriorates during menopause.
Women very commonly struggle with memory-related problems during and post-menopause. This could be the reason why the original study proved older men had a higher cognitive ability in number sequencing than older women.
Along with menopause-related cognitive decline, women are also at a higher risk for memory impairment and dementia compared to men.
Lead researcher of the original 2016 study, Dr. Hayley Wright, from Coventry University, explains:
"Every time we do another piece of research we are getting a little bit closer to understanding why this association exists at all, what the underlying mechanisms are and whether there is a 'cause and effect' relationship between sexual activity and cognitive function in older people."
- A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication.
- Analyzing the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated over eight years, the team developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch.
- The words people stretch are not arbitrary but rather have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out.
What? whaat. WHAT? Whaaaattt?
While all of the above are expressions of confusion, you understand them to mean slightly different things. That's based upon the way you imagine the word to sound signified by the repetition of or emphasis put on certain letters. The underlying meaning imbued within our vernacular, slang, and deliberately misspelled words is how we lace our digital communication with human emotion.
Which has, coincidentally, proved to be one of the major challenges for language-processing artificial intelligence. But scientists are trying, and they're studying our Twitter lingo to bring computers up to speed on how humans really communicate.
Balance and Stretch
Photo credit: Dole777 / Unsplash
Over the last two decades, social media has provided scientists with a trove of free information about human behavior and language. A group of mathematicians from the University of Vermont used Twitter to examine how young people intentionally stretch out words in text for digital communication. They created a method to essentially quantify the semantic nuances in between stretched words, like "right" vs. "riiiiiight," with the aim to teach future AI algorithms human digital colloquialisms.
"Written communication has recently begun encoding new forms of expression, including the emotional emphasis delivered by stretching words out," said Chris Danforth, professor of Mathematics & Statistics in the Vermont Complex Systems Center and member of the research team behind the study.
In their study, published last week in the journal PLOS One, the team analyzed the language in roughly 100 billion tweets generated from 2008 to 2016. They developed two measurements to assess patterns in the tweets: balance and stretch. For example hahahaha would be considered a stretched world high on balance while a term like wtffffff has stretch but little balance as only one letter, f, contributes to the stretchiness. This means to put emphasis on the world abbreviated by the letter "f".
"With so much communication happening electronically these days, we're all trying to find ways to convey emotion through text. Emojis are helping, but the visual effect of 30 consecutive vowels in a curse word turns a bland profanity into a form of art," Danforth said.
Interestingly, the use of elongated words was found across languages. For example, "kkkkkkk" signifies laughter in Brazilian Portuguese while "wkwkwkwkwkwk" expresses it in Indonesian, according to the researchers.
Beyond the dictionary
Ultimately, this project could help artificial intelligence algorithms understand critical intrinsic meanings contained in the idiosyncratic variations in our communicative text or other linguistic symbols, such as punctuation and emojis.
Dictionary definitions hardly reflect the way that we actually communicate with one another digitally. What the researchers found, though, is that the words people stretch out aren't arbitrary. Rather, they have patterned distributions such as what part of the word is stretched or how much it stretches out. Colloquial digital language is, after all, a system of symbols and for it to transfer meaning we must all be "in" on the patterns.
This research suggests that by gaining understanding into stretched words used on social media opens more doors to helping AI better understand our slang. Tools and methods were developed that could be useful in future studies, for example investigations of intentional mis-typings and misspellings.
What benefits come from AI algorithms better understanding our digital lingo? For one, it's possible that new tools could be applied to improve natural language processing, search engines, and spam filters.
"We were able to comprehensively collect and count stretched words like 'gooooooaaaalll' and 'hahahaha'," the researchers said in a press release, "and map them across the two dimensions of overall stretchiness and balance of stretch, while developing new tools that will also aid in their continued linguistic study, and in other areas, such as language processing, augmenting dictionaries, improving search engines, analyzing the construction of sequences, and more."