History may not repeat but it does rhyme.
The fascist philosopher behind Vladimir Putin’s Russia
Some ideas lie dormant for decades, and such is the case with Russian philosopher Ivan Ilyin, whose anti-communist stance got him—along with about 160 other intellectuals—expelled from Soviet Russia in 1922 aboard the 'philosopher's ship'. So who was Ilyin, and why has Russia's President Vladimir Putin breathed new life into his writings more than 60 years after Ilyin's death? Yale University's Professor Timothy Snyder gives a crash course in three pillars of Ilyin's philosophy of fascism and explains why this worldview is so appealing to Putin: it defines freedom as knowing your set place in society, asserts that democracy is a ritual and not a reality, and maintains that there are no facts in the world—Russian nationalism is the only truth. Perhaps the most fascinating part of this is how new technology—like Facebook—is turning old fascism into political warfare. "The fundamental way that Russia works in American politics is by transmitting the idea that's nothing is real... What the fascist ideas do with the new technology is they drive [Americans] into a situation where we think the real stakes of politics are all emotional and all about enemies—usually enemies at home," says Snyder. Russia meddled in the 2016 U.S. election in such a way that Americans couldn't see where the trouble was coming from. "A lot of us are still having a lot of trouble seeing what was happening," he says. Snyder's most recent book is The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America.
Pablo Escobar’s hippos: Why drug lords shouldn’t play God
Lucy Cooke—an acclaimed zoologist, author, and TV presenter—talks to us about Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar's animal menagerie, which included four hippos illegally stolen from Africa. Four became eight, and eight became sixteen, and so on, and since these hippos have no other hippo competition there's a strong potential that you may have a brand new species of hippo, which Cooke refers to as "Hippopotamus Escobarus." Her latest book is The Truth About Animals: Stoned Sloths, Lovelorn Hippos, and Other Tales from the Wild Side of Wildlife.
How Ernest Shackleton survived a doomed Antarctic expedition
Great leaders are few and far between but Nancy Koehn, a historian of business at Harvard Business School, has put together a compendium of anecdotes from five great leaders throughout history. It reads like a whos-who of humanitarianism, with true stories of grit and determination from the likes of explorer Ernest Shackleton, American president Abraham Lincoln, the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Nazi-resisting Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the environmental activist Rachel Carson. Here, Nancy Koehn talks to us about how Ernest Shackleton overcame some incredible odds to hold his team together on a doomed Antarctic expedition, and how we can learn from his stories. Nancy's great new book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times.
The chronology of crazy in the USA
Since a boat of religious fanatics with buckles on their hats hit the shores near Plymouth Rock and claimed that this was their utopia, America has always been a little bit crazy. It's this kind of wide-eyed "anything can happen if you believe" mentality that, at its best, can produce incredible art. But at its worst, it can be cruel and conspiratorial. We live in a country where people refuse to believe vaccination can help you and where a White House is spinning "alternative — but Kurt Andersen is here to say that this is nothing now. At the time of the Civil War, society had become split by two sides that refused to listen to each other. Back then, the political and social divide is stoked by a hyperbolic partisan media where anyone could publish whatever they wanted in a pamphlet without fact-checking. Sound familiar? It definitely should. Kurt's latest book is appropriately titled Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.
The feats and failures of hierarchical power: Stalin, Xi Jinping, Macbeth
If you want to understand what a truly hierarchical political system looks like, just look at Joseph Stalin's Soviet Union, says historian Niall Ferguson. Stalin wanted to be all-powerful and omnipresent; he tapped phones, policed relationships and spied on everything—he was totally paranoid, says Ferguson, and for good reason. Social networks are lethal to top-down hierarchies and dictatorships, which is what makes this model of governance so unsustainable. But there is an exception that has stunned observers, Niall Ferguson included: China. Under leader Xi Jinping, China's economy has soared over the last 30 years, but it is now vexed with the largest middle class in history. Can this system endure through the 21st century? That's a huge question for China's leaders, and for the world. Niall Ferguson is the author of The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.
"Never Again?" How fascism hijacks democracies over and over
Rob Riemen — founder and president of the Nexus Institute — posits that the type and level of toxicity in today's political climate is a breeding ground for fascism. He argues that most people in fully democratic Germany in the early 1930s didn't think that by decade's end they'd be a fully fascist country, and goes further to say that perhaps history will look back on the 2016 American election in the same way. Is he correct? You be the judge. Rob Riemen's latest book is To Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism.
How social networks shaped 500 years of revolutionary progress
Facebook might be the biggest social network but it's far from the first, despite what those in Silicon Valley will have you believe. Stanford University fellow and Oxford University historian Niall Ferguson argues that social networks have been around for centuries and the most prominent of which — the Freemasons — could very well be responsible for democracy as we know it. Started in the 1700s in England and carried over to what would later become America, it was a place where class and social strata didn't count and people could exchange ideas freely... and its members included none other than George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Niall's latest book is the tantalizing The Square and the Tower: Networks and Power, from the Freemasons to Facebook.
A lesson in power and influence from Abraham Lincoln
Class and race: Driving American politics since revolutionary times
Young climate strikers I spoke to recently are confused and distressed about the things adults are doing.
It's not just inaction during the worsening climate crisis that bothers them, but the increasingly bizarre criticism many older people throw at striking schoolchildren, in the media and elsewhere. In the absence of any meaningful attempts to restrain global carbon emissions, the direct action of young people should, logically, be applauded. But maybe we're not dealing with an entirely logical problem here.
The Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison accused Greta Thunberg – the Swedish teenager who started the global strikes – of creating “needless anxiety" in children. So it's Thunberg's activism that is responsible for the anxiety children feel about their future, not the climate crisis itself? Thunberg has also been called mentally ill, a hysterical teenager and “a weirdo". French academics criticised her looks and rather than address the points in her UN speech, Donald Trump dismissed Thunberg as “a happy girl looking forwards to a bright future".
None of this acknowledges the urgency of the crisis that climate strikers are drawing attention to. So, why are they being made?
Beneath the thin skin
It's been argued that most of the bullying Thunberg receives is from middle-aged, conservative men who feel threatened by her agency as a young woman, and respond with misogyny. But the criticisms of the strikers aren't only from powerful men like Donald Trump. I've also heard from parents supporting their children on the school strikes that strangers have accused them of manipulating “that poor Greta Thunberg" and betraying their children's right to have a “normal childhood".
"A happy girl looking forwards to a bright future." (VIEWpress/Getty Images)
Some parents were told by passing women that they should be reported to child protection for abusing their children as they stood alongside them on the school picket line. Just to paint a picture of the scene, this was a picket line before school started with children under the age of eight holding their parents' hands, with painted signs urging onlookers to "save the turtles". They went into school afterwards at the normal time.
As an academic and psychotherapist, I study how children are emotionally affected by the climate crisis. But I also want to understand why some adults have reacted the way they have to the young strikers. I find these children inspiring. On September 20, 2019 – the day of the global strike – children in Afghanistan marched through the streets with their banners, flanked by soldiers in full body armour carrying guns. These children were putting their own lives at risk to get their message across to the world. On the other hand, we have these verbal attacks from adults, safe in their offices and homes.
In her UN speech, Thunberg challenged adults the world over to care about the climate crisis. She spoke of the shattered dreams and despair that her generation bears. She also recast inaction as a conscious choice. "If you choose to fail us, we will never forgive you," she said. By making this choice conscious, she left older generations with no more excuses. That challenge was always going to hurt and provoke a backlash. When adults are challenged to behave like adults, by a child, they can go in one of two directions.
One is simply to grow up. The other, is to defend themselves. In psychology, we try to listen through the defences people make when they feel threatened. For example, when someone says that these young people should be in school instead of on strike, they may be pining for the sense of normality that seemed to exist before the climate crisis gained such prominence in everyday life.
When people complain that children don't understand how complex the problem is and should leave it to the experts, perhaps that's another lament for a time when complex problems could be trusted to authorities such as the state that looked out for their interests.
When people attack Thunberg for not showing emotion or for showing too much of it, perhaps there's an inkling that the severity of the climate crisis demands a great deal of painful and complicated emotions, and they'd rather not think of them.
Generally, the size of the defence mirrors the size of the fear. It may be reasonable to assume many of the people who attack Thunberg and the school strikers are terrified. It's much easier to attack others than to look at ourselves, reflect on our own feelings and start to deal with them, like grown ups.
- The theories we build to navigate the world, both scientifically and in our personal lives, all contain assumptions. They're a critical part of scientific theory.
- Cognitive psychologist Donald Hoffman urges us to always question those assumptions. In this way, by challenging ourselves, we come to a deeper understanding of the task at hand.
- Historically, humans have come to some of our greatest discoveries by simply questioning assumed information.
In 1972, the year I was born, there was apparently a famous TV ad for Geritol. My guest today describes it thus:
"…a husband spoke to the camera while his wife draped herself over his shoulder, smiling like something between a model and the brainwashed resident of a creepy commune…"My wife's incredible. She took care of the baby all day, cooked a great dinner and even went to a school meeting—and look at her!"
Her potion of eternal youth, of course, is Geritol. It's got all the vitamins and iron she needs. This perfect woman grins silently at the camera as her husband concludes: "My wife: I think I'll keep her."
Though what constitutes "getting old" for women in America has been a moving target throughout US history, it has rarely been a picnic. But our history's also full of women who have raised hell and pushed back in a hundred different ways against the cultural and literal corsets America keeps trying to stuff them into.
My guest today is New York Times columnist and celebrated author Gail Collins. Her new book is No Stopping Us Now: the Adventures of Older Women in American History. It's a bumpy, often exhilarating ride through the lives of older women in America from colonial times up to the present day. And Gail's good company as our wise, wisecracking stagecoach driver. We're headed West, and there's hope on the horizon.
Conversation starters in this episode:
Liz Plank on masculinity from Think Again, episode #214
- A new investigation tested 168 baby food products for arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury, all of which are toxic metals that can damage brain development in infants.
- Nearly all of the foods tested contained at least one of the metals, and 1 in 4 contained all four metals.
- The authors of the report recommended five steps for finding alternative baby foods with less toxins.
Almost all of the baby food products tested in a new investigation contained traces of toxic heavy metals that can damage brain development in infants.
The investigation—which was commissioned by the nonprofit Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF)—tested 168 baby foods manufactured in the U.S. for four toxic heavy metals: arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. These metals, even in trace amounts, can "alter the developing brain and erode a child's IQ," according to the report. Of the foods tested, the results showed:
- 95% contained lead
- 73% contained arsenic
- 75% contained cadmium
- 32% contained mercury
- 26% contained all four heavy metals
For at least a decade, health experts and advocacy groups have publicly raised concerns about the levels of toxic metals in baby food, and in 2017 the FDA established the Toxic Elements Working Group to reduce toxins in baby foods "to the greatest extent possible." Because of efforts like these, toxin levels in baby foods have dropped significantly in recent years. But it's not enough, according to the HBBF.
A call for "industry-wide change"
"Only a dramatically accelerated pace at FDA and the fruition of the new Baby Food Council's pursuit of industry-wide change will be enough to finally solve the problem," the report states.
"HBBF urges all baby food companies to establish a goal of no measurable amounts of cadmium, lead, mercury, and inorganic arsenic in baby and children's food, in recognition of the absence of a known safe level of exposure, and to achieve steady progress toward that goal."
But the baby food company Gerber noted that "many food safety and agricultural experts suggest that it is not feasible to achieve a 'zero' level of these elements -- even in homemade foods made from organic ingredients."
One problem is that these naturally occurring toxins will likely continue seeping into food, even if farmers and food manufacturers use the safest available practices. That's because it's a "legacy problem" caused largely by outdated pesticides that farmers had sprayed on the land for generations, as Charlotte Brody, a registered nurse and the national director of HBBF, told WebMD. Brody said one crop is particularly well suited for absorbing these dangerous toxins.
"What's driving the problem is rice," Brody said.
Health experts have known for years that rice contains high levels of arsenic, a toxin that's repeatedly been linked to decreases in IQ. In the new investigation, more than half of the rice cereals tested contained inorganic arsenic (the most toxic form of arsenic) at levels exceeding the FDA's proposed action level of 100 parts per billion (ppb). What's more, the report also shows that rice also contains relatively high levels of lead, cadmium and mercury.
Still, even though most health experts agree that no amount of these heavy metals is safe for infants, it's worth noting that toxin levels in baby foods have been falling for years. HBBF said the new findings shouldn't necessarily inspire worry, but rather informed action.
"Many factors can influence a child's IQ, from nutrition and genetics to environmental toxins," the report stated. "And many sources ratchet up children's exposures to heavy metals, from drinking water and old plastic toys to lead in dust from chipping paint and soil tracked into the house. Our findings raise concerns, but on the spectrum from worry to action, parents can choose to act. While no amount of heavy metals is considered safe, less is better."
So, what can parents do?
The report offered several guidelines for choosing safer baby foods:
- Avoid rice puffs and other snacks made with rice flour, which contain relatively high levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium. Consumer Reports recommends several baby foods typically low in metals: apples, applesauce (unsweetened), bananas, barley with diced vegetables, beans, cheese, grapes (cut lengthwise to avoid choking hazard), hard-boiled eggs, peaches, and yogurt.
- Avoid teething biscuits and rice rusks. Opt for other solutions for teething pain, like a frozen banana, a peeled and chilled cucumber, a clean, cold wet washcloth or spoon.
- Avoid infant rice cereal, which is the top source of arsenic in infant's diets. Non-rice and multi-grain varieties are usually safer options.
- Beware of apple, pear, grape and other fruit juices, which contain traces of lead and arsenic. These levels aren't as high as some other baby foods, but could be dangerous when babies drink fruit juice frequently.
- Carrots and sweet potatoes are healthy baby foods, but they contain higher levels of lead and cadmium compared to other fruits and vegetables. The HBBF choosing a variety of vegetables is the solution.
- STD rates have risen every year since 2013, with 2017 showing the largest increase.
- Syphilis passed from mothers to babies is causing easily preventable infant deaths.
- STDs are easy to cure so far — the key is getting regularly tested.
Every year from 2013 through 2017 the number of STD (sexually transmitted diseases) has gone up. 2017 was the worst of all, with 200,000 more cases than the previous year, according to new information published by the CDC. (2018 data has not yet been analyzed.) All three of the major STDs — gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis — have experienced significant increases in the number of case reported.
While STDs and the more broadly defined STIs (sexually transmitted infections may not produce symptoms) are often considered little more than a distasteful inconvenience, untreated they can lead to serious health consequences. Perhaps the most tragic increase in recent years is a 22% increase in infant deaths from congenital syphilis that can be unknowingly passed to newborns from mothers unaware of their own infections.
According to Jonathan Mermin of the CDC, "We are sliding backward. It is evident the systems that identify, treat, and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point." What is going on?
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis
The statistics are sobering in the period from 2017 to 2018 alone. The CDC reports:
- Gonorrhea cases have increased 5%, to more than 580,000 cases. This is the highest number of infections reported since 1991.
- Chlamydia has set a new record, more than 1.7 million cases, an increase of 3% throughout 2017.
- There were 115,000 cases of syphilis. The STD is most infectious during its primary and secondary stages, and these increased by 14% to 35,000 cases. During 2017, syphilis in newborns rose to 1,300 cases, an increase of 40%. Underscoring its source is that syphilis among women of child-bearing age went up by almost an identical amount, 36%.
Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis, the most common sexually transmitted infections, can be cured with antibiotics (for now). Left untreated, the STDs can lead to transmission to other people, as well as "adverse health outcomes such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, and increased HIV risk," says the CDC.
And of course, there's the congenital syphilis killing babies. Most states in the U.S. have reported cases, though 70% of them are concentrated in just five states: Texas, California, Florida, Arizona, and Louisiana.
The heartbreaking loss of newborn life is easily avoidable. Gail Bolan of the CDC says, "There are tools available to prevent every case of congenital syphilis. Testing is simple and can help women to protect their babies from syphilis — a preventable disease that can have irreversible consequences."
It's for this reason the CDC recommends that all women get tested the first time they visit their healthcare provider upon becoming pregnant, and — if they live in high-risk areas — they should get tested a second time at the start of their third trimester and again before delivery. This advice applies even to expectant mothers who aren't currently sexually active. In addition to being transmissible through genital, oral, and anal sex, there are plenty of other ways to quietly pick up an STD infection.
There's good reason not to put off getting an STD and STI checkup. Gonorrhea is one of the worrying bacteria becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, according to both the CDC and the World Health Organization, who report that it currently afflicts about 78 million people worldwide each year. According to the WHO's Teodora Wi, "The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them."
Image source: CDC
Why are STD rates on the rise
The CDC cites three likely reasons:
- Drug use, poverty, stigma, and unstable housing, which can reduce access to STD prevention and care
- Decreased condom use among vulnerable groups, including young people and gay and bisexual men
- Cuts to STD programs at the state and local level — in recent years, more than half of local programs have experienced budget cuts, resulting in clinic closures, reduced screening, staff loss, and reduced patient follow-up and linkage to care services
The subtext of the CDC's third bullet point about local programs being cut is that there's a compelling statistical intersection between the increase in drug use — particularly meth — and heterosexual syphilis. The CDC proposes new collaborations between STD control programs and substance-use disorder services providers — not cutting back such programs as seen recently.
Finally, the stigma attached to having an STD or STI is real, and many would simply prefer to assume they don't have one. This is despite the estimate that among sexually active people, some 80% will have an STI (with STDs being a subset of these) at some point in their lives. Since many of these infections, especially STIs, present no symptoms, it's easy to opt out of testing.
This is obviously a bad idea. It's much smarter to get tested regularly and, if necessary, treated. Encourage your partners and friends to get tested — without making fun — and be forthcoming and honest if you have an infection. Use condoms religiously, and when your healthcare provider inquires about your activities, be honest.
Image source: celiafoto/Shutterstock