How Prohibition Was Similar to Today's Health Care Debate
Daniel Okrent: My last book was a history of Rockefeller \r\nCenter, which I did in the early part of the past decade. And the land \r\nthat the Rockefeller is built on was, during the ‘20’s, the heart of the\r\n speakeasy belt in New York, between 48th and 51st Street between Fifth \r\nAvenue and Sixth Avenue. There were 228 brownstones, and they were \r\nlargely speakeasies, flop houses, whorehouses, it was really a lousy \r\nneighborhood. And the Rockefeller interests to assemble the land the \r\nneeded to acquire the ground leases for each of these buildings. So, I \r\ndid a lot of research in the city records and found the Rockefellers \r\ncoming up against speakeasy owners who had more political clout then \r\nthey did. I said, "How did this happen?" Which is the best way to \r\nbegin a book. So, that got me going.
And then I found myself \r\nthen wandering in this wonderland of this impossible-to-imagine period, \r\nwhen in the Constitution, not just by law, but in the Constitution it \r\nsaid Americans couldn’t get liquor; couldn’t get alcoholic beverages. \r\nAnd there were only two things in the Constitution that limit the rights\r\n of individuals rather than the rights of governments, the powers of \r\ngovernment. And the two things were, the 13th Amendment, you can’t own \r\nslaves, and the 18th Amendment, you can’t get liquor. Pretty bizarre. \r\nSo that set me going.
I think it relates to where we are today \r\nbecause of the notion of a divided country and what Prohibition was \r\nreally was a stand-in issue. There were people who cared a great deal \r\nabout Prohibition and they had reason to want liquor to be cut back \r\nbecause the rampant drunkenness of the 19th century combined with the \r\nfact that women had very few legal rights, did lead a lot of women \r\nparticularly, and children, being horribly damaged by the drunkenness \r\nthat captured so many of their husbands. It led to bankruptcies, \r\nbringing home disease, ruined marriages
In 1830, the average \r\nadult consumption of liquor – of alcohol is triple what it is today. \r\nSo, imagine the society we live in now where the booze seems to be \r\nflowing pretty freely, and then multiply that by three, and even – and \r\nthat was on a per capita basis. So, there were people who abstained. \r\nSo those who were drinking really drank a great deal. And particularly \r\nin rural areas, and then as the immigrant populations came in, in the \r\ncities as well.
But it was other than the concern about \r\ndrinking, was a, as I said, a battle over the control of the country. \r\nThe Prohibition was largely, but not exclusively, a movement that came \r\nfrom the middle of the country, the native born white Protestants who \r\nfeared losing their country to the Irish, the Italians, the Jews, the \r\nEastern Europeans who were coming into the cities. It was a really \r\nintense divide in which this stand-in issue could represent everything \r\nelse. And I think we are going through exactly the same thing now. And\r\n there is no question that there are people who really don’t like \r\nObama’s health care, but they really don’t like the people who support \r\nObama’s health care. And last year the dividing issue could have been \r\ngay marriage. A few years before that, or possibly it is also \r\nabortion. There are stand-in issues that represent a wide, wide range \r\nof issues. And that was the division that we had in this country that \r\nled to prohibition.
\r\n Question: What were some lesser-known reasons for \r\nProhibition?
Daniel Okrent: You know, there’s an extraordinary thing \r\nabout Prohibition, though there was a real issue about alcohol \r\nconsumption, there were three other issues that made Prohibition happen:\r\n the Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Income Tax Movement, and World War \r\nI. Now what does these things have to do with alcohol? Well this is \r\nthe peculiarity of the theater of politics that things do not seem to be\r\n what they are.
So, the Women’s Suffrage Movement had a lot to \r\ndo with the fact that women had no marital rights. They didn’t have any\r\n rights to divorce, they didn’t have property rights. They needed to be\r\n able to express themselves for their own self-protection. And they \r\nrecognized that they had kindred spirits in the prohibitionists. So, it\r\n was really, "We’ll support you if you’ll support us." And the Women’s \r\nChristian Temperance Union was the engine; the first engine that really \r\ngot he Prohibition Movement going.
Then it was realized by the \r\npeople in the Prohibition Movement, "We can’t get rid of alcohol without\r\n something to replace it as a revenue producer," because as much as 40% \r\nof federal revenue came from the excise tax on liquor, going back to the\r\n Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790’s. So you couldn’t suddenly say, no \r\nliquor, no wine, no beer. You wouldn’t be able to run the government \r\nany longer. So they made common cause then with the populace who wanted\r\n an income tax. And they passed the income tax amendment, the 16th \r\nAmendment in 1913, and only then did it become even possible to \r\nseriously consider the possibility of Prohibition.
And then \r\nWorld War I, what does World War I have to do with Prohibition? Well, \r\nafter Congress had enacted the amendment and it had to be ratified by \r\nthree-quarters of the states, during that period World War I begins. \r\nAll the brewers have German names. Their names are Anheuser, Busch, \r\nPabst, Schlitz, Rupert, Schaffer, and on and on and on. And it made it \r\npossible for the Prohibition forces to demonize the brewers as serving \r\nthe interests of the Kaiser when we were at war with Germany. And \r\nthat’s what put it over the top. So you get these three things that \r\nhave nothing to do with each other and really nothing to do with the \r\nissue at it’s center, namely prohibition, making it possible for there \r\nto be, not just the law, but a change in the damned Constitution.
\r\n Question: Did banning alcohol have a measureable effect \r\non crime?
Daniel Okrent: Well, there was probably an increase in \r\ncrime. You could argue that there was for a period a net positive. \r\nDrinking did go down and it remained down. The level of alcohol \r\nconsumption in the U.S. did not come back to pre-Prohibition levels \r\nuntil the 1970’s. In fact, we’re a little bit lower than the 1970’s \r\nnow. So, if you think there is too much drinking, it did have a \r\npositive affect in that sense.
Criminal behavior on a large \r\nscale, of course, was rampant. Every time somebody acquired a drink, \r\nevery time you bought a drink, or you moved liquor from one place to \r\nanother, you were breaking the law. It is also true that the criminal \r\nsyndicates, the national syndicate were entirely a product of \r\nProhibition. Until then, in each city, you might have a criminal \r\nelement, a criminal gang that controlled vice of all sorts; \r\nprostitution, gambling, drugs, but there was no reason for them to \r\nstretch beyond the limits of their own neighborhoods, as it were, or \r\ntheir cities.
Once you had to move great quantities of alcohol \r\nfrom one place to another, you needed cooperation. So the mobs in \r\nvarious cities got together, there was the famous conference in Atlantic\r\n City in 1929, the sort of peace conference in which they divided up the\r\n country and there was one syndicate that agreed not to poach on each \r\nother’s territory. Without Prohibition, there’s no reason to do that. \r\nSo, yeah, a lot of increase in crime.
On the other hand, the \r\nimage that we have of the ‘20’s, is this era of lawlessness and machine \r\nguns, or was known as the Chicago typewriter; rat-tat-tat-tat-tat, the \r\nsub-machine gun. There were exceptions, obviously, but it was criminal \r\non criminal warfare. There were not a lot of innocent bystanders who \r\nwere hurt by that kind of violence.
\r\n Question: What are some of the parallels between \r\nProhibition and the current drug laws?
\r\nDaniel Okrent: What’s comparable – what’s interesting to me about \r\nthe comparison to the drug trade today is there is a human appetite that\r\n drugs are satisfying. There is a human appetite that liquor satisfied \r\nand it appears to be the case, I think it’s undisputable, that people \r\nare going to get their drugs, or their liquor, whether or not it is \r\nagainst the law. The consequence of the limitation on it, the legal \r\nlimitation on it, is that the federal government... the government gets \r\nno tax revenue from it. And it’s unable to regulate it effectively. \r\nSo, peculiarly, it was easier to get a drink during Prohibition when it \r\nwas against the law, then it was after Prohibition, when it was legal.
During\r\n Prohibition, there was not regulatory system of any kind. It was \r\nsimply against the law. After Prohibition, you had age limits. You had\r\n to be 18 or 21, liquor stores couldn’t be open on Sundays, you couldn’t\r\n be near a church. There were closing hours, there was an entire \r\nsuperstructure of laws that made it possible to control drinking and to \r\nbring in a great deal of revenue. Franklin Roosevelt in October of \r\n1932... he gave a speech in Newark in which he said, “If we brought back\r\n beer alone, that would be a quarter of a billion dollars in the U.S. \r\nTreasury in one year.” And it was. So the notion that we are right now\r\n seeing a similar illegal substance that is nonetheless desired being \r\ntraded in huge quantities by criminal syndicates, the notion that that \r\ncould be something that’s regulated, made safer, and provide revenue for\r\n the government makes it a very appealing argument for legalization.
Recorded on: April 16, 2010
While Prohibition was certainly about drinking, it was also a stand-in issue in the battle among various groups over control of the country.
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Measuring a person's movements and poses, smart clothes could be used for athletic training, rehabilitation, or health-monitoring.
In recent years there have been exciting breakthroughs in wearable technologies, like smartwatches that can monitor your breathing and blood oxygen levels.
But what about a wearable that can detect how you move as you do a physical activity or play a sport, and could potentially even offer feedback on how to improve your technique?
And, as a major bonus, what if the wearable were something you'd actually already be wearing, like a shirt of a pair of socks?
That's the idea behind a new set of MIT-designed clothing that use special fibers to sense a person's movement via touch. Among other things, the researchers showed that their clothes can actually determine things like if someone is sitting, walking, or doing particular poses.
The group from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) says that their clothes could be used for athletic training and rehabilitation. With patients' permission, they could even help passively monitor the health of residents in assisted-care facilities and determine if, for example, someone has fallen or is unconscious.
The researchers have developed a range of prototypes, from socks and gloves to a full vest. The team's "tactile electronics" use a mix of more typical textile fibers alongside a small amount of custom-made functional fibers that sense pressure from the person wearing the garment.
According to CSAIL graduate student Yiyue Luo, a key advantage of the team's design is that, unlike many existing wearable electronics, theirs can be incorporated into traditional large-scale clothing production. The machine-knitted tactile textiles are soft, stretchable, breathable, and can take a wide range of forms.
"Traditionally it's been hard to develop a mass-production wearable that provides high-accuracy data across a large number of sensors," says Luo, lead author on a new paper about the project that is appearing in this month's edition of Nature Electronics. "When you manufacture lots of sensor arrays, some of them will not work and some of them will work worse than others, so we developed a self-correcting mechanism that uses a self-supervised machine learning algorithm to recognize and adjust when certain sensors in the design are off-base."
The team's clothes have a range of capabilities. Their socks predict motion by looking at how different sequences of tactile footprints correlate to different poses as the user transitions from one pose to another. The full-sized vest can also detect the wearers' pose, activity, and the texture of the contacted surfaces.
The authors imagine a coach using the sensor to analyze people's postures and give suggestions on improvement. It could also be used by an experienced athlete to record their posture so that beginners can learn from them. In the long term, they even imagine that robots could be trained to learn how to do different activities using data from the wearables.
"Imagine robots that are no longer tactilely blind, and that have 'skins' that can provide tactile sensing just like we have as humans," says corresponding author Wan Shou, a postdoc at CSAIL. "Clothing with high-resolution tactile sensing opens up a lot of exciting new application areas for researchers to explore in the years to come."
The paper was co-written by MIT professors Antonio Torralba, Wojciech Matusik, and Tomás Palacios, alongside PhD students Yunzhu Li, Pratyusha Sharma, and Beichen Li; postdoc Kui Wu; and research engineer Michael Foshey.
The work was partially funded by Toyota Research Institute.
How imagining the worst case scenario can help calm anxiety.
- Stoicism is the philosophy that nothing about the world is good or bad in itself, and that we have control over both our judgments and our reactions to things.
- It is hardest to control our reactions to the things that come unexpectedly.
- By meditating every day on the "worst case scenario," we can take the sting out of the worst that life can throw our way.
Are you a worrier? Do you imagine nightmare scenarios and then get worked up and anxious about them? Does your mind get caught in a horrible spiral of catastrophizing over even the smallest of things? Worrying, particularly imagining the worst case scenario, seems to be a natural part of being human and comes easily to a lot of us. It's awful, perhaps even dangerous, when we do it.
But, there might just be an ancient wisdom that can help. It involves reframing this attitude for the better, and it comes from Stoicism. It's called "premeditation," and it could be the most useful trick we can learn.
Broadly speaking, Stoicism is the philosophy of choosing your judgments. Stoics believe that there is nothing about the universe that can be called good or bad, valuable or valueless, in itself. It's we who add these values to things. As Shakespeare's Hamlet says, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Our minds color the things we encounter as being "good" or "bad," and given that we control our minds, we therefore have control over all of our negative feelings.
Put another way, Stoicism maintains that there's a gap between our experience of an event and our judgment of it. For instance, if someone calls you a smelly goat, you have an opportunity, however small and hard it might be, to pause and ask yourself, "How will I judge this?" What's more, you can even ask, "How will I respond?" We have power over which thoughts we entertain and the final say on our actions. Today, Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
Helping you practice StoicismCredit: Robyn Beck via Getty Images
One of the principal fathers of ancient Stoicism was the Roman statesmen, Seneca, who argued that the unexpected and unforeseen blows of life are the hardest to take control over. The shock of a misfortune can strip away the power we have to choose our reaction. For instance, being burglarized feels so horrible because we had felt so safe at home. A stomach ache, out of the blue, is harder than a stitch thirty minutes into a run. A sudden bang makes us jump, but a firework makes us smile. Fell swoops hurt more than known hardships.
What could possibly go wrong?
So, how can we resolve this? Seneca suggests a Stoic technique called "premeditatio malorum" or "premeditation." At the start of every day, we ought to take time to indulge our anxious and catastrophizing mind. We should "rehearse in the mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck." We should meditate on the worst things that could happen: your partner will leave you, your boss will fire you, your house will burn down. Maybe, even, you'll die.
This might sound depressing, but the important thing is that we do not stop there.
Stoicism has influenced and finds modern expression in the hugely effective "cognitive behavioral therapy."
The Stoic also rehearses how they will react to these things as they come up. For instance, another Stoic (and Roman Emperor) Marcus Aurelius asks us to imagine all the mean, rude, selfish, and boorish people we'll come across today. Then, in our heads, we script how we'll respond when we meet them. We can shrug off their meanness, smile at their rudeness, and refuse to be "implicated in what is degrading." Thus prepared, we take control again of our reactions and behavior.
The Stoics cast themselves into the darkest and most desperate of conditions but then realize that they can and will endure. With premeditation, the Stoic is prepared and has the mental vigor necessary to take the blow on the chin and say, "Yep, l can deal with this."
Catastrophizing as a method of mental inoculation
Seneca wrote: "In times of peace, the soldier carries out maneuvers." This is also true of premeditation, which acts as the war room or training ground. The agonizing cut of the unexpected is blunted by preparedness. We can prepare the mind for whatever trials may come, in just the same way we can prepare the body for some endurance activity. The world can throw nothing as bad as that which our minds have already imagined.
Stoicism teaches us to embrace our worrying mind but to embrace it as a kind of inoculation. With a frown over breakfast, try to spend five minutes of your day deliberately catastrophizing. Get your anti-anxiety battle plan ready and then face the world.
Why mega-eruptions like the ones that covered North America in ash are the least of your worries.
- The supervolcano under Yellowstone produced three massive eruptions over the past few million years.
- Each eruption covered much of what is now the western United States in an ash layer several feet deep.
- The last eruption was 640,000 years ago, but that doesn't mean the next eruption is overdue.
The end of the world as we know it
Panoramic view of Yellowstone National Park
Image: Heinrich Berann for the National Park Service – public domain
Of the many freak ways to shuffle off this mortal coil – lightning strikes, shark bites, falling pianos – here's one you can safely scratch off your worry list: an outbreak of the Yellowstone supervolcano.
As the map below shows, previous eruptions at Yellowstone were so massive that the ash fall covered most of what is now the western United States. A similar event today would not only claim countless lives directly, but also create enough subsidiary disruption to kill off global civilisation as we know it. A relatively recent eruption of the Toba supervolcano in Indonesia may have come close to killing off the human species (see further below).
However, just because a scenario is grim does not mean that it is likely (insert topical political joke here). In this case, the doom mongers claiming an eruption is 'overdue' are wrong. Yellowstone is not a library book or an oil change. Just because the previous mega-eruption happened long ago doesn't mean the next one is imminent.
Ash beds of North America
Ash beds deposited by major volcanic eruptions in North America.
Image: USGS – public domain
This map shows the location of the Yellowstone plateau and the ash beds deposited by its three most recent major outbreaks, plus two other eruptions – one similarly massive, the other the most recent one in North America.
The Huckleberry Ridge eruption occurred 2.1 million years ago. It ejected 2,450 km3 (588 cubic miles) of material, making it the largest known eruption in Yellowstone's history and in fact the largest eruption in North America in the past few million years.
This is the oldest of the three most recent caldera-forming eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot. It created the Island Park Caldera, which lies partially in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming and westward into Idaho. Ash from this eruption covered an area from southern California to North Dakota, and southern Idaho to northern Texas.
About 1.3 million years ago, the Mesa Falls eruption ejected 280 km3 (67 cubic miles) of material and created the Henry's Fork Caldera, located in Idaho, west of Yellowstone.
It was the smallest of the three major Yellowstone eruptions, both in terms of material ejected and area covered: 'only' most of present-day Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas and Nebraska, and about half of South Dakota.
The Lava Creek eruption was the most recent major eruption of Yellowstone: about 640,000 years ago. It was the second-largest eruption in North America in the past few million years, creating the Yellowstone Caldera.
It ejected only about 1,000 km3 (240 cubic miles) of material, i.e. less than half of the Huckleberry Ridge eruption. However, its debris is spread out over a significantly wider area: basically, Huckleberry Ridge plus larger slices of both Canada and Mexico, plus most of Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.
This eruption occurred about 760,000 years ago. It was centered on southern California, where it created the Long Valley Caldera, and spewed out 580 km3 (139 cubic miles) of material. This makes it North America's third-largest eruption of the past few million years.
The material ejected by this eruption is known as the Bishop ash bed, and covers the central and western parts of the Lava Creek ash bed.
Mount St Helens
The eruption of Mount St Helens in 1980 was the deadliest and most destructive volcanic event in U.S. history: it created a mile-wide crater, killed 57 people and created economic damage in the neighborhood of $1 billion.
Yet by Yellowstone standards, it was tiny: Mount St Helens only ejected 0.25 km3 (0.06 cubic miles) of material, most of the ash settling in a relatively narrow band across Washington State and Idaho. By comparison, the Lava Creek eruption left a large swathe of North America in up to two metres of debris.
The difference between quakes and faults
The volume of dense rock equivalent (DRE) ejected by the Huckleberry Ridge event dwarfs all other North American eruptions. It is itself overshadowed by the DRE ejected at the most recent eruption at Toba (present-day Indonesia). This was one of the largest known eruptions ever and a relatively recent one: only 75,000 years ago. It is thought to have caused a global volcanic winter which lasted up to a decade and may be responsible for the bottleneck in human evolution: around that time, the total human population suddenly and drastically plummeted to between 1,000 and 10,000 breeding pairs.
Image: USGS – public domain
So, what are the chances of something that massive happening anytime soon? The aforementioned mongers of doom often claim that major eruptions occur at intervals of 600,000 years and point out that the last one was 640,000 years ago. Except that (a) the first interval was about 200,000 years longer, (b) two intervals is not a lot to base a prediction on, and (c) those intervals don't really mean anything anyway. Not in the case of volcanic eruptions, at least.
Earthquakes can be 'overdue' because the stress on fault lines is built up consistently over long periods, which means quakes can be predicted with a relative degree of accuracy. But this is not how volcanoes behave. They do not accumulate magma at constant rates. And the subterranean pressure that causes the magma to erupt does not follow a schedule.
What's more, previous super-eruptions do not necessarily imply future ones. Scientists are not convinced that there ever will be another big eruption at Yellowstone. Smaller eruptions, however, are much likelier. Since the Lava Creek eruption, there have been about 30 smaller outbreaks at Yellowstone, the last lava flow being about 70,000 years ago.
As for the immediate future (give or take a century): the magma chamber beneath Yellowstone is only 5 percent to 15 percent molten. Most scientists agree that is as un-alarming as it sounds. And that its statistically more relevant to worry about death by lightning, shark, or piano.
Strange Maps #1041
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A study on charity finds that reminding people how nice it feels to give yields better results than appealing to altruism.
- A study finds asking for donations by appealing to the donor's self-interest may result in more money than appealing to their better nature.
- Those who received an appeal to self-interest were both more likely to give and gave more than those in the control group.
- The effect was most pronounced for those who hadn't given before.
Even the best charities with the longest records of doing great fundraising work have to spend some time making sure that the next donation checks will keep coming in. One way to do this is by showing potential donors all the good things the charity did over the previous year. But there may be a better way.
A new study by researchers in the United States and Australia suggests that appealing to the benefits people will receive themselves after a donation nudges them to donate more money than appealing to the greater good.
How to get people to give away free money
The postcards that were sent to different study subjects. The one on the left highlighted benefits to the self, while the one on the right highlighted benefits to others.List et al. / Nature Human Behaviour
The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, utilized the Pick.Click.Give program in Alaska. This program allows Alaska residents who qualify for dividends from the Alaska Permanent Fund, a yearly payment ranging from $800 to $2000 in recent years, to donate a portion of it to various in-state non-profit organizations.
The researchers randomly assigned households to either a control group or to receive a postcard in the mail encouraging them to donate a portion of their dividend to charity. That postcard could come in one of two forms, either highlighting the benefits to others or the benefits to themselves.
Those who got the postcard touting self-benefits were 6.6 percent more likely to give than those in the control group and gave 23 percent more on average. Those getting the benefits-to-others postcard were slightly more likely to give than those receiving no postcard, but their donations were no larger.
Additionally, the researchers were able to break the subject list down into a "warm list" of those who had given at least once before in the last two years and a "cold list" of those who had not. Those on the warm list, who were already giving, saw only minor increases in their likelihood to donate after getting a postcard in the mail compared to those on the cold list.
Additionally, the researchers found that warm-list subjects who received the self-interest postcard gave 11 percent more than warm-list subjects in the control group. Amazingly, among cold-list subjects, those who received a self-interest postcard gave 39 percent more.
These are substantial improvements. At the end of the study, the authors point out, "If we had sent the benefits to self message to all households in the state, aggregate contributions would have increased by nearly US$600,000."
To put this into perspective, in 2017 the total donations to the program were roughly $2,700,000.
Is altruism dead?
Are all actions inherently self-interested? Thankfully, no. The study focuses entirely on effective ways to increase charitable donations above levels that currently exist. It doesn't deny that some people are giving out of pure altruism, but rather that an appeal based on self-interest is effective. Plenty of people were giving before this study took place who didn't need a postcard as encouragement. It is also possible that some people donated part of their dividend check to a charity that does not work with Pick.Click.Give and were uncounted here.
It is also important to note that Pick.Click.Give does not provide services but instead gives money to a wide variety of organizations that do. Those organizations operate in fields from animal rescue to job training to public broadcasting. The authors note that it is possible that a more specific appeal to the benefits others will receive from a donation might prove more effective than the generic and all-inclusive "Make Alaska Better For Everyone" appeal that they used.
In an ideal world, charity is its own reward. In ours, it might help to remind somebody how warm and fuzzy they'll feel after donating to your cause.