Kim Kardashian’s Business Advice to Women Ignores An Essential Factor — Luck

alex atkins bookshelf cultureIn March 2022, Elizabeth Wagmeister of Variety sat down with the Kardashians for an interview (“Money Alway Matters: The Kardashians Tell All About Their New Reality TV Reign”) to discuss their ubiquitous presence on television and social media and their forthcoming series on Hulu. The Kardashians became a cultural phenomenon when their show, pretentiously titled Keeping Up With the Kardashians, premiered on E! in 2007, which coincidentally, was the same year that her famous (or infamous) sex tape leaked. Over 15 years, the mother and her five daughters adroitly leveraged that fame into individual lucrative business empires worth in excess of $5 billion combined.

In the interview, Wagmeister touches a raw nerve when she brings up a criticism that has nagged Kim (41) for over a decade — being famous for being famous; the journalist writes: “The Kardashians have been the subjects of harsh criticism over the years, but they’ve never been accused of not hustling. Kim bristles at the characterization that’s followed her for years — that she’s just famous for being famous. ‘Who gives a fuck,’ she says. ‘We focus on the positive. We work our asses off. If that’s what you think, then sorry. We just don’t have the energy for that. We don’t have to sing or dance or act; we get to live our lives — and hey, we made it. I don’t know what to tell you.’ But it is Kim’s unsolicited advice — given in a very condescending tone — to women that has generated the most controversy recently. Kim stated: “I have the best advice for women in business: get your fucking ass up and work! It seems like nobody wants to work these days. You have to surround yourself with people that want to work — no toxic work environments and show up and do the work.”

Within minutes her tone-deaf and insulting comments unleashed a tsunami of outrage and harsh criticism across social media. How dare she! Journalist Soledad O’Brien was prompted to tweet: “Also: be born rich. Really helps.” Many other tweets followed: “[To] ignore the pre-career privilege — a famous, uber rich father & vast LA network that included Paris Hilton at her peak of fame — is tone deaf at best, offensive at worst.”    “It’s easy to work hard when you work for pleasure rather than survival, when you’re free to take a vacation… whenever you like, without the worry of losing your home, or going hungry, or using your children because you can’t provide for them.”    “Kim K is one of the hardest working people out there but hard work is not a very good predictor of success in business. For every success story there are 100 other people working 2 jobs and living paycheck to paycheck.”   “I don’t doubt that Kim Kardashian works hard, but let’s not diminish the struggles of many women in the world. Her success and the struggles of others are not solely related to work ethic and more successful individuals need to acknowledge that.”

Some experts believe that not only are Kim Kardashian’s comments are not only outrageous, they are actually harmful, creating a sense of “toxic positivity” — the belief that no matter how difficult a situation is, a person should always maintain a positive mindset; it is toxic because it rejects the full range of human emotions (eg sadness, worry, pain, grieving) and replaces it with a cheerful, falsely positive facade. In an interview with CNBC, Emma Harrison, a senior lecturer in careers at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) explained, “[Influencers like Kim Kardashian have] demonstrated ignorance of lived experience of the 99% and their messages pose real danger to their followers, especially those who are younger and more easily influenced. This idea that a person’s mindset can change everything or is the only thing holding them back is toxic and unhelpful in the same way that Kim Kardashian, Molly-Mae [Hague] and countless other influencer messages are.”

Not one to miss the opportunity to shove Kim Kardashian off her high horse, Trevor Noah used his platform on the Daily Show to add his perspective to the controversy:

“I know a lot of people are pissed off at Kim. I know. But if I’m perfectly honest, I can see this thing from both sides. I honestly can. Like, I can see it from Kim’s side… She’s like “You guys think I just take a few pictures and I go to a few events, and then suddenly I’m rich and famous, and you think it’s easy — but it’s not easy.” I understand that. Kim does a lot of work… But part of this idea that people have of Kim is Kim’s fault. I mean — think about it — for decades, the thing that she’s sold is “not work.” Yeah, in fact, she works really hard to look like she’s not working hard. Every photo on Instragram, she’s either on a beach or in a pool or in a hot tub — basically, any relaxing body of water, she’s there, you know? So I get why people have the idea that she doesn’t work, because you [just] don’t see it. Maybe Kim should put that stuff on Instragram, you know? Put up photos of late-night meetings, constant calls on product design. I mean, you can still do it in a bikini if you want, but the point is, you know, people should see more of the work. They’d understand…

But here’s the thing that maybe Kim Kardashian doesn’t understand: it can come off as extremely condescending to tell women that the reason they’re not successful is because they’re ‘too lazy to get off their asses and actually work’ because, yes, Kim Kardashian works hard, but you know who else works hard? Most women. But what their asses don’t have is Kim’s luck to be born into a rich family with a famous lawyer parent, and an even more famous Olympian step-parent, and all the access and the connections that that brings you. Think about it — if you’re lucky to have that, then yeah there’s a good chance that your hard work is gonna make you successful. But don’t forget how much luck has got to do with that success. Anyone who says “just work hard and thing will work out,” those people are forgetting a major component, known as luck. A lot of people work hard, and they’re still broke. In fact, a lot of the time, the broker you are, the harder you probably work.”

Noah’s response underscores the notion that you cannot succeed without luck and shatters the myth that hard work alone leads to success. If you read enough biographies of successful people you will find that most every single one benefited from some luck — the family they were born to, where they grew up, the schools they attended, the jobs they had, the mentors they had, and so forth. Most are familiar with the famous remark attributed to General Douglas MacArthur: “The best luck of all is the luck you make for yourself” or its variants like “I don’t believe in luck. I make my own luck.” Although these quotes are masquerading as inspirational words, they actually do harm, perpetuating the myth of the Protestant Ethic — that hard work leads to success. Moreover, these quotes completely miscontrue the fundamental concept of luck: the defintion of luck is chance — the possibility of something happening. You cannot make luck — it is something that happens (or doesn’t happen) in your life; you have no control over it. (The English language even has a word for beneficial luck: serendipity — the occurrence of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.) As Noah alluded to his remarks, a person cannot choose their parents and moreover, their parents’ professions, level of wealth, and their social and business connections. If we could make our own luck, we would all be buying winning lotto tickets, investing in the most valuable stocks, finding dream jobs early in our careers, and attending the most prestigious schools. But life doesn’t work that way — you need luck to succeed. Noah is absolutely correct: luck is often a major component of success and it should be openly recognized; it should not be considered taboo in the discussion of success or careers.

Acting, for example, is one of those professions where luck is absolutely critical for success. Many comedians quip that Los Angeles restaurants have the most over-qualified staffs — everyone is an actor, screenwriter, or producer, etc. But there are two notable actors who recognize the role of luck in their successful careers. The first is Bryan Cranston. In an interview with Brett Martin (“The Last Stand of Walter White, GQ Magazine, July 2013, Cranston explained, “It doesn’t matter if you’re good. If you’re just good you won’t succeed. If you have patience and persistence and talent and that’s it — you will not have a successful career as an actor. The elusive thing you need is luck.” The second is Harrison Ford who was interviewed by Glenn Plaskin (“The Real Harrison Ford,” San Francisco Chronicle, August 13, 1990) and said, “Hard work and a proper frame of mind prepare you for the lucky breaks that come along — or don’t.” Ford’s comment is right on: you have to put in the work to be prepared to recognize and capitalize on the lucky breaks (the opportunities) that come your way.

Let us end this discussion about luck with Clint Eastwood’s famous line from Dirty Harry (1971): “You have to ask yourself one question: do I feel lucky? Well, do you, punk?”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

The Wisdom of Yiddish Proverbs: 2022

atkins-bookshelf-quotationsYiddish, which originated in Central Europe in the 9th century, represents a mellifluous melting pot of many languages–Aramaic, Hebrew, Czechoslovakian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, and Russion, to name a few. Moreover, the language gave rise to proverbs that passed on wisdom from one generation to the next via a rich oral tradition. And as Hanan Ayalti notes in his introduction to Yiddish Proverbs, “The proverb is the unwritten testimony of a people. It expresses its view, as the case may be, on life and how human beings of all sorts live it, on God, and the world, good fortune and bad, youth and old age; it reflects deep-rooted expectations and disappointments. The Yiddish proverb here thus reveals the soul of the Jewish people of the Eastern European world.” Bookshelf presents some pearls of Yiddish wisdom that are treasured and, of course, timeless:

A nasty tongue is worse than a wicked hand.

A friend is got for nothing, an enemy has to be paid for.

A word to the good is enough, but even a stick won’t help the bad.

A man should live if only to satisfy his curiosity.

A fool takes two steps where a wise man takes none.

Better a bad peace than a good war.

A lock is meant only for honest men.

Better one old friend than two new.

Talk too much and you talk about yourself.

A man is what he is, not what he used to be.

Life is the greatest bargain; we get it for nothing.

Money buys everything except sense.

If you have learning, you’ll never lose your way.

Learning cannot be bequeathed.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: Yiddish Proverbs by Hanan Ayalti (Shocken Books, 1963)

Political Parties Focus on the Professional Class and Ignore Facts Outside Their Class

alex atkins bookshelf culture“It may be that my entire theory is wrong and maybe experts shouldn’t be in charge of government… I study history when I am faced with a problem like that. Turns out that there is a great book on this subject about another example of government by experts. It’s The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam… It’s a book about the Vietnam War and how we got into that war and how it kept going against [enormous opposition]; when everyone was telling the administration back in Washington this is a stupid war you need to stop it. And the answer is the exact same thing that I said tonight: the professional class refusing to acknowledge evidence from outside their class barriers. The people advising him [President Lyndon Johnson] were these Harvard guys — [the] chairman of the political science department at Harvard advising Lyndon Johnson and running the war with the computer. And people come to him [and said] ‘this war is stupid, this war is a disaster’; he’s like ‘where’s your PhD?’… After I read that I think to myself, damn — maybe government by experts never works.”

Excerpt from the lecture “What to Make of the Age of Trump” by Thomas Frank, author of Rendezvous with Oblivion; People Without Power; What’s the Matter with Kansas? The lecture, presented on April 6, 2017, was sponsored by the Kansas City Public Library. The book that Frank mentions, The Best and the Brightest, earned Halberstam the Pulitzer Prize in 1964. Of course, Halberstam used those terms “best” and “brightest” ironically, because some of the smartest people in the country (including John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, along with dozens of ivy-league educated experts) consistently ignored the facts and advice from individuals outside their professional class and got the country entangled in one of the deadliest, costliest wars in American modern history. Then, thanks to the release of the Pentagon Papers, Americans learned that these experts lied to the public about it for years. Frank argues that this rejection of facts outside one’s social class was taken to an entirely new level by Trump, and is now a hallmark of Republican politics (eg, the stolen election, anti-vax movement, rewriting history of the January attack on the Capitol, fake news, etc.).

Another argument Frank makes in his lecture is that both American political parties are essentially class parties — representing the elite, well-educated, affluent professional parties as opposed to the working class. And it is only this professional class that prospers from the growth in the economy at the expense of the working class. To emphasize this point, Frank shares this sobering statistic: from 1930 to 1980, the lower 90% of the country’s population took home 70% of the growth in the country’s income; from 1997 to 2016, that same group shared NONE of this country’s income growth at all. The upper 10% of the population of the professional class consumed the entire thing. He adds, “To be a young person in America these days is to understand instinctively the downward slope that so many of us are on these days.”

One of the trends that fascinates Frank is how in the 1970s, the Democratic party turned away from the working class people and instead embraced the “winners” of the post-industrial economy. In this case, the winners were “the highly-educated, well-credentialed professional class who populate our innovative knowledge industries.” Note the irony of this evolution: in the 1950s, this demographic was one of the most Republican groups in society; by the 1990s they were the most Democratic. Franks adds, “The Democratic Party is a class party — but not the party of the working class. Although the Democratic Party represents many constituent groups, highly-educated professionals are the ones who come first — they’re the ones who sit in the front row with their hands on the steering wheel; the rest of us ride in back.”

If you want to join the professional class, it comes at an enormous price. Frank discussed how college costs in America are out of control; students are graduating with enormous debt — from $50,000 to $250,000. He states: college students are going out into our modern economy with the equivalent of a mortgage without a house to show for it.

To view the lecture search “What to Make of the Age of Trump by Thomas Frank” on YouTube.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

For further reading: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
What is the Declaration of Independence Worth?
Is the United States a Democracy or Republic?
There is a Cult of Ignorance in the United States
Are We Living in an Orwellian World?

What is the Fabric That Holds Humanity Together?

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsMaria Ressa, CEO and co-founder of the news site Rappler, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2021. In their announcement, the Norwegian Nobel Committee wrote: “[We have] decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2021 to Maria Ressa and Dmitry Muratov for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for democracy and lasting peace. Ms Ressa and Mr Muratov are receiving the Peace Prize for their courageous fight for freedom of expression in the Philippines and Russia. At the same time, they are representatives of all journalists who stand up for this ideal in a world in which democracy and freedom of the press face increasingly adverse conditions. Maria Ressa uses freedom of expression to expose abuse of power, use of violence and growing authoritarianism in her native country, the Philippines. In 2012, she co-founded Rappler, a digital media company for investigative journalism, which she still heads. As a journalist and the Rappler’s CEO, Ressa has shown herself to be a fearless defender of freedom of expression. Rappler has focused critical attention on the Duterte regime’s controversial, murderous anti-drug campaign. The number of deaths is so high that the campaign resembles a war waged against the country’s own population. Ms Ressa and Rappler have also documented how social media is being used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

In 2018, Time Magazine named Ressa a “Person of the Year — a Guardian in the War on Truth.” Karl Vick of Time recently interviewed Ressa and discussed the impact and importance of journalism, especially today in the post-Trumpian world where truth is under assault on a daily basis. Commenting on the importance of the Nobel Peace Prize on her work, Ressa states, “It just shows the role that journalists play. Without facts, you can’t have truth. Without truth, you can’t have trust. How can you have democracy without that? This is the fabric that holds us together: shared reality.

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts:
Do Voters Actually Have a Free Choice?
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For further reading:
Time Magazine, A Nobel for a Guardian by Karl Vick, Oct 25/November 1, 2021.

How Did the Pandemic Impact Reading Habits and the Book Industry?

alex atkins bookshelf booksThe deadly Covid-19 pandemic mandated lockdowns for millions of people around the globe beginning in March 2020. Confined in their own homes for months at a time, people turned to their televisions sets for entertainment and on some level, companionship. Streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime, experienced dramatic increases in number of new subscriptions. But how did the pandemic impact people’s reading habits and the book industry in general? A year later, a review of the data by the folks at Global English Editing suggests that there was somewhat of a silver lining to the pandemic for the book industry: more than a third of the world’s population turned to books to read for entertainment and education. Along with that good news, was some bad news: in 2020, the American Bookseller’s Association reported that 70 independent bookstores closed last year due to the pandemic; as of May 2021, 14 bookstores have closed. Independent bookstores weathered the toughest financial storm in recent history by quickly adapting to the new online economy (e.g., holding virtual events and sales, curb-side pick-up, engaging social media campaigns, crowd-funding, etc.), financial support from Covid-19 economic relief grants and loans, as well as grants from the Book Industry Charitable Foundation. Below is a summary of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on reading and the book industry by the numbers:

The global Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns caused:
35% of the world’s people to read more
14% of those read significantly more

Visits to book and literature ecommerce sites in March 2020:
1.51 billion (an increase of 8% from February)

Impact on physical book sales:
In France, physical book sales dropped by 57%
In United States, physical book sales dropped 38%
In United Kingdom, educational book sales increased 234%

Reading habits in America in 2020:
Americans read an average (mean) 12 books per year
The average American has read 4 books in past year
Percentage of Americans who did not read a book in past year: 27%
48% of Americans read the Bible at least 3 times per year
The likelihood of Americans reading was directly correlated with wealth and level of education:
17% of Americans who earn over $75K did not read books
36% of Americans who earn less than $30K did not read books
7% of Americans with a college degree did not read books
37% of Americans with a high school degree or less did not read books

Country that reads the most (number of hours spent in reading per person each week):
1. India: 10:42
2. Thailand: 9:24
3. China: 8:00
4. Philippines: 7:36

5. Egypt: 7:30

22. United States: 5:42

Generation that read more books during pandemic:
Millennials: 40%
GenZ: 34%
GenX: 31%
Baby Boomers: 28%

Size of the global book industry in 2020:
Market size: $119 billion
Number of businesses: 16,395
Number of employees: 315,579

Country that publishes the most books each year:
1. China: 440,000
2. United States: 304,912
3. United Kingdom: 184,000
4. Japan: 139,078
5. Russia: 101,981

Best-selling books of 2020 (
1. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
2. My First Learn to Write Workbook by Crystal Radke
3. The Room Where It Happened by John Bolton
4. The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
5. Untamed by Glennon Doyle

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:

Revisiting “Falling Man” on the 20th Anniversary of 9/11

alex atkins bookshelf cultureRichard Drew pressed the camera’s shutter button at 9:41:15 am on the morning of September 11, 2001, capturing an image of man leaping to his death that is paradoxically terrifying and peaceful at the same time. This iconic photograph — “The Falling Man” — depicted one of more than 200 innocent people who fell or jumped to their deaths that morning. It was printed on page 7 of the New York Times on the following day, that haunting image etched forever in the American consciousness as a reminder of that dreadful day. Twenty years later, most survivors and witnesses of 9/11 have noted that the sight of human beings falling to their deaths is the most haunting memory of that tragic day. People began jumping soon after the first jet hit the North Tower (8:46 am) and for the next 102 minutes before the building collapsed. They jumped alone, in pairs, or in groups — most from a height of more than 100 stories. At that height, the bodies reach a speed of 150 miles per hour, not enough to cause unconsciousness during the 10-second fall, but fast enough to ensure immediate death upon impact. One witness described this horrific scene as a woman fell: “The look on her face was shock. She wasn’t screaming. It was slow motion. When she hit, there was nothing left.” Equally powerful was the thought-provoking story that writer Tom Junod wrote about the identity of that lone figure in the September 2003 issue of Esquire magazine, titled “The Falling Man.” When you read the introduction to the story, it is easy to understand why the editors of Esquire consider it one of the greatest stories in the magazine’s 75-year history.

“In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow. Although he has not chosen his fate, he appears to have, in his last instants of life, embraced it. If he were not falling, he might very well be flying. He appears relaxed, hurtling through the air. He appears comfortable in the grip of unimaginable motion. He does not appear intimidated by gravity’s divine suction or by what awaits him. His arms are by his side, only slightly outriggered. His left leg is bent at the knee, almost casually. His white shirt, or jacket, or frock, is billowing free of his black pants. His black high-tops are still on his feet… The man in the picture… is perfectly vertical, and so is in accord with the lines of the buildings behind him. He splits them, bisects them: Everything to the left of him in the picture is the North Tower; everything to the right, the South. Though oblivious to the geometric balance he has achieved, he is the essential element in the creation of a new flag, a banner composed entirely of steel bars shining in the sun. Some people who look at the picture see stoicism, willpower, a portrait of resignation; others see something else — something discordant and therefore terrible: freedom. There is something almost rebellious in the man’s posture, as though once faced with the inevitability of death, he decided to get on with it; as though he were a missile, a spear, bent on attaining his own end. He is… in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down. In the picture, he is frozen; in his life outside the frame, he drops and keeps dropping until he disappears.”

Almost 20 years later, reflecting on that photo, Richard Drew states: “I never regretted taking that photograph at all. It’s probably one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day. We have a terrorist attack on our soil and we still don’t see pictures of our people dying — and this is a photograph of someone dying. “

The Falling Man’s true identity has never been established.  The photos reveal that he was dark-skinned, lanky, wore a goatee, dressed in black pants, and a bright-orange shirt under a white shirt. Some believe it was Jonathan Briley, an employee at the Windows on the World restaurant. Miraculously, the FBI found his body the next day. Juno concludes his article:

“Is Jonathan Briley the Falling Man? He might be. But maybe he didn’t jump from the window as a betrayal of love or because he lost hope. Maybe he jumped to fulfill the terms of a miracle. Maybe he jumped to come home to his family. Maybe he didn’t jump at all, because no one can jump into the arms of God.

Oh, no. You have to fall.

Yes, Jonathan Briley might be the Falling Man. But the only certainty we have is the certainty we had at the start: At fifteen seconds after 9:41 a.m., on September 11, 2001, a photographer named Richard Drew took a picture of a man falling through the sky — falling through time as well as through space. The picture went all around the world, and then disappeared, as if we willed it away. One of the most famous photographs in human history became an unmarked grave, and the man buried inside its frame — the Falling Man — became the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. Richard Drew’s photograph is all we know of him, and yet all we know of him becomes a measure of what we know of ourselves. The picture is his cenotaph, and like the monuments dedicated to the memory of unknown soldiers everywhere, it asks that we look at it, and make one simple acknowledgment.

That we have known who the Falling Man is all along.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

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For further reading:
September 11, 2001: American Writers Respond
Poetry After 9/11: An Anthology of New York Poets

The Effects of the Pandemic on Relationships

alex atkins bookshelf cultureImagine if you could isolate couples for an entire year, or even 18 months, and study their behavior? What types of relationships could weather an extended storm? How would isolation impact a couple’s level of communication, emotional support, and outlook? Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, psychologists and sociologists got the once-in-a-lifetime experiment they always wanted — along with all the valuable data to analyze and discern lessons about how human relationships are impacted by extended isolation from friends, co-workers, and extended families. Here are a few studies:

The need for human connect is more important than health
A Utah State University found that people who didn’t like virtual meetings or felt they were inadequate ways to connect were willing to ignore the health risks and violate mandated social-distancing protocols and shelter-in-place orders to meet with friends and family. “Hey, I might be a Covid-19 spreader or I might get infected and die — but don’t separate me from my peeps!”

Celebrities became substitutes for real friends and families
A study conducted by the University of San Diego found that although people in social isolation did maintain stable relationships through phone and video calls and text, they felt much closer to celebrities they liked — including fictional characters (which might explain the popularity of those endless comic superhero movies). Researchers believed that this kinship with celebrities is largely a function of how much social media individuals consume on their digital devices. During the pandemic, celebrities, having not much to do like the rest of us, spent a lot more time posting about their daily lives and sharing their thoughts about the pandemic. “Hey, I love my friends and family, but I feel so much closer to my new, cooler pals Ariana Grande and Dwayne Johnson!”

Single people looking for partners did not lower their standards
A multinational survey by Cassandra Alexopoulus (University of Massachusetts) and her colleagues found that single people were more interested in finding a partner if they were more worried about Covid-19. The researchers expected single people living during a pandemic would perceive an increase in the significance of stability, family commitment, and social/physical attractiveness, as well as the fear of being single — and thus be less selective. Surprise! Despite greater concern for Covid-19 and fear of being single during the pandemic, most individuals were more selective about potential partners. “Hey, there is no sugarcoating this: it sucks to be single — but that doesn’t mean I am lowering my standards for some loser or getting catfished. I will wait this pandemic out single and without settling!”

Couples who mastered five habits faced the hardships of the pandemic more easily
A study by the University of Utah found that couples who focus on five resilience-building habits helped couples weather the pandemic storm with greater ease. The five habits are: (1) maintaining some semblance of normal routines; (2) talking to their spouse and sympathetic others about their concerns; (3) reinforcing their beliefs and sense of self; (4) reframing their situation in a positive light; and (5) focusing on the good that will occur when the crisis is over. The researchers also found that a sense of humor was also helpful. “Hey, these are tough and uncertain times, but just focusing on who and what is front of me, and taking each day at a time, and hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel is better than slipping into a funk and obsessing over gloom and doom!”

What other recent studies should we include with these?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

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The Pros and Cons of Working From Home
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For further reading:

What is the Imposter Syndrome?

Ialex atkins bookshelf culturen a recent interview conducted for Time magazine former First Lady Michelle Obama asked inaugural poet Amanda Gorman, who wrote the stirring poem “The Hill We Climb,” “No matter how many speaking engagements I do, big audiences always trigger a little bit of imposter syndrome in me. Can you talk about how you’ve learned to deal with that…?” Gorman responds, “Speaking in public as a Black girl is always daunting enough… that in itself is inviting a type of people that have not often been welcomed or celebrated in the public sphere. Beyond that, as someone with a speech impediment, that imposter syndrome has always been exacerbated because there’s the concern — is the content of what I’m saying good enough? And… is the way I’m saying it good enough.”

Here we have two gifted, intelligent, and accomplished women — albeit in different parts of their life journey — revealing a very deep-rooted fear that millions of people share, regardless of gender, age, and level of achievement: the imposter syndrome. So what exactly is the imposter syndrome?

The term imposter syndrome is actually know by many names: fraud syndrome, imposterism, imposter phenomenon, imposter experience. The initial term imposter phenomenon was introduced by psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzanne Imes in their paper “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” published in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research & Practice (Volume 15, Fall 1978). The researchers defined imposter phenomenon as “an internal experience of intellectual phoniness which appears to be particularly prevalent among a select sample of high achieving women.” Many of these individuals are unable to internalize their success and thus dismiss their abilities and achievements, attributing them to luck, timing, help of an individual — or even error. These individuals may experience doubt, rumination, stress, anxiety, or depression. Clance notes thats imposter syndrome is not a pathological disease that is inherently self-destructive, but rather interferes with the psychological well-being of a person. Despite the doubt and stress they may feel, individuals are able to fulfill their work requirements. In contrast to the imposter syndrome, consider the Dunning-Kruger Effect which is a cognitive bias where a person who is incompetent at something is unable to recognize their own incompetence. Moreover, that individual has a false inflated sense of confidence about their supposed competence.

In their clinical experience during the 1970s, Clance and Imes found that the imposter phenomenon occurred with much less frequency and with less intensity in men. To address the prevalence of the phenomenon in women, they wrote: “Certain early family dynamics and later introjection of societal sex-role stereotyping appear to contribute significantly to the development of the imposter phenomenon. Despite outstanding academic and professional achievements, women who experience [this] persist in believing that they are really not bright and have fooled anyone who thinks otherwise. Numerous achievements, which one might expect to provide ample objective evidence of superior intellectual functioning, do not appear to affect the imposter belief.” The psychologists present the four factors which contribute to this phenomenon: (1) gender stereotypes, (2) early family dynamics, (3) culture, and (4) attribution style. Subsequent research over the decades by other psychologists has shown that the imposter syndrome is widely experienced by men and women. In a study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science (Volume 6, 2011), researchers Jaruwan Sakulku and James Alexander note that an estimated 70% of people will experience at least one episode of imposter syndrome in their lives. Additional research has also identified a wider range of factors including: family expectations, overprotective parents (take note helicopter and tiger parents!), racial identities, perfectionism, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

In 1985, Clance developed the first scale to measure the characteristics of the imposter phenomenon: the Clance Imposter Phenomenon scale (CIP). The scale measures three levels of fears: (1) fear of evaluation, (2) fear of not continuing to be successful, and (3) fear of not being as capable as other people. Clance also identified the six dimensions of the imposter phenomenon: (1) the imposter cycle, (2) the need to be the best, (3) characteristics of superman or superwoman, (4) fear of failure, (5) denial of ability and dismissing praise, and (6) feeling guilt and fear about success.

Over two decades later, in 2011, educational leadership expert Valerie Young published The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It. After extensive research, she identifies five subgroups that experience imposter syndrome:
(1) The perfectionist: “It isn’t done yet, it could be done better.”
(2) The super person: “I should be great at everything.”
(3) The natural genius: “If I were actually good at this, it would not be so difficult.”
(4) The soloist: “I should be able to figure this out on my own.”
(5) The expert: “I can never know enough.”

In an article for Time titled “How to Deal with Imposter Syndrome” (June 20, 2018), journalist Abigail Abrams interviewed psychologist Audrey Ervin to find out how to deal with imposter syndrome. Ervin made these recommendations:
1. Acknowledge the negative thoughts and put them in perspective: do they help or hinder?
2. Reframe the thoughts and value constructive criticism.
3. Share your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or mentors.
4. Do not let doubt control your actions.

Have you ever felt like an imposter?

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. Cheers.

Read related posts: What is the Barnum Effect?
What is the Pinocchio Effect?
What is the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

For further reading:
“Unity with a Purpose” Inaugural Poet Amanda Gorman in Conversation with Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Time Magazine, February 15/22, 2021.

The Letters that Presidents Leave to Each Other

alex atkins bookshelf wisdomIt is considered the toughest job on the planet: being President of the United States. Often, they come into office with decades of experience in politics, business, or both; however, after one or two terms, they leave far wiser than they arrived. In 1989, President Ronald Reagan began the tradition of leaving a handwritten letter to his successor. The letter was placed in a drawer of the Resolute Desk located in the Oval Office. The first letter was lighthearted and informal but over time, the letters grew more serious, offering encouragement and specific advice. So what sort of advice or insight does an outgoing President give to an incoming President? Fortunately, you don’t have to run for office, raise more than $2 billion, and attend hundreds of politic rallies to win a Presidential election to find out. Over the years, all of these private letters have been made public. Below are the personal letters that outgoing Presidents have left for their successors.

On January 20, 1989 President Ronald Reagan left the first personal letter for incoming President George H.W. Bush. Since President Reagan was known for his sense of humor and folksy style, he wanted his letter to be lighthearted. Accordingly, he chose stationery that featured the idiom “Don’t let the turkeys get you down” with an illustration of an elephant surrounded by turkeys. Reagan wrote:

“Dear George,
You’ll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery. Well go to it.
George I treasure the memorys [sic] we share and wish you all the very best. You’ll be in my prayers. God Bless You & Barbara. I’ll miss our Thursday lunches.

President Bush served only one term. So on January 20, 1993, President Bush wrote the following letter to incoming President Bill Clinton:

“Dear Bill,
When I walked into this office just now I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too.
I wish you great happiness here. I never felt the loneliness some Presidents have described.
There will be very tough times, made even more difficult by criticism you may not think is fair. I’m not a very good one to give advice; but just don’t let the critics discourage you or push you off course.
You will be our President when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well.
Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.
Good luck —

Eight years later, on January 20, 2001, President Clinton wrote a letter to incoming President George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush’s son. Clinton wrote:

“Dear George,
Today you embark on the greatest venture, with the greatest honor, that can come to an American citizen.
Like me, you are especially fortunate to lead our country in a time of profound and largely positive change, when old questions, not just about the role of government, but about the very nature of our nation, must be answered anew.
You lead a proud, decent, good people. And from this day you are President of all of us. I salute you and wish you success and much happiness.
The burdens you now shoulder are great but often exaggerated. The sheer joy of doing what you believe is right is inexpressible.
My prayers are with you and your family. Godspeed.

Another eight years passed. President Bush wrote the following letter to incoming President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009: 

Dear Barack,
Congratulations on becoming our President. You have just begun a fantastic chapter in your life.
Very few have had the honor of knowing the responsibility you now feel. Very few know the excitement of the moment and the challenges you will face.
There will be trying moments. The critics will rage. Your ‘friends’ will disappoint you. But, you will have an Almighty God to comfort you, a family who loves you, and a country that is pulling for you, including me. No matter what comes, you will be inspired by the character and compassion of the people you now lead.
God bless you.

On January 17, 2009, after a tumultuous and divisive election with a result that even surprised the winning candidate, President Obama left a handwritten letter for incoming President Donald Trump. Unlike the previous letters, the salutation was more formal and the length of the letter was substantially longer. In hindsight, one of the most notable lines is this one: “[It’s] up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.” Here is the complete letter that President Obama wrote:

“Dear Mr. President,
Congratulations on a remarkable run. Millions have placed their hopes in you, and all of us, regardless of party, should hope for expanded prosperity and security during your tenure.
This is a unique office, without a clear blueprint for success, so I don’t know that any advice from me will be particularly helpful. Still, let me offer a few reflections from the past 8 years.
First, we’ve both been blessed, in different ways, with great good fortune. Not everyone is so lucky. It’s up to us to do everything we can (to) build more ladders of success for every child and family that’s willing to work hard.
Second, American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.
Third, we are just temporary occupants of this office. That makes us guardians of those democratic institutions and traditions – like rule of law, separation of powers, equal protection and civil liberties – that our forebears fought and bled for. Regardless of the push and pull of daily politics, it’s up to us to leave those instruments of our democracy at least as strong as we found them.
And finally, take time, in the rush of events and responsibilities, for friends and family. They’ll get you through the inevitable rough patches.
Michelle and I wish you and Melania the very best as you embark on this great adventure, and know that we stand ready to help in any ways which we can.
Good luck and Godspeed,

On January 20, 2020, outgoing President Trump broke tradition by not attending President Joe Biden’s inauguration, but he decided to continue the tradition of the personal letter, probably because he truly treasured the letter that President Obama wrote to him four year ago. As of this writing, we don’t know what he wrote. When reporters asked President Biden about the contents of the letter, Biden graciously replied, “The president wrote a very generous letter. Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him, but it was generous.”

ENJOY THE BOOK. If you love reading Atkins Bookshelf, you will love reading the book — Serendipitous Discoveries from the Bookshelf. The beautifully-designed book (416 pages) is a celebration of literature, books, fascinating English words and phrases, inspiring quotations, literary trivia, and valuable life lessons. It’s the perfect gift for book lovers and word lovers.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Will you help me reach 10,000 followers? Cheers.

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The Pros and Cons of Remote Learning

alex atkins bookshelf educationAs we observed in a recent post, almost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic required most of the U.S. workforce to make the transition from working in an office location to working remotely from home. Students and teachers — from pre-K to college — had to make that same transition. Teachers had to quickly adapt: mastering online platforms for assigning homework and conducting remote classes (most often, using Zoom) and utilizing email to connect with students. Students learned to transform their bedrooms, or common rooms like a kitchen or family room, into makeshift mini classrooms of one. So how are students and teachers doing with the normal of remote learning (aka distance learning)? Although no official survey has been published to date (several are in the works by educational organizations and schools), there are some smaller surveys conducted by teachers available. Bookshelf also reached out to some teachers and students to determine the pros and cons of remote learning. Anecdotal evidence suggests that remote learning, like working remotely, is not a universal solution: it is fraught with major and minor challenges. Here are some observations: 

Pros of remote learning:
More time to sleep
No need to commute to and from school
Can do school work in comfort of my own home (comfortable furniture, access to snacks and food, privacy of own bathroom)
Increased flexibility to complete assignments
More time to spend with family members
More freedom and independence

Cons of remote learning:
Not everyone has access to laptop and reliable wifi
Children with learning disabilities struggle with remote learning

Loss of social time with friends
Loss of human interaction (teacher and friends) leads to anxiety, depression, and isolation
Being at home offers too many distractions
Without instant teacher or peer feedback, easy to get discouraged
Loss of motivation to do study and do homework
Remote learning is not as effective as in-person learning
No separation from home life and school life
Feel trapped/stuck at home

Increased stress trying to stay on track and keep up with all assignments
Difficult to get personal help from teacher
Homework and workload has increased
No access to school library which has great resources and offers a quiet place to do homework
Feeling overwhelmed by drastic transition
With online classes in college, don’t feel I am getting my money’s worth

If you are a teacher or student, what else should be added to these lists?

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The Pros and Cons of Working From Home

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAlmost overnight, the COVID-19 pandemic required more than half of the U.S. workforce to make the transition from working in an office location to working remotely from home. Most businesses have embraced the new normal — remote working punctuated with dreaded zoom meetings — for the short term; however, some major companies, like Twitter and Facebook, have committed to making remote work permanent, albeit with some caveats. Nevertheless, the new reality of working from home, which at first glance seems so attractive, is actually fraught with some subtle as well as significant challenges. To find out just how challenging this transition was, SellCell conducted a survey in June of this year that included 2,000 American remote employees (23 years and older). As the results indicate, not everyone is suited for telecommuting. Fascinating highlights from the study appear below:

Levels of stress since working from home:
Feel more stressed: 51.4%
Feel less stressed: 21.5%
No change: 27%

Level of productivity of working from home:
Feel more productive: 45%
Feel less productive: 34.5%
No change: 20.6%

Major distractions while working at home:
Social media: 61%
Smartphones: 53.7%
Binge watching: 42.1%
Children: 33.8%
Gaming: 30.4%
News media; 24.3%
Pets: 18.1%
Partner: 16%
Online shopping: 12.3%

The biggest cons to working from home:
Lack of social interaction: 55.8%
No distinction between work and home life: 43.5%
Poor eating habits: 33.2%
Loss of self-discipline: 25.6%
Absence of IT department: 23.5%
Longer work hours: 17.9%
Frequent video meetings: 15.1%

The pros to working from home:
Flexible work schedule: 61%
No more long commutes: 52.5%
No need to dress up: 44.8%
Saving money: 35.7%
No more missed deliveries: 28.4%
Increased family time: 19.6%
Don’t have to deal with annoying colleagues: 10.1%

Activities employees engage in while on the clock:
Browsing the internet: 83.2%
Scrolling through social media: 53.5%
Multitask while binge watching: 44%
Visiting adult websites: 43.2%
Making love with their partners: 19.8%
Online shopping: 17%

Issues to blame for keeping irregular work hours:
Phone usage: 72.4%
Tech and security issues: 67.7%
Household chores; 49.4%
Sleeping in: 46.2%
Looking after children: 34.4%
Lack of motivation: 30.2%
Hungover: 26.3%
Distractions from family and friends: 23.7%
Long lunches: 16.1%

Adverse impacts on telecommuters:
Change in exercise routines: 75.4%
Change in dietary patterns: 70.3%
Change in sleep patterns: 62.8%
No need to shower in the morning: 48.3%
Stay in pajamas all day: 66.4%
Increased alcohol drinking: 39.3%
Overeating: 28.2%
Inconsistent meals: 35%
Skipped meals: 24%
Feel that workload has increased: 55%

Preference for working from home vs. the office:
Prefer splitting time between home and office: 45%
Prefer going back to the office: 32%
Prefer working from home: 23%

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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You Should Figure Out a Way to Get Off Facebook

alex atkins bookshelf culture“There are many different kinds of people, and [for] some, the benefits of Facebook are worth the loss of privacy. But to many, like myself, my recommendation is… you should figure out a way to get off Facebook. People think they have a level of privacy they don’t. Why don’t they give me a choice? Let me pay a certain amount, and you’ll keep my data more secure and private than everybody else [who is] handing it to advertisers…”

“Users provide every detail of their life to Facebook and Facebook makes a lot of advertising money off this. The profits are all based on the user’s info, but the users get none of the profits back… Apple [on the other hand] makes its money off of good products, not off of you. As they say, with Facebook, you are the product… I am in the process of leaving Facebook. It’s brought me more negatives than positives. Apple has more secure ways to share things about yourself. I can still deal with old school email and text messages.”

From two interviews that Steve Wozniak, American engineer and Apple co-founder, gave to TMZ (June 2019) and USA Today (April 2018). While Wozniak is criticism of Facebook is focused on privacy issues, there are many other experts warning about other more significant impacts of using Facebook: addiction to social apps (physical and psychological addiction), increased levels of anxiety and depression (that lead to declining mental and physical health, disruption of relationships, loss of sleep, and in severe cases even suicide), and the systemic corrosion of democratic elections (allowing foreign countries to launch hate and misinformation campaigns). Recall the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the focus of the alarming documentary The Great Hack (2019), where data from more than 70 million users was used to manipulate voter behavior. (If you haven’t watch this, it should be required viewing for every FB user: at its conclusions, you will be shocked and really pissed off.) Despite the chorus of criticism and warnings, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is utterly indifferent; in an interview with Vox (April 2018) he responded to the criticism of making money off of users’ personal data: “At Facebook, we are squarely in the camp of the companies that work hard to charge you less and provide a free service that everyone can use. I don’t think at all that that means that we don’t care about people.” [emphasis added] WTF? It would be curious to note how he regulates his children’s use of social media apps.

Are you ready to leave Facebook?

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Can You Legally Record the Police?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureThe recent deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks at the hands of police officers shook the world from its complacency, sparking massive protests around the globe. Were it not for the videos that clearly recorded the murders, these crimes could have easily been covered up by the police. In fact, in an early police report, the arresting officers of the Minneapolis Police Department claimed that Floyd “physically resisted officers” — a claim that was not supported by the surveillance and bystander videos.

Crimes committed by police against citizens raises the critical question: can you legally record the police? The question is even more urgent at a time when journalists and the freedom of the press are under attack. In an article for The Intercept, journalist Trevor Timm writes: “We are witnessing a truly unprecedented attack on press freedom in the United States, with journalists are being systematically targeted while covering the nationwide protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The scale of the attacks is so large, it can be hard to fathom. At the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker… we catalogued 150 press freedom violations in the United States in all of 2019. We are currently investigating 280 from just the last week… Police are responsible for the vast majority of assaults on journalists: over 80 percent.” In 2018, Reporters Without Borders, released the top five deadliest countries for journalists: Afghanistan, Syria, Mexico, India, and now — the United States. It certainly doesn’t help that we have a president that has repeatedly called the press “the enemy of the people.”

Technology has empowered every individual to be a journalist; that is to say, every person who carries a smart phone has the ability to record what he or she sees in real time and upload that video almost instantly to a social media platform for the entire world to witness. This is an incredible and powerful capability, and as we have seen, it has pushed important issues that often lingered in obscurity into the light: racism, segregation, oppression, injustice, police brutality and crimes — to name a few. Therefore, every person, who one day may become a bystander, a witness to a crime, should become familiar with their first amendment rights and understand how he or she can legally record the police. To that end, the First Amendment Watch at New York University — an online news and educational resource for journalists, educators, and students — released a helpful guide that informs Americans of how they can record police legally. It can be downloaded here. It is worth noting that knowing and citing just a few court cases can persuade an overzealous police officer, who in the heat of the moment and not thinking clearly, to back down from stopping you from recording, taking away your smart phone, or trying to confiscate it illegally.

The Citizen’s Guide to Recording the Police begins with this statement:

Sixty-one percent of the U.S. population lives in states where federal appeals courts have recognized a First Amendment right to record police officers performing their official duties in public. The U.S. Supreme Court has not ruled on the issue. As a result, legal protections are fully secure only in those jurisdictions where federal circuits have issued a ruling. However, given the resounding support so far for this First Amendment protection, it seems highly likely that the remaining federal appeal courts would reach the same conclusion if the issue appears on their docket.

Here are some key court decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court that protect first amendment rights:

Branzburg v. Hayes (1972) and First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti (1978)
“[The First Amendment] goes beyond [the] protection of the press and the self-expression of individuals to prohibit government from limiting the stock of information from which members of the public may draw…. [The] liberty of the press is the right of the lonely pamphleteer who uses carbon paper or a mimeograph just as much as of the large metropolitan publisher who utilizes the latest photo composition methods

Riley v. California (2014)
The court ruled that the Fourth Amendment prohibits police from seizing an individual’s recording device or later searching through its contents. The only legal way for police to seize a smart phone is through an arrest; the only way to access its contents is to acquire a warrant.

Here are some key court decisions by the United Circuit Court of Appeals that protect first amendment rights:

Askins v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (9th Cir. 2018): First Amendment protects the photographing of patrol officers at ports of entry.

Fields v. Philadelphia (8th Cir. 2017): “First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or recording police conducting official duties in public.”

Akins v. Knight (8th Cir. 2017): Has been mistakenly identified in the press as ruling against citizens’ First Amendment rights to film police in public. Akins was primarily ruled on procedural grounds, seeking the judge’s recusal. It did not analyze the merits of the constitutional claims, therefore cannot be categorized as either a pro- or anti-recording police case.

Turner v. Driver  (5th Cir. 2017): “A First Amendment right to record the police does exist, subject only to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions.”

Gericke v. Begin (1st Cir. 2014): Under the First Amendment, “private individuals possess a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties.”

ACLU of Illinois v. Alvarez  (7th Cir. 2012): The Illinois’ eavesdropping statute did not apply to the recording of police activities in public.

Glik v. Cunniffe (1st Cir. 2011): There is “a constitutionally protected right to videotape police carrying out their duties in public” and that right was “fundamental.”

King v. Ambs  (6th Cir. 2008): Free speech rights are not protected when a bystander is interfering with an arrest by instructing a suspect not to cooperate with police.

Smith v. City of Cumming (11th Cir. 2000): Affirmed “a First Amendment right, subject to reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions, to photograph or videotape police conduct.”

Fordyce v. City of Seattle (9th Cir. 1995): “First Amendment right to film matters of public interest,” as when Jerry Fordyce filmed police activity during a public protest.

And of course, the document contains the obligatory legal disclaimer: “The case studies produced by First Amendment Watch are intended for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney in your state if you need legal representation.”

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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World Literature Has the Power to Help Mankind in These Troubled Times

alex atkins bookshelf quotations

It’s a bit eerie to read the warnings about evil, complicity, and falsehoods supported by violence — written by a famous author more than 50 years ago. But here we are, living in the same troubled times that Russian novelist, philosopher, and political prisoner Alexandr Solzhenitsyn witnessed during his lifetime. His works, including One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Cancer Ward, and The Gulag Archipelago exposed the horrors of the labor camps run by the Soviet state. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970. In his speech to the Swedish Academy, Solzhenitsyn argues passionately about the value of the lessons that world literature can pass on from generation to generation so that “one nation learn correctly and concisely the true history of another.” And he argues that artists and writers can conquer oppressive falsehoods. Those, of course, are lofty and laudable goals; unfortunately, they are tempered by Aldous Huxley’s famous observation “That men do not learn very much from the lessons of history is the most important of all the lessons that history has to teach.”

“One world, one mankind cannot exist in the face of six, four or even two scales of values: we shall be torn apart by this disparity of rhythm, this disparity of vibrations. A man with two hearts is not for this world, neither shall we be able to live side by side on one Earth.

But who will co-ordinate these value scales, and how? Who will create for mankind one system of interpretation, valid for good and evil deeds, for the unbearable and the bearable, as they are differentiated today? Who will make clear to mankind what is really heavy and intolerable and what only grazes the skin locally? Who will direct the anger to that which is most terrible and not to that which is nearer? Who might succeed in transferring such an understanding beyond the limits of his own human experience? Who might succeed in impressing upon a bigoted, stubborn human creature the distant joy and grief of others, an understanding of dimensions and deceptions which he himself has never experienced? Propaganda, constraint, scientific proof — all are useless. But fortunately there does exist such a means in our world! That means is art. That means is literature.

[Art and literature] can perform a miracle: they can overcome man’s detrimental peculiarity of learning only from personal experience so that the experience of other people passes him by in vain. From man to man, as he completes his brief spell on Earth, art transfers the whole weight of an unfamiliar, lifelong experience with all its burdens, its colours, its sap of life; it recreates in the flesh an unknown experience and allows us to possess it as our own…

I believe that world literature has it in its power to help mankind, in these its troubled hours, to see itself as it really is, notwithstanding the indoctrinations of prejudiced people and parties. World literature has it in its power to convey condensed experience from one land to another so that we might cease to be split and dazzled, that the different scales of values might be made to agree, and one nation learn correctly and concisely the true history of another with such strength of recognition and painful awareness as it had itself experienced the same, and thus might it be spared from repeating the same cruel mistakes. And perhaps under such conditions we artists will be able to cultivate within ourselves a field of vision to embrace the WHOLE WORLD: in the centre observing like any other human being that which lies nearby, at the edges we shall begin to draw in that which is happening in the rest of the world. And we shall correlate, and we shall observe world proportions…

We shall be told: what can literature possibly do against the ruthless onslaught of open violence? But let us not forget that violence does not live alone and is not capable of living alone: it is necessarily interwoven with falsehood. Between them lies the most intimate, the deepest of natural bonds. Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence. Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his METHOD must inexorably choose falsehood as his PRINCIPLE. At its birth violence acts openly and even with pride. But no sooner does it become strong, firmly established, than it senses the rarefaction of the air around it and it cannot continue to exist without descending into a fog of lies, clothing them in sweet talk. It does not always, not necessarily, openly throttle the throat, more often it demands from its subjects only an oath of allegiance to falsehood, only complicity in falsehood.

And the simple step of a simple courageous man is not to partake in falsehood, not to support false actions! Let THAT enter the world, let it even reign in the world – but not with my help. But writers and artists can achieve more: they can CONQUER FALSEHOOD! In the struggle with falsehood art always did win and it always does win! Openly, irrefutably for everyone! Falsehood can hold out against much in this world, but not against art.”

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For further reading:

Cornel West: We’re Witnessing the Collapse of the Legitimacy of Leadership

alex atkins bookshelf cultureCornel West, professor, public intellectual, philosopher, social critic, and civil rights activist was recently interviewed by Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday (May 31, 2020). He remarked on the recent riots sparked by the death of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. The riots began as local protests but quickly spread nationwide, stoked by America’s long history of deep-rooted, systemic racism, oppression, and entitlement as evidenced by stark inequalities in the criminal justice, health care, economic, and educational systems.

What’s going on [with racism and riots]?

“I think what we’re seeing here is the ways in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy manifests in organized hatred, greed and corruption. We’re witnessing the collapse of the legitimacy of leadership, the political class, the economic class, the professional class. That’s the deeper crisis. The beautiful thing is we’re seeing citizens who are caring and concerned, they’re hitting the streets. We’re seeing black, white, red, yellow, especially young people, coming together. [But] the problem is we have a system that’s not responding and seems to be unable to respond.”

Has the U.S. made any progress on racial issues?

“I’m not saying there hasn’t been progress; [however, to borrow from Malcolm X] if you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress. I don’t measure black progress in terms of black elites… I’m concerned about the least of these. That’s the tradition of Martin Luther King.”

Do you think that what we’re seeing in the streets — street violence, looting in African-American neighborhoods — do you think that’s doing any good for African Americans?

“No, most of my fellow citizens, God bless them, that are in the streets are there, the peaceful over there marching and when it does spill over into violence looting is wrong — but legalized looting is wrong too. Murder is wrong. Legalized murder is wrong. I look at the wickedness in high places first and then keep track of the least of these. We all have individual responsibility, but we’re living in a system that seems to be unable to reform itself and when you have such moment you get violent spillover. That’s the concern. If we’re more concerned about the property and spillover than the poverty, decrepit school systems, dilapidated housing, massive unemployment and underemployment, we’re going to be doing this every five, every ten, every twenty years… We got to make sure we don’t pass it on to our younger generation.”

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For further reading:

Riot is the Language of the Unheard

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“Let me say as I’ve always said, and I will always continue to say, that riots are socially destructive and self-defeating… But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again.”

More than 50 years ago Martin Luther King, Jr. was addressing the issues of the time — racism, poverty, and economic justice. This excerpt is from the speech titled “The Other America” that he delivered at Stanford University on April 14, 1967. Just ten days prior to that presentation, King criticized the government’s misguided efforts to address the poverty that crippled the nation: “If we spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an ill-conceived war in Vietnam and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, we can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet, right now.”

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There Should Be a Word for That: Bingegrief

alex atkins bookshelf wordsYou know the feeling well. You find a fascinating series and you binge-watch it through however many seasons exist (six to eight if you’re lucky) on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Once you’re deep in the narrative you feel emotionally connected with the characters, and you are transported to another world, cherishing every moment, and anticipating every new episode to see where the story will take your cherished characters. You can’t wait to finish each season — but a funny thing happens as you reach that last season. You slow down, and want to cherish each episode, knowing full well that the show will come to its inevitable conclusion. After the show’s finale plays, and the credits begin to scroll, you feel the bliss draining from your body, replaced by a profound sadness. You can’t believe that the show is over and you have to say to those wonderful characters.

Interestingly, there is no word for this; however, clearly, there should be! Atkins Bookshelf offers a word for modern times: bingegrief. Bingegrief is defined as the sadness that you experience after binge-watching a show that you thoroughly enjoyed. The word, pronounced “binj GREEF,” is a compound word (combining the words “binge” and “grief”). The common evolution of compound words in the English language is that they begin hyphenated and then over time, the hyphen is dropped (do you remember “pigeon-hole”, “e-mail” and “chat-room”?). Consider that back in 2007, the Oxford English Dictionary dropped the hyphen from about 16,000 compound words for their two-volume print edition. So mate, let’s just dispense with the lexicological courtship and get right to the marriage of two words. And now, let’s use this new word in a sentence: “I was overwhelmed by bingegrief on Monday morning after binge-watching Money Heist over the weekend.” O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

Depending on the quality and length of a series, bingegrief can be very pronounced — like losing a friend or breaking up with a girlfriend or boyfriend. And just like real grief, bingegrief can paralyze you with sadness and ennui for days. If you are a fan of Netflix or Amazon Prime, especially during the extended quarantine imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, you know that bingegrief is a “thing;” but for the skeptics out there — there is actually science that explains this common feeling.

In an interview with NBC News, clinical psychologist Renee Carr explains, “When engaged in an activity that’s enjoyable such as binge-watching, your brain produces dopamine. This chemical gives the body a natural, internal reward of pleasure that reinforces continued engagement in that activity. It is the brain’s signal that communicates to the body, ‘This feels good. You should keep doing this!’ When bing-watching your favorite show, your brain is continually producing dopamine, and your body experiences a drug-like high. You experience a pseudo-addiction to the show because you develop cravings for dopamine. The neural pathways that cause heroin and sex addictions are the same as the addiction to binge-watching. Your body does not discriminate against pleasure. It can become addicted to any activity or substance that consistently produces dopamine.” This intense addiction to dopamine explains why 61% of viewers regularly watch between two to six episodes of a show in one sitting, according to a survey conducted by Netflix. People are sitting on the couch and shooting up with six hours of compelling series, like Money Heist. That same survey indicated that 73% of viewers reported positive feelings associated with binge-watching. So you can imagine what happens in the brain when the delivery of dopamine comes to a screeching stop: sadness, ennui, resulting in a mad scramble to go online and seek out the next series to binge — typing “Shows to watch like Money Heist…” into Google, like a junkie, trembling with withdrawals, waiting for the next hit. I can hear that haunting melody…. O bella ciao, bella ciao, bella ciao, ciao, ciao!

Since humans are such social creatures, we also tend to bond with characters that we like or that we identify with; psychologists call this “identification” or “parasocial interaction.” This identification is stronger when both the character and their particular situation is similar to our own. In “wishful identification” the viewer is able to imagine being in the situation of the character and identifying with the protagonist’s success or power, and caring about what happens to the character. Thus, watching a show is both pleasurable and affirming, increasing the viewer’s self-esteem. Psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva explains that all of this experience becomes part of our life experience: “Our brains code all experiences, be it watched on TV, experienced live, read in a book or imagined, as ‘real’ memories. So when watching a TV program, the areas of the brain that are activated are the same as when experiencing a live event. We get drawn into story lines, become attached to characters and truly care about outcomes of conflicts.”

Naturally, after binging a show, viewers have to say goodbye to these characters, and that is when they begin feeling sad. Clinical psychologist Dr. John Mayer explains the science behind bingegrief, which is an example of situational depression — similar to the mourning we experience when we lose someone close to us: “We often go into a state of depression because of the loss we are experiencing. We call this situational depression because it is stimulated by an identifiable, tangible event. Our brain stimulation is lowered (depressed) such as in other forms of depression.” Interestingly, a study conducted by the University of Toledo found that binge-watchers reported higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who were not binge-watchers. Part of the reason is that viewers are substituting virtual relationships for real human relationships as well as the isolation that comes from binge-watching alone.

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We Live in an Age Where Social Media Lures Us Into Selfishness

alex atkins bookshelf quotations“[We] live in an age of social media where we are constantly assured that we are all independent free agents. But that free agency is essentially unconnected to real community, divorced from civic engagement, duped into believing in our own lonely primacy by a sophisticated media culture that requires you – no, desperately needs you – to live in an all-consuming disposable present, wearing the right blue jeans, driving the right car, carrying the right handbag, eating at all the right places, blissfully unaware of the historical tides that have brought us to this moment, blissfully uninterested in where those tides might take us.

Our spurious sovereignty is reinforced and perpetually underscored to our obvious and great comfort, but this kind of existence actually ingrains in us a stultifying sameness that rewards conformity (not courage), ignorance and anti-intellectualism (not critical thinking). This wouldn’t be so bad if we were just wasting our own lives, but this year our political future depends on it. And there comes a time when I – and you – can no longer remain neutral, silent. We must speak up – and speak out.”

From the commencement address delivered at Stanford University on June 12, 2016 by Ken Burns, a historical documentary filmmaker. His observations are as relevant today as they were four years ago.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by FOLLOWING or SHARING with a friend or your readers. During the coronavirus pandemic quarantines, it is a perfect time to explore the more than 1,600 articles on Bookshelf. Cheers.

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Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAs you read this, you are making history. That’s right — you are making history along with millions of other people around the globe who are sheltering in place to ensure that health professionals and essential workers are not endangered or overwhelmed. In short we are staying home to save someone’s life. In the absence of any vaccine or cure, we have to work together to get through this existential nightmare. Each day we must brace ourselves to endure the seemingly endless waves of fear, anxiety, frustration, depression, or uncertainty that wash over us. On good days, those waves are relatively low; but on bad days, the waves get so high that they drown you. And each day we must get up and renew our collective pledge: “Together we will get though this.” But it isn’t very easy. So how do we make sense of all the ceaseless “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?” How do we soldier on?

For a way out of this maw of misery, let us step back in time — specifically to June 12, 1942. We climb up the stairs to find a hidden attic apartment where a young girl, who just turned 13, has just received a special birthday gift: a red and white checkered diary. On that day, she opens it and writes her first entry: “I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.” The girl’s name? Annelies Marie Frank, better known as Anne Frank.

78 years later, Anne Frank’s personal writings, published as The Diary of a Young Girl (commonly referred to as The Diary of Anne Frank; it has sold more than 35 million copies), transcend time and place to speak to us today, amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Her diary is both a testament to the endurance of the human spirit as well as a brilliant beacon that pierces the darkness to guide us to hope, encouragement, comfort, and courage. Indeed, one of the most significant contributions of Anne Frank’s diary is the enduring power of voice. Recall William Faulkner’s powerful and eloquent observation about the duty of the writer in his Nobel acceptance speech: “I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking… I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” Amen, brother.

Another significant contribution of Anne Frank’s diary is the therapeutic value of writing a diary. Keeping a diary serves as a lens to reflect on and help understand what is happening all around us. Writing provides the welcomed opportunity to contemporaneously process all of one’s thoughts and feelings. Today, many mental health experts are suggesting that we all take a page from Anne Frank’s diary and start keeping a coronavirus diary or journal. Over the last few weeks, several articles with titles like “Why You Should Start a Coronavirus Diary” are being published as a way to help people deal with the negative impact of the coronavirus (eg, anxiety, depression, loneliness, severe illness, and death). Many people who are infected report that reading how other patients are coping with the coronavirus has a very positive healing effect.

In an interview with The New York Times, Ruth Franklin, author of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, explained, “It’s incredibly useful both for us personally and on a historical level to keep a daily record of what goes on around us during difficult times.” Herbert Braun, a professor of history at the University of Virginia adds, “We have to convince ourselves that we’re writing something that perhaps other people want or need to read… When we write these words, they don’t have to be great. They don’t have to be perfect.” The critical thing is that years from now, future generations will want to know what people went through. One archivist said it best: “Some of the best stories we get are from ordinary people who are experiencing something extraordinary.”

Another article by the Los Angeles Times titled “Coronavirus Diaries are Helping People Cope — They’re Also a Research Gold Mine” highlights how infected individuals who post COVID-19 diaries are helping many others who cannot see a doctor or obtain tests. The diaries help readers self-diagnose or confirm symptoms. The coronavirus diaries also help guide others through the illness so they know what to expect and learn what remedies to explore. Sean Young, an associate professor at UCLA who studies digital behavior noted that people turn to social media doing a health crisis: “When the government is inconsistent in their messaging, then that creates confusion, fear and chaos. People want to share their symptoms because they’re looking for a community. They’re looking to find out how other people have recovered with similar symptoms. It’s a good resource to hear from others if it makes us feel better, if it doesn’t make us feel more anxious.” The information gleaned from diaries is also a big help to researchers who are studying the coronavirus pandemic. Of course, while turning to coronavirus diaries can help reduce anxiety, the flip side is that diaries can also spread misinformation that can be dangerous — or even lethal. So readers need to do some research on what they read.

So how do you get started on writing a coronavirus diary? Simple — start writing about today. You can take the old school approach and write in a specially bound journal or a spiral-bound notebook. Or you can take the digital route and create a Google document, a Word document, or start a daily blog. Begin with questions like: what did I do today? What did you read about or learn in the news that caught your attention? How did that news make you feel? What reflections did that news evoke? What did you learn about a colleague, friend, or relative today? What were your thoughts or feelings about that news? What is the saddest thing that happened today? What made you happy today? What did you read, hear, or watch that inspired you to get through the day?

If you need inspiration, read some of the current coronavirus diaries online, or curl up with The Diary of Anne Frank. Who knows — one day students will be reading from your diary and understanding what it was really like to live through America’s deadliest pandemic and most crippling financial recession. And like Anne Frank’s diary it will inspire them to endure whatever hardships they might be facing.

Are you writing a coronavirus journal? How is it helping you to cope?

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For further reading: Anne Frank: Her Life and Legacy by the editor of Life Magazine

The Coronavirus Rhapsody as Music Therapy

alex atkins bookshelf musicThis is a challenging time for most Americans, especially if you have been watching many hours of news each day while sheltering in place. According to a recent poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 45% of adults say that the pandemic has affected their mental health; 19% of respondents indicated that the pandemic has a “major impact.” Mixing social isolation with unemployment with the fear of getting ill and possibly dying makes a toxic mental health cocktail. Consequently, millions of people in America — and all around the globe — are experiencing the same conditions: anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Interviewed for The Washington Post, Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster notes the importance of staying connected: “It’s also important to remember that the vast majority of people, including all of us who are experiencing difficulties along the way, will ultimately do well. Finding and sharing creative solutions to the problems people are facing, taking care of ourselves and our families in the best way we are able, and staying connected to one another will remind us we are in this together and help us get through this difficult time.”

And many people are doing just that — with the luxury of time afforded by being self-quarantined, people are finding very creative ways to deal with current climate of stress and anxiety. And what is one of the most therapeutic tools? That’s right — music. Extensive research has been done with music as a therapeutic tool to increase relaxation, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, promote optimism, induce meditative states, reduce loneliness, relieve boredom, and so forth. There is another powerful tool… ever heard the adage “laughter is the best medicine”? Many of the most successful comedians use their personal difficulties as fodder for their humor; and by baring them and making fun of them, they disarm feelings of despair and anxiety. It is a cathartic experience for the comedian and a therapeutic experience for the audience.

So what happens when you mix these two tools, music and comedy? You get the incredibly delightful and therapeutic tool of the music parody. To that end, singer Adrian Grimes and comedian Dana Jay Bein recorded the delightful Coronavirus Rhapsody, a parody of Queen’s hit song, Bohemian Rhapsody, from the album A Night at the Opera (1975). Here are the clever lyrics.

Coronavirus Rhapsody

Is this a fever?
Is this just allergies?
Caught in a lockdown
No escape from the family
Don’t touch your eyes
Just hand sanitize quickly
I’m just a poor boy
No job security
Because of easy spread
Even though
I washed my hands
Laying low
I look out the window
The curve doesn’t look flatter
To me… to me

Mama, I just killed a man
I didn’t stay inside in bed
I walked past him, now he’s dead
Mama, life was so much fun
But now I’ve got this unforgiving plague
Mama, oooooh
I didn’t mean to make them die
If I’m not back to work this time tomorrow
Carry on, carry on
As if people didn’t matter

Too late, my time has come
Send shivers down my spine
Social isolation time
Goodbye everybody
I hope its just the flu
I’ve got to leave you all behind and face the truth
Mama (Chorus: just look out your window)
I don’t wanna die
I sometimes wish I never went out at all

I see a little silhouette of a man
(What a douche, what a douche
Did he even wash his hands though
No toilet paper frightening
Very very frightening me
Gotta lay low, gotta lay low, gotta lay low, gotta lay low
wait… what did he say?)

I’m just a poor boy, facing mortality
(He’s just a poor boy facing mortality
Spare him his life from this monstrosity

(Touch your face, wash your hands;
Will you wash your hands?
Bismillah! No! We will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Bismillah! We will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Bismillah! We will not wash our hands
Will not wash our hands
Wash your hands
Never, never wash our hands
Never no — no! no! no! no! no! no! no!
Oh Mama mia, Mama mia,
Mama mia, wash your hands)
COVID-19 has a sickness put aside for me, for me, for me

So you think you can stop me and just shake my hand?
So you think we can hang out and not break our plans?
Oh baby! Can’t do this with me baby
Just gotta stay home
I hope I don’t run out of beer

(Oooooooh…. ooh yeah! ooh yeah!)
The curve could get much flatter
Anyone can see
The curve could get much flatter
You know it’s your responsibility
Just look out your window

Like COVID-19, the song has gone um… viral. As of this writing the music video has been viewed more than 4.1 million times. But not everyone is a fan of the parody. In an interview, Grimes elaborates, “I’ve had a few comments suggesting that this is ‘insensitive.’ I want to emphasize that I know where these people are coming from. My wife works in healthcare and I have two young kids. I know very well how this virus could impact my family. Every day that my wife goes to work, I hope it is another ‘bonus’ day we get together before the wave hits and I don’t have to quarantine her and stop our children from hugging her. However, I hope that even in those circumstances, should they occur, I will still be able to maintain a sense of humor, and a lot of comments from people already affected by coronavirus have told me how much they appreciate this. I thank you for your understanding in these unprecedented times.”

Listen to the song here:

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What is the Trolley Problem?

alex atkins bookshelf cultureNo, the trolley problem has nothing to do with bewildered tourists in San Francisco who don’t know which trolley to take: the Powell/Hyde line or the California/Van Ness line? Rather, the trolley problem is a thought experiment in ethics or moral psychology. The trolley problem is set up like this: Imagine there is a runaway trolley barreling down the tracks and you are standing some distance off, right next to a lever that controls the direction of the tracks. In the lever’s current position the trolley will travel straight, leading to five people standing on the main track; if you pull the lever, it will divert the trolley to a side track where one person is standing. What is the ethical thing to do? Do nothing and allow the trolley to kill five people? Or pull the lever, diverting the trolley to a side track where it will kill one person? Not an easy decision to make is it?

In ethics, the trolley problem sets up a clash between two schools of moral thought: deontology and utilitarianism. A deontologist would argue that the morality of an action is based on whether an action itself is right or wrong under a set of rules, rather than the consequences of the action. In short, the action is more critical than the consequences. The utilitarian would argue the opposite: that an action is right as long as it promotes the greatest happiness for the greatest number. If you are a fan of the original sci-fi series, Star Trek, from the late 1960s, you will recognize the theme of utilitarianism that is woven into many episodes: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”  We can paraphrase the Star Trek aphorism to align more closely to true utilitarianism: “The happiness of the many outweigh the happiness of the few.” And in contrast with the deontologist, the consequences are more critical than the act.

On another level, the trolley problem represents a Cornelian dilemma: a dilemma where a person must choose between two courses of action that either of which will have a harmful effect on themselves or others. The phrase is named after Pierre Corneille, a French dramatist. In his play, Le Cid (1636), Rodrigue, the protagonist, must choose between seeking revenge and losing his beloved or forego revenge and losing his honor.

So what are you — a deontologist or a utilitarian? What would you do in this difficult situation? Philosophers and psychologist are fascinated with this moral dilemma, and many studies and surveys have been done to study how people respond to the trolley problem. In many surveys, 90% of the respondents choose to pull the lever and sacrifice one live to save the five people. A survey of professional philosophers conducted in 2009 revealed that 70% of them would pull the lever, 8% would not, and 22% could not answer or offered another view.

Why is the trolley problem relevant now? As the COVID-10 pandemic overwhelms medical facilities and supplies, doctors find themselves at the very levers of disease’s tracks. Doctors have reported that they face agonizing decisions about which patients to treat and save, and those not to treat which will result in death. In most, if not all cases, doctors are making utilitarian decisions: the lives of the many outweigh the lives of the few.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

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What is the Word for Two Bad Choices?

The Deadliest Pandemics in History

alex atkins bookshelf cultureAs of this writing, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has claimed 7,100 lives around the globe (80 of those have been in the U.S.). There is an estimated 181,000 people who have contracted the virus (4,300 of those are Americans). Unfortunately, COVID-19 is just getting started. As many experts have stated, it is going to get worse before it gets better. So that invites the question, how does COVID-19 stack up against some of the deadliest pandemics in human history?

Before we get to that, let’s clarify the difference between an epidemic and a pandemic. An epidemic is the rapid spread of a disease across a specific region or regions. Once that disease spreads from country to country around the globe, it is classified as a pandemic. Thus, all pandemics begin as epidemics; however — and fortunately — not all epidemics become pandemics. In general, pandemics result in more fatalities than epidemics. One notable exception is the Cocoliztli epidemic (also known as “The Great Pestilence”) that occurred in 1545 resulting in 12-15 million deaths in Mexico. The native Aztecs succumbed to the lethal disease brought by the Spanish conquistadors, led by Hernan Cortes. The Aztecs were particularly vulnerable due to a variety of factors: weakened immunity, exacerbated by years of disease after a long drought, on top of a deadly outbreak of smallpox in 1520, also introduced by the Spanish, that resulted in more than 8 million deaths. 

When you review the list of the deadliest pandemics in human history, you realize that the mortality rate of the COVID-19 is relatively low so far — but that can change as quickly as a virus can mutate. Here are the deadliest pandemics in human history, in descending order:

The Black Death (Bubonic Plague; in the Middle Ages it was referred to as “The Great Mortality”) pandemic: 1346-1353
Origin: Central or East Asia
Death toll: 75-200 million

Plague of Justinian: 541-542
Origin: Byzantine Empire (the capital was Constantinople, what is now Istanbul, Turkey) and port cities around the Mediterranean Sea
Death toll: 25-50 million

HIV/AIDS pandemic: 2005-2012
Origin: Democratic Republic of Congo
Death toll: 36 million

Antonine Plague (also known as the Plague of Galen): 165-180
Origin: Aisa Minor
Death Toll: 5 million

Asian flu pandemic: 1956-58
Origin: Guizhou, China
Death toll: 2 million

Russian or Asiatic flu pandemic: 1889-1890
Origin: Bukhara, Turkestan (what is now Uzbekistan)
Death toll: 1 million

Hong Kong flu pandemic: 1968
Origin: Hong Kong
Death toll: 1 million

Third cholera pandemic: 1852-1860
Origin: India
Death toll: 1 million

Sixth cholera pandemic: 1910-11
Origin: India
Death toll: 800,000

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Euphemisms for Death
What is the Oldest Object in the World?
What is the World’s Biggest Problem?
Famous People Who Died on the Same Day

For further reading: The Black Death, The Great Mortality of 1348-1350 by John Aberth
Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico by Miguel Leon-Portilla


How Many Hours Does It Take to Make a Friend?

alex atkins bookshelf culture“Friendship is not about whom you know the longest,” observed the Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho, “It is about who came and never left.” There’s a lot of truth in that statement — and now there is research that confirms it. Psychologist Jeffrey Hall and his colleagues from the University of Kansas recently placed friendship under the microscope, as it were. In his study, titled “How Many Hours Does It Take to Make A Friend” published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (March 15, 2018), Hall reviews some of the fascinating findings from previous studies on friendship:

• Having friends is a key predictor of life satisfaction and happiness.

• The quality and number and of social interactions that occur early in life can predict loneliness, well-being, and depression thirty years later.

• Despite well-documented benefits, people do not always prioritize spending time with friends. Americans only spend about 41 minutes a day socializing — which accounts for one-third of the amount of time spent commuting or watching television. Given significant constraints on free time, especially among working adults and parents, individuals must budget their time wisely in order to make time for friends.

• Factors that promote the development of friendship are proximity, spending time together, and shared activities.

• Due to cognitive and temporal constraints there is a limit to the number of friends that a person can have: research suggests that limit is approximately 150. Sorry, so-called friends on Facebook don’t really count.

• Research has identified five distinct types of friends. In order of decreasing closeness they are (number in parenthesis indicate range of individuals within that category): support clique (1-5 individuals), sympathy group (10-15), friendship group (40-50), clansmen (120-150), and acquaintances. Perhaps we can add to that list a sixth type, Facebook friends, which can be described as “fluctuating, unreliable members of a digital community with a tenuous connection to an individual.”

• Potential friends make fairly rapid assessments of the likability and desirability of a potential friend and subsequently decide to spend time together. This rapid selection process creates a group of similar and liked individuals from which deeper friendships can grow

• Longitudinal studies of friendship development indicate that friendship development happens rather swiftly, usually within three to nine weeks after the initial meeting. It then takes three to four months for close friendships to develop. Thus, while it is possible to know someone for many years, but not become friends, it is possible to become best friends with someone you have known for just six weeks.

• An early study in 1965 found that people become friends after spending about 60 of hours together. A later study in 1988 found that people become friends after three interactions of half an hour plus an initial interaction of less than six hours of close personal interaction.

Hall’s recent study was based on the Communicate Bond Belong (CBB) theory. Hall explains, “[CBB] offers an evolutionary perspective on interpersonal communication that focus on the underlying need to belong in relation to the amount and content of social interactions. CBB theory affirms… that there are limits on human sociability and time. The theory asserts that both the amount of time and the type of activity shared with a partner can be thought of as strategic investments toward satiating long-term belongingness needs. As the need to belong is thought to be ultimately satiated only through the possession of enduring, close relationships, CBB theory asserts that humans must carefully invest their available time and social energy in ways most likely to create promising new relationships or to cement existing ones. Yet, each relationship requires ongoing investments of hours of time and energy, particularly among non-kin. Therefore, time spent together, especially leisure time, can be thought of as an investment toward future returns on belongingness need satiation…. The theory proposes that some types of social interaction are more capable of satiating individuals’ need to belong than others. Certain communication episodes, such as meaningful conversation, catching up, joking around, and affectionate communication, are associated with a higher degree of in-the-moment closeness and well-being than do all other types of everyday talk.”

Hall conducted two studies with two groups of individuals over several months. In the study, a close friendship was measured by three factors: emotional closeness, commitment to relationship, and the perceived uniqueness of the individual. The studies confirmed that time is an important constraint of friendship and that measuring time spent together is predictive of friendship. The following are the specific findings from Hall’s studies:

• Relationships with less than 10 hours of shared time result in acquaintances or “friends of friends.”

• It takes about 30 hours to form a casual friendship.

• It takes about 50 hours to form a friendship.

• It takes about 140 hours to form a good friendship.

• It takes about 300 hours to form a best friend.

• Casual friends become friends between 57 hours over 3 weeks and 164 hours over 3 months.

• Friends become good or best friends after 119 hours over 3 weeks and 219 hours over 3 months.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Doublets: The Importance of Friendships
The Most Important Qualities of a Friend

How to Grieve for a Departed Friend
Life is to be Fortified by Many Friends
What is a False Friend?
Why is it More Important to Have Close Friendships Than to Be Popular in High School?
Can You Fall in Love in 36 Questions?

For further reading:

Blogging by the Numbers

alex atkins bookshelf cultureTo paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To blog or not to blog: that is the question / Whether tis nobler in the mind to to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or take arms against a sea of troubles / And by writing about them, feeling liberated or validated.” Just ponder this for a moment: what would the Internet be like without blogging? The proliferation of blogs over the last two decades confirms that people truly long for sharing what they think, what they feel. Moreover, they long for connection via meaningful dialog as well as a sense of belonging (the global community of internet. Note how well this aligns with the mid-point of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: need to belong: love, affection friendship, tribes. That is why the comments section is such a vital part of the blogging platform. In a typical social situation, you sit across a friend or two and connect with them by sharing your thoughts; a blog is that scenario multiplied exponentially — now you are sitting across 31.7 million people (those on blogging platforms) and as many as 4.5 billion people (those who use the internet). But, hey, no pressure.

As of this writing, there are 1.75 billion websites on the internet and blogs make up slightly over one quarter of all those. So why do people blog? The five top reasons why people write a blog are: become self-employed, express myself creatively, build an audience, teach what I know, and earn more money. So what are you waiting for? Don’t end up like Hamlet with chronic analysis paralysis — start your blog today and connect with millions of potential readers!

At last, for your enlightenment and inspiration, here’s a look at blogging by the numbers:

Number of blogs on the internet: 500 million

Number of blogs posts published each year: 2 billion

Number of blog posts published each day: 5.7 million

Number of blog posts published each minute: 4,000

Number of active bloggers: 31 million

Percentage of internet users that read blogs: 77%

Percentage of readers who skim posts: 43%

Most popular time to read blogs: 7:00 am to 10:00 am

Number of blogs hosted on Tumbler: 440 million

Number of blogs hosted on WordPress: 60 million

Number of new WordPress posts produced each month: 70 million

Number of WordPress blogs read each month: 21.1 billion

Number of comments made by WordPress users each month: 77 million

Percentage of users who profit from blogging: 10%

Percentage of blog posts written in English: 71%

Number of words in a title that produce highest traffic: 6-13

Percentage of readers who share posts with others: 94%

Percentage of reader who share a post without reading it: 59%

Percentage of traffic created by older blog content: 38%

Percentage of bloggers who update older posts: 38%

Average word count of top-ranking blog posts: 1200 (taking about 6 minutes to read)

Average time it takes to write a blog post: 3.5 hours

Percentage of bloggers who edit their own work: 46%

Percentage of bloggers who write a few times per month: 66%

Height of stack of paper if you printed all those blog posts: 3,277 miles tall

Percentage of websites that have a blog: 25%

Read related posts: What is the Most Popular Blogging Topic?
Best Writing Advice From Famous Writers
Where Do Writers Get Their Ideas?
Day Jobs of Famous Writers
Best Books for Writers

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

For further reading:

What Makes Facebook So Popular?

alex atkins bookshelf culture“What makes Facebook so popular? What makes Facebook so unique is that it is able to marry two of the most powerful human emotions: narcissism and insecurity. First, Facebook allows you to create a world that centers on you. Then it lets you protect that world by surrounding it with only people you accept as friends. It’s like controlling the guest list to an exclusive party where you are the star. Facebook allows you to feel important and safe — at the same time.”

Brant Pinvidic, from his documentary Why I’m Not on Facebook (2015). The documentary was inspired by Pinvidic’s question: should I or shouldn’t I join Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site with more than 1.6 billion users? To answer that question, Pinvidic interviews dozens of people, including Facebook members, those who hate Facebook, the original founders of Facebook, celebrities, wannabe celebrities, Facebook friends, real friends, and family members. He learns how Facebook can bring out the best in people (families staying in touch, classmates who organize reunions, and sharing hobbies) as well as the worst in people (unfaithful spouses who cheat and destroy their marriages, criminals who learn about their targets and when to rob a home, pick-up artists who set up one-night stands, serial stalkers, and people who are so highly addicted to Facebook that they cannot have a face-to-face conversation — ironic huh?). Even though Facebook is about bringing people together, it also breaks them apart: about 30% of divorces are due to Facebook. Pinvidic also meets with Dr. Drew Pinsky who introduces him to the Dr. Drew Narcissism Test, from his book The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism Is Seducing America, that helps assess an individual’s level of narcissism. Incidentally, the score for a typical person is 15; a highly narcissistic person will score 40. Pinvidic took the test and his score was both revelatory and disturbing. He couldn’t leave Dr. Drew’s office fast enough. Ultimately, at the end of his quest for enlightenment of all things Facebook, Pinvidic discovers that the happiest people are the ones who are not on Facebook — so he decides not to join Facebook.

SHARE THE LOVE: If you enjoyed this post, please help expand the Bookshelf community by sharing with a friend or with your readers. Do you agree or disagree; additional perspectives? I welcome thoughtful discussion via comment section or email. Be a part of the community. Cheers.

Read related posts: Will We Have Free and Fair Elections Ever Again?
We’re All Looking for Connection
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The Impact of Smartphones on Society

For further reading: