February 8, 2021

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


How the pandemic has affected mental health internet searches (JAIMEE BELL, 08 February, 2021, Big Think)

In this study, limited social contact had people searching terms such as "isolation" and "worry."

Findings from this study indicated that social limits (on restaurants and bars, for example) and stay-at-home orders correlated with immediate increases in searches for the terms "isolation" and "worry" - but the effects within a few weeks.

The beginning of the pandemic showed significant spikes in mental health symptom searches.

"At the outset of the pandemic, consistent with prior research, social distancing policies correlated with a spike in searches about how to deal with isolation and worry, which shouldn't be surprising," said co-author Dolores Albarracín, Ph.D. "Generally speaking, if you have a pandemic or an economic shock, that's going to produce its own level of anxiety, depression, and negative feelings, and we had both with COVID-19."

Within two to four weeks of peaking, however, such searches tapered off, the study showed.

Why would mental health-related searches taper off when the pandemic was still raging on? This study found that more time spent with family (or working from home, taking up new hobbies due to isolation) because of the stay-at-home orders could have lead to improvements in health and may counteract any potential negative health effect of the isolation policies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Forget the Gym: Walking Is the Superior Form of Exercise (Will Self, Jan. 22nd, 2021, Men's Health)

The great virtue of walking as a serious pursuit is that it requires nothing by way of equipment or specialist kit except the comfortable and hard-wearing shoes you already possess. There are no joining fees to walk, and you certainly won't feel body-shamed by your fellow pedestrians, many of whom will be pensioners on their way to the shops. Walking is also by its nature spontaneous: you do it all the time, anyway, so why not simply increase the amount you do? The pensioners are strolling to the shops. So can you. And you can do it even if the shops are a lot further off. Which brings me to my main selling point for new-entrant walkers: its immediacy is what makes walking so appealing. There's no need to locate a venue; you simply get up and walk out whichever door is nearest. I'm fairly rigorous about this aspect of walking, and I think it's key to the success of the entire enterprise. Indeed, while I can just about accept driving to take a walk in a particularly beautiful or interesting place, for me, the really life-sustaining walks are the ones I take from wherever I happen to be.

If I'm in the country, I walk in that countryside. If I'm in the city, I walk in that built environment. And if I'm in Selly Oak on a wet Sunday afternoon in January, then I take a walk in Selly Oak. Walking is the way I bring my mind and body together through being actively in the place I am, rather than trying to avoid it by travelling somewhere else, or blot it out by filling one or other of my senses with quite other environments.

The most conspicuous example of this is music, via headphones or car stereo, so as to make a soundtrack for the film of your life - which is really, when you think about it, creating a giant, imaginary screen around your experience of the world. I know, you're thinking, "But Selly Oak (or Southampton, or Selhurst, for that matter) is pretty boring on a wet Sunday afternoon in January." To which I can only reply with one of those exquisitely annoying parental formulations: if you're bored, it's because you're boring. And by "boring", I mean unwilling to take an interest in anything that doesn't immediately appeal to you.

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Let me reinforce this with an anecdote. I once went to Easter Island, the most remote inhabited island in the world and one of the most exotic and extraordinary places to boot. The friend I went with was not a walker - though he did have other virtues - but gamely agreed, in principle, to join me for some hikes. The first attempt I made to hold him to his promise was also the last. We had driven to the north end of the island, where there's an extinct volcano, Poike. It's an extraordinary sight: an eminence of some 370m, entirely covered in grass, but with two quartz-glinting granitic outcrops on its shoulder, like epaulettes on a military officer's tunic. We parked our hire car and began walking towards it - the giant, bright-green knoll, outlined by the deep ultramarine of the mid-Pacific Ocean. After no longer than five minutes, my companion - a famous artist - groaned: "I'm bored." And I struggled hard not to pick up one of the chunks of quartz lying in the grass and use it to bash his brains in.

Which is all by way of illustrating this point: you cannot come to walking expecting some sort of quick fix. This is the ultimate slow activity. Yet once you've attuned yourself to the leisurely progress you're making, you start to appreciate the extraordinary benefits. For one, as you're not on an A-to-B journey with a specific aim in mind, you really can forget about any reward associated with arrival - such as the endorphin hit beloved of our running brethren - and instead abandon yourself to the pleasures of transit itself. In a car, or even on a bike, the world's contours are ironed out for you, but on foot there's a direct correlation between your muscle movements and your senses. The play of the breeze, the sunshine (and, naturally, the rain) on your face and any exposed flesh; the swish of grasses and other herbage against your legs; the smells and the sights - the walker is constantly surveying the territory he moves through with a full 360° panoramic viewing.

Moreover, unlike anyone using mechanised transport, he also has - returned to him, as it were - the foreground, which for most, most of the time, is reduced to a blur. The walker, if he consents not to be bored, has returned to him those vestigial senses of exteroception (the dispensation of objects in the vicinity), proprioception (awareness of the dispensation of his own body), and even interoception - that hearkening to the movements of our internal organs that, for the most part, we repress.

Furthermore, the car driver, the train and plane passenger - they all see the world around them as a series of detached views, but the walker is resolutely rooted in that world, his calves aching as he ascends a hill, his knees taking up the strain as he descends.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Married couples have weathered Covid storm well, study finds (Christianity Today,  08 February 2021)

The number of couples considering divorce dropped by two-thirds during the pandemic, according to a new study. 

Between 2017-19, an average of 2.5 per cent of married dads and 5.6 per cent of married mums said they were considering divorce. 

But by June 2020, three months after the start of the first UK lockdown, this had fallen to 0.6 per cent of married dads and 1.1 per cent of married mums.

No one will miss workplaces.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


British Euroscepticism: a brief history (Toby Helm, 2/06/16,  Observer)

Margaret Thatcher had campaigned to stay in the EEC in 1975, four years before becoming prime minister, and signed the Single European Act in 1986. But she came to despair of the European project. Her Bruges speech of 1988 became a template for a new generation of Tory sceptics. It was not given to put the country on course for an exit, but to limit Europe's ambitions. "To try to suppress nationhood and concentrate power at the centre of a European conglomerate would be highly damaging and would jeopardise the objectives we seek to achieve," Thatcher said. Tory Eurosceptics were inspired. Increasingly, they believed the original vision of a trading area had been supplanted by Franco-German ambitions for political and economic union. As the centre of gravity shifted in both main parties, Labour under Neil Kinnock embraced a social Europe, albeit with resistance from unions and the left. Thatcher's increasingly strident scepticism put her at odds with key members of her cabinet, including Michael Heseltine, and hastened her downfall.

The free flow of goods and people is the only area where nations need to surrender some sovereignty.  
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


South Korea unveils $43 billion plan for world's largest offshore wind farm (Hyonhee Shin, 2/08/21, Reuters) 

South Korea unveiled a 48.5 trillion won ($43.2 billion) plan to build the world's largest wind power plant by 2030 as part of efforts to foster an environmentally-friendly recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project is a major component of President Moon Jae-in's Green New Deal, initiated last year to curb reliance on fossil fuels in Asia's fourth-largest economy and make it carbon neutral by 2050. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


The Conservative Virtues Of Romney's Child Allowance (Steve Chapman, Feb. 7th, 2021, National Memo)

He has unveiled a major proposal to provide $350 per month ($4,200 per year) to every child in America up to the age of 6, as well as $250 per month ($3,000 per year) to every child age 6 to 17. Each family would be limited to a maximum of $1,250 per month ($15,000 per year). The program would be a model of simplicity, with the Social Security Administration mailing out checks every month. That's a big difference from the Earned Income Tax Credit, which typically provides cash only in one lump sum after the tax year ends.

"This plan," Romney says, "would immediately lift nearly three million children out of poverty, while providing a bridge to the middle class." There is also an unexpected bonus: Because it would trim other programs and repeal the federal deduction for state and local taxes, it would have a net budgetary cost of zero.

To hardline conservatives, this proposal may sound like a left-wing dream, vastly expanding dependence on federal handouts. But to anyone who thinks we have a collective responsibility to prevent serious hardship among innocent people, particularly those too young to fend for themselves, it represents a giant step toward a more humane social welfare system that also advances sound conservative principles.

The idea of fighting poverty with direct cash has an intellectual pedigree that notably includes Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, who advised Republican presidents and was revered on the right. He proposed payments through a "negative income tax," which he argued was a more effective, efficient remedy for poverty than a hodgepodge of programs that somehow spent far more money than the supposed beneficiaries ever got.

Romney's plan has the same virtue. It mirrors a proposal by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sherrod Brown of Ohio thiat enjoys broad support among congressional Democrats. A report from the centrist Niskanen Center in Washington, "The Conservative Case for a Child Allowance," concluded that Romney's plan would reduce child poverty by one-third. Ernie Tedeschi, a Treasury economist in the Obama administration, told The Washington Post it would be "among the most pro-family, anti-poverty policies in a generation."

Equally exciting is the Democrats adopting means-testing. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Why Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are at odds (Josh Kraushaar, Feb. 7, 2021, National Journal)

The two leaders' contradictory approaches to managing a volatile caucus stem from another election when the party was forced to deal with a grassroots rebellion in an opposing president's first two years in office--the 2010 midterms. At the time, Republicans were benefiting from the energy of the tea-party movement, which helped them win 63 House seats and control of the chamber. McCarthy, then on the fast track within leadership, branded himself (along with Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan) as part of a new generation of conservative leadership, the "Young Guns."

The wave election brought a bunch of right-wing, antiestablishment figures into the party. That freshman class included: Allen West, now a Texas GOP chairman supporting his state's secession from the country; Paul Gosar, one of the most right-wing members of Congress, who reportedly helped plan the Jan. 6 rally; Michael Grimm, who threatened to "break in half" a reporter for asking a question; and Blake Farenthold, a radio DJ who later used public funds to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit. At the same time, the freshman class also included a future secretary of State (Mike Pompeo), future senators (Cory Gardner, Tim Scott, Todd Young, James Lankford) and rising mainstream leaders within the caucus (Adam Kinzinger, Steve Stivers, Jaime Herrera Beutler). Despite those divisions, Republicans held their House majority for the next eight years.

For McConnell, the 2010 results were bittersweet. His party gained back six Senate seats--an impressive total--but fell short in several winnable races in which exotic GOP candidates were nominated. A candidate who once dabbled in witchcraft defeated a respected longtime GOP congressman in Biden's home state of Delaware. A radical state lawmaker in Nevada, who in her campaign warned about the threat of Sharia law, ended up being the party's embarrassing standard bearer in Nevada. Now-Rep. Ken Buck, the tea-party-aligned candidate in Colorado, upset the establishment favorite before losing to Democratic Sen Michael Bennet. It took McConnell four more years, after he finally decided to aggressively oppose unelectable candidates in primaries, to become majority leader.

In Senate races, the quality of candidates matters a lot more than in House races, where voters tend to cast predictable party-line votes.