Suggested reading: Is spreading medical misinformation a doctor’s free speech right?

by Steven Lee Myers

When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill that would punish California doctors for spreading false information about Covid-19 vaccines and treatments, he pledged that it would apply only in the most “egregious instances” of misleading patients.

It may never have the chance.

Even before the law, the nation’s first of its kind, takes effect on Jan. 1, it faces two legal challenges seeking to declare it an unconstitutional infringement of free speech. The plaintiffs include doctors who have spoken out against government and expert recommendations during the pandemic, as well as legal organizations from both sides of the political spectrum.

“Our system opts toward a presumption that speech is protected,” said Hannah Kieschnick, a lawyer for the Northern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in favor of one of the challenges, filed last month in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

That lawsuit and another, filed this month in the Eastern District of California, have become an extension of the broader cultural battle over the Covid-19 pandemic, which continues to divide Americans along stark partisan lines. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: Plato was not White

by Nathan P. Gilmour

Another teaching semester is about to ramp up, and as is often the case, I have some Platonic dialogues lined up to teach. I’ve taught at least one dialogue in almost every semester since about 2005, and on the campus of Emmanuel College, where I’ve taught since 2009, people who know about me at all know about me as “that Plato guy.” My sense is that the relatively few people who know about me on the Internet regard me likewise.

Perhaps that professional investment in Plato (personally, I’m more of a postmodern Augustinian with leanings towards MacIntyre’s brand of neo-Thomism) has made me more irritable than I should be when the old Athenian ends up in the crosshairs of well-meaning folks who wish to set right the balance of power and take away the overlordship (I prefer that Anglo-Saxon compound word to the Hellenism “hegemony,” and I grant the irony) from “dead white males.” I think the political questions there are fascinating, but a matter of some historical import gets in the way of the politics, if one isn’t careful: Plato wasn’t White. … (continue at The Christian Humanist)

Suggested reading: Watching ‘The Crown’ with Britain’s anti-monarchists: ‘I feel queasy’

by Alex Marshall

On Monday evening, Finna Ayres and Matt Turnbull met in Ayres’s London home to do something their friends would have found shocking: watch the latest season of “The Crown,”Netflix’s show about the ins and outs of Britain’s royal family.

Ayres, 80, a retired architect, and Turnbull, 35, a brand strategist, are members of Republic, an organization that wants to abolish Britain’s monarchy in favor of an elected head of state. Neither were fans of the show, but had agreed to watch the new season as an experiment.

The evening ahead was such a potentially unsettling experience that Turnbull had brought two packs of beer with him. “If I’m going to sit through a hagiography for the royal family, I need to be lubricated,” he said. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: The problem with letting therapy-speak invade everything

by Tara Isabella Burton

If the language of the internet is anything to go by, America’s collective mental health is in shambles. Before the midterms, some of us were suffering from “election stress disorder”; others have left Elon Musk-acquired Twitter as an act of boundary-setting. Our political lives have become saturated with the language and imagery of therapy. Our personal lives too: The language of “trauma” and “attachment styles” has become a common way to understand ourselves and our relationships.

Increased awareness of the importance of mental health is no bad thing, especially in the aftermath of a punishing pandemic. But in many cases, the prevalence of what The New Yorker’s Katy Waldman has termed “Instagram therapy” has exacerbated a broader cultural trend toward solipsism, masquerading as “self-care.” The idea of self-care, in turn, has been largely divorced from its links to activism and is now often used to frame individual pleasurable actions, like taking a bubble bath or canceling plans, as morally worthy, even necessary. The exhortation to take care of ourselves, to protect our mental well-being at any cost, has become a mantra for a newly dominant ideology. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: Are trees talking underground? For scientists, it’s in dispute

by Gabriel Popkin

Justine Karst, a mycologist at the University of Alberta, feared things had gone too far when her son got home from eighth grade and told her he had learned that trees could talk to each other through underground networks.

Her colleague, Jason Hoeksema of the University of Mississippi, had a similar feeling when watching an episode of “Ted Lasso” in which one soccer coach told another that trees in a forest cooperated rather than competed for resources.

Few recent scientific discoveries have captured the public’s imagination quite like the wood-wide web — a wispy network of fungal filaments hypothesized to shuttle nutrients and information through the soil and to help forests thrive. The idea sprouted in the late 1990s from studies showing that sugars and nutrients can flow underground between trees. In a few forests, researchers have traced fungi from the roots of one tree to those of others, suggesting that mycelial threads could be providing conduits between trees.

These findings have challenged the conventional view of forests as a mere population of trees: Trees and fungi are, in fact, coequal players on the ecological stage, scientists say. Without both, forests as we know them wouldn’t exist. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: The gendered ape–Those embarrassing bonobos!

by Frans de Waal

It’s not always easy to talk about bonobos at academic gatherings. There is no issue with fellow primatologists, who are used to straightforward descriptions of sexual behavior and know the recent evidence. But it’s different with people outside my field, such as anthropologists, philosophers, or psychologists. They become fidgety, scratch their heads, snicker, or adopt a puzzled look. Why do bonobos stump them?

One reason for the discomfort is excessive shyness about erotic behavior, which bonobos exhibit in all positions that we can imagine, and even some that we can’t. Moreover, these apes do it in all partner combinations. People assume that animals use sex only for reproduction, but I estimate that three quarters of bonobo sex has nothing to do with it. … (continue at 3QuarksDaily)

Suggested reading: In the political talk show race, outrage is winning

by Tressie McMillan Cottom

Trevor Noah recently surprised fans (and, according to some accounts, also Comedy Central management) when he announced plans to leave “The Daily Show.” His departure is one of many notable personnel changes in late-night television: James Corden will leave “The Late Late Show” next year, TBS canceled “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” and Desus and Mero broke up with each other and their hugely successful Showtime late-night show beloved by a diverse viewership of millennials.

Prominent entertainers leave jobs all the time, but media watchers see something more systemic in the recent spate of departures. Dylan Byers describes the “contracting genre” as an economic problem: “The eight-figure late-night host increasingly doesn’t match the new economics of the late-night business.” The economics used to look like big advertisers paying for a captive audience that tuned in for pulpy takes on mainstream American culture.

But audiences have not been flocking to late-night television for some time. Advertisers have continued to support the time slot not necessarily because it works but because there was little else competing for the late-night audience. Throwing good money after bad, as it were. That cannot last forever. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: I didn’t know my mind was so strange until I started listening to it

by Phil Jaekl


One fine spring afternoon this year, as I was out running errands in the small Norwegian town where I live, a loud beep startled me into awareness. What had just been on my mind? After a moment’s pause, I realized something strange. I’d been thinking two things at the same time—rehearsing the combination of a new bike lock and contemplating whether I should wear the clunky white beeper that had just sounded into a bank.

How, I wondered, could I have been saying two things simultaneously in my mind? Was I deceiving myself? Was this, mentally, normal? I silenced the beeper on my belt and pulled out my phone to make a voice memo of the bizarre experience before I walked into the bank; aesthetics be damned.

I was in the midst of an experiment that involved keeping a log of my inner thoughts for Russ Hurlburt, a senior psychologist at the University of Las Vegas. For decades, Hurlburt has been motivated by one question: How, exactly, do we experience our own mental life? … (continue at Nautilus)

Suggested reading: Hidden in 54 Corpses, a revelation about Ancient Greece

by Franz Lidz

Wherever there is an out-of-the-way war, there will be mercenaries — hired fighters whose only common bond may be a hunger for adventure. Some join foreign armies or rebel forces because they believe in the cause; others sign on because the price is right.

This was true in ancient Greece, although you wouldn’t know it from ancient Greek historians, for whom the polis, or independent Greek city-state, symbolized the demise of kingly oppression and the rise of citizen equality and civic pride. For instance, neither Herodotus nor Diodorus Siculus mentioned mercenaries in their reports of the first Battle of Himera, a fierce struggle in 480 B.C. in which the Greeks from various Sicilian cities united to beat back a Carthaginian invasion. Mercenaries were considered the antithesis of the Homeric hero.

“Being a wage earner had some negative connotations — avarice, corruption, shifting allegiance, the downfall of civilized society,” said Laurie Reitsema, an anthropologist at the University of Georgia. “In this light, it is unsurprising if ancient authors would choose to embellish the Greeks for Greeks aspect of the battles, rather than admitting they had to pay for it.” … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: Cold water plunges are trendy. Can they really reduce anxiety and depression?

by Chloe Williams

In a TikTok video from January, self-help author Mel Robbins held a hammer in 12-degree weather in her backyard in Vermont. “We’re about to do the cold plunge,” she said to the camera, after breaking through a layer of ice on the surface of a barrel to expose the water below. She then climbed into the barrel and, taking a deep breath, sank into the water chest deep.

Ms. Robbins took up the Wim Hof method, which pairs cold exposure with breathing and meditation, to help manage anxiety and stress. The frigid water brings on what feels like a panic attack at first, she said in a recent interview. But eventually, her body relaxes and her mind quiets. “The water is still cold but your anxiety response is gone,” she said.

Cold water immersion has garnered a lot of attention lately, especially for its supposed mental health benefits. Wim Hof, an extreme athlete and fitness guru who developed the technique, was featured in a recent documentary by the musician and influencer Jacob Sartorius. His regimen was also the subject of an episode of Netflix’s “The Goop Lab,” released last year. … (continue at The New York Times)