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Democracy

We need a system for keeping conspiracy kooks out of office. Here's what that might entail.

We need a system for keeping conspiracy kooks out of office. Here's what that might entail.

One of the greatest things about the American experiment is the idea of self-rule, "a government of the people, by the people, for the people." Instead of power being held by a ruling class or monarchical dynasty, we routinely elect our leaders from among the citizenry to represent us in the government.

It's a system that works well when the representatives we choose are among the best of us. But the fact that virtually anyone can serve as an elected official also leaves us open to potentially disastrous leadership. We could end up with, say, a malignant narcissist autocrat wannabe or a kooky conspiracy theorist in positions of power—a reality that clearly puts the security of the entire country in danger.

The Constitution stipulates the requirements for holding office, and they are extremely simple by design. To serve in Congress, you have to be 25 years old, a citizen for at least seven years, and live in the area you represent. To serve as President, you have to be 35 years old, a natural-born citizen of the U.S. and have lived in the country for 14 years.

That's it. Super basic. On paper, a guy who collects trash for a living (a noble job—no criticism) is as qualified to be president or a member of Congress as a professor of constitutional law. There are no educational qualifications and no previous job or relevant experience required. There are also no psychological screenings, meaning that, theoretically, a literal psychopath serial killer could be elected to the position that controls the nuclear codes.


A viral video shared by "Politics Girl" highlights how absurdly weird it is that people can get a job in the most powerful positions in our government without being the least bit qualified:

It's true. There is no official vetting process. And while there are some constitutional disqualifications—such as participating in rebellion or insurrection (ahem), impeachment when included as part of a conviction (double ahem), and not taking the oath of office—most attempts to create additional qualifications have been deemed unconstitutional.

There's wisdom in that. Adding official qualifications is a slippery slope, and most of what we could come up with would be arbitrary anyway.

Relevant job experience is a definite plus for a person seeking public service, no doubt. But one strength of our representative system is the diversity of experience and perspectives it inevitably brings to the table. Having lawmakers who come from a spectrum of careers and backgrounds is a good thing, and can help ensure that more Americans are seen and heard in our government.

What about education? Most of us would agree that an elected official should be smart and knowledgeable. But how do we measure that? Quality of education can vary greatly, rendering specific levels of education virtually meaningless. Earning a degree might indicate an ability and willingness to learn and work, but it is not a guarantee of intelligence or relevant knowledge. People who haven't gone to college might have gained skills and insights through service to their community that would be more valuable to governance than book learning. And since there are barriers that make higher education inaccessible for some Americans, having an education requirement would be an unjust form of gatekeeping.

They have to at least know about government, though, right? A certain understanding of civics seems like a logical prerequisite, but how do we measure that? Do we create a test a person has to pass before they can get on a ballot? Might not be a bad idea, but would that actually solve the real problem we're looking at? A constitutional law degree doesn't make someone conscientious, and a genocidal maniac could study and pass a civics test.

So how about a psychological screening of some sort? Again, not a bad idea on the surface, but here we run into the issue of who conducts it and what they should look for. Would there actually be a set of dealbreaker diagnoses that would disqualify someone? Or would we just provide the results to the public and let them decide themselves whether a person is fit to serve?

The problem there, of course, is that mental health issues that shouldn't preclude someone from serving—an anxiety disorder, for example—could unfairly lead people away from a candidate due to the stigma attached to mental health. There's a huge difference between a run-of-the-mill mental health issue and a full-blown dangerous personality disorder, but any diagnosis could be weaponized. Where and how do we draw the line?

Since party politics is a feature of our system (one that George Washington warned us against, for good reason), some make the argument that the parties themselves need to vet candidates before they get on the primary ballots. A Brookings Institute report from 2018 pointed out that activist groups have begun producing more candidates, which is leading to more underqualified, ideologically extremist candidates. If we're going to have a two-party system, those two parties need to ensure that the candidates in their parties aren't total whack jobs. The suggestion made by the report authors is "to strengthen the position of the institutional parties so that they maintain voice and influence in the process of developing candidacies—not instead of voters and activists, but alongside them."

But what happens if a party itself moves farther to the extremes, either because of the candidates that are getting attention or because the social reality has pushed the voters in that direction? (Ahem, QAnon.)

And isn't partisan politics itself a big reason we're in this spot? A system that places people in two distinct boxes is inevitably going to lead to extremism, as parties resort to increasing demonization of the other side as they vie for power and influence.

Lee Drutman, senior fellow at the New America think tank, wrote about why we need multiple parties in the U.S. in 2019:

"Under the two-party system, U.S. politics are stuck in a deep partisan divide, with no clear winner and only zero-sum escalation ahead. Both sides see themselves as the true majority. Republicans hold up maps of the country showing a sea of red and declare America a conservative country. Democrats win the popular vote (because most Americans live in and around a handful of densely populated cities) and declare America a progressive country.

The only way to break this destructive stalemate is to break the electoral and party system that sustains and reinforces it. The United States is divided into red and blue not because Americans want only two choices. In poll after poll, majorities want more than two political parties."

Expanding our options beyond Republican and Democrat sounds like a fabulous idea in my book.

In the meantime, we the people are still left to vet the people who get put on the ballot. So maybe the answer in the short term is to 1) Encourage and enable better candidates to run for office, and 2) Educate and encourage the voting populace to do a better job of vetting. Relying on a candidate's own messaging isn't enough. What have they actually done in their communities? What have they said in public or on social media? Look at various media sources to see what kinds of red flags may have been spotted.

Of course, this process only works if people actually care about not having kooky conspiracy theorists and malignant narcissist authoritarians in our government. Ultimately, when we start electing highly problematic people to lead us, that's a reflection of where we are as a society. And unfortunately, there's no quick fix for a voting populace that doesn't recognize when an elected official is an actual danger to the country and when they're just being subject to partisan attacks. (A good hint to the former is when members of the official's own party, especially one that tends to stick together, speak out and say, "Yeah, this is a bridge too far.")

Answers here aren't obvious or simple, but it's clear we need to do something different. The way we're going now, we very well could end up with a psychopathic serial killer in Congress. And my biggest fear is that a good portion of the nation wouldn't even blink an eye if we did.

Pop Culture

Airbnb host finds unexpected benefits from not charging guests a cleaning fee

Host Rachel Boice went for a more "honest" approach with her listings—and saw major perks because of it.

@rachelrboice/TikTok

Many frustrated Airbnb customers have complained that the separate cleaning fee is a nuisance.

Airbnb defines its notorious cleaning fee as a “one-time charge” set by the host that helps them arrange anything from carpet shampoo to replenishing supplies to hiring an outside cleaning service—all in the name of ensuring guests have a “clean and tidy space.”

But as many frustrated Airbnb customers will tell you, this feature is viewed as more of a nuisance than a convenience. According to NerdWallet, the general price for a cleaning fee is around $75, but can vary greatly between listings, with some units having cleaning fees that are higher than the nightly rate (all while sometimes still being asked to do certain chores before checking out). And often none of these fees show up in the total price until right before the booking confirmation, leaving many travelers feeling confused and taken advantage of.

However, some hosts are opting to build cleaning fees into the overall price of their listings, mimicking the strategy of traditional hotels.

Rachel Boice runs two Airbnb properties in Georgia with her husband Parker—one being this fancy glass plane tiny house (seen below) that promises a perfect glamping experience.

@rachelrboice Welcome to The Tiny Glass House 🤎 #airbnbfinds #exploregeorgia #travelbucketlist #tinyhouse #glampingnotcamping #atlantageorgia #fyp ♬ Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

Like most Airbnb hosts, the Boice’s listing showed a nightly rate and separate cleaning fee. According to her interview with Insider, the original prices broke down to $89 nightly, and $40 for the cleaning fee.

But after noticing the negative response the separate fee got from potential customers, Rachel told Insider that she began charging a nightly rate that included the cleaning fee, totaling to $129 a night.

It’s a marketing strategy that more and more hosts are attempting in order to generate more bookings (people do love feeling like they’re getting a great deal) but Boice argued that the trend will also become more mainstream since the current Airbnb model “doesn’t feel honest.”

"We stay in Airbnbs a lot. I pretty much always pay a cleaning fee," Boice told Insider. "You're like: 'Why am I paying all of this money? This should just be built in for the cost.'"

Since combining costs, Rachel began noticing another unexpected perk beyond customer satisfaction: guests actually left her property cleaner than before they were charged a cleaning fee. Her hypothesis was that they assumed she would be handling the cleaning herself.

"I guess they're thinking, 'I'm not paying someone to clean this, so I'll leave it clean,'" she said.

This discovery echoes a similar anecdote given by another Airbnb host, who told NerdWallet guests who knew they were paying a cleaning fee would “sometimes leave the place looking like it’s been lived in and uncleaned for months.” So, it appears to be that being more transparent and lumping all fees into one overall price makes for a happier (and more considerate) customer.

These days, it’s hard to not be embittered by deceptive junk fees, which can seem to appear anywhere without warning—surprise overdraft charges, surcharges on credit cards, the never convenience “convenience charge” when purchasing event tickets. Junk fees are so rampant that certain measures are being taken to try to eliminate them outright in favor of more honest business approaches.

Speaking of a more honest approach—as of December 2022, AirBnb began updating its app and website so that guests can see a full price breakdown that shows a nightly rate, a cleaning fee, Airbnb service fee, discounts, and taxes before confirming their booking.

Guests can also activate a toggle function before searching for a destination, so that full prices will appear in search results—avoiding unwanted financial surprises.


This article originally appeared on 11.08.23

National Autistic Society/Youtube

"Diverted" educational video shared through the Too Much Information Campaign.

Everyone who lives with autism experiences it somewhat differently. You'll often hear physicians and advocates refer to the spectrum that exists for those who are autistic, pointing to a wide range of symptoms and skills.

But one thing many autistic people experience is sensory processing issues.


For autistic people, processing the world around them when it comes to sight, smell, or touch can be challenging, as their senses are often over- or under-sensitive. Certain situations — like meandering through a congested mall or enduring the nonstop blasting of police sirens — can quickly become unbearable.

This reality is brought to life in a new video by the U.K.'s National Autistic Society (NAS).

The eye-opening PSA takes viewers into the mind of a autistic woman as she thinks about struggling to stay composed in a crowded, noisy train.

It's worth a watch:

The PSA hit especially close to home for 22-year-old actress and star of the video Saskia Lupin, who is autistic herself. "Overall I feel confused," she said, of abrupt changes to her routine. "Like I can't do anything and all sense of rationality is lost."

She's not alone.

According to a study cited in NAS' press release, 75% of autistic people say unexpected changes make them feel socially isolated. What's more, 67% reported seeing or hearing negative reactions from the public when they try to calm themselves down in such situations — from eyerolls and stares to unwelcome, hurtful comments.

The new PSA aims to improve that last figure in particular.

It's part of the organization's Too Much Information campaign — an initiative to build empathy and understanding in allistic (i.e., not autistic) people for those on the spectrum.

Autism Awareness Day, campaign, World Autism Awareness Week

Campaign by National Autistic Society created to share the autistic experience to the world.

Photo from Pixabay

"It isn't that the public sets out to be judgmental towards autistic people," Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said in a statement in 2016. It's just that, often, the public doesn't "see" the autism.

"They see a 'strange' man pacing back and forth in a shopping center," Lever explained, "or a 'naughty' girl having a tantrum on a bus, and don't know how to respond."

Well, now we do.

Instead of staring, rolling your eyes, or thinking judgmental thoughts about the young person's parents, remember: You have no idea what that stranger on the train is going through.

“We can't make the trains run on time," said Lever. But even the simplest, smallest things — like remembering not to stare and giving a person some space and compassion if they need it — can make a big difference.


This article originally appeared on 03.28.18

Pop Culture

A brave fan asks Patrick Stewart a question he doesn't usually get and is given a beautiful answer

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through.

Patrick Stewart often talks about his childhood and the torment his father put him and his mother through. However, how he answered this vulnerable and brave fan's question is one of the most eloquent, passionate responses about domestic violence I've ever seen.



WARNING: At 2:40, he's going to break your heart a little.

You can read more about Heather Skye's hug with Captain Picard at her blog.


This article originally appeared on 06.26.13.


How to clear a stuffy nose instantly.

With cold season upon us, there's no better time to learn a couple of awesome and easy tricks that will clear up the dreaded and annoying stuffy nose.

Prevention magazine created a short video showing two easy ways to get you breathing free again no matter how stuffed up you might be.


Both tricks take less than two minutes and are certainly worth trying out when it feels like that runny nose might never go away.


Watch the YouTube video below:

This article first appeared on 9.8.17.

Family

Heartwarming comics break down complex parenting issues with ease

Lunarbaboon comics tackle huge, important subjects with an effective, lighthearted touch that you can't help but smile at.

All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission

Writing comics helped a father struggling with anxiety and depression.

Christopher Grady, a father and teacher from Toronto, was struggling with anxiety and depression. That's when he started drawing.

He describes his early cartoons and illustrations as a journal where he'd chronicle everyday moments from his life as a husband, elementary school teacher, and father to two kids.

"I needed a positive place to focus all my thoughts and found that when I was making comics I felt a little bit better," he says.

He began putting a few of his comics online, not expecting much of a response. But he quickly learned that people were connecting with his work in a deep way.


The comics series called Lunarbaboon was born, and the response to the first few was so powerful that Grady was inspired do more with his comics than just document his own experience.

"I began getting messages from many people about how they connected to the comics and it gave them hope and strength as they went through their own dark times," he says.

"When they look back…they probably won't remember what was said…or where you were when you said it. They may not remember any details of your time together. But they will remember that you were there…and that's what matters most."

"Usually the circle of people we can support, help, influence is limited to our families, friends, coworkers, random stranger at the bus stop, but with my comic I suddenly found my circle of power was much much larger," Grady explains. "I guess I decided to use this power for good."

Grady continued to draw, making a point to infuse the panels with his own special brand of positivity.

"Kids are always watching adults and they look to the adults as role models," he says. "I try to show (my kids and students) that even with all my flaws and weaknesses I am still a good person and I can still make a positive change in the world."

Lunarbaboon comics tackle huge, important subjects with an effective, lighthearted touch that you can't help but smile at.

Check out Grady's take on teaching his son about consent. (All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission.)

consent, relationship advice, father son advice, family

A comic about listening and respecting your partner.

All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission

Here's one about parents being supportive of a gay son or daughter.

sexual orientation, parenting gay children, positive messages, gender orientation

Parents being supportive of their gay son.

All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission

On raising girls in a patriarchal world.

adulting, education, medical field, dreams

Comic encourages girls to chase all their dreams.

All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission

And here's a sweet one about appreciating the heck out of his wife.

motherhood, moms, childbirth, family

Mom one ups dad easily.

All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission

Big topics. Important issues. Grady tackles them with humility and ease.

As Lunarbaboon has continued to grow, Grady says the messages of support he gets have become increasingly powerful.

He certainly doesn't claim to have all the answers to all the complexities of parenting, but he does say that "people like knowing they aren't alone in life's daily struggles. Most people who contact me just want to say thank you for putting something positive into the world."

Grady doesn't expect his Lunarbaboon comics to fix rape culture or end bigotry. He just hopes his message of love, inclusion, and positivity continues to spread.

inclusion, gender roles, social anxiety, happy

Teaching children to accept what might be different.

All images by Christopher Grady/Lunarbaboon, used with permission

"My hope is that for the short time people read it they smile and feel good," he says. "Then I hope they take that good feeling and smile into the world and make it slightly brighter."

You can check out even more of Grady's awesome work over on his website or in his newly published book.


This article was originally published on 11.30.17