Fewer Wells, More Well-Being
October 22, 2021
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“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhumane.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.
This Should Never Have Been The Norm
(Katelyn Mulcahy via Getty Images)
Football is an immensely popular and dangerous game, where massive bodies colliding with one another can cause extraordinary damage to players’ brains. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain condition linked to repeated hits to the head. A range of CTE symptoms, from forgetfulness to violent behavior, can take years to manifest and worsen over time. Medical professionals have known since the 1920s that repetitive brain trauma associated with boxing possibly produced progressive neurological deterioration, then termed dementia pugilistica, or punch-drunk syndrome. Much has been learned about concussions and brain damage since the first ex-NFL player was diagnosed with CTE in 2005.
“Race-norming” was first implemented in 1981 by the federal government in 1981. Because non-whites tended to score lower on civil service exams, aptitude scores were adjusted to account for test takers’ race and ethnicity as a means to improve minorities’ job prospects. The Civil Rights Act of 1991 outlawed race-norming at the federal level. But it continued to be used in medical applications because, as one neuropsychologist said, if you ignore someone’s disadvantaged background “then you’ll diagnose complex disorders more often in that person.” In other words, race-norming was aimed at preventing clinicians from “over-diagnosing and over-pathologizing cognitive impairment in black people.”
In the early 1990s another neurologist, Robert Heaton, developed a system for making race-based adjustments in cognitive test scores. The NFL likely used “Heaton norms” on which to base a compensation scheme to determine the size of payouts to injured players. This formulaic, binary “full demographic correction” assumed the average black player has a lower level of cognitive function than the average white player, and their cognitive scores must be adjusted accordingly. In practice it meant black players had to demonstrate greater levels of cognitive decline than white players to be eligible for a payout.
Critics say the NFL has used race-norming to deprive retirees of compensation. Over 60% of living retirees and 70% of active players are black, and under its payout scheme, the league approved just 30% of approximately 2,000 applications for dementia awards. One retiree claimed his dementia diagnosis was appealed because it wasn’t race-normed, which led to a reversal of his diagnosis and a denial of compensation. A federal judge dismissed his class-action lawsuit in March and ordered the NFL to negotiate a settlement.
In a 46-page document filed in federal court, the NFL agreed that going forward it will end race-based testing for compensation claims made by ex-players suffering from dementia. Experts will develop a new standard to apply to all future cognitive tests, claims not yet ruled on, and claims currently on appeal. 1,435 players may have their tests rescored, or possibly seek new cognitive testing. (NIH, BBC)
The Polish Primacy Problem
(NurPhoto via Getty Images)
- Poland is disputing the European Union’s legal supremacy over its laws, and the head-butting is overshadowing a summit of the 27 nations just getting underway in Brussels.
- The controversy stems from a ruling by Poland’s highest court stating that some parts of EU law are incompatible with the Polish constitution. EU case law rests on the principle that the EU has supremacy over national laws, and it may decide to sanction Poland. On Tuesday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki clashed in the European Parliament with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. He accused the EU of “blackmail,” but Belgian prime minister Alexander de Croo said “If you want to have the advantages of being in a club…then you need to respect the rules.”
- The dispute is sharpening a divide between the ruling nationalists in Poland and neighboring Hungary, and the liberal politicians in the majority across the EU. Opinion polls suggest an overwhelming majority of Poles support their country’s EU membership. The rule of law dispute is just one item on the summit agenda. (BBC)
Down Under Doubles Down On Coal
- Australia is a hold-out among developed nations, failing to commit to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and refusing to strengthen the country’s 2030 target or to make plans for transitioning away from its deep investment in fossil fuel production.
- Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison recently agreed to attend the upcoming climate summit in Scotland after criticism from Queen Elizabeth II and a crowd-funded billboard in Times Square mocking his reluctance to address climate change.
- Australia continues to revel in its role as the world’s largest coal exporter. Last month alone, three new coal mining projects were approved; in New South Wales, proposals for 20 more new mines are under review, not including in Queensland, where the Indian industrial giant Adani is trying to build the world’s largest coal mine. In addition, the government plans to expand natural gas production by opening at least five new gas fields. The world’s most pressing challenge is how to get places like Australia, that profit from a catastrophically dangerous product, to transition before it’s too late. (NYT)
Additional World News
- More games, more countries, more travel: Does European football care about its climate impact? (BBC)
- ‘It’s Terror’: In Haiti, Gangs Gain Power as Security Vacuum Grows (NYT, $)
- No formal Cop26 role for big oil amid doubts over firms’ net zero plans (Guardian)
- Huge crowds march in Sudan in support of civilian rule (CNN)
- What Lebanon, Hong Kong, and Afghanistan Have Lost (Atlantic, $)
- How Belarus is helping ‘tourists’ break into the EU (BBC)
Homeless But Protecting Homes
- A wildland firefighter in Idaho says he was forced to leave a job he loved because he couldn’t afford to keep it. When 20-year-old Luke Meyer was a rookie in 2017 he earned $11 an hour. He worked in a rural community where housing was scarce, and had to camp out in a decrepit building infested with rodents. He worked his way up the ranks, but after four fire seasons, thousands of firefighting hours logged, a new job with the U.S. Forest Service and certification to supervise small crews, Meyer was living out of the back of his truck.
- In Arizona, a member of an elite helitack unit with the Forest Service, who makes $15 an hour ferrying crews into fire zones via helicopter, says he’s on food stamps and living in a shack in someone’s backyard because it’s all he can afford.
- Climate change driven wildfires across the Western U.S. are increasing and wildland firefighters are needed more than ever. But workers say low pay and few options for affordable housing are squeezing them out of their jobs. (Guardian)
Fewer Wells, More Well-Being
- California is set to impose the nation’s largest buffer zone between oil wells and communities. On Thursday, the state’s oil and gas regulator proposed a ban on new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of schools, homes and hospitals to protect public health.
- It’s the latest effort by Democratic Governor Gavin Newsome’s administration to wind down oil production in California, aligning him with environmental advocates pushing to curb the powerful oil industry in the country’s seventh-largest oil producing state. Studies show living near a drilling site can elevate risks of birth defects, cancer, respiratory issues and other health problems. More than two million Californians live within 3,200 feet of oil drilling sites, primarily in Los Angeles County and the Central Valley.
- The draft rule, if adopted, would go even farther than the 2,500 foot buffer environmental groups were seeking. There’s a 60-day comment period and the rule could undergo changes before final adoption, but it sends “a strong signal that oil and gas has no place in neighborhoods.” (Guardian)
Additional USA News
- Amazon sees fresh push to unionise in New York (BBC)
- How Republicans Are Weaponizing Critical Race Theory Ahead of Midterms (NYT, $)
- A ‘non-cancellable’ community: the ‘truth’ about Trump’s social media platform (Guardian)
- Democrats’ Campaign to Control Drug Prices Nears Collapse (NYT, $)
- Immigrant workers pressing firms as pandemic recovery gives them leverage (NPR)
- Steve Bannon held in criminal contempt for defying subpoena (CNN)
Pressed For Capacity
- Nothing drives the urgency to acquire a popular item more than limited availability, and vinyl records are no exception. Left in the dust by the advent of CDs in the 1980s, vinyl records are now the music industry’s most sought-after and highest-grossing physical format. Fans choose them for sound quality, collectability or just for the tangible experience of music in an age of digital ephemerality.
- The demand for vinyl LPs has been growing steadily for the past decade, but sales exploded during the pandemic. That’s both good news and bad. The good news is in the first six months of this year, 17 million vinyl records were sold in the U.S. generating $467 million in retail revenue, nearly double the amount from the same period in 2020. The bad news is that manufacturing vinyl records isn’t easy. It’s ancient technology and incredibly labor intensive.
- Unlike most standard records that are pressed by the hundreds or thousands, each lathe-cut vinyl disc must be created individually. Vinyl pressing machines are bulky, decades old and often require delicate and expensive maintenance. When New Jersey’s Independent Record Pressing had to replace an obsolete screw in one of their machines, it cost the company $5,000 to manufacture and install a new one. The few dozen plants around the world that press vinyl records were straining to keep up with increasing demand six years ago, resulting in long delays and other production problems. Back then it was common for plants to take up to six months to turn around a vinyl order.
- Now there are worrying signs that the vinyl bonanza has truly exceeded the industrial capacity needed to sustain it. Production logjams and reliance on those ancient pressing machines have led to unprecedented delays. Today it can take up to a year to turn out a vinyl order, wreaking havoc on artists’ release plans. One has to wonder how much longer fans are going to be willing to wait for months and months, in the face of continuing supply chain and other issues. Considering they could just stream their favorite music immediately, there must be something much more satisfying to the psyche about holding that vinyl LP. (NYT)
- Robot artist Ai-Da released by Egyptian border guards (BBC)
- Plantwatch: one of world’s rarest trees found near Welsh coast (Guardian)
- The regenerative revolution in food (BBC)
- What’s the deal with fictional influencers? (Vox)
- ‘Never sold a painting in his life – but died worth $100m’: the incredible story of Boris Lurie (Guardian)
- Haunted Houses Need to Terrify You More Than Ever This Halloween (NYT, $)
- Hunting alters animal genetics. Some elephants are even losing tusks. (Vox)
- Living Alone in the US Is Harder Than It Should Be (Atlantic, $)
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