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THE CONVERSATION
A network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers
Image of a group of police officers, in uniform, on their motorbikes in the street.
Society
Ian T. Adams and Seth W. Stoughton

Tyre Nichols And The Systemic Problem Of Elite Police Units — A Brief History

The officers charged in the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols were not your everyday uniformed patrol officers.

Rather, they were part of an elite squad: Memphis Police Department’s SCORPION team. A rather tortured acronym for “Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods,” SCORPION is a crime suppression unit – that is, officers detailed specifically to prevent, detect and interrupt violent crime by proactively using stops, frisks, searches and arrests. Such specialized units are common in forces across the U.S. and tend to rely on aggressive policing tactics.

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Picture of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden
Geopolitics
Richard Shaw

Jacinda Ardern, Surprise Farewell: The Unique Legacy Of New Zealand's Global Leader

It's rare that the Prime Minister of New Zealand becomes a globally recognized leader. But Ardern, who was the youngest female elected head of government in history, deserved all the positive attention.

Well, no one saw that coming. For those in New Zealand relieved that Christmas is over because it means politics resumes, this week held the promise of a cabinet reshuffle, the possible unveiling of some meaty new policy and, if we were really lucky, the announcement of the date of this year’s general election.

We got the last of these (it will be on October 14). What we also got, however, was the announcement that in three weeks’ time one of the most popular – and powerful – prime ministers in recent New Zealand history will be stepping down.

It isn’t difficult to divine why Jacinda Ardern has reached her decision. As she herself put it:

"I believe that leading a country is the most privileged job anyone could ever have but also one of the more challenging. You cannot and should not do it unless you have a full tank plus a bit in reserve for those unexpected challenges."

She has had more than her fair share of such challenges: a domestic terror attack in Christchurch, a major natural disaster at Whakaari-White Island, a global pandemic and, most recently, a cost-of-living crisis.

On top of that, of course, she has had to chart a way through the usual slate of policy issues that have bedevilled governments for decades in this country, including the cost of housing, child poverty, inequality and the climate crisis. Clearly, the Ardern tank is empty.

But it isn’t just about the policy. Along with other women politicians, Ardern faces a constant barrage of online and in-person abuse – from anti-vaxxers, misogynists and sundry others who simply don’t like her.

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​A young boy who arrived on a Cathay Pacific flight from Hong Kong wears a face mask and face shield at Vancouver International Airport in Canada on Jan. 10, 2023.
Coronavirus
Duncan Robertson

Why Making COVID Predictions Is Actually Getting Harder

We know more about COVID than ever before, but that doesn't make it easier to predict what will happen this year. It also remains to be seen if we'll put the lessons we learned into practice.

In 2020, we knew very little about the novel virus that was to become known as COVID-19. Now, as we enter 2023, a search of Google Scholar produces around five million results containing the term.

So how will the pandemic be felt in 2023? This question is in some ways impossible to answer, given a number of unknowns. In early 2020, the scientific community was focused on determining key parameters that could be used to make projections as to the severity and extent of the spread of the virus. Now, the complex interplay of COVID variants, vaccination and natural immunity makes that process far more difficult and less predictable.

But this doesn’t mean there’s room for complacency. The proportion of people estimated to be infected has varied over time, but this figure has not fallen below 1.25% (or one in 80 people) in England for the entirety of 2022. COVID is very much still with us, and people are being infected time and time again.

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Inflation And Political Interference: 2023 Is A Minefield For Central Banks
Economy
Steve Schifferes

Inflation And Political Interference: 2023 Is A Minefield For Central Banks

As recession predictions abound, stakes are higher than ever for the number crunchers at the world's top central banks, who must also contend with the whims of the political class.

Some of the world’s biggest economies — and their central banks — face a tricky task this year taming inflation via higher interest rates without triggering a recession.

And whether they like it or not, the U.S. Federal Reserve, the Bank of England and other central banks are now being thrust into the center of a political debate that could threaten their independence as well as their ability to act decisively to curb rising prices.

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The Neuroscience Behind The Perfect Gift
Society
Ana Clemente

The Neuroscience Behind The Perfect Gift

Why do we like what we like? New insights from neuroscience reveal that objects that please us are as much about our own values as the objects themselves.

It's the season of gift-giving, which brings both joy and anxiety about picking out the right present for that special someone. But how do you pick a gift that they'll appreciate?

Neuroscience can help. It reveals that the perfect gift is as much about our value systems as the object itself.

We humans, like other cognitive systems, are sensitive to our environment. We use sensory information to guide our behavior. To be in the world.

We decide how to act based on the hedonic value we assign to objects, people, situations or events. We seek out and engage in behaviors that lead to positive or rewarding outcomes and avoid those that lead to negative or punitive consequences. We construct our knowledge of the world according to how much we like elements of the environment, and we do so by learning and generating expectations about them.

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Photo of ​Twitter's new CEO Elon Musk tipping his hard hat as he visits a construction site in Germany
Ideas
Theodore J. Kury*

Information As Commodity: What If Twitter Was Regulated Like An Oil & Gas Company?

Theodore Kury, Director of Energy Studies at the University of Florida, sees value in thinking of social media as the pipeline that carries a new kind of utility: information. He makes the case for regulating companies like Twitter accordingly.

Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, and his controversial statements and decisions as its owner, have fueled a new wave of calls for regulating social media companies. Elected officials and policy scholars have argued for years that companies like Twitter and Facebook – now Meta – have immense power over public discussions and can use that power to elevate some views and suppress others. Critics also accuse the companies of failing to protect users’ personal data and downplaying harmful impacts of using social media.

As an economist who studies the regulation of utilities such as electricity, gas and water, I wonder what that regulation would look like. There are many regulatory models in use around the world, but few seem to fit the realities of social media. However, observing how these models work can provide valuable insights.

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North Korea And Nukes: Why The World Is Obliged To Try To Negotiate
Geopolitics
Alexander Gillespie

North Korea And Nukes: Why The World Is Obliged To Try To Negotiate

How to handle a nuclear armed pariah state is not a simple question.

The recent claim by Kim Jong Un that North Korea plans to develop the world’s most powerful nuclear force may well have been more bravado than credible threat. But that doesn’t mean it can be ignored.

The best guess is that North Korea now has sufficient fissile material to build 45 to 55 nuclear weapons, three decades after beginning its program. The warheads would mostly have yields of around 10 to 20 kilotons, similar to the 15 kiloton bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945.

But North Korea has the capacity to make devices ten times bigger. Its missile delivery systems are also advancing in leaps and bounds. The technological advance is matched in rhetoric and increasingly reckless acts, including test-firing missiles over Japan in violation of all international norms, provoking terror and risking accidental war.

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Gun Violence In America: Don't Blame The Victims — That Means Rappers Too
Society
A.D. Carson

Gun Violence In America: Don't Blame The Victims — That Means Rappers Too

The recent shooting of Takeoff, a rapper, is another sad incident of gun crime in the U.S. But those blaming hip hop culture for contributing to gun violence ignore that rappers themselves are also victims. And the real point is that in today's America, nobody is safe from gun violence.

Add the name of Takeoff, a member of the popular rap trio Migos, to the ever-growing list of rappers, recent and past, tragically and violently killed.

The initial reaction to the shooting to death of Takeoff, born Kirsnick Ball, on Nov. 1, was to blame rap music and hip hop culture. People who engaged in this kind of scapegoating argue that the violence and despairing hopelessness in the music are the cause of so many rappers dying.

Even within hip hop culture, the continued violent tragedies have led some artists, like Jim Jones and Fat Joe, to go so far as to claim that rap is the most dangerous profession and rappers are an endangered species. It’s troubling. As Lupe Fiasco raps in “On Faux Nem,” “Rappers die too much.”

The plague of U.S. gun violence

But as a rap artist and scholar, I always feel compelled to push back on the notion that the plague of U.S. gun violence is unique to hip hop culture or rap music. As a professor at the University of Virginia, I live in Charlottesville, a place that has recently been besieged by gun violence.

Like many places across the country, the city has seen an increase in shootings, and on the night of Nov. 13, 2022, the university campus was locked down for 12 hours, with students, faculty and community members sheltering in place as police searched for a gunman who shot five people, killing three.

During the lockdown and for days afterward, I endlessly scrolled social media for updates. My phone incessantly chirped from text messages and the university’s emergency notifications.

Gun violence is everywhere, all the time, and as unpredictable as it is predictable

I found myself frantically engaging in a ritual too familiar to far too many Americans of reading the texts and alerts and scrolling my phone for news. Part of this ritual, too, was sending students a message to let them know I’m available to talk or listen or try to answer questions. I shared the numbers and links of the professional counseling services offered by the university.

The lockdown was lifted Nov. 14, shortly after police arrested the suspect in the campus shootings. On the same day, another man was arrested in Charlottesville for “concerning and threatening social media posts” against the university. The man, a convicted felon, was arrested on several weapons charges and possession of a controlled substance.

Nipsey Hussle was killed in front of his Los Angeles clothing store in 2019

Ringo Chiu/ZUMA

Blaming the victims

Violence is the American pastime. Gun violence is everywhere, all the time, and as unpredictable as it is predictable. We Americans anywhere, including at the University of Virginia, should not be surprised that it happens here so often. But if we’re surprised, it’s only because we haven’t been paying attention. According to the most recent statistics, the U.S. homicide rate in 2020 was over seven times greater than those of other industrialized economies, and guns accounted for 80% of those homicides.

But when gun violence happens to rappers, it’s as if people believe they can’t be victims, too. After each of the recent fatal shootings of rappers, the conversation has predictably veered into blaming the victim.

Some said 30-year-old Rakim Hasheem Allen, professionally known as PnB Rock, should not have been wearing his jewelry in the Los Angeles restaurant where he was robbed and killed in 2022.

Apparently, Adolph Thornton, Jr., 36, whose stage name was Young Dolph, should have known better than to go back to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, which had 346 killings in 2021, a record number.

Some believed the 2020 killing of 20-year-old Brooklyn drill rapper Pop Smoke, whose legal name was Bashar Jackson, was a product of him accidentally divulging too much information on social media.

Some thought Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, who was 33 at the time of his death, was lax on taking adequate security measures, which led to his being shot and killed in front of his Los Angeles clothing store in 2019.

All of America is living with the normalization of gun violence

Even after the horrific shooting of 27-year-old Megan Pete, professionally known as Megan Thee Stallion, who survived the incident, the casual condemnation of her – the victim – has clouded public conversation.

On Twitter, she took rappers to task for using her violent assault for attention. She implored them to stop using her shooting “for clout.”

Specifically, on his new album, “Her Loss,” Drake insinuates that she lied about the incident, rapping, “This b–ch lie ‘bout getting shots but she still a stallion.”

Unable to escape gun violence

Regardless of their social environments or criminal backgrounds, all of these young rappers, 28-year-old Takeoff included, were victims of a common American fate – gunfire.

In the days before Takeoff was killed, there were nine mass shootings in the U.S.. One of those incidents during the Halloween weekend was a drive-by shooting near a Chicago park where children were trick-or-treating.

Blaming the violence that occurs on rap musicians relies on a circular logic: rap is to blame because the person who was shot or murdered was a rapper.

All of America is living with the normalization of gun violence. That doesn’t stop politicians from attempting to tie events like the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, or the mass shooting in Highland Park, Illinois, to rap. You can’t escape gun violence in America no matter your profession or where you hang out. You can’t escape it in school. You can’t escape it in church. You can’t escape it in a synagogue.

You can’t escape it in a park. You can’t escape it in a grocery store. Or even at the nation’s Capitol building. Wherever you go in America, even on campuses like the University of Virginia, you might be a victim of gun violence.

Gun violence casts a perpetual shadow over the U.S., like the star-spangled banner flying high in the sky. It should be a reminder that the victims of these tragedies, including rappers whose lives are taken, are also threaded into the fabric of America.

A.D. Carson, Assistant Professor of Hip-Hop, University of Virginia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.