Hanna approvingly forwarded me this email from Nicholas Lera, a teacher in the Menlo Park City School District, which is adjacent to Palo Alto:
In the video attached to Hanna Rosin’s recent article on suicides in the PaloAlto area, she mentioned a lack of a counter-culture. I think a small group of teachers at my school, Hillview Middle, is truly making a shift away from the traditional model of teaching and toward a paradigm that focuses on learning, curiosity, and collaboration. We are prototyping classroom management systems, assessment practices, project design practices, curriculum mapping processes, and all kinds of other teacher-speak things. Some of the particular practices include:
abolishing “D”s and “F”s and replacing scores below 70% with “Not Yet.” Some of us are pushing to replace the entire scale with mastery language.
gamification of language studies through a “Belt system” (Here’s an example:
optional community circles on Fridays
flexible deadlines for all assignments
grades only received on summative assessment; homework is not graded, but tracked.
genius hour/20% time
The biggest thing is this: We’re always thinking about innovation; we’re always prototyping; and at the heart of it, we’re all deeply invested in making the change we think is needed.
Welp, I feel like I barfed out semi-topical information ... and, I’m hoping Hanna is invested enough to answer a couple of questions for me. How do we go about growing a counter-culture within such a staid system? What role can students play in shifting what “school” means?
Are you an educator who wants to tackle those questions for us based on some reform you’re working on? Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, this note presents a good opportunity to check in with our Education series called “The Art of the Lesson Plan.” The pieces thus far:
Math in the Garden: “For schools that can afford it, a backyard garden provides community benefits and a new take on learning.”
Yet another distinct voice from the Palo Alto community writes in, a “longtime leader of a free, open-to-the-public Adult ADHD discussion group”:
Thanks to Hanna Rosin for her sensitively written story. When I saw her byline, I knew the piece would not be sensationalized. I live here in Silicon Valley, and I’m very familiar with this phenomenon of academic pressure and teen suicide.
One factor left out of the equation: ADHD. In the parents and the children. ADHD is one of the most inherited traits, almost right up there with height. Most people do not realize the risk for suicide among people with unrecognized or poorly managed ADHD. And here in the Bay Area, we draw these “stimulation seeking” folks from all over the world. Even though many people in this “coveted” school district are educated, sophisticated, and well-heeled, their ignorance about ADHD is astounding.
As the longtime leader of a free, open-to-the-public Adult ADHD discussion group of Palo Alto, I see the fallout every day, among people who were not diagnosed until their 30s, 40s, and even 80s. It is very difficult to find expert care for ADHD here, despite Silicon Valley’s “bookends” of Stanford and UCSF. Don’t go to either of these hallowed institutions expecting to find ADHD expertise. It is shocking.
It is also a fact. Parents who would not hesitate to give a “depressed” child an antidepressant, as if it is the only informed thing to do (in addition to therapy), will cite the Yellow Journalism in The New York Times as proof that ADHD is an invention of Big Pharma. Surely ADHD could not apply to their child. They live in Palo Alto. Their child is above average and gifted, just like them.
Yet they do not realize that a child who acts “depressed” might instead have ADHD. And giving that child an SSRI or other antidepressant could actually exacerbate ADHD symptoms, including ones around impulsiveness. ADHD-related suicides are typically impulsive, based on momentary feelings.
At our local group, we once welcomed a young man who had gone to Paly and had taken antidepressants all the way through for his “depression.” He enjoyed structure and strong support at home and at school. When he went away to college, however, he flopped miserably and was back home by the end of the first semester.
He did not discover that he might have ADHD until he joined some friends in abusing Adderall. While his friends were ready to go party, he was ready to sit down and read. He had focus like he never had. It was that chance “abuse” that led him to discover that he had ADHD, not “depression” (at least not exclusively).
I know that this phenomenon is complex, and Ms. Rosin has painted a vivid picture of the complexity. I would only add another missing detail: Do NOT give your child an antidepressant without a thorough screening for ADHD. And you must get educated before you even consult a mental-health professional, because there are as many biased fiefdoms in the mental-health field as there are in any field, perhaps more.
A clinical psychologist in Palo Alto recommends some reading on the subject:
The still unsurpassed professionally authored book about the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD is Lawrence Diller’s Running on Ritalin: A Physician Reflects on Children, Society, and Performance in a Pill. Diller has no ax to grind and doesn’t hesitate to prescribe stimulant medication when he believes it’s appropriate. But realizing that the “ADHD phenomenon” is extraordinarily complex, he refuses to overgeneralize, insisting that each patient is unique.
A reader in Lakewood, Colorado, shares her story:
I can’t help but share my own family experience: when our youngest daughter started to have anxiety symptoms in 8th grade, the mismanagement of her mental health crisis by the principal (interestingly enough, she was the principal of another school during a year of three suicides, and she let her own anxiety over the experience lead her response to our daughter’s problem), and how our daughter was finally diagnosed with inattentive ADHD and dyslexia.
We were so lucky that our daughter’s psychologist’s own daughter had been diagnosed with ADHD as a teenager, and how she was very aware that my daughter’s struggles to get organized at school (weak executive functioning) were the root of our daughter's anxiety, and not the other way around, as the school administration insisted.
The principal labeled her as suicidal, a description that was strongly disputed by the psychologist. She told us several times to demand from the school to stop doing uninformed, and probably illegal, mental health diagnosis.
We suspected that the interest of the school for labeling our daughter as suicidal was forcing her to leave the school. Even though the principal repeatedly told us and others that she was worried our daughter was suicidal, she never contacted the district Student Services office nor followed the district protocol for at-risk students. That was the unbelievable uninformed, uncaring, and misguided way of a school to deal with a child in a mental health crisis.
The good news was that the psychologist screened our daughter and referred her to the pediatrician and Child Psychology department from a local university, where she was finally diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Since then we have had to deal with the stigma of ADHD diagnosis from some teachers and people in the community, but many others have been helpful.
About a year after diagnosis, my daughter’s anxiety is gone and she is a mature, happy, and confident teenager. Meanwhile, our school district (Jefferson County Public Schools in Colorado) is dealing with its own version of Palo Alto teen suicide crisis. Besides the three suicides at Green Mountain HS in 2002-03, last year Golden High School had three suicides, and since October of this year, another two local high schools have experienced one each—the second one only this week, according to a letter sent to parents of Arvada HS students on Monday. (On their favor, I have to add that the very capable and caring professionals have increased screening and services offered to students in crisis.)
This reader flags another spate of suicides:
The Atlantic has a similar cluster right in its own backyard. Woodson High, a relatively small high school in suburban D.C., experienced six suicides in two years (and depending on who you talk to, at least two more deaths were likely suicides that the family did not want disclosed). The area demographics are similar to Palo Alto, albeit without the glamour of high tech. This is not a Silicon Valley problem by a long shot.
Dr. Diller is an interesting guy. The son of Holocaust survivors, he took the trouble to acquire professional training that was considerably broader than the training that most physicians and other health care professionals receive.
That said, he’s not a psychiatrist and has very little background in any of the other traditional professional mental health disciplines, and his book, as good as it is, doesn’t really address the extremely complicated relationship between ADHD and traditional mental health diagnoses, especially depression. However, his intelligence and curiosity and old-fashioned commitment to treating the whole person (i.e., as opposed to push-button treatment-by-diagnosis) continue to make the book, which was published in 1998, essential reading for any person, lay or professional, who wants to understand and help anyone who suffers from one or more of these conditions.
I guess your thread (that just came to my attention) has been going a long time. Perhaps my response is still of interest. I read Hanna Rosin’s article on the Silicon Valley Suicides with great interest. Until very recently, I lived just a few miles north of Palo Alto. My beloved daughter, a recent Stanford graduate, took her own life in 2002 as a result of an adverse reaction to an SSRI antidepressant.
It was totally unexpected and out of character despite a brief period of mental distress due to insomnia and career upheaval. At the time she died, she was under the care of academic psychiatrists, whom I have now come to believe were a large part of the problem in her death rather than any solution. I know that in at least one of the cases Rosin referred to in her article, the young woman who jumped off an overpass, the victim was also under the care of revered professionals.
It’s my premise that not only the culture of Silicon Valley, but also, almost more importantly, the nature of the remedies that are being proposed in the name of mental health counseling, are to blame in these deaths.
Because I recognized immediately that my daughter’s death was the result of agitated and highly disturbed behavior brought on by medication adjustments in the last days of her life, I became a student of psychopharmacological safety and effectiveness. What I learned was highly disturbing. The FDA is far from a protector; it’s largely the puppet of pharmaceutical industry interests. Psychiatry itself is in the pocket of industry and promotes a highly flawed biomedical model for mental illness that divorces itself almost completely from the trauma and dysfunction that drive most symptoms of mental distress.
I co-founded the website SSRIStories.org, now administered by Julie Wood, who wrote an excellent series of articles (available on RxISK.org) about the significance of what is revealed in that database. I also testified at FDA hearings in 2004 and 2006 and my testimony, along with those of several other victims and survivors, led to a black box warning on antidepressants, which is all too often dismissed a decade later.
While I realize it would be reductionist to say that the suicides going on in Palo Alto are solely the result of adverse reactions to medication—not simply antidepressants, but also stimulants and other treatments that may have been started in childhood—this is still an issue that should be seriously considered. It is no secret that stimulants are now being promoted as a cognitive performance enhancer and Silicon Valley is a prime market for these drugs. [Related discussion in Notes here and here.] But how many people also know that they are a segue to other psychotropic drugs, since stimulants often lead to depression and/or mania? How many children are being labeled “bipolar” or “clinically depressed” because of their response to treatments they are receiving rather than any underlying condition?
As Ms. Rosin so poignantly (though implicitly) points out, these children are not suffering from “brain disease,” but rather some glaring societal and cultural pressures that are inappropriate and damaging. And these children and their parents are not being adequately alerted to the potential for harm of psychiatric drugs. Mental health professionals, least of all, understand that these drugs come with enormous risks of, yes, suicide and self harm, but also chronic dysthymia, sexual dysfunction, sleep disorders etc. etc.
The medications are not helping to alleviate the other broader pressures that exist in the environment (how could pills really do that?!); they are exacerbating those pressures, which is why, in my opinion, the number of suicides continues to grow.
How many of the victims in Silicon Valley were already being treated for mental disorders and how many had labels that are debilitating to live with when it’s the environment that should have the label, not the students? How many were taking medication, which is disabling and harmful over the long term, reducing rather than enhancing coping skills, unless used in a very cautious and short term way?
Mental health counseling, as it is practiced today, is, in so many cases, actually aggravating the problems rather than mitigating them. This is an issue very much worth investigating further for the sake of our next generation.
Thanks to our reader for sharing her personal and impassioned story. Anyone in the psychiatric community or pharmaceutical industry want to provide a different view of medications used to treat depression and other mood disorders? Drop us an email.
Charlotte Hornets point guard Jeremy Lin opened up to his fans in a long and heartfelt Facebook post last week that addressed his experiences dealing with professional and academic pressure, as well as suicides in his high school. Lin wrote that his reflections were prompted by the cover of this month’s Atlantic magazine, “The Silicon Valley Suicides,” a report of how expectations on high school students in the tech mecca could drive them to the brink of a dangerous — and sometimes fatal — depression.
Lin as a freshman sat next to a classmate who committed suicide, as did one of his friends the following year. From his Facebook post:
The pressure to succeed in high school is all too familiar to me. I distinctly remember being a freshman in high school, overwhelmed by the belief that my GPA over the next four years would make or break my life. My daily thought process was that every homework assignment, every project, every test could be the difference. The difference between a great college and a mediocre college. The difference between success and failure. The difference between happiness and misery.
That passage reminds me of one of the emails still sitting in our inbox, from a current senior at a high school “situated in the district of St. Louis with the highest median annual income.”
Anything less than perfect is inexcusable. And of course it’s overwhelming. I starting seeing a therapist my sophomore year.
It’s a common joke among my friends about how often we cry. (Though we almost certainly never let the others see.) It feels that a single mistake can end one’s future. I took a lit class sophomore year, and the teacher taught a lesson on cause and effect. She wrote this down: “Cause: You don’t study for your math test. Effect: ? ”
We were to fill in the effect. Most of the students filled out standard answers (You fail the test, your parents get mad, you get detention) but my friends and I, the high-achieving AP students plunked into a required course, differed. Almost uniformly, we wrote, “You fail the test. You get a poor grade in the class. Your GPA lowers. You don't get into college. You work minimum wage the rest of your life.”
This twisted script of cause and effect is rote to us, innate, and unquestionable. A single mistake ruins your life. Academia is horrifically high-stakes to us, and the pressure is awful.
I’m in five AP classes. I’m also on the speech and debate team, and National Honor Society, and president of the school’s a capella club. I love to write, so this November I participated in National Novel Writing Month, and I landed a main role in the spring musical. I sleep less than six hours a night.
I’m not trying to complain, but merely attempting to give context for this: my GPA is a 3.9. I consider this a failure because it is not a 4.0. And even though it’s perfectly understandable because I do take on a lot, it’s still a failure, because, theoretically, getting a 4.0 would have been possible. A friend of mine is president of the speech and debate team, vice president of our National Honor Society, president of our black students coalition, and in 5 AP classes as well. She has a perfect 4.0. Why shouldn't I?
Despite my course load and extracurriculars, I’m actually in a very good place, mentally. I’ve only cried twice this semester, and I feel tentatively optimistic about semester finals. But acceptance decisions for Early Action and Early Decision college applications come out next week and the one after. And my friend—the president of the debate team with a 4.0—broke down in tears last week because she has a B in AP Chemistry. So the stress never really ends.
Thanks to Hanna for writing this article. I haven’t seen many like it. (I did, however, watch the documentary Race to Nowhere last week, which focused similarly.) I hope that in the future, things will change.
Following the two clusters of youth suicides in Palo Alto in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have sent a five-person team to conduct an epidemiological assessment, the San Jose Mercury News reports.
More from the Mercury News:
The assessment will survey the extent of the health problem and track trends, as well as identify risk and protective factors, in coming up with recommendations for prevention. [...] Students and other community members have already taken numerous steps to support teens to discourage them from harming themselves. Schools are starting later so that students can get more sleep. Gunn High School students created a student support group. New fencing rims the Caltrain tracks. The school district and city have offered sessions on parenting and mental health issues. And counseling services have been expanded.
I am a 2012 Paly graduate, currently studying at Washington University in St. Louis. I’ve read Hanna Rosin’s “The Silicon Valley Suicides” four times now, but it feels like a hundred. The story is honest and true, and Rosin provides a clear overview of what has happened in Palo Alto, but it offers little that is new, at least not for someone who lived it. Rosin’s insights into Suniya Luthar’s research and the parallels between high achieving and underachieving inner-city and affluent kids are interesting and welcome, but ultimately the article provides a bird’s eye view of a community that deserves much more than that.
Here’s more from another reader, Jeremy Neff:
I grew up in Palo Alto, down the street from where the Blanchards live. I graduated from Gunn in 2012 and now I am a senior at George Washington University. Like everyone who went to Gunn when I did, I have powerful memories and emotions pertaining to the suicides of my peers. Below is my personal experience with suicide and a few current thoughts I have on the matter.
One drizzling night in early 2011, I sat in the lonely darkness of my home and wondered why I had to keep living. I was 16. I thought about how easy it would be to not do anymore homework, to not have to worry about whether I was cool, to not have to struggle to succeed in any of my passions, to not have to deal with any conflict, loneliness, or sadness.
It was 1 a.m., past my usual bedtime, and I was exhausted but still I couldn't sleep. I wanted a long rest. I didn’t think about how much my family loved me or about how my friends would cry years later when Facebook said it was my birthday or how everyone that knew me would feel unshakably sad at even the slightest mention of suicide.
Instead, I wondered how J.P. did it. I wondered if I could do it. I wondered if I had the strange courage one needed to walk two blocks to the tracks and let Caltrain sweep them away.
J.P. lived a block down the street from me. When I was 11, he came over for my older brother’s birthday and laughed when I made jokes about how nerdy my brother was. He was absolutely my favorite of my brother’s friends.
His suicide was also part of the reason I opened my front door and walked down to the crossing that night. I don’t know what I would have done if a train had come. Would I have remembered that killing myself would ruin my parents’ lives and hurt so many people? Or would I have made an impulsive leap and given up the mysterious struggle that awaited me in the rest of my life?
I stood in the shadows by the tracks for half an hour before I realized that Caltrain doesn’t run past midnight on weekdays. I didn’t tell anyone for five years, especially not my mother.
Looking back, it is hard to fully understand what drew me so close to tragedy. Certainly I had struggled with depression in the past, and had taken medication until I was 14. But I wasn’t struggling with depression in high school. Perhaps it was the feelings of inadequacy that come from being surrounded by brilliant and impressive people that drove me to consider suicide. But I definitely thought I was at least a little brilliant and impressive to some people, so that couldn’t be it. Mostly, I think I just thought nothing was worth living for.
Years later, at the ripe old age of 21, I look around me and see how I can matter in the world. I see how I can inspire someone, tell a story the world needs to hear, heal a community, bring ease or comfort to people who deserve it, or even just show one person that they are absolutely and without question beautiful and loved. But at the time, everything was just a selfish chore to help me succeed in the future.
For me, high school felt like a time to prepare so I could matter later. But that's wrong and unhealthy. My friends died and I could have too. It is wrong to think that being 16 is any less of a reason to tell a story, to heal a wound, or to make someone feel loved. And it is unhealthy when 2000 students at Gunn are doing great things like that every day, but feel selfish and unfulfilled because at the end of the day their accomplishments are going on a college app where all the beauty of their passions is reduced to a vain attempt to “be the best” and go to a selective college.
If you asked me what should be done, we could talk for hours. But I think most of it comes down to perspective and mental health. If only students fully understood how different the rest of the country was than Palo Alto, I think they would have monumentally less fear about succeeding and monumentally more optimism about how they could use their abilities to matter in the world. And if everyone had the same attitude about mental health as they did about physical health (such as having six-month mental health check-ups and getting easily excused for mental sick days), I think students would both have better mental health in the first place and feel less of a stigma when it came to reaching out for mental health care.
But as the article seems to conclude, it is impossible to be certain what might make a difference or why someone might find so much solace in death. I still don’t know why I walked down to the tracks that night, and I don’t think I ever will.
Some of the plots to overturn the election happened in secret. But don’t forget the ones that unfolded in the open.
Last year, John Eastman, whom CNN describes as an attorney working with Donald Trump’s legal team, wrote a preposterous memo outlining how then–Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the 2020 election by fiat or, failing that, throw the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans could install Trump in office despite his loss to Joe Biden. The document, which was first reported by the Washington Post journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their new book, is a step-by-step plan to overthrow the government of the United States through a preposterous interpretation of legal procedure.
Pence apparently took the idea seriously—so seriously, in fact, that, according to Woodward and Costa, former Vice President Dan Quayle had to talk him out of it. Prior to November, the possibility of Trump attempting a coup was seen as the deranged fever dream of crazed liberals. But as it turns out, Trump and his advisers had devised explicit plans for reversing Trump’s loss. Republican leaders deliberately stoked election conspiracy theories they knew to be false, in order to lay a political pretext for invalidating the results. Now, more than 10 months after the election, the country knows of at least five ways in which Trump attempted to retain power despite his defeat.
Facebook is acting like a hostile foreign power; it’s time we treated it that way.
In 1947, Albert Einstein, writing in this magazine, proposed the creation of a single world government to protect humanity from the threat of the atomic bomb. His utopian idea did not take hold, quite obviously, but today, another visionary is building the simulacrum of a cosmocracy.
Mark Zuckerberg, unlike Einstein, did not dream up Facebook out of a sense of moral duty, or a zeal for world peace. This summer, the population of Zuckerberg’s supranational regime reached 2.9 billion monthly active users, more humans than live in the world’s two most populous nations—China and India—combined.
To Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder and CEO, they are citizens of Facebookland. Long ago he conspicuously started calling them “people” instead of “users,” but they are still cogs in an immense social matrix, fleshy morsels of data to satisfy the advertisers that poured $54 billion into Facebook in the first half of 2021 alone—a sum that surpasses the gross domestic products of most nations on Earth.
While some Pfizer recipients can now get an extra shot, federal officials are still mum on what’s next for the at-risk individuals who got Moderna or J&J.
For some of us, booster shots have finally arrived. But they’ve charted quite a meandering course to get here. First, last month, President Joe Biden announced that most Americans would be able to nab third doses of mRNA vaccines eight months after their second shots. Then, last week the FDA narrowed the eligible population, before a CDC advisory committee suggested tightening the boundaries even further. Hours after that panel shared its recommendation, the agency’s director, Rochelle Walensky, reversed course and ballooned the guidance back out to more closely align with the FDA’s much broader guidelines—though she stopped short of urging the shots for everyone.
It is all, frankly, a bit confusing. Millions of Americans are now in a sort of immunological limbo, wondering which expert advice to heed, and how soon to reroll up their sleeve, as the guidance coming from up top shifts seemingly by the day. Boosters are, at this point, offering more whiplash than protection. I spoke with Walensky today at The Atlantic Festival to see if we could make sense of some of the current situation—her unconventional move to break from the advisory committee’s guidance, and the tough choices millions of Americans face as they navigate the months ahead.
This has become a common refrain among the cautious—and it’s wrong.
For many fully vaccinated Americans, the Delta surge spoiled what should’ve been a glorious summer. Those who had cast their masks aside months ago were asked to dust them off. Many are still taking no chances. Some have even returned to all the same precautions they took before getting their shots, including avoiding the company of other fully vaccinated people.
Among this last group, a common refrain I’ve heard to justify their renewed vigilance is that “vaccinated people are just as likely to spread the coronavirus.”
This misunderstanding, born out of confusing statements from public-health authorities and misleading media headlines, is a shame. It is resulting in unnecessary fear among vaccinated people, all the while undermining the public’s understanding of the importance—and effectiveness—of getting vaccinated.
A group called Counterweight assists people who feel that their bosses and co-workers are forcing them to endorse social-justice beliefs.
Helen Pluckrose is a former academic who became famous for pranking the academy. Three years ago Pluckrose, who previously researched medieval religious writing, joined with the scholars James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian to concoct some fake scientific studies on outlandish topics, such as rape culture among dogs. They loaded the papers with phrasing such as “because of my own situatedness as a human, rather than as a dog,” and submitted them to peer-reviewed journals. Seven of the papers were accepted for publication. The exercise had its critics, but to the hoaxers, the stunt suggested that journals in the humanities are so blinded by ideology that they’ll publish anything that confirms their worldview.
One of the ocean’s top predators has met its match.
Filipa Samarra could hear the pilot whales before she could see them. In 2015, out on the choppy waters off of southern Iceland, Samarra and her research team were eavesdropping on a group of killer whales. She listened as they pipped, squealed, and clicked when suddenly her ears were filled with high-pitched whistling. “Then the killer whales just went silent,” says Samarra, a biologist and the lead investigator of the Icelandic Orca Project. As the whistling grew stronger, a group of pilot whales came into view, and the killer whales seemed to turn and swim away.
“It’s quite unusual because the killer whale is this top predator,” says Anna Selbmann, a doctoral candidate at the University of Iceland who is supervised by Samarra. “It’s very unusual that they’re afraid of anything—or seemingly afraid.”
A conversation with the former Google CEO Eric Schmidt
For years now, artificial intelligence has been hailed as both a savior and a destroyer. The technology really can make our lives easier, letting us summon our phones with a “Hey, Siri” and (more importantly) assisting doctors on the operating table. But as any science-fiction reader knows, AI is not an unmitigated good: It can be prone to the same racial biases as humans are, and, as is the case with self-driving cars, it can be forced to make murky split-second decisions that determine who lives and who dies. Like it or not, AI is only going to become an even more omnipresent force: We’re in a “watershed moment” for the technology, says Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO.
Schmidt is a longtime fixture in a tech industry that seems to constantly be in a state of upheaval. He was the first software manager at Sun Microsystems, in the 1980s, and the CEO of the former software giant Novell in the ’90s. He joined Google as CEO in 2001, then was the company’s executive chairman from 2011 until 2017. Since leaving Google, Schmidt has made AI his focus: In 2018, he wrote in The Atlantic about the need to prepare for the AI boom, along with his co-authors Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, and the MIT dean Daniel Huttenlocher. The trio have followed up that story with The Age of AI, a book about how AI will transform how we experience the world, coming out in November.
A weather report can’t replace an umbrella, and a coronavirus test can’t replace a shot.
President Joe Biden’s new vaccine mandate for large businesses is a strange one, in that it does not actually make vaccines mandatory for the roughly 80 million Americans it’s aimed at. Tucked plainly into the rule is a singular and obvious opt-out: Unlike federal employees and contractors, those in the private sector can test for the coronavirus on an at-least-weekly basis, a no-jab alternative that makes the White House’s decision quite a bit gentler than it could have been. “It’s a stick, but it’s sort of a soft stick,” Julia Raifman, a health-policy researcher at Boston University, told me.
The two-pronged approach is certainly more flexible, and perhaps more politically palatable, than pushing shots alone. Recent polling suggests that a majority of Americans are on board with mandates, at least when they’re doled out as a double scoop. “People like choices,” Syra Madad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Harvard and for the New York City Health System, told me. That’s long been true for public-health carrots as well: In places such as Israel, the European Union, and parts of Canada, negative test results are among the “passport” options that can green-light residents for entry into restaurants, bars, gyms, clubs, and travel hubs; a smattering of similar policies have been in place at certain American businesses for months.
The controversial cult brand LuLaRoe sold a powerful idea: that mothers could succeed as entrepreneurs while spending meaningful time with their kids.
People who have heard of LuLaRoe have usually come across it for one of two reasons. Either someone they know has tried to sell them the company’s stretchy leggings and fit-and-flare dresses over Facebook, or they’ve seen some of the gleeful coverage of LuLaRoe’s very public disintegration as a brand: the lawsuits, the bankruptcies filed by its sellers, the boxes of apparently moldy clothing shipped to vendors that smelled, in one woman’s description, like a “dead fart.” (Leggings! Never not controversial!) Much of LuLaRich, a new four-part Amazon series exploring the company’s rise and fall, focuses on its alleged mismanagement and manipulative aspects, grouping it with some of the splashier docuseries of years past. No one at LuLaRoe seems to have found themselves getting the area above their groin branded, or poisoning an Oregon salad bar with salmonella. But in one scene, a former LuLaRoe vendor recalls a company meetup where everyone assembled was, like her, wearing brightly patterned leggings and a broad, be-lipsticked smile. “I remember looking around and being like, We all look the same,” she tells the camera. “I was like, Oh my God, I’m in a cult.”
Social codes are changing, in many ways for the better. But for those whose behavior doesn’t adapt fast enough to the new norms, judgment can be swift—and merciless.
“It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner’s experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length.”
So begins the tale of Hester Prynne, as recounted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. As readers of this classic American text know, the story begins after Hester gives birth to a child out of wedlock and refuses to name the father. As a result, she is sentenced to be mocked by a jeering crowd, undergoing “an agony from every footstep of those that thronged to see her, as if her heart had been flung into the street for them all to spurn and trample upon.” After that, she must wear a scarlet A—for adulterer—pinned to her dress for the rest of her life. On the outskirts of Boston, she lives in exile. No one will socialize with her—not even those who have quietly committed similar sins, among them the father of her child, the saintly village preacher. The scarlet letter has “the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.”