How the Ukrainians – with no navy – defeated Russia’s Black Sea Fleet

Since the Russian invasion began in 2022, Ukraine has successfully resisted its opponents on many fronts, but its most surprising success came in a theater where few expected Ukraine to prevail: the Black Sea.

In 2022, the consensus among military analysts was that Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s military would most likely crush Ukrainian forces in the air, on land and at sea. With a vast infusion of financial assistance and weapons from the U.S. and Western nations, Ukraine has, however, fought Russia to a standstill on land. On the sea, the Ukrainians have had greater success and have launched a revolution in weapons and tactics that offer both lessons and warnings for the world’s navies.

When Moscow’s invasion began, Ukraine’s only warship was a Soviet-era frigate that had to be scuttled in the Ukrainian port of Mykolaiv to prevent it from falling into Russian hands. Unchallenged on the seas, the Russian navy rained ballistic missiles down on Ukrainian cities, provided protection for military aircraft, blockaded Ukrainian ports and was preparing to launch an amphibious attack on Ukraine’s largest port, Odesa.

But, deploying a series of new tactics and weapons in what became known as the Battle of the Black Sea, the Ukrainians have been able to destroy 26 Russian vessels since the start of the war and force Russia’s powerful Black Sea Fleet to flee hundreds of miles to a safer harbor. This historic success offers a lesson in how weaker powers can take advantage of innovative thinking and new technology to defeat more powerful opponents.

First victory: Sinking the Moskva

From the invasion’s beginning in late February 2022, the Moskva, a guided-missile cruiser that served as the flagship of the Black Sea Fleet, played a key role in Russia’s naval campaign against Ukraine. Perhaps its most famous action was in February 2022, when it captured the strategic Ukrainian naval base known as Snake Island – whose defenders reportedly responded to Russian calls for their surrender by saying “Russian warship, go f*** yourself.”

The vessel’s onboard defense systems and ability to operate from more than 60 miles off Ukraine’s coast seemed to make the Moskva, Russia’s third-largest active warship, virtually impervious to attack.

But at approximately 1 a.m. on April 14, 2022, the Ukrainians managed to pinpoint the Moskva’s location via a combination of radar and intelligence information shared by the U.S. A shore-based missile battery then launched two Ukrainian-built Neptune anti-ship missiles that destroyed the Moskva by igniting its ammunition. It was Russia’s first loss of a flagship since the 1904-1905 Russo-Japanese war and the largest warship sunk in battle since World War II.

In the following days, the Russian navy’s smaller ships pulled back, staying 20 miles farther from the Ukrainian coast than they had been. This move severely limited their effectiveness and put an end to Russian plans to launch an amphibious attack on Odesa.

Throughout 2022, the Ukrainians used more missiles to blow up advanced Russian anti-aircraft systems in the Crimean Peninsula and to damage two more Russian ships. These victories, and the Ukrainians’ subsequent recapture of Snake Island, opened the shipping lanes in the western Black Sea for vital Ukrainian grain shipments to global markets.

But Russians’ hopes that their navy would be safer farther out to sea were to be dashed when the Ukrainians began to hunt their ships with another new naval weapon: sea drones.

A look at Ukrainian sea drones’ effectiveness against Russian forces.

Attack of the sea drones

Starting in the spring of 2022, with little external help, the Ukrainians began to design and build the world’s first combat-deployed sea drone, known as the Magura-V5. This explosive-laden vehicle was designed to do what many thought impossible: travel long distances across stormy seas, undetected by radar, and deliver 500 to 700 pounds of explosives to distant targets.

The drones’ first test was to be a night raid on the heart of Russian power in the Black Sea, the naval base at Sevastopol in Russian-occupied Crimea. At 4 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2022, six to eight remotely guided Magura sea drones entered the harbor and damaged the new flagship for the Russian Black Sea Fleet, the frigate Admiral Makarov, and a minesweeper. One naval combat analyst described the first-ever sea drone assault on a naval base as “a turning point in naval strategy.”

Following this victory, the Ukrainians began deploying the drones more widely. Cameras on board the remotely guided craft sent back imagery of their attacks on a variety of Black Sea Fleet vessels, including tugboats, patrol boats, assault boats, corvettes, trawlers, minesweepers and landing ships. In one typical strike, several remotely piloted drones repeatedly struck and sank the Ivanovets, a missile corvette. The dramatic drone footage released by Ukraine’s secretive Group 13 shows the doomed ship’s crew firing into the water as the unmanned vehicles home in on their target. The footage on every bomb-packed drone abruptly ends as it drives into the ship’s hull and explodes.

Ukrainian military footage shows unmanned sea drones attacking a Russian ship.

A tactical retreat, but no safe port

The waves of drone attacks, combined with strikes from cruise missiles supplied to Ukraine by the United Kingdom and France, sank or damaged 26 Russian vessels. These losses ultimately forced the Russians to withdraw most of their fleet from Sevastopol in October 2023.

But if the Russians thought they were safe in their fallback port in distant Novorossiysk, they were wrong. Buoyed by the success of the Magura drones, the Ukrainians developed longer-range sea drones known as Seababies and Mamais. These more advanced drones were used to travel nearly 500 miles across the Black Sea to strike Russian vessels around the new base.

The Seababy drones have also been used to deploy naval mines to sink four ships, to attack the strategic Kerch Bridge linking Russia with Crimea and to carry rocket launchers for shooting missiles at Russian land and sea targets.

The Ukrainians’ sea drone successes are not only cause for celebration in Ukraine, but demonstrate the potential of new ideas and equipment to reshape naval warfare and the balance of military power at sea. Läs mer…

Biden’s and Trump’s ages would prevent them running many top companies – and for good reason

President Joe Biden, currently seeking a second term as the Democratic Party’s nominee, is 81. Former President Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s nominee, is 78. No one older has run for U.S. president before. That was also true in 2020, when the same two men ran against each other.

The candidates’ ages, coupled with apparent signs of cognitive and physical decline, have many politicians and other Americans asking questions and expressing doubts about both men’s stamina and ability to lead the nation.
These concerns are justified by research I and a fellow finance professor, Adam Yore, conducted about older CEOs.

One of our observations was that approximately half of the 1,500 largest public companies in the U.S make their CEOs step down when they turn 65 or so.

Making retirement mandatory

Two high-profile examples are General Electric’s storied CEO Jack Welch, who was forced out at age 65, and former vice president Al Gore, who stepped down from Apple’s board of directors in January 2024 after serving on it for two decades. Gore, along with a fellow board member, had turned 75 and that made them ineligible for a new term.

This corporate practice leads to a logical question: If Gore is deemed too old to serve on Apple’s board of directors, does that make politicians his age too old to run one of the most powerful countries in the world?

For companies included in the S&P 500 index, which is widely regarded as the best measure of U.S. stock market’s performance, mandatory retirement policies are even more common. Nearly 70% of those 500 companies make their board members retire at a particular age.

We found that the typical retirement age for a CEO is 65 and that members of corporate boards of directors in companies with mandatory retirement ages usually have to step aside in their mid-70s.

If that standard were applied to U.S. politics, neither Trump nor Biden would have been able to run for president in 2020, let alone 2024.

Yore and I, in a study we published in 2016 in the Journal of Empirical Finance, found compelling evidence supporting the use of mandatory retirement policies for top executives.

After controlling for how long the CEOs had served, the data revealed that each year a CEO ages, a company loses 0.34% of its value. We also determined that this effect is driven primarily by CEOs over the age of 68.

Splitting the sample into CEOs under 42 and CEOs over 68, essentially the youngest and the oldest of these corporate leaders, revealed that shares in companies with the younger CEOs outperformed shares in companies led by the older CEOs by 1.55% per year.

The data we reviewed also indicated that this negative association between a CEO’s age and the performance of shares in their companies disappears for companies with mandatory retirement policies. We therefore concluded that mandatory retirement policies are effective in limiting the negative effects on performance associated with older CEOs.

Sumner Redstone, photographed in 2013, served as the executive chairman of both CBS and Viacom until February 2016. At age 92, the media mogul resigned both chairmanships following a court-ordered examination by a geriatric psychiatrist.
Richard Shotwell/Invision via AP

Anticipating negative consequences

To be clear, we didn’t set out to prove that this was true.

Our hunch was that mandatory age limits were primarily used as a tool to force out entrenched executives who had amassed too much power for the good of their shareholders. But after combing through about 12,600 data points we found no evidence for our original hypothesis.

In other words, our findings contradicted what we expected to see. Instead, we learned that companies led by older CEOs are far less active in deal-making.

That is, they are less likely to engage in mergers and acquisitions, new partnerships, and joint ventures than CEOs who are younger. They’re also less likely to hire or fire employees. This holds true regardless of how long the CEO over 65 has held their job.

Jack Welch, seen in a 2013 photograph, was forced to retire from his job as GE’s CEO when he turned 65.
AP Photo/Richard Drew

Documenting cognitive changes

Our findings were consistent with scientific evidence about aging.

Declines in cognitive ability are very common as people age, many researchers have found. Age-related physiological changes appear to affect decision-making and impair judgment-related performance as well. Researchers have long found that inductive reasoning, perceptual speed, numerical ability, and verbal memory all show long-run declines with age, although some of those issues can be reversed. And these traits are necessary for the leadership of corporations and governments alike.

To be sure, there are clear differences between leading a country and leading a company. And there are obviously benefits from experience that come with age. However, many of the skills and characteristics needed to get either job done right are similar.

Many of the nation’s most successful companies prefer executives who are under 65 because younger leaders tend to perform better than their older counterparts. A decade after conducting this research, I’m wondering whether that preference should also apply when Americans choose the person who will lead the United States. Läs mer…

Cutting marketing spending often backfires on businesses – new research could help investors distinguish shortsighted cuts from smart ones

Businesses are often tempted to cut their marketing budgets for the short-term savings it provides – but those cuts can cause problems in the long term. A new study my colleague Tarun Kushwaha and I published in The Journal of Marketing proposes a method for predicting whether these counterproductive cuts will take place up to a year in advance.

We gathered transcripts of nearly 25,000 earnings calls held by public companies from 2008 to 2019. We then analyzed how management teams discussed marketing and earnings. We found that the more earnings-oriented language was in a call — think words like “lucrative” or “revenues” — the more likely a management team was to cut their marketing budget for a boost in earnings.

Unlike business-as-usual budget shifts, the motive in these cases was to raise short-term earnings to gain personal profits – for example, to boost stock prices before an executive retires – to raise immediate funds, or to satisfy investor pressure and expectations. These cuts in exchange for a bump in earnings are shortsighted, since investing in marketing tends to grow a company’s market share over time.

Why it matters

Executives often feel pressured to meet short-term earnings targets at the expense of long-term goals, survey data and research have shown. Cutting costs is one way businesses make themselves look better in the short term. And since investing in marketing takes time to pay off, marketing spending often winds up on the chopping block.

My fellow marketing professors call these “myopic” marketing spending decisions – “myopic” being a fancy word for shortsighted. They often happen before initial public offerings, share repurchases and executive retirements.

While these myopic decisions have short-term benefits, they harm investors, customers and other stakeholders in the long term. After companies myopically cut marketing spending, they often lose market value; that’s why such cuts are linked with worse stock-market performance in the long run. A tool that helps investors identify myopic marketing spending would help them protect their portfolios from negative long-term consequences.

Our method isn’t just backward-looking – it can be used to forecast future shortsighted cuts to marketing spending. Investors could use it to analyze publicly available earnings-calls transcripts for useful data up to four times a year. We estimate that for every US$100 invested, using our method to avoid investing in shortsighted companies could return an additional $6.44 over four years compared with conventional methods. Marketing firms and advertising agencies could also use it to identify companies that plan to pare their marketing budgets.

What’s next

As part of our research efforts, my team has published the algorithm and data necessary to replicate our findings. This will let individual investors and other stakeholders gain valuable insights into executives’ intentions regarding the funding of their marketing and research departments.

While our research has primarily focused on transcribed text from earnings calls, we see more potential in analyzing the audio and video from these calls. Audio analysis could reveal insights from tone, pitch, pauses and filler words, while video analysis could capture the brief involuntary facial expressions known as micro-expressions.

The Research Brief is a short take on interesting academic work. Läs mer…

Fewer bees and other pollinating insects lead to shrinking crops

Many plants, from crops to carnations, cannot bear fruit or reproduce without bees, beetles, butterflies and other insects to pollinate them. But the population of insect pollinators is dropping in the U.S., due in part to pesticides, climate change, invasive plants and diminished habitats. Rachel Mallinger, assistant professor of entomology at the University of Florida, explains why these insects are in decline and how homeowners can create yards and gardens that are good for pollinators.

Rachel Mallinger discusses insect pollination.

The Conversation has collaborated with SciLine to bring you highlights from the discussion that have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What kind of insects pollinate?

Rachel Mallinger: A lot of different insects pollinate. Insects visit flowers for many purposes, often for food, to get nectar or to get pollen. Sometimes they’ll visit flowers to mate or to lay eggs or as refuge. Bees are the primary pollinators for a lot of plants, but flies, wasps, beetles and butterflies also play an important role.

How ecologically critical are insect pollinators?

Mallinger: A small percentage of flowering plants are pollinated primarily by wind, but new research suggests that as much as 90% require animal pollinators. Although birds, bats and other mammals also pollinate, insects are the main pollinators for the vast majority of those plants.

Without insects and their pollination, these plants would not be able to reproduce, and we would see a dramatic decline in plant diversity and abundance. Without insect pollinators, these plants wouldn’t produce the seeds and the fruit that feed many animals – including people.

Have insect pollinator populations declined?

Mallinger: Recent studies have shown pretty dramatic declines in insects generally, and this has been shown even in conservation lands. So we think that in highly developed areas, insect declines are probably even more dramatic.

I study primarily native wild bees. Here in North America, we have between 4,000 and 5,000 species. For many species, we don’t know if they’re declining. Of the ones that we do have some information on, it’s estimated that about half are declining and about a quarter are imperiled and potentially on the road to going extinct.

The insect pollinators that tend to be most at risk are ones that are specialists – those that require really unique, specialized food or nesting resources. Also ones that already have a limited range. For example, maybe they are found only on islands or in a small area.

Although many bee populations are in danger, there’s much you can do to help.

What about the economic importance of insect pollinators?

Mallinger: Crops pollinated by animals, primarily insects, make up about one-third of our agricultural production in terms of acreage. A study in the state of Georgia found over US$360 million per year in crop pollination services provided by insects in that state alone.

What do insect pollinators need to be healthy?

Mallinger: Aside from pollen and nectar, some insect pollinators require additional food sources. For example, butterflies in the caterpillar stage need foliage from their host plants.

Other insect pollinators, like wasps and flies, are carnivores in the larval stage, so during that time they need to eat small arthropods – like spiders and centipedes – and insects.

Beyond that, they need nesting habitat. The majority of our insect pollinators nest below ground, and so they need ground that is relatively undisturbed, bare and accessible. Other pollinators nest in woody debris, stems and reeds. And some pollinators, like butterflies, just lay their eggs on host plants.

Additionally, pollinators need environments that are free from toxins. So they need environments that are not regularly sprayed with pesticides, including insecticides.

What stressors are leading to declines in insect pollinator populations?

Mallinger: I would say there are five main stressors.

Land use change is one. This can be the conversion of wild lands to agriculture or to development.

Climate change is another stressor. It changes the average temperature that these pollinators are experiencing and increases the chance of extreme temperatures and weather events. Hurricanes and flooding can be really detrimental and destroy the habitat for pollinators.

Third, pesticides and other chemicals in our environment that are toxic.

Invasive plants can be really detrimental for pollinators. They can take over an area and replace the native plants that pollinators depend on. That’s four.

And finally, pathogens and parasites.

All five of these stressors can interact. For example, climate change may increase the likelihood of invasive plant species, pathogens and parasites thriving. Land use change can also increase the likelihood of invasive species.

What can homeowners do to help pollinators?

Mallinger: Planting a diversity of flowering plants for pollinators is one of the best things you can do. Aim to have at least three plants flowering at any given time, and look for a diversity of flower colors and shapes. Different pollinators have different preferences. You can have flowers that are yellow, blue, purple, pink, red and white.

In terms of floral shapes, plant some flowers that are flat and are accessible for pollinators with small mouthparts. And also plant some flowers with medium-length tubes, and some with long tubes.

Focus on native plants and try to seek out plants that might not just be the common types that you find in the big box stores. Go to native plant nurseries and seek out resources online.

Additionally, try to have nesting habitat in your garden. If the space allows, have some woody debris around for the pollinators that nest above ground. This can include things like logs, stems and reeds. Also manage your area to be as chemical-free as possible. This includes reducing pesticide use.

Keep in mind that many pollinators that nest below ground are not aggressive and are solitary. It’s just one individual pollinator and her nest.

Watch the full interview to hear more.

SciLine is a free service based at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit that helps journalists include scientific evidence and experts in their news stories. Läs mer…

Sports in extreme heat: How high school athletes can safely prepare for the start of practice, and the warning signs of heat illness

High school sports teams start practices soon in what has been an extremely hot summer in much of the country. Now, before they hit the field, is the time for athletes to start slowly and safely building up strength and stamina.

Studies have found that the greatest risk of heat illness occurs in the first two weeks of team practices, while players’ bodies are still getting used to the physical exertion and the heat. Being physically ready to start increasingly intense team practices can help reduce the risk.

I am an athletic trainer who specializes in catastrophic injuries and heat illnesses. Here’s what everyone needs to know to help keep athletes safe in the heat.

Why should athletes restart workouts slowly?

One of the biggest risk factors for developing dangerous exertional heat illnesses is your physical fitness level. That’s because how fit you are affects your heart rate and breathing, and also your ability to regulate your body temperature.

If an athlete waits until the first day of practice to start exercising, their heart won’t be able to pump blood and oxygen through the body as effectively, and the body won’t be as adept at dissipating heat. As a person works out more, their body undergoes changes that improve their thermoregulation.

That’s why it’s important for athletes to gradually and safely ramp up their activity, ideally starting at least three weeks before team practices begin.

Taking breaks – ideally in the shade – and staying hydrated can help athletes avoid heat illnesses.
Ian Spanier/ImageSource via Getty Images

There is no hard and fast rule for how much activity is right for preparing – it varies by the person and the sport.

It’s important to remember not to push yourself too hard. Acclimatizing to working out in the heat takes time, so start slow and pay close attention to how your body responds.

How hot is too hot for working out outside?

Anything that is hotter than normal conditions can be risky, but it varies around the country. A hot day in Maine might be a cool day in Alabama.

If it’s significantly hotter outside than you’re used to, you’re more likely to get a heat illness.

To stay safe, avoid exercising outside in the hottest periods. Work out in the shade, or in the early mornings or evenings when the sun’s rays aren’t as hot. Wear loose clothing and light colors to dissipate and reflect as much heat as you can.

Hydration is also important, both drinking water and replenishing electrolytes lost through sweating. If your urine is light-colored, you are likely hydrated. Darker urine is a sign of dehydration.

Players need to stay hydrated and start practices slowly, without heavy equipment, to allow their bodies time to acclimate to the exertion and heat.
Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

What does acclimatization look like for teams?

Once team practices start, many states require heat acclimatization processes that gradually phase in activity, though their rules vary. Some states require 14 days of heat acclimatization. Some require six days or none. Some only require it for football.

Athletes who get a head start on acclimatization can help their bodies adapt faster and more efficiently to the heat. Regardless of what your state requires, all athletes participating in all sports should acclimatize carefully.

Heat acclimatization involves adding more strain during the workout every few days, but taking care not to add too much.

For example, instead of starting the first day of practice with full pads and full contact in football, players might start with just the helmets for the first few days.

Contact practices generate body heat, and full pads and helmets hold that heat in. More than 50 high school football players died from heat illnesses between 1996 and 2022.
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Acclimatization is also about limits: Holding practice only once a day in the beginning and capping how many hours players practice each day can help avoid putting too much strain on their bodies too fast. Coaches and athletic trainers must also keep an eye on the wet bulb global temperature – the combination of heat, humidity, radiation and wind speed – to gauge the heat risk to players and know when to limit or cancel practice.

This isn’t just for football. Whether it’s soccer, track and field, softball or baseball, heat illnesses do not discriminate. A Georgia basketball player died after collapsing during an outdoor workout in 2019 – she was accustomed to practicing indoors, not in the heat.

What are warning signs an athlete is overheating?

If a player starts to slow down or gets lethargic, that may be a sign that they’re overheating. You might see evidence of central nervous system problems, such as confusion, irritability and being disoriented. You might see someone stumbling or trying to hold themselves up.

Most of the time, someone with exertional heatstroke will be sweating. They might have red skin and be sweating profusely. Sometimes a person with heat stress can lose consciousness, but most of the time they don’t.

Signs of heat illness in athletes and what to do about it.
Alexander Davis for Arizona State University, Korey Stringer Institute

What should you do if someone appears to have a heat illness?

If someone appears to be suffering from heat illness, cool them down as fast as possible. Find a tub you can put the person in with water and ice. Keep their head out of the water, but cool them as fast as possible.

Immersion in a cool tub is best. If you can’t find a tub, put them in a shower and put ice around them. Even a tarp can work – athletic trainers call it the taco method: Put the patient in the middle of the tarp, put some water in with ice, and hold up the sides to oscillate them slowly so you’re moving the water from side to side.

Every sports team should have access to a cooling vessel. About half the states require it. As that expands, these safety practices will likely trickle down to youth sports, too.

If a player appears to be suffering from heatstroke, cool them down and call 911. Having a comprehensive emergency action plan ensures that all personnel know how to respond.

What else can teams do to prepare?

Exertional heatstroke is a top cause of sports-related death across all levels of sports, but proper recognition and care can save lives.

Athletic trainers are vital for sports programs because they are specifically trained to recognize and manage patients suffering from exertional heatstroke and other injuries. As hot days become more common, I believe all sports programs, including high school sports programs, should have an athletic trainer on staff to keep players safe. Läs mer…

Why I turned the ‘Red Dead Redemption II’ video game into a history class on America’s violent past

Uncommon Courses is an occasional series from The Conversation U.S. highlighting unconventional approaches to teaching.

Title of course:

Red Dead’s History: Exploring America’s Violent Past Through the Hit Video Game

What prompted the idea for the course?

This course was born during the COVID-19 pandemic. Confronting the lockdowns of 2020 and uncertain months spent at home, I rekindled a high school hobby that I had neglected for two decades – video gaming.

One of the first games I picked up was “Red Dead Redemption II,” set in a fictionalized America of 1899. The game follows the Van der Linde gang, a diverse crew of idealistic outlaws, as they flee authority in an increasingly ordered and hierarchical world. Since its 2018 release, the game has sold more than 64 million copies, making it the seventh on the list of all-time bestselling video games – and the only historically themed one on the list.

While video games had been a mindless pastime in high school, this time around I was playing as a professor who specialized in U.S. history since the Civil War. And though that made me a far more critical gamer, I was also genuinely surprised at how often RDRII – as it is often called – alluded to major topics that historians have spent generations debating.

These topics include corporate capitalism, settler colonialism, women’s suffrage and the inequalities of race in an era that Mark Twain had called the “Gilded Age” – a period where the dazzling wealth of a small handful sharply contrasted with the misery of common people. These weighty topics were often on the game’s sidelines, rather than at center stage – but they were present nevertheless.

It wasn’t long into my playthrough that an epiphany struck me. Given how wildly popular this game was with college-age Americans, why not try teaching a serious history course that used the fictional content of the games as a springboard to jump into some of the thorniest dilemmas of the American past?

The experiment proved a success. The course was wildly popular with students and also garnered wide media coverage for its unusual approach to teaching with pop culture.

Encouraged by this response, I’ve now adapted the course into a book for both gamers and history buffs around the world, titled “Red Dead’s History: A Video Game, An Obsession, and America’s Violent Past,” set to be released in August 2024. An extra bonus is that the audiobook version will be narrated by Roger Clark, who played RDRII’s protagonist.

What does the course explore?

Given the centrality of violence to the video game, the course seeks to understand what really spurred bloodshed in the United States between 1865 and 1920.

In RDRII, gunfire is usually sparked by personal grudges, robberies or the overconsumption of alcohol. But in Gilded Age America, it wasn’t so simple. Instead, broader social problems were the primary catalyst of violence. First, Americans fought over the emerging regime of corporate capitalism. Should new businesses like U.S. Steel and the Union Pacific Railroad, who wielded never-before-seen power and influence, dominate workers and consumers alike? Many resisted such an idea through protests, strikes and sometimes bloodshed.

Secondly, Americans came to blows over the unfulfilled promises of racial equality that were written into the U.S. Constitution after the Civil War. Especially in the South, where the vast majority of African Americans lived, the formerly enslaved and their descendants demanded inclusion in politics and a chance to progress economically. But many white Southerners resisted such efforts, often using terrorism to push their Black neighbors into subservient positions.

Why is this course relevant now?

American society in the late 19th century was ruptured by inequalities wrought by capitalism and race – and so is ours today. In the wake of Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street, it’s wise that we look back at the long road that brought America to its contemporary dilemmas of racial violence and the gap between rich and poor. A handy way to open that conversation with young Americans is through video games – an industry that has now surged in value to eclipse both music and movies, and which might be the key to reaching this generation’s students, as studies are beginning to show.

Video games are proving to be an effective way to reach today’s students.
Chesnot via Getty Images

What’s a critical lesson from the course?

One key lesson is about the city of New Orleans, fictionalized in RDRII as “Saint Denis.” In the game, the outlaw protagonists trade fire with the city’s blue-coated policemen following a botched bank robbery, leaving bodies in the streets. Few gamers could guess that a similarly bloody firefight with the police riveted the real city in 1900, just a year after the game is set, leaving seven officers dead. Yet here the outlaw was a Black man, Robert Charles, who took a violent stand against police abuse and the emerging system of Jim Crow segregation.

In response to his attacks on the police, white mobs roamed the city and indiscriminately killed Black civilians. Therefore, the explosion of violence in New Orleans was produced not by simple banditry but by one of America’s towering social dilemmas.

What materials does the course feature?

I frequently begin course sessions with a brief video cutscene or gameplay footage from RDRII, before we dive into the actual history that the games represent – or sometimes, misrepresent. For reading, students dive into scholarly monographs such as historian K. Stephen Prince’s “The Ballad of Robert Charles”, on the violent dilemmas of race in New Orleans. They also read a range of original sources, such as cowboy memoirs, train schedules and a Texas newspaper from 1899.

What will the course prepare students to do?

Anyone who has taken my class – or read my new book – will know that the big social problems we are wrestling with today have deep roots, and took their modern shape during the same 1865-1920 period that is memorably captured in RDRII. They’ll also become much more discerning consumers of digital media, and games in particular; they’ll be better able to assess and critique representations of history on the digital screen. Läs mer…

Major IT outage brings businesses around the world to a standstill – expert explains what happened and why

A major IT outage has hit businesses across the world, grounding planes as well as affecting banks and the healthcare sector.

George Kurtz, CEO of IT security firm Crowdstrike, said it had traced the issue to a “defect found in a single content update” for the security software it provides for the Microsoft Windows operating system on computers.

Microsoft said the issue was caused by an “update from a third-party software platform” and that the “underlying cause” had now been fixed.

The Conversation spoke to Professor Alan Woodward, an expert in cybersecurity at the University of Surrey, about what went wrong and how the problem could be resolved.

Can you explain what’s happened here?

I think there are two things. First, Microsoft seems to have had a problem with its Azure cloud computing platform. It’s a bit unclear, but there was a degree of degradation in that service starting in the evening of 18 July. However, it didn’t fail altogether.

But by far the bigger problem seems to be an update that appears to have been done in the late evening of July 18 for [IT security company] Crowdstrike’s Falcon product – a computer threat checker. Falcon works by having some “agent” software deeply embedded in the operating system of every PC, which monitors that computer and “calls home” if there’s a problem. It also receives updates on what to look out for if there’s a threat. It’s used a lot by large organisations throughout the world, which have a huge number of PCs to police.

I’m sure Crowdstrike are urgently investigating what happened. This piece of software is designed to protect people from ransomware attacks and the like. From the latest information I’ve seen, it looks like the update system file was somehow released in an incorrect format.

The Windows operating system gets to this update and it doesn’t know how to cope, so it crashes. That’s why people have been getting the “blue screen of death” [a computer screen with an error message indicating a system crash].

And the big problem is, you can’t fix this issue remotely. You have to go into every machine separately and put it into “safe” or “recovery” mode to isolate the software. From there, you should be able to reboot the machine and get it up and running again. But if you’re a big global company with a large distributed IT estate, that’s going to take a long time.

Read more:
What is CrowdStrike Falcon and what does it do? Is my computer safe?

Why has this outage had such wide-ranging effects?

Crowdstrike has been a great success – its security software is used by hundreds of thousands of major clients around the world. So airlines, airports, railways, hospitals, stock exchanges … they’re all going down.

It started in Australia when they got up for business on Friday. The update had clearly been sent out last night UK time, and it has just rippled around the world.

With deliberate ransomware attacks, they’ll typically take out one or two targets at a time. But in this case, it’s happened to thousands of organisations at once. We’ve not had anything like this before.

How Crowdstrike will fix the software is yet to be determined. As I’ve explained, it’s clear how companies can work around the issue. But for some very large organisations, this could affect their critical infrastructure and business for a long time yet – it’s going to take them days to physically work round all those machines.

The problem also affected the healthcare sector.
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Can security companies ensure this doesn’t happen again?

Security software is very intertwined with a computer’s operating system – it’s buried deep in there. There has to be a way that if something is found to be corrupted, it doesn’t just keep crashing the system – this may have to be done in cooperation with Microsoft, which owns the Windows operating system.

There’s got to be some way of backing out of it, and there is. However, most people trying to log into their blank PCs don’t know how to put their PCs into safe mode and revert to a previous state.

At the moment, it looks like it’s one corrupted file that’s producing a global problem. Computers download updates all the time, so how Microsoft prevents that from happening with this update, I don’t know. It’s not immediately obvious. And the million dollar question is: how did this corrupted file get released in the first place?

How long before this problem is fully resolved?

It’s certainly going to take days, if not weeks. It’s like those hospitals in London that got attacked with ransomware. They’re still suffering – there’s a very long tail on these things.

And in this case, it’s not just a long tail but a very broad swathe of global organisations in transport, health and everywhere else. I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this before.

On X, formerly Twitter, George Kurtz, co-founder and CEO of Crowdstrike commented: “The issue has been identified, isolated and a fix has been deployed. We refer customers to the support portal for the latest updates”. Läs mer…

The long – and strange – history of testing menstrual blood for health conditions

There’s good news for anyone who menstruates and doesn’t like the needles involved in blood testing. In January 2024, the biotechnology research company Qvin won FDA approval for their Q-Pad product – a menstrual pad with a removable strip to collect blood samples for clinical tests. It offers a needle-free way of testing menstrual blood for signs of diabetes.

This may only be the beginning of tapping into the huge potential of using menstrual blood in this way. Blood testing, as we know it today, began in the 19th century. But using menstrual blood in diagnosis has a longer history than many people realise.

Part of that involves a shift away from seeing this blood as a waste product. Before ovulation was discovered in the early 20th century, regular monthly bleeding was seen as essential to women’s health. It was thought to be the only way they could get rid of “excess” blood, which was supposedly produced from the normal processes of eating and drinking.

Following the theories of the influential ancient doctor Galen, people believed that the liver made food into blood. Because women’s flesh was supposed to be more “spongy” than men’s flesh, it was thought that it sent any blood that wasn’t needed by the body for its nourishment downwards, hence menstruation.

In the medieval book De Secretis Mulierum (On Women’s Secrets), the womb was described as “like a sewer situated in the middle of the town where all the waste materials run together and are sent forth”. There’s a 2,000-year history of this view, with the womb thought to not only get rid of spare blood but also to use that blood to flush out any bad substances from the body.

There were more positive ways of framing this. Having access to a sewer was thought to be a lot better for the body than not having one. So, in a belief system where it was all about waste products, that extra way out of the body could even give women a health advantage. One Hippocratic writer noted that, in some fevers: “Though many women fell ill, they were fewer than the men and less frequently died.”

Some western Europe medical writers went further still. They saw the womb as the most miraculous of all body parts, and praised its efficiency not just in processing waste but also in forming, holding and nurturing a baby.

But alongside this view, 16th-century medical writers came up with others. Some didn’t see menstrual blood as in any way “bad”, but just like all other blood. After all, they also believed that babies were made out of their mothers’ blood, and that breast milk was made of menstrual blood – so it couldn’t be entirely bad. Others saw it as not quite the same as other blood, but still “useful excrement”.

Western European cultures held various taboos about the power of menstruation to stop jam setting, or to prevent bread from rising. But alongside these beliefs, medicine was already using the appearance as well as the regularity of menstrual bleeding as evidence of various medical conditions.

In the 5th and 4th century BC, people thought about the body in terms of the various fluids it contained. Not just ones we’d recognise, like blood and phlegm, but also yellow bile and black bile.

Menstrual fluid was inspected for evidence that one of these fluids was present in too large a quantity. If the menses were shiny and black, and did not form clots, that was evidence of too much bile. White membranes “like cobwebs” meant there was too much phlegm. Both of those were considered a danger to women’s health.

The new ways of using blood involve putting a pad in your underwear and sending it off for analysis. In these ancient Greek medical texts, there is a test which works in very much the same way.

A woman is asked to menstruate on to a piece of folded cloth spread out over fine ashes. She should have a day cloth and a night cloth. When the cloths are washed out, they should be dried in the sun and inspected. If the problem is phlegm, the rags will look like they have mucus on them. If it’s bile, they will look reddish.

So, we may not still keep menstruating people away from jam and baking bread but many of the ideas of past are echoed in today’s medical knowledge and “new” technologies. Läs mer…

What minority ethnic police officers face on the job – and how to fix policing culture

It was only last year that the independent Casey review concluded that the Metropolitan Police is institutionally racist, sexist and homophobic. And things have only gotten worse.

Recent police employment tribunal data showed significant increases in claims of racism brought by current or former London Met police officers. Black, Asian and other minority ethnic officers report frequently experiencing blatant racism, stereotypes and hostility from fellow officers.

Now, the National Black Police Association has withdrawn its support for chief constables’ race action plan, which was introduced in 2020. The chair of the board charged with overseeing the plan says too little progress has been made, with some forces taking no interest in anti-racism at all.

The Met Police are now seeking new recruits with the aim of changing the culture, but it is difficult to see how this can be done without meaningfully addressing and supporting diversity.

Some chief constables in England and Wales are making inroads in changing the culture in their own forces. But we need a compulsory, streamlined national approach.

The new Labour government has its work cut out for it in terms of restoring trust in the police. Low confidence continues to be eroded by persistently low crime investigation rates and high-profile instances of misconduct and criminal activity. Much of this misconduct is related to the discrimination outlined in the Casey report, which has existed for decades.

Policing culture

The problem at the Met and many other police services is that racism, sexism, homophobia and other biases are embedded in the institution’s culture. Police culture is the set of norms that set the tone, expectations and expected behaviours for cops.

Police institutions generally have multiple cultures including for street officers, middle management and senior leaders. But the nature of policing means street police culture is most influential on police behaviour. Much research has found that street police culture in particular is characterised by racism, aggression, escalation, intolerance, hierarchy, misogyny, homophobia and alienation from marginalised communities.

It is no surprise that officers from minority ethnic, female and LGBTQ+ backgrounds experience racism, misogyny and homophobia on the job. Officers of colour and women continue to leave policing at higher rates than their white male colleagues. As the Casey report observed, this also takes a toll on legitimacy in policed communities.

Lord Macpherson first found the Met institutionally racist in 1999, following the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Macpherson recommended significantly increasing police diversity to change the culture. Twenty-two years on, a parliamentary report report (for which I provided evidence) found little has been done to build legitimacy with communities of colour, or to recruit officers of colour and support the challenges they face on the job.

Recruiting diverse forces

Ethnic minorities are significantly underrepresented in the police services, making up 8.4% of officers in England and Wales but 19% of the population.

My new book Police Diversity: Beyond The Blue compares police officers’ experiences of diversity and discrimination in the UK and US over several decades. I found that in both countries, officers from underrepresented backgrounds – people of colour, women, LGBTQ+ and others – experience bigger hurdles on the job than their straight, white and male colleagues. Because they are seen as outsiders, they often have to work extra hard to prove their worth as cops.

This leads minority police officers to a tough choice. They can lean into policing aggressively to show their mettle – even toward their own communities. Or they can push back against problematic police culture norms.

They may try to police differently by working with communities, using discretion wisely, building trust and good relationships. But officers who take this approach can face severe work consequences.

Research in the UK shows this pushing back against discrimination can lead to higher levels of harassment, internal discipline and lack of promotion. Worst of all, they may not be backed up by other officers on dangerous service calls.

Rebuilding trust

Racism, sexism and homophobia within police institutions also harm relations with the communities they police. For years, studies have shown that minority communities have lower levels of trust and confidence in England and Wales police than other groups.

Much of this is due to discrepancies like higher rates of stops and search in minority communities.

Studies from other jurisdictions show that the more diverse the police are, the more fair they are seen to be in communities, and the more credibility and respect they have. For many ethnic minorities, interactions with ethnic minority officers can improve police legitimacy.

Ethnic minority officers are underrepresented in police forces in England and Wales.
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Building a more diverse police force – and fast – is essential to reducing racism in police institutions and building new cultural norms.

I and others including police leaders and MPs have called for positive discrimination in police recruitment.

A temporary, ten-year positive discrimination plan in England and Wales policing could follow Northern Ireland Police Service’s successful 50:50 hiring model.

In this approach, vacant officer positions are filled by qualified candidates from alternating candidate pools in merit order. While Northern Ireland did this by religion – Catholic and non Catholic – it could be adapted to England and Wales with race (people of colour and white applicants). The plan could set a national target to reach 25% ethnic minority representation by 2034, consistent with UK population projections.

Police institutions also need more scrutiny, accountability and consequences for misconduct from both individual officers and organisations wholly independent from policing. The UK’s existing police conduct watchdog is under-resourced for its ever increasing caseload of misconduct complaints, and is not designed for systemic problems.

In the US, the government sues police departments who act in racist, misogynistic and classist ways. These lawsuits generally settle with consent decrees: court orders mandating changes to the police force, from recuitment to handling misconduct.

These court-monitored agreements can last years, if not decades. They have been used and had positive results in cities like New Orleans and Ferguson, Missouri.

The UK needs to adopt these type of bold accountability solutions to curb structural police bias problems. The new government is well positioned to make meaningful change. Läs mer…

Meditation can be harmful – and can even make mental health problems worse

Since mindfulness it’s something you can practice at home for free, it often sounds like the perfect tonic for stress and mental health issues. Mindfulness is a type of Buddhist-based meditation in which you focus on being aware of what you’re sensing, thinking and feeling in the present moment.

The first recorded evidence for this, found in India, is over 1,500 years old. The Dharmatrāta Meditation Scripture, written by a community of Buddhists, describes various practices and includes reports of symptoms of depression and anxiety that can occur after meditation. It also details cognitive anomalies associated with episodes of psychosis, dissociation and depersonalisation (when people feel the world is “unreal”).

In the past eight years there has been a surge of scientific research in this area. These studies show that adverse effects are not rare. A 2022 study, using a sample of 953 people in the US who meditated regularly, showed that over 10% of participants experienced adverse effects which had a significant negative impact on their everyday life and lasted for at least one month.

According to a review of over 40 years of research that was published in 2020, the most common adverse effects are anxiety and depression. These are followed by psychotic or delusional symptoms, dissociation or depersonalisation, and fear or terror.

Research also found that adverse effects can happen to people without previous mental health problems, to those who have only had a moderate exposure to meditation and they can lead to long-lasting symptoms.

The western world has also had evidence about these adverse affects for a long time. In 1976, Arnold Lazarus, a key figure in the cognitive-behavioural science movement, said that meditation, when used indiscriminately, could induce “serious psychiatric problems such as depression, agitation, and even schizophrenic decompensation”.

There is evidence that mindfulness can benefit people’s wellbeing. The problem is that mindfulness coaches, videos, apps and books rarely warn people about the potential adverse effects.

Professor of management and ordained Buddhist teacher Ronald Purser wrote in his 2023 book McMindfulness that mindfulness has become a kind of “capitalist spirituality”. In the US alone, meditation is worth US$2.2 billion (£1.7 billion). And the senior figures in the mindfulness industry should be aware of the problems with meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a key figure behind the mindfulness movement, admitted in a 2017 interview with the Guardian that “90% of the research [into the positive impacts] is subpar”.

Meditating can come with its own problems.
Miljan Zivkovic/Shutterstock

In his foreword to the 2015 UK Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Report, Jon Kabat-Zinn suggests that mindfulness meditation can eventually transform “who we are as human beings and individual citizens, as communities and societies, as nations, and as a species”.

This religious-like enthusiasm for the power of mindfulness to change not only individual people but the course of humanity is common among advocates. Even many atheists and agnostics who practice mindfulness believe that this practice has the power to increase peace and compassion in the world.

Media discussion of mindfulness has also been somewhat imbalanced. In 2015, my book with clinical psychologist Catherine Wikholm, Buddha Pill, included a chapter summarising the research on meditation adverse effects. It was widely disseminated by the media, including a New Scientist article, and a BBC Radio 4 documentary.

But there was little media coverage in 2022 of the most expensive study in the history of meditation science (over US$8 million funded by research charity the Wellcome Trust). The study tested more than 8,000 children (aged 11-14) across 84 schools in the UK from 2016 to 2018. Its results showed that mindfulness failed to improve the mental wellbeing of children compared to a control group, and may even have had detrimental effects on those who were at risk of mental health problems.

Ethical implications

Is it ethical to sell mindfulness apps, teach people meditation classes, or even use mindfulness in clinical practice without mentioning its adverse effects? Given the evidence of how varied and common these effects are, the answer should be no.

However, many meditation and mindfulness instructors believe that these practices can only do good and don’t know about the potential for adverse effects. The most common account I hear from people who have suffered adverse meditation effects is that the teachers don’t believe them. They’re usually told to just keep meditating and it will go away.

Research about how to safely practice meditation has only recently begun, which means there isn’t yet clear advice to give people. There is a wider problem in that meditation deals with unusual states of consciousness and we don’t have psychological theories of mind to help us understand these states.

But there are resources people can use to learn about these adverse effects. These include websites produced by meditators who experienced serious adverse effects and academic handbooks with dedicated sections to this topic. In the US there is a clinical service dedicated to people who have experienced acute and long term problems, led by a mindfulness researcher.

For now, if meditation is to be used as a wellbeing or therapeutic tool, the public needs to be informed about its potential for harm. Läs mer…