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UK Speaker: We can't let mob rule smash democracy

Following high-profile attacks on democratic institutions, including the January 6 riot at the US Capitol, UK Parliament Speaker Lindsay Hoyle feels an urgent responsibility to champion political freedoms.
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The US is set to join a small club of nations vaccinating young children
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Who Left 'The Bachelorette' Season 18 Episode 2?
"The Bachelorette" Season 18 Episode 2 saw Michelle challenge the men in the classroom and on the basketball court—before four got taken off the court.
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Democrats may let the best weapon against child poverty fade away
New Hampshire parents and other supporters gather outside Sen. Maggie Hassan’s office on September 14 to thank her for child tax credit payments and demand they be made permanent. | Scott Eisen/Getty Images for ParentsTogether The child taxcredit accomplished in one month what other policies took a decade to achieve. It could expire soon. The expanded child tax credit, a policy passed in March 2021 that beefed up monthly payments to most families with kids, has already had a massive, positive effect on the lives of America’s children. After just one monthly payment, it cut child poverty by 25 percent — and should the larger payments continue, it could slash child poverty by more than 40 percent in a typical year, according to the Urban Institute. This is a huge decline in a very short time frame. According to the Brookings Institution, child poverty rates dropped by 26 percent between 2009 and 2019, meaning the tax credit accomplished in one month what other policies took a decade to achieve. Despite that success, the expanded child tax credit (CTC) is in serious danger. As part of their budget negotiations, Democrats are debating how long to extend the program — most likely for a year, with some calling for a four-year (or even indefinite) extension. In the best-case scenario with a short extension, the program will probably run out of money by the end of 2022. In the worst-case scenario, it could end as soon as April 2022, when families are currently due to receive their final enhanced payment. To prevent the policy’s gains from being undone, the benefit needs to be extended. An Urban Institute study found that child poverty would go down by 50 percent or more in 11 states if changes to the CTC were made permanent. It also noted that poverty rates would be reduced across the board, with larger impacts for Black and Hispanic children. Established in 1997, the CTC has been around for more than two decades, but a proposal included in the American Rescue Plan, signed into law in March, bumped up the amount significantly. Previously, families received a credit worth up to $167 per month per child ages 16 and under. Families are now eligible for up to $300 per month for every child under 6, and $250 per month for every child ages 6 to 17, with half the credit being paid in monthly advances. The benefit is phased out as families’ incomes rise, but it currently covers 39 million households and more than 88 percent of children. Plus, lower-income households that previously didn’t qualify for the full credit are now able to receive it, including 1 million children in military families. This increase has made a major difference, particularly for lower-income households: For instance, food insecurity has decreased as many families used the credit to cover basic necessities such as groceries, rent, and utilities. Per CNBC, food insecurity for families making less than $50,000 dropped by 7.5 percentage points (from 26 percent to 18.5 percent) one month after the first expanded payment went out. To sustain the credit’s early success, the program needs to continue. Whether it will — and for how long — remains to be seen. Letting the policy expire puts millions of children at risk of poverty Given the policy’s effectiveness, some Democrats have pushed to extend the measure through 2025. Others want to make it permanent as part of the budget reconciliation bill currently being negotiated. Either extension seems unlikely due to demands from moderate Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), both of whom want more than a trillion dollars cut from the reconciliation legislation. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) catch an elevator en route to the Senate Chamber on September 30, 2021. To make those cuts, Democrats are considering an extension of the expanded child tax credit that might only last for one more year. That approach could leave the 30 million households that have come to depend on the benefit in danger of losing it after 2022. “That’s going to be like taking the rug from under families,” says Elena Delavega, a professor of social work at the University of Memphis. “Especially if you have it for a year or a year and a half, it’s going to get budgeted into families’ expenses.” An abrupt end to the program in 2022 could lead to major shocks. “In the absence of the CTC, more families — and low-income families in particular — will go hungry more often and be at risk for things like eviction, utility shut-offs, and other hardships,” said Stephen Roll, a research professor at Washington University in St. Louis who has studied the effects of the expanded child tax credit. Families have recalled suddenly beginning to struggle to make rent, utility, and grocery payments after states wound down their pandemic unemployment insurance offerings this summer. A similar situation is possible with the expanded child tax credit since it’s helping families cope with the imminent financial stresses they’re facing. “Getting these payments now, I know that at least I have help covering food,” David Watson, a technician and single parent of two, previously told Tiffanie Drayton in a story for Vox. “Now I can pull back on overtime. I need sleep, man.” By letting the policy sunset, Democrats would also deprive families of some of the projected long-term benefits of the credit. In addition to helping families meet their immediate costs, the credit could also enable people to bolster their emergency savings, build a college fund, and invest in extracurricular activities for their children they might not otherwise be able to afford. “We know that providing these supports is associated with better outcomes for children once they reach adulthood, including higher earnings, improved health, and increased economic mobility,” says Roll. Columbia University researchers found that each dollar distributed via the child tax credit translates to a long-term societal return of $8 in lower health care costs and increased earnings for children who benefited. Democrats are hoping that the child tax credit’s popularity will ensure that future Congresses renew it, no matter which party is in control. They argue data like a September Reuters/Ipsos poll that found 59 percent of US adults including 75 percent of Democrats and 41 percent Republicans back the policy, shows wide political buy-in. And they believe that if they only authorize a one-year extension of the credit, public pressure would be enough to guarantee the program’s renewal even if Democrats lose control of either chamber in the 2022 midterm elections. There are no guarantees they are right, however. While popular policies like the Bush administration’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts were renewed on a bipartisan basis after their expiration date, other proposals like 2020’s eviction moratorium and expanded pandemic unemployment insurance simply ended after Congress failed to extend them. Democrats have very different visions for the child tax credit’s future Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), both longtime backers of the proposal, have pushed for this year’s expansion to be indefinite. Democrats who are more skeptical of its effects have wondered whether it should be limited further. “It is food. It is diapers. It is going to the dentist, getting a kid to the doctor. Buy school uniforms or supplies. Or paying rent. It has made a profound difference already, which is why I’m trying to move it to be permanent,” DeLauro has said. In September, 400 economists signed a letter calling for the policy to be permanent because of its effects on poverty and children’s long-term health care outcomes. Opponents of the policy, however, argue that these payments could deter recipients from working since parents without an income can receive the help as well. Manchin has expressed this concern, arguing that work and/or education requirements ought to be added to the policy should it be extended. “Don’t you think, if we’re going to help the children, that the people should make some effort?” Manchin has said. Some researchers have pushed back against this view, noting that a continual credit might help parents join the workforce by enabling them to afford basic services like child care. Given that the expanded child tax credit has only been distributed since July, it’s too early to ascertain which argument is correct, though data from a Columbia University study found that the credit hadn’t had a “significant effect on employment or labor force participation” so far. There is also debate as to whether access to the credit should be capped even more. Right now, families that make up to $150,000 a year receive the full boost, a figure that Manchin would like to see go down. Manchin has argued that the policy should be capped at households that make $60,000 or less. Proponents of a more universal policy, meanwhile, argue that broadening the constituency that benefits from the credit will increase its political support. More universal programs including Social Security and Medicare are some of the most popular government offerings and have polled better than Medicaid, which is means-tested. With pressure from Manchin and Sinema, the reality is Democrats likely won’t be able to implement the most comprehensive tax credit. The estimated annual cost of the program is around $110 billion, or roughly $450 billion if it were to be extended through the end of 2025. It’s possible lawmakers could also try to reduce the size of the expanded payment in order to lower the cost of the bill. It will become clear in about a year whether Democrats were right and the credit becomes something lawmakers of both parties vote to keep intact. But if they are wrong, more than 4 million children could be thrown back into poverty, and millions of families could once again find themselves struggling to cover payments for food and shelter.
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'Colin in Black & White' Launch Date, Cast and Storylines for Netflix Kaepernick Series
Colin Kaepernick and Ava DuVernay bring "Colin in Black & White" to Netflix, showcasing Kaepernick's life before he joined the NFL.
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100 days to the Winter Olympics: Lindsey Vonn on mental health, retirement and fashion
Retiring as the greatest female ski racer of all time, Lindsey Vonn made a living out of her downhill speed, but away from the slopes, she was fighting uphill battles.
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FDA advisory board recommends COVID vaccine for kids 5 to 11
On Tuesday, an FDA advisory panel voted to recommend a smaller dose of the Pfizer vaccine to children ages 5 to 11. Janet Shamlian spoke to a family who hopes to see millions more vaccinated soon.
The night 34-year-old Pacers president John DeVoe died courtside during a game
"We were not ready for John DeVoe to go." He was a tireless advocate of bringing professional basketball to Indianapolis and co-founded the Pacers.
Neutron Stars Could Capture Dark Matter and Help Unlock Its Mysteries
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Travis Scott's Astroworld: 2021 Festival Line-Up, Dates, Venue and Tickets
The two-day festival set up by rapper Travis Scott is returning to his hometown of Houston in November after being canceled last year because of the pandemic.
Robinhood's big year is ending in disappointment
The growing clout of everyday investors has shaken up Wall Street, forcing hedge funds and big-time asset managers to start paying attention to armchair traders pumping their extra cash into the market.
​Boston sheriff plans to move homeless from tent encampment into former ICE detention facility
Boston’s area sheriff wants to move some 100 homeless addicts from deteriorating conditions at a tent encampment into a nearby empty jail building once used for ICE detainees within the next three weeks, as he rushes to finalize plans for a controversial “mobile courtroom" at the facility.
Why Mark Zuckerberg won't be held accountable
Throughout thousands of pages of leaked Facebook documents, there's an uncomfortable refrain echoing from the company's own employees: Something must be done.
Questions outweigh answers in the case of Jelani Day as congressman calls on US attorney general for help
Jelani Day's mother still doesn't know how the graduate student ended up dead, nearly 70 miles from where he was last seen.
'A Very British Scandal' Release Date, Cast, Plot—All We Know About Claire Foy's New Drama
"The Crown" star takes a leading role in the upcoming drama about Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, and her scandalous divorce.
Editorial: Rolling back labor and environmental protections won't fix supply chain disruptions
We can't solve the supply chain problem on the backs of struggling workers and communities inundated with freight pollution.
Review: Odyssey Theatre's 'The Serpent' resurrects a 1960s theatrical landmark
The Ron Sossi-directed revival of the avant-garde production returns after the pandemic cut it short.
Erika Jayne is Bringing Out The Best of Andy Cohen In The ‘RHOBH’ Reunion
He wants the tea, but he needs the answers.
Podcast: Will the fatal 'Rust' shooting change Hollywood?
What happened before Halyna Hutchins' death? Could it lead to workplace safety changes? Is the clash between crew members and Hollywood producers about to flare up again?
Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack is one of the worst ways to play the company’s classics
Nintendo's latest release is another case of the company being careless with its own legacy.
JetBlue Airlines launches three-day sale with fares starting at $31 one way
The New York-based airline is trying to boost bookings in the slow period before and after Thanksgiving.
Fire season still a threat to Southern California despite rains
This week's historic storm could mark a de facto ending to the year's catastrophic wildfire season in some, but not all, areas of the state, experts say.
Alan Cumming's 'Baggage' has the right perspective on life – and so will you after reading it
Alan Cumming is a character with stories to tell – and tell them he does in his gregarious new book, "Baggage: Tales From A Fully Packed Life."
Eye Opener: Storms continue to pummel Northeast
A powerful storm continues to hammer the Northeast with heavy rain, wind and serious flooding. Also, lawmakers tell executives from Snapchat, TikTok and YouTube they've got to do more to protect children online. All that and all that matters in today’s Eye Opener. Your world in 90 seconds.
Beverly Hills police unit is accused of targeting Black shoppers on Rodeo Drive last year
Did Beverly Hills police unit target Black people on Rodeo Drive? What we've learned
Democrats Should Be Thanking Sinema and Manchin
The two senators aren’t stifling their party’s agenda so much as saving it from overreach.
Facebook, Netflix protests show tech workers aren't afraid to take complaints public
Silicon Valley long had a keep-it-in-the-family ethos. But recent episodes at Facebook and Netflix suggest employees seeking change from the inside face daunting obstacles — unless they're willing to go public.
‘Donnie Darko’ resonated with me as a teen. 20 years on, it hits me as a dad.
It is daunting to revisit beloved films from one’s past, as memory makes fools of us all.
Is Cambodia the Next Asian Tiger? America Should Hope So | Opinion
Greater American engagement is good for American investors, future Cambodian generations and the region as a whole.
Biden Must Recognize Myanmar's Shadow Government | Opinion
A growing consensus points to civil war soon engulfing Myanmar, with the high potential of state collapse.
Gossip Bloggers Caught Canoodling With QAnon
Gossiping about celebrities is fun because you don’t know them personally and therefore you can’t hurt their feelings or directly ruin their lives. The idea that celebrity gossip could ever be dangerous is silly. For example, let’s say I told the woman who cuts my hair (whom I am always trying to entertain) that Jay-Z supposedly threatened to have Chris Brown murdered because Chris Brown keeps claiming to be part of the Illuminati, and Jay-Z is often associated with the Illuminati, and also Jay-Z doesn’t want anyone to think that he would ever hang out with Chris Brown even if they were both in the same, centuries-old secret society, which they’re not. No one on the planet could possibly be harmed by this hypothetical exchange with the woman who cuts my hair. It’s just very funny!Or maybe that’s no longer true. Maybe celebrity gossip has a different character now, amid ceaseless worries over disinformation and conspiracist thinking. We’re experiencing an epistemological crisis, smart people keep telling me, so you have to wonder whether the habit of passing around possibly made-up information about famous people and their secret lives is contributing to whatever that precisely is. Reading and sharing gossip used to be a mindless escape. Now it seems to come with responsibility.Earlier this month, BuzzFeed News’s Katie Notopoulos reported on concerns among longtime fans of the anonymous, omniscient-seeming blogger Enty, who runs a popular blind-item blog called Crazy Days and Nights. Some have apparently been disturbed by the site’s recent, gossipy posts about Bill Gates, and by others alleging that Hollywood stars are participating in a “rape club.” “It’s really disturbing to see this right-wing conspiracy-theory bullshit show up in gossip,” one former fan told Notopoulos. But according to the story, “gossip fans and QAnoners share a core belief: that behind closed doors, celebrities are doing unspeakable things.”[Have you heard? Gossip is actually good and useful]The idea that Enty has been pulled into the QAnon conspiracy theory had been floating around for a while. (Pajiba’s Kayleigh Donaldson referred to his site as “QAnon Central” back in May.) Enty started writing in 2006, and many of his blind items have been lurid and impossible to -prove; there is plenty of murder and Satanism, and he once had a three-part story about an A-list actor who would purchase huge pieces of fresh fish, then wrap them up and throw them out in public bathrooms. Enty has also shown an interest in some of the same famous people who fascinateas QAnon devotees—for instance, the Swedish DJ Avicii, believed by conspiracy theorists to have been murdered because of his knowledge of a child-trafficking ring.But this represents just a sliver of Enty’s offerings. He far more often writes up standard gossip, about cheating and drug use and embarrassing mishaps, and he has never endorsed the view that Democratic politicians and Hollywood celebrities are blood-drinking pedophiles who deserve to be executed. When I spoke with Enty recently, he suggested that readers may now simply see his style of celebrity gossip in a different light, given their cultural immersion in right-wing conspiracy theories. “I had been writing the same kind of stuff long before QAnon existed,” he said, “but now that QAnon exists, it seems like QAnon.” For example, he published blind items about the NXIVM cult, in which women were branded and referred to as slaves, long before its leaders were indicted for sex trafficking in 2018. “If I was to write that now, I think people would say, ‘Wow, he’s gone Q.’”Enty described most of what he publishes as “stuff that tabloids wouldn’t do now but they would have done 10 years ago.” He noted an industry-wide shift that occurred when celebrities started using Instagram and other social platforms to snatch back power from paparazzi and reporters, leaving outlets such as Us Weekly and People to play nice and beg for crumbs of access. The tastes of younger audiences who grew up in the celebrity-gossip environment that followed can be manic and unpredictable. The beloved, crowd-sourced Instagram account DeuxMoi, which started posting early in the pandemic and now has more than 1 million followers, often flags “sightings” of celebs with no interesting context, or else posts items so bland that they must have come from publicists. Meanwhile, on TikTok, the red yarn is out of control: There was a whole season of combing Justin Bieber’s Instagram posts and music videos for clues as to his possible long-ago victimhood at the hands of a child-sex-trafficking ring; the platform is also home to the second coming of an old Tumblr conspiracy theory about a former member of the boy band One Direction, who is supposedly secretly married to another former member of that band, and also not the real father of his son, who could be a child actor but was once believed to be a plastic doll.[From 'The Iliad' to 'Us Weekly': The history of celebrity gossip]These things don’t feel so benign and silly as they might have at another time. For a while, I was following an Instagram account that was fixated on proving that Zayn Malik—yet another former member of One Direction—was not really the father of the model Gigi Hadid’s baby. During her pregnancy, commenters on that account said they hoped she would miscarry. I have also spent a lot of time on Tumblr reading about which actors’ wives are high priestesses in Satanic cults and whether a beloved actor owns a secret apartment on the Isle of Wight, which may or may not be overrun by Freemasons. It’s all absurd, but again, the comments hint at what it’s doing to some people’s worldview. When the indie musician Mitski was accused, without evidence, of keeping a child slave in her college dorm room, Tumblr users accused one another of being too cowardly to admit that Mitski deserved to be “canceled.” The whole thing circled around Tumblr for weeks as drama and entertainment, and Mitski was eventually pushed to make a statement denying the story.Light-hearted celebrity gossip is still out there to be found. Personally, I look for it in email newsletters: Hunter Harris’s Hung Up, for example, indulges in obsessive questioning about topics such as the location of Martin Scorsese’s glasses, while Allie Jones’s Gossip Time elegantly catches famous people in obvious lies. Gossip can be productive, too, in that it Kaitlyprovides a way of talking about the cultural significance of celebrities, questioning public-relations narratives, and passing along information that could be confirmed with a little reporting work. Tinfoil-hat gossipers are also sometimes correct. Britney Spears’s father once denounced the #FreeBritney crowd as conspiracy theorists, but when that drama came to its climax last winter, their vigilant note taking appeared prescient and compassionatekind-hearted—as opposed to the vicious and judgmental dishing about the same woman from years earlier, when so many people relished in her public disintegration.Gossip isn’t ruined, exactly, but it is in a moment of moral panic: If a rumor mentions blood, then it must be QAnon! Certainly there’s too much gossipy speculation around—both the boring kind and the wild, scary kind—and too many people sharing it, many of whom have unclear motives. But readers of celebrity gossip have always had to differentiate between merely entertaining rumors and those that could spiral into harm (while sifting out the ones that are simply dull). Before QAnon, they had to do the mental work of drawing these distinctions for themselves, and they had to set their own standards for the information they passed along. Now it’s easier just to sort that information into buckets—bad or good, Q or not. That can lead to another form of paranoia, though: When you’re that afraid of seeing dangerous disinformation, you start to see it everywhere.
Arlington’s Virginia Square: Close, but not too close, to its bustling neighbors
WHERE WE LIVE | The community appeals to those who like their nightlife and their quiet.
Can a haunted house even scare us in 2021?
Michael Delrosso/Courtesy of Blood Manor When a pandemic rages just outside our doors, maybe escapism is all we can hope for. Part of the Horror Issue of The Highlight, our home for ambitious stories that explain our world. A small infographic details the extent of the Covid-19 measures at New York City’s Blood Manor. “YOUR SAFETY IS OUR PRIORITY,” it reads, next to a sinister Michael Myers facsimile getting his temperature checked, a green-skinned zombie wearing a mask around its mandibles, and a bloodstained hand-sanitizing station ready and waiting at the mouth of the torture chambers. The image pierces through the fantasy of the attraction, one of the thousands of haunted houses that open seasonally each year, and return even now, in the midst of a pandemic. It’s difficult to imagine the Cenobites paying much mind to a deadly virus. But due diligence must be done, even in the depths of perdition. This is, of course, all presented alongside the rest of the Blood Manor offerings, which include such exhibitions as Maggot Invasion (“They’ll get under your skin!”), Mayhem (“Beasts and demons vie for your body and soul!”), and Hannibal’s Hell (“1,000 ways to die!”). Blood Manor wants to abate any fears that its sanctum may be compromised by the ongoing global pandemic, all while stoking your more primal anxieties — like a man in a mask waiting to scream at you at the next left turn. Michael Delrosso/Courtesy of Blood Manor So, it makes perfect sense that I ended up at a bar off the Canal Street stop in lower Manhattan, lubricating with a few gin and tonics and a small group of friends, girding ourselves for our eventual descent into darkness. I was here to discover how I’d process a haunted attraction after the single strangest period of time in my life. Since March 2020, my girlfriend and I have become accustomed to a hellish variety of stale, slow-paced terror. We spent last spring cocooned in our living room, listening to the foreboding ambulance sirens that blared through the windows all night long. The streets were bereft of life, save for the few scavengers bundled up with masks and plastic gloves on their weekly subsistence trips to the grocery stores. (I was one of them. Honestly, we all looked a bit like scare actors.) New York City was rendered a wasteland, and even though the delta surge has declined since its peak — as restaurants reopen and the Moderna high courses through my body — I still double-take with every errant cough. After more than 18 months, a lot of us have given up on feeling normal. “Normal” was the gift bestowed on me by Blood Manor. As I waited in a line surrounded by costumed beasties, menacing from the perimeter and posing for pictures, I was taken by a familiar, almost refreshingfeeling of comic dread. I’m not a horror movie guy; I don’t like being scared. In fact, I’m pretty sure this was the first time I’d visited a haunted house since high school. So it was nice to know that after being besieged and beleaguered by the very real threat of death and suffering — watching the infection numbers tick up every day, reading constant scattershot reports about transmission rates, worrying about the fate of my loved ones — I’ve somehow retained the capacity to be freaked out by an undead bride. Perhaps that is the primary appeal of horror fiction. I’m not saying I want to be stalked by Freddy or Jason, but you can find some strange peace of mind when, ever so briefly, a madman on the loose represents the only pressing peril bearing down on the world. At least you can runfrom a killer. Covid-19 never offered us that opportunity. We scanned our tickets at a tent out front, and our group was guided into the bowels of a nondescript brownstone across the street from a wine store. That’s the thing with haunted houses; they’re rarely permanent attractions. Usually they drift into town and take up residence in some leased basement, like those Spirit Halloween outlets. If you’ve been to one of these “houses” before, you know what to expect. Wander through a handful of macabre scenes, marvel at the twisted prosthetics, and endure every jump scare you discover. I flashed a picture of my vaccination card to the doorman and was escorted downstairs where a troupe of ghoulish theater kids, splotched in black-and-white corpse paint, kept us pinned against the wall as we awaited our turn to enter the gauntlet. This is where the delusions begin. The ticket stub guarantees a brief sojourn to an alternative dimension where you’re at the mercy of these haunted house denizens. Ideally, for a split second, the actors can force their customers to spring the tripwire of fantasy — to enjoy the seismic jabs of anticipation, shock, and relief that reassures everyone that they are truly alive. Blood Manor was operating last Halloween. October 2020 represented a nadir of the American Covid-19 saga. Case numbers had reached a new high, the vaccine was nowhere to be found, and people in New York City returned to survival mode after a sunny, summerlong respite on makeshift patios around the boroughs. Blood Manor enforced a strict mask mandate on its staff and customers in those days — performers hid behind rubber and silicone, which was obedient to citywide pandemic ordinances, and also, frankly, more frightful than the alternative. They stood 6 feet away from the adventurers and devised new ways to shock our human sensibilities from a distance. Remote scaring, just another sign of the times. Michael Delrosso/Courtesy of Blood Manor All of the Covid-19 concessions listed on the Blood Manor website did not seem to migrate into our unsteady 2021. My group was packed together like sardines in the staging area as the bare, fleshy mouths of our captors barked out orders against our ears. We were funneled into a pitch-black maze, daisy-chained together, feeling out the path forward with our hands and feet. A woman, taken prisoner by some maniacal surgeon, begged for our help in an operating room filled with bodies and meathooks. Later, we were condemned to a cursed subway car, which frankly did not differ too much from our usual commutes. This was pure slasher pastiche, hosted in a compound heavy with spittle and sweat. That was the scariest part of my Blood Manor experience. I was not shaken by the wild-eyed clown who clicked an empty staple gun against my forehead; I didn’t react to the woman who came tumbling out of the chimney; the horned, purple demon who ushered us into the underworld seemed like a good guy, and the psychedelic 3D circus tent was more impressive than it was chilling. Maybe I would’ve reacted differently before a prolonged period of isolation. In 2021, it’s just kinda nice to be around people again, even if they’re serving the forces of Hell. In the back of my mind, I was a little worried about potentially participating in a superspreader event. Yes, I am fully vaccinated; yes, my chances of enduring a serious bout of Covid-19 are exceptionally low, but no, I do not yet feel completely at peace in close quarters as unknown microbial agents float through the imperceptible ether. I don’t think there’s a better articulation for how drastically the pandemic has altered our sense of being; even here, among so many ghosts, goblins, and incredible Halloween camp, we know what the truedanger is. That’s a bitter irony. The one thing Blood Manor wants to reassure us about is the only thing anyone is afraid of. After dodging one final group of unhinged clowns, we exited, stopping to take some celebration photos in a throne room. My friends and I had survived the Manor, and already I was coasting on the sweet euphoria that follows any period of heightened senses. The six of us gathered outside on the street and started planning the rest of our Saturday evening. Should we go back to the bar? Should we book a karaoke room? Is there a good dance floor around here? It reminded me of a hope I’ve nurtured from the very beginning of the pandemic: my god, how we will party at the light at the end of the tunnel, when Covid-19 is in the rearview mirror. Until then, the night continues. Luke Winkie is a reporter from San Diego. He has written for Rolling Stone, GQ, the Washington Post, and the New York Times.
Playdates are ruining all the fun
Children play together with bubbles in Manhattan’s Bryant Park in Manhattan in May. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images It’s time to rethink how American children play. It’s become a time-honored tradition in certain segments of American society: two families cross-reference their respective calendars to find a spot free of school or soccer or other obligations. On the appointed day, one child travels to the other’s house, typically accompanied by a parent. The children build a Lego village or glue googly eyes on felt or participate in some other ostensibly wholesome activity. Snacks are consumed. The parents, meanwhile, hang out and complain lightly about their children or spouses, stopping periodically to intervene in tantrums or boredom or failures of sharing. This is — or was — the playdate. Prior to 2020, it had become the primary mode of non-school social life for a lot of American kids, replacing the more unstructured play that many millennials and Gen X-ers remember from their childhoods. As Charis Granger-Mbugua, a Georgia mother of two, put it, “that’s how children play now.” The pandemic, of course, put a stop to playdates for a lot of families. Granger-Mbugua’s two children, now 7 and almost 5, barely saw anyone outside the family from March 2020 until this spring. “They were super isolated for that entire school year,” Granger-Mbugua said. Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images With orders to stay at home and nearby parks closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, a lone child attempts to fly a kite in her Arlington, Virginia, backyard in April 2020. Now that adults and teenagers can be vaccinated, and shots for younger kids are on the horizon, families are starting to have playdates again. “We’re already seeing birthday parties, we’re already seeing weddings and funerals,” Tamara Mose, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and the author of The Playdate: Parents, Children, and the New Expectations of Play, told Vox. As more kids get vaccinated, “people will feel more comfortable, and so the playdates will continue.” The return of the playdate, though, may not be an unalloyed good. Some fear that parent-organized socializing deprives kids of the chance to explore and build self-sufficiency. “It’s a lost childhood,” Stacey Gill, a mom of two who has written about playdates, told Vox. The rise of the scheduled, structured “date” for children in the decades preceding the pandemic also increased the burden on parents, especially moms, who were expected to spend their weekends curating social experiences for their kids. Then there were the social implications. For middle- and upper-middle-class families, playdates could be exclusionary — a way for parents to shore up connections with others they saw as “like them” in terms of class, race, politics, and a host of other factors. “You’re basically selecting the friends of your children based on the networks you’re creating as adults,” Mose said. Now that children’s play, like so many other sectors of society, has been disrupted by Covid-19, some say there’s a chance to rethink what it should look like. We might not go back to the days when kids “went outside and didn’t come in till the streetlights came on,” as Granger-Mbugua remembers from her childhood. But there’s an opportunity to make play more equitable, less labor-intensive for parents, and maybe even more fun. As Gill put it, “kids need a little more freedom to just be kids.” The playdate as we know it was invented in the ’90s The playdate is a fairly new phenomenon. Growing up in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Gill remembers spending Saturday mornings playing in the basement and watching cartoons with her sister. At a certain point, their mom would send them outside to play — and lock the door. If they got together with other kids, it wasn’t anything organized: “You just hung out,” Gill said. National Archives via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images Children play on the shore at New York City’s Jacob A. Riis Park in 1974. Beginning in the ’90s, however, middle- and upper-middle-class parents, especially in cities, began pulling their kids back from unstructured play in public spaces out of concerns about crime. Highly publicized kidnapping and child murder cases such as that of Polly Klaas in 1993, along with the rise of crime shows like America’s Most Wanted, helped contribute to a climate of fear among more affluent American parents. Over time, more play took place inside families’ homes and other private spaces. “It felt safer for parents to have something that was organized and looked after,” Mose said. By the 2000s, the word “playdate” — meaning organized play for children, typically directed by parents — was in common parlance. For parents, such a date wasn’t just a time for kids to get together: “It was a presentation of self,” Mose said. “You wanted to present yourself in a particular manner so that parents would know that you were a ‘good parent.’” That meant providing the right kind of food — “people really snubbed their nose at fast food or junk food,” Mose said. It also meant offering not just supervision but, ideally, a fun yet wholesome activity to keep kids entertained. Far from locking them out to play in the street, Gill joked, “You have to have, like, a craft fair at your house.” All this was also, of course, a performance of a certain class status. It’s no accident that the concept of playdates started with upper-middle-class families and trickled down to the middle class, remaining less common among working-class people. The requirements of a playdate, from healthy food (ideally organic) to art supplies to a private indoor space big enough for multiple kids, could get expensive quickly. That performance of affluent, “good” parenting wasn’t for kids — it was for other parents, who often joined their kids on playdates, especially at younger ages. “Kids might be in one room playing together but the parents are socializing in another room,” Mose said. When planning play for their kids, parents would select people they wanted to get to know better, often because they shared common traits from neighborhoods to values. “People tend to find people like themselves,” Mose said. “That’s who they feel comfortable with.” That tendency, coupled with the expense of playdates, led to a stratification along race and class lines. While kids organically coming together at a playground might form friendships across such divisions (at least within the limits of America’s segregated neighborhoods), playdate culture instead reinforced socioeconomic rifts as wealthier parents encouraged their kids to socialize within a carefully curated social bubble. For those able to afford them, though, playdates essentially became a form of networking — the kid-friendly version of having the boss over to dinner. “In an office, you tend to network with certain types of people and exclude other types of people, and it’s a similar type of interaction when we have a playdate,” Mose said. “We tend to create an environment that’s sanitized in order to facilitate certain social networks.” The creation of such an environment may not have been conscious — few parents would say they set out to segregate their children’s social worlds. But it led to the concentration of a number of advantages — from the small, like organic snacks, to the large, like a group of well-connected and affluent parent-friends — among those who could afford the entry fee to the playdate in-crowd. It may not be the most glaring example, but playdate culture belongs in any conversation about “nice white parents” and privilege-hoarding. It was also just a huge amount of work for parents. Most of that work fell to moms, who historically have shouldered not just the majority of child care responsibilities but also the mental load of juggling kids’ schedules. The demands of playdates are probably part of the reason that parents today spend significantly more time on child care every week than they did in the 1960s, even though many more moms are also working outside the home. The demands of kids’ social calendars meant parents could “no longer have a life,” Gill said. “I understand when the kids are young, they need constant attention and supervision. But it just extended indefinitely, to forever.” Josie Norris/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images Moms and their children meet for a playdate at San Francisco’s Salesforce Park in July 2019. Yet throughout the 2000s and 2010s, parents kept shuttling their kids to playdates. Even if you weren’t consciously trying to “network,” the custom could be hard to break out of. After all, letting children play unsupervised is now deeply stigmatized — and for low-income people and people of color, who already face discrimination as parents in America, it can even lead to arrest. For middle- and upper-middle-class kids, meanwhile, opportunities to just “hang out” have fallen victim to the rise of extracurricular activities like organized sports. In her neighborhood outside New York City, “there’s a million kids you could play with,” Gill said. “Only now you can’t play with them because they’re all scheduled.” The pandemic put a stop to playdates — for a while That is, they were scheduled. Then, in March 2020, millions of Americans began sheltering in place to help limit the spread of Covid-19. “For many people, playdates simply ceased,” Mose said. “We were all afraid of people spreading germs, and as we know, children are very germy.” Not everyone took Covid-19 protocols seriously, and there has been widespread disagreement over how to weigh the risks of the virus among children, who are less likely than adults to become severely ill. Still, for many American children, the first year or so of the pandemic was a very isolated time. Granger-Mbugua’s son and daughter, for example, didn’t have playdates, and other social outlets like in-person school, church, and storytime at the local library were on hold as well. “We didn’t have a lot of interaction with friends,” Granger-Mbugua said. Her kids “have some family, but that’s about it.” As the pandemic wore on, however, families started experimenting with socializing again. Some formed “pods” with one or two other families so that kids could play while still limiting exposure. Others allowed their kids to see friends, but only outdoors. “Playdates changed in terms of location,” Mose said. “You’re basically selecting the friends of your children based on the networks you’re creating as adults” Now, as American society inches toward reopening, playdates are fraught terrain for a lot of parents. It’s not just the risk of Covid-19, it’s also the etiquette — do kids wear masks in the house? Do adults? What about snack time? What if your approach to Covid-19 safety doesn’t align with that of your hosts (or guests)? Arguments among adults over Covid-19 protocols — and the politicization of those protocols — have caused a lot of anxiety among kids, Eugene Beresin, executive director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital, told Vox. “It’s put a great deal of tension into certain situations.” Tension or not, playdates are returning. “I think most people have already gone back” at least in some capacity, Mose said. And vaccines for children aged 5-11, which could arrive as soon as November, are likely to accelerate the process. “There will be a lot more freedom once everybody’s vaccinated,” Mose said. “Or a sense of freedom, anyway.” The time may be ripe to rethink play Many parents are looking forward to that day with bated breath. But rather than going back to playdates-as-usual, this time, when many families are rebuilding their social lives from scratch, could be an opportunity to reimagine what play should look like. Part of that is rethinking who’s in charge of a child’s social life. “I think if we allowed it to be somewhat children-led, we would see a difference in how children play together,” Mose said. Adults may gravitate to people they perceive as being like them, but “children don’t have that lens yet when they’re little,” she explained. “They truly just want to play with whoever is nice to them.” Giving kids more of a say in who they play with can make playdates less exclusionary, and open up the social world of the whole family to new people and experiences. “Our kids naturally have a diversity about them that they’re interested in exploring in terms of their outlook on social life,” Mose said. Letting kids choose what they do at a playdate, within reason, is also important, Beresin said. Rather than setting up a craft fair in the living room, parents can let kids pick out their activities and work out any disagreements about what to play on their own (again, within reason). Offering choices helps kids feel empowered and like they have control over the situation, Beresin said. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images Two children wearing masks play on a tree in Central Park as New York City moved into Phase 3 of reopening following imposed coronavirus restrictions in July 2020. After all, kids’ play is “a very, very important part of development,” Beresin said. “Play is the way they work out their anxieties, it’s the way they work out their conflicts, it’s the way they share with each other, it’s the way they learn how to be respectful of other kids.” Learning to be independent and make your own choices is part of that process, too. It’s hard to imagine a return to the world that Gill or Granger-Mbugua remember from their childhoods, when kids ran around with little interference from adults. But even before the pandemic, some efforts were afoot to give kids a bit more autonomy in their play. “Adventure playgrounds,” for example, which deemphasize traditional play structures in favor of more interactive (and chaotic) elements like old electronic equipment and hammers, have spread across Europe and popped up in the US. One such playground on New York’s Governors Island explicitly bans parents. The Free-Range Kids movement, meanwhile, advocates for more independence for children, including unsupervised play. Started in 2008 by a mom who was criticized for letting her 9-year-old take the subway alone, the movement has helped inspire laws in Utah and elsewhere that protect parents from prosecution if they let kids play or walk home by themselves. Individual parents are also finding less regimented ways to help their kids socialize. “There’s a lot of anxiety that I feel around structured, organized play,” Granger-Mbugua said. “I really prefer more organic play in spaces where children are naturally together,” whether that’s a church function or a birthday party with extended family. As pandemic restrictions lift, “I would like my children to get to know the people in the neighborhood, I would like to get them to know the people in their classes that they feel most comfortable with and pursue friendships and relationships that way,” Granger-Mbugua said. “I want my children to seek out friendships that feel good to them, and let me know, and then I will do my part to support that.” Such a kid-centric approach may find adherents at a time when a lot of the strictures of pre-pandemic society, from wardrobes to office jobs, are being questioned. And for anyone wanting to reevaluate their own kids’ social lives in our new reality, Gill, for her part, advocates a back-to-basics approach: “Let them be. Let them figure it out. Let them use their brains.” In other words: “Just let them play.”
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