kottke.org posts about USA
In 1946, Albert Einstein, who had come to the US in 1933 and stayed to become a citizen due to Adolf Hitler's rise to power in Germany, wrote a magazine article titled The Negro Question. In it, he called the prejudice against black Americans a "deeply entrenched evil".
What soon makes the new arrival devoted to this country is the democratic trait among the people. I am not thinking here so much of the democratic political constitution of this country, however highly it must be praised. I am thinking of the relationship between individual people and of the attitude they maintain toward one another.
In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No one humbles himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one's fellow-man.
There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the "Whites" toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.
Recognizing the parallels between the treatment of Jews in Germany in the 1930s with blacks in the US, Einstein put his efforts and his money where his mouth was. He was a member of the NAACP. In 1946, the same year that letter was published, he received an honorary degree from Pennsylvania's Lincoln University, the historically black school that was the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall. In a speech at the school that was not covered by a mainstream American press that otherwise couldn't get enough of him, Einstein called racism "a disease of white people":
My trip to this institution was in behalf of a worthwhile cause. There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.
When singer Marian Anderson was denied a hotel room in Princeton for being black, Einstein hosted the singer at his home for this and several subsequent trips. He also came to the aid of W.E.B. Du Bois in his case against the US government:
Einstein continued to support progressive causes through the 1950s, when the pressure of anti-Communist witch hunts made it dangerous to do so. Another example of Einstein using his prestige to help a prominent African American occurred in 1951, when the 83-year-old W.E.B. Du Bois, a founder of the NAACP, was indicted by the federal government for failing to register as a "foreign agent" as a consequence of circulating the pro-Soviet Stockholm Peace Petition. Einstein offered to appear as a character witness for Du Bois, which convinced the judge to drop the case.
These and his other activities in this arena are documented in a 2006 book called Einstein on Race and Racism by Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor.
In today's installment of terrifying graphics about climate change, the NY Times made a series of three maps showing the potential rise of 100 degree temperatures across the United States if current greenhouse gas emission trends continue through the end of this century. Look at the areas in orange and red on the 1991-2010 map: what sort of landscape do you picture? Keeping that landscape picture in your mind, look at the orange and red areas on the 2060 and 2100 maps. Yep! And Phoenix with 163 days above 100 degrees -- that's every day from March 25th to September 4th over 100 degrees.
P.S. A word about climate change and rising temperatures. The temperature that climate scientists typically reference and care about with regard to climate change is "the average global temperature across land and ocean surface areas". According to the NOAA, the average temperature of the Earth in the 20th century was 13.9°C (57.0°F). In 2015, the average global temperature was 0.90°C (1.62°F) above that.
In order to avoid dangerous effects of climate change, climate scientists advocate keeping the global average temperature increase below 2 degrees (and more recently, below 1.5 degrees). In late 2015, 195 nations came together in Paris and agreed to:
[Hold] the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change
That's degrees Celsius, not Fahrenheit. I don't know about you, but as an American, when I hear 2 degrees, I think, oh, that's not bad. But 2°C is an increase of 3.6°F, which does seem significant.
Note also that it specifies keeping the temperature "below pre-industrial levels" and not below 20th century levels. It is maddeningly difficult to track down an exact figure for the pre-industrial global temperature, partially because of a lack of precise data, partially because of politics, and partially because of the impenetrability of scientific writing. From a piece Eric Holthaus wrote for FiveThirtyEight earlier this year:
It sounds easy enough to measure global warming: see how hot it was, compare it to how hot it used to be. But climate scientists have several ways of measuring how hot it used to be. NASA's base period, as I mentioned above, is an average of 1951-80 global temperatures, mostly because that was the most recently available 30-year period when the data set was first created. By chance, it's also pretty representative of the world's 20th-century climate and can help us understand how much warmer the world has become while many of us have been alive.
Other organizations go further back. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the body of climate scientists that was formed to provide assessments to the United Nations, bases its temperature calculations on an 1850-1900 global average. There was about 0.4 degrees of warming between that time period and the NASA base period.
Climate scientists often refer to that 1850-1900 timespan as "pre-industrial" because we don't have comprehensive temperature data from the 1700s. But meteorologist Michael Mann, director of Penn State University's Earth System Science Center, has argued that an additional 0.25 degrees of warming occurred between the start of the Industrial Revolution (around 1750) and 1850. Including Mann's adjustment would bring February 2016 global temperatures at or very near 2 degrees above the "pre-industrial" average.
I now completely understand why some people deny that anthropogenic climate change is happening. Seriously. I looked for more than 30 minutes for a report or scientific paper that stated the average global temperature for 1850-1900 and I couldn't find one. I looked at UN reports, NASA reports, reports from the UK: nothing. There were tons of references to temperatures relative to the 1850-1900 baseline, but no absolute temperatures were given. Now, I don't mean to get all Feynman here, but this is bullshit. When the world got together in Paris and talked about a 1.5 degree increase, was everyone even talking about the same thing? You might begin to wonder what the scientists are hiding with their obfuscation.
Anyway, the important point is that according to climate scientists, we are already flirting with 1.5°C of global warming since pre-industrial times. Which means that without action, the spread of those Phoenician temperatures across the circa-2100 United States is a thing that's going to happen.
The population of NYC is equal to the combined populations of Vermont, Alaska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, and West Virginia. Here's what that looks like on a map.
Put another way: 16 US Senators represent as many people in those states as a fraction of one of New York States' Senators represent the population of NYC. A Senator from Wyoming represents 290,000 people while one from New York represents 9.8 million people...and in California, there are 19 million people per Senator. That gives a Wyoming resident 65 times the voting power of a California resident.
The Complacent Class is a forthcoming book by Tyler Cowen.
Since Alexis de Tocqueville, restlessness has been accepted as a signature American trait. Our willingness to move, take risks, and adapt to change have produced a dynamic economy and a tradition of innovation from Ben Franklin to Steve Jobs.
The problem, according to legendary blogger, economist and bestselling author Tyler Cowen, is that Americans today have broken from this tradition -- we're working harder than ever to avoid change. We're moving residences less, marrying people more like ourselves and choosing our music and our mates based on algorithms that wall us off from anything that might be too new or too different. Match.com matches us in love. Spotify and Pandora match us in music. Facebook matches us to just about everything else.
Of course, this "matching culture" brings tremendous positives: music we like, partners who make us happy, neighbors who want the same things. We're more comfortable. But, according to Cowen, there are significant collateral downsides attending this comfort, among them heightened inequality and segregation and decreased incentives to innovate and create.
Cowen is also releasing another book called Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals.
In that work, I outline a true and objectively valid case for a free and prosperous society, and consider the importance of economic growth for political philosophy, how and why the political spectrum should be reconfigured, how we should think about existential risk, what is right and wrong in Parfit and Nozick and Singer and effective altruism, how to get around the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, to what extent individual rights can be absolute, how much to discount the future, when redistribution is justified, whether we must be agnostic about the distant future, and most of all why we need to "think big."
It is only available by emailing him that you've pre-ordered The Complacent Class. Oh, and a reminder about how I (try to) read books.
For the New Yorker, Heidi Julavits wrote about the easy access to ice being a particularly American trait.
As a kid, I took summer road trips with grandparents, and ice machines proved key to our modern pioneer-style vacations, wagon-bumping from one national park to another. We stored drinks and food in a giant cooler that, each morning, needed to be filled with new ice that would gradually melt during the day, until we reached our final destination.
Yes, this. I drove all over the US with my dad and sister in the summers when I was a kid and we rarely ate out (couldn't afford it)...a big cooler full of daily replenished ice preserved our stores of food for the whole trip.
Anyway, for more info on refrigeration and how it changed America, see also the chapter on refrigeration in Steven Johnson's How We Got to Now and Nicola Twilley's posts on the artificial cryosphere.
Jane Elliott asks an audience a very simple question about being black in America. (via @carltonspeight who says "No BS, I wish every white person on Twitter could see this. Maybe it'll help")
In 1852, Frederick Douglass gave a speech in Rochester, NY which historian James West Davidson calls "the most remarkable Independence Day oration in American history".
In Rochester, Douglass stalked his largely white audience with exquisite care, taking them by stealth. He began by providing what many listeners might not have expected from a notorious abolitionist: a fulsome paean to the Fourth and the founding generation. The day brought forth "demonstrations of joyous enthusiasm," he told them, for the signers of the Declaration were "brave men. They were great men too-great enough to give fame to a great age." Jefferson's very words echoed in Douglass's salute: "Your fathers staked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, on the cause of their country ... "
Your fathers. That pronoun signaled the slightest shift in the breeze. But Douglass continued cordially. "Friends and citizens, I need not enter further into the causes which led to this anniversary. Many of you understand them better than I do." Then another step back: "That is a branch of knowledge in which you feel, perhaps, a much deeper interest than your speaker."
The text of the speech itself is well worth reading...that "slightest shift in the breeze" slowly builds to a mighty hurricane.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Several years ago, James Earl Jones read a portion of Douglass' speech:
Update: Baratunde Thurston recently presented Douglass' speech live at the Brooklyn Public Library. (thx, rick)
Reporter Shane Bauer went undercover as a guard in a Louisiana private prison for four months. Mother Jones devoted their entire recent issue to the story.
In class that day, we learn about the use of force. A middle-aged black instructor I'll call Mr. Tucker comes into the classroom, his black fatigues tucked into shiny black boots. He's the head of Winn's Special Operations Response Team, or SORT, the prison's SWAT-like tactical unit. "If an inmate was to spit in your face, what would you do?" he asks. Some cadets say they would write him up. One woman, who has worked here for 13 years and is doing her annual retraining, says, "I would want to hit him. Depending on where the camera is, he might would get hit."
Mr. Tucker pauses to see if anyone else has a response. "If your personality if somebody spit on you is to knock the fuck out of him, you gonna knock the fuck out of him," he says, pacing slowly. "If a inmate hit me, I'm go' hit his ass right back. I don't care if the camera's rolling. If a inmate spit on me, he's gonna have a very bad day." Mr. Tucker says we should call for backup in any confrontation. "If a midget spit on you, guess what? You still supposed to call for backup. You don't supposed to ever get into a one-on-one encounter with anybody. Period. Whether you can take him or not. Hell, if you got a problem with a midget, call me. I'll help you. Me and you can whup the hell out of him."
He asks us what we should do if we see two inmates stabbing each other.
"I'd probably call somebody," a cadet offers.
"I'd sit there and holler 'stop,'" says a veteran guard.
Mr. Tucker points at her. "Damn right. That's it. If they don't pay attention to you, hey, there ain't nothing else you can do."
He cups his hands around his mouth. "Stop fighting," he says to some invisible prisoners. "I said, 'Stop fighting.'" His voice is nonchalant. "Y'all ain't go' to stop, huh?" He makes like he's backing out of a door and slams it shut. "Leave your ass in there!"
"Somebody's go' win. Somebody's go' lose. They both might lose, but hey, did you do your job? Hell yeah!" The classroom erupts in laughter.
Fusion has a summary of Bauer's reporting, which you really should actually read in its entirety. America's prison system is shameful; its reform is one of the biggest issues facing our nation in the future.
There's been a lot of talk in this election cycle about "average Americans" and "real Americans". In a piece for FiveThirtyEight, Jed Kolko used age, education, and race & ethnicity to find the city most demographically similar the US as a whole. Here's his top 5:
1. New Haven-Milford, CT
2. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL
3. Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT
4. Oklahoma City, OK
5. Springfield, MA
Economist Lyman Stone thought Kolko's methodology was flawed:
See, he used 3 variables: race, education, and age, to proxy for "normalcy." His method looked at how typical a given "race" group in a given city was on educational/age factors, and a given educational group in a given city on race/age factors, etc. In other words, he didn't truly ask "What city is most normal?" He asked "In what city is each group of people most typical of that group of people nationally?" That's a cool question, but it's totally not "normalcy." The reason is simple: as best I can tell, Jed doesn't fully capture the role of aggregate composition. He's trying to get specific and avoid calling a place "abnormal" just because it has one weird demographic lump; he wants cell-specific abnormality. But nobody cares if Graduate-Degree-Holding Native Americans happen to be much younger in St. Louis than elsewhere. We care if St. Louis has a weirdly large number of Graduate-Degree-Holding-Native-Americans. Composition of the population is the most important measure of normalcy, and one that Kolko's method will tend to under-emphasize.
Stone ran his own analysis with that in mind, using 20 different demographic variables, and came up with a different list of the most normal places in America:
1. Oklahoma City, OK
2. Tulsa, OK
3. Jacksonville, FL
4. Spokane-Spokane Valley, WA
5. Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ
The above table shows the places with the lowest weirdness-scores. Two of them are in Oklahoma. I'll talk about them together. Oklahoma City is less than 1 standard deviation from the mean on every single variable. It is exactly the mean for the poverty rate, and almost exactly the mean for educational attainment. It's biggest oddity is housing costs compared to income, which are a bit high, and the percent of households with a car, which is also just a teentsy bit high. Other than that? If you're looking for "Normal America" then look to Oklahoma City. Tulsa's story is the same, except it also has a bit of a low share of civilian government workers.
Among the weirdest places on Stone's list? San Jose, NYC, and Jacksonville, NC.
New York is up next. Again, a large foreign-born share makes New York weird. But the real weirdness is actually in New York's transit access. New York's car-ownership share is a whopping nine standard deviations below the national average. New York's housing costs also make it weird, as does the percent of people who are renting. In other words, New York is weird because it's just so darn urban.
From Flowing Data, an animated infographic that shows how the American diet has changed since 1970. We eat less beef, potatoes, margarine, and whole milk than we used to, but more chicken, cooking oil, bananas, and Italian cheese.
David Grann has been relatively quiet lately on Twitter and at the New Yorker, where he is a staff writer; he hasn't written anything for them in more than four years. I figured he was busy writing a book and so he was. Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI is about the murders of the members of the Osage Indian Nation in the 1920s.
In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe.
Then, one by one, they began to be killed off. One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.
Sounds fantastic. Grann's previous books are The Devil and Sherlock Holmes and The Lost City of Z, which should be out in movie form sometime soon.
As part of the Interstate Highway System project, expressways were run right through the heart of many American cities, disrupting neighborhoods and displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
The 48,000 miles of interstate highway that would be paved across the country during the 1950s, '60s, and '70s were a godsend for many rural communities. But those highways also gutted many cities, with whole neighborhoods torn down or isolated by huge interchanges and wide ribbons of asphalt. Wealthier residents fled to the suburbs, using the highways to commute back in by car. That drained the cities' tax bases and hastened their decline.
So why did cities help build the expressways that would so profoundly decimate them? The answer involves a mix of self-interested industry groups, design choices made by people far away, a lack of municipal foresight, and outright institutional racism.
Here's some homework: think about Uber/Lyft and the coming self-driving cars (Tesla, Apple, Google, Ford, etc.) in the context of the highways' effect on the American city. Who benefits most from these services? (The wealthy? Huge companies?) How will they affect the funding and use of public transportation? What will happen to cities? To urban sprawl? To the economically disadvantaged?
In 1942, the US government hired Dorothea Lange (of Migrant Mother fame) to take photos of the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II. Although Lange quit after a few months because government censors wouldn't let her shoot images of barbed wire and the bayonets on guards' guns, she took hundreds of photos documenting this shameful moment in American history.
Famous for her forlorn images of Dust Bowl America, this pioneering female photographer was hired by the War Relocation Authority in 1942 to document the removal and imprisonment of Japanese Americans. Although her skill at candid portraiture was unparalleled, "Lange was an odd choice, given her leftist politics and strong sympathy for victims of racial discrimination," writes scholar Megan Asaka. The position was a challenging one for Lange as well. "Appalled by the forced exile, she confided to a Quaker protestor that she was guilt stricken to be working for a federal government that could treat its citizens so unjustly."
The WRA initially gave Lange little instruction about where and what to shoot, but controlled and censored her while she was at work. When documenting life inside the assembly centers and concentration camps, she was prohibited from taking shots of barbed wire and bayonets. Unable to tolerate this censorship and her own conflicted feelings about the work, Lange quit after just a few months of employment with the WRA.
Less ashamed at what they'd done and more worried about PR backlash, the government embargoed Lange's photos until 1972.
If this all makes you think of some recent comments about Muslims from a certain Republican presidential candidate, history may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
Update: Ansel Adams also took dozens of photos of the Japanese American interment camp at Manzanar.
So did photographer Toyo Miyatake, who was among the prisoners at Manzanar.
The exclusion order forced Miyatake, his wife and four children, to the concentration camp at Manzanar. He was able to store his photographic equipment but managed to smuggle a camera lens and film plate holder into the camp against government orders. Miyatake told his son Archie that he felt it was his duty to document camp life. An Issei carpenter in camp constructed a box to house the lens, and Miyatake was able to get film into camp by way of a hardware salesman and former client. The photographer eventually asked camp director Ralph Merritt if he could set up a photo studio, and Merritt, who learned about Miyatake from Edward Weston, consented with the provision that Miyatake only load and set the camera, and a Caucasian assistant snap the shutter. Eventually, that restriction was lifted, and Miyatake was designated official camp photographer, and granted the freedom to take photos of everyday life at Manzanar.
Miyatake and Adams met at the camp and began a collaboration. Lange and Adams were friends -- he printed Migrant Mother for her -- and she was instrumental in convincing Adams to document Manzanar. But she was also critical of his detached approach:
In 1961, Lange said about Adams's taking landscape pictures at the Manzanar Relocation Center: "It was shameful. That's Ansel. He doesn't have much sense about these things."
(thx, @gen and samuel)
Serena Solomon grew up in Australia and when she moved to the US, she was shocked at the number of products sold at American grocery stores. Solomon recently asked other immigrants to share their biggest surprises about American culture. From a French welder:
It is so frustrating here. Nothing is easy. Nothing is efficient. To pay rent, you have to use a check? I have never written a check. The last time I got a check was maybe 20 years ago, from my granddad. Getting an apartment takes so long as opposed to other countries I have lived in where it's just a handshake. That's it. I went to the post office yesterday, and I was waiting in line for maybe an hour -- and there were only five people in front of me. I felt like I went from a Western country to a third-world country. People here with money have access to things. The rest of the people are just trying to survive.
Food is a big difference for some:
Food-wise, I noticed us all getting these round faces from the bad food we ate. We did not realize it, because it was the standard and you think because it's advertised and readily available it can't be bad for you. We were so ignorant coming from South Africa, eating home cooked food every night over there. Then, once we got here, we ate those corn dogs almost every day for lunch, little pizzas for snacks, and sugary cereals for breakfast.
Reminds me of Cup of Jo's excellent series about how parenthood differs around the world.
From Neil Freeman, proprietor of the excellent Fake is the New Real, a map of the continental United States with the 50 states reorganized into concentric circles of equal population.
See also the map accompanying Parag Khanna's recent piece, A New Map for America, which calls for the creation of seven mega-regions centered around metropolitan clusters in place of the lower 48 states: the Pacific Coast, the Inland West, the Great Plains, the Gulf Coast, the Great Lakes, the Southeast Manufacturing Belt, and the Great Northeast.
These days, in the thick of the American presidential primaries, it's easy to see how the 50 states continue to drive the political system. But increasingly, that's all they drive -- socially and economically, America is reorganizing itself around regional infrastructure lines and metropolitan clusters that ignore state and even national borders. The problem is, the political system hasn't caught up.
America faces a two-part problem. It's no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it's not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.
To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren't about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.
Holy shit, could you imagine? Most of America would have a fit over this.
From The Intercept and director A.J. Schnack, a simple and powerful short film about more than a dozen mass shootings that have occurred in the US since 2011.
A scene of tragedy unfolds, accompanied by fear, chaos and disbelief. As Speaking is Difficult rewinds into the past, retracing our memories, it tells a story about a cumulative history that is both unbearable and inevitable.
Fuck, that was difficult to watch. When Sandy Hook came up, I just lost it. We should be deeply deeply ashamed that that happened and we did nothing about it.
As the US and Cuba move toward becoming BFFs again (or at least members of the same #squad), it's a good time to review the history between the two countries, which includes slavery, the Spanish-American War, and the Cold War-era series of fiascos.
Randall Munroe has made a map of the United States with all of the states in different places but still retaining the same general shape. Particularly clever is the Michigan/Maryland combo to recreate the Bay Area.
One of the video's main points:
It's not that America has much more crime. It's that crime in the US is much more lethal.
Similar to a sentiment I tweeted out a few months ago:
Easy access to guns turns bad moods, bad politics, bad religion, bad brain chemistry, and bad ideas into murder.
On the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver argues against many US states' anti-abortion laws. This was super funny and also made me really angry.
The Economist style guide's section on Americanisms is just a tad catty.
Try not to verb nouns or to adjective them. So do not access files, haemorrhage red ink (haemorrhage is a noun), let one event impact another, author books (still less co-author them), critique style guides, pressure colleagues (press will do), progress reports, source inputs, trial programmes or loan money. Avoid parenting and, even more assiduously, parenting skills. Gunned down means shot. And though it is sometimes necessary to use nouns as adjectives, there is no need to call an attempted coup a coup attempt, a suspected terrorist a terrorist suspect or the Californian legislature the California legislature. Vilest of all is the habit of throwing together several nouns into one ghastly adjectival reticule: Texas millionaire real-estate developer and failed thrift entrepreneur Hiram Turnipseed...
The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry by Ned & Constance Sublette is a book which offers an alternate view of slavery in the United States. Instead of treating slavery as a source of unpaid labor, as it is typically understood, they focus on the ownership aspect: people as property, merchandise, collateral, and capital. From a review of the book at Pacific Standard:
In fact, most American slaves were not kidnapped on another continent. Though over 12.7 million Africans were forced onto ships to the Western hemisphere, estimates only have 400,000-500,000 landing in present-day America. How then to account for the four million black slaves who were tilling fields in 1860? "The South," the Sublettes write, "did not only produce tobacco, rice, sugar, and cotton as commodities for sale; it produced people." Slavers called slave-breeding "natural increase," but there was nothing natural about producing slaves; it took scientific management. Thomas Jefferson bragged to George Washington that the birth of black children was increasing Virginia's capital stock by four percent annually.
Here is how the American slave-breeding industry worked, according to the Sublettes: Some states (most importantly Virginia) produced slaves as their main domestic crop. The price of slaves was anchored by industry in other states that consumed slaves in the production of rice and sugar, and constant territorial expansion. As long as the slave power continued to grow, breeders could literally bank on future demand and increasing prices. That made slaves not just a commodity, but the closest thing to money that white breeders had. It's hard to quantify just how valuable people were as commodities, but the Sublettes try to convey it: By a conservative estimate, in 1860 the total value of American slaves was $4 billion, far more than the gold and silver then circulating nationally ($228.3 million, "most of it in the North," the authors add), total currency ($435.4 million), and even the value of the South's total farmland ($1.92 billion). Slaves were, to slavers, worth more than everything else they could imagine combined.
Just reading that turns my stomach. The Sublettes also recast the 1808 abolition of the transatlantic slave trade as trade protectionism.
Virginia slaveowners won a major victory when Thomas Jefferson's 1808 prohibition of the African slave trade protected the domestic slave markets for slave-breeding.
I haven't read the book, but I imagine they touched on the fact that by growing slave populations, southern states were literally manufacturing more political representation due to the Three-Fifths clause in the US Constitution. They bred more slaves to help politically safeguard the practice of slavery.
Update: Because slaves were property, Southern slave owners could mortgage them to banks and then the banks could package the mortgages into bonds and sell the bonds to anyone anywhere in the world, even where slavery was illegal.
In the 1830s, powerful Southern slaveowners wanted to import capital into their states so they could buy more slaves. They came up with a new, two-part idea: mortgaging slaves; and then turning the mortgages into bonds that could be marketed all over the world.
First, American planters organized new banks, usually in new states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Drawing up lists of slaves for collateral, the planters then mortgaged them to the banks they had created, enabling themselves to buy additional slaves to expand cotton production. To provide capital for those loans, the banks sold bonds to investors from around the globe -- London, New York, Amsterdam, Paris. The bond buyers, many of whom lived in countries where slavery was illegal, didn't own individual slaves -- just bonds backed by their value. Planters' mortgage payments paid the interest and the principle on these bond payments. Enslaved human beings had been, in modern financial lingo, "securitized."
Slave-backed securities. My stomach is turning again. (via @daveg)
Update: Tyler Cowen read The American Slave Coast and listed a few things he learned from it.
2. President James Polk speculated in slaves, based on inside information he obtained from being President and shaping policy toward slaves and slave importation.
3. In the South there were slave "breeding farms," where the number of women and children far outnumbered the number of men.
Update: In his book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward Baptist details how slavery played a central role in the making of the US economy.
As historian Edward Baptist reveals in The Half Has Never Been Told, slavery and its expansion were central to the evolution and modernization of our nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, catapulting the US into a modern, industrial and capitalist economy. In the span of a single lifetime, the South grew from a narrow coastal strip of worn-out tobacco plantations to a sub-continental cotton empire. By 1861 it had five times as many slaves as it had during the Revolution, and was producing two billion pounds of cotton a year. It was through slavery and slavery alone that the United States achieved a virtual monopoly on the production of cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and was transformed into a global power rivaled only by England.
From Dave Pell at Nextdraft, who says that "rage is all the rage these days", comes the results of an Esquire/NBC News poll about how angry Americans are these days. Americans are more angry, especially white Americans.
Half of all Americans are angrier today than they were a year ago. White Americans are the angriest of all. And black Americans are more optimistic about the future of the country and the existence of the American dream. There are depths and dimensions, dark corners and subtle contours to our national mood, and setting aside the issue of who actually has a right to be angry and about what -- these pages are neutral territory; everyone is allowed their beef -- we found three main factors shaping American rage.
I've been thinking about this issue a lot recently and I think part of the rage white Americans feel has to do with a perceived relative loss of power and status. I mean, look who's in the Oval Office right now...a black Muslim man who wasn't even born here!
In the New Yorker, Nicholas Lemann writes about "the Southernization of American politics". In 1865, the United States won the Civil War against the South, but the current US has been significantly shaped by the ideals, politics, and values of the South.
In order to become the richest and most powerful country in the world, the United States had to include the South, and its inclusion has always come at a price. The Constitution (with its three-fifths compromise and others) awkwardly registered the contradiction between its democratic rhetoric and the foundational presence of slavery in the thirteen original states. The 1803 Louisiana Purchase-by which the U.S. acquired more slaveholding territory in the name of national expansion-set off the dynamic that led to the Civil War. The United States has declined every opportunity to let the South go its own way; in return, the South has effectively awarded itself a big say in the nation's affairs.
This is an animated map of the lower 48 United States showing every boundary change (country, colony, state, and county) from 1629 to 2000. (via @ptak)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Library contains around 3800 watercolor paintings, lithographs, and drawings of different apple varieties, most of which you will not find at the typical American grocery store. They also have another 3500 images of other fruits and nuts. (via slate)
Update: Until recently, the high-resolution images from this collection were not freely available to the public. After some agitation by Parker Higgins of the EFF, the Department of Agriculture decided to post high-res JPGs of each painting for free download. Higgins recently gave a talk about how it went down. This is a good example of the value of the public domain (and activists like Higgins)...without those images being available, neither Slate or I would have written about the collection, and who knows what someone who read them will do with that information. Maybe nothing! But maybe something cool! It's worth putting it out there to find out...governments should be in the business of increasing the possibility space of their citizens. (via @stvnrlly)
From Nathan Yau at FlowingData, a look at the places in the US where people need to make the longest drives to visit a grocery store.
The nearest grocery store is more than 10 miles away in about 36 percent of the country and the median distance is 7 miles. However, a lot of these areas are rural with few (if any) people who live there.
Wyoming contains very few grocery stores:
And Nevada is even more of a food desert. Looks like Massachusetts, Delaware, and New Jersey have plenty of grocery stores everywhere. (via feltron)
I read a lot of books by and about white men, many of them dead. So when a friend enthusiastically recommended The Warmth of Other Suns, I jumped at the chance to expand my reading horizons. I'm so glad I did...this is an amazing book.
Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns is about the Great Migration, the mass movement of African Americans from the Southern US to the Northeast, Midwest, and West between 1910 and 1970. During that time, roughly 6 million African Americans moved north and west to escape Jim Crow laws, discrimination, low wages, the threat of physical violence & death, and everyday humiliation & lack of freedom in the South. In the North, they found freedom, new opportunities, and better lives for their families, but they had less success escaping poverty, racism, and discrimination.
Wilkerson tells the story of the entire Migration by focusing on the paths of three people leaving the South:
Ida Mae Gladney, a Mississippi sharecropper pictured above with flowers in her hair, moved to Chicago with her family in 1937 and lived to cast a vote for Barack Obama.
George Starling, pictured above on the left, worked in the citrus groves of Florida before leaving for New York in 1945. He found a job as a baggage handler (and unofficial welcoming committee member) on a train, working the north/south lines that ferried millions of black Southerners to their new homes in the North.
Robert Foster, the gentleman above in the bow tie, became a surgeon and moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles in 1953. There, he rose to the upper ranks of black society and became personal physician to Ray Charles. Foster left the South so thoroughly behind that his daughter didn't know many of the details of his Louisiana childhood until she read it in Wilkerson's book.
Through her compelling straight-forward prose, wonderful storytelling, and diligent journalism, Wilkerson more than convinces me that the Great Migration is the greatest untold, misunderstood, and largely unknown occurrence of the American 20th century. I don't say this often, but The Warmth of Other Suns is a must-read, particularly if you want to begin to understand the racial issues still confronting the US today.
Yale has made 170,000 Library of Congress photos of the US from 1935 to 1945 available online, searchable and sortable in many different ways.
In order to build support for and justify government programs, the Historical Section set out to document America, often at her most vulnerable, and the successful administration of relief service. The Farm Security Administration-Office of War Information (FSA-OWI) produced some of the most iconic images of the Great Depression and World War II and included photographers such as Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Arthur Rothstein who shaped the visual culture of the era both in its moment and in American memory. Unit photographers were sent across the country. The negatives were sent to Washington, DC. The growing collection came to be known as "The File." With the United State's entry into WWII, the unit moved into the Office of War Information and the collection became known as the FSA-OWI File.
SmokyMountains.com has the best fall foliage map I've ever seen. It's very simply designed and has a slider that lets you check the leaf peeping forecast across the entire US.
P.S. It's decorative gourd season, motherfuckers.
Last month I shared a video showing the thousands of nuclear weapons that humans have detonated on Earth. I hadn't really thought about it too much apart from the two dropped in Japan in WWII, but those weapons created some permanent physical changes in the landscape of the Earth. For instance, dozens of circular scars are visible at this testing range in Nevada near Area 51.
Also located in the same area is the Sedan Crater, the largest man-made crater in the United States. The crater is 320 feet deep, 1280 feet across, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and was made by a thermonuclear device with a 104 kiloton yield detonated in 1962.
Now, I haven't read a whole lot about nuclear tests, but this one seems particularly idiotic. The purpose of the Sedan shot was not to test a new kind of weapon or to determine the effects of the bomb, but to move earth. Yeah, no big deal, we're just gonna use a fusion bomb like a big stick of dynamite. Sedan was part of Operation Plowshare, an effort to use nuclear devices for peaceful purposes like mining and moving earth. From Wikipedia:
Proposed uses for nuclear explosives under Project Plowshare included widening the Panama Canal, constructing a new sea-level waterway through Nicaragua nicknamed the Pan-Atomic Canal, cutting paths through mountainous areas for highways, and connecting inland river systems. Other proposals involved blasting underground caverns for water, natural gas, and petroleum storage. Serious consideration was also given to using these explosives for various mining operations. One proposal suggested using nuclear blasts to connect underground aquifers in Arizona. Another plan involved surface blasting on the western slope of California's Sacramento Valley for a water transport project.
The Pan-Atomic Canal! This quaint US government video has more on Sedan:
In my post the other day, I said that the Soviets didn't care about their citizenry when testing nuclear devices. Apparently the US didn't either: the Sedan shot -- the purpose of which, as a reminder, was to move a bunch of dirt -- resulted in a significant amount of nuclear fallout, about 7% of the total radioactive fallout generated by all the nuclear tests in Nevada. Fallout from the test reached as far as West Virginia and was particularly high in counties in Iowa and Illinois. Buy hey, they moved 12 million tons of soil! (via @kyledenlinger)
The Whitney Plantation in Louisiana is the only US museum and memorial to slavery. The Atlantic has a video about the museum and its founder, John Cummings, who spent 16 years and $8 million of his own money on it.
From Pop Chart Lab, a beautiful poster showing 121 architectural styles of American houses.
Useful if you don't know your Victorian from your Tudor from your Greek revival.
The Jefferson Grid is an Instagram account which posts satellite photos picturing one square mile of land.
The account takes its name from the grid Thomas Jefferson used to divide up the growing United States.
The Land Ordinance of 1785, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, extended government authority over the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes regions. As a response to what he believed to be a confusing survey system already in use, Jefferson suggested a new grid system based on the rectangle. The grid divided land into plots one mile square, each consisting of 640 acres. The grid also placed a visible design upon a relatively untouched landscape. The ordinance was the first of its kind in America but would continue to affect urban, suburban and farmland planning to present day.
Oh man, this episode of This American Life on desegregation and the Normandy School District (aka the Missouri district that Michael Brown attended) just totally wrecked me. Tears of sadness and rage.
Right now, all sorts of people are trying to rethink and reinvent education, to get poor minority kids performing as well as white kids. But there's one thing nobody tries anymore, despite lots of evidence that it works: desegregation. Nikole Hannah-Jones looks at a district that, not long ago, accidentally launched a desegregation program.
America likes to pride itself on its focus on the importance of education and everyone getting a crack at living the American Dream, but as this story makes clear, neither of those things are actually true. See also part two of the series and Hannah-Jones' series on segregation at ProPublica.
Most everyone in the United States swears, but the specific words used vary by region. For example, "fuck" is popular in California but not so much in Oklahoma, which is the "crap" epicenter of America. "Motherfucker" is unusually popular in Maine, as is "shit" in the Southeast, "douche" in Iowa, and "fuckboy" in Jersey.
I know I already posted this in my quick links early last week, but HOLY GOD is this Kathryn Schulz piece about the already-overdue Pacific Northwest earthquake is terrific and terrifying.
Flick your right fingers outward, forcefully, so that your hand flattens back down again. When the next very big earthquake hits, the northwest edge of the continent, from California to Canada and the continental shelf to the Cascades, will drop by as much as six feet and rebound thirty to a hundred feet to the west -- losing, within minutes, all the elevation and compression it has gained over centuries. Some of that shift will take place beneath the ocean, displacing a colossal quantity of seawater. (Watch what your fingertips do when you flatten your hand.) The water will surge upward into a huge hill, then promptly collapse. One side will rush west, toward Japan. The other side will rush east, in a seven-hundred-mile liquid wall that will reach the Northwest coast, on average, fifteen minutes after the earthquake begins. By the time the shaking has ceased and the tsunami has receded, the region will be unrecognizable. Kenneth Murphy, who directs FEMA's Region X, the division responsible for Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Alaska, says, "Our operating assumption is that everything west of Interstate 5 will be toast."
Update: Michelle Nijhuis interviewed Schulz about how this piece came about and its impact.
Probably the hardest thing about writing this piece was that from the beginning, this story was two stories for me. It's the overt, obvious story, which is the story of the Cascadia subduction zone. On its own, that's an incredible story, one of the best I've ever happened to chance upon. But, from the get go, in my mind, it was also really a parable about climate change. And then one level deeper than that, it's not a parable, but an example about a really deep problem in our human existence, this kind of problem of scale. We are bound by certain temporal and geographic coordinates, and it's very very hard to see beyond them.
Update: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center recently posted a revised version of a paper on the link between an "orphan tsunami" that occurred in Japan in 1700 and a massive earthquake in the Pacific Northwest. An accompanying video shows a forecast model animation of the tsunami.
Adding her voice to a chorus of others, Amy Davidson makes a great case for putting Harriet Tubman on the US $20 bill and kicking Andrew Jackson to the curb.
On September 17, 1849, Araminta, who now called herself Harriet, ran away to freedom, along with two of her brothers. Their owner, Eliza Brodess-Pattison's granddaughter-in-law-had been making moves to sell them, and the fear was that the family would be broken up. Brodess put an ad in the local newspaper, offering a hundred-dollar reward each for "Minty," Harry, and Ben. (The only extant copy of the ad was found in 2003, in a dumpster.) Almost immediately, Tubman began making trips back to Maryland, organizing the escapes of relatives, friends, and scores of other slaves, often just ahead of armed men pursuing them. On one trip, she discovered that her husband, John Tubman, who was free himself, was living with another woman; he had no interest in going north. He is a man who seems not to have known Tubman's worth.
When I was a kid, I read a lot of biographies1 on people like Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Abraham Lincoln, and the Wright brothers. My favorite, which I read at least three times, was Ann Petry's Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Tubman is one of history's greatest badasses. Put her on the damn bill.
Artificial Killing Machine is an art installation that listens to a public database on US military drone strikes. When there's a strike, a cap gun fires for every death.
This time based work accesses a public database on U.S. military drone strikes. When a drone strike occurs, the machine activates, and fires a children's toy cap gun for every death that results. The raw information used by the installation is then printed. The materialized data is allowed to accumulate in perpetuity or until the life cycle of either the database or machine ends. A single chair is placed beneath the installation inviting the viewers to sit in the chair and experience the imagined existential risk.
The goal of the project is to breathe humanity back into data:
When individuals are represented purely as statistical data, they are stripped of their humanity and our connection to them is severed. Through the act of play and the force of imagination, this project aims to reconnect that which has been lost.
(via prosthetic knowledge)
The Freedmen's Bureau Project is a new initiative to digitize and make available online the records collected by the The Freedmen's Bureau near the end of the Civil War. The records detail the lives of about 4 million African Americans and will be available by the end of 2016.
FamilySearch is working in collaboration with the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and the California African American Museum to make these records available and accessible by taking the raw records, extracting the information and indexing them to make them easily searchable online. Once indexed, finding an ancestor may be as easy as going to FamilySearch.org, entering a name and, with the touch of a button, discovering your family member.
The Freedmen's Bureau was organized near the end of the American Civil War to assist newly freed slaves in 15 states and the District of Columbia. From 1865 to 1872, the Bureau opened schools, managed hospitals, rationed food and clothing and even solemnized marriages. In the process it gathered priceless handwritten, personal information including marriage and family information, military service, banking, school, hospital and property records on potentially million African Americans.
What an amazing resource this will be...many families out there will learn about the ancestors for the first time. The documents are currently 9% indexed and you can sign up to help at discoverfreedmen.org.
Tens of thousands of volunteers are needed to make these records searchable online. No specific time commitment is required, and anyone may participate. Volunteers simply log on, pull up as many scanned documents as they like, and enter the names and dates into the fields provided. Once published, information for millions of African Americans will be accessible, allowing families to build their family trees and connect with their ancestors.
(via open culture)
The completion of the US transcontinental railroad in 1869 in Utah was also the birthplace of the newsflash. The news was delivered via telegraph through a clever scheme: the famous golden spike and a silver hammer were each wired to the telegraph so that when hammer struck nail, the circuit completed and the news raced out along telegraph wires to the rest of the nation.1
Where were you when you heard the news of the completion of the transcontinental railroad?
From a Foursquare and Mapbox collaboration, a map of the most popular tastes in each US state.
Every state in the U.S. has a unique flavor, from Chicken Cheesesteak to Chinese Chicken Salad. Foursquare analyzed the data to pinpoint which food or drink is most disproportionately popular in each destination, and worked with Mapbox to create the dynamic map.
Louisiana is crawfish, Vermont is maple syrup, and Texas is breakfast tacos. I love that Nevada is bottle service. All that state wants is to get you drunk in the least fiscally responsible way possible.
In The Plot Against Trains, Adam Gopnik muses about how infrastructure in America has become dilapidated in part because we (or at least much of we) believe little good can come from the government.
What an ideology does is give you reasons not to pursue your own apparent rational interest -- and this cuts both ways, including both wealthy people in New York who, out of social conviction, vote for politicians who are more likely to raise their taxes, and poor people in the South who vote for those devoted to cutting taxes on incomes they can never hope to earn. There is no such thing as false consciousness. There are simply beliefs that make us sacrifice one piece of self-evident interest for some other, larger principle.
What we have, uniquely in America, is a political class, and an entire political party, devoted to the idea that any money spent on public goods is money misplaced, not because the state goods might not be good but because they would distract us from the larger principle that no ultimate good can be found in the state. Ride a fast train to Washington today and you'll start thinking about national health insurance tomorrow.
The ideology of individual autonomy is, for good or ill, so powerful that it demands cars where trains would save lives, just as it places assault weapons in private hands, despite the toll they take in human lives. Trains have to be resisted, even if it means more pollution and massive inefficiency and falling ever further behind in the amenities of life -- what Olmsted called our "commonplace civilization."
The way he brings it back to trains at the end is lovely:
A train is a small society, headed somewhere more or less on time, more or less together, more or less sharing the same window, with a common view and a singular destination.
Well, except when you're on that Snowpiercer train. Although in the end (spoiler!), Curtis brought the train's segregated society back to "a common view and a singular destination" by crashing it and killing (almost) everyone on it. Hopefully America isn't headed toward the same end.
A project by Michael Pecirno, Minimal Maps is a collection of US maps that each depict only a single subject with high-resolution data, from deciduous forest cover to cornfields. Here's where grass grows in the US:
Very little grassland coverage in New England...that's surprising. Prints are available.
In Ferguson, for every 100 black women between the ages of 25 and 54, there are 60 black men. While Ferguson is extreme, it's not exceptional. Across America, we see similar numbers. So the question arises: What happened to all the black men? The short answer to that question is incarceration and premature death. The longer answer is equally upsetting. From Upshot: 1.5 Million Missing Black Men.
The NY Times Magazine got Karl Ove Knausgaard (author of My Struggle) to "drive across America and write about it without talking to a single American", like some sort of introverted Tocqueville. He came unprepared:
I dialed the number of the driver's-license office at the Swedish Transport Agency, keyed in my personal identity number and sat down at the desk, scrolling through some Norwegian newspapers as I waited my turn.
A prerecorded voice came on and informed me about opening hours, then the line went dead.
What the hell?
Had they closed?
But it couldn't be later than 1 p.m. in Sweden.
I looked at the Transport Agency website. To my dismay, I discovered that it was a holiday in Sweden tomorrow, Trettondagsafton, the Feast of the Epiphany, and a half-day today.
That meant I couldn't get the driver's-license confirmation letter until three days from now at the earliest, more likely four.
I wasn't even in the U.S. yet, I was just in Canada!
I lay back in bed and stared at the ceiling. I should email The Times and explain the situation. Maybe they had a solution. But I couldn't. I just couldn't bring myself to tell them that I'd undertaken this great road-trip assignment across the U.S. without my license. They'd think I was a complete idiot.
In any case, there was nothing I could do today.
And his thoughts on Detroit (emphasis mine):
I'd seen poverty before, of course, even incomprehensible poverty, as in the slums outside Maputo, in Mozambique. But I'd never seen anything like this. If what I had seen tonight - house after house after house abandoned, deserted, decaying as if there had been disaster - if this was poverty, then it must be a new kind poverty, maybe in the same way that the wealth that had amassed here in the 20th century had been a new kind of wealth. I had never really understood how a nation that so celebrated the individual could obliterate all differences the way this country did. In a system of mass production, the individual workers are replaceable and the products are identical. The identical cars are followed by identical gas stations, identical restaurants, identical motels and, as an extension of these, by identical TV screens, which hang everywhere in this country, broadcasting identical entertainment and identical dreams. Not even the Soviet Union at the height of its power had succeeded in creating such a unified, collective identity as the one Americans lived their lives within. When times got rough, a person could abandon one town in favor of another, and that new town would still represent the same thing.
Was that what home was here? Not the place, not the local, but the culture, the general?
Update: The Times has posted the second part of Knausgaard's My Saga.
If there is something to be gained, if it is gainable, no power on earth can restrain the forces that seek to gain it. To leave a profit or a territory or any kind of resource, even a scientific discovery, unexploited is deeply alien to human nature.
On the intersection of Presidents' Day and Black History Month, Erica Armstrong Dunbar highlights an uncomfortable truth about George Washington: he was a proud and fervent slave owner.
During the president's two terms in office, the Washingtons relocated first to New York and then to Philadelphia. Although slavery had steadily declined in the North, the Washingtons decided that they could not live without it. Once settled in Philadelphia, Washington encountered his first roadblock to slave ownership in the region -- Pennsylvania's Gradual Abolition Act of 1780.
The act began dismantling slavery, eventually releasing people from bondage after their 28th birthdays. Under the law, any slave who entered Pennsylvania with an owner and lived in the state for longer than six months would be set free automatically. This presented a problem for the new president.
Washington developed a canny strategy that would protect his property and allow him to avoid public scrutiny. Every six months, the president's slaves would travel back to Mount Vernon or would journey with Mrs. Washington outside the boundaries of the state. In essence, the Washingtons reset the clock. The president was secretive when writing to his personal secretary Tobias Lear in 1791: "I request that these Sentiments and this advise may be known to none but yourself & Mrs. Washington."
A recent paper by three climate scientists concludes there's a high risk of an unprecedented drought in the Southwest and Midwest United States later this century, even if we manage to get our carbon emissions under control. The scientists say it'll be drier in the Western US than at any point in the past 1000 years.
In the Southwest and Central Plains of Western North America, climate change is expected to increase drought severity in the coming decades. These regions nevertheless experienced extended Medieval-era droughts that were more persistent than any historical event, providing crucial targets in the paleoclimate record for benchmarking the severity of future drought risks. We use an empirical drought reconstruction and three soil moisture metrics from 17 state-of-the-art general circulation models to show that these models project significantly drier conditions in the later half of the 21st century compared to the 20th century and earlier paleoclimatic intervals. This desiccation is consistent across most of the models and moisture balance variables, indicating a coherent and robust drying response to warming despite the diversity of models and metrics analyzed. Notably, future drought risk will likely exceed even the driest centuries of the Medieval Climate Anomaly (1100-1300 CE) in both moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) future emissions scenarios, leading to unprecedented drought conditions during the last millennium.
Eric Holthaus has the layperson's explanation of the study and its implications.
Smerdon's study is the first to examine the future risk of "megadrought" in the southwest and central United States in the context of historical episodes of drought in the same regions. Smerdon's study suggests that the coming years are likely to see droughts worse than the epic dry periods that are thought to have caused profound changes to human settlement in the region over the last millennium.
"They're 'mega' because they are droughts that lasted in these regions for multiple decades," said Smerdon in an interview with Slate. "We haven't seen anything like this since at least the 1400s." In comparison, the current California drought is four years old, though drought has been present in most of the last 15 years somewhere in the West.
Update: This NASA video provides a quick overview of this study and what it means for our climate.
There's been a decline in crime in America. On the surface, it may seem like that drop is due to the fact that we've locked up so many people. But a new report suggests otherwise. From The Atlantic: The many causes of America's decline in crime.
+ FiveThirtyEight: "Pick a stat, any stat. They all tell you the same thing: America is really good at putting people behind bars." (There are some mind-boggling numbers and charts in this piece.)
+ The Marshall Project: 10 (not entirely crazy) theories explaining the great crime decline.
Here's a map showing when slavery was abolished in North and South America:
Surprising, right? Along with Cuba, Brazil, and Puerto Rico, the United States was among the last nations in the Americas to abolish slavery. Americans like to think of ourselves as freedom-loving, progressive, and more "evolved" than other countries, particularly those in the "third world" (what a loaded term that is), but this map shows differently.
It's tempting to dismiss American attitudes toward slavery as something that happened long ago. Except for, you know, the whole Civil Rights Movement and the ongoing racism against African Americans in the US. And there are also many respects in which the US is currently less free, less progressive, and less evolved than some less industrialized nations, e.g. on things like gun control, murder rate, use of the death penalty, prison population, healthcare, and anti-science views (evolution, vaccines). So maybe the lag in abolishing slavery shouldn't be so surprising, particularly because it was so lucrative and the only thing Americans have historically cared more about than freedom is money. (via civil war memory)
Today I learned that the US government considers the US border as extending 100 miles into the country. This means that states like Maine, Michigan, and Florida are entirely within the border area and 2/3 of the US population lives within the border.
The problem with this, from the standpoint of the ACLU, is that Border Patrol agents have "certain extra-Constitutional powers" within this area and "routinely" overstep their bounds and violate the constitutional rights of innocent people.
See also 35 maps that explain how America is a nation of immigrants. (via @tcarmody)
Update: So, as you may know, I am not a Constitutional lawyer or even a regular lawyer. The ACLU presumably employs and/or utilizes experts on Constitutional and immigration law. But they have a viewpoint, right? They are interested in the civil liberties of individual Americans. Anyway, Scott Bomboy of the National Constitution Center (who is also not a lawyer), notes that the US has a couple of different ideas of what a border is and what can be done at or within each kind of border is slightly different.
Legally, the 100-mile-wide region is called the "extended border" of the U.S., as defined by Title 8 of the Federal Code of Regulations. There is also something called the "functional equivalent" border, which is the area around international airports in the interior region of the U.S.
The DHS ruling from last Friday said its "warrantless searches" applied to the U.S. "border and its functional equivalent," with no mention of the extended 100-mile border.
Two analysis papers from the Congressional Research Service from 2009 offer some legal insight into what tactics agents can follow within the 100-mile-wide extended border, and why the distinction between the extended border and the other two borders is important.
Searches within the 100-mile extended border zone, and outside of the immediate border-stop location, must meet three criteria: a person must have recently crossed a border; an agent should know that the object of a search hasn't changed; and that "reasonable suspicion" of a criminal activity must exist, says the CRS. (The service had done the legal analyses to prepare Congress members for legislation.)
"Although a search at the border's functional equivalent and an extended border search require similar elements, the extended border search entails a potentially greater intrusion on a legitimate expectation of privacy. Thus, an extended border search always requires a showing of 'reasonable suspicion' of criminal activity, while a search at the functional equivalent of the border may not require any degree of suspicion whatsoever," the CRS says.
In November of 2014, This American Life aired a piece on several people who record on video their interactions with Border Patrol agents at inland checkpoints.
So if you haven't spent much time in the Southwest, you might not know about this. But there are these Border Patrol checkpoints that are just like in the middle of highway interstates and other roads, not at the border, not even near the border. They're as far as 100 miles from the border.
There are dozens of these interior or inland checkpoints across the country. They're mostly in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But now there are a couple in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Washington state. You know that you're approaching one of these checkpoints, because the speed limit will suddenly drop to 45 miles an hour and then 25. You'll slow down, and you stop, you see these orange cones coming up. And then often there's this big sort of tent-looking structure, like, right in the middle of the highway.
And then you stop, and you're right in the middle of the highway. And an agent in uniform, an armed agent walks up and asks you questions like, are you an American citizen? Sometimes he asks to look in your trunk. All this so they can catch undocumented immigrants and drug smugglers.
I've been through one of these checkpoints in VT, about 40-50 miles from the Canadian border, and hey, these checkpoints really make you feel like a criminal...like if you seem nervous they're going to pull you over and detain you because you seem like you've done something wrong. And that's what the ACLU is concerned about: Border Agents routinely treating law-abiding US citizens as criminals far from their true areas of jurisdiction. Again from This American Life, one guy got his car window broken at a checkpoint because he did not want to cooperate with the agents:
Violence like this doesn't happen a lot in these videos, but it does happen. Agents also broke the window of that pastor I mentioned earlier, Steven Anderson. They tased him and bloodied his face.
In Robert's case, he says the agents seized his cameras, put him in handcuffs, drove him far away to a holding cell, and detained him for hours. Then they drove them even farther away to El Cajon, California, let him out late at night at a bus station, and drove off.
You can watch the video here:
The glass is broken at ~11:00. (thx, @harryh & martha)
From eHistory, a time lapse view from 1776 to the present day of how the US government systematically took land from Native Americans through treaties and executive orders that were rarely honored for long.
There's a companion piece at Aeon by Claudio Saunt as well as an interactive version of the map featured in the video.
The final assault on indigenous land tenure, lasting roughly from the mid-19th century to 1890, was rapid and murderous. (In the 20th century, the fight moved from the battlefield to the courts, where it continues to this day.) After John Sutter discovered gold in California's Central Valley in 1848, colonists launched slaving expeditions against native peoples in the region. 'That a war of extermination will continue to be waged between races, until the Indian race becomes extinct, must be expected,' the state's first governor instructed the legislature in 1851.
In the Great Plains, the US Army conducted a war of attrition, with success measured in the quantity of tipis burned, food supplies destroyed, and horse herds slaughtered. The result was a series of massacres: the Bear River Massacre in southern Idaho (1863), the Sand Creek Massacre in eastern Colorado (1864), the Washita Massacre in western Oklahoma (1868), and a host of others. In Florida in the 1850s, US troops waded through the Everglades in pursuit of the last holdouts among the Seminole peoples, who had once controlled much of the Florida peninsula. In short, in the mid-19th century, Americans were still fighting to reduce if not to eliminate the continent's original residents.
FYI, it's always a good rule of thumb to not read comments on YouTube, but in this case you really really shouldn't read the comments on this video unless you want a bunch of reasons why it was ok for Europeans to drive Native Americans to the brink of total genocide.
In a series of tweets this morning, surgeon and author Atul Gawande called out the doctors who helped the CIA torture people.
First do no harm.
This is disgusting and awful and monstrous and I don't even know what to say about it. The NY Times lists seven key points (full article) from a report released by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the CIA's torture practices. We knew it was bad, suspected it was worse, but this is just beyond.
The report describes extensive waterboarding as a "series of near drownings" and suggests that more prisoners were subjected to waterboarding than the three prisoners the C.I.A. has acknowledged in the past. The report also describes detainees being subjected to sleep deprivation for up to a week, medically unnecessary "rectal feeding" and death threats. Conditions at one prison, described by a clandestine officer as a "dungeon," were blamed for the death of a detainee, and the harsh techniques were described as leading to "psychological and behavioral issues, including hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation."
This is surely the shit sandwich on top of an already unbearable year. I agree wholeheartedly with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who issued this statement about the report:
A great nation must be prepared to acknowledge its errors. This report details an ugly chapter in American history during which our leaders and the intelligence community dishonored our nation's proud traditions. Of course we must aggressively pursue international terrorists who would do us harm, but we must do so in a way that is consistent with the basic respect for human rights which makes us proud to be Americans.
"The United States must not engage in torture. If we do, in an increasingly brutal world we lose our moral standing to condemn other nations or groups that engage in uncivilized behavior.
From the NY Times, an epic listing of recipes for traditional (and not so traditional) Thanksgiving food from each of the 50 US states. Featuring lefse from North Dakota, salty pluff mud pie from South Carolina, turkey tamales from Texas, and cheddar mashed potatoes from Vermont. (via @jimray)
According to a recent survey1 of citizens in 14 countries, the United States ranks second in the amount of ignorance about things like teenage birth rates, unemployment rates, and immigration. Only Italians were more clueless. You can take a version of the test yourself and then view the results (results for the US only). Some of the more notable results:
- Americans guessed that the unemployment rate is 32%, instead of the actual rate of 6%.
- While 1% of the US population identifies as Muslim, Americans guessed 15%. 15!
- 70% of Americans guessed the US murder rate was rising. It has decreased by more than half since 1992.
- Americans guessed that almost 24% of girls aged 15-19 give birth each year. Actually, 3.1%.
Then again, what do Americans hear about constantly on the news? Unemployment, Muslims & immigration, murder, and teen pregnancy. It's little wonder the guesses on those are so high.
The US and China, the two largest carbon polluters in the world, have struck an accord on climate change.
As part of the agreement, Mr. Obama announced that the United States would emit 26 percent to 28 percent less carbon in 2025 than it did in 2005. That is double the pace of reduction it targeted for the period from 2005 to 2020.
China's pledge to reach peak carbon emissions by 2030, if not sooner, is even more remarkable. To reach that goal, Mr. Xi pledged that so-called clean energy sources, like solar power and windmills, would account for 20 percent of China's total energy production by 2030.
Here's the official statement from the White House. The NY Times calls the agreement "ambitious" and a "landmark", but Tyler Cowen says:
People, the China emissions "deal" isn't much more than a press release...
But James Fallows, who has written extensively on China recently, is more positive.
The United States and China have apparently agreed to do what anyone who has thought seriously about climate has been hoping for, for years. As the No. 1 (now China) and No. 2 carbon emitters in the world, and as the No. 1 (still the U.S.) and No. 2 economies, they've agreed to new carbon-reduction targets that are more ambitious than most people would have expected.
Given what we know now about how anthropogenic climate change is contributing to rising sea levels, Miami will be one of the first major American cities to find itself completely under water in the next century.
That inevitability is fueling a fledgling secessionist movement. And it's not some crackpot grassroots effort either...the mayor and city commission of South Miami passed a resolution earlier this month that South Florida should break away and form the nation's 51st state.
Whereas, South Florida's situation is very precarious and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing South Florida are not political, but are now very significant safety issues; and
Whereas, presently, in order to address the concerns of South Florida, it is necessary to travel to Tallahassee in North Florida. Often South Florida issues do not receive the support of Tallahassee. This is despite the fact that South Florida generates more than 69 percent of the state's revenue and contains 67 percent of the state's population; and
Whereas, the creation of the 51st state, South Florida, is a necessity for the very survival of the entire southern region of the current state of Florida.
Look for more of this type of thing in the years to come. The fight over fossil fuels has already shaped a great deal of the modern global political structure and the coming shifts in climate will almost certainly do the same.
Using the Flesch-Kincaid readability test, Vocativ analyzed more than 600 speeches from all the American Presidents for ease of comprehension. What they found was a trend toward simpler language as speeches needed to appeal to a wider range of people, not just super-educated white men.
I think President Obama, no more or less than President Bush, tries to pack a lot of nuance and subtext into language that is as plain and straightforward as possible. While President Bush was often inarticulate off the cuff, Bush's speeches were underestimated. There was a crisp formality to a lot of his best speeches, particularly the ones he delivered shortly after Sept. 11.
Definitely click through for their analysis of the data.
For the past year, Joanna Goddard has been running a series on her blog called Motherhood Around the World. The goal of the series was to tease out how parenting in other countries is different than parenting in the US. From the introduction to the series:
We spoke to American mothers abroad -- versus mothers who were born and bred in those countries -- because we wanted to hear how motherhood around the world compared and contrasted with motherhood in America. It can be surprisingly hard to realize what's unique about your own country ("don't all kids eat snails?"), and it's much easier to identify differences as an outsider.
The results, as Goddard states upfront, are not broadly representative of parenting in the different countries but they are fascinating nonetheless. I've picked out a few representative bits below. On parenting in Norway:
Both my kids attended Barnehage (Norwegian for "children's garden"), which is basically Norwegian pre-school and daycare. Most kids here start Barnehage when they're one year old -- it's subsidized by the government to encourage people to go back to work. You pay $300 a month and your kids can stay from 8am to 5pm. They spend a ton of time outside, mostly playing and exploring nature. At some Barnehage, they only go inside if it's colder than 14 degrees. They even eat outdoors-with their gloves on! When I was worried about my son being cold, my father-in-law said, "It's good for him to freeze a little bit on his fingers." That's very Norwegian -- hard things are good for you.
The Democratic Republic of Congo:
No one thinks twice here about sharing breastmilk. Why let something so valuable go to waste? Not long after my second daughter was born, I went on a work trip to Kenya. I pumped the whole time I was there and couldn't bear to throw away my breast milk, nor imagine the nightmare scenario of leakage in my luggage. So I saved it all up in the hotel fridge in Ziploc bags. On the day I left, I took all the little bags to the local market and said, "All right, ladies. Who's got babies and wants breast milk?!" Not a single Kenyan woman at the market thought twice about taking a random white woman's breast milk. My driver even heard I was handing out milk and asked if I could pump some extra to take home to his new baby.
There are no car seat or seatbelt laws here. You will regularly see toddlers with their heads peeking out of sunroofs or moms holding their infants in the front seat. The government and the car companies are trying to educate people about the dangers, but the most locals (Emiratis as well as people from countries like India and Egypt) believe that a mother's arms are the safest place for her child.
In a country in which space comes at such a premium, few parents would dream of allocating a separate room for each child. Co-sleeping is the norm here, regardless of class. Children will usually sleep with their parents or their ayah until they are at least six or seven. An American friend of mine put her son in his own room, and her Indian babysitter was aghast. The young children from middle class Indian families I know also go to sleep whenever their parents do -- often as late as 11pm. Our son sleeps in our bed, as well. He has a shoebox of a room in our house where we keep his clothes and crib, and he always starts the night in there, falling asleep around 8pm. That way Chris and I get a few hours to ourselves. Then, around 11pm, Will somehow senses that we are about to fall asleep and calls out to come to our bed. It's like clockwork, and he falls right back into a deep sleep the second his head hits the pillow.
On sleep camps: Government-subsidized programs help parents teach their babies to sleep. I haven't been to one (though I did consider it when we were in the middle of sleep hell with our daughter) but many of my friends have. The sleep camps are centers, usually attached to a hospital, that are run by nurses. Most mums I know went when their babies were around six or seven months old. You go for five days and four nights, and they put you and your baby on a strict schedule of feeding, napping and sleeping. If you're really desperate for sleep, you also have the option of having a nurse handle your baby for the whole first night so you can sleep, but after that you spend the next few nights with your baby overnight while the nurses show you what to do. They use controlled crying and other techniques. I have friends who say it saved their lives, friends who left feeling "meh" about the whole thing, and a friend who left after a day because, in her words, "they left my baby in a cupboard to cry."
Giving treats to children is seen as a sign of affection, so strangers will offer candy to kids on the street. I'll sometimes turn around and a stranger will be handing my daughter a chocolate bar! Several months ago, we were on a bus, and a woman near us was eating cookies. She saw my daughter Mia and said "Oh, let me give you some cookies." I said, "No, thank you." But she kept on insisting. Then, a random stranger, who was not even connected to the first woman, chimed in, "You should give your daughter the cookies!" They were very serious about it! I was frustrated at the time, but after the fact I found it funny.
And then more recently, they talked to a group of foreign mothers about how parenting in the US differs from the rest of the world. For one thing, there's the babyproofing:
Here in the U.S., there is a huge "baby industry," which does not exist in Romania. There's special baby food, special baby utensils, special baby safety precautions and special baby furniture. In Romania, children eat with a regular teaspoon and drink from a regular glass. They play with toys that are not specifically made for "brain development from months 3-6." Also, before I came here, I had never heard of babyproofing! Now I'm constantly worried about my daughter hurting herself, but my mom and friends from home just laugh at me and my obsession that bookshelves might fall.
And the more permissive and involved parenting:
I was surprised that American children as young as one year old learn to say please, thank you, sorry and excuse me. Those things are not actively taught in India. Another difference is how parents here tend to stay away from "because I said so" and actually explain things to their children. It's admirable the way parents will go into basic reasoning to let the child know why some things are the way they are. When I last visited Bombay, I explained to my then four-year-old about that we couldn't buy too many things because of weight restrictions in the flight, etc. My relatives were genuinely wondering why I didn't just stop at "no."
Like I said, the whole series is fascinating...I could easily see this being a book or documentary (along the lines of Babies).
Update: This series is back after a brief pause with installments on Korea and the Netherlands.
Update: The installment on parenting in Cuba is a good one.
On improvising in the kitchen: We often have to be resourceful and adjust our cooking plans around what we can get. At the moment, it's been a few months since I've seen chicken breasts available at the market, for example. Last year on Thanksgiving, my father-in-law and I spent hours driving around trying to find potatoes, which are a black market item. People will normally walk up to you at the vegetable market and whisper, "I have potatoes." But, that day there were none. We were like potato junkies trying to get our fix of mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving!
I do not officially have a bucket list1 but if I did have one, watching a total solar eclipse would be on it. Was just talking about it the other day in fact. Well. I am pretty damn excited for the Great American Eclipse of 2017!
In August 21, 2017, millions of people across the United States will see nature's most wondrous spectacle -- a total eclipse of the Sun. It is a scene of unimaginable beauty; the Moon completely blocks the Sun, daytime becomes a deep twilight, and the Sun's corona shimmers in the darkened sky. This is your guide to understand, prepare for, and view this rare celestial event.
It goes right through the middle of the country too...almost everyone in the lower 48 is within a day's drive of seeing it. Cities in the path of the totality include Salem, OR, Jackson, WY, Lincoln, NE, St. Louis, MO (nearly), Nashville, TN, and Charleston, SC.
Weather will definitely play a factor in actually seeing the eclipse, so I will be keeping an eye on Eclipser ("Climatology and Maps for the Eclipse Chaser") as the event draws near. Early analysis indicates Oregon as the best chance for clear skies. Matt, I am hereby laying claim to your guest room in three years time. So excited!!
For the New York Review of Books, Gordon Wood reviews Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study. Any review that starts "This is a strange and remarkable book" is worth paying attention to.
This is a strange and remarkable book. There must be dozens of books on the Declaration of Independence written from every conceivable point of view -- historical, political, theoretical, philosophical, and textual -- but no one has ever written a book on the Declaration quite like this one. If we read the Declaration of Independence slowly and carefully, Danielle Allen believes, then the document can become a basic primer for our democracy. It can be something that all of us -- not just scholars and educated elites but common ordinary people -- can participate in, and should participate in if we want to be good democratic citizens.
Over the past century, adult per capita cigarette consumption in the US rose from nearly nothing in 1900 to a peak of more than 4000 cigarettes per year in the early 60s and then fell to the current rate of around 1000/yr. Currently, smoking in the US correlates highly with level of education and poverty.
Smoking, as it happens, also appears to be highly correlated with both poverty and education levels in the United States: 27.9 percent of American adults living below the poverty line are smokers, while just 17 percent of those living above it are, according to the CDC; 24.7 percent of American adults without a high school diploma are smokers, while 23.1 percent of those with one are. Only 9.1 percent of those with an undergraduate degree, and 5.9 percent of those with a graduate degree are smokers.
According to Wikipedia, the US is 51st among nations in annual smoking rates. Eastern Europe and Russia hold all the top spots, but their per capita rates (~2800/yr) are all lower than the rate in the US in the 60s. But that's nothing compared to Scotland...their rate was once 7000 cigarettes per year. (via @dens)
What's your best guess without looking: How many US states are at least partially north of the southernmost part of Canada?
(It's probably way more than you think.)
Ok, I'll give you two hints...
1. Wyoming is almost *entirely* north of the southernmost point in Canada.
2. Part of a state that borders Mexico is north of the southernmost point in Canada.
One more big hint: more than 25% of US states are entirely north of Canada's southernmost point.
So, here's the answer:
27 US states, more than half, are at least partially north of Canada's southernmost point. (via @stevenstrogatz)
From the NY Times' new site, The Upshot, a bunch of maps showing the borders of baseball team fandom, with close-ups of various dividing lines: the Munson-Nixon Line, The Molitor Line, The Reagan-Nixon Line, and the Morgan-Ripken Line.
The NYC and Bay Area maps are so sad...the Mets and A's get no love. (via @atotalmonet)
American favorites (blue jeans, whiskey, burgers) have been embraced by the Japanese, who have been turning out improved versions of the originals.
In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate-and even improve upon-the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn't limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There's something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. "What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery," says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. "It's true in traditional arts, it's true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it's true of restaurateurs all over Japan."
It's easy to dismiss Japanese re-creations of foreign cultures as faddish and derivative-just other versions of the way that, for example, the new American hipster ideal of Brooklyn is clumsily copied everywhere from Paris to Bangkok. But the best examples of Japanese Americana don't just replicate our culture. They strike out, on their own, into levels of appreciation and refinement rarely found in America. They give us an opportunity to consider our culture as refracted through a foreign and clarifying prism.
Another example, not mentioned in the piece, is coffee. From the WSJ a couple of years ago:
"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."
Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.
According to an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association, the obesity rate of American 2- to 5-year-old children has dropped from 14% in 2004 to 8% in 2012.
Children now consume fewer calories from sugary beverages than they did in 1999. More women are breast-feeding, which can lead to a healthier range of weight gain for young children. Federal researchers have also chronicled a drop in overall calories for children in the past decade, down by 7 percent for boys and 4 percent for girls, but health experts said those declines were too small to make much difference.
Barry M. Popkin, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who has tracked American food purchases in a large data project, said families with children had been buying lower-calorie foods over the past decade, a pattern he said was unrelated to the economic downturn.
He credited those habits, and changes in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, for the decline in obesity among young children. The program, which subsidizes food for low-income women, reduced funding for fruit juices, cheese and eggs and increased it for whole fruits and vegetables.
Kevin Drum calls the drop "baffling".
While they still represent a small overall number, the popularity in the US of naming children after guns (Colt, Remington, Ruger, Gunner, Beretta) is up in recent years.
In 2002, only 194 babies were named Colt, while in 2012 there were 955. Just 185 babies were given the name Remington in 2002, but by 2012 the number had jumped to 666. Perhaps the most surprising of all, however, is a jump in the name Ruger's (America's leading firearm manufacturer) from just 23 in 2002 to 118 in 2012. "This name [Ruger] is more evidence of parents' increasing interest in naming children after firearms," Wattenberg writes. "Colt, Remington, and Gauge have all soared, and Gunner is much more common than the traditional name Gunnar."
The death of Philip Seymour Hoffman has turned more attention towards America's growing heroin problem, where the gateway drug is often a prescription painkiller. From PBS Newshour: "Why more Americans are getting high -- and overdosing -- on heroin."
As I mentioned at the time, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State to the "full-blown heroin crisis."
We are divided by an increasingly wide income gap. Often, this gap can be seen from across a street or park (even if we sometimes try not to look). The NYT takes us for a journey into the world of a homeless girl named Dasani in a multipart piece called Invisible Child:
On the Brooklyn block that is Dasani's dominion, shoppers can buy a $3 malt liquor in an airless deli where food stamps are traded for cigarettes. Or they can cross the street for a $740 bottle of chardonnay at an industrial wine shop accented with modern art.
Here's David Simon, creator of The Wire, on the two Americas:
I live in one, on one block in Baltimore that is part of the viable America, the America that is connected to its own economy, where there is a plausible future for the people born into it. About 20 blocks away is another America entirely. It's astonishing how little we have to do with each other, and yet we are living in such proximity.
Leo Tolstoy probably wasn't thinking of an American Thanksgiving when he opened Anna Karenina with this line: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." These days, all families -- happy or not -- are less alike than ever. In the NYT, Natalie Angier takes a look at the changing definition of family:
Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago -- than even half a year ago. In increasing numbers, blacks marry whites, atheists marry Baptists, men marry men and women women, Democrats marry Republicans and start talk shows.
And they're all coming over to your house for Thanksgiving, which brings us to another quote -- this one from Oscar Wilde: "After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations."
Buzzfeed asked some Brits to label states on a US map. They didn't do so well:
My favorite is "Further South Dakota". In fairness, most US citizens would be hard pressed to name any of the counties of England, much less place them on a map.
Update: See how Americans fared on placing European countries. (Not well.)
You've likely seen the various dialect maps of the US...the Coke/soda/pop maps. The Atlantic Video team did a wonderful thing with them...they called native speakers around the country and asked them to pronounce some of the words featured on these maps.
It's one thing to read the difference between the pronounciations of "route", it's another thing entirely to hear them. I haven't lived in the Midwest since 2000 and I have since transitioned from "pop" to "soda", "waiting in line" to "waiting on line", and am working on switching to "sneakers" from "tennis shoes" (or even "tennies"). But I was surprised to learn that I still pronounce "bag" differently than everyone else!
Writing in the Times, Frank Bruni notes the increasing tendency in the US to provide various levels of service for money.
Much has been made of commercial flights these days, with all those divisions between first class and coach. For various supplements or with various deals, you can get a few more inches of legroom or, shy of that, a prime aisle seat. You can get to board earlier or later, and thus hoard or miss out on the overhead bins. Will it be long before there's a ranked queue for the bathroom? I'm not even sure I'm kidding.
It's not that pecking orders or badges of affluence are anything new. Our homes, cars, clubs and clothes have long been advertisements of our economic clout, used and perceived that way.
But lately, the places and ways in which Americans are economically segregated and stratified have multiplied, with microclimates of exclusivity popping up everywhere. The plane mirrors the sports arena, the theater, the gym. Is it any wonder that class tensions simmer? In a country of rising income inequality and an economy that's moved from manufacturing to services, one thing we definitely make in abundance is distinctions.
Reminds me of Tom Junod's piece in Esquire about waiting in line as an expression of American democracy.
Apparently, an Englishman named Leonard Sim took his family to Disneyland a few years ago, and his vacation was ruined by waiting in line. He invented something called the Flash Pass, and then sold it to an English company called Lo-Q -- as in "Low Queue" -- which contracted it to Whitewater. So now, when you go to Whitewater and many other American amusement parks, you pay for parking ($15, at Whitewater), and then for admission ($37.50, for any human being over 48 inches tall), and finally for a locker ($16), and then, once you're inside, you can pay an extra $30 for a "standard" Flash Pass or $40 for the "gold." And then you can cut the lines.
It sounds like an innovative answer to the problem that everybody faces at an amusement park, and one perfectly in keeping with the approaches currently in place at airports and even on some crowded American highways -- perfectly in keeping with the two-tiering of America. You can pay for one level of access, or you can pay for another. If you have the means, you can even pay for freedom. There's only one problem: Cutting the line is cheating, and everyone knows it. Children know it most acutely, know it in their bones, and so when they've been waiting on a line for a half-hour and a family sporting yellow plastic Flash Passes on their wrists walks up and steps in front of them, they can't help asking why that family has been permitted the privilege of perpetrating what looks like an obvious injustice. And then you have to explain not just that they paid for it but that you haven't paid enough -- that the $100 or so that you've ponied up was just enough to teach your children that they are second- or third-class citizens.
This month, Smithsonian magazine tells the story of America using 101 objects drawn from the 19 musuems and research centers of the Smithsonian Institution. Among the objects are the original Star Spangled Banner flag, the passenger pigeon, the polio vaccine, the pill, and Benjamin Franklin's Experiments and Observations on Electricity.
A companion book, The Smithsonian's History of America in 101 Objects, is available.
Using data from the 1860 US Census, the Department of the Interior made this map showing the percentages, by county, of the slave population of the southern states.
Though this map was simple, it showed the relationship between states' commitment to slavery and their enthusiasm about secession, making a visual argument about Confederate motivations.
Schulten writes that President Lincoln referred to this particular map often, using it to understand how the progress of emancipation might affect Union troops on the ground. The map even appears in the familiar Francis Bicknell Carpenter portrait First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln, visible leaning against a wall in the lower right-hand corner of the room.
Here's a larger version. The numbers in some locations are staggering and sickening -- in many counties 75% of the population was enslaved and the rate is over 90% in a few places.
For the Journal of the American Revolution, Todd Andrlik compiled a list of the ages of the key participants in the Revolutionary War as of July 4, 1776. Many of them were surprisingly young:
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
James Monroe, 18
Gilbert Stuart, 20
Aaron Burr, 20
Alexander Hamilton, 21
Betsy Ross, 24
James Madison, 25
This is kind of blowing my mind...because of the compression of history, I'd always assumed all these people were around the same age. But in thinking about it, all startups need young people...Hamilton, Lafayette, and Burr were perhaps the Gates, Jobs, and Zuckerberg of the War. Some more ages, just for reference:
Thomas Jefferson, 33
John Adams, 40
Paul Revere, 41
George Washington, 44
Samuel Adams, 53
The oldest prominent participant in the Revolution, by a wide margin, was Benjamin Franklin, who was 70 years old on July 4, 1776. Franklin was a full two generations removed from the likes of Madison and Hamilton. But the oldest participant in the war was Samuel Whittemore, who fought in an early skirmish at the age of 80. I'll let Wikipedia take it from here:
Whittemore was in his fields when he spotted an approaching British relief brigade under Earl Percy, sent to assist the retreat. Whittemore loaded his musket and ambushed the British from behind a nearby stone wall, killing one soldier. He then drew his dueling pistols and killed a grenadier and mortally wounded a second. By the time Whittemore had fired his third shot, a British detachment reached his position; Whittemore drew his sword and attacked. He was shot in the face, bayoneted thirteen times, and left for dead in a pool of blood. He was found alive, trying to load his musket to fight again. He was taken to Dr. Cotton Tufts of Medford, who perceived no hope for his survival. However, Whittemore lived another 18 years until dying of natural causes at the age of 98.
Perhaps inspired by All Streets, Ben Fry's map of all the streets in the US, Nelson Minar built a US map out of all the rivers in the country.
Minar put all the data and files he used up on Github so you can make your own version.
There's been a lot of discussion recently about government programs like PRISM and how, according to defenders of such surveillance, they "only" collect metadata related to communications and not the content of the communication. In a clever article, Kieran Healy uses only the membership lists of various Boston-area organizations in the late 1770s to find out quite a lot about who might be the leaders of the nascent revolutionary cell. Even with this simple analysis, Paul Revere's name pops out of the data.
The analytical engine has arranged everyone neatly, picking out clusters of individuals and also showing both peripheral individuals and-more intriguingly-people who seem to bridge various groups in ways that might perhaps be relevant to national security. Look at that person right in the middle there. Zoom in if you wish. He seems to bridge several groups in an unusual (though perhaps not unique) way. His name is Paul Revere.
Once again, I remind you that I know nothing of Mr Revere, or his conversations, or his habits or beliefs, his writings (if he has any) or his personal life. All I know is this bit of metadata, based on membership in some organizations. And yet my analytical engine, on the basis of absolutely the most elementary of operations in Social Networke Analysis, seems to have picked him out of our 254 names as being of unusual interest.
Now, the Crown may have suspected Revere of anti-Royalist leanings without this analysis. But with the analysis, they all but know. Get Revere and a few other highly connected nodes into jail on some trumped-up charges and, voila, maybe the American Revolution never happens or is quickly quashed. Revere and the American Revolution is an extreme example of what Moxie Marlinspike is getting at in We Should All Have Something To Hide: that breaking the law is sometimes how society moves forward.
Over the past year, there have been a number of headline-grabbing legal changes in the US, such as the legalization of marijuana in CO and WA, as well as the legalization of same-sex marriage in a growing number of US states.
As a majority of people in these states apparently favor these changes, advocates for the US democratic process cite these legal victories as examples of how the system can provide real freedoms to those who engage with it through lawful means. And it's true, the bills did pass.
What's often overlooked, however, is that these legal victories would probably not have been possible without the ability to break the law.
The state of Minnesota, for instance, legalized same-sex marriage this year, but sodomy laws had effectively made homosexuality itself completely illegal in that state until 2001. Likewise, before the recent changes making marijuana legal for personal use in WA and CO, it was obviously not legal for personal use.
Imagine if there were an alternate dystopian reality where law enforcement was 100% effective, such that any potential law offenders knew they would be immediately identified, apprehended, and jailed. If perfect law enforcement had been a reality in MN, CO, and WA since their founding in the 1850s, it seems quite unlikely that these recent changes would have ever come to pass. How could people have decided that marijuana should be legal, if nobody had ever used it? How could states decide that same sex marriage should be permitted, if nobody had ever seen or participated in a same sex relationship?
What if journalists from foreign countries wrote about the US the way US newspapers and magazines cover events in foreign countries?
On a recent visit to the United States by GlobalPost, signs of the increased security apparatus could be found everywhere.
At all national airports, passengers are now forced to undergo full-body scans before boarding any flights. Small cameras are perched on many street corners, recording the movements and actions of the public. And incessant warnings on public transportation systems encourage citizens to report any "suspicious activity" to authorities.
Several American villagers interviewed for this story said the ubiquitous government marketing campaign called, "If you see something, say something," does little to make them feel safer and, in fact, only contributes to a growing mistrust among the general population.
"I've deleted my Facebook account, stopped using email, or visiting websites that might be considered anti-regime," a resident of the northern city of Boston, a tough-as-nails town synonymous with rebellion, told GlobalPost. It was in Boston that an American militia first rose up against the British empire. "But my phone? How can I stop using my phone? This has gone too far."
In a book called Three Felonies A Day, Boston civil rights lawyer Harvey Silverglate says that everyone in the US commits felonies everyday and if the government takes a dislike to you for any reason, they'll dig in and find a felony you're guilty of.
The average professional in this country wakes up in the morning, goes to work, comes home, eats dinner, and then goes to sleep, unaware that he or she has likely committed several federal crimes that day. Why? The answer lies in the very nature of modern federal criminal laws, which have exploded in number but also become impossibly broad and vague. In Three Felonies a Day, Harvey A. Silverglate reveals how federal criminal laws have become dangerously disconnected from the English common law tradition and how prosecutors can pin arguable federal crimes on any one of us, for even the most seemingly innocuous behavior. The volume of federal crimes in recent decades has increased well beyond the statute books and into the morass of the Code of Federal Regulations, handing federal prosecutors an additional trove of vague and exceedingly complex and technical prohibitions to stick on their hapless targets. The dangers spelled out in Three Felonies a Day do not apply solely to "white collar criminals," state and local politicians, and professionals. No social class or profession is safe from this troubling form of social control by the executive branch, and nothing less than the integrity of our constitutional democracy hangs in the balance.
In response to a question about what happens to big company CEOs who refuse to go along with government surveillance requests, John Gilmore offers a case study in what Silverglate is talking about.
We know what happened in the case of QWest before 9/11. They contacted the CEO/Chairman asking to wiretap all the customers. After he consulted with Legal, he refused. As a result, NSA canceled a bunch of unrelated billion dollar contracts that QWest was the top bidder for. And then the DoJ targeted him and prosecuted him and put him in prison for insider trading -- on the theory that he knew of anticipated income from secret programs that QWest was planning for the government, while the public didn't because it was classified and he couldn't legally tell them, and then he bought or sold QWest stock knowing those things.
This CEO's name is Joseph P. Nacchio and TODAY he's still serving a trumped-up 6-year federal prison sentence today for quietly refusing an NSA demand to massively wiretap his customers.
You combine this with the uber-surveillance allegedly being undertaken by the NSA and other governmental agencies and you've got a system for more or less automatically accusing any US citizen of a felony. Free society, LOL ROFLcopter.
Update: For the past two years, the Wall Street Journal has been "examining the vastly expanding federal criminal law book and its consequences". (thx, jesse)
Joshua Katz has been studying American dialects and has made more than 120 maps of some of the differences in American speech. Here are a few examples:
Update: As he notes on the site, Katz's maps are based on the research and work of Bert Vaux...Vaux's maps of the same data can be found here. (thx, molly, margaret, & nicholas)
Surprisingly entertaining article about better choices for the state birds of each of the 50 US states.
4. Arkansas. Official state bird: northern mockingbird
Christ. What makes this even less funny is that there are like eight other states with mockingbird as their official bird. I'm convinced that the guy whose job it was to report to the state's legislature on what the official bird should be forgot until the day it was due and he was in line for a breakfast sandwich at Burger King. In a panic he walked outside and selected the first bird he could find, a dirty mockingbird singing its stupid head off on top of a dumpster.
What it should be: painted bunting
More hilarious science journalism, please. Yes, in addition to the excellent What If? (via @jessamyn)
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." And I'll give them heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and a shorter lifespan. A growing body of research suggests that there is often a high health toll when it comes to coming to America.
A growing body of mortality research on immigrants has shown that the longer they live in this country, the worse their rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. And while their American-born children may have more money, they tend to live shorter lives than the parents.
The pattern goes against any notion that moving to America improves every aspect of life. It also demonstrates that at least in terms of health, worries about assimilation for the country's 11 million illegal immigrants are mistaken. In fact, it is happening all too quickly.
The national rates of gun violence and homicide in the US have fallen significantly in past 20 years, but most people are unaware. From a recently released Pew Research report:
Nearly all the decline in the firearm homicide rate took place in the 1990s; the downward trend stopped in 2001 and resumed slowly in 2007. The victimization rate for other gun crimes plunged in the 1990s, then declined more slowly from 2000 to 2008. The rate appears to be higher in 2011 compared with 2008, but the increase is not statistically significant. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall also dropped in the 1990s before declining more slowly from 2000 to 2010, then ticked up in 2011.
Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.
The whys behind the drop in gun violence (and in crime in general) are more difficult to come by:
There is consensus that demographics played some role: The outsized post-World War II baby boom, which produced a large number of people in the high-crime ages of 15 to 20 in the 1960s and 1970s, helped drive crime up in those years.
A review by the National Academy of Sciences of factors driving recent crime trends (Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 2008) cited a decline in rates in the early 1980s as the young boomers got older, then a flare-up by mid-decade in conjunction with a rising street market for crack cocaine, especially in big cities. It noted recruitment of a younger cohort of drug seller with greater willingness to use guns. By the early 1990s, crack markets withered in part because of lessened demand, and the vibrant national economy made it easier for even low-skilled young people to find jobs rather than get involved in crime.
At the same time, a rising number of people ages 30 and older were incarcerated, due in part to stricter laws, which helped restrain violence among this age group. It is less clear, researchers say, that innovative policing strategies and police crackdowns on use of guns by younger adults played a significant role in reducing crime.
(via hacker news)
A list of the northernmost, southernmost, easternmost and westernmost cities/towns/villages in all 50 US states.
Vermont -- Northernmost: Derby Line. Southernmost: Vernon (specifically South Vernon area). Easternmost: Beecher Falls. Westernmost: Chimney Point.
California -- Northernmost: Tulelake (note: Fairport is more northerly but is considered a "former settlement") Southernmost: San Diego (San Ysidro District). Easternmost: Parker Dam. Westernmost: Ferndale.
New York -- Northernmost: Rouses Point. Southernmost: Staten Island-New York City (Tottenville Neighborhood) Easternmost: Montauk. Westernmost: Findley Lake.
US currency is already embarrassing and this new design for the $100 bill is not helping.
This may be worse than the horrible US passport.
After an exhaustive search, I have decided this photo most exemplifies life in these United States during the 1980s:
And if not that one, then one of several other possible candidates from Roger Minick's Sightseer project, for which he took photos of tourists at popular US tourist destinations during the early 1980s and into the 2000s.
When I approached people for a portrait, I tried to make my request clear and to the point, making it clear that I was not trying to sell them anything. I explained that my wife and I were traveling around the country visiting most of the major tourist destinations so that I could photograph the activity of sightseeing. I would quickly add that I hoped the project would have cultural value and might be seen in years to come as a kind of time capsule of what Americans looked like at the end of the Twentieth Century; at which, to my surprise, I would see people often begin to nod their heads as if they knew what I was talking about.
Slate did a feature on this series last week.
If this photo series from 1950 of the interior of the White House being ripped out so that the building could be structurally reinforced isn't an apt metaphor for the current state of American politics, I don't know what is.
Experts called the third floor of the White House "an outstanding example of a firetrap." The result of a federally commissioned report found the mansion's plumbing "makeshift and unsanitary," while "the structural deterioration [was] in 'appalling degree,' and threatening complete collapse." The congressional commission on the matter was considering the option of abandoning the structure altogether in favor of a built-from-scratch mansion, but President Truman lobbied for the restoration.
"It perhaps would be more economical from a purely financial standpoint to raze the building and to rebuild completely," he testified to Congress in February 1949. "In doing so, however, there would be destroyed a building of tremendous historical significance in the growth of the nation."
So it had to be gutted. Completely. Every piece of the interior, including the walls, had to be removed and put in storage. The outside of the structure-reinforced by new concrete columns-was all that remained.
This Justice Department memo about when the US government, without hearing or trial or due process or whatever other "rights" we as a country hold dear, can kill US citizens is fucking bullshit.
A confidential Justice Department memo concludes that the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be "senior operational leaders" of al-Qaida or "an associated force" -- even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S.
The 16-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by NBC News, provides new details about the legal reasoning behind one of the Obama administration's most secretive and controversial polices: its dramatically increased use of drone strikes against al-Qaida suspects abroad, including those aimed at American citizens, such as the September 2011 strike in Yemen that killed alleged al-Qaida operatives Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan. Both were U.S. citizens who had never been indicted by the U.S. government nor charged with any crimes.
The whole memo is here. A staggering disappointment from a man many think is better than this. See also: Obama's lethal Presidency.
According to Google's search tracking, this is the worst flu season in more than 6 years.
Google's trends tend to follow the official CDC data closely and indeed the CDC concurs about the scope of the flu this year but their data is lagging behind Google's by what looks like about 2 weeks. See also my post on how flu vaccines are made. (via @kellan)
During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II of England has met 10 sitting US Presidents, every one from Eisenhower to Obama except for Lyndon Johnson. She also met Harry Truman as a princess in 1951 and former President Herbert Hoover in 1957.
You can see the entire progression here or here. QEII is more definitely a human wormhole.
BTW, Elizabeth is creeping up on Queen Victoria as the longest-reigning British monarch, just another two-and-a-half years to catch her. Victoria reigned during the terms of 19 different Presidents but never met any of them and had an unfair advantage...lots of short terms and one-term Presidencies back then. (via mlkshk)
From Stone, the NY Times' blog of philosophers writing about current events, a post by Firmin DeBrabander about what sort of society (polite? uncivil? safe?) an armed society is.
Arendt offers two points that are salient to our thinking about guns: for one, they insert a hierarchy of some kind, but fundamental nonetheless, and thereby undermine equality. But furthermore, guns pose a monumental challenge to freedom, and particular, the liberty that is the hallmark of any democracy worthy of the name -- that is, freedom of speech. Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech.
This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.'s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly -- not make any sudden, unexpected moves -- and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.
Jon Lee Anderson asks, in reference to mass shootings, "What does it take for a society to be sickened by its own behavior and to change its attitudes?"
When will we Americans realize that our society is an unacceptably violent one, that this is how the rest of the world sees us, and that much of that violence is associated with guns? Will it be the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Where is our threshold for self-awareness?
When God said in the Bible "you shall have no other gods before me", one of the gods he was referring to was Moloch, an Ammonite god worshipped by the Phoenicians and Canaanites who was associated with the sacrifice of children by his followers. In a short essay for The New York Review of Books, Gary Wills singles out the gun as America's Moloch.
Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains-"besmeared with blood" and "parents' tears." They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily-sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children's lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings (eight this year), sometimes by private offerings to the god (thousands this year).
The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?
From Pro Publica back in July, the best reporting on guns in America.
In the wake of last week's shooting in Aurora, Colo., we've taken a step back and laid out the best pieces we could find about guns. They're roughly organized by articles on rights, trafficking and regulation.
More facts about guns in America from Ezra Klein, beginning with the sad fact that "shooting sprees are not rare in the United States".
If roads were collapsing all across the United States, killing dozens of drivers, we would surely see that as a moment to talk about what we could do to keep roads from collapsing. If terrorists were detonating bombs in port after port, you can be sure Congress would be working to upgrade the nation's security measures. If a plague was ripping through communities, public-health officials would be working feverishly to contain it.
Only with gun violence do we respond to repeated tragedies by saying that mourning is acceptable but discussing how to prevent more tragedies is not. But that's unacceptable. As others have observed, talking about how to stop mass shootings in the aftermath of a string of mass shootings isn't "too soon." It's much too late.
From the New Yorker back in April, Jill Lepore wrote about the history of guns in America.
There are nearly three hundred million privately owned firearms in the United States: a hundred and six million handguns, a hundred and five million rifles, and eighty-three million shotguns. That works out to about one gun for every American. The gun that T. J. Lane brought to Chardon High School belonged to his uncle, who had bought it in 2010, at a gun shop. Both of Lane's parents had been arrested on charges of domestic violence over the years. Lane found the gun in his grandfather's barn.
The United States is the country with the highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world. (The second highest is Yemen, where the rate is nevertheless only half that of the U.S.) No civilian population is more powerfully armed. Most Americans do not, however, own guns, because three-quarters of people with guns own two or more. According to the General Social Survey, conducted by the National Policy Opinion Center at the University of Chicago, the prevalence of gun ownership has declined steadily in the past few decades. In 1973, there were guns in roughly one in two households in the United States; in 2010, one in three. In 1980, nearly one in three Americans owned a gun; in 2010, that figure had dropped to one in five.
Earlier this morning in a post about Apple manufacturing their products in the US, I wrote "look for this "made in the USA" thing to turn into a trend". Well, Made in the USA is already emerging as a trend in the media. On Tuesday, Farhad Manjoo wrote about American Giant, a company who makes the world's best hoodie entirely in the US for a decent price.
For one thing, Winthrop had figured out a way to do what most people in the apparel industry consider impossible: He's making clothes entirely in the United States, and he's doing so at costs that aren't prohibitive. American Apparel does something similar, of course, but not especially profitably, and its clothes are very low quality. Winthrop, on the other hand, has found a way to make apparel that harks back to the industry's heyday, when clothes used to be made to last. "I grew up with a sweatshirt that my father had given me from the U.S. Navy back in the '50s, and it's still in my closet," he told me. "It was this fantastic, classic American-made garment -- it looks better today than it did 35, 40 years ago, because like an old pair of denim, it has taken on a very personal quality over the years."
The Atlantic has a pair of articles in their December issue, Charles Fishman's The Insourcing Boom:
Yet this year, something curious and hopeful has begun to happen, something that cannot be explained merely by the ebbing of the Great Recession, and with it the cyclical return of recently laid-off workers. On February 10, [General Electric's Appliance Park in Louisville, KY] opened an all-new assembly line in Building 2 -- largely dormant for 14 years -- to make cutting-edge, low-energy water heaters. It was the first new assembly line at Appliance Park in 55 years -- and the water heaters it began making had previously been made for GE in a Chinese contract factory.
On March 20, just 39 days later, Appliance Park opened a second new assembly line, this one in Building 5, to make new high-tech French-door refrigerators. The top-end model can sense the size of the container you place beneath its purified-water spigot, and shuts the spigot off automatically when the container is full. These refrigerators are the latest versions of a style that for years has been made in Mexico.
Another assembly line is under construction in Building 3, to make a new stainless-steel dishwasher starting in early 2013. Building 1 is getting an assembly line to make the trendy front-loading washers and matching dryers Americans are enamored of; GE has never before made those in the United States. And Appliance Park already has new plastics-manufacturing facilities to make parts for these appliances, including simple items like the plastic-coated wire racks that go in the dishwashers.
and James Fallows' Mr. China Comes to America:
What I saw at these Chinese sites was surprisingly different from what I'd seen on previous factory tours, reflecting the political, economic, technological, and especially social pressures that are roiling China now. In conjunction with significant changes in the American business and technological landscape that I recently saw in San Francisco, these changes portend better possibilities for American manufacturers and American job growth than at any other time since Rust Belt desolation and the hollowing-out of the American working class came to seem the grim inevitabilities of the globalized industrial age.
For the first time in memory, I've heard "product people" sound optimistic about hardware projects they want to launch and facilities they want to build not just in Asia but also in the United States. When I visited factories in the upper Midwest for magazine stories in the early 1980s, "manufacturing in America" was already becoming synonymous with "Rust Belt" and "sunset industry." Ambitious, well-educated people who had a choice were already headed for cleaner, faster-growing possibilities -- in consulting, finance, software, biotech, anything but things. At the start of the '80s, about one American worker in five had a job in the manufacturing sector. Now it's about one in 10.
Add to that all of the activity on Etsy and the many manufactured-goods projects on Kickstarter that are going "Made in the USA" (like Flint & Tinder underwear (buy now!)) and yeah, this is definitely a thing.
As noted by Fishman in his piece, one of the reasons US manufacturing is competitive again is the low price of natural gas. From a piece in SupplyChainDigest in October:
Several industries, noticeable chemicals and fertilizers, use lots of natural gas. Fracking and other unconventional techniques have already unlocked huge supplies of natural gas, which is why natural gas prices in the US are at historic lows and much lower than the rest of the world.
Right now, nat gas prices are under $3.00 per thousand cubic, down dramatically from about three times that in 2008 and even higher in 2006. Meanwhile, natural gas prices are about $10.00 right now in Europe and $15.00 in parts of Asia.
Much of the growing natural gas reserves come from the Marcellus shale formation that runs through Western New York and Pennsylvania, Southeast Ohio, and most of West Virginia. North Dakota in the upper Midwest also is developing into a major supplier of both oil and natural gas.
So basically, energy in the US is cheap right now and will likely remain cheap for years to come because hydraulic fracturing (aka fracking aka that thing that people say makes their water taste bad, among other issues) has unlocked vast and previously unavailable reserves of oil and natural gas that will take years to fully exploit. A recent report by the International Energy Agency suggests that the US is on track to become the world's biggest oil producer by 2020 (passing both Saudi Arabia and Russia) and could be "all but self-sufficient" in energy by 2030.
By about 2020, the United States will overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer and put North America as a whole on track to become a net exporter of oil as soon as 2030, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.
The change would dramatically alter the face of global oil markets, placing the U.S., which currently imports about 45 percent of the oil it uses and about 20 percent of its total energy needs, in a position of unexpected power. The nation likely will become "all but self-sufficient" in energy by 2030, representing "a dramatic reversal of the trend seen in most other energy-importing countries," the IEA survey says.
So yay for "Made in the USA" but all this cheap energy could wreak havoc on the environment, hinder development of greener alternatives to fossil fuels (the only way green will win is to compete on price), and "artificially" prop up a US economy that otherwise might be stagnating. (thx, @rfburton, @JordanRVance, @technorav)
According to CEO Tim Cook, Apple will start making some of its computers entirely in the US.
Apple CEO Tim Cook announced one of the existing Mac lines will be manufactured exclusively in the United States next year. Mac fans will have to wait to see which Mac line it will be because Apple, widely known for its secrecy, left it vague. Cook's announcement may or may not confirm recent rumors in the blogosphere sparked by iMacs inscribed in the back with "Assembled in USA."
Well, those iMac pretty clearly state they are assembled in the US. And look for this "made in the USA" thing to turn into a trend...I think companies are finding that making stuff in the US is not as expensive as everyone thinks it is.
Update: BusinessWeek has a long interview with Cook about US manufacturing, among many other topics.
It's not known well that the engine for the iPhone and iPad is made in the U.S., and many of these are also exported-the engine, the processor. The glass is made in Kentucky. And next year we are going to bring some production to the U.S. on the Mac. We've been working on this for a long time, and we were getting closer to it. It will happen in 2013. We're really proud of it. We could have quickly maybe done just assembly, but it's broader because we wanted to do something more substantial. So we'll literally invest over $100 million. This doesn't mean that Apple will do it ourselves, but we'll be working with people, and we'll be investing our money.
To answer the question, "If every state of the USA declared war against each other, which would win?" Quora user Jon Davis went way in-depth writing "the accounts of the Second American Civil War, also known as the Wars of Reunification and the American Warring States Period." It's sort of a mix between World War Z (oral histories) and the post on Reddit being turned into a movie (realistic seeming discussion of military action). I am a sucker for this kind of fictionalized future-history stuff.
First came a period of massive migration back to the homelands. Facing the newly invented discrimination that will be created many felt the need to go back to their own people. While the individual states retained all military assets they couldn't control the individuals who fight. A Texas Marine stationed in California, would not fight for California. A soldier in New York would not fight against their home in Virginia and a sailor in Houston would not fight against their home state of Florida. The warriors returned to their home states and the states had to re-consider that when they measured troop strength of their new nations. Ultimately, they measured troop strength by how much of the population would return home.
Of the current 200 nations in the world, the British have invaded all but 22 of them. The lucky 22 include Sweden, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Bolivia, and Belarus. The full analysis is available in Laycock's book, All the Countries We've Ever Invaded.
Stuart Laycock, the author, has worked his way around the globe, through each country alphabetically, researching its history to establish whether, at any point, they have experienced an incursion by Britain.
Only a comparatively small proportion of the total in Mr Laycock's list of invaded states actually formed an official part of the empire.
The remainder have been included because the British were found to have achieved some sort of military presence in the territory -- however transitory -- either through force, the threat of force, negotiation or payment.
Incursions by British pirates, privateers or armed explorers have also been included, provided they were operating with the approval of their government.
The US currently has military personnel stationed in all but 43 countries.
For instance, as of Sept. 30, 2011, there were 53,766 military personnel in Germany, 39,222 in Japan, 10,801 in Italy and 9,382 in the United Kingdom. That makes sense. But wait, scanning the list, you also see nine troops in Mali, eight in Barbados, seven in Laos, six in Lithuania, five in Lebanon, four in Moldova, three in Mongolia, two in Suriname and one in Gabon.
But the presence in most of those countries is due to diplomatic usage of military personnel. (thx, aaron)
The Dust Bowl is a four-hour documentary by Ken Burns airing on PBS starting this weekend.
The Dust Bowl chronicles the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history, in which the frenzied wheat boom of the "Great Plow-Up," followed by a decade-long drought during the 1930s nearly swept away the breadbasket of the nation. Vivid interviews with twenty-six survivors of those hard times, combined with dramatic photographs and seldom seen movie footage, bring to life stories of incredible human suffering and equally incredible human perseverance. It is also a morality tale about our relationship to the land that sustains us -- a lesson we ignore at our peril.
You can watch the first five minutes of the film on the PBS site.
It was not my intent to be so politically oriented this morning but here we are. This is a chart that tracks the ideologies of the Democratic and Republican members of Congress from 1789 to 2010. As you can see, the shift away from the center by the Republicans since 1975 is unprecedented, perhaps matched only by the shift toward the center by the Democrats beginning in 1921 and ending in 1945.
This reminds me of a timeline created circa 1880 for a book called Conspectus of the History of Political Parties and the Federal Government:
Bigger version here. (via @joecarryon)
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. In commemoration of the event, the JFK Presidential Library & Museum presents Clouds Over Cuba, a tense and engaging presentation on the Crisis and, even more strikingly, a dramatization on what might have happened had things gone differently. This is really well done and worth taking 10-15 minutes to watch/listen. (via @alexismadrigal)
A group of citizens is attempting to change Columbus Day to Exploration Day. Columbus Day has always been a weird holiday, what with CC's slavery and genocide and all, so this seems like a good idea to me. Maggie Koerth-Baker makes the case over at Boing Boing.
The logic is quite neat. Columbus Day is about one guy and the (actually untrue) claim that he was the first person to discover America. Inherently, that's pretty Euro-centric, which is a big part of why it sits awkwardly in a pluralistic country. But exploration is inclusive. The ancestors of Native Hawaiians were explorers who crossed the ocean. The ancestors of Native Americans explored their way across the Bering land bridge and then explored two whole continents. If you look at the history of America, you can see a history of exploration done by many different people, from many different backgrounds. Sometimes we're talking about literal, physical exploration. Other times, the exploring is done in a lab. Or in space. But the point is clear: This country was built on explorers. And it needs explorers for the future.
If you want to help out, sign this petition to Congress or this one to the White House.
Starting with a blank map of the US, the object is to place each state in its proper place.
My average error was 8 miles. A better test would be to start each state with the blank map...placing Colorado in the western part of the country without any guide is much tougher than doing it last. (via @notrobwalker)
In the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert says that, "with the exception of the imperial offspring of the Ming dynasty and the dauphins of pre-Revolutionary France", American kids might be the most spoiled kids in the history of the world. Strong words but not without merit.
How did parents in different cultures train young people to assume adult responsibilities? In the case of the Angelenos, they mostly didn't. In the L.A. families observed, no child routinely performed household chores without being instructed to. Often, the kids had to be begged to attempt the simplest tasks; often, they still refused. In one fairly typical encounter, a father asked his eight-year-old son five times to please go take a bath or a shower. After the fifth plea went unheeded, the father picked the boy up and carried him into the bathroom. A few minutes later, the kid, still unwashed, wandered into another room to play a video game.
In another representative encounter, an eight-year-old girl sat down at the dining table. Finding that no silverware had been laid out for her, she demanded, "How am I supposed to eat?" Although the girl clearly knew where the silverware was kept, her father got up to get it for her.
In a third episode captured on tape, a boy named Ben was supposed to leave the house with his parents. But he couldn't get his feet into his sneakers, because the laces were tied. He handed one of the shoes to his father: "Untie it!" His father suggested that he ask nicely.
"Can you untie it?" Ben replied. After more back-and-forth, his father untied Ben's sneakers. Ben put them on, then asked his father to retie them. "You tie your shoes and let's go," his father finally exploded. Ben was unfazed. "I'm just asking," he said.
From Quora, some interesting answers to the question "What facts about the United States do foreigners not believe until they come to America?" The economics of food was a popular response:
Fruit and vegetable prices, compared to fast food prices:
A bag of grapes: $6
A box of strawberries: $7
1lb tomatoes: $3
Big Mac : $1 ( I think. I don't go to McDonalds though)
HOW DOES THAT EVEN WORK?
At the same time, there are things that you wouldn't associate with first-world countries:
It is hard to believe that a first-world country has non-progressive ideologies, especially that hurt women (the vaginal probes and other abortion related woes). Not only that, the belief in Earth's age, talking snake etc. Being from India, it is even harder for me to understand this. I expected US to be more progressive. It is not as crazy as back in India but still something that I think is enough to be detrimental to the progress.
Others are pleasantly surprised:
Many Indians are very surprised to find out that there are large numbers of Americans who actually love their parents and siblings and wives and children and have normal, healthy relationships with them. Our media has them convinced that all Americans are very self-centered people who throw their kids out of their homes after high school, don't care for their parents, and divorce their spouses. And, I swear, it is literally true that many Indians do not believe that this is not true until they have been to the US and seen examples of good healthy family relationships themselves. I have had heated arguments with people who've never been to the US, but can give lectures on how screwed up family values in the US are.
But we could also use some improvement:
There actually is an accepted piece of clothing called a 'wife-beater'.
Max Fisher has a piece at The Atlantic about what travel guidebooks tell foreign visitors to the US.
Politics get heavy treatment in the books, as do the subtleties of discussing them, maybe more so than in any other guidebook I've read (what can I say, it's an addiction). Lonely Planet urges caution when discussing immigration. "This is the issue that makes Americans edgy, especially when it gets politicized," they write, subtly suggesting that some Americans might approach the issue differently than others. "Age has a lot to do with Americans' multicultural tolerance."
Rough Guide doesn't shy away from the fact that many non-Americans are less-than-crazy about U.S. politics and foreign policy, and encouragingly notes that many Americans are just as "infuriated" about it as visitors might be. Still, it warns that the political culture saturates everything, and that "The combination of shoot-from-the-hip mentality with laissez-faire capitalism and religious fervor can make the U.S. maddening at times, even to its own residents."
Having recently published a book about Paris, France, Rosecrans Baldwin visited a number of towns named Paris around the US to see how Americans perceive the French here in 2012. Here's part one of his report.
The survey has eight questions ranging from general opinions to particular trivia. For example, "Whose side was France on during the American Revolutionary War?"
Sixty-six percent of respondents get it right: our side. Twenty percent are wrong. Incorrect answers include "the British," "England," "the opposite side," and, oddly, "the French." Other responses: "History was not my class in school -- I hate it," and "I am averse." My favorite comes from a gas station attendant in Lexington, Ky., who writes: "I refuse to answer the rest of this survey. I love the French language. I have had many French friends."
One guy in a parking lot outside a Dallas strip club says, "This has got to be a trick question." And there's another person, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, who will ask me, "You mean our American Revolutionary War?" Which appears to be a general concern -- of the 55 people, at least 10 ask me to which American Revolution I am referring. Two people say, "But we didn't have a revolution."
The Morning News is serializing the other parts of this story all this month but you can get the whole thing right now on the Kindle.
Lakhdar Boumediene was imprisoned in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp for seven years on no charge and with no trial.
On Wednesday, America's detention camp at Guantanamo Bay will have been open for 10 years. For seven of them, I was held there without explanation or charge. During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by phone. Most of their letters were returned as "undeliverable," and the few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that their messages of love and support were lost.
This is deeply deeply shameful.
In a piece for Vanity Fair, Kurt Andersen argues that for the first time in recent history, American pop culture (fashion, art, music, design, entertainment) hasn't changed dramatically in the past 20 years.
Since 1992, as the technological miracles and wonders have propagated and the political economy has transformed, the world has become radically and profoundly new. (And then there's the miraculous drop in violent crime in the United States, by half.) Here is what's odd: during these same 20 years, the appearance of the world (computers, TVs, telephones, and music players aside) has changed hardly at all, less than it did during any 20-year period for at least a century. The past is a foreign country, but the recent past -- the 00s, the 90s, even a lot of the 80s -- looks almost identical to the present. This is the First Great Paradox of Contemporary Cultural History.
Think about it. Picture it. Rewind any other 20-year chunk of 20th-century time. There's no chance you would mistake a photograph or movie of Americans or an American city from 1972-giant sideburns, collars, and bell-bottoms, leisure suits and cigarettes, AMC Javelins and Matadors and Gremlins alongside Dodge Demons, Swingers, Plymouth Dusters, and Scamps-with images from 1992. Time-travel back another 20 years, before rock 'n' roll and the Pill and Vietnam, when both sexes wore hats and cars were big and bulbous with late-moderne fenders and fins-again, unmistakably different, 1952 from 1972. You can keep doing it and see that the characteristic surfaces and sounds of each historical moment are absolutely distinct from those of 20 years earlier or later: the clothes, the hair, the cars, the advertising -- all of it. It's even true of the 19th century: practically no respectable American man wore a beard before the 1850s, for instance, but beards were almost obligatory in the 1870s, and then disappeared again by 1900. The modern sensibility has been defined by brief stylistic shelf lives, our minds trained to register the recent past as old-fashioned.
This map of the US was made by David Imus -- he worked seven days a week for two years on it -- and it won the Best of Show award at the Cartography and Geographic Information Society competition for 2010. Here's why.
According to independent cartographers I spoke with, the big mapmaking corporations of the world employ type-positioning software, placing their map labels (names of cities, rivers, etc.) according to an algorithm. For example, preferred placement for city labels is generally to the upper right of the dot that indicates location. But if this spot is already occupied-by the label for a river, say, or by a state boundary line-the city label might be shifted over a few millimeters. Sometimes a town might get deleted entirely in favor of a highway shield or a time zone marker. The result is a rough draft of label placement, still in need of human refinement. Post-computer editing decisions are frequently outsourced-sometimes to India, where teams of cheap workers will hunt for obvious errors and messy label overlaps. The overall goal is often a quick and dirty turnaround, with cost and speed trumping excellence and elegance.
By contrast, David Imus worked alone on his map seven days a week for two full years. Nearly 6,000 hours in total. It would be prohibitively expensive just to outsource that much work. But Imus-a 35-year veteran of cartography who's designed every kind of map for every kind of client-did it all by himself. He used a computer (not a pencil and paper), but absolutely nothing was left to computer-assisted happenstance. Imus spent eons tweaking label positions. Slaving over font types, kerning, letter thicknesses. Scrutinizing levels of blackness. It's the kind of personal cartographic touch you might only find these days on the hand-illustrated ski-trail maps available at posh mountain resorts.
Fuck Yeah Made in USA is a collection of videos showcasing products that are made in the US. These are chock full of "how things are made" goodness.
From Lapham's Quarterly, Christopher Hitchens on capital punishment in America.
Since then no country has been allowed to apply for membership or association with the European Union without, as a precondition, dismantling its apparatus of execution. This has led states like Turkey to forego what was once a sort of national staple. The United Nations condemns capital punishment-especially for those who have not yet reached adulthood-and the Vatican has come close to forbidding if not actually anathematizing the business. This leaves the United States of America as the only nation in what one might call the West, that does not just continue with the infliction of the death penalty but has in the recent past expanded its reach. More American states have restored it in theory and carried it out in practice, and the last time the Supreme Court heard argument on the question it was to determine whether capital punishment should be inflicted for a crime other than first-degree murder (the rape of a child being the suggested pretext for extension).
Hitchens, as you may have guessed, pins much of the blame on religion...after all, the US is the most (or only?) fundamentalist country in the West. (via ★interesting-links)
For this coming weekend's NY Times Magazine, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas shares the story of his Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.
One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver's permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. "This is fake," she whispered. "Don't come back here again."
Vargas won a Pulitzer and wrote this article about Mark Zuckerberg for the New Yorker. I hope he can work out a way to stay in the United States...we need more people like him on our team.
The US military is often thought of by many Americans as being identified with conservative politics, making it an unlikely blueprint for progressive reform. But a recent pair of articles demonstrates that the US as a whole might have something to learn about the US Armed Forces' liberal leanings. In the NY Times, Nicholas Kristof argues that the US military's universal healthcare and focus on education is worth looking at as a model:
The military is innately hierarchical, yet it nurtures a camaraderie in part because the military looks after its employees. This is a rare enclave of single-payer universal health care, and it continues with a veterans' health care system that has much lower costs than the American system as a whole.
Perhaps the most impressive achievement of the American military isn't its aircraft carriers, stunning as they are. Rather, it's the military day care system for working parents.
While one of America's greatest failings is underinvestment in early childhood education (which seems to be one of the best ways to break cycles of poverty from replicating), the military manages to provide superb child care. The cost depends on family income and starts at $44 per week.
And the WSJ recently covered remarks made by Sgt. Maj. Micheal Barrett, the top non-commissioned officer in the Marine Corps and general all-around hardass, about gays in the military:
Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple, It says, 'Raise an army.' It says absolutely nothing about race, color, creed, sexual orientation. You all joined for a reason: to serve. To protect our nation, right? How dare we, then, exclude a group of people who want to do the same thing you do right now, something that is honorable and noble? ... Get over it. We're magnificent, we're going to continue to be. ... Let's just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let's be Marines.
Now that's some semper fi I can get behind. (thx, meg)
This is an amazing statement:
For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Always a fun read: The Beast's list of the 50 most loathsome Americans of 2010. The idiot Alaskan lady is a mere sixth on the list; #1 is "you":
Your brain's been cobbled together over millions of years of blind evolution and it shows. You're clumsy, stupid, weak and motivated by the basest of urges. Your MO is both grotesquely selfish and unquestionably deferential to questionable authority. You're not in control of your life. You wear your ignorance like a badge of honor and gleefully submit to oppression, malfeasance and kleptocracy. You will buy anything. You will believe anything. You believe that evolution is a matter of belief. You likely scrolled down to #1, without reading the rest, because you're an impatient, semi-literate Philistine who's either unable or unwilling to digest more than 140 characters at a time.