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kottke.org posts about USA

Can America Turn Our COVID-19 Failure into Some Sort of Success?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2020

From Ed Yong at the Atlantic, a great article on the current state of the pandemic in the United States, what will happen over the next few months, how it will end, and what the aftermath will be.

With little room to surge during a crisis, America’s health-care system operates on the assumption that unaffected states can help beleaguered ones in an emergency. That ethic works for localized disasters such as hurricanes or wildfires, but not for a pandemic that is now in all 50 states. Cooperation has given way to competition; some worried hospitals have bought out large quantities of supplies, in the way that panicked consumers have bought out toilet paper.

Partly, that’s because the White House is a ghost town of scientific expertise. A pandemic-preparedness office that was part of the National Security Council was dissolved in 2018. On January 28, Luciana Borio, who was part of that team, urged the government to “act now to prevent an American epidemic,” and specifically to work with the private sector to develop fast, easy diagnostic tests. But with the office shuttered, those warnings were published in The Wall Street Journal, rather than spoken into the president’s ear. Instead of springing into action, America sat idle.

Rudderless, blindsided, lethargic, and uncoordinated, America has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis to a substantially worse degree than what every health expert I’ve spoken with had feared. “Much worse,” said Ron Klain, who coordinated the U.S. response to the West African Ebola outbreak in 2014. “Beyond any expectations we had,” said Lauren Sauer, who works on disaster preparedness at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “As an American, I’m horrified,” said Seth Berkley, who heads Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “The U.S. may end up with the worst outbreak in the industrialized world.”

If you’ve been reading obsessively about the pandemic, there’s not a lot new in here, but Yong lays the whole situation out very clearly and succinctly (he easily could have gone twice as long). The section on potential after effects was especially interesting:

Pandemics can also catalyze social change. People, businesses, and institutions have been remarkably quick to adopt or call for practices that they might once have dragged their heels on, including working from home, conference-calling to accommodate people with disabilities, proper sick leave, and flexible child-care arrangements. “This is the first time in my lifetime that I’ve heard someone say, ‘Oh, if you’re sick, stay home,’” says Adia Benton, an anthropologist at Northwestern University. Perhaps the nation will learn that preparedness isn’t just about masks, vaccines, and tests, but also about fair labor policies and a stable and equal health-care system. Perhaps it will appreciate that health-care workers and public-health specialists compose America’s social immune system, and that this system has been suppressed.

Aspects of America’s identity may need rethinking after COVID-19. Many of the country’s values have seemed to work against it during the pandemic. Its individualism, exceptionalism, and tendency to equate doing whatever you want with an act of resistance meant that when it came time to save lives and stay indoors, some people flocked to bars and clubs. Having internalized years of anti-terrorism messaging following 9/11, Americans resolved to not live in fear. But SARS-CoV-2 has no interest in their terror, only their cells.

I really hope that Betteridge’s law is wrong about that headline I wrote.

Why Is the US So Behind in COVID-19 Testing?

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 13, 2020

According to an ongoing investigation at The Atlantic, the US has tested only about 14,000 people for COVID-19 so far (a stat CDC data seems to confirm). 14,000 out of 330 million people. Olga Khazan writes about the four main reasons why the US is so behind in testing for the virus.

Interviews with laboratory directors and public-health experts reveal a Fyre-Festival-like cascade of problems that have led to a dearth of tests at a time when America desperately needs them. The issues began with onerous requirements for the labs that make the tests, continued because of arcane hurdles that prevented researchers from getting the right supplies, and extended to a White House that seemed to lack cohesion in the pandemic’s early days. Getting out lots of tests for a new disease is a major logistical and scientific challenge, but it can be pulled off with the help of highly efficient, effective government leadership. In this case, such leadership didn’t appear to exist.

Here’s another take on the problem from a few days ago in the NY Times.

The US has bungled the situation so badly that a pair of Chinese foundations announced this morning that they were donating 500,000 testing kits and 1 million masks to the US. Last month in my Asian travelogue, I wrote that my main observation after spending three weeks in Asia was: “America is a rich country that feels like a poor country”. That we have to rely on foreign aid in situations like this is a good example of what I was referring to.

Our Belligerent Political Process

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2020

Brent Simmons writes about the Democratic primaries and keeping our eyes on the real prize:

Odds are that your favorite is not going to be the nominee. And that nominee, whoever it is, needs to not have been already labeled a garbage candidate by you and by everyone whose favorite he or she isn’t.

Here’s the thing: we’re fighting to stop the spread of right-wing extremism. It will get so much worse if we reelect the president. It has to be stopped now. No other issue matters, because nothing else can be done without doing this.

I feel like there’s a deep sickness in our culture in how people express solidarity with the side they’ve chosen. It’s most visible in sports and politics and is related to nationalism versus patriotism. Many people tend to root for their preferred team or candidate in a nationalistic way (destructive, antagonistic) rather than a patriotic way (productive, positive) — more “Bernie rules, all the other candidates can suck it” versus “Bernie is my candidate because he supports several issues I care about”. That’s not to say that there isn’t room for strident activism or for criticism addressing real problems with candidates or entire political parties (gestures broadly), but as Simmons notes, this belligerent attitude is counterproductive, no matter how good it might feel personally.

And this bit is sadly true and I have not heard anyone else really talking about it:

I don’t care about any of the wonderful liberal and progressive policies our candidates propose — because they’re not going to get through.

(Well, I do care about them, deeply, but the point stands.)

It’s not that it would take 60 Democratic senators — it would take more like 65 or even more, and that’s not going to happen. We can elect the most wonderful progressive person ever and they’ll just beat their head against the wall.

There’s no magic coming. There’s no amount of will-of-the-people that will move Republican senators. All of the policy we talk about is just fantasy.

Photos of the Great Migration

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 13, 2020

Great Migration

Great Migration

Great Migration

Great Migration

Librarians at the Library of Congress have created a new guide to finding photos of the Great Migration1 contained in their extensive collection. Here’s a blog post announcing the guide.

The “Searching for Images” page of the guide suggests search strategies for finding images related to the Great Migration. For example, when searching our online catalogs, researchers will be most successful when using keyword terms and subject headings that refer to specific places, people or events. I knew that “Black Belt” was sometimes used to describe the area on Chicago’s South Side that experienced a population boom during the Great Migration. Entering the keywords “black belt chicago” in the online catalog yielded a number of images of the area from April of 1941 from the Farm Security Administration / Office of War Information Collection.

I was just talking about the Great Migration with a friend last night. Neither of us had learned about it in school (not even college), even though it completely reshaped America in the 20th century. If you’re in a similar boat, I recommend starting with Isabel Wilkerson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Warmth of Other Suns. It’s impossible to understand contemporary American society without knowing the history of the Great Migration and Wilkerson’s book helped open my eyes to that. (via @john_overholt)

  1. A refresher on what the Great Migration was from the LOC guide: “During the Great Migration, from about 1915 to 1970, millions of African Americans moved from southern, primarily rural areas of the United States to urban areas to the north and west. They sought better opportunities away from racial discrimination and violence in the South.”

White Space: Sketching the Military Court at Guantánamo Bay

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2020

MacNaughton Gitmo

Illustrator Wendy MacNaughton spent a week at Guantánamo Bay sketching the proceedings at the 9/11 military court for this NY Times piece. In a behind-the-scenes piece, MacNaughton describes how she made the drawings, including the creative challenge posed by the restrictions and censorship enforced by US military officials.

Of the 30-something drawings I presented, Mr. Lavender shook his head at only two. The first contained some classified items in the courtroom. That made sense. The second was a handwritten list of everything that I was not allowed to draw, which I’d made to use as a reminder while working. I wanted to keep it. He refused.

I argued that the information it contained had been disclosed elsewhere. But Mr. Lavender and his supervisor came to the conclusion that my handwritten list was indeed a drawing, technically containing things I couldn’t draw. My “No” list was a no-go.

That’s Guantánamo.

Every drawing she made needed a signed approval sticker from the court’s censor, and in this piece and on Instagram, MacNaughton didn’t photoshop the sticker out, reinforcing that the censorship is a vital part of the story she’s trying to tell. Even the paper towel she used to clean her paint brushes needed a sticker:

MacNaughton Gitmo

Why We Celebrate Thanksgiving

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 28, 2019

Boston College historian Heather Cox Richardson has been writing a near-daily political dispatch called Letters from an American for the past several weeks (her archives go further back on Facebook), mostly about the impeachment proceedings and their historical context.

In today’s letter, Richardson reminds us why Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.

Everyone generally knows that the Pilgrims and the Wampanoags shared a feast in fall 1621, and that early colonial leaders periodically declared days of thanksgiving when settlers were supposed to give their thanks for continued life and — with luck — prosperity.

But this is not why we celebrate Thanksgiving.

We celebrate thanks to President Abraham Lincoln and his defense of American democracy during the Civil War.

Northerners elected Lincoln to the presidency in 1860 to stop rich southern slaveholders from taking over the government and using it to cement their own wealth and power. When voters elected Lincoln, those same southern leaders pulled their states out of the Union and set out to create their own nation, the Confederate States of America, based in slavery and codifying the idea that some men were better than others and that this small elite group should rule the country. Under Lincoln, the United States government set out to end this slaveholders’ rebellion and bring the South back into a Union in which the government worked for people at the bottom, not just those at the top.

Borderlands, Communities Connected Across the US/Mexico Border Wall

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 13, 2019

You may remember the Border Wall Seesaw implemented by activist architects Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello earlier this year; they installed seesaws through the US/Mexico border wall, enabling people from both countries to play together on them.

Border Wall Seesaw

This short documentary called Borderlands follows Rael to three communities along the wall — San Diego & Tijuana, Brownsville & Matamoros, El Paso & Juárez (where he installed the seesaws) — where the connections between the US & Mexican sides persist and flourish despite their artificial separation.

Rael is well aware that, not too long ago, the boundary between the United States and Mexico, which is now delineated by more than seven hundred miles of fencing, was an open frontier, dotted with stone monuments. His book “Borderwall as Architecture” makes clear that the billions of dollars the U.S. government has spent on curbing migration and enhancing border security have done little to deter those intent on crossing by foot, using wooden ladders and ramps, or through tunnels. Decades of flawed policies suggest that the building of a grand wall is entirely divorced from the reality on the ground.

See also Best of Luck With the Wall, Josh Begley’s satellite image tour of the wall from the Pacific to the Gulf.

Gun Shop: 2,328 Guns at 24 Guns per Second

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 17, 2019

From filmmaker Patrick Smith, a short film called Gun Shop that shows images of 2,328 guns in just over 90s seconds.

This film shows 2,328 firearms, out of the 393 million currently in the US. Arranged in a dizzying 24 frames per second progression, from handguns to semi-automatic assault rifles, “Gun Shop” encourages viewers to critically examine America’s love affair with guns.

I confess I had not properly absorbed the fact that there are an estimated 393 million firearms owed by civilians in the US. That’s 1.2 guns per person (including children), the highest per capita in the world, more than twice that of the second place country, Yemen. Collectively, civilians in the US own 46% of the guns in the world. It’s a sick and dangerous obsession. (thx, christopher)

Will Trump Ever Leave the White House?

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 02, 2019

In an opinion piece for the NY Times, Thomas Edsall asks the provocative question: How and when will President Trump leave the White House? In the course of attempting to define and then answer the question, he talks with a number of political experts about how a successful impeachment or a 2020 election defeat could play out. When he asked “eminently reasonable scholar” David Leege about it, Leege said:

We should not assume that either a 2020 election defeat or impeachment/conviction will remove Trump from the White House.

Both before Trump was elected in 2016 and during his term, he has made frequent references to “my 2nd Amendment friends”’ and increasingly the “patriots” who constitute the military.

As president, Trump has resisted any effort to curb citizen access to guns and ammo. He puts on a modest show of concern when a particularly bad gun massacre occurs but, in the end, he sees armed citizens as a significant personal asset.

And if the 2020 election is at all close, you’d might see something like what happened in 2000 with Bush/Gore, except way worse, given today’s hyper-partisan political atmosphere. Here is Harvard’s Steven Levitsky:

It is possible that Republicans would close ranks behind Trump, resulting in a constitutional crisis. If right-wing media and the G.O.P. politicians were to remain solidly behind Trump, as they largely have thus far in previous scandals, there would be no easy constitutional exit.

I’ve had a bad feeling about just this possibility for a few years now. From a post I wrote in Sept 2017:

But watching Trump as President over the past few months, is it really that difficult to imagine him going full OJ here when confronted with losing his powerful position? Instead of Simpson being driven around LA in the white Bronco by Al Cowlings followed by a phalanx of police cruisers, on January 20, 2021, it’ll be Trump locked in the White House with Senator Kid Rock, taunting the military via Twitter to come in and get him. That sounds more plausible than Trump genteelly hosting the incoming Democratic President for tea in what USA Today calls “the 220-year-old ritual that has become a hallmark of American democracy: The orderly transition of power that comes at the appointed hour when one president takes the oath of office and his predecessor recedes into history”. Aside from “power”, not a single other word in that sentence even remotely describes anything Trump has ever cared about.

It will indeed be interesting and terrifying to see what happens here.

America’s Great Climate Exodus Has Already Begun

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 25, 2019

Like many Americans, I have been hearing about climate change since the late 80s (or perhaps even longer). Back then, the story was mainly that we needed to act soon to avoid potential effects like sea level rise, dangerous heatwaves, disrupting animal habitats, etc. in some distant future. One of the things I currently struggle with when thinking about climate change is recalibrating that “some distant future” part. Because that future is now and shit is happening in these here United States as we speak. From Bloomberg, America’s Great Climate Exodus Is Starting in the Florida Keys:

The Great Climate Retreat is beginning with tiny steps, like taxpayer buyouts for homeowners in flood-prone areas from Staten Island, New York, to Houston and New Orleans — and now Rittel’s Marathon Key. Florida, the state with the most people and real estate at risk, is just starting to buy homes, wrecked or not, and bulldoze them to clear a path for swelling seas before whole neighborhoods get wiped off the map.

By the end of the century, 13 million Americans will need to move just because of rising sea levels, at a cost of $1 million each, according to Florida State University demographer Mathew Haeur, who studies climate migration. Even in a “managed retreat,” coordinated and funded at the federal level, the economic disruption could resemble the housing crash of 2008.

By not wanting to pay now to mitigate the effects of climate change, we’ll end up paying a whole lot more later. Those late fees are gonna be something else.

Animated Pixel Art Map of the USA

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 18, 2019

Animated Pixel Map of the USA

A fellow by the name of David who goes by PixelDanc3r made this animated map of the United States in the style of 16-bit video game graphics; it seems like the most direct inspiration is the overworld map in Super Mario World. He’s done similar maps of Brazil, Venezuela, and his home country of Argentina. You can check out more of his pixel creations on Instagram and DeviantArt. (via the morning news)

Six Maps that Reveal America’s Expanding Racial Diversity

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 17, 2019

Using 2020 census estimates, a series of six maps and the accompanying article from William H. Frey at the Brookings Institution show how the racial makeup on the United States is expected to have changed since the last census in 2010.

Map Census 2020

Hispanics and Asian Americans are the fastest-growing racial minority groups nationally, increasing by 18.6% and 27.4%, respectively, from 2010 to 2018. There is also a growing dispersion of both groups to new destinations, which tend to lie further afield than the familiar large metro areas.

In 1990, 39% of all U.S. Hispanics resided in just four metro areas: Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Chicago. In 2018, 39% of U.S. Hispanics resided in seven metro areas, with Houston, Riverside, Calif., and Dallas added to the list (and each eclipsing Chicago in size). And beyond these, Hispanic growth is high in areas with smaller Hispanic settlements in all parts of the country.

The 2019 Fall Foliage Prediction Map

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2019

Fall Foliage 2019

SmokyMountains.com is back this year with their best-of-web foliage prediction map. Here in Vermont, things are starting to look a little rusty out there, but it appears I have at least a few more days to pretend that it’s still summer. Right? RIGHT?!

Nine Things a Woman Couldn’t Do in 1971 in America

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2019

Twitter user @WPCelebration recently compiled a list of nine activities and rights denied to women in America in 1971, just 48 years ago. The list includes:

Ms magazine published a similar list back in 2013 that also included the difficulty in getting a divorce without cause and obtain a safe & legal abortion in all 50 states. Bustle talked to several women about what discrimination was like before many of these changes took place.

I was denied a job in 1970 because I was newly pregnant. They actually had a question on the application regarding the date of your last menstrual period. Also, with my second child in 1974, they were not required to hold your position while you were on maternity leave, and I was told that my job was no longer open and I had to file for unemployment.

As a reminder, women only gained the right to vote in America fewer than 100 years ago.

My 2019 Roadtrip Along the Pacific Coast of the US

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 28, 2019

2019 Roadtrip

In late July after visiting my kids at camp, I flew into LA, rented a car, and spent two weeks driving up the coast from there to Portland, OR. Along the way, I visited old friends and made some new ones, got to see how some of my favorite movie magic is performed, ate very well, spent some time in an old neighborhood, drove 1700 miles, communed with the tallest trees on Earth, and watched the ocean churn and swell and crash and froth for a very very long time. Here are some reflections and observations from the trip, from my vantage point a month later.

To start off the trip I spent a little less than three days in LA, essentially my first trip to the second largest city in the US (aside from 24 hours spent there in 2005). It was…fine? The food was good, beach was good, museums were good, but I guess I didn’t feel a whole lot of natural affinity for the place. Then again, three days isn’t a lot of time and I will go back to explore more for sure. I somehow didn’t even get tacos, an oversight I rectified once I got to Santa Barbara. But I was able to see a few friends, which trumped any possible attractions or sights I could have seen instead.

Aside from visiting friends, like 75% of the reason I wanted to go to LA was to see Chris Burden’s Metropolis II at LACMA. I timed my visit for the weekend so it’d actually be running, and it did not disappoint. Could have watched it for hours:

Electric scooters (I used the ones from Lime and Lyft) made getting around LA a breeze. Cities need to figure out how to work these into their transportation infrastructure without clogging their sidewalks, keeping riders & pedestrians safe, theft/breakage, and not undermining other more accessible forms of public transportation.

2019 Roadtrip

Not much to say about Big Sur other than it’s gorgeous but crowded. Around each curve was a seemingly better view than the last.

The redwoods. Where do I even start? They were my absolute favorite part of the trip. I spent the better part of three days exploring Big Basin Redwoods State Park, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Redwood National and State Parks and even at the end of the third day, I was looking up at these 300-foot monsters and saying “wow!” It was like going to church. I can’t wait for my kids to spend some time exploring the redwood forests.

When I lived in SF from 2000-2002, my favorite place to visit was Muir Woods and I was really looking forward to seeing it again. When I swung by to visit on this trip, I was frustrated to learn from the friendly park ranger at the entrance that parking now requires advance reservations. So no Muir Woods for me this trip. Luckily there were many more redwoods to be had elsewhere…

Along almost the entire route of my trip (I stuck mostly to Highway 1 and the 101), I passed people working in fields. They were everywhere, toiling away to earn a hard living so their families could eat, so that they could pay their taxes, so that they could make a good life for their children. The news of ICE raids and the continued separation of children from their parents by the most inhumane administration in recent American history were never far from my mind.

Every summer when I was a kid, my dad, my sister, and I would take a roadtrip to a different part of the country: Florida, Virginia, Texas. Sometimes we took a car and camped along the way (with occasional motel stays) and other times we drove in a used motorhome my dad bought one year (approximately one of these). But the ocean was always a constant as a destination. My sister and I had grown up in Wisconsin but had never seen the ocean before, and after our first trip to the Gulf Coast of Texas, we were hooked. One year we drove out to California and up the coast to Oregon. I remember vividly the freezing cold ocean and the winding coastal roads — we almost got our camper stuck in a particularly tight hairpin curve. I loved those roadtrips…they are my absolute happiest memories from childhood. Driving some of those same curves in northern California this time around, I waved to pretty much any RV I saw, as if I were saying hello to my past teenaged self, who was getting a taste of what awaited him in this whole wide world.

2019 Roadtrip

When I was in the Bay Area, I got to fulfill a long-time dream of mine: visiting the Pixar campus in Emeryville. I gotta say, stepping into the main building, designed by Steve Jobs to foster collaboration among the company’s employees, gave me goosebumps. I could have spent hours looking at all of the sketches, storyboards, and ephemera from Incredibles II that they had hanging on the walls. I visited the recording studios, the screening rooms, the secret speakeasy, and saw a few of the animators’ wildly decorated cubicles. They told me how the process of making a movie at Pixar has changed from “laying down the track in front of a moving train” to “laying down the track in front of a moving train while also building the train”…it sounds like they’ve really worked hard on making their development process as asynchronous as possible. I was told that Pixar has an entire team just for making crowds now.

My tour guides showed me some of the company’s favorite misrendered scenes culled from an internal mailing list, including an amazing rain tornado around a car in Toy Story 4. I saw in action the AI spiders that were designed to weave the cobwebs in TS4.

Typically, cobwebs must be made by hand, but, because of the number of cobwebs which the crew wanted to include, Hosuk Chang (Sets Extensions Technical Director) wrote a program to create a group of artificial intelligence spiders to weave the cobwebs just like a real spider would.

We actually saw the AI spiders in action and it was jaw-dropping to see something so simple, yet so technically amazing to create realistic backgrounds elements like cobwebs. The spiders appeared as red dots that would weave their way between two wood elements just like a real spider would.

They showed me a scene from TS4 and how it was made — the different layers of shading and lighting, storyboards, effects, the different cameras and lenses that were available for the director’s use. One cool tidbit: the virtual cameras used in the Toy Story movies are human-scale and shot from human height so that the toys actually look like toys. Ok, another cool tidbit: the virtual cameras & lenses are based on actual cameras and actual lenses so the directors know what sort of depth of field, angle, and views they’re going to get with a given setup. The software is incredible — they showed me a screen with like 30 different camera/angle/lens/focus combinations so that a director can simultaneously watch a single scene “filmed” all those different ways and choose which shot they want to go with. I mean…

To get the motion just right for the baby carriage scene in the antique store for TS4, they took an actual baby carriage, strapped a camera to it, plopped a Woody doll in it, and took it for a spin around campus. They took the video from that, motion-captured the bounce and sway of the carriage, and made it available as a setting in the software that they could apply to the virtual camera. I MEAN…

I also heard a few Steve Jobs stories that I’m going to keep to myself for now…they are not mine to tell. Thanks to Tom, Ralph, and Bob for showing me around and being so generous with their time. Ok, </pixar>

I had forgotten that driving though the groves of eucalyptus just north of San Francisco was so wonderfully fragrant. Way better than one of those Muji aroma diffusers. But I’ll tell you: I do not miss living in SF. I spent a lovely afternoon walking around my old neighborhood, wandering in Golden Gate Park, and stopping in to check out the Dahlia Garden (my favorite place in SF), but that was enough for another few years.

While driving, I listened to To Kill a Mockingbird on audiobook; I’d never read or listened to it before. A favorite line: “Delete the adjectives and you’ll find the facts.” I’m not sure I’ve been successful in curbing my adjective use in this post.

2019 Roadtrip

At dinner one night, I asked an LA pal about work and she said she’d quit her bartending job to deliver weed — better schedule and pay. There were cannabis dispensaries everywhere in California and Oregon. The one I visited in central CA had a security guard outside checking for IDs and weapons, a double door system in the reception area, and once you got into the retail space, you could find out more about a product by placing it on a sensor and the info would appear on a nearby touchscreen. But at other dispensaries, like the one I walked past in Arcata, the door was wide open and you could just mosey on in. Let’s just say I slept pretty well on this trip.

After seeing the 45-minute-long line for lunch at the Tillamook Creamery (and a 20-minute-long line just for cheese samples), I decamped to a local Burger King to try the Impossible Whopper for the first time. All the people saying that the Impossible patty tastes just like a real burger have either never tasted meat before or don’t pay a whole lot of attention when they eat. It’s the best veggie burger patty I’ve ever had, but it sure ain’t beef.

2019 Roadtrip

A few small towns caught my attention. Cambria, CA was a cool little place I would gladly spend more time in — Moonstone Beach was beautiful. Los Alamos, CA is possibly the quaintest town I have ever seen — ate a great breakfast at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. I breezed through Arcata, CA and explored the downtown a bit, but it had such a cool vibe that I’d definitely go back for another look.

Sometimes the problem with going on vacation is that you have to take yourself along with you. No matter how astounding the sights, how engaging the catchups with friends, how relaxing it is, and how far away the rest of the world seems, your thoughts and anxieties and hang-ups come with you everywhere you go. Near the end of my trip, I splurged on a nice hotel room for two nights in Yachats, OR and mainly sat on the rocks and watched the waves crash. It was perfect. The ocean remains my ultimate happy place and I need to find a way to spend more (or perhaps all) of my time closer to it.

2019 Roadtrip

And then it was time to head home. You can check out a bunch of my photos from the trip on Instagram and in this Instagram Story. Thanks to my friends Alex, Michael, and Matt for the accommodations & fellowship along the way. This trip was not the once-in-a-lifetime experience that last year’s western roadtrip was, but I did feel similarly at its conclusion:

Doing this roadtrip reminded me of many great things about this country & the people who live in it and gave me the time & space to ponder how I fit into the puzzle, without the din of the news and social media. If you can manage it, I encourage you all to do the same, even if it’s just visiting someplace close that you’ve never been to: get out there and see the world and visit with its people. This world is all we have, and the more we see of it, the better we can make it.

Thanks for following along with my journey.

Distorted US Map of Where Candidates Campaigned in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2019

Because of the Electoral College and the way the primary system works in the US, presidential candidates end up spending a disproportionate amount of time is so-called “battleground states” like Pennsylvania, Ohio, and our dysfunctional friend Florida and primary states like Iowa and New Hampshire and less time where most of the US population actually lives (NY, CA, TX, IL, and in cities). The campaign for the National Popular Vote has produced a map that shows where the candidates did campaign events in 2016:

Map Campaign Time

Because of these state winner-take-all statutes, presidential candidates have no reason to pay attention to the issues of concern to voters in states where the statewide outcome is a foregone conclusion. In 2012, as shown on the map, all of the 253 general-election campaign events were in just 12 states, and two-thirds were in just 4 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and Iowa). Thirty-eight states were completely ignored.

And here’s the map for the 2012 election, which is even more extreme:

Map Campaign Time

State winner-take-all statutes adversely affect governance. “Battleground” states receive 7% more federal grants than “spectator” states, twice as many presidential disaster declarations, more Superfund enforcement exemptions, and more No Child Left Behind law exemptions.

Also, because of state winner-take-all statutes, five of our 45 Presidents have come into office without having won the most popular votes nationwide. The 2000 and 2016 elections are the most recent examples of elections in which a second-place candidate won the White House. Near-misses are also common under the current state-by-state winner-take-all method of awarding electoral votes. A shift of 59,393 votes in Ohio in 2004 would have elected John Kerry despite President Bush’s nationwide lead of over 3,000,000 votes.

The 1619 Project

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 15, 2019

The first Africans to be brought as slaves to British North America landed in Port Comfort, Virginia in 1619. Thus began America’s 400-year history with slavery and its effects, which continue to reverberate today. With The 1619 Project, the NY Times is exploring that legacy with a series of essays and other works that “aims to reframe the country’s history, understanding 1619 as our true founding, and placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are.” The Columbia Journalism Review explains:

Contributors consider various modern quandaries — rush hour traffic, mass incarceration, an inequitable healthcare system, even American overconsumption of sugar (the highest rate in the Western world) — and trace the origins back to slavery. Literary and visual artists drew from a timeline chronicling the past 400 years of Black history in America; their work is presented chronologically throughout the magazine. Taken together, the issue is an attempt to guide readers not just toward a richer understanding of today’s racial dilemmas, but to tell them the truth.

Nikole Hannah-Jones, who came up with the idea for the project, writes in an essay:

The United States is a nation founded on both an ideal and a lie. Our Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, 1776, proclaims that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” But the white men who drafted those words did not believe them to be true for the hundreds of thousands of black people in their midst. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” did not apply to fully one-fifth of the country. Yet despite being violently denied the freedom and justice promised to all, black Americans believed fervently in the American creed. Through centuries of black resistance and protest, we have helped the country live up to its founding ideals. And not only for ourselves — black rights struggles paved the way for every other rights struggle, including women’s and gay rights, immigrant and disability rights.

Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all.

Bryan Stevenson writes about America’s criminal justice system:

The 13th Amendment is credited with ending slavery, but it stopped short of that: It made an exception for those convicted of crimes. After emancipation, black people, once seen as less than fully human “slaves,” were seen as less than fully human “criminals.” The provisional governor of South Carolina declared in 1865 that they had to be “restrained from theft, idleness, vagrancy and crime.” Laws governing slavery were replaced with Black Codes governing free black people — making the criminal-justice system central to new strategies of racial control.

These strategies intensified whenever black people asserted their independence or achieved any measure of success. During Reconstruction, the emergence of black elected officials and entrepreneurs was countered by convict leasing, a scheme in which white policymakers invented offenses used to target black people: vagrancy, loitering, being a group of black people out after dark, seeking employment without a note from a former enslaver. The imprisoned were then “leased” to businesses and farms, where they labored under brutal conditions.

And Jamelle Bouie on power in America:

There is a homegrown ideology of reaction in the United States, inextricably tied to our system of slavery. And while the racial content of that ideology has attenuated over time, the basic framework remains: fear of rival political majorities; of demographic “replacement”; of a government that threatens privilege and hierarchy.

The past 10 years of Republican extremism is emblematic. The Tea Party billed itself as a reaction to debt and spending, but a close look shows it was actually a reaction to an ascendant majority of black people, Latinos, Asian-Americans and liberal white people. In their survey-based study of the movement, the political scientists Christopher S. Parker and Matt A. Barreto show that Tea Party Republicans were motivated “by the fear and anxiety associated with the perception that ‘real’ Americans are losing their country.”

Update: The Pulitzer Center has a study guide to go with The 1619 Project, including a free download of the entire magazine issue (no subscription necessary).

Update: The 1619 Project is now a podcast series as well.

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 04, 2019

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 20 people in El Paso, Texas yesterday and another person killing at least 9 people In Dayton, Ohio early this morning. While these are outrageous and horrifying events, they aren’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

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.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

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?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

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.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

America’s Cars Are Heavily Subsidized, Dangerous, and Mandatory

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 09, 2019

This is a fascinating & provocative article from law professor Gregory Shill: Americans Shouldn’t Have to Drive, but the Law Insists on It. The first line of the piece sets the stage: “In a country where the laws compel the use of cars, Americans are condemned to lose friends and relatives to traffic violence.”

Let’s begin at the state and local level. A key player in the story of automobile supremacy is single-family-only zoning, a shadow segregation regime that is now justifiably on the defensive for outlawing duplexes and apartments in huge swaths of the country. Through these and other land-use restrictions-laws that separate residential and commercial areas or require needlessly large yards-zoning rules scatter Americans across distances and highway-like roads that are impractical or dangerous to traverse on foot. The resulting densities are also too low to sustain high-frequency public transit.

Further entrenching automobile supremacy are laws that require landowners who build housing and office space to build housing for cars as well. In large part because of parking quotas, parking lots now cover more than a third of the land area of some U.S. cities; Houston is estimated to have 30 parking spaces for every resident. As UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup has written, this mismatch flows from legal mandates rather than market demand. Every employee who brings a car to the office essentially doubles the amount of space he takes up at work, and in urban areas his employer may be required by law to build him a $50,000 garage parking space.

Cars and car ownership are massively subsidized on a state, local, and federal level and our laws and regulations have built a nation where cars are mandatory and “driving is the price of first-class citizenship”.

Why are we taxing bus riders to pay rich people to buy McMansions and luxury electric SUVs?

And this speed limit thing is just eye-poppingly fucked up:

The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that speed is a top risk factor in motor vehicle crashes. Yet the most prominent way of setting and adjusting speed limits, known as the operating speed method, actually incentivizes faster driving. It calls for setting speed limits that 85 percent of drivers will obey. This method makes little provision for whether there’s a park or senior center on a street, or for people walking or biking.

As a matter of law, the operating speed method is exceptional. It enables those who violate the law-speeding motorists-to rewrite it: speed limits ratchet higher until no more than 15 percent of motorists violate them. The perverse incentives are obvious. Imagine a rule saying that, once 15 percent of Americans acquired an illegal type of machine gun, that weapon would automatically become legal.

Ok, this is one of those articles where I want to excerpt every paragraph…just go read the whole thing. (via @olgakhazan)

Update: Eric Jaffe shared some interesting bits from Shill’s recent paper, Should Law Subsidize Driving?, in a Twitter thread.

Until the 1910s, “street parking was broadly outlawed: if you owned a car in a city, you were responsible for storing it, just as you would be any other piece of movable property.”

“Tax subsidies for commuting prioritize driving. Those who walk, bike, or carpool to work, and in some cases those who take transit, pay other people to drive to work.”

Never realized (or forgot) that CAFE fuel economy rules — generally a good thing — have a loophole that “light trucks” don’t need to be as fuel efficient as cars. “Light trucks” have come to mean SUVs, which means SUVs are easier to produce. No coincidence that the share of “light trucks” has soared from 20% in 1976 to 69% of market today. The upshot, of course, is that SUVs are much worse for pedestrian safety: you’re 3.4x more likely to be killed if hit by an SUV vs. a car.

How The Shawshank Redemption Humanized Prisoners

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 01, 2019

The Shawshank Redemption came out in 1994. Although crime rates had already started falling across the country, the media (with shows like COPS) and government (Joe Biden & Bill Clinton’s push for a crime bill now considered disastrous) were still pursuing and glorifying a punitive criminal justice system. But as this excellent video by Pop Culture Detective explains, Shawshank offered 90s audiences a different view of prison and the criminal justice system.

On a narrative level The Shawshank Redemption is a movie about the power of hope in the face of extraordinary hardship. But underpinning Andy Dufresne’s story we also find a blistering critique of the prison system and criminal justice policy in the United States.

In the film, the audience gets to see the system as harsh & corrupt and the prisoners as, well, people — human beings worthy of rehabilitation. In the 25 years since Shawshank debuted (and bombed) at the box office, public opinion in America has shifted away from the punitive view of the 90s to the more humanistic perspective embodied by the film.

See also Running from COPS, Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs, and Ava DuVernay’s 13th. (via waxy)

How Do You Feel About the American Flag?

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 14, 2019

In Flag Code, Karen Good Marable shares her experience of the American flag growing up and in the wake of the 2016 election. This paragraph in particular resonated with me unexpectedly:

Perhaps it was in this moment I happened upon the house, unremarkable but for a small American flag jutting out of its frame like a rhinoceros horn. I hesitated at the sight of the banner so close to my home and was suddenly wary. Weary. I saw the flag and without thinking thought it code: Patriot. MAGA. Make everything white again. Even with all I know about the history of Black people in this country, I’ve never been afraid of the flag. On this day, however, I felt how I feel when I see the Confederate flag: Unsafe. My breath shallowed. When did this happen? When did the sight of an American flag flying from a private residence become something that gave me pause? Perhaps it was the untrusted whiteness of my new neighborhood. Perhaps my reaction was a kind of PTSD, a result of that summer’s back-to-back televised police killings of unarmed Black men or the murders at Mother Emanuel the year before. Perhaps it was the ridiculous victory of Trump. I saw the flag and remembered what I had been warned time and again about “progressive” Atlanta: Drive thirty minutes outside of the perimeter in any direction and it’s a whole different story.

While I share little of Marable’s life experience, I realized while reading her piece that I’ve developed a similar unsafe feeling about the flag. It’s not a voluntary thing — it’s something that has built up over two+ years of seeing American flags in photos of MAGA rallies & white nationalist marches but not so much at Black Lives Matter marches or pro-choice rallies. I’m sure you’ve also noticed the correlation between seeing an American flag emoji in someone’s Twitter bio next to the MAGA hashtag and the tendency of that person to act like a misogynist asshole. While it’s hardly a new thing, the aggressive, intolerant, nationalistic right has been particularly effective in visibly wrapping themselves in the flag lately. It’s great branding for them, but it’s not doing the flag any favors.

The United States of Guns

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 01, 2019

Like many of you, I read the news of a single person killing at least 12 people in Virginia Beach, Virginia yesterday. While this is an outrageous and horrifying event, it isn’t surprising or shocking in any way in a country where more than 33,000 people die from gun violence each year.

America is a stuck in a Groundhog Day loop of gun violence. We’ll keep waking up, stuck in the same reality of oppression, carnage, and ruined lives until we can figure out how to effect meaningful change. I’ve collected some articles here about America’s dysfunctional relationship with guns, most of which I’ve shared before. Change is possible — there are good reasons to control the ownership of guns and control has a high likelihood of success — but how will our country find the political will to make it happen?

An armed society is not a free society:

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.

We’re sacrificing America’s children to “our great god Gun”:

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?

Roger Ebert on the media’s coverage of mass shootings:

Let me tell you a story. The day after Columbine, I was interviewed for the Tom Brokaw news program. The reporter had been assigned a theory and was seeking sound bites to support it. “Wouldn’t you say,” she asked, “that killings like this are influenced by violent movies?” No, I said, I wouldn’t say that. “But what about ‘Basketball Diaries’?” she asked. “Doesn’t that have a scene of a boy walking into a school with a machine gun?” The obscure 1995 Leonardo Di Caprio movie did indeed have a brief fantasy scene of that nature, I said, but the movie failed at the box office (it grossed only $2.5 million), and it’s unlikely the Columbine killers saw it.

The reporter looked disappointed, so I offered her my theory. “Events like this,” I said, “if they are influenced by anything, are influenced by news programs like your own. When an unbalanced kid walks into a school and starts shooting, it becomes a major media event. Cable news drops ordinary programming and goes around the clock with it. The story is assigned a logo and a theme song; these two kids were packaged as the Trench Coat Mafia. The message is clear to other disturbed kids around the country: If I shoot up my school, I can be famous. The TV will talk about nothing else but me. Experts will try to figure out what I was thinking. The kids and teachers at school will see they shouldn’t have messed with me. I’ll go out in a blaze of glory.”

In short, I said, events like Columbine are influenced far less by violent movies than by CNN, the NBC Nightly News and all the other news media, who glorify the killers in the guise of “explaining” them. I commended the policy at the Sun-Times, where our editor said the paper would no longer feature school killings on Page 1. The reporter thanked me and turned off the camera. Of course the interview was never used. They found plenty of talking heads to condemn violent movies, and everybody was happy.

Jill Lepore on the United States of Guns:

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.

A Land Without Guns: How Japan Has Virtually Eliminated Shooting Deaths:

The only guns that Japanese citizens can legally buy and use are shotguns and air rifles, and it’s not easy to do. The process is detailed in David Kopel’s landmark study on Japanese gun control, published in the 1993 Asia Pacific Law Review, still cited as current. (Kopel, no left-wing loony, is a member of the National Rifle Association and once wrote in National Review that looser gun control laws could have stopped Adolf Hitler.)

To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle. Just don’t forget to provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in your home, as well as the ammo, both of which must be locked and stored separately. And remember to have the police inspect the gun once per year and to re-take the class and exam every three years.

Australia’s gun laws stopped mass shootings and reduced homicides, study finds:

From 1979 to 1996, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths was rising at 2.1% per year. Since then, the average annual rate of total non-firearm suicide and homicide deaths has been declining by 1.4%, with the researchers concluding there was no evidence of murderers moving to other methods, and that the same was true for suicide.

The average decline in total firearm deaths accelerated significantly, from a 3% decline annually before the reforms to a 5% decline afterwards, the study found.

In the 18 years to 1996, Australia experienced 13 fatal mass shootings in which 104 victims were killed and at least another 52 were wounded. There have been no fatal mass shootings since that time, with the study defining a mass shooting as having at least five victims.

From The Onion, ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens:

At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past eight years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

But America is not Australia or Japan. Dan Hodges said on Twitter a few years ago:

In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate. Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.

This can’t be the last word on guns in America. We have to do better than this for our children and everyone else whose lives are torn apart by guns. But right now, we are failing them miserably, and Hodges’ words ring with the awful truth that all those lives and our diminished freedom & equality are somehow worth it to the United States as a society.

America Doesn’t Care About Its Children

posted by Jason Kottke   May 28, 2019

Annie Lowrey writing for The Atlantic last summer, How America Treats Its Own Children.

This is a country that professes to care about children at their youngest and most fragile. But here, for every 100,000 live births, 28 women die in childbirth or shortly thereafter, compared with 11 in Canada. This ratio has more than doubled since 1990, despite the medical advances made in those decades, where it has gone down in other high-income countries. Black women are three times as likely to die giving birth or shortly after birth as white women. Black women in the United States die having a child at roughly the same rate as women in Mongolia.

It is a country that professes to care for babies. But in the United States, the infant death rate is twice as high as in similarly wealthy countries. Premature birth and low birth weight are common ailments, with lifelong and even intergenerational effects.

This is a country that attempts to support low-income mothers with tax benefits, food stamps, health insurance, and the Women, Infants, and Children program. Still, it spends less of its gross domestic product on family benefits than all other OECD countries, save for Mexico and Turkey, which are far, far less wealthy. It spends less than half as much as Denmark, the United Kingdom, and Sweden.

Higher rates of incarceration, lack of access to medical care, little or no parental leave for child birth, poor education, low government spending on children…the list goes on and on. Wealthy and middle-class parents can afford to provide many of these things for their children, but if you’re poor, forget about it. This is shameful…America’s “every person for themselves” ethos should not extend to our children.

The Persistent Myth of the Empty American Frontier

posted by Jason Kottke   May 14, 2019

The author and popular historian David McCullough has a new book out called The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West. I don’t really know where to start with that title (heroic? ideal?) but in her Slate review, Rebecca Onion says that McCullough’s brand of Manifest Destiny-laden American history furthers “the lie that the ‘frontier’ was an empty Eden waiting for American expansion”.

This poem embodies another “pioneer attitude” — the idea that the land was prehistoric, suspended in stasis, before the arrival of white people, and needed to be properly brought into production by the kind of work only “stalwart” settlers could do. This idea, repeated over centuries, aided Manifest Destiny, even as Native settlements like the Miami town of Kekionga boasted cornfields, gardens, and cattle herds. McCullough is approvingly repeating one of the founding myths that justified stealing land from Native tribes — and it doesn’t seem like he even knows it.

Harvard historian Joyce Chaplin agrees in a NY Times book review:

And whatever praise Manasseh Cutler and his supporters might deserve, their designated Eden had an original sin: dispossession of the region’s native inhabitants — paradise lost, indeed. McCullough plays down the violence that displaced the Indians, including the actual Ohio people. He adopts settlers’ prejudiced language about “savages” and “wilderness,” words that denied Indians’ humanity and active use of their land. He also states that the Ohio Territory was “unsettled.” No, it had people in it, as he slightly admits in a paragraph on how the Indians “considered” the land to be theirs. That paragraph begins, however, with a description of the Northwest Territory as “teeming with wolves, bears, wild boars, panthers, rattlesnakes and the even more deadly copperheads,” as if the native people were comparably wild and venomous, to be hunted down, beaten back, exterminated.

Eight Ways to Teach Climate Change in School

posted by Jason Kottke   May 02, 2019

According to a poll conducted by NPR/Ipsos, over 80% of American parents want climate change to be taught in our schools, but only 42% of the teachers polled say that they teach it in their classrooms.

If they don’t hear about it at home, will kids learn about climate change in school? To answer this question, NPR/Ipsos also completed a nationally representative survey of around 500 teachers. These educators were even more likely than the general public to believe in climate change and to support teaching climate change.

In fact, 86% of teachers believe climate change should be taught in schools. In theory.

But in practice, it’s more complicated. More than half — 55% — of teachers we surveyed said they do not cover climate change in their own classrooms or even talk to their students about it.

The most common reason given? Nearly two-thirds (65%) said it’s outside their subject area.

NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz shared 8 Ways To Teach Climate Change In Almost Any Classroom, regardless of what subject you teach.

5. Assign a research project, multimedia presentation or speech.

Gay Collins teaches public speaking at Waterford High School in Waterford, Conn. She is interested in “civil discourse” as a tool for problem-solving, so she encourages her students “to shape their speeches around critical topics, like the use of plastics, minimalism, and other environmental issues.

I am, however, still hung up on the 12% of teachers polled who said that the world’s climate is not changing.

Climate Poll Teachers

States of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 01, 2019

For his series of documentary short films, States of America, Brad Barber is profiling one person from each of the 50 US states.

In the United States, you might be born one place, go to school or work in another, then pack it up and move somewhere else for a thousand different reasons of choice or circumstance. You might have been born in another country. What is it that ties us to these places and makes us adopt them as our home? How does our state affect who we are and how we identify ourselves? What makes us from there?

For Wisconsin, Barber profiled Xong Xiong, a member of the Hmong community whose parents moved there from a refugee camp in Thailand.

Xong was born in a Hmong refugee camp in Thailand but moved to Wisconsin as a child after her family couldn’t safely return to Laos following the Vietnam War. There she grew up as part of a large influx of twice dislocated Hmong refugees who were not always welcomed with open arms in the small city of La Crosse. Despite her experiences with racism, poor integration, and detachment from her own culture, Xong is determined to help the younger generation born in America stay connected.

Xiong lives not too far from where I grew up as a kid. The subject of the Vermont short film lives pretty close to where I am now:

Here’s a trailer for the series. (thx johan)

America Is Becoming Steadily Less Religious

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 29, 2019

According to new data from the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who answered “no religion” in response to the question “What is your religious tradition?” is now greater than those who identify as Catholics or evangelical Christians. Ryan Burge shared this graph of the trends from the past 50 years:

No Religion Trend

The “no religion” trend has been growing steadily since 1991. But as this piece notes, it’s tough to tell exactly why people are answering the question that way.

Even then, those who claim “no religion” are not inherently atheists or agnostics: A 2017 Pew Research survey found that only 22 percent of “nones” listed not believing in God as the most important reason for their lack of religious affiliation.

(via @heif)

The Most Endangered Animal in Every US State

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 28, 2019

The Most Endangered Animal in Every US State

The Most Endangered Animal in Every US State

The Most Endangered Animal in Every US State

The Most Endangered Animal in Every US State

The Most Endangered Animal in Every US State

These visually striking posters showcase the most endangered animals from each of the 50 US states.

Here’s the story of the Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly from Colorado:

Colorado’s exotically-spelled native butterfly lives among snow willow patches high up in the San Juan Mountains. It has an ornate, retro look: rusty or light brown wings neatly segmented with inky black lines. Unfortunately, the Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly’s beauty has played a part in its downfall. Collectors, as well as trampling by people and livestock, have reduced their number to just 11 colonies.

We kill the things we love. (via moss and fog)

The Partisan States of America

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 07, 2019

The Atlantic recently teamed up with polling and analytics company PredictWise to build a county-by-county map of political open-mindedness in America.

US Map of Political Prejudice

In general, the most politically intolerant Americans, according to the analysis, tend to be whiter, more highly educated, older, more urban, and more partisan themselves. This finding aligns in some ways with previous research by the University of Pennsylvania professor Diana Mutz, who has found that white, highly educated people are relatively isolated from political diversity. They don’t routinely talk with people who disagree with them; this isolation makes it easier for them to caricature their ideological opponents. (In fact, people who went to graduate school have the least amount of political disagreement in their lives, as Mutz describes in her book Hearing the Other Side.) By contrast, many nonwhite Americans routinely encounter political disagreement. They have more diverse social networks, politically speaking, and therefore tend to have more complicated views of the other side, whatever side that may be.

We see this dynamic in the heat map. In some parts of the country, including swaths of North Carolina and upstate New York, people still seem to give their fellow Americans the benefit of the doubt, even when they disagree. In other places, including much of Massachusetts and Florida, people appear to have far less tolerance for political difference. They may be quicker to assume the worst about their political counterparts, on average.

If you click through to the article, the interactive map will let you see how prejudiced your county is. There are also maps for Republican on Democratic prejudice and Democratic on Republican prejudice.

This map is a little bit bonkers…I can’t wrap my head around some of the results. Why are Florida and South Carolina so polarized while the states surrounding them are not? And look at New York…aside from NYC, there’s relatively little polarization right up against a very polarized New England and Pennsylvania. Utah sticks out among western states but you can probably chalk that up to Mormonism. Is this a methodology problem or is it due to something fundamentally different about the states and/or their governments?

A Japanese Illustrated History of the United States from 1861

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 22, 2019

Japan Us History 1861

Japan Us History 1861

With the 1853 arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry on the shores of Japan, the isolationist country was introduced to the United States in a rather American fashion: trade with us or we’ll open fire. Faced with a seemingly overwhelming military force, the Japanese opened their country to foreign trade in the years following. Published just a few years later in 1861 by writer Kanagaki Robun and illustrator Utagawa Yoshitora, Osanaetoki Bankokubanashi is an illustrated history of America that provides a glimpse into how the Japanese perceived their new trading partners.

For instance, the two pages above feature George Washington fighting a tiger with his bare hands and John Adams battling a massive snake with a sword. As Japanese historian Nick Kapur notes in this thread, the book also contains illustrations of a burly Ben Franklin wielding a cannon as well as many other amazing and fantastical scenes. (via open culture)