Tag Archives: United States

MondayMap: The Feds Own 84.5 Percent of Nevada

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The Unites States government owns almost one-third (28 percent) of the entire nation. Through various agencies that include the United States Forest Service, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, the total owned “by the people, for the people” comes to a staggering 640 million acres of land.

Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the federal owned land lies in the Rocky Mountains and to the West. In fact, the US government owns 47 percent of the land in the western states, versus just 4 percent in states east of the Rockies.

More from Frank Jacobs over at Strange Maps:

The rough beauty of the American West seems as far as you can get from the polished corridors of power in Washington DC. Until you look at the title to the land. The federal government owns large tracts of the western states: from a low of 29.9% in Montana, already more than the national average, up to a whopping 84.5% in Nevada.

What is all that federal land for? And exactly who is in charge? According to the Congressional Research Service [4], a total area of just under 610 million acres – more than twice the size of Namibia – is administered by no more than 4 federal government agencies:

* The United States Forest Service (USFS), which oversees timber harvesting, recreation, wildlife habitat protection and other sustainable uses on a total of 193 million acres – almost the size of Turkey – mainly designated as National Forests.

* The National Park Service (NPS) conserves lands and resources on 80 million acres – a Norway-sized area – in order to preserve them for the public. Any harvesting or resource removal is generally prohibited.

* the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), managing 248 million acres [5] – an area the size of Egypt – has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate, supporting energy development, recreation, grazing, conservation, and other uses.

* the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) manages 89 million acres – an area slightly bigger than Germany – to conserve and protect animal and plant species.

Check out the entire story here.

Image: Federal Real Property Profile. Courtesy: U.S. General Services Administration /  ‘Can the West Lead Us To A Better Place?‘ an article in Stanford Magazine.

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Who Needs Education?

misd-proposed-stadium

Here’s a great example of the value that some citizens place on education in the United States. It’s one more recent example of a distorted system that ranks sporting success, or just dreams of success, over learning, teaching and intellectual accomplishment.

McKinney independent school district (MISD), part of the Dallas-Ft.Worth metropolitan area approved a $70 million bond package to finance a new 7,000 capacity stadium and other city improvements. By Texas’ standards this is small potatoes, nearby Allen ISD completed a 18,000 capacity high school stadium in 2012.

Put into perspective: most non-premium level, professional sports teams in Europe have lower capacity stadiums [stadia, for my British readers].

From Guardian:

In the middle of the change from small town to booming Dallas suburb is football. Celina could end up with more than one high school and therefore more than one football team, a division of the local talent pool that would vex some. But a more immediate question is over the future need for a new stadium to house the existing team and its swelling fanbase. The current 3,800-capacity Bobcat Stadium, regularly packed, might soon be unable to cope with demand.

These are interesting times for high school football stadiums in Texas. Nearby McKinney recently approved the construction of a new $70m, 12,000-seat stadium to be shared by the city’s three high schools. That followed hard on the heels of a $60m, 18,000-capacity venue for neighboring Allen – which has one high school – completed in 2012. Local media have called the sprouting of expensive stadiums among rival school districts in affluent suburbs an arms race. The adjacent Frisco, meanwhile, entered a partnership with the Dallas Cowboys for its schools to play in the NFL team’s new indoor practice facility built in the city. The Frisco independent school district is chipping in $30m so area kids can run out at The Ford Center at The Star, capacity 12,000.

Critics argue the money could be better spent elsewhere in the education system.

Read the entire article here.

Image: Proposed McKinney High School Stadium. Courtesy McKinney Independent School District (MISD) press handout.

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The Only Gettysburg Address

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One hundred and fifty three years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln delivered, during the American Civil War, one of the most memorable speeches in US history. His resonant words will continue to be taught, studied and remembered.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Others have delivered words on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg. One recent example treated us, not to heartfelt oratory, but to whining about a rigged election, railing against the disgusting media, and regurgitating personal grievances and attacks. This speech train-of-thought nonsense will be discarded and forgotten, unless future scholars return to dissect the most spectacular campaign failure — and disgusting individual — in modern US politics.

Image: The only confirmed photo of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, some three hours before the speech, 19 November 1863. Courtesy: United States Library of Congress. Public Domain.

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The Next 4 Years

It’s taken me a week to recover from the visceral shock of the US Presidential election. A vile process that continued for 18 months finally culminated in the election of, quite simply, a neo-fascist-lite for our Twitter age.

Like many other so-called elitists — if we should equate elitism with a higher education — I had hoped for a different outcome. Well, it wasn’t to be. So, it’s time to accept the result and move on, right?

Not quite, since this is an existential threat to my children and our democracy, like no other.

Thus, I will begin the next four years by reminding myself, and you dear reader of the President-elect’s vulgarities, bigotry, hypocrisy, contempt, mendacity and other dangerously ignorant, poisonous nonsense and complete bullshit from the depraved, despotic, shameless, shallow, deceitful, volatile, puerile, vindictive, noxious, boastful, misogynistic, racist, corrupt, thuggish, insensitive, naive, irrational, petulant, solipsistic, authoritarian, vengeful, disgraceful, abusive, irresponsible, narcissistic, pompous, vacuous, cowardly, amoral, self-aggrandizing, unprincipled, pathologically deranged, completely detached-from-reality (crazy), unapologetically fraudulent, chronically repulsive, thoroughly sleazy and incoherent mind mouth of the President-elect (think about that very carefully for several minutes each day over the next 1,450 or so days).

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MondayMap: Red Versus Blue

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You may believe that colorful, graphical electoral analysis is a relatively recent phenomenon. You know, those cool red and blue maps (and now sometimes green or purple) of each state and country.

But our present day news networks and the internet did not invent this type of infographic map.

Susan Schulten, chair of the history department at the University of Denver, discovered what may be the earliest example of a US county-level electoral map. Published in 1883 it shows results from the 1880 Presidential election between Republican James Garfield and Democrat Winfield Hancock. Garfield won.

Two notable reversals in the 1880 map versus today’s counterpart: First, Democrats are in red; Republicans in blue. Second, Democrats make up the majority in much of the South and Midwest; Republicans rule in the Northeast. Interestingly, the color scheme switched numerous times over the last hundred years and did not formally become Democrat=Blue, Republican=Red until the 2000 election cycle.

For more fascinating details of our electoral maps, past and present, check out this article by Lazaro Gamio, over at the Washington Post.

Image: Plate 11 from Scribner’s Statistical Atlas of the United States, published in 1883. Courtesy: Library of Congress. Public Domain.

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Fear the First 100 Days

Imagine, in your rosy colored dreams or your darkest nightmares, what the first one hundred days of a Republican presidency would look like.

Actually, you don’t need to do much imagining since you can for the most part piece together what would become of the United States based on the daily flow of Trumpian vulgarities, bigotry, hypocrisy, contempt and other dangerously ignorant, poisonous nonsense and complete bullshit from the depraved, despotic, shameless, shallow, deceitful, volatile, puerile, vindictive, noxious, misogynistic, racist, corrupt, thuggish, insensitive, naive, irrational, petulant, authoritarian, vengeful, disgraceful, abusive, irresponsible, narcissistic, vacuous, cowardly, self-aggrandizing, unprincipled, pathologically deranged, completely detached-from-reality (crazy), unapologetically fraudulent, chronically repulsive, thoroughly sleazy and incoherent mind mouth of the “Republican” nominee for President (think about that very carefully for several minutes).

But, that said, Dana Milbank over at the Washington Post reminds us of the stakes, just a couple of days away; he couldn’t have put it more clearly and succinctly:

Among things you can expect: a trade war with China and Mexico, a restarting of Iran’s nuclear program, millions losing their health insurance, the start of mass deportations, a possible military standoff with China in the South China Sea and North Korea, the resumption of waterboarding, the use of federal agencies to go after Hillary Clinton and other Trump critics, the spectacle of the commander in chief suing women who have accused him of sexual misconduct and a constitutional crisis as the president of the United States attempts to disqualify the federal judge in a fraud suit against him because the judge is Latino.

He’s not joking. Read the entire article here.

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Education, Income Inequality and the Great Divide

There’s a commonly held belief that having a greater level of education ensures a higher level of lifetime income. While this is generally true the picture is rather more complex. It’s painfully clear that income inequality is more acute now than it has ever been and the gap between white and black wage earners in the United States is wider than ever. But, perhaps surprisingly, the overall income gap is increasing between well-educated whites and blacks. Why is this the case? A detailed study by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) reminds us that:

Income growth in recent decades has been limited, more or less, to the highest echelon of earners, a group that is overwhelmingly white. Out of every 1,000 households in the top 1 percent, only two are black, while about 910 are white. And so, as economic forces lifted the incomes of the 1 percent, the blacks on lower rungs of the economic ladder have been largely left behind.

So while black Americans with high school diplomas and college degrees may historically be doing better, the predominantly white top 1 percent continues to pull away.

From Washington Post:

We’ve known for a while that black Americans aren’t making economic progressA recent report from the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank, shows that the black-white wage gap is now the widest it has been since 1979. What’s more interesting, though, is how inequality has been increasing, and for whom.

It used to be that low-skilled black workers suffered the greatest disadvantage relative to their white counterparts. But there has been a strange reversal in the past 40 years. EPI finds that the black-white wage gap has become wider — and is widening faster — among those with more education.

This chart illustrates the history of the wage gap among men with less than 10 years of job experience. The early years are the most crucial in a person’s career, and also the most sensitive to fluctuations in the job market.

Read the entire article here.

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One Month to Go!

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On November 8, 2016 citizens of the United States will decide who takes up residence in the Oval Office on the following January. If you remain undecided — which I doubt — please select from any one of the following links or stories or visit this summary page.

Gathered for the first time in one place, I present daily Trumpian #NeverTrump #DumpTrump vulgarities, bigotry, hypocrisy and other dangerously ignorant and poisonous nonsense from the volatile, puerile, vindictive, noxious, misogynistic, racist, insensitive, naive, irrational, petulant, authoritarian, disgraceful, irresponsible, narcissistic, vacuous, cowardly, pathologically deranged, completely detached-from-reality, and chronically repulsive and incoherent mind mouth of the “Republican” nominee for President (think about that very carefully for several minutes).

There is such a goldmine cesspool of material stretching back years, nay decades, that it’s difficult to recommend just a couple of highlights. However, if you’re a connoisseur of such ignorant vulgarities then I would suggest days 31 and 42 for their “jaw-droppingness”.

As we count down to Election Day — a potentially apocalyptic event — I plan to add a daily key “thought” (I use this term loosely) from the increasingly deranged and highly volatile mind of the Republican nominee.

For the sake of historical completeness I’ve also included some of Mr. Trump’s most recent choice vulgarities, bulls**t and other nonsense pre-100 days. I’m not going back more than a couple of years because, quite simply, there’s far too much crass stupidity to cover on one simple web page.

This truly is a gift that keeps on giving — but only up until November 8, 2016, of course.

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MondayMap: State Stereotypes

map-uk-google-stereotype

An interesting map courtesy of Google searches in the UK shows some fascinating stereotypes for each of the US fifty states. It was compiled by taking the most frequent result from Google’s autocomplete function. For instance, type in, “Why is Colorado so…”, and Google automatically fills in the most popular result with “Why is Colorado so fit”.

It’s not entirely scientific but interesting nonetheless. Highlighting just a few: Wisconsin is viewed as drunk; Louisiana as racist; Colorado as fit; and, Nevada as dangerous.

Map: US state stereotypes by British Google users. Courtesy: Independent Media.

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The Banana Republic Nextdoor

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The United States has no problem raking other nations and their leaders over the coals for violating fundamental human rights. We don’t like it when certain countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America trample on democracy, restrict free speech and restrict the ability of citizens to vote.

Yet, North Carolina clearly sees itself as a leading anti-democratic banana republic. Restricting voting rights of huge parts of the population under the guise of non-existent or insignificant voter fraud is nothing more than institutionalized racism.

The state’s leaders should be ashamed — the US Supreme Court seems to agree.

So, the next time you think of visiting a “third-world” nation to experience their “antiquated” governmental practices and their “quaint” discriminatory worldview put North Carolina on your bucket list.

From Washington Post:

The emails to the North Carolina election board seemed routine at the time.

“Is there any way to get a breakdown of the 2008 voter turnout, by race (white and black) and type of vote (early and Election Day)?” a staffer for the state’s Republican-controlled legislature asked in January 2012.

“Is there no category for ‘Hispanic’ voter?” a GOP lawmaker asked in March 2013 after requesting a range of data, including how many voters cast ballots outside their precinct.

And in April 2013, a top aide to the Republican House speaker asked for “a breakdown, by race, of those registered voters in your database that do not have a driver’s license number.”

Months later, the North Carolina legislature passed a law that cut a week of early voting, eliminated out-of-precinct voting and required voters to show specific types of photo ID — restrictions that election board data demonstrated would disproportionately affect African Americans and other minorities.

Critics dubbed it the “monster” law — a sprawling measure that stitched together various voting restrictions being tested in other states. As civil rights groups have sued to block the North Carolina law and others like it around the country, several thousand pages of documents have been produced under court order, revealing the details of how Republicans crafted these measures.

A review of these documents shows that North Carolina GOP leaders launched a meticulous and coordinated effort to deter black voters, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats. The law, created and passed entirely by white legislators, evoked the state’s ugly history of blocking African Americans from voting — practices that had taken a civil rights movement and extensive federal intervention to stop.

Last month, a three-judge federal appeals panel struck down the North Carolina law, calling it “the most restrictive voting law North Carolina has seen since the era of Jim Crow.” Drawing from the emails and other evidence, the 83-page ruling charged that Republican lawmakers had targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.”

Gov. Pat McCrory (R) filed an emergency petition to restore the law, but a deadlocked Supreme Court on Wednesday refused his stay request, meaning the law will not be in effect for the Nov. 8 election. Because the lower court did not offer specific guidelines for reinstating early voting, however, local election boards run by Republicans are still trying to curb access to the polls.

In lengthy interviews, GOP leaders insisted their law is not racially motivated and their goal was to combat voter fraud. They called their opponents demagogues, who are using the specter of racism to inflame the issue.

Read the entire story here.

Image: State seal of North Carolina. Public Domain.

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Murderers or Terrorists and the Real Tragedy

The United States is a wonderful, yet thoroughly paradoxical place. Take the general reactions to gun violence, murder and terrorism, during a two week period in mid-September 2016, for example.

Exhibit A: Ahmad Khan Rahami, a would-be murderer, planted several home-made pipe and pressure cooker bombs in New Jersey and New York on September 17. Result: no deaths, several minor injuries, local property damage. Our news media spun days worth of front page coverage, outrage, analysis, hearsay, opinion, soul-searching. Reason: the perpetrator had a beard, Muslim name and found to have espoused sympathies with radicals.

Exhibit B: Arcan Cetin shot four women and one man at a Macy’s store in Burlington, Washington on September 23. Result: 5 deaths. The rampage in a suburban mall barely made the national headlines, and didn’t last beyond the 24-hour news cycle. Reason: the perpetrator was clean-shaven, had personal problems and found to have no “terrorist” links or sympathies.

Exhibit C: Nathan DeSai, a 46-year-old Texas attorney, went on a shooting spree in Houston on September 26. Result: 9 wounded. This made a minor flutter in the news media and has since disappeared from national consciousness even though he was wearing an antique German uniform with Swastikas.

In 2013, over 16,000 people were murdered in the US, around 11,000 at the hands of someone armed with a gun. In 2015, 475 people were killed in 372 mass shootings. Many of these go completely unreported, aside from a paragraph or two at the local level.

And yet.

And yet, our media and a large number of US citizens fret and decry events at the hands of the “terrorist”, while barely blinking at the daily carnage caused by our domestic, homicidal neighbors. Who are the real terrorists and why have we come to accept so many daily murders — averaging over 40 — as so utterly banal and trivial? Is the politically motivated “international” assassin any more dangerous than the disturbed suburban version? They’re both driven by a distorted worldview and their place in it. Perhaps, they’re not that different after all.

But, more importantly, rather than focusing on a 55 ft wall to deter illusory armies of terrorists it might be more rational to tackle the causes that lead to tens of thousands of our own citizens killing their spouses, families, neighbors, school children, work colleagues, church-goers, drivers, runners and shoppers. We are desensitized to our home-grown “domestic terrorism”. That’s the real tragedy.

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176 Reasons to Vote Against the Bully

I implore you to watch the entire video and (re-)learn why the Republican nominee for President should never be elected. The piece is 17 minutes long — it’s increasingly impossible to distill Trump’s truly deplorable and vulgar bile into anything shorter.

Video: 176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn’t Be President
In the debut episode of his new series, “The Closer with Keith Olbermann,” GQ’s Keith Olbermann tallies the most outrageous of Donald Trump’s offenses in what is now his 15-month assault on American democracy. Courtesy: GQ.

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50 Years Later Texas Moves Backwards (Again)

** FILE **This 1966 file photo shows Charles J. Whitman, a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas, a sniper who killed 16 and wounded 31 from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin, Texas, Aug. 1, 1966. Until the carnage by a student gunman at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007, the sniping rampage by Whitman from the Austin school's landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. (AP Photo, File)
** FILE **This 1966 file photo shows Charles J. Whitman, a 24-year-old student at the University of Texas, a sniper who killed 16 and wounded 31 from the tower of the University of Texas administration building in Austin, Texas, Aug. 1, 1966. Until the carnage by a student gunman at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., on Monday, April 16, 2007, the sniping rampage by Whitman from the Austin school’s landmark 307-foot tower had remained the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. (AP Photo, File)

On August 1, 2016, Texas’ new “Campus Carry” law went into effect. This means that licensed gun holders will generally be allowed to carry concealed handguns at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin and other public colleges throughout Texas.

On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman, a non-brown-skinned, non-Muslim, domestic terrorist killed his wife and mother in their homes, and then went on to murder a further 14 people at the UT Austin campus. Before being shot and killed by an Austin police officer Whitman seriously wounded an additional 32 people.

Ironically and sadly, many believe that Campus Carry will make their university campuses safer. History and real data shows otherwise.

Evidence does show that legally-armed citizens can prevent some crime. But this would make no serious dent in the annual 32,000-plus death toll from guns in the US. Sensible gun control, with thorough and exhaustive background checks, is a more rational answer. The good guy with a gun is a myth — go ask your local police department.

Image: Charles Whitman Source, 1963, Cactus, the student yearbook of the University of Texas. Courtesy: The Austin History Center. Reference AR.2000.002, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library Date: c 1963.

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As Clear As Black and White

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The terrible tragedy that is wrought by guns in the United States continues unabated. And, it’s even more tragic when elements of our police forces fuel the unending violence, more often than not, enabled by racism. The governor of Minnesota Mark Dayton put it quite starkly yesterday, following the fatal shooting of Philando Castile on July 6, 2016, a resident of Falcon Heights, pulled over for a broken tail-light.

Just one day earlier, police officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana shot and killed Alton Sterling.

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And, today we hear that the cycle of mistrust, hatred and deadly violence — courtesy of guns — has come full circle. A racist sniper (or snipers)  apparently targeting and murdering five white police officers in Dallas, Texas on July 7, 2016.

Images: Screenshots courtesy of Washington Post and WSJ, respectively.

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Scary Chart. Scary Times

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A recent report by the US Federal Reserve examines the relative financial health of US households. It makes for very sober reading, highlighting the economic pain suffered by a large swathe of the population.

The report centers around one simple question put to households:

Can you come up with $400 in an emergency (say an unexpected medical bill) and pay for it either in cash or with a credit card whose bill you could pay off within a month?

The answer was jaw-dropping:

For people earning between $40,000 and $100,000 (i.e. not the very poorest), 44 percent said they could not come up with $400 in an emergency.

Even more astonishing, 27 percent of those making more than $100,000 also could not.

The report suggests that this is not poverty. So what on earth is going on?

One thing is clear, and it’s a disturbing message that we keep seeing in many of our neighborhoods and echoed in the media — the great middle-class is declining and income inequality continues to broaden. At the low-end of the economic spectrum, the number of households in or close to poverty is expanding — this, in the richest country in the history of the world. At the high-end, the 1 percent, and especially the richest 0.1 percent, hold an ever greater share of the income and wealth.

Image: Percent of respondents who would completely pay an emergency expense that costs $400 using cash or a credit card
that they pay off at the end of the month (by race/ethnicity and household income). Courtesy: Report on the Economic Well-Being
of U.S. Households in 2014, May 2015. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System.

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Made in America: Apple Pie and AR-15

AR-15 rifleThe United States lays claim to an amazing number of home-grown inventions that shaped history and became iconic reflections of modern American culture.  Thomas Edison’s lightbulb. Eastman’s film camera. Ford’s Model T car. Coca-cola. Big Mac. Microsoft Windows. iPhone. These are just a few of the hundreds of products and services that shaped America.

The horrific mass murder in Orlando, Florida, suggests that another key product should now make the iconic list — the AR-15 and its close imitators (the American mass murderer’s product of choice).

The AR-15 is easier to purchase than a cell phone, costs less than a 60-inch HDTV (around $500-700), and is simpler to use than your TV remote. Most importantly for the next, budding mass-murderer, the AR-15 is devastatingly optimized; with a few legal add-ons it can fire 800-900 rounds per minute. That’s a lot of wonderfully convenient killing.

Can someone pass me the .223 ammo with that whipped cream?

Image: AR-15 rifle. Courtesy: TheAlphaWolf – Derivative work of File:Stag2wi.jpg. Public Domain.

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The Story of the Default Coordinate: 38°N 97°W

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About 40 miles and 40 minutes north-east of Wichita, Kansas lies the small town of Potwin. The 2010 census put the official population of Potwin at 449.

Potwin would be an unremarkable town, situated in the Great Plains surrounded by vast farms and feedlots, if it were not for one unique fact. Potwin is home to a farmhouse with a Lat-Long location of 38°N 97°W.

You see, 38°N 97°W happens to coincide with the coordinates, incorrectly, chosen as the geographical center of the United States by a digital mapping company in 2002. Geographically the official center of the country is 39°50′ N (or 39.8333333), 98°35′ W (or -98.585522), which is a spot in northern Kansas near the Nebraska border.

But, back in 2002, a digital mapping company, called MaxMind, decided to round the actual, unwieldy Lat-Long coordinates to 38.0000, -97.0000. These coordinates would become the default point and de facto center of the United States.

Now, the internet uses a protocol (IP) to allow any device to connect with any other, via a unique IP address. This allows a message or webpage from one device, say a server, to find its way to another device, such as your computer. Every device connected to the internet has a unique IP address. Companies soon realized that having an IP address, in cyberspace, would be much more valuable — for technical maintenance or marketing purposes — if it could be tied to a physical location. So, companies like MaxMind came along to provide the digital mapping and location translation service.

However, for those IP addresses that could not be adequately resolved to a physical address, the company assigned the default coordinate — the center of the United States.

Unfortunately, there are now around 600 million IP addresses that point to this default location, 38°N 97°W, which also happens to be the farmhouse in Potwin.

This becomes rather problematic for the residents of 38°N 97°W because internet scammers, spammers,  cyber-thieves and other digitally-minded criminals typically like to hide their locations, which end up resolving to the default coordinate and the farmhouse in Potwin. As a result, the federal authorities have made quite a habit of visiting this unremarkable farmhouse in Potwin, and the residents now lead far from unremarkable lives.

Read more of this surreal story here.

Image: Potwin, Kansas. Courtesy: Google Maps.

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PhotoMash: A Tale of Two Nations

Photomash-Muslim-vs-anti-Muslim

Today’s (photo-)mashup comes from the front page of The Guardian, May 6, 2016. The kindly editors juxtaposed two stories that show the chasm between two kindred nations: the United States and the United Kingdom.

The first story reminds us that the United States now has a xenophobic, racist, anti-Muslim bully [I would use more suitable words, but my children sometimes read this blog] as its presumptive Republican nominee for President. The second story breaks news that a Muslim was just elected Mayor of London, the capital city.

One of these nations is moving forward; the direction of the other remains perplexing and disturbing.

Image: Screen shot from the Guardian, May 6, 2016.

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Our Childrens Is Not Learning?

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It’s been 155 years since Lincoln took office as the 16th President of the United States. Yet, during this period many of our political leaders and pretenders to the throne have spoken to us in increasingly simplistic language.

In 2000 then President George W. Bush commenting on educational programs remarked, “What’s not fine is rarely is the question asked, are, is our children learning?” Since then it seems that many of our children and adults have indeed not been learning. This despite the growing complexity of our local and global politics.

Thus, the relentless march towards ever-increasing “dumbed-down-ness” brings me to the current election cycle. Could there be any better place to look? A research study out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Language Technologies Institute assessed the reading level of current and recent presidential campaign speeches.

The candidate with the lowest overall readability score — vocabulary and grammar — is Donald Trump. His grammar compares to that used by children aged 11 and under. Researchers also looked back at speeches by past Presidents and found that the language of Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan was almost twice as advanced. George W. Bush fared the worst on grammar alone — his so-called Bushisms are the stuff of books and folklore — but his vocabulary scored significantly higher than Donald Trump. More recently, President Obama, and Senators Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders showed the highest overall readability scores.

I have to assume that the current Republican frontrunner will spin the news of his appalling linguistic (dis-)abilities in his own inimitable way — after all, 4th grade language skills will reach a significantly larger proportion of the US population, albeit mostly non-voting age, than that of his more cerebral and elitist opponents.

Check out the entire report, “A Readability Analysis of Campaign Speeches from the 2016 US Presidential Campaign“. Read more, here.

Image: Readability levels of campaign speeches. Snapshot from report, A Readability Analysis of Campaign Speeches from the 2016 US Presidential Campaign.

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MondayMap: Internet Racism

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Darkest blue and light blue respectively indicate much less and less racist areas than the national average. The darkest red indicates the most racist zones.

No surprise: the areas with the highest number of racists are in the South and the rural Northeastern United States. Head west of Texas and you’ll find fewer and fewer pockets of racists. Further, and perhaps not surprisingly, the greater the degree of n-word usage the higher is the rate of black mortality.

Sadly, this map is not of 18th or 19th century America, it’s from a recent study, April 2015, posted on Public Library of Science (PLOS) ONE.

Now keep in mind that the map highlights racism through tracking of pejorative search terms such as the n-word, and doesn’t count actual people, and it’s a geographic generalization. Nonetheless it’s a stark reminder that we seem to be two nations divided by the mighty Mississippi River and we still have a very long way to go before we are all “westerners”.

From Washington Post:

Where do America’s most racist people live? “The rural Northeast and South,” suggests a new study just published in PLOS ONE.

The paper introduces a novel but makes-tons-of-sense-when-you-think-about-it method for measuring the incidence of racist attitudes: Google search data. The methodology comes from data scientist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. He’s used it before to measure the effect of racist attitudes on Barack Obama’s electoral prospects.

“Google data, evidence suggests, are unlikely to suffer from major social censoring,” Stephens-Davidowitz wrote in a previous paper. “Google searchers are online and likely alone, both of which make it easier to express socially taboo thoughts. Individuals, indeed, note that they are unusually forthcoming with Google.” He also notes that the Google measure correlates strongly with other standard measures social science researchers have used to study racist attitudes.

This is important, because racism is a notoriously tricky thing to measure. Traditional survey methods don’t really work — if you flat-out ask someone if they’re racist, they will simply tell you no. That’s partly because most racism in society today operates at the subconscious level, or gets vented anonymously online.

For the PLOS ONE paper, researchers looked at searches containing the N-word. People search frequently for it, roughly as often as searches for  “migraine(s),” “economist,” “sweater,” “Daily Show,” and “Lakers.” (The authors attempted to control for variants of the N-word not necessarily intended as pejoratives, excluding the “a” version of the word that analysis revealed was often used “in different contexts compared to searches of the term ending in ‘-er’.”)

Read the entire article here.

Image: Association between an Internet-Based Measure of Area Racism and Black Mortality. Courtesy of Washington Post / PLOS (Public Library of Science) ONE.

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The Increasing Mortality of White Males

This is the type of story that you might not normally, and certainly should not, associate with the world’s richest country. In a reversal of a long-established trend, death rates are increasing for less educated, white males. The good news is that death rates continue to fall for other demographic and racial groups, especially Hispanics and African Americans. So, what is happening to white males?

From the NYT:

It’s disturbing and puzzling news: Death rates are rising for white, less-educated Americans. The economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton reported in December that rates have been climbing since 1999 for non-Hispanic whites age 45 to 54, with the largest increase occurring among the least educated. An analysis of death certificates by The New York Times found similar trends and showed that the rise may extend to white women.

Both studies attributed the higher death rates to increases in poisonings and chronic liver disease, which mainly reflect drug overdoses and alcohol abuse, and to suicides. In contrast, death rates fell overall for blacks and Hispanics.

Why are whites overdosing or drinking themselves to death at higher rates than African-Americans and Hispanics in similar circumstances? Some observers have suggested that higher rates of chronic opioid prescriptions could be involved, along with whites’ greater pessimism about their finances.

Yet I’d like to propose a different answer: what social scientists call reference group theory. The term “reference group” was pioneered by the social psychologist Herbert H. Hyman in 1942, and the theory was developed by the Columbia sociologist Robert K. Merton in the 1950s. It tells us that to comprehend how people think and behave, it’s important to understand the standards to which they compare themselves.

How is your life going? For most of us, the answer to that question means comparing our lives to the lives our parents were able to lead. As children and adolescents, we closely observed our parents. They were our first reference group.

And here is one solution to the death-rate conundrum: It’s likely that many non-college-educated whites are comparing themselves to a generation that had more opportunities than they have, whereas many blacks and Hispanics are comparing themselves to a generation that had fewer opportunities.

Read the entire article here.

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Election 2016 QVC Infomercial

The 2016 US presidential election cycle just entered the realm of total absurdity.

Not content with puerile vulgarity, hate-speech, 4th-grade “best words” and policy-less demagoguery, current  frontrunner for the Republican nomination was hawking his fake steaks, bottled water, vodka and wine at his March 8, 2016 press conference…

trump-infomercial-8Mar2016

Image courtesy of Jared Wyand / Independent News.

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A (Word) Cloud From the (Tweet) Storm of a Demagogue

trump-wordcloud-26Feb2016

It’s impossible to ignore the thoroughly shameful behavior of the current crop of politicians and non-politicians running in this year’s U.S clown car race presidential election. The vicious tripe that flows from the mouths of these people is certainly attention-grabbing. But while it may have been titillating at first, the discourse — in very loose terms — has now taken a deeply disgusting and dangerous turn.

Just take the foul-mouthed tweets of current front runner for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump.

Since he entered the race his penchant for bullying and demagoguery has taken center stage; no mention of any policy proposals, rational or otherwise; just a filthy mouth spouting hatred, bigotry, fear, shame and intimidation in a constant 140-character storm of drivel.

So I couldn’t resist taking all his recent tweets and creating a wordcloud from his stream of anger and nonsense. His favorite “policy” statements to date: wall, dumb, failing, dopey, dope, worst, dishonest, failed, bad, sad, boring. I must say it is truly astonishing to see this person attack another for being: hater, liar, dishonest, racist, sexist, dumb, total hypocrite!

Wordcloud generated using Wordclouds.com.

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Please Laugh While You Can

Rationality requires us to laugh at the current state of the U.S. political “conversation” as Jonathan Jones so rightly reminds us. I say “conversation” in quotes because it’s no longer a dialog, not even a heated debate or argument. Politicians have replaced rational dialog and disagreement over policy with hate-speech, fear-mongering, bullying, venom, bigotry and character assassination. And, it’s all to the detriment of our democracy.

Those of us who crave a well-reasoned discussion about substantive issues and direction for our country have to gasp with utter incredulity — and then we must laugh.

From Jonathan Jones over at the Guardian:

When a man hoping to be president of the United States can sum up his own country with a photograph of a monogrammed gun and the single-word caption “America”, it may be time for the rest of the world to worry.

Instead they are laughing. Since the Republican nomination hopeful (although not very hopeful) Jeb Bush tweeted a picture of his handgun he has been mocked around the world with images that comically replace that violent symbol with the gentler images that sum up less trigger-happy places – a cup of tea for the UK, a bike for the Netherlands, a curry for Bradford.

The joke’s a bit thin, because what is currently happening in US politics is only funny if you are an alien watching from a spaceship and the fate of the entire planet is just one big laugh to you. For what is Bush trying to achieve with this picture? He’s trying to appeal to the rage and irrationality that have made Donald Trump’s bombastical assault on the White House look increasingly plausible while Bush languishes, a conventional politician swamped by unconventional times.

The centre cannot hold, WB Yeats wrote nearly a century ago, and this photograph shows exactly how off centre things are getting. When Jeb Bush – brother of one warmongering president, son of another, and a governor who sanctioned 21 executions during his tenure in Florida – embodies the centre ground, you know things have got strange. Compared with the strongman politics, explicit bigotry and perversion that a Trump presidency threatens, mere conservatism would be sweet sanity.

But this photograph reveals that that is not on offer. America, says Bush’s Twitter account, is a gun with your name on it. The candidate has his name inscribed on his weapon – Gov Jeb Bush, it says on the barrel. This man is a gun. He’s primed and loaded. You think Trump talks tough? Well, talk is cheap. “Speak softly, and carry a big stick,” said Theodore Roosevelt. Bush has got this gun, see, and he knows how to use it.

Read the entire article here.

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MondayMap: Search by State

This treasure of a map shows the most popular Google search terms by state in 2015.

Google-search-by-state-2015

The vastly different searches show how the United States really is a collection of very diverse and loosely federated communities. The US may be a great melting pot, but down at the state level its residents seem to care about very different things.

For instance, while Floridians favorite search was “concealed weapons permit“, residents of Mississippi went rather dubiously for “Ashley Madison“, and Oklahoma’s top search was “Caitlyn Jenner“. Kudos to my home state, residents there put aside politics, reality TV, guns and other inanities by searching most for “water on mars“. Similarly, citizens of New Mexico looked far beyond their borders by searching most for “Pluto“.

And, I have to scratch my head over why New York State cares more about “Charlie Sheen HIV” and Kentucky prefers “Dusty Rhodes” over Washington State’s search for “Leonard Nimoy”.

The map was put together by the kind people at Estately. You can read more fascinating state-by-state search rankings here.

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Clowns, Ducks and Dancing Girls

OK, OK. I’ve had to break my own rule (again). You know, the one that states that I’m not supposed to write about politics. The subject is far too divisive, I’m told. However, as a US-based, Brit and hence a somewhat removed observer — though I can actually vote — I cannot stay on the sidelines.

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For US politics and its never-ending election season is a process that must be observed, studied, dissected and savored. After all, it’s not really politics — it’s a hysterically entertaining reality TV show complete with dancing girls, duck hunting, character assassination, clowns, demagogues, guns, hypocrisy, plaid shirts, lies and so much more. Best of all, there are no policies or substantive ideas of any kind; just pure entertainment. Netflix should buy the exclusive rights!

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Image, top: Phil Robertson, star of the Duck Dynasty reality TV show, says Cruz is the man for the job because he is godly, loves America, and is willing to kill a duck to make gumbo soup. Courtesy of the Guardian.

Image, bottom, Political rally for Donald Trump featuring gyrating dancing girls and warnings to the “enemy”. Courtesy of Fox News.

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The US and the UK: A Stark Difference

Terrorism-US-3Dec2015Within the space of a few days we’ve witnessed two more acts of atrocious violence and murder. One in San Bernardino, California, the other in London, England.

In California 14 innocent people lost there lives and, by some accounts, 21 people were injured, and of course many hundreds of police officers and first-responders put their lives at risk in searching for and confronting the murderers.

In London, 3 people were injured, one seriously by an attacker on the London Underground (subway).Terrorism-UK-6Dec2015

 

Label these attacks acts of terrorism; acts of deranged minds. But, whether driven by warped ideologies or mental health issues the murder and violence in California and London shows one very stark difference.

Guns. Lots of guns.

The attackers in California were armed to the teeth: handguns, semi-automatic weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The attacker in London was wielding a knife. You see, terrorism, violent radicalism and mental health problems exist — much to the same extent — in both the US and UK (and across the globe for that matter). But more often than not the outcome will be rather different — that is, more bloody and deadly — in the US because of access to weapons that conveniently facilitate mass murder.

And, sadly until a significant proportion of the US population comes to terms with this fact, rather than hiding behind a distorted interpretation of the 2nd Amendment, the carnage and mass murder — in the US — will continue.

 

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Monarchy: Bad. Corporations and Oligarchs: Good

Google-search-GOP-candidates

The Founders of the United States had an inkling that federated democracy could not belong to all the people — hence they inserted the Electoral College. Yet they tried hard to design a system that improved upon the unjust, corruptness of hereditary power. But while they understood the dangers of autocratic British monarchy, they utterly failed to understand the role of corporations and vast sums of money in delivering much the same experience a couple of centuries later.

Ironically enough, all of Europe’s monarchies have given way to parliamentary democracies which are less likely to be ruled or controlled through financial puppeteering. In the United States, on the other hand, the once shining beacon of democracy is firmly in the grip of corporations, political action committees (PAC) and a handful of oligarchs awash in money, and lots of it. They control the discourse. They filter the news. They vet and anoint candidates; and destroy their foes. They shape and make policy. They lobby and “pay” lawmakers. They buy and aggregate votes. They now define and run the system.

But, of course, our corporations and billionaires are not hereditary aristocrats — they’re ordinary people with our interests at heart — according to the U.S. Supreme Court. So, all must be perfect and good, especially for those who subscribe to the constructionist view of the US Constitution.

From the Guardian:

To watch American politics today is to watch money speaking. The 2016 US elections will almost certainly be the most expensive in recent history, with total campaign expenditure exceeding the estimated $7bn (£4.6bn) splurged on the 2012 presidential and congressional contests. Donald Trump is at once the personification of this and the exception that proves the rule because – as he keeps trumpeting – at least it’s his own money. Everyone else depends on other people’s, most of it now channelled through outside groups such as “Super PACs” – political action committees – which are allowed to raise unlimited amounts from individuals and corporations.

The sums involved dwarf those in any other mature democracy. Already, during the first half of 2015, $400m has been raised, although the elections are not till next autumn. Spending on television advertising is currently projected to reach $4.4bn over the whole campaign. For comparison, all candidates and parties in Britain’s 2010 election spent less than £46m. In Canada’s recent general election the law allowed parties to lay out a maximum of about C$25m (£12.5m) for the first 37 days of an election campaign, plus an extra C$685,185 (to be precise) for each subsequent day.

Rejecting a challenge to such campaign finance regulation back in 2004, the Canadian supreme court argued that “individuals should have an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process”, and that “wealth is the main obstacle to equal participation”. “Where those having access to the most resources monopolise the election discourse,” it explained, “their opponents will be deprived of a reasonable opportunity to speak and be heard.”

The US supreme court has taken a very different view. In its 2010 Citizens United judgment it said, in effect, that money has a right to speak. Specifically, it affirmed that a “prohibition on corporate independent expenditures is … a ban on speech”. As the legal scholar Robert Post writes, in a persuasive demolition of the court’s reasoning, “this passage flatly equates the first amendment rights of ordinary commercial corporations with those of natural persons”. (Or, as the former presidential candidate Mitt Romney put it in response to a heckler: “Corporations are people, my friend,”)

In a book entitled Citizens Divided, Post demonstrates how the Citizens United judgment misunderstands the spirit and deeper purpose of the first amendment: for people to be best equipped to govern themselves they need not just the freedom of political speech, but also the “representative integrity” of the electoral process.

Of course, an outsize role for money in US politics is nothing new. Henry George, one of the most popular political economists of his day, wrote in 1883 that “popular government must be a sham and a fraud” so long as “elections are to be gained by the use of money, and cannot be gained without it”. Whether today’s elections are so easily to be gained by the use of money is doubtful, when so much of it is sloshing about behind so many candidates, but does anyone doubt the “cannot be gained without it”?

Money may have been shaping US politics for some time, but what is new is the scale and unconstrained character of the spending, since the 2010 Citizens United decision and the Super PACs that it (and a subsequent case in a lower court) enabled. Figures from the Center for Responsive Politics show outside spending in presidential campaign years rising significantly in 2004 and 2008 but then nearly trebling in 2012 – and, current trends suggest, we ain’t seen nothing yet.

The American political historian Doris Kearns Godwin argues that the proliferation of Republican presidential candidates, so many that they won’t even fit on the stage for one television debate, is at least partly a result of the ease with which wealthy individuals and businesses can take a punt on their own man – or Carly Fiorina. A New York Times analysis found that around 130 families and their businesses accounted for more than half the money raised by Republican candidates and their Super PACs up to the middle of this year. (Things aren’t much better on the Democrat side.) And Godwin urges her fellow citizens to “fight for an amendment to undo Citizens United”.

The Harvard law professor and internet guru Larry Lessig has gone a step further, himself standing for president on the single issue of cleaning up US politics, with a draft citizen equality act covering voter registration, gerrymandering, changing the voting system and reforming campaign finance. That modest goal achieved, he will resign and hand over the reins to his vice-president. Earlier this year he said he would proceed if he managed to crowdfund more than $1m, which he has done. Not peanuts for you or me, but Jeb Bush’s Super PAC, Right to Rise, is planning to spend $37m on television ads before the end of February next year. So one of the problems of the campaign for campaign finance reform is … how to finance its campaign.

Read the entire story here.

Image courtesy of Google Search.

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Just Another Ordinary Day

A headline from December 2, 2015. This one courtesy of the Washington Post, says it all.

mass-shooting-headline-2Dec2015

How many US citizens will be murdered using a gun this year? 32,000? 33,000?

At some point we — the US citizens — will become the refugees from this incessant and senseless slaughter. And, our so-called leaders will continue to cower and fiddle, and abrogate one of the most fundamental responsibilities of government — to keep citizens safe.

Politicians who refuse to address this issue with meaningful background checks, meaningful control of assault weapons, meaningful research into gun violence, should be thoroughly ashamed. They do disservice to the public, but especially to the police and other first-responders who have to place themselves between us and the constant hail of gunfire.

 

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