There’s a relatively long tradition, in the field of data visualization, of tracking the way we swear. This makes sense. Not only is it fun to track, but cursing is also conveniently specific as a data set; you’ve got your f-bombs and your double hockey sticks and your bodily functions, and, factoring in their permutations, you’re good to go. Plus, you don’t need much sophisticated sentiment analysis to ensure that your data are accurate: An f-bomb is pretty much an f-bomb, regardless of the contextual subtleties. As a result of all this, we, the public, get treated to sweary heat maps. And more sweary heat maps. And sweary interactive maps. There’s just something about big data and sailor-cursing that complement each other—like peanut butter and mothereffing jelly.
Traditionally, those maps are based on text—on swears that are typed into Facebook or, even more publicly, Twitter. Making a map of the sweariest states requires simply gathering geocoded posts, isolating the swears, and going from there.
Read more. [Image: Marchex]
Americans have a habit of talking about poverty as if it were a deep gulch somewhere at the fringe of the U.S. economy. We imagine a few unfortunate souls fall in forever—but only a few.
The truth, though, is almost the exact opposite, as Washington University in St. Louis professor Mark Rank recently reminded New York Times readers. “Contrary to popular belief,” he wrote over the weekend, “the percentage of the population that directly encounters poverty is exceedingly high.” Between the ages of 25 and 60, Rank has found, almost 40 percent of Americans will live at least one year below the poverty line. Yet over time, most also pull themselves back above of it.
To get a slightly better picture of how poverty tends to touch U.S. lives, I asked Rank for a peak at his most recent figures, which will be published in an upcoming book co-authored with Cornell’s Thomas Hirschl and the University of South Carolina’s Kirk Foster. As in his past work, Rank and his collaborators have analyzed decades of data from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics to find out when Americans are most likely to suffer from poverty and how long they generally remain in it.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
[Image: U.S. Energy Information Association]
Are the American people more suspicious than they once were of moralism in public policy? So Ross Douthat argues in a column about legalized gambling and marijuana. The spread of casinos is driven by states seeking revenue and gaming lobbyists pressing their agenda, whereas weed legalization is driven by activists, “influenced by empathy for the terminally ill, and hastened by public exhaustion with the drug war,” Douthat writes. “But both have been made possible by the same trend in American attitudes: the rise of a live-and-let-live social libertarianism, the weakening influence of both religious conservatism and liberal communitarianism, the growing suspicion of moralism in public policy.”
It’s a plausible theory, but the last line about moralism makes me want to quibble.
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It’s so common to see studies about the United States’s lackluster academic performance compared to other countries, it’s barely newsworthy anymore. The American education system, the story goes, is mediocre. A new report from the National Center for Educational Statistics complicates that picture a bit. It attempts to rank how individual states compare internationally, and ends up showing a wide gap between the highest-performing states and the lowest: Massachusetts does quite well against other countries, while Mississippi, Alabama, and the District of Columbia do poorly.
Read more. [Image: Jeff Pioquinto, SJ/Flickr]
Could Americans really get any angrier at Washington? Even before the recent government shutdown, congressional approval hovered around 10 percent, a minority thought the country was on the right track, and a “throw the bums out” mentality was rampant. Railing against the toxic mess in D.C. has been a winning strategy for politicians from Barack Obama on down for years now.
And yet average Americans say the shutdown was something new. It seeded a different, raw sense of betrayal by politicians; it left them feeling freshly disillusioned, perhaps permanently so.
“Before, I took a lot for granted. I assumed it could never come to this,” said Cathy, a 53-year-old nurse with three children. “Now, I can’t say that with any reassurance whatsoever …. It’s scary.”
Read more. [Image: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
Warning: I am going to vent again. I write this before the final votes on the Senate package, but after the House Republicans careened from one farce to another, and after another ratings agency, Fitch, threatened a U.S. credit downgrade based on the same compelling logic as Standard & Poor’s in 2011—that the real concern is not default but our extraordinary political dysfunction. I thought about yet another column on this process, but realized that it would be both repetitive and untimely. So I will vent about something else.
The costs of the prolonged government shutdown are broad and deep. They are there in national security and homeland security. The tough sanctions we have in place against Iran are not being fully enforced; many of the government employees who monitor violations and ensure the sanctions are in place are furloughed. Support personnel who help on homeland and national security are not there. With National Institutes of Health scientists barred from their labs, the lab animals used in critical medical-research experiments are left to their own devices; those who were in the middle of experiments or trials cannot be monitored, rendering the research useless or setting it back by months. The multiple private businesses tied to tourism at national parks—restaurants, hotels, gift shops, river guides, grocery stores—are devastated. And on and on. The hit on the economy, via less spending, will reduce our next quarter’s economic growth by a noticeable amount, made more noticeable because it is occurring at a time of economic stagnation.
Then there are the human costs.
Read more. [Image: Joshua Roberts]
"If you keep going up and up, the world becomes quite circular and alien. You see the world quite literally as a planet.”
Read more. [Image: Light]
On Wednesday evening, Professor Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center delivered the first in a series of lectures on Edward Snowden, how to conceive of his leaks, and the impact they’re likely to have on the course of world history.
The talk took place at Columbia Law School.
Professor Moglen felt compelled to begin speaking out on these subjects due in part to the radical position being taken by the U.S. and allied governments. As he put it, “We are being told that spying on entire societies is normal.” In order to carry out that spying, the U.S. is employing “procedures of totalitarianism,” he argued.
Those are strong words.
Read more. [Image: Ivan McClellan Photography/Flickr]