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Old Line

Connectography cover illustration
Time to redraw our maps, says global strategist Parag Khanna, author of Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. Not only are Donald Trump's idea of a border wall and his and Bernie Sanders's damning of globalization older than old, Khanna says, but "almost every syllable that you hear in the populist discourse is wrong." The map lines we need to be looking at are not national and local borders but transport and transportation lines, resource lines ~ lines of connection, not separation. And whatever lines are drawn now must take our changing climate and its repercussions into account:

This Is No Tall Tale

It's not that we Americans are shrinking, according to the authors of this book. It's that the citizens of many other countries have caught up to and passed us, height-wise. from

Today's selection -- from American Amnesia Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson. Americans are no longer the tallest people in the world:

"For much of US history, Americans were the tallest people in the world by a large margin. When the thirteen colonies that occupied the Atlantic seaboard broke from the British Empire, adult American men were on average three inches taller than their counterparts in England, and they were almost that much taller than men in the Netherlands, the great economic power before Britain. Revolutionary soldiers looked up to General George Washington, but not, as often assumed, because he was a giant among Lilliputians. David McCullough, in his popular biogra­phy of John Adams, describes Washington as 'nearly a head taller than Adams -- six feet four in his boots, taller than almost anyone of the day.' Those must have been some boots, for Washington was six feet two. At five foot seven, Adams was just an inch below the average for American soldiers and significantly taller than a typical European soldier. Americans were tall because Americans were healthy. 'Poor as they were,' notes the colonial historian William Polk, 'Americans ate and were housed better than Englishmen.' Sickness and premature death were common, of course, especially outside the privileged circle of white men. Still, European visitors like Tocqueville marveled at the fertility of the land and the robustness of its settlers, the relative equality of male citi­zens and the strong civic bonds among them. J. Hector St. John de Creve­coeur wrote in 1782 of the American settler in Letters from an American Farmer, 'Instead of starving he will be fed, instead of being idle he will have employment, and there are riches enough for such men as come over here.'
   "The cause of the American height advantage could not have been income alone. According to most sources, the average resident of the Netherlands or England was richer than colonial Americans but also substantially shorter. Indeed, as the United States matched and then surpassed Europe economically in the nineteenth century, the average height of American men actually fell, recovering back to colonial levels only around the dawn of the twentieth century. These ebbs and flows, which

Words on the Mind

Among the many fascinating things we're finding out about ourselves thanks to MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scans is this: the part of our brain that recognizes words is spread across the outer layer, or cerebral cortex, and both hemispheres. Some areas show more activity regarding specific kinds of words, like clothing, for example, or numbers and measurement, but some words, like "top," pop up in different areas (story, video):

Lemons, Spit, and the Sensitive Soul

You may remember the post about introverts tending to be more upset by grammar and spelling errors than their more outgoing brethren ( I bring it up because a similar underlying tendency is at work in this experiment. Lemons, your saliva, and a simple Q-tip will help you determine (if you don't know for sure already) whether you are, in fact, an introvert or an extrovert. Now, here's where the grammar thing comes in. As introverts tend to be more sensitive to ~ and therefore react more strongly to ~ stimuli in general, their bodies will betray them when the lemon juice hits their taste buds:

20,000 Saints on an Island

All roads do not lead to Bardsey, as it is an island, but it was once known as the Rome of Britain. This, according to the Book of Llandaff, written between 1120 and 1140, which chronicles the early history of the diocese of Llandaff, Wales. It was so called, the Book says, "for its sanctity and dignity, because there were buried therein the bodies of 20,000 holy confessors and martyrs." Which is rather stunning when you think that the island measures one-and-a-half miles by a half mile. The locals ~ all four of them who live there year-round ~ claim that if you dig anywhere on the island, you'll find a body. So what made this windy, rather isolated little island so popular at one time? And for that matter, what makes its current residents and 80 or so summer visitors willing to live there without running water, paved roads, or an electric grid?:

Knock Knock Neoliberalism ...

Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek, two early faces of neoliberalism
There is a political philosophy that, many contend, underlies much of what has impacted our lives over the last couple of decades and few know its name, let alone its definition. "Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power," according to British writer and activist George Monbiot. "It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump." Monbiot reviews its history and offers his assessment of its power and effects:

If Memory Serves

Is it possible that one of the things we find so gratifying about TED talks, besides their content, is the way they're delivered? Every one that I've seen seems to flow so naturally, and there's something very appealing about that. I may not have noticed it consciously, but notice it I did, and now I know what it's all about. TED talker Alexis Madrigal, the Silicon Valley bureau chief of Fusion, leaked the secret. "The strangest thing about TED," he writes, "is not the four-figure price tag or earnest, almost cultish following. It’s that almost everyone on stage has memorized their lines. At most conferences, you get a mix of people reading from PowerPoint decks, using teleprompters, or simply ad-libbing around loose outlines. But not at TED. Here, memory reigns." And that, I think, is what makes the speakers seem so personable, so human to us in the audience. Because they're on autopilot as far as the words are concerned, they're able to notice and connect with their audience. But memorizing their talks benefits them in other ways as well. As Madrigal puts it, "Memorization, I realized, is a place where the mind learns to cope with the body. Consciously, we want to remember something, but that’s not sufficient to embed information in the networks of the brain. We have to earn the memories we want":
   And speaking of memorization, a while back I posted a great little poem used to help English children learn the names and order of their monarchs:
   One thing leads to another, and as the above-referenced poem starts with William the Conqueror, who won the throne in 1066 (remember the Battle of Hastings?), I am reminded of the famous but unfinished Bayeux Tapestry, made in his honor. There is a beautiful animated version of it, and a group of dedicated embroiderers led by an American expat living in England spent a year completing it:

The Widow and the Sea-Monkeys

Just when you thought life couldn't get any weirder comes a tale you couldn't make up if you tried. Long story short, Yolanda Signorelli von Braunhut, the fourth of opera singer Maestro Signorelli's five daughters and one-time bondage-film star, was married to the inventor of Amazing Live Sea-Monkeys (among other things), who died in 2003. A few years later, she licensed out part of the business to Big Time Toys, which she is now suing for breach of contract. Her lawyer is one William Timmons, and a particularly entertaining paragraph in this article describes an afternoon with him: "Our conversation easily swerved off topic and into, say, a debate about Bill Maher’s atheism, or about how 'we are all individuals at the tail end of a universe expressing itself,' or Timmons’s rock band, which plays in the local bars under changing names like Rainbow Bridge and Dreamworld. He likes 'renaissance' rock. 'It’s a convergence — Lennonesque with Hendrix overtones and some Dylan, maybe "dinosauric" at this point,' he told me. 'It’s altruistic, seeking the higher ground instead of just lamenting upon the human condition.' " But believe me when I say that's not the half of it (story, slideshow):

Gaudy (in a good way) Gaudí

Casa Vicens                                                                                                 
There are lots of good reasons to visit Barcelona. Perhaps one of the best is to check out the architectural and decorative splendors of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). Gaudí is probably best known for his Sagrada Familia church (thought by many to have been the inspiration for Simon Rodia's Watts Towers in Los Angeles). But there are private homes and multi-family residences, as well. And next year, Casa Vicens, the architect's first major commission, will open to the public. Completed in 1888, it is, according to the cultural manager of the project, "an essential work for understanding Gaudí's unique architectural language and the development of Art Nouveau in Barcelona":

The Background Front and Center

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Hard to forget the red, white, and blue "Mission Accomplished" banner that formed part of the background for George W. Bush's 2003 speech announcing the end of major combat in Iraq. Earlier, when his administration was making the case for war against that country to the U.N., there was a background deemed so unsuitable it was covered by a velvet curtain: a tapestry version of Pablo Picasso's Guernica. It probably comes as no surprise that politicians' staged photo ops are just that, staged ~ in every way. It therefore behooves us to pay attention to the artwork against which they choose to be photographed:

Down in the Mouth

The dentist may be our new best friend. Heart disease, arthritis, Alzheimer's, cancer ~ all could be linked to oral bacteria. As with most new theories, experts have lined up on both sides of the debate, but a growing number of tests seem to be showing a connection. Oral bacteria, for example ~ and there are many kinds ~ are being found in all sorts of unexpected areas of the body, including the brain:

Just Because: 'Evicted'

"What if the dominant discourse on poverty is just wrong? What if the problem isn’t that poor people have bad morals ... or that they lack the skills and smarts to fit in with our shiny 21st-century economy? What if the problem is that poverty is profitable?" So begins a review of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, by sociologist Matthew Desmond ( It's an intriguing thesis. Evicted follows the stories of eight families and a few individuals, and its argument is that the main thing keeping them and so many others in poverty is rent. And, if that's true, it may explain why Utah's Housing First program for the homeless, which began in 2005, is so successful (, but certainly not why the entire country hasn't followed that state's lead. Anyway, here's how the book begins:


Before the city yielded to winter, as cold and gray as a mechanic's wrench, before Arleen convinced Sherrena Tarver to let her boys move into the Thirteenth Street duplex, the inner city was crackling with life. It was early September and Milwaukee was enjoying an Indian summer. Music rolled into the streets from car speakers as children played on the sidewalk or sold water bottles by the freeway entrance. Grandmothers watched from porch chairs as bare-chested black boys laughingly made their way to the basketball court.
   Sherrena wound her way through the North Side, listening to R&B with her window down. Most middle-class Milwaukeeans zoomed past the inner city on the freeway. Landlords took the side streets, typically not in their Saab or Audi but in their "rent collector," some oil-leaking, rusted-out van or truck that hauled around extension cords, ladders, maybe a loaded pistol, plumbing snakes, toolboxes, a can of Mace, nail guns, and other necessities. Sherrena usually left her lipstick-red Camaro at home and visited tenants in a beige-and-brown 1993 Chevy Suburban with 22-inch rims. The Suburban belonged to Quentin, Sherrena's husband, business partner, and property manager. He used a screwdriver to start it.
   Some white Milwaukeeans still referred to the North Side as "the core," as they did in the 1960s, and if they ventured into it, they saw street after street of sagging duplexes, fading murals, twenty-four-hour day cares, and corner stores with WIC ACCEPTED HERE signs. Once America's eleventh-

A Bachelor By Degree

This falls under the category of Things We Probably Never Wondered About But Are Gratified To Learn. Everyone knows what a bachelor's degree is and how it differs from a master's. It's quite possible, though, that not everyone knows how those terms originated. from

Today's selection -- from Medieval Christianity by Kevin Madigan. Universities were one of the key contributions of the Middle Ages to the advancement of Western civilization. The university as we know it today evolved from guilds or unions. Men studying at universities who reached a middling level of competence were known as "bachelors", since, though they had some ability, it was not enough to support a family:

   "Universities, which evolved from the cathedral schools (particularly those concentrated on the left bank and on the Île-de-France of the Seine in Paris, like that at Notre Dame cathedral), originated in the late eleventh century. By the dawn of the early modern period, three hundred years later, perhaps seventy or eighty universities existed. This remarkable institution had multiplied and spread across Europe. A combination of adventitious factors, such as geographical locus and the specialization of a master or group of masters, resulted in certain cities achieving distinction in certain of the professions. Thus (as noted), for theology, Paris and Oxford were preeminent, as was Bologna for law and Montpellier and Salerno for medicine. These institutions were originally called 'totalities of schol­ars' or 'universities of masters.' Why?

A university class

   "In order to comprehend the academic and economic structure of the medieval university and of the professoriate, we must appreciate some of the features of medieval guilds, to the characteristics of which the new universities and their aca­demic leadership would closely correspond. Medieval guilds were first and fore­most organized, much like unions today, for the common profit of their members. Our term 'university' actually derives from the Latin term for guild (universitas). In the Middle Ages, a 'university' simply meant the totality of something -- in this case, of men organized to protect common economic interests and to treat with political authorities. Thus there were 'universities' of, say, smiths or shoemakers and other makers of goods and those possessing particular skills. Such

One Man's Mud-Brick Paradise

the roof of New Gourna's mosque
It was a happily circuitous route that led me to Hassan Fathy (1900-1989), the Egyptian architect who wrote ~ and constructed ~ Architecture for the Poor and who is considered by many to be one of the first designers of locally sourced, sustainable buildings. A fascinating, multi-talented man, he saw the squalor in which many of his compatriots (and so many of the world's poor) lived and vowed to do something about it. He discovered that the key to creating affordable yet safe and comfortable housing lay in his country's past and in its land. From the peasants, he borrowed his basic building material, the mud brick, and from the ancient Nubians, the concept of domes and vaults. These he expanded from individual houses to an entire village in Luxor, called New Gourna, training local craftsmen in the process. Now uninhabited, the village was added to the World Monuments Watch List of Most Endangered Sites in 2010. "Fathy’s innovative mixed-use plan for New Gourna, the icon of his legacy, remains a powerful and well-preserved element of the village," according to the World Monuments Fund website. "The ideas he engendered and the evolution of this community are relevant to today’s challenges of environmental protection and urban growth" (slideshow):
   Fathy engagingly recounts his own circuitous route in Architecture for the Poor:

Mr. Wang's Canal

Pacific entrance to Panama Canal and expansion                                 KW
There we were, on the deck of a boat rising slowly as water poured into the Miraflores Lock of the Panama Canal, when someone brought up the canal in Nicaragua. What was happening with that one?, we wondered as we looked over at the work being done on the expansion not far from where we floated. And, oddly enough, the answer has come one month later, in the form of stories in both the New York Times and the California Sunday Magazine. The ambitious (of necessity, it would be three times as long as the Panama Canal) project funded by Chinese billionaire Wang Jing broke ground 16 months ago with President Daniel Ortega's blessing, but it could now be (pardon the pun) dead in the water. And that would make environmentalists, among others, very happy (story, link to slideshow): and (story, lots of great photos):

The Big Leak

Arnulfo Franco/AP
First there was Wikileaks, then Edward Snowden's revelations, and now we have the Panama Papers, the leak that puts those two to shame, in terms of the amount of information released. It comes from the Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca and was given by an anonymous source to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which noted in its story that “The data provides rare insights into a world that can only exist in the shadows. It proves how a global industry led by major banks, legal firms, and asset management companies secretly manages the estates of the world’s rich and famous.” Mossack Fonseca is the fourth-largest offshore law firm in the world. One of its main businesses is helping people incorporate companies in places like Switzerland, the British Virgin Islands, and other tax havens. While this practice is associated with hiding assets and therefore is popularly thought of as illegal, it very often isn't. The leaked data relate to more than 200,000 companies, but the interesting part is that it apparently includes individuals like Russia's Vladimir Putin (through circuitous routing) and Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson, the prime minister of Iceland (story, video):
   The story according to Süddeutsche Zeitung: