Natives 100, Red Skins 0

From today’s New York Times:

For years, the N.F.L. and the Washington Redskins have defended the team’s name by claiming that it is a sign of honor and bravery, not a slur. When critics disagreed, the team pointed to a survey showing that a majority of Native Americans supported the name.

Making that defense may become harder. On Wednesday, a division of the federal government ruled that the Redskins name was disparaging. The team was stripped of federal protections for six of its trademarks.

That reminded me of something I’d written in a book (Branded for Life, now out of print). Slightly updated, here’s the relevant excerpt:

One of the ten cutest kids in a May, 2014 story about Indian pow-wows. For more up-to-date news about native Americans, click on the image.

One of the ten cutest kids in a May, 2014 story about Indian pow-wows. For more up-to-date news about native Americans, click on the image.

“Have You Ever Seen A Real Indian?”

That line was the basis of a public education campaign whose advertisements appeared in Rolling Stone, and several other magazines. The campaign promoted the American Indian College Fund.

What traits do you associate with today’s Native Americans? What do you know about them? If you met one, what questions would you ask? Would you ask about casinos, or alcoholism, poverty or living on reservations, the environment or restitution, or maybe the Crazy Horse monument? Maybe (then) new museum in Washington, D.C.? Maybe you’d discuss a book you had read about Indians, maybe a movie like Dances with Wolves?

Despite our newfound social awareness, we’re still struggling with the problem of Indians, or Native Americans. Neither label is okay: Indian was the result of mistaken identity (explorers believed were in India, not the New World), and American is a variation on the name of European explorer Amerigo Vespucci, whose maps helped to remove millions of native people from their homeland.

Children still sing “Ten Little Indians” and still play “cowboys and Indians.” Amos n’ Andy episodes are no longer shown on TV, there’s no such ban cinematic representations of Indians: bloodthirsty, lawless savage, tragic, inevitable, lazy, shiftless, drunk, oil rich, illiterate, educated half-breed, unable to live in either White or Indian world. We continue to envision the American Indian as noble hero, stoic, unemotional, first conservationist.

You can still buy a Jeep Cherokee (imagine buying a Chrysler Jew or a Ford Puerto Rican!), or a Pontiac, or travel in style in a Winnebago. You can buy a t-shirt with a grinning Cleveland Indian, or chew Red Man tobacco, or delight in the natural purity of Land O’ Lakes butter, whose Indian Maiden logo recalls the innocence of Hiawatha. The Tomahawk Missile was successfully deployed during the Gulf War. (First time around, I missed the Redskins completely.)

Nearly 30 percent of our native people live below the poverty line. Their numbers are few (4.3 million people, or 1.5% of the population–slightly less than all Americans claiming Norwegian ancestry). They are neither valuable to marketers nor are they powerful forces for change. (Tribal casinos are changing the situation, but not for all).

Today’s thinking. The elimination of Redskins trademarks is an appropriate first step, one that should have been taken decades ago. If I was a marketing executive at the Cleveland Indians, I’d be canceling all vacation plans this summer and instructing every employee of my advertising and marketing agencies to do the same. As this ball gets rolling, there will be a lot of clean-up work to do. Be sure to visit this link to see the HUNDREDS of high school teams whose names and mascots are based upon Braves, Indians, Redskins, Warriors, and more—and the dozens of professional and college teams named for Indians who, with or without their well-intentioned elimination of native warrior imagery who ought to be making alternate plans.

Okay, enough about this all-American misstep. Let’s talk about something far more important—the real lives of native peoples living in America today. Not in a museum, not in history books, but in contemporary 21st Century America. One powerful way to understand contemporary Indian life is to read the news and feature stories about their nation within a nation. Visit The Only Recognized National Media Platform Serving Indian Country

Indian Country Today Media Network, LLC is an internationally-recognized multimedia platform, solely-owned by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York, comprised of IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com, a full-service website with mobile optimization, breaking news alerts and This Week from Indian Country Today, a weekly subscription-based e-newsletter. Both deliver in-depth coverage of Native American News, world news, politics, business, gaming, finance, economic development, environmental issues, education, arts & entertainment, Native American culture, pow wows, health & wellness, travel, genealogy, First Nations of Canada, sports, and veterans’ issues. In addition to up-to-the-minute reporting by its team of national correspondents, IndianCountryTodayMediaNetwork.com offers comprehensive listings of pow wows, scholarships, internships, tribal colleges, health tips, veterans’ resources, and job opportunities. It is augmented by a thriving social network, and Datecatcher, the first Native American Dating site powered by and partnered with Match.com

 

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The News About The News

the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Germany license. Attribution: Kai Mörk

News coverage of a press conference, not a TV camera in sight. But most people still get their news from their TV sets. Attribution: Kai Mörk. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Germany license.

During the past twenty years, each of the network’s evening newscasts have lost half of their viewers. These days, about 18 million Americans—that’s 18 million out of 240 million American adults—watch the nightly network news on ABC, CBS or NBC, with another 1 million watching PBS NewsHour. Still, most Americans still get their news by watching local and network television—that number hovers around 60 percent. If online is the second most popular source, it won’t be second for long, and it may have overtaken television in many peoples’ lives. Despite its convenience, radio is on a steadily decline; since 1991, it has lost about half of its role as a news provider. Its decline roughly matches the decline of newspapers, down.

For the most part, we pay for our news by watching and reading advertisements, and clicking on some, too. Advertising accounts for more than 2/3 of financial support for news. The second largest segment? Direct payments from the audience in the form of subscriptions, roughly 1/4 of the pie—the portion of your cable bill that pays for CNN, your subscription to a newspaper, your contribution to NPR or one of its member stations.

In the U.S., the news business is a very substantial: about $64 billion per year. That’s about 1/10 more than Google, which is, of course, just one company. Starbucks is about 1/4 of the size of the U.S. news business, but the global video game industry is about twice the size, so maybe Americans (alone) spend as much money on videogames as they do on news.

About 1/3 of all Americans now watch news video online, and that fraction increases to 1/2 for those in the 18-49 age group, but this is still a very small part of the whole news business—less than 10 percent of revenues, in fact.

Newspapers are changing—essentially eliminating their printing presses, trucks, ink and other 19th century concepts in favor of digital distribution. Among all newspapers, 1/4 to 1/3 of readers are using a digital device regularly, and among the 15 largest newspapers, nearly 1/2 of readers are enjoying their daily or weekly editions on screens, not on paper.

In just six years, Time Magazine and The Economist have lost about half of its newsstand sales—once a common model, picking up the magazine at the newsstand, now seems hopelessly old-fashioned. The New Yorker and The Atlantic have lost only about 1/4 of their newsstand sales. The decline is steady, and probably inevitable, but it’s difficult to explain why certain magazines have lost so much more than others. During the same period, revenues for Fox News Channel have doubled (but both CNN and MSNBC have shown only modest gains). In case you’re curious, it costs about $800 million a year to run Fox News, and about the same amount to run CNN (MSNBC costs less than $300 million.)

Five or six years ago, many journalists panicked because their industry seemed to be disintegrating. Some decided to take action. Since 2008, more than 100 digital nonprofit news outlets have popped up all over the country (in just about every state except Utah, the Dakotas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Utah. The San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, New York City and Boston have been especially well-served. Some are sponsored by universities or nonprofits, some are independent, some are foundation funded. It’s certain a significant trend, albeit a new and fragile ecosystem. Many began with the financial assistance of a startup grant, typically under $100,000, that renewed only some of the time for a second go-round. Still, foundation funding is the principal source of funds for many of these fledgling operations. They deserve our support—especially during the critical early years. Happily, most surveyed felt that they would succeed in the long run through a combination of advertising, sponsorships, live events, individual subscriptions, and other forms of economic support. This an interesting phenomenon, and you can read more about it here.

The biggest change? Digital news sites are now strong enough to hire top journalists from newspapers, and entrepreneurs (Jeff Bezos, Pierre Omidyar) are investing in the future of news gathering and distribution. The good news: this once-doomed industry is again showing signs of life, imagination and energy. As you time permits, I encourage you to fully explore the SPECTACULAR collection of reports that comprise the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project’s State of the News Media 2014 report. It’s all online. Or, download Overview PDF here.

 

 

 

 

 

The Opposite is True

When my car dealer contacted me for a recall, I made an appointment. Then, the weather forecast turned foul, and I needed to find the phone number to reschedule. Quickest way: look up the website. Now, when I visit my usual collection of websites, none of them related to cars or my recall experience, the advertisements promote my car dealer.

Naturally, I don’t perceive this highly-targeted advertising as anything but intrusive. The goodwill and emotional capital that the car dealer has banked with me is now gone. I no longer trust the sites that I visit every day. So we have a perfect lose-lose-lose. The work of a mad scientist that we now accept as perfectly reasonable behavior.

It’s unreasonable, and its growing. One person I know is now receiving telephone calls from websites that he visited. Privacy policies are poorly communicated, and somehow, that’s okay.

I’m fine with a car advertisement, targeted to me, based upon my recent web behavior, BUT ONLY WHEN I APPROVE THIS USE OF MY DATA FOR THIS PURPOSE.

What we need is a change in policy, brought about by well-organized consumer pressure. And if that doesn’t work, what we probably need is new law. That’s not easy to do because laws regarding rights of privacy are difficult to create and even more difficult to enforce.

So what should we do?

First, contact the advertiser and tell them that this practice is bothering you. In many cases, a local advertiser will not completely understand what is happening, why it is happening, how it is impacting their customers and the company’s good name. Most likely, their web advertising is either being controlled by a third party or by an advertising agency. A well-placed email to the owner of the car dealership (in my case) will certainly bring about a colorful internal meeting.

Second, don’t rely upon the Federal government. I just did a Google search (which will, no doubt, result in more unwanted ads) for “consumer protection unwanted web advertisements.” The first result was an FCC page about unwanted faxes (!), and the second was about unwanted telephone calls. So, the Feds have some catching up to do. Instead, handle this by visiting your local state legislator (there’s one whose office is probably in a shopping center not five miles from where you live or work). The first relevant site: number ten on the list, a company called Abine. Theyre based in Boston, backed by serious investors, operated by a credible team, and clear on their role:

Since its launch, Abine has emerged as the online privacy leader. And now that we’re on a roll, we’ve recruited a team committed to giving our users a more private web experience. Our engineers are building the next generation of web tools, our marketing and press teams are advocates for change, and our support and operations staff go beyond service to provide daily advice to those navigating the complexities of online privacy.

Feeling good about what they’ve written on the web is one thing, but the necessary action is to download their app, and for this, one must provide some personal information. Yes, there’s a Better Business Bureau bug at the bottom of the page, and yes, their blog does a fine job in explaining, for example, the latest Target credit card debacle, but at this point, I’m not sure who I ought to trust. When I download their software, will I make the situation worse? Or are they one of the good guys? What if they’re hacked? Does that release a storm of additional refuse throughout the internet, all with their users’ names on it?

Gosh, we have allowed ourselves into a mighty mess. And we continue to feed the monster with more personal data every day, gently forgetting to remind ourselves that the data entered into one site is easy connected to the credit card purchase made two weeks ago, and the EZ-Pass data and the gas station data and the ATM data, and the list goes on. And everything we want to do online, or in an app, requires just a teeny bit more disclosure.

If there is an advertisement on this blog, you’ll have to tell me because, as a writer, I don’t see anything except a word processing screen. And if there is an advertisement that connects your personal web behavior to your reading this website, that makes me part of the problem. Which makes this whole web journalism thing that much more complicated. But we will get nowhere if we just accept the present-day reality, which isn’t good. We do need to change it. And that begins with articles like this one, and with your comments and ideas.

From Abine’s media kit, a comparison chart. It’s fascinating to see the list (left side) of issues to date, and the sheer number of solutions indicated by the green check marks. Clearly, I’m late to this party. But at least I’m here now, and paying attention. (You are, too, but I guess you knew that. Your computer and a dozen other websites certainly do now.)

full_privacy_tool_comparison_chart

Completely Unreasonable

9780262019354Sitting in my big comfortable chair, I feel as though I’ve traveled several million miles since I started reading Noson Yanofsky’s new book, The Outer Limits of Reason. When I measure the distance from the comfy chair in the family room to my bed (where I read several chapters) and to my office (several more), I suppose I walked no more than 100 feet (round trips included). I think I started reading the book on December 30 and I finished it today, January 5—a week, pretty normal for an interesting book. Actual distance traveled, book in hand: 7 days x 1,600,000 miles per day for a total of about 11 million miles. How did I rack up so many miles? While I was sitting in my chair, reading in bed, or listening to music to accompany several chapters in the office, the earth never stopped moving. We tend to forget that part of the travel experience because, well, everything’s relative. We tend to think that we’re pretty much stationary in space, in a fixed position of some kind, but of course, we’re not. This is not new information: we’ve known this to be true for more than a century (thanks to Albert Einstein).

170px-Yogi_Berra_1956Somewhere between Yogi Berra (“half the lies they tell about me aren’t true”) and the goofiness of language (“This sentence is false.”), Professor Yanofsky, of Brooklyn College, runs through thought experiments at the edges of reality and reason. One of my favorites (which may be familiar) is the ship of Theseus, which won many battles and was therefore allowed to linger in the port for hundreds of years. Over time, it began to rot, so the good people began to replace rotten planks with new ones. That way, they figured, the ship would last longer. Reconstruction and restoration were, and remain, common practice, but the ship, and the practice, raise some questions. With each each new plank, a portion of the original ship, rotten though it may have been, disappears. In time, most of the ship is composed of new planks, so it’s reasonable to wonder how much of the old ship still exists. Eventually, the answer may be none at all. Of course, this is about more than decomposing ships. Are you the person that you were a decade or three or more decades ago? Natural processes suggest otherwise: your brain, your blood, so much of each of us is naturally replenished. on a regular basis (doctors and other practitioners may add, delete, or replace more).

Oxford Mathematics Professor Marcus Du Sautoy explains the Monty Hall Problem on YouTube.

Oxford Mathematics Professor Marcus Du Sautoy explains the Monty Hall Problem on YouTube.

Breezing through Zeno (Achilles and the Tortoise), Monty Hall (why you should change your mind when making a deal), and The Traveling Salesman problem (where computer or logical routing becomes an impossibility), Yanofsky pursues progressively more mind-bending stuff. Again, some of this is likely to be familiar if you follow this sort of thing: The Butterfly Effect, which abbreviates “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” (not exactly, but probably, sort-of). There’s quite a bit, well-explained, about the strangeness of quantum mechanics (that is, unlike the observable and more easily measured physical world), also not new anymore.

An internet place to explore tiles and other interesting things to make and do.

Click on the pic to visit an internet place where you can explore tiles, and see what people have been making in extraordinary ways.

I’ve always been taken with tiling problems: the shape of tiles that can fill a large space with only adjacent edges between shapes. Of course, a square is perfect for this sort of thing, and so, too, is a hexagon, but pentagons and circles don’t work at all (you need to fill in the blank spaces with other shapes). I had never seen the Myers shape, an odd solution to this interesting geometric design problem. (Thanks, Noson, whose childhood ponderings probably included palindromes.)

Much has been written about the relationship between mathematics and the universe, and Yanofsky summarizes this situation in terms that I could (mostly) understand. The fascinating essence: how is it that we, mere mortals living on this strange planet that is, mostly, inhospitable to human life (tornadoes, bacteria, extreme climates and attorneys  [his humor]), manage to develop a language based, mostly, upon numbers and calculations that somehow manages to explain so much of how it all works. When mathematics and science fail to explain the natural world, or present conundrums and paradoxes (for the correct plurals of these words, consider this from the Guardian), Yanofsky becomes interested, and offers the right illustrations to begin the conversation. Sometimes, there are formulas (too many, in fact), but I’d suggest that you skip past the Stephen Hawking “dictum that every equation halves the number of readers” and simply do your best to navigate the sections that are mired in equations and symbolic logic; the book can be easily enjoyed without fussing over the likes of p(A^~ C) ≤ p(A^ ~ B) + p(B^ ~ C).

So is all of this mathematical musing without much of a point? Or is he flirting with the true nature of the universe? I suspect he could speak eloquently about the former, but in the end, he may conclude the latter. After carefully defining reason as “the set of processes or methodologies that do not lead to contradictions and falsehoods” (why not “or falsehoods?), he italicizes this important idea: we human beings already live beyond reason. He goes on:

Our minds do not live in a world of stones, carbon-based life forms, and molecules following habitual laws of physics. Rather, we have feelings and emotions that are not dictated by reason and logic. We have a sense of beauty, wonder, ethics, and values that are beyond reason and defy rational explanation…In this sense, every one of us already transcends the bounds of reason.”

So here’s the ultimate paradox. A man spends his career thinking about, and teaching others, about the intersection of mathematics, science and reason, then writes a very good book about the success and failure of that way of thinking, then decides, on the final pages, that the edge of reason has nothing whatsoever to do with mathematics or science. Instead, it’s the soft stuff that defines the edge of reason, the ideas that cannot be quantified or measured. Not now, at least. Maybe someday.

Steve Evans from India and USA. Permission: (Reusing this file: Creative Commons attribution. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Photo by Steve Evans. Permission: (Reusing this file: Creative Commons
attribution. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

The Future: Cities, Not Suburbs, Not Small Towns Either

It makes sense to build dense cities, and use trains to move people out of them for recreation. Cities may be our greatest invention. Apparently, suburbs, are among our worst.

It makes sense to build dense cities, and use trains to move people out of them for recreation. Cities may be our greatest invention. Apparently, suburbs, are among our worst.

Two out of three Americans live in a single-unit building that is not attached to another building. It’s a standalone home. The American Dream is real for so many people, it’s difficult to conceive of a shift in the status quo.

The key concept is “density”—the number of dwelling units per acre. A nice American home is situated on about 1/4 or 1/3 of an acre, even nicer homes are part of acre lots. With that level of density, the only economically viable means of transportation is the car. (Lots of expense, pollution, etc.) To rationalize a bus, we need to up the game to 10-20 dwellings per acre: low-slung apartment buildings. Rail transportation begins to make sense at around 30-40 dwellings per acre, but it really sings when there are 100 or more. How do find enough space for 100 dwellings on a single acre? Don’t think in terms of ground area; instead, think up.

Interesting idea, but that’s not the way America works. Instead of thinking up, we think sprawl. That’s a tough philosophy for the economy and the environment.. At 25 dwellings per acre, the entire population of the world would fit inside the state of Texas.

Density only begins the discussion. Metropolitan areas—including cities and their suburbs—account for 90 percent of the US GDP and 86% of all jobs. The economic output of Chicagoland (city and suburbs) is greater than 42 of the 50 states. But that’s misleading.

coverbigAccording to the authors of Triumph of the City (Professor Edward Glaeser) and A Country of Cities (Noted Architect Vishaan Chakrabarti), dense cities (New York City) are very, very good ideas, and n0n-dense cities (Los Angeles) and the vast majority of suburbs throughout the world are very, very, very bad ideas. Why?

I like Mr. Chakrabati’s analysis of the self-sustaining economy and ecology of Hong Kong—a city-state where all resources are used for the good of the dense city, one that is surrounded by natural surroundings to be enjoyed by all. He contrasts Hong Kong with Los Angeles, which must contribute its considerable revenues to the state of California, and the U.S. government, leaving this metropolitan area with insufficient resources to, well, be all it can be. The same is true for most cities—they generate tremendous value, but they subsidize the far-less-productive suburbs and rural areas.

artbook_2273_30465543In the view of both authors, what we need to do is perfect our invention of the cities not only for our own good, and for the multitude of productive relationships that result from people living and working near one another, but also for the sake of the planet. Currently, in large part due to cars, suburbs, and inefficient systems, earth’s consumption rate is about 1/3 greater than our capacity. Shift to the American consumption rate—based, largely, upon suburban lifestyles—is over five times greater than our capacity. If When some of the developing economies reach the U.S. consumption rate, we’re more or less doomed (authors love to write this kind of stuff). We’ve all read the stories before: more commuting means less happy marriages, greater obesity rates, and (no surprise) a much higher per-capita rate of gun ownership.

Here, it’s easy to understand the growth of cities and the rest of America in terms of red and blue states.  Many of the largest U.S. metropolitan areas are located in blue states: east of the Mississippi River and north of North Carolina, and along the Pacific Ocean. But the U.S. government and the U.S. economy is not built to support cities. That’s why we spend more than twice as much on highways than air and rail travel—both far kinder to the environment, and in the long run, far more efficient. Instead, we support suburban living. We build more roads to more places, and more cars show up to take advantage of lost costly single family homes just that much farther away from the city center. What’s more, for every one taxpayer who takes advantage of the Mortgage Interest Deduction to achieve the American Dream, three do not—simply, Americans subsidize home ownership in a very significant way.

Should we? According to Mr. Chakrabati, the answer is no. Instead, he suggests that we fund a much more robust, livable, safe, easier urban lifestyle by eventually shunting those funds, and a roughly equal amount raised by a $1 increase in the Federal Excise Tax, to generate $3.5 trillion dollars to improve “economic and social prosperity, environmental sustainability, and equalizing real access to the American dream of home (but not necessarily house) ownership.

A special shout-out to Ryan Lovett who filled many pages of A Country of Cities with clear, direct illustrations, diagrams, charts, graphs, and just a few infographics. The result is an extremely appealing combination of a visual book that’s easy / fun / provocative to browse, and the well-c0nsidered arguments presented in detailed text by the author. At first, I simply enjoyed holding and paging through this elegant book. In time, I came to appreciate the reality of Mr. Chakrabati’s vision in terms I could understand: his SHoP is a top architectural firm responsible for Barclay Center, a multi-use arena that will anchor the future of downtown Brooklyn, NY with (you knew this was coming) a very high-density series of structures with massive amounts of homes, offices and retail, plus open areas that make city life that much more livable.

In fact, Barclay Center is walking distance from an earlier version of urban planning success: Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the classy old apartment buildings nearby.

Here’s a look at SHoP’s plans for a high-density development surrounding their Barclay Center area in downtown Brooklyn.

Here’s a look at SHoP’s plans for a high-density development surrounding their Barclay Center area in downtown Brooklyn.

This is provocative stuff. And, happily, it’s best presented in the form of a solid $30 hardcover book from a publisher whose work impresses me more each season: ARTBOOK / D.A.P. / Metropolis Books.

The New Jim Crow

From Ohio State's website: Professor Alexander joined the OSU faculty in 2005. She holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Prior to joining the OSU faculty, she was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic. Professor Alexander has significant experience in the field of civil rights advocacy and litigation. She has litigated civil rights cases in private practice as well as engaged in innovative litigation and advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector. For several years, Professor Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. While an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialized in plaintiff-side class action suits alleging race and gender discrimination. Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

From Ohio State’s website: Professor Alexander joined the OSU faculty in 2005. She holds a joint appointment with the Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. Prior to joining the OSU faculty, she was a member of the Stanford Law School faculty, where she served as Director of the Civil Rights Clinic.
Professor Alexander has significant experience in the field of civil rights advocacy and litigation. She has litigated civil rights cases in private practice as well as engaged in innovative litigation and advocacy efforts in the non-profit sector. For several years, Professor Alexander served as the Director of the Racial Justice Project for the ACLU of Northern California, which spearheaded a national campaign against racial profiling by law enforcement. While an associate at Saperstein, Goldstein, Demchak & Baller, she specialized in plaintiff-side class action suits alleging race and gender discrimination.
Professor Alexander is a graduate of Stanford Law School and Vanderbilt University. Following law school, she clerked for Justice Harry A. Blackmun on the United States Supreme Court, and for Chief Judge Abner Mikva on the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Sometimes, a book is just the thing: a clear explanation running several hundred pages, written by an expert, vetted by other experts, building a powerful case to its logical conclusion. Several years ago, an associate professor at The Ohio State University wrote a book, a history, a manifesto based upon a dangerous idea. Her name is Michelle Alexander and her book, republished a year or so ago with a new forward by Cornel West, is entitled The New Jim Crow. The subtitle just begins to suggest the storyline: “Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.”

Often, when I read a nonfiction book, I dog-ear the parts I want to remember. I’ve dog-eared a third of this book. Here’s part of a dog-eared page, written by an American Bar Association task force and quoted by the author:

[The] offender may be sentences to a term of probation, community service and court costs. Unbeknownst to this offender, and perhaps, any other actor in the sentencing process, as a result of his conviction, he may be ineligible for many federally-funded health and welfare benefits, food stamps, public housing, and federal educational assistance. His driver’s license may be automatically suspended, and he may no longer qualify for certain employment and professional licenses. If he is convicted of another crime, he may be subject to imprisonment as a repeat offender. He will not be permitted to enlist in the military, or possess a firearm, or obtain a federal security clearance. If a citizen, he may lose the right to vote; if not [a citizen], he may become immediately deportable.”

On the surface, this may sound like get-tough-on-crime, perhaps stronger than some would like it to be, maybe not so surprising.

New Jim CrowProfessor Alexander’s point becomes clear when this idea is added:

…the system of incarceration operates with stunning efficiency to sweep people of color off the streets, lock them in cages, and then release them into an inferior second-class status.”

For the most part, she explains, incarceration is not due to violent crimes. Instead, mostly, incarceration is due to relatively small amounts of drugs, often found as a result of policies, rules, laws, and Supreme Court judgments that encourage law enforcement to focus their attention on minority (most often, Black) people, even though drug sales and drug use tend to be about equal among all racial and ethnic groups.

It’s one thing to understand the problem as a social issue. It’s another when you “Imagine you are Erma Faye Stewart, a thirty-one year old, single African American mother of two who was arrested as part of a drug sweep in Hearne, Texas. All but one of the people arrested were African American. After a week in jail, you have no one to care for your two small children and are eager to get home. Your court-appointed attorney urges you to plead guilty to a drug distribution charge, saying the prosecutor has offered probation. You refuse, steadfastly proclaiming your innocence. Finally, after almost a month in jail, you decide to plead guilty so you can return home to your children. Unwilling to risk a trial and years of imprisonment, you are sentenced to ten years probation order ordered to pay $1,000 in fines, as well as court and probation costs. You are now also branded a drug felon. You are no eligible for food stamps; you may be discriminated against in employment; you cannot vote for at least twelve years; and you are about to be evicted from public housing. Once homeless, your children will be taken from you and put in foster care.”

Turns out, the  entire sweep was based upon a lie. Eventually, a judge dismissed all cases against the defendants–except those who pled guilty. “You, however, are still a drug felon, homeless, and desperate to regain custody of your children.”

Sure, we see stories like these all the time, mostly on TV, sometimes in the movies, but their truth, and the reasons behind their truth, are disturbing because we (all of us, that is) must face one of two nasty realities:

(1) We are comfortable with the system that we our society has in place, even though it is often severe and places a very high percentage of Black citizens into the system; or

(2) We are comfortable with the system because American continues to support a racial divide with unequal rights, and severe lifetime punishment for a large number of people who live in the United States.

I suppose most people are only vaguely aware of the issue–that was my excuse–but this book removes that defense. The legal system is ferociously complicated. We must be fair but we must also be safe. You know the arguments, but that’s not much of a starting place to make things right.

One positive step is to bring this important topic to a study group. There is a free study guide available for groups willing to engage. Details below:

Drawing from and expanding on the themes of Michelle Alexander’s acclaimed best-seller, The New Jim Crow, this in-depth guide provides a launching pad for groups wishing to engage in deep, meaningful dialogue about race, racism, and structural inequality in the age of mass incarceration.  The Study Guide and Call to Action spans the entirety of The New Jim Crow, engaging the critical questions of how we managed to create, nearly overnight, a penal system unprecedented in world history, and how that system actually functions — as opposed to the way it is advertised.  This important new resource also challenges us to search for and admit the truth about ourselves, our own biases, stereotypes, and misconceptions, and the many ways in which we might actually be part of the problem.


This is one of several video recordings of Dr. Alexander’s speeches. This one was delivered at the Riverside Church in Manhattan. You can find others on this page.

Never Thought About It That Way Before…

brochure1-mBirthday: August 4, 1961

Statehood: August 21, 1959

The first is the birthdate of the current President of the United States. The second is the date that Hawaii was transformed, by law, from a U.S. Territory to a U.S. State. The two dates are separated by two years, and just about two weeks. If Mr. Obama had been born on, say, August 20, 1959, he could not become  President.

On October 5, 2004, a Yale Law Professor named Akhil Reed Amar testified before the United States Senate. At the time, the Senate was exploring the reasons why, in today’s world, an immigrant was not allowed to become President. Professor Amar knows a great deal about the U.S. Constitution. He points out, “the Founders did exclude…immigrants from the Presidency. But they did so because some at the time feared that a scheming foreign earl or duke might cross the Atlantic with a huge retinue of loyalists and a boatload of European gold, and then try to bully or bribe his way into the Presidency…In a young America, when a fledgling New World democracy was struggling to establish itself alongside an Old World dominated by monarchy and aristocracy, this ban on foreign-born presidents made a lot more sense than it does in the twenty-first century.”

He goes on to explain that seven of the Constitution’s thirty-nine signers were immigrants; that three of the first ten Supreme Court justices were foreign-born; and that similar statistics applied to other key government figures. What’s more, the Constitution was approved by an enormous number of people who were not born here; the same is true of nearly all of the Constitution’s amendments. People who serve on juries, people who vote, people who want to run for Governor of any state…all of these people may be foreign-born. But not the U.S. President.

It took me a bit to get past my emotional responses to Amar’s arguments, but after reading nearly 1,000 pages of his analysis and provocative investigations, my mind is now becoming accustomed to the kind of workout that a law professor can provide.

amar_akhilI started reading Amar’s book, American’s Unwritten Constitution: The Precedents and Principles We Live By last spring, but quickly realized that the book would make a lot more sense if I first read America’s Constitution: A Biography. The first book explains how the Constitution came together, and how its ideas have been interpreted, applied, shifted, calcified, de-calcified, respected, and transformed. The second book is more provocative; it requires the reader to consider his or her place, the decisions that we make within and beside the Constitution, the responsibilities that we accept as, for examples, voters and jurors.

The word juror, for example, is derived from the French and Latin words for “swear.” Not what I would have thought, but then, Amar shines the light on the concept of swearing an oath. What does the oath promise. In essence, we take an oath to use our conscience effectively. That is, we are swearing that we will, to the best of our ability, exercise a reasonable, moral, ethical judgment based upon the information provided to the jury. Which is to say, “when a juror is not told what punishments she is actually voting to inflict, and not told that she has a legal right to just say no and a legal duty to consult her conscience, then the moral foundations of the entire system begin to crumble.”

He goes on–these are long books, best appreciated over an entire summer of quiet nights–“Current practice…all too often instrumentalizes and infantalizes jurors by disrespecting or derailing their moral judgment. When a juror finds a man guilty of having shoplifted a baseball glove and only later finds out from a local newspaper or lawyerly acquaintance that what she really voted for was in the jury room was to send this poor soul to prison for life (and at taxpayer expense), she is apt to feel ill-used–as is the defendant, of course.

I think I’ve dog-eared the bottom corners of perhaps fifty pages–each containing a notable idea that I want to think about, learn more about.

Professor Amar, loose and having a good time as a guest on The Colbert Report last January.

Professor Amar, loose and having a good time as a guest on The Colbert Report last January.

In the second book, much is made about the Northwest Ordinance, a subject I vaguely remember from seventh grade, and perhaps, tenth grade in slightly greater detail. The key idea–and you’ll see why this phrase was so important in a moment–the key phrase in that document was “There shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” No slavery in what would become the states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Amar points out, “(these states) formed the backbone of the Republican Party. Men from these places filled the Union Army at every level, from Grant and Sherman on down. Without these northwesterners, there would have been no President Lincoln, no Civil War victory, and no Abolition Amendment… Residents of this region arrived there from many different places (especially from the free states, of course), and inclined toward a distinctly nationalist worldview. Whereas nineteenth-century Virginians like Robert E. Lee gave pride of place to their home state (which had pre-existed the Union by more than a century…), northwesterners tended to see themselves as Americans first and state residents second. America had chronologically preceded the states they now called home.”

I kept finding myself thinking, “gee, I never thought about it that way.” I suppose that’s why, through all of the details of Supreme Court cases, nuances of amendment wording, minute details about the judicial process, I stuck with it. I have fifteen pages remaining. I will finish my summer’s reading before I fall asleep tonight. This summer, Professor Amar taught me a lot. And based upon the dog-ears, I’m not going to finish with these ideas for a long while.

As it should be.

Amar-Americas_UnwrittenHORIZ

What We Don’t Know About Distracted Driving

DistractedDriverEvery day, about ten American die and about ten more are injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver.

Sending or receiving a text message takes your eyes off the road for an average of just less than five seconds. If you’re driving 55 mph, in 5 seconds, you will drive the length of a football field. (Yikes.)

In 2011, we sent nearly 200 billion (!) text messages, twice the number of texts we sent in 2009. But the number of deaths and injuries remained stable. That made me wonder what we know about digital devices and driver safety.

Preliminary web research uncovered dozens of articles published around 2009-2010, but not much material that was more recent. At the time, there was great concern about the most at-risk groups (mostly, 18-24), and cries for additional research, including scientific research of all sorts. And that got me to thinking.

In theory, I suppose it’s best to drive without any distraction whatsoever. In practice, commuting is often a boring routine, so we listen to the radio, or, if we’re sharing the drive, we chat with another passenger, and if we’re on a long trip, it’s always easier with at least one passenger. Are these distractions positive (keeping the driver alert, awake and interested), helpful (second pair of eyes), or negative (any distraction is a problem)? That’s probably the first question we ought to answer. Inevitably, the answer will include a large grey “it depends” zone–if the other passenger is offering light conversation, it’s not much of a distraction, but an argumentative or boring passenger might add to tension or drowsiness.

Related question: does radio listening affect driver safety? It’s difficult to imagine a long drive without a radio companion. Half of all U.S. radio listening is done in a vehicle. Sirius/XM has built a business by providing a large number of radio program services to truckers and noncommercial drivers. Some radio programs are very engaging–political programs can really raise the level of listener emotion–and it’s fun to turn the radio up loud and sing along to some dreadful 1980s pop tune. How would we measure the level of distraction associated with radio, or CDs, or recorded books? A really good book, presented by a really good actor, can captivate the imagination. On a long drive, that’s heaven. But is it safe? Is a great book with fabulous characters more dangerous than a book with a weak story?

For the moment, let’s put aside the goofy “I probably shouldn’t do this while I am driving” behaviors that include applying makeup, drinking hot coffee, pawing through a grocery bag in the back seat while driving 60 mph, turning around to tell little Timmy to stop pulling little Kimmy’s hair, and all that.

Instead, let’s turn to digital communications devices. And let’s start with the telephone.

First question: is it more dangerous to talk (not dial, not set up a conference call, but just talk) any more distracting or dangerous than talking to a passenger in the seat next to the driver?

Second question: why have manufacturers made it so difficult to talk on the phone in the car? My car has a bluetooth setup so I can talk and listen to phone calls through my car’s sound system. Great idea, but the system doesn’t work because the car manufacturer refuses to update the firmware. BlueAnt offers a portable speaker that attaches to the visor, an adequate solution that should, in this day and age, be built into every automobile. With voice-controlled dialing.

Shifting the focus to the cell phone makers, they should be taken to task for not establishing standards for voice calling, and for not establishing features that make in-car use easy and safe. Simply: every car should include a standardized port in which the place can be safely and securely placed. The port should include power and connectivity to the car’s sound system. There should be NO access to the phone’s keypad while the car is in motion. This requires a superior in-car voice dialing system, either from the phone or from the car’s digital systems. Not a giant technological challenge.

What about email and texting and web surfing and Angry Birds? Not while you’re driving. Not at all. When the car is stopped (stopped = the engine is off), sure. Otherwise, these activities should be unavailable.

Apple MapsOne gotcha: maps. A voice navigation system is helpful, but the map really needs to be available in visual form. Should the driver be looking at that map while driving? Absolutely not. Eyes on the road, please! We’ve become addicted to our GPS systems, but we need to think about this system in a more rational way. Voice systems are probably the answer, but they need to become more reliable. Printed map directions are helpful, but they should not be used while the vehicle is in motion. A heads-up display (map projected on the driver’s windshield) may be a promising solution, but we need more scientific testing to determine whether a driver can both navigate the real world and study a map simultaneously. My brain cannot do both at the same time. I cannot multitask while in motion–I need to stop the car, study the map, try to remember what the map told me, and then drive the car. Some evolution is in store: both for humans interacting with digital maps and digital maps becoming more useful to humans in motion.

What’s missing? Video, for one thing. We’ve been smart enough to keep the video player pointed toward the back seat passengers, but radio control, map navigation, and other kinda-sorta-video is making its way into the driver’s field of view. It won’t be long before on-screen navigation is sponsored, and, here and there, the driver might be exposed to a video commercial. And it’s certainly tempting for McDonald’s to play a commercial around dinner time, especially when a driver is about to pass a McD’s installation.

And what about emergencies? You’re driving 65 mph and you absolutely must call or text somebody RIGHT NOW. I’m trying to imagine a situation. There’s a drunk driver in front of you (oh, no, wait, I think she’s just texting). Your car is heading for a bridge that used to be there but is now a Wile E. Coyote cliff. Stuff happens, and sometimes, you need to make that call. One solution: save the number 9 on your autodial for 9-1-1. Seems to me, the likelihood that you will be in a situation where (a) there is an emergency that requires an in-motion call, (b) that is not the sort of thing where 9-1-1 is the call to make; (c) there is no passenger in the car to make the call; and (d) you cannot pull off the road and stop to make the call is fairly small.

So, where does that leave us? I’d like some answers and I’d like some changes. First the answers:

1. Will the US Department of Transportation please fund annual research and an annual report to the American people about distracted driving. Which distractions are most dangerous (by the numbers)? Which are less so? What are USDOT’s specific recommendations to consumers, and specific agenda items for legislative change (at the Federal or State level) to ensure our safety? If in-motion telephone use is truly unsafe, we should pass legislation and enable enforcement to prevent the use. If in-motion telephone use is safe, but the use of one or two hands to operate these phones while the car is in motion is not safe, then manufacturers should be required to offer a standard solution that always works properly.

2. Will the car manufacturers please take responsibility for reliable, flexible systems for the safe in in-motion use of telephones (not texting and other uses) in cars? I’d like to see an annual report to consumers that addresses release dates for industry-wide standards, and, subsequently, annual upgrades so that every phone works in every vehicle. Yes, we may need some legislative help on this one.

3. Will the phone manufacturers please take responsibility for reliable, flexible systems for the safe in-motion use of telephones (not texting and other uses) in cars? Once again, an annual report should be required by any manufacturer selling telephones in the US.

Changes:

1. As consumers, we should fully understand the product and human safety issues related to phones in moving vehicles. We should demand real answers to these questions from our state and Federal agencies and from our lawmakers–and not just once, because cars and phones and consumer behaviors keep changing. What is and is not safe? We should know.

2. Unless we are certain, or reasonably certain, that hands-free telephone conversations are truly unsafe, more unsafe than, say, listening to the radio or talking to a passenger, both the phone makers and the car makers should be required to provide safe, reliable communications systems in moving vehicles.

3. We should establish reasonable industry review processes for a rapidly-changing digital environment.

Big Data, Bigger Ideas

face pic human face

Every animate and inanimate object on earth will soon be generating data, including our homes, our cars, and yes, even our bodies”— Anthony D. Williams on the back of a big book entitled The Human Face of Big Data

From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated give exabytes of data. Now, we produce five exabytes every two days.” — Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman, Google

The average person today processes more data in a single day than a person in the 1500s did in an entire lifetime.

Big Data is much more than big data. It’s also the ability to extract meaning: to sort through masses of numbers and find the hidden pattern, the unexpected correlation, th surprising connection. That ability is growing at astonishing speed, it won’t be long before Amazon’s ability to dazzle customers by suggesting just the right book will seem as quaint as our ancestors’s amazement at horseless carriages.– Dan Gardner, from the book’s introduction

human face big dataClearly, big data is a massive idea. Let’s see if we can’t break it down, if not by components, then, at least, by illustrations of classes and contexts.

The connection between data collection and pattern recognition is not new. In fact, we know the earliest example, which still exists, in book form, in a small, private Library of Human Imagination in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The book is called Bills of Mortality, and it records the weekly causes of death for London in 1664. This data was used to study the geographic (block-by-block) growth of the plague, and to take measures to prevent its future growth.

Two hundred gigabytes per day may not seem like much data, not in the days when you can buy a terabyte drive from Staples for a hundred bucks or so, but collect that much data day and day out, for a few years, and the warehouse becomes a busy place. That’s what MIT Media Lab’s Seb Roy did to learn how his newborn son learned language. The work was done at home with eleven cameras and fourteen microphones recording the child’s every move, every sound. The recording part of the project is over–their son is now seven years old–but analysis of “unexpected connections between the routines of everyday life and how one child learned his first words” continues as a research project.

On the other end of the age scale, there’s Magic Carpet, now in prototype. The carpet contains sensors and accelerometers. When installed in the home of, say, a senior, the carpet observes, records, and learns the person’s typical routine, which it uses as a baseline for further analysis. Then, “the system checks constantly for sudden (or gradual) abnormalities. If Mom is moving more slowly than usual, or it’s 11 a.m., And her bedroom door still hasn’t opened, the system sends an alert to a family member or physician.”

Often, big data intersects with some sort of mapping project. Camden, New Jersey’s Doctor Jeffrey Brenner “built a map linking hospital claims to patient addresses. He analyzed patterns of data, and the result took him by complete surprise: just one percent of patients, about 1,000 people, accounted for 30 percent of hospital bills because these patients were showing up in the hospital time after time…a microcosm for what’s going on in the whole country (in) emergency room visits and hospital admissions…” Subsequently, he established the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers to help address this “costly dysfunction.” He collected the data, analyzed it, then brought out meaningful change at a local level.

One of the many superb photographs depicting the intersection between human life and technology use. The book was put together by Rick Smolan, an extraordinary photographer, curator and compiler whose past work includes A Day in the The Life of America and other books in that series.

One of the many superb photographs depicting the intersection between human life and technology use. The book was put together by Rick Smolan, an extraordinary photographer, curator and compiler whose past work includes A Day in the The Life of America and other books in that series.

Yes, there’s a very scary dark side. Bad people could turn off 60,000 pacemakers via their Internet connections. A real time, technology enabled 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai killed 172 people and injured 300 more thanks to Blackberries, night vision goggles, satellite phones and other devices.

If you control the code, you control the world. There has not been an operating system or a technology that has not been hacked.

Fortunately, the good guys have tools on their side, too. The $40 million Domain Awareness System in Manhattan includes “an array of 3,000 cameras known as ‘The Ring of Steel” that monitor lower and midtown Manhattan as well as license plate readers, radiation detectors, relevant 911 calls, arrest records, related crimes, and vast files on characteristics such as tattoos, body marks, teeth, and even limps. They can also track a suspicious vehicle through time to the many locations where it has been over previous days and weeks.”

Google’s self-driving car is safer than a human-controlled vehicle because the digital car can access and process far more information more quickly than today’s humans.

By 2020, China will complete Compass/Beidou-2. This advanced navigation system will outperform the current (and decades old) GPS system. Greater precision will be used for public safety (emergency response, for example), commercial use (fishing, automotive), and, inevitably, for far more productive war.

Data can mean the difference between life death when the weather turns ugly. Thousands of lives are saved each year by weather earnings in wealthier countries. Yet thousands of lives are lost in poor ones when monsoons, tornadoes and other storms strike with little public warning, an intensifying threat as the planet warms,,,

If you’ve ever wondered what Amazon’s true business is, or why it uses the name of a gigantic river, the answer is big data. Ultimately, Amazon intends to become a public utility for computing services. Take a careful look at Amazon Prime and you will see a prototype. The streaming side of PBS and Netflix are among the enterprises enabled by Amazon’s big data operations.

For FedEx, “the information about the package is as important as the package itself.”

human face big data movementsWhether its eliminating malaria or making art, text messaging for blood donors or tracking asteroids, the future will be defined by the collection, analysis and use of big data. It will shape our individual knowledge about our own bodies, our children’s growth and our parents’ health, our collective tendencies for public good, safety, and bad behavior. It will be embedded in robots and intelligent systems that may, soon, control aspects of life that we once considered wholly human endeavors. It is a change of epic proportions and yet, most of us are unaware of its importance.

The book, The Human Face of Big Data, along with its related website and app, provide a useful gateway into this brave new world.

Only Half of This Is True

Maybe not now. But soon.

Turns out, facts are like radioactive materials, and, for that matter, like anything that’s not going to last forever.

arbesmanMore or less, this is half-life principle, developed just over 100 years ago by Ernest Rutherford, applies to facts, or, at least, a great many facts. This persuasive argument is set forth by Samuel Arbesman in a new book called The Half-Life of Facts. I especially like the sub-title: “What Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date.” Arbesman is a math professor and a network scientist, and, as you would expect, this is a smart book. The book seems more like a musing than a fully worked-out theory, but I suspect that’s because facts are not easy to tame. Herding facts is like herding cats.

HalfLifeOfFactsLet’s begin with “doubling times”–the amount of time it takes for something (anything) to double in quantity. The number of important discoveries; the number of chemical elements known; the accuracy of scientific instruments–these  double every twenty years.  The number of engineers in the U.S. doubles every ten years. Using measures fully detailed in the book, the doubling time for knowledge in mathematics is 63 years, in geology it’s 46 years. In technology knowledge, half lives are quiet brief: a 10 month doubling for the advance of wireless (measured in bits per second), a 20 month doubling time for gigabytes per consumer dollar. With sufficient data, it’s possible to visualize the trend and to project the future.

So that’s part of the story. Of course, it’s one thing to know something, and it’s another to disseminate that information. As the speed of communication began to exceed the speed of transportation (think: telegraph), transfer of knowledge in real time (or, pretty close to real time) became the standard. But not all communications media is instantaneous. Take, for example, a science textbook written in 1999. The textbook probably required several years of development, so let’s peg the information in, say, 1997. If that textbook is still around (which seems likely), then the information is 16 years old. If it’s a geology text, the text is probably valid, but if it’s an astronomy text, Pluto is still a planet, and there are a lot of other discoveries that are absent. And, there are facts rapidly degrading, some well past their half life.

Trans-Neptune

Although you can click to make the image bigger, Pluto still won’t be a planet…

And, then, of course, there are errors. Sometimes, we think we’ve got it right, but we don’t. Along with the dissemination of facts, our system of knowledge distribution transfers errors with great efficiency. We see this all the time on the internet: a writer picks up old or never-accurate information, and republishes it (perhaps adding some of his or her own noise along the way). An author who should know better gets lazy and picks up the so-called fact without bothering to double check, or, more tragically, manages to find the same inaccurate information in a second source, and has no reason to dispute its accuracy. Wikipedia’s editors see this phenomenon every day: they correct a finicky fact, and then, it’s uncorrected an hour later!

Precision is also an issue. As we gain technical sophistication, we also benefit from more precise measures. The system previously used for measurement degrades over time–it has its own half-life. Often, errors and misleading information are the result.

The author lists some of his own findings. One that is especially disturbing:

The greater the financial and other interests and prejudices in a scientific field, the less likely the research findings are to be true.

And, here’s another that should make you think twice about what you see or hear as news:

The hotter a scientific field (with more scientific teams involved), the less likely the research findings are to be true.

My favorite word in the book is idiolect. It is used to describe the sphere of human behavior that affects the ways each of us sends and receives information, the ways in which we understand and use vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, accent, and other aspects of human communication. A fact may begin one way, but cultural overlays may affect the way the message is sent or received. This, too, exerts an impact on accuracy, precision, and, ultimately, the half-life of facts.

Word usage also enters in the picture. He charts the popularity of the (ridiculous) phrase “very fun” and finds very strong increase beginning in 1980 (the graph begins in 1900, when the term was in use, but was not especially popular).

Time is part of the equation, too. The Long Now Foundation encourages people to think in terms of millennia, not years or centuries. Arbesman wrote a nice essay for WIRED to focus attention not only on big data but on long data as well.

Given all of this, I suspect that the knowledge in the brain of an expert is also subject to the half-life phenomenon. Take Isaac Newton–pretty smart guy in his time–but the year he died, most of England believed that Mary Toft had given birth to sixteen rabbits.

Last week, on CBS Sunday Morning, Lewis Michael Seidman, a Georgetown University professor commented about our strong belief in the power and relevance of the U.S. Constitution (signed 1787, since amended, but not substantially altered):

This is our country. We live in it, and we have a right to the kind of country we want. We would not allow the French or the United Nations to rule us, and neither should we allow people who died over two centuries ago and knew nothing of our country as it exists today.

CBS News Constitution

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