Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tell Tale Charts

Colin Gordon, a professor at the University of Iowa, wrote a book called Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City, which I wrote about in St. Louis Magazine.

Now Gordon has put together a series of remarkably illuminating short films about the American economy. About three minutes long apiece, they're narrated graphs that illustrate basic facts and trends related to topics like the minimum wage, Social Secuirty, and the current recession.

They're well worth checking out. You can watch them here.

Monday, September 5, 2011


Today I've been gobbling up Randall Kennedy's book The Persistence of the Color Line: Racial Politics and the Obama Presidency. Among many great insights, this statistical point, made in a footnote and drawn from Nate Silver's blog FiveThirtyEight, struck me as particularly startling:

In 1980, nearly 98 percent of Ronald Reagan's voters were white. In 2000, 91 percent of George W. Bush's voters were white. In 2008, 89 percent of John McCain's voters were white.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

I'll Fly Away

In honor of last night's fantastic Gillian Welch show—which featured an electrical malfunction (the lights and A/C at the Pageant both proved unreliable), a wardrobe malfunction (one of the straps of Gillian's dress apparently failed, causing her to disappear off stage for a while, leaving David Rawlings to entertain the crowd with a solo version of "Big Rock Candy Mountain"), and a lyrics malfunction (Rawlings momentarily blanked on the words of the eighth or ninth verse of "Sweet Tooth" before bringing the song to a rollicking close)—here's Alec Wilkinson on the guitar playing of Rawlings, from Wilkinson's 2004 New Yorker profile of the band:

Rawlings is a strikingly inventive guitarist. His solos often feature daring melodic leaps. He uses passing tones as signal elements of a solo rather than relying on them merely to bridge chord changes, and there is an obstinate, near-vagrant quality of chromatic drifting to his playing--of his proceeding with harmonic ideas at a different pace and perhaps even in a different direction from the song's changes. He uses double and triple stops and open strings for dramatic effect. Often, he leaves an open string ringing as a drone against which he plays a note that conflicts with the chord the drone refers to. He likes to go as far out on a limb as he can before figuring out how to get back. In Carrboro, he played a solo that seemed as if it were going to skid right off the pavement and recovered itself only at the very last moment. The crowd applauded the simple audacity, and a woman beside me, clearly familiar with his playing, began laughing and shaking her head. "Of course he ends it there," she said to her companion. "Why wouldn't he?" In the dressing room afterward, I asked Rawlings how he would describe his playing, and he said that he simply has a fondness for certain notes and he finds ways to play them. When I asked which notes they were, he shrugged and said, "The ghostly ones."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Remnick on Obama

It's been a long time since I've last posted, but what better way to get back into it than with an excellent Fraction from David Remnick, from his fine piece on Libya, Obama, and "leading from behind":

The trouble with so much of the conservative critique of Obama’s foreign policy is that it cares less about outcomes than about the assertion of America’s power and the affirmation of its glory. In the case of Libya, Obama led from a place of no glory, and, in the eyes of his critics, no results could ever vindicate such a strategy. Yet a calculated modesty can augment a nation’s true influence. Obama would not be the first statesman to realize that it can be easier to win if you don’t need to trumpet your victory.