The 100th Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti

History has not been kind to Haiti. As the world’s first black republic, and the only nation founded by a successful slave revolt, it was regarded with contempt by world powers from the very beginning. From France’s onerous debts, to the U.S.’ repeated interference in domestic affairs, this poor yet proud nation has endured countless threats to sovereignty and prosperity — and little recognition of it.

It would likely surprise most Americans to know that their small Caribbean neighbor, rarely more than a footnote in public consciousness let alone government policy, has been repeatedly invaded, occupied, or otherwise meddled with by the U.S. since the early 20th century. In fact, as the Washington Post reminds us, it was 100 years ago today that President Woodrow Wilson — who had then-recently championed liberal, democratic values, such as self-determination, in Europe initiated an almost two-decade-long occupation of Haiti.

Perhaps to its credit, the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian is pretty candid about America’s longstanding interests in the country, and the true motivations of its intervention. Continue reading

The Richer You Are, The Richer You Think America Is

This recent Washington Post article comes well-timed following yesterday’s post about America’s large and growing child poverty rate. Citing a study published in Psychological Science by Rael Dawtry and Robbie Sutton at the University of Kent, and Chris Sibley at the University of Auckland, it explains how pervasive and entrenched socioeconomic segregation is at the heart of the U.S.’s high and widening inequities.

The wealthy, surrounded by other wealthy people, generally believed the U.S. population was wealthier than it actually is. It’s easy to imagine why they might make this mistake: If you look around you and see few poor people — on the street, in your child’s classroom, at the grocery store — you may think poverty is pretty rare.

The communities we see immediately around us, the authors argue, shape our sense of how rich America is. And those perceptions, in turn, can influence how we feel about government policies for the poor. In this study, wealthier people who overestimated the extent of wealth in the U.S. were also more likely to perceive the economy as fair and more likely to oppose redistribution policies.

This implies that attitudes about programs like welfare aren’t based solely on political ideology or self-interest (if I have a lot of money, I don’t want to be taxed more). They’re also influenced by cues we get from the environment around us. That means that the wealthy don’t just lack information about what it’s like to be poor; they also lack basic information about how pervasive poverty is.

The study’s conclusion sum up how and why the U.S. can continue to tolerate unjustifiably high levels of poverty, indebtedness, and hunger despite so much economic growth and potential; and also how mounting evidence of the worsening state of the country do not put a stop to opposition to better wages (whether privately or legally mandated), more investment in infrastructure and education, more affordable housing and healthcare, and so on.

These results suggest that the rich and poor do not simply have different views about how wealth should be distributed across society; rather, they subjectively experience living in societies that have subtle—but important—differences. Thus, in the relatively affluent America inhabited by wealthier Americans, there is less need to distribute wealth more equally.

In essence, it is not that wealthy people as a whole are wilfully cruel and callous — although there is certainly a sizeable subset that are arguably are — but rather that they simply do not know any better. Our society has become so divided along so many lines, in both geographic and psychological terms, that it is difficult for people to come around to experiences outside their own. There really are two Americas (and many more if you include race and ethnicity, which intersect with class and economic status) with two very different experiences and understandings informing their policy.

As the WaPo article points out, this is problem is all the more concerning given that economic segregation in the U.S. is worsening; that we increasingly less likely to live near, let alone interact with, people of different incomes levels; and that the economic gap between rich and poor communities — even those not far from each other — is growing.

Moreover, with wealthier Americans and their interests groups having disproportionate influence over our political system, including over policies that could alleviate poverty and inequality, it is hard to see a way out of this self-perpetuating problem — at least within current sociopolitical paradigms.

What are your thoughts?

The United States’ Fascinatingly Uneven Population Distribution

It is easy for us Americans to underestimate just how big our country is, both geographically and demographically. At a little over 320 million people, only China and India (each with over a billion inhabitants) have larger populations. And in terms of territorial size, only Russia, Canada, and (by some measurements) China are bigger.

Along with Japan, the U.S. is the only developed country with over 100 million people, and also among the few developed countries to be so big territorially; only fellow Anglophone nations Canada and Australia are both highly developed and fairly large by global standards. The norm is for most industrialized societies to be small or medium range in population and size.

The sheer sense of living space is all the greater when one realizes how unevenly distributed the U.S. population is. The following maps by dadaviz user Jishai, obtained view Headlines and Mental Floss really help to put these things in perspective. Though lacking the sort of international comparisons I started off with, they should how vast the disparities are even within the U.S. itself. Take note that for every map, the red and orange represents roughly equal population sizes.

Unsurprisingly, most of the biggest counties are concentrated among the top ten states in terms of population. Which leads to the next map. Continue reading

How Eye Movement May Be as Good as Therapy for Trauma Victims

It is an intriguing if not ridiculous sounding idea, but there is some evidence that an obscure therapeutic practice called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be effective at treating people suffering from severe trauma. More from The Atlantic:

Here’s the idea: The person is told to focus on the troubling image or negative thought while simultaneously moving his or her eyes back and forth. To prompt this, the therapist might move his fingers from side to side, or he might use a tapping or waving of a wand. The patient is told to let her mind go blank and notice whatever sensations might come to mind. These steps are repeated throughout the session.

The psychologist Francine Shapiro invented EMDR in the 1980s when she noticed that moving her eyes from side to side seemed to reduce the occurrence of her own distressing memories. Later on, she theorized that trauma causes negative emotions to be stored within the same memory network as a troubling event. EMDR, she says, helps rewire these connections.

Some experts think the eye movements help re-shuffle memories so that when they are stored again, they lose some of their traumatic power.

“People describe that the memories become less vivid and more distant, that they seem further in the past and harder to focus on”, Chris Lee, a psychologist and EMDR practitioner at Murdoch University in Australia, told Scientific American.

Like so many other seemingly unconventional approaches, there is some dispute regarding EMDR’s effectiveness; some meta-analyses have found EMDR to be no better than cognitive-behavioral therapy, while a more recent study found EMDR to work better at alleviating PTSD than other forms of stimuli, or than keeping eyes closed.

Moreover, research shows that EMDR also works faster than other forms of therapy, with the majority of trauma victims seeing palpable benefits after just three 90-minute sessions.

From Syrian refugees and combat veterans, to even obese trauma victims, EMDR  seems to have a lot of promise — little wonder that it has been recommended by prominent institutions like the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the Departments of Defense and of Veterans Affairs.

To be sure, like any therapy or treatment, EMDR cannot help everyone; most people benefit from a combination of techniques and/or medications, often tailored to suit their particular needs. But some types might be more helpful for certain people than others, and it is always good to have more options available, especially options as seemingly simple yet broadly effective as eye movement. Here is hoping more research emerges on this interesting approach.

What are your thoughts?

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More U.S. Children Live In Poverty Now Than During the Recession


The world’s wealthiest nation by a wide margin, which has experienced steady economic growth over the past several years, which counts more billionaires than any other country in the world (indeed, than the next dozen or so country combined), and child poverty is both stubbornly high and actually growing.

There is not much else to say.

Originally posted on TIME:

In mid-September 2010, almost exactly two years to the date since the monumental collapse of Lehman Brothers, the New York Times published a bleak statistic: the ongoing Great Recession had driven the U.S. poverty rates to their highest in a decade and a half.

Five years of fitful economic recovery have not yet bettered this situation. According to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, more than one in five American children, about 22%, were living in poverty in 2013. Data for 2014 are not yet available, but the report anticipates that the child poverty rate remains at an “unacceptably high [level].”

The figure for 2008 was 18%.


General terms are insufficient when explaining the economy’s post-recession rebound. There are a number of conflicting statistics — the fall in unemployment versus the rise in poverty, for instance — but even efforts to compare and assess these inconsistencies…

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On this day in 1914…

…Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia and triggered the series of alliances and defense pacts that ignited the First World War.

Despite playing a role in setting off the war, both nations would become overshadowed by the larger players that immediately became involved, namely Germany, France, the U.K., and Russia.

After putting up stiff resistance for the first year, the Kingdom of Serbia was conquered during the course of 1915 and occupied by Austro-Hungarian forces until the war’s end in 1918. Serbia lost more than 1.1 million people, including 25 percent of all troops, 16-27 percent of its overall population and 60 percent of its males. Proportionally, it suffered more losses than any other country involved (in this regard, the Ottoman Empire ranks second, losing 13-15 percent of its population, followed by Romania, an Entente member, at 7-9 percent). Continue reading

New Study Finds Romantic Kissing Absent from Many Societies

While kissing is considered an indelible part of romantic and sexual relations in most of the Western world, it appears that the practice is far from universal. According to a worldwide study conducted by researchers at the University of Nevada and Indiana University, fewer than half of the world’s cultures kiss in a romantic way; indeed, many cultures find smooching to be weird or downright gross. More from The Washington Post:

The researchers studied 168 cultures over the past year and found evidence of romantic kissing in 77 societies, or 46 percent, but none in 91 others.

“It’s a reminder that behaviors that seems so normative often do not occur in rest of the world. Not only that, but they might be viewed as strange”, Justin Garcia, the study’s co-author who teaches gender studies at Indiana University, told The Washington Post. “It’s a reminder of romantic and sexual diversity around the world. It shows how human biology interacts with different cultures to explain various behaviors humans engage in”.

The researchers found romantic kissing to be the norm in the Middle East, with the practice established in 10 out of 10 cultures studied. In Asia, 73 percent enjoyed romantic kissing; in Europe, 70 percent; and in North America, 55 percent. No smoochers were found in Central America.

“No ethnographer working with Sub-Saharan Africa, New Guinea, or Amazonian foragers or horticulturalists reported having witnessed any occasion in which their study populations engaged in a romantic-sexual kiss”, the researchers wrote in the study.”

Here is a visual representation of the results:

As someone born and raised in the U.S., and of Middle Eastern descent, it is pretty fascinating to think that kissing is virtually nonexistent among wide swathes of humanity, or that it manifests in different ways.

Across Europe, a peck on the cheek is a common cultural greeting; one on the lips is indeed a romantic gesture. In India, Bangladesh and Thailand, it’s a private practice. Still, some societies do not consider kissing romantic at all.

The Oceanic kiss, for example, involves passing open mouths over each other — without actual contact, according to It’s not that these cultures aren’t sexual, the researchers said, but that the kiss is not seen as a sexual expression. For instance, some consider smelling a partner’s face to be sexual because it allows them to learn more about each other.

“The Aka pygmies talk about their ‘night’s work’, researcher Volsche told “This is the euphemism they use for sexual contact. They admit that it is enjoyable, the main purpose is to conceive a child. Where we in the West may brag about the quality of foreplay or the length of an individual interaction, the Aka focus on how many times in a night they ‘worked.'”

So even though the kiss may, in fact, be an evolutionary adaptation, it doesn’t appear to be a cross-cultural one, Garcia said.

Such anthropological observations really help to put things in perspective. The practices, customs, and ideas that we take as a given for humanity — e.g. what is “normal” or “common” — are just reflective of one particular worldview or cultural experience among a multitude of others. Even something as “typical” as kissing manifests in a range of different ways, if at all.

Americans Have the Right to Insult Police Officers

Given the frequent reports of police brutality and misconduct in the U.S., particularly during the course of pullovers and arrests, Americans might be surprised to learn that they have a well-established right to be rude and even downright nasty to police officers. As The Atlantic’s CityLab column notes:

The courts have made it clear that individuals have a right to insult police officers. In 1987, the Supreme Court decided in City of Houston v. Hill that the First Amendment allows for a “significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers,” ruling against a Houston, Texas, ordinance making it “unlawful for any person to assault, strike or in any manner oppose, molest, abuse or interrupt any policeman in the execution of his duty, or any person summoned to aid in making an arrest.”

The case involved a gay rights activist who had been arrested numerous times for allegedly interfering with the police.

The First Amendment, the court noted, does not protect “fighting words,” statements “that by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.” But criticism, even when angrily voiced, is protected.

“The freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest,” Justice William J. Brennan Jr. wrote for the majority, “is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.”

That case built upon the 1974 decision in Lewis v. City of New Orleans, when the court ruled against an ordinance in that city making it “unlawful and a breach of the peace for any person wantonly to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward or with reference to any member of the city police while in the actual performance of his duty.”

The Lewis case involved a couple following behind a squad car that was taking their young son away. Another officer pulled them over and, after the woman got out, allegedly said, “you get in the car woman. Get your black ass in the god damned car or I will show you something.” The police officer testified that the woman said, “you god damn m.f. police – I am going to [the Superintendent of Police] about this.” The woman denied using any profanity. Either way, the court ruled that the ordinance under which she was arrested was so broad as to apply to “speech, although vulgar or offensive, that is protected by the First and Fourteenth Amendments.”

Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., in a concurring opinion cited by Justice Brennan in the 1987 case, wrote that police should be able to deal with more offensive language than a private citizen—meaning that verbal abuse had to reach a higher threshold to count as fighting words when they are directed at a cop.

That abuse can run quite high and stay within constitutional bounds, something that a cottage industry of people who make a point of testing cops on their First Amendment knowledge by giving them the middle finger has proven.

Continue reading

The U.S. Postal Service Turns 240 Today

As the venerable yet beleaguered institution faces the latest in a long string of financial and political woes, The Atlantic reflects on the Post Office’s outsized role as one of America’s most important and symbolic organizations.

During the American Revolution, the post was a crucial point of contention between colonists and the Crown because it was the means for circulating not only correspondence but also newspapers, the lifeblood of intercolonial political cooperation. When British officials threatened the free circulation of news, newspaper publishers led the charge in 1774 to replace the British imperial system with a “Constitutional Post.” Without a government structure, the post would be privately funded, but newspaper publishers and allies like the Boston Committee of Correspondence made sure that reliable, safe, and secure circulation of political intelligence was a primary function.

Shortly after Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the Continental Congress took up a post office as one of the earliest institutions of national reach — making the U.S. Post Office older than the Navy, the Marines, and the Declaration of Independence. Congressional delegates therefore believed that ensuring safe communication throughout the colonies was vital to the colonies’ efforts for military, political, and commercial unity.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 saw the operation of information channels as a core function of government: the power “to establish post offices and post roads” is one of the explicitly named grants included among the enumerated powers of Congress. At the same time, new political cleavages within the United States caused tension about the Post Office’s role as an impartial circulation mechanism. During the debates over ratification in 1787 and 1788, some anti-federalist printers accused the Post Office of suppressing their publications and arguments against the Constitution. William Goddard, the mastermind of the 1774 “Constitutional Post”, ominously suggested he would once again start his own postal system. The complaints of Goddard and other printers forced Congress to re-assert that the Post Office would circulate all news and information equally. In 1792, the new Federal Congress confirmed that promise in the first Post Office Act, setting the stage for a massive explosion in the newspaper industry and providing for the circulation of information to the far reaches of the country.

Continue reading

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How the rest of the world learns about the American Revolution in school


Based on the crowdsourced responses, it is either mentioned in passing or plays second fiddle to the more radical French Revolution. In most cases, this has to do with countries either being more influenced by France’s revolutionary course , or having histories so long and tumultuous that there is simply no room for it.

Originally posted on Quartz:

The American Revolutionary War is an intensely proud moment in history for most Americans (perhaps too proud). It’s taught as a major subject in history classes as early as elementary school, and it’s brought up again and again in different contexts in middle school, high school, and college. Along with the Civil War, it fills up more pages in history textbooks than any other event in American history.

In the US, it’s often taught as a heroic struggle for freedom against the tyrannical British Empire, which was unfairly taxing the colonists without giving them representation in government (though in some high school classes, and certainly at the college level, it’s taught with more nuance).

But how is the American Revolution taught in the UK and in other countries around the world? Quartz crowdsourced answers from people on Reddit and Quora to get a sense of how this seminal…

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