Amendments to the U.S. Constitution

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The 2nd Amendment: How the gun control debate went crazy

The gun control debate has been at fever pitch for several years now, and as things fail to change the stats get grimmer. The New York Times reports that there have been 239 school shootings nationwide since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre, where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. Six years later, 438 more people have been shot in schools, and for 138 of them it was fatal. Here, journalist and author Kurt Andersen reads the Second Amendment, and explains its history from 1791 all the way to now. "What people need to know is that the Second Amendment only recently became such a salient amendment," says Andersen. It's only in the last 50 years that the gun debate has gone haywire, and it was the moment the NRA went from reasonable to absolutist. So what does the "right to bear arms" really mean? What was a firearm in the 1790s, and what is a firearm now? "Compared to [the] many, many, many rounds-per-second firearms that we have today, it's the same word but virtually a different machine." Kurt Andersen is the author of Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.

The 5th Amendment: Do not break in case of emergency

The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution is often talked about but rarely read in full. The reason? Counterterrorism expert Amaryllis Fox explains that it has, these days, simply become shorthand for not saying anything in court to incriminate yourself. But the full text states how important the due process of law is to every American. So perhaps learning the full text, not just the shorthand, is an important step to being an American citizen. You can find out more about Amaryllis Fox here.

The 13th Amendment: The unjust prison to profit pipeline

The 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution abolished slavery—but it still remains legal under one condition. The amendment reads: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." Today in America, big corporations profit of cheap prison labor in both privatized and state-run prisons. Shaka Senghor knows this second wave of slavery well—he spent 19 years in jail, working for a starting wage of 17 cents per hour, in a prison where a 15-minute phone call costs between $3-$15. In this video, he shares the exploitation that goes on in American prisons, and how the 13th Amendment allows slavery to continue. He also questions the profit incentive to incarcerate in this country: why does America represent less than 5% of the world's population, but almost 25% of the world's prisoners? Shaka Senghor's latest venture is Mind Blown Media.

The 14th Amendment: History's most radical idea?

In 1868, three years after slavery was abolished, the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted, granting equal protection under the law to every born and naturalized U.S. citizen. For CNN news commentator Van Jones this amendment is, in his words, the "whole enchilada." It's not the most popular amendment—it doesn't get name-dropped in TV courtroom dramas, or fiercely debated before elections—but to Jones it is a weighty principle that was far ahead of its time. "It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're a lesbian. That's not what it says. It doesn't say equal protection under the law unless you're African American. That's not what it says. It says if you're in the jurisdiction you get equal protection under the law. That's radical. In 10,000 years of human history, that's radical." Van Jones is the author of Beyond the Messy Truth: How We Came Apart, How We Come Together.

The 26th Amendment: The act of voting should empower people

Is a 55.7% voter turnout really enough? Bryan Cranston was disappointed with the 2016 presidential election, not for the outcome but for the process. According to Census Bureau figures it was a bumper year for voter engagement with 137.5 million total ballots cast—but is just over half of the eligible voters really that impressive? The Pew Research Center shows that the U.S. still trails behind most developed nations in voter registration and turnout. "I think we've devalued the honor and privilege of voting and we've become complacent, and maybe a bit cynical about our place and rights as citizens and our duties and responsibilities," says Cranston. The good news? Millennials and Gen Xers are on an upward trend in civic engagement, casting more votes than Boomers and older generations in the 2016 election. Cranston reminds us of how empowering the 26th Amendment is in granting voting rights to Americans over the age of 18. "We can't take that lightly," says Cranston. It's a timely reminder too, as 40 million people are expected to drop off that 55.7% figure for the midterm elections, mostly from the millennial, unmarried women and people of color demographics. Bryan Cranston's new book is the spectacular memoir A Life in Parts.

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  • A design team came up with a smart planter that can indicate 15 emotions.
  • The emotions are derived from the sensors placed in the planter.
  • The device is not in production yet but you can order it through a crowdfunding campaign.


If most plants you buy for your house tend to wither and die no matter how hard (or little) you try to take care of them, a technological solution may be in order. Mu-design, a design team from Luxembourg, came up with a smart planter that features 15 different emotions and can tell you definitively if it's not getting enough light or water.

The "lua" device uses sensors to trigger various emotional responses that are displayed on the 2.4 inch LCD monitor at the front of the planter. The facial expressions are based on measurements of the moisture in the soil, the amount of light and the temperature.

Credit: mu-design

Lua essentially turns your plants into pets similar to Tamagotchi, blending the physical with the virtual. If the plant needs water, it will show a panting face. If it's too hot, a sweating face will appear. If you want to see its chattering teeth, make the plant cold. If there's way too much light for the plant's liking, you'll see its vampire face – an effect that may be creepily augmented by lua's another built-in sensor that allows it to track motion with its eyes. And if that wasn't enough, the plant can even communicate with you through an app.

Credit: mu-design

Credit: mu-design

The planter comes in several colors designated as "eggplant," "sunflower" and "agave" by the designers.

The device is currently available through an Indiegogo campaign. It already far surpassed its goal, raising 238% more than it intended, with nearly 600 backers.

Check out this video of Lua for more:

  • Often times, interactions that we think are "zero-sum" can actually be beneficial for both parties.
  • Ask, What outcome will be good for both parties? How can we achieve that goal?
  • Afraid the win-win situation might not continue? Build trust by creating a situation that increases the probability you and your counterpart will meet again.
  • When it comes to moving forward, the slightly harder path — but in the long run, the way easier path — would be for us to develop the skill of grieving.
  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's theories about the five stages may be off, but she gave us a lens from which to come to understand the process of grieving.
  • The fact that you grieve is a testimony to your love.
  • Europe divided into two blocs? That's not unheard of in history
  • However, this map of Red vs. Blue countries is indecipherable without its legend
  • That key is both trivial and unexpected. Can you guess what it is?

Red vs. Blue

Image: Vivid Maps

What do Iceland and Greece share that distinguishes them from what France and Poland have in common?

What does this map show? Don't skip ahead. See if you can guess what it's about. We'd be pretty amazed if you could.

It shows Europe divided into two blocs. That's not unheard of in history. It's just that these two are bafflingly unfamiliar. It's not the EU versus the rest, nor NATO versus the Warsaw Pact. Not Triple Alliance vs. Triple Entente. Neither Napoleonic France and its satellites versus Britain and its allies. Rome vs. barbarians? Nope.

Let's have a look at who's actually in these two blocs.

  • In red: a contiguous slice of Europe, from up in Norway all the way down to Greece, anchored on Germany – the only one of Europe's Big Five (1) in the club. However, the red zone also includes outliers such as Iceland and Ireland.
  • In blue: everybody else, in two zones separated by the red one. In the south and west, we find the other four members of the Big Five, and some smaller countries. In the east and north, there's Russia, Turkey and places in between and nearby, including Poland and Ukraine.

These colours denote a difference that is intriguing because you probably never even realised it existed. After this, you won't be able to ever un-see it.

Distance sequencing

Image: Vivid Maps

You may have never noticed, but you can't un-know it now: red means 'furthest first', blue means 'longest last'.

  • In Red Europe, road signs show city distances from furthest on top to nearest at the bottom. As the example provided shows, if you're driving north on the E4 in southern Sweden, distant Stockholm (557 km away) is listed first, nearby Åstorp, just 13 km down the road, last.
  • In Blue Europe, it's the other way around: nearest cities on top, furthest ones at the bottom of the sign. On the E40 in Poland, nearby Kraków (58 km) comes before Jędrzychowice, far away on the German border, 465 km to the west.
It's quite likely you never gave a moment's thought to the sequencing of distances on road signs. But plenty of traffic experts must have – and as this map shows, they're divided in two diametrically opposed blocs. In the red one, 'Furthest is First'; in the blue one, 'Longest is Last'.Which option is better? That's an esoteric riddle on a par with the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. To any but the most rabid exegetes of road signage, the answer is unimportant and trivial. And that's precisely why this map is so fascinating. It scratches the surface of the world to reveal a layer of reality slightly outside the realm of the expected – at least to the vast majority of us. The result is a map that is arrestingly unfamiliar. A few other examples come to mind.

Latin vs. Greek

Image: Strange Maps

Some involve mysterious lines on the map that divide the world into two wholly unexpected halves. Take for instance the Jireček Line, which divides the Balkan peninsula into areas of Roman and Greek influence, based on archeological finds (see #128).

Football vs. rugby

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Or the Barassi Line, which cuts across the east of Australia from the Northern Territories to New South Wales, demarcating the part of the country, west and south of the line, where Australian-rules football is more popular, from the part to the line's east and north, where rugby (league or union) sets more hearts racing.

The Hajnal Line

Image: Demography Resources

And then there's the Hajnal Line, roughly from St Petersburg to Trieste, that divides Europe into two distinct zones of 'nuptuality': west of the line, marriage rates and fertility are comparatively low, even before the 20th century; to the east, both are (or were) comparatively high. Prior to relatively modern times, the late marriage pattern in Western Europe was fairly unique in the world.

The Siktir League

Image: Reddit.com/r/MapPorn

Here's a map that fortuitously flashed up the screen a few days ago, showing a weird coalition of countries, from the western Balkans all the way to the borders of China.

Alexander the Great's empire? Not quite. It's a map of countries where the swear word 'siktir' ('get lost' or 'f*ck off') appears in the native language. Considering that these languages include members of the Romance, Slavic, Turkic families, that's quite a feat (2).


Do you have any other examples of lines, colours and coalitions on maps that show the world in a different light? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Strange Maps #981

(1) The EU may consist of 28 (soon 27) members, but just five countries constitute around 80% of the bloc's population and GDP: Germany, France, the UK, Spain and Italy.

(2) Croatia may be one country too many included on this map: speakers of that language report never using or hearing the word.

  • Climbing instructor discovers a glacial "lake" high in the Alps.
  • A glacial meltwater lake this size is usually a rare occurrence.
  • French glaciologists are concerned that climate change could create more dangerous lakes like these in the future.

In the wake of Europe's unprecedented heatwave, the international community is seeing further glimpses of the many changes which lie ahead for our world climate. Recently, a French mountaineer caught a beautifully striking, albeit disconcerting picture of a glacial lake in the High Alps.

Alpinist Bryan Mestre, took the photographs of the newly materialized lake on June 28th near the base of Dent du Géant Mountain, part of the larger Mont Blanc range that runs through France and Italy. A frequent hiker, Mestre remarked that this was the first time he'd ever seen a lake at this altitude during the summer months.

Hikers and climate scientists alike expect to see some glacial melting during the hottest days of summer. But the creation of an entire lake is a remarkably rare event. And one we might be seeing more of as climate change keeps turning up the heat.

France’s heatwave lake

Europe was in one of the most intense heat waves in recent memory this June. When Mestre discovered the lake on June 28th, France set an all-time record high of 114.6 degrees in the southern Gallargues-le-Montueux region. Record temperatures in the Mont Blanc region topped out at 48.74 degrees.

The Mont Blanc mountains remain covered in snow and ice all year round. The lake that Mestre found was around 9,800 feet above sea level and is also usually covered in ice.

"Needless to say, the lake was a real surprise… It's located in the 3,400 to 3,500-meter (11,155 to 11,483-feet) area. You're supposed to find ice and snow at this altitude, not liquid water. Most of the time when we stay for a day at this altitude, the water in our water bottles starts freezing," Mestre told IFL Science.

Water above the Alp's 3,000 meter line is supposed to stay permanently frozen.

When speaking to the London Evening Standard, Mestre also remarked that:

"I have seen similar events in the Andes or in the Rockies, but the ecosystem is a lot different there. Snow is permanent in the Alps above 3,000 meters — it's not supposed to melt. Of course, with the whole global warming deal, it does melt, but it doesn't get this big."

According to National Geographic France the lake was around 10 meters by 30 meters or (33 feet by 98.5 feet). The lake was holding a couple thousand cubic meters of meltwater.

While this may have been an initial surprise to Mr. Mestre, many French glaciologists are starting to see a concerning trend as a similar lake was discovered in the same place last year.

French glaciologist concerns

Photo credit: JEAN-PIERRE CLATOT / GETTY IMAGES

Christian Vincent, a glaciologist at the Grenoble Glaciology Laboratory, believes that there is a direct link between the formation of this kind of pond and global warming.

Vincent remarks about a similar experience when a pond had formed over by the Rochemelon glacier in the Arc Valley, which sits on the French-Italian border. A lake had sprung up over a number of years, slowly gaining in size:

"At first it was a small pond formed in the 1960s, which grew without anyone perceiving its evolution. It was during a reconnaissance a few years ago that I realized that it contained 650,000 cubic meters of water and that it was threatening to overflow. An alert was then given and an artificial emptying operation had cleared the lake."

Vincent warns that we must be vigilant in tracking and understanding how these glacial "lakes" appear. While there is no immediate threat from the pond Mestre spotted, that doesn't preclude future problems from arising from this area or other ones like it.

"When the volume of these lakes becomes very important, it can become very dangerous if they overflow on the surface. This can threaten downstream structures and homes," says Vincent.