Re: Who is America?

Well there’s 300 million of us, so any generalization, we should be suspicious about it. There is an older school of thought actually that I grew up with in a sense in my early professional life, and when I was really turning my attention to American history is when I wanted to spend my time with it for the rest of my life. It was called National Character Studies. There were a number of books in the post World War II era that took this subject on. Probably . . . Some of the more famous ones were David Reesman’s “The Lonely Crowd”; William White’s “The Organization Man”; and then the one that had the greatest influence on me was a book by David Potter called “People of Plenty”. And David Potter was, in fact, my mentor when I was an undergraduate student. And their general approach was to try to locate distinctive attributes of the national character we might say in the heads and hearts of every single individual in the society. And it was kind of a social psychology approach. How did being socialized into a given environment compel everybody in the society to internalize certain values? That approach fell into a lot of disfavor at a certain point, particularly in the age of multiculturalism when we became acutely sensitive to all the many differences among us. So that is not exactly my approach, though I wouldn’t deny that everybody who lives in this society for a generation or so does share some stratum of shared values in one sense or another. But that’s not exactly my approach. I’m more interested in institutional factors, situational circumstances that have determined the range of choices that people have in this society. And collectively, ________ determine our institutional . . . pardon me, our historical pathways in these various eras. When I was on my way to graduate school – literally, figuratively driving across the country from California to Connecticut in 1963 on my way to begin my graduate studies at Yale – I drove a car, an old beat up Dodge. And I started out in Seattle, and then I drove down to visit friends in Oklahoma, and then up to Chicago, and then on to New Haven, Connecticut. And I was filled with this notion, you know, I was driving across my subject. I was literally transiting the physical subject that I was gonna study. And it was about a two-week trip, and I can remember thinking on the way, “Boy, I’d better take on some humility here because this place is so big and so diverse that really, the kinds of easy generalizations that I have been thinking I could apply into the life of this society are probably not gonna cut the mustard.” So we’re almost at the beginning of my lifelong endeavor with this. I was given a very chastening lesson on the complexity of the subject. Our history constrains us even as it opens special opportunities to us; but we live and we will always live in an environment that is given to us by the past. And our capacity to just throw that overboard and start all over again . . . I mean history is full of very few successful attempts at that kind of thing. So the better we understand how we got here, the more cogently we’re gonna be able to take ourselves forward. What has made us capable of functioning now for several centuries as a unified, political entity? What has made us one people despite – or perhaps even because of – all of the various differences amongst us? We don’t have . . . This is a cliché, but it carries a lot of analytical weight actually. We don’t have the natural inheritance of common language, and culture, and religion and so on that binds us as a people the way, for example, the Italians do, or French people do or what have you. We’ve had to make a country, and remake it, and renew it generation after generation. And how we’ve made that work . . . I do not believe it was divinely ordained, or in the historical cards, or part of our collective karma. That’s been a historical project to make this country work as a unified entity over many, many generations. So that’s the fascinating topic. Recorded on: 7/4/07

Understanding a country of 300 million.

Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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This is the best (and simplest) world map of religions

Both panoramic and detailed, this infographic manages to show both the size and distribution of world religions.

(c) CLO / Carrie Osgood
Strange Maps
  • At a glance, this map shows both the size and distribution of world religions.
  • See how religions mix at both national and regional level.
  • There's one country in the Americas without a Christian majority – which?
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Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

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