Monday, March 19, 2018

Column: The reading files — Where in the world are we Floridians from?

The New York Times Upshot feature has an interactive graphic that allows you to see historically where residents of any state have come from. Look at the graphics in detail at Here is how the Times introduces the feature — and then what it says about Florida:


Nationally: Foreign immigration is a hot topic these days, but the movement of people from one state to another can have an even bigger influence on the United States' economy, politics and culture. Americans have already seen this with the Western expansion, the movement of Southern blacks to Northern cities and the migration from the Rust Belt. The patterns of migration continue to change.

Florida: It seems as if Florida has been pulling down residents from snow country forever, but the reality is, through 1960, Georgia was the leading source of Florida migration. Now the Northeast and Midwest are dominant. Florida has grown so much that even though this chart makes it appear that the migrant population is shrinking, it isn't; it's just not growing as fast as the native-born and immigrant populations.

In 1900

65% of Floridians were born here.

11% were born in Georgia.

5% were born outside the United States.

< 1% were born in New York.

In 1960

38% of Floridians were born here.

9% were born in Georgia.

6% were born outside the United States.

6% were born in New York.

In 1980

31% of Floridians were born here.

5% were born in Georgia.

11% were born outside the United States.

10% were born in New York.

In 2012

36% of Floridians were born here.

2% were born in Georgia.

21% were born outside the United States.

8% were born in New York.

Coup-free country

In Foreign Affairs, Ivan Perkins explains "how to prevent coups." Read "Staying Power" in full at at Here's an excerpt.


Americans take for granted that their leaders ascend to power through constitutional procedures and step down when legally required — that no one, not even a president or a major general, can overturn the country's legal order. They have never suffered a coup or even seen a serious attempt at one. Likewise, almost all of the world's developed states have gone decades, if not centuries, without a major upheaval, and it is difficult to imagine tanks rolling through modern-day London, Stockholm, or Tokyo. Yet coups happen regularly around the world, in such places as Caracas, Kathmandu, Kinshasa and Quito. For a long time, political scientists have argued that the chances of a coup are a function of military professionalism. The armies of coup-free states, the reasoning goes, are deeply committed to protecting constitutional norms. But a closer look at the historical record leads to a different conclusion: stability is a product not of civil virtues, but of the rule of law. Impartial judicial systems weaken personal loyalties, making it far more difficult to plan grand criminal enterprises. No one can execute a coup without trustworthy followers, and as (Civil War general and Lincoln opponent George) McClellan and (embattled President Richard) Nixon discovered, in modern democracies, that sort of loyalty is in short supply.


Clintonian thoughts

By now you've no doubt read about Hillary Clinton's interview with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg. But it's worth reading the actual interview in full at at Here is one question — and one answer.


JG: Are we so egocentric, so Washington-centric, that we think that our decisions are dispositive? As secretary, did you learn more about the possibilities of American power or the limitations of American power?

HRC: Both, but it's not just about American power. It's American values that also happen to be universal values. If you have no political — small "p" — experience, it is really hard to go from a dictatorship to anything resembling what you and I would call democracy. That's the lesson of Egypt. We didn't invade Egypt. They did it themselves, and once they did it they looked around and didn't know what they were supposed to do next.

I think we've learned about the limits of our power to spread freedom and democracy. That's one of the big lessons out of Iraq. But we've also learned about the importance of our power, our influence, and our values appropriately deployed and explained. If you're looking at what we could have done that would have been more effective, would have been more accepted by the Egyptians on the political front, what could we have done that would have been more effective in Libya, where they did their elections really well under incredibly difficult circumstances but they looked around and they had no levers to pull because they had these militias out there. My passion is, let's do some after-action reviews, let's learn these lessons, let's figure out how we're going to have different and better responses going forward.


Syria postmortem

At the Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog, Marc Lynch, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, surveys the literature and responds forcefully to the idea that arming so-called moderate Syrian rebels might have stalled the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Read his comments, including links to other in-depth academic research, in full at at Here's an excerpt.


Had the plan to arm Syria's rebels been adopted back in 2012, the most likely scenario is that the war would still be raging and look much as it does today, except that the United States would be far more intimately and deeply involved. That's a prospect that (Hillary) Clinton frankly acknowledged during her (Atlantic) interview, but that somehow didn't make it into the headline. As catastrophic as Syria's war has been, and as alarming as the Islamic State has become, there has never been a plausible case to be made that more U.S. arms for Syrian rebels would have meaningfully altered their path.


Diplomacy in Russia

In the New Yorker, David Remnick tells the story of Michael McFaul, the former U.S. ambassador to Russia, who "was there when the promise of democracy came to Russia — and when it began to fade." Read "Watching the Eclipse" in full at at Here's a passage about McFaul's time there during the Yeltsin era, when Yeltsin's people thought he was much more than a junior academic.


McFaul met his contact at the Kremlin and got in his official car, the standard black Volga sedan. They reached the dacha, one of Stalin's old country residences. "The Chechen war was going hot and heavy, so there was lots of security and guys with guns," McFaul recalled. Yeltsin's people engaged McFaul in a long discussion about the elections. As the conversation developed, McFaul realized that they were implying two things: that he was a CIA agent and that the Yeltsin forces might postpone the elections. What they wanted from Washington, they made clear, was "cooperation." If the election was postponed, they said, they wanted Washington to "hold your nose and support us." Finally, McFaul broke in and said, "Hey, I'm just an untenured assistant professor at Stanford." Igor replied, "Stop! I know who you are! I wouldn't have brought you here if I didn't."


Evolution hijacked

In The Week, Keith Blanchard explains "Why you should stop believing in evolution." In short, "you don't believe in it — you either understand it or you don't." Read his essay in full at at Here's an excerpt.


If someone asks, "Do you believe in evolution?" they are framing it wrong. That's like asking, "Do you believe in blue?" Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don't believe in it — you either understand it or you don't. But pretending evolution is a matter of faith can be a clever way to hijack the conversation, and pit it in a false duality against religion. And that's how we end up with people decrying evolution, even as they eat their strawberries and pet their dogs (both products of evolution), because they've been led to believe faith can only be held in one or the other. But there's no reason for people of faith to reject the mountains of data and the evidence of their own senses. Reconciling is easy: Believe, if you want to, that God set up the rules of evolution among His wonders, along with the laws of physics, and probability, and everything else we can see and measure for ourselves. But don't deny evolution itself, or gravity, or the roundness of Earth.


What college does

In the New Yorker, Joshua Rothman responds to an essay in the New Republic titled "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" and comes up with a marvelous essay of his own. Read "What College Can't Do" in full at at Here's an excerpt.


One of the ironies of college is that the impossibility of reading your way out of the modern predicament is something you learn about, as a student, by reading. Part of the value of a humanistic education has to do with a consciousness of, and a familiarity with, the limits that you'll spend the rest of your life talking about and pushing against. So it's probably natural for college students to be a little ironic, a little unsettled. It's time, meanwhile, to admit that the college years aren't for figuring out some improvised "sense of purpose." They're more like a period of acclimatization — a time when realizations can dawn. If you're feeling uneasy about life, then you're doing the reading.


A fish's memory

At, Joseph Stromberg wonders: "Are fish far more intelligent than we realize?" Read his essay in full at at Here's an excerpt.


Australian biologist Culum Brown has a provocative argument in response (to the common belief that fish are stupid), based on his years of research into fish behavior and learning. "They're just not any less intelligent or sophisticated than terrestrial animals," he says. "That idea is a total myth." Fish don't have a three-second memory, Brown has found — in fact, they can be taught how to evade a trap and remember it a year later. Fish can learn from each other, recognize other fish they've spent time with previously, know their place within fish social hierarchies, and remember complex spatial maps of their surroundings. There's even some evidence, Brown has written, that they use tools.


Beginnings matter

In the New York Times Magazine, Tom Vanderbilt ponders why we seem to care about literary beginnings more than endings. Read "Who Knows How This Column Will End?" in full at at Here's an excerpt … from the middle.


Think of all the famous lines from books that you know. "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." "The past is a foreign country: They do things differently there." "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. ..." Odds are, many of them are opening lines. Now take this sentence: "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." You may have had to burn one of your lifelines to recognize those as the last words of A Tale of Two Cities, which opens famously — "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times" — and goes on, less famously so, as if we overemphasize even the beginnings of beginnings. And perhaps we do: Linguists have noted, for example, that it is easier for people to identify words when they hear initial fragments, compared with when they hear ending fragments. Our brains, it seems, are primed for the start of things.

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