October 23, 2013 2:35 pm
Today, at the beginning of every movie, the Motion Picture Association of America provides you with a handy primer as to what kind of indecency you’re about to see on the screen. Sometimes these ratings can make or break a movie: an R rating can narrow the potential audience and cut into box office sales. An X rating is like a kiss of death. But movies didn’t always go through such a rigorous screening process. In fact, at the beginning of the cinema, directors could get away with a lot more.
The blog Let’s Misbehave: A Tribute to Precode Hollywood has a great collection of movies from before the MPAA existed or its predecessor, the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors of America, started enforcing censorship guidelines in 1934. Take this post on drugs in pre-code movies for example:
The most interesting use of drugs in film is the 1916 film ‘The Mystery of the Leaping Fish’ staring the famous Douglas Fairbanks. The comedy picture shows Douglas as a Sherlock Holmes like detective solving crimes while being addicted to cocaine. In the pictures below it is obvious to see the product cocaine and the use of syringes.
In the 1934 movie Murder at the Vanities, there’s a whole musical number about the pleasures of marijuana (sung by half-naked women).
Let’s Misbehave has more examples of drug use, and whole catalogue of other pre-code novelties.
The power of the MPAA in Hollywood was the topic of the documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated, where they long for the days before ratings. We certainly don’t get musicals about weed anymore.
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October 21, 2013 12:50 pm
1812 was a weird year. The U.S., as a country, was still a baby. For the second time, America was at war with the British, and Canada had just burned down the White House. Looking back after 200 years, this map, made by esri, provides a view of how things have changed: it’s an interactive window on political geography, that layers the old and the new.
So how was the world of 1812 different from today? Well, for one, the U.S. was much, much smaller.
The U.S., in green, is just a fraction of its current size. Louisiana, now part of the U.S., fresh off the Louisiana purchase of 1803, is in yellow. But off to the west, large tracts of land were still controlled by Spain, while the northwest was under British control.
North America wasn’t the only country with shifting political boundaries. Australia, until 1824, was known as New Holland.
In 1812, European mapmakers like John Pinkerton (who published the older map) were lacking in knowledge of certain parts of the planet. Colonial interest in Africa didn’t reach its fever pitch until a few decades later, and in 1812, a mapmaker could get away with leaving blank huge parts of sub-Saharan Africa and labeling them “Unknown Parts.”
In Africa, Eurocentric mapmakers at least thought it was worth noting what they didn’t know. But, elsewhere, whole parts of the Earth were missing. The map of 1812 was shorter than the world as we know it. The North was cut off past Svalbard, and Antarctica is entirely absent, despite the fact that the southern continent was discovered nearly half a century earlier. Then again, even today maps often skip Antarctica, even though it’s a fair bit larger than the U.S.
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October 18, 2013 3:45 pm
On the Bowery, in New York City, there’s a small construction site near a Chinese restaurant. The place is slated to become a hotel, but when the builders were working on it, they uncovered some weird beams. Turns out, this might be the famed Bull’s Head Tavern, a place visited by George Washington, and written about by Washington Irving. James Barron at the New York Times writes that Adam Woodward, a photographer and preservationists, got a look inside the site the other day and realized what they had found:
“At one point there was a distinct change in the building material, from cinder block to a brick-and-stone foundation wall,” he said. “I followed that wall and found myself at the front of the building, under the sidewalk at the Bowery, and looked up and saw what looked to me like 18th-century hand-hewn and hand-planed joists and beams with extremely wide floorboards right above them.”
He said, “I was thinking, I am standing in the cellar of the Bull’s Head.”
The Bowery Boys blog sums up a bit more history behind the tavern, from its early beginnings as a gathering place for farmers in the 18th century, to its eventual transformation into the Bowery Theatre, and then Atlantic Gardens. Over at The Lo-Down, they’ve got running updates on what might happen to the tavern now, and photographs of the inside.
Woodward, the man who discovered the joists, says that he hopes the city will halt construction on the hotel. “I can’t think of another lot in Manhattan that has a more important history,” he told the Times, “and the fact that it might be intact, a couple of feet under the building, is an incredible opportunity to get on archaeological record.” They’ll need to call in experts to confirm whether or not this is in fact the tavern. But even if it is, there’s no guarantee the hotel won’t still go up.
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October 18, 2013 1:45 pm
It’s a running joke in some circles that there’s a countdown until the U.S. decides to invade Canada to tie up the northern country’s precious liquid resources. No, not oil—water. Canada holds claim to roughly a fifth of the world’s fresh water, and the U.S. is steadily running out. It would be a cute joke, if water wars weren’t a real thing.
According to a Circle of Blue study, from 2010 to 2012, the price of water rose 18 percent in 30 major US cities.
…At the same time, water infrastructure is rapidly deteriorating. In its 2009 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave US drinking water infrastructure a D-, citing 7 billion gallons of drinking water lost daily from leaky pipes, an average of 850 pipe main breaks per day, and an $11 billion annual deficit to replace aged out facilities.
…From 2000 to 2010, average water rates and debt load carried by water utilities rose by 23 and 33 percent, respectively, after adjusting for inflation. One-third of water utilities account for a disproportionate percentage of this increase, with both debt and rate increases of over 100 percent. Half of that top third reported that their debt had increased over 200 percent.
Part of the problem is decaying infrastructure. Another part is that the U.S. is just plain running out of water. Large chunks of the country, particularly the Midwest, rely on drawing up stores of water that had been accumulating underground for thousands of years. These underground stores replenish, slowly, but when you draw out water more quickly than the stores are being renewed, that reservoir drains away. And when you pump non-renewable water up from the ground and let it drain into the ocean, you don’t get it back.
Sprawling human populations in water-scarce areas are driving people to rely on more costly methods of securing fresh water, too. Polycarpou:
As a city with very low annual rainfall, Santa Barbara has in recent years tried to reduce its dependence on a precarious allocation from the Santa Ynez River. In response to a severe drought from 1989 to 1991, the city built an expensive desalination plant which has since been put in “long-term storage mode” and will only be reactivated when demand can no longer be met with current supplies.
In Tampa Bay, Florida, when a falling water table threatened groundwater sources, the utility turned to more expensive surface water. Eventually, it too built a desalination plant, which it paid for in part by raising user water rates.
Fresh water is a finite resource. You can make more, but it’s going to cost you. Hopefully a solution can be found before it costs Canada, too.
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October 17, 2013 1:43 pm
Those who’ve applied for college in the last 38 years might remember the wonders of the Common Application. Rather than uploading your transcript and nearly identical personal statement to every single school individually, you upload it once, and the more than 500 colleges that use the Common App simply share that information. But now, that magical solution is failing millions of college seniors.
At Forbes, Maggie McGrath reported “mass panic,” showing a handful of Tweets from seniors who struggled with the site crashing just days before the first round of Early Action and Early Decision deadlines. McGrath writes:
Some colleges quickly jumped to action on Monday, either announcing an extended deadline, a laUniversity of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (see the announcement here; UNC Early Action applications are now due on October 21 at 11:59pm) or Georgia Tech. That means good news for Ms. Bailer, quoted above: her application is now due on October 21 at 11:59pm ET.
Other schools provided an alternate means of submitting an application, as didPrinceton University. Princeton recently registered with the Universal College Application, a site that serves as an alternative to the Common App. The two sites are not transferable — i.e, you can’t take a partially-completed Common App application and expect it to automatically upload to the Universal College Application — but if you are locked out of the Common App, the Universal College Application is accepted at 33 schools, including Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Tulane and Marquette.
This isn’t the first time the site has been buggy. Richard Perez-Pena at the New York Times reported in October that the Common Application website had been having hiccups for a while now. “It’s been a nightmare,” Jason C. Locke, associate vice provost for enrollment at Cornell University, told Perez-Pena. “I’ve been a supporter of the Common App, but in this case, they’ve really fallen down.”
At CNN, David L. Marcus, a high school teacher and educational consultant, says that it’s not just the Common App that’s failing, it’s the way we look at college applications in general. Kids (often driven by their parents) are applying to over twenty different colleges, which means writing 30-40 essays and incurring nearly $2,000 in application fees. That’s simply too much, says Marcus:
I urge 12th-graders to consider a gap year, combining working, going to community college and doing public service. Grow up, I say, and take a year to find your passions and to give back to the taxpayers who have done a lot for you. Parents in high-pressure communities usually dismiss that idea.
I’m secretly hoping for more delays with the Common App.
As of a few days ago, the site was up and running again. But should the Common App fall down entirely, we’ll probably hear the collective wail millions of high school seniors all over the country.
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