Sediment under Lake Chichancanab on the Yucatan Peninsula has offered scientists a clearer view of what happened to the Mayan civilization:
Scientists have several theories about why the collapse happened, including deforestation, overpopulation and extreme drought. New research, published in Science Thursday, focuses on the drought and suggests, for the first time, how extreme it was.
[S]cientists found a 50 percent decrease in annual precipitation over more than 100 years, from 800 to 1,000 A.D. At times, the study shows, the decrease was as much as 70 percent.
The drought was previously known, but this study is the first to quantify the rainfall, relative humidity and evaporation at that time. It's also the first to combine multiple elemental analyses and modeling to determine the climate record during the Mayan civilization demise.
Many theories about the drought triggers exist, but there is no smoking gun some 1,000 years later. The drought coincides with the beginning of the Medieval Warm Period, thought to have been caused by a decrease in volcanic ash in the atmosphere and an increase in solar activity. Previous studies have shown that the Mayans’ deforestation may have also contributed. Deforestation tends to decrease the amount of moisture and destabilize the soil. Additional theories for the cause of the drought include changes to the atmospheric circulation and decline in tropical cyclone frequency, Evans said.
What this research has to do with the early 21st Century I'll leave as an exercise for the reader.
When I get home tonight, I'll need to read these (and so should you):
And now, I'm off to the Art Institute.
On this day in 1850, Chicago had its first (sort-of) professional opera performance. It wasn't exactly up to the Lyric's standards:
In New York, P.T. Barnum was paying Jenny Lind—“The Swedish Nightingale”—$1,000 a night to perform. Chicago’s first opera didn’t have Jenny Lind. But the local promoters were crafty enough to choose one of her biggest hits for their first show, at Rice’s Theatre. The opera was Bellini’s La Sonnambula.
Four singers are not enough for an opera. So the Chicago cast was filled out with local amateurs. A few of them had good voices, most of them didn’t. Rehearsals were—I think “confused” is a good word to describe them.
Just like in one of those bad old Hollywood movies, the show had problems. The audience kept applauding at the wrong time—whenever one of the hometown amateurs showed up on stage, his friends in the audience would stand up and cheer. Meanwhile, one of the extras named J.H. McVicker sang so loudly he drowned out everybody else.
It helps to remember that 18 years after the city's founding, it more resembled a frontier town than the international metropolis it became in the 20th century. Still, it sounds like a fun show.
And then the theater burned down the next day...
More data has emerged about Amelia Earhart's final days:
Across the world, a 15-year-old girl listening to the radio in St. Petersburg, Fla., transcribed some of the desperate phrases she heard: “waters high,” “water’s knee deep — let me out” and “help us quick.”
A housewife in Toronto heard a shorter message, but it was no less dire: “We have taken in water . . . we can’t hold on much longer.”
That harrowing scene, the International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) believes, was probably one of the final moments of Earhart’s life. The group put forth the theory in a paper that analyzes radio distress calls heard in the days after Earhart disappeared.
Some of Earhart’s final messages were heard by members of the military and others looking for Earhart, Gillespie said. Others caught the attention of people who just happened to be listening to their radios when they stumbled across random pleas for help.
Almost all of those messages were discounted by the U.S. Navy, which concluded that Earhart’s plane went down somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, then sank to the seabed.
[Research director Ric] Gillespie has been trying to debunk that finding for three decades. He believes that Earhart spent her final days on then-uninhabited Gardner Island. She may have been injured, Noonan was probably worse, but the crash wasn’t the end of them.
Gardner Island, now called Nikumaroro, fits the classic description of a desert island: it's a small atoll with trees and a very long swim to the next nearest land mass. Crashing there might have meant a slow death from dehydration instead of a quick one from impact. We'll never know for sure, but this new data, if accurate, adds some weight to the hypothesis that Earhart crashed on Nikumaroro in 1937.
I've been reading a novel written in 1935 that, except for its contemporary cultural references, could have been written in 2015. Or, heaven forfend!, 2020.
I can't recommend Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here enough. Donald Trump isn't exactly Buzz Windrip, but he's too close for comfort.
The problem, of course, is that authoritarian demagogues follow a script, and if you've read that script, you know the ending. Worse, you know the chapters between here and there. Lewis's wife, Dorothy Thompson, covered Germany as a journalist in the early 1930s. In that decade, Americans worried more than we do today about fascism—even without knowing the truth about Nazism's final solution.
The novel has different pacing and dialogue than modern audiences might prefer. The protagonist also sounds a bit preachy. And don't get me started with the casual sexism of Lewis's worldview. But he was prescient. And he showed how, exactly, it could happen here.
The events of the last three years do too. Let's hope our institutions survive.
The Washington Post enumerates them:
MYTH NO. 1
The Beatles objected to trading leather outfits for suits and ties.
“In the beginning,” John Lennon told Melody Maker, the British music magazine, in 1970, Brian Epstein, the Beatles’ manager, “. . . put us in neat suits and shirts, and Paul was right behind him. I didn’t dig that, and I used to try to get George to rebel with me.” Lennon later complained to Rolling Stone that by giving up leather for suits, “we sold out.” Soon, the story of the Beatles chafing against Epstein’s directives was part of the lore.
The other Beatles — and sometimes, Lennon himself — remembered things differently. “It was later put around that I betrayed our leather image,” Paul McCartney said in “The Beatles Anthology,” “but, as I recall, I didn’t actually have to drag anyone to the tailors.” George Harrison said that “with black T-shirts, black leather gear and sweaty, we did look like hooligans. . . . We gladly switched into suits to get some more money and some more gigs.” Lennon put it this way to Hit Parader in 1975: “Outside of Liverpool, when we went down South in our leather outfits, the dance hall promoters didn’t really like us. . . . We liked the leather and the jeans but we wanted a good suit, even to wear offstage.” To which he added, “I’ll wear a fucking balloon if somebody’s going to pay me.”
Yeah, that sounds like John.
I believed a couple of the other myths, too.
Writing for NBC News, UT law professor Steve Vladeck reflects on how we celebrate today, and not Constitution Day, as the birthday of our nation:
As Lincoln would have it, Union soldiers weren’t fighting for the separation of powers, the Bill of Rights, or even the supremacy of the federal government (although that theme had often been invoked in the earlier years of the war). Instead, Lincoln suggested they were fighting for liberty from tyrannical government and the equality of all men (and, belatedly, women). This, despite the fact that no provision of the original Constitution reflected such principles (and several were expressly antithetical to them). Our “founding,” in Lincoln’s view, was not when we agreed to the legal system under which we currently operate; it was when we agreed to a more fundamental commitment to everyone’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
What this choice of birthday suggests is that, whereas we are governed by the Constitution, our national ethos is more than just the sum of the rules of our legal system — which, too many times in American history, have indulged, if not directly perpetuated, inequality and oppression.
We aspire to more because that was our justification for breaking away from the British in the first place. And so, ever since 1870, July 4, and not any other date, has been recognized by Congress as the day on which we celebrate America’s birthday — defining our core national identity as one of egalitarianism, first and foremost.
This government, of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
Amsterdam is building a new subway line directly beneath the Amstel River, so they drained it, as one does. Then they let a team of archaeologists go wild:
The excavations in the Amstel yielded a deluge of finds, some 700,000 in all: a vast array of objects, some broken, some whole, all jumbled together. Damrak and Rokin proved to be extremely rich sites on account of the waste that had been dumped in the river for centuries and the objects accidentally lost in the water. The enormous quantity, great variety and everyday nature of these material remains make them rare sources of urban history. The richly assorted collection covers a vast stretch of time, from long before the emergence of the city right up to the present day. The objects paint a multi-facetted picture of daily life in the city of Amsterdam.
The city has published an online catalog that you can view chronologically or alphabetically.
The Uptown Theater in Chicago will reopen in a few years after developers raised $75m for renovations:
The theater, a Spanish Baroque Revival dazzler designed by the kings of movie palace architecture, C.W. and George L. Rapp, is an emblem of Uptown’s lost glamour. Graffiti mars its exterior. Near the top of its bright red marquee, some of the script letters that spelled out the names of its developers, the theater chain owners Balaban & Katz, are missing, like gaps in a row of teeth.
Little is known at this point about the plans of the new developer, Chicago-based Farpoint Development, which is said to have cobbled together $75 million in public and private funds to revive the theater, located at 4816 N. Broadway.
If the Uptown really does wind up being reborn, it will mark a major change from 1961, which witnessed the destruction of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Garrick Theater, a masterpiece of the first Chicago School of Architecture, and its replacement by a parking garage. Along with the demolition of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building in the early 1970s, that traumatic event helped lead to the creation of today’s strong preservation movement in Chicago and the Uptown’s bright new prospects.
Uptown, like Logan Square, has been "the next hot neighborhood" for about 20 years. I'm hopeful that the Uptown Theater will reopen soon, and revitalize the Broadway corridor once again.
Josh Marshall says that, despite what will probably come from a hard-right Supreme Court over the next few years, this isn't the end of the left:
Elections have consequences. Often they are profound consequences stretching years or decades into the future from their inception point. Trumpism is civic poison. There is a temptation to think that this is another reverse coming after Trump’s election, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, the reversal of DACA protections and more. I don’t see it that way. These jolts are really only absorbing, fully recognizing the consequences of what happened in November 2016. Once we ingested it into the body politic all sorts of outcomes became either inevitable or possible. [Trump appointing a second conservative justice] is just one more of them, though perhaps the most consequential yet.
Jeffrey Toobin says Roe v Wade will be overturned and abortion in 20+ states within 18 months. This is far from the only change we are likely to see in short order. The most visible, high-profile Court issues tend to be those centering on questions like abortion rights, LGBT equality, religious liberty. Far less visible, though no less consequential, are the issues I expect a new Court to focus on most: using the scaffolding of the law to block legislatures from addressing key economic questions facing our society, much as the Court did in the late 19th and early decades of the 20th century. They are all important; they’re all down by six runs in the 9th inning.
How do we react? I wrote yesterday that we can’t expect the courts to save us. That was clear with yesterday’s decisions. It’s even more overwhelmingly clear today. Litigation remains critical. But the fight for voting rights, for instance, will be won at the ballot box. Change will come through robust political coalitions — at the local and state level, building to the federal level. Everything else must follow the same path. We are on our own, left to our own devices. The history, whatever mistakes, misfortunes and interventions, is simply the terrain we now grapple with.
Remember, the American populace will continue to look less white and less conservative as the years go on. And the Supreme Court will, with its coming 5-seat right rump, make decisions that more and more Americans find distasteful. The Republican Party have chosen the losing side, but like all people, they will fight harder to keep what they have than they fought to get it in the first place.
We've seen startlingly rapid reversals in American history, even when things looked the worst. The Court blocked FDR's first attempts to fix the economy in 1933-1935, but ultimately relented in the face of overwhelming popular support, which contributed to us getting out of the Great Depression.
Things look bad. But they always do right before they get better.