John Marshall’s opinion in Madison vs. Marbury, the foundation of its role as a co-equal branch, is magisterial. The case that inspired it was anything but.

Silhouette portrait of John Marshall by William H. Brown / Library of Congress

Ain’t it something? What makes it special — this whole moment came from nothing.

— Bubba Sparxx, “Ugly”

The left has been feeling its oats in the past year, and has every reason to — while standard-bearer Bernie Sanders fell quickly to Joe Biden in the primaries, the left (and Sanders in particular) has been able to push the new president. His administration has treated left-wing econ think-tanks like a farm team.

Recently the Biden administration announced a “Supreme Court commission” to address one of the left’s shoot-the-moon ideas, upzoning the highest court in the land and packing it with…

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The dull stress of the late pandemic is a kind of window into what a lot of people live with all the time.

Illinois WPA Art Project / Library of Congress

As the pandemic drags into its second year, the tone of the coverage about day to day life has shifted. The most fortunate among us have been the most likely to do nothing: not go into a workplace, not go into a hospital or nursing home, not go to a grocery store, not travel, with all the attendant risks.

What this looks a lot like is depression. The New York Times ran a popular story about “languishing”: “a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield…


The U.S. is worse than a lot of developed countries at a lot of public-health issues, but cutting this low-hanging fruit by a quarter would be like eliminating all gun homicides.

Bernard Gotfryd/Library of Congress

A few days ago, the state of Oklahoma granted immunity “to motorists who unintentionally cause injury or death while ‘fleeing from a riot,’” one of five in which such a bill was introduced. Critics, who call such legislation “hit and kill” laws, argue that they threaten to go beyond criminalizing dissent, permitting vigilante justice against dissent. In The New Republic, Alex Pareene writes:

There’s something very telling about how the car (or police cruiser, or truck, or SUV) has been enshrined into law as an instrument of state-sanctioned violence. American conservatives are creating, really, a sort of Second Amendment for…


We won’t forget all the mundane intricacies of life during the time of coronavirus — thanks to the personal essay

Demonstration at the Red Cross Emergency Ambulance Station in Washington, D.C., during the influenza pandemic of 1918 / Library of Congress

The reliance of contemporary journalism, particularly online journalism, on the personal essay has been the subject of criticism, and sometimes revulsion — often with subtexts about generations and gender, navel-gazing youth taught by years of therapy to look within for the most important subject.

Then the pandemic happened.

When it did, a lot of us looked back to the last similar pandemic, in 1918, to see what life was like when the whole world was vulnerable, when people were masked and cities stuck in a cycle of shutdowns and reopenings. …


Between violent crime and stagflation, the 1970s were kind of a mess

Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, 1974 / Danny Lyon (National Archives)

Hating on boomers is a cottage industry online. Some of it is the usual generational foofaraw; some of it is conveniently viral clowning. But it’s all ultimately grounded in a perception that their generation got cheap college and houses, locked down the balance in pensions and stocks, and pulled up the ladder behind them by pivoting from the idealism of their youth to reactionary austerity.

There’s some truth to this: college, health care, and other core costs of living were a lot more affordable several decades back. But boomers were pretty young when the postwar promise they were born into…


First-year analysts are making noise about their ‘inhumane’ working conditions. It’s tempting not to care, but it’s their world and we’re living in it

Paul Strand, Wall Street, 1916 / Library of Congress

A few weeks ago, a group of first-year analysts at Goldman Sachs dropped a “Working Conditions Survey” outlining their hundred-hour weeks, “consistent 9 am-5am’s,” five hours of sleep, and self-reported 2/10 firm and work satisfaction rating. Public response fell along predictable lines. Some said these expectations were clear and the money is great, which is true. Others took issue with normalizing banker burnout and said they still shouldn’t be working that much anyway, which is arguably true. Anonymous investment bankers said the same thing.

So should we worried about the young Goldman Sachs’ bankers? Maybe the answer lies in not…


Where Are They Now

In between the minivan’s decline and the SUV’s surge, one of the century’s most beloved — and despised—cars experienced a brief moment of fame

A black and white photo of a PT Cruiser photoshopped onto a thought bubble.
A black and white photo of a PT Cruiser photoshopped onto a thought bubble.
Photo Illustration: Save As/Medium; Source: Getty Images

Do you remember the PT Cruiser? Yeah, you do: Chrysler’s po-mo hot rod with the funny name and the Dick Tracy-esque curves? It’s in the first shot of the new CW series Superman and Lois, because it’s the closest thing on the road to the car on the cover of Action Comics #1, the 1938 comic book in which Superman makes his debut. It’s just right — like the current comic-book universes, the PT Cruiser was designed to be contemporary, entertaining, and a very loud echo of the past.

It was also supposed to be as ubiquitous as the DC…


Like many good children’s books, Cloudy With Meatballs tackles adult anxieties

Photo: Getty Images

Reading to my children, sometimes, turns into an excavation of adult anxieties. Sometimes this is intentional on the part of the author, and it’s thrilling to go back and see how I came to adopt the anxieties.

I loved Virginia Lee Burton’s quaintly illustrated but melancholy The Little House, which follows a little worker’s cottage as the concrete jungle surrounds, overshadows, and wears it down, like a child’s introduction to concentric zone theory. Burton’s Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel is a clever retelling of the John Henry fable (Ezra Jack Keats’s more faithful retelling is a masterpiece as well)…


Edgar Sydenstricker dug into the pandemic of 1918 and found income level was a key factor in who lived and who died

The St Louis Red Cross Motor Corps on duty during the Influenza epidemic, 1918. Photo: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

Edgar Sydenstricker, the preeminent epidemiologist of his generation, showed how the 1918 flu pandemic was hardest on the poor, as were so many of the health conditions he studied. He had a plan to fix it. Today, we’re finding, and debating, the same things.

As the flu pandemic of 1918 circled the United States in wave after wave or two years, the poor died in droves. It was a predictable outcome. …


WHERE ARE THEY NOW

An investigation two decades later

Photo illustration, source: Erik Freeland/Getty Images

Where Are They Now is a column that revisits once-popular companies and brands that have seemingly disappeared.

The shorthand for the bubbliest startup of the dot-com bubble has long been Kozmo, the turn-of-the-century startup that intended to solve the ultimate logistical problem: What if someone would just bring me that thing I want, now? Imagine Amazon Prime at the speed of pizza delivery but for free. At the time, many people asked “How is that a feasible business model?” — including the founders of Kozmo, though not soon enough to save their IPO in 2000.

And yet today, the world…

Whet Moser

Freelance writer/editor in Chicago. Words in Marker, The Atlantic, COVID Tracking Project, elsewhere. Author of ‘Chicago: From Vision to Metropolis.’

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