We are all Florida man.

Everglades drainage canal circa 1910 / Detroit Publishing Company via the Library of Congress

Not to be presumptuous, but if you think of the Everglades — the beautiful, foreboding wetlands that make up most of the southern tip of Florida — you might think of it as a swamp. Lots of swamp grass and swamp trees, alligators and wading birds. It’s a lot like a swamp. But what it actually is, is a river. A “river of grass” is how the conservationist Marjorie Stoneman Douglas termed it. A piquant phrase, but it’s also a river of water, that moves very, very slowly.

Or it was. It doesn’t really function as a river anymore. What…


The author’s shirt (detail)

Not long ago I found a Jhane Barnes shirt at a thrift store. It fit like a charm: a barely-there lightness from cotton that somehow feels like silk. Completely unfaded, with a distinctively three-dimensional texture you can feel arising from Barnes’s signature: complex, robust weaves in elaborate, evolving patterns, designed and made on the best technology of the early digital era.

It immediately brought back a feeling of the optimism of the time. Tech utopianism is usually associated with what Froyo Tam has wonderfully established as the “Y2K” aesthetic, but Barnes — despite favoring autumnal or at least fairly muted…


Shealah Craighead/The White House

Remember Donald Trump? Before he got tossed out of the White House, and more importantly Twitter, he ran the free world and consumed all its oxygen. Now he has to hope reporters pick up his weird, wordy missives on clip-art virtual letterhead in order to get a back-pages mention or a few RTs.

Despite his grasp on American headspace going out like a light in January, Trump nonetheless remains the shadow president of the GOP. His diminished presence was enough to get Liz Cheney — a staunch conservative — from a high-level if not especially powerful position in the House…


Wilson Hui/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

After a bit more than 100 days in office, Joe Biden has demonstrated an impressive political ability: the willingness to change course quickly without making a big deal about it.

On April 16, for instance, the administration announced that it would be keeping Donald Trump’s historically low cap of 15,000 refugees permitted to enter the country in 2021. This was very specifically the president’s decision, made over the objections of his secretary of state.

This was, of course, wildly unpopular with his base. Within days, the White House promised a new, higher cap by May 15, without committing to his…


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…


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…


EXPRESS YOURSELF

We won’t forget all the mundane intricacies of life during the time of Covid-19 — thanks to the personal essay

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

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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