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It’s Driving Them Out of Their Minds: The First Big Poisoning in Ancient Rome

It’s Driving Them Out of Their Minds: The First Big Poisoning in Ancient Rome

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There were quite a few methods of offing rivals available to criminals in ancient Rome, but poisoning became a popular one by the early imperial period. Perhaps the first widespread ring wreaking havoc in Rome came in the fourth century BC, more specifically, in the year 331 BC, when a bunch of high-ranking men died of a disease…or, as Livy reveals in The History of Rome , of poison! What’s more, an ancient version of a modern plea bargain was involved.

A Servant Reveals the Truth

As Livy relates, that year, a number of major officials in the Roman Republic were falling ill from a mysterious disease—and most were dying! Nobody was sure of why people were getting sick, until “a certain serving-woman came to Quintus Fabius Maximus, the curule aedile, and declared that she would reveal the cause of the general calamity, if he would give her a pledge that she should not suffer for her testimony.”

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It was a Roman servant who said she could reveal the cause of the mass deaths of high-ranking officials. Fresco of a servant in the Roman Tomb of Silistra in northeastern Bulgaria

What did this mean? For one, the “serving woman”—who was actually a slave; the Latin word to describe her was ancilla—would get immunity for testifying against the guilty party. Fabius Maximus immediately went to The Powers That Be, who agreed that the slave-woman should get immunity. Once she got her deal, the slave disclosed that Rome had been “afflicted by the criminal practices of the women” who were, in fact, upper-class matrons.

Conspiracy in Ancient Rome

Following the informer discreetly, these proto-police found the culprits. They also uncovered stored poisons; these noxious substances were brought into the light—literally, being dragged into the center of Rome, the Forum. About twenty ladies were summoned, too; their ringleaders, two aristocratic matrons named Sergia and Cornelia, claimed these concoctions were actually beneficial, not poisonous. Livy might have chosen these names because members of these gentes, or Roman clans, were later associated with the Catalinarian conspiracy, with which his readers would have been familiar.

It was a group of women who were said to be at the center of a conspiracy to kill off high-ranking men in ancient Rome. Credit: Mary Evans Picture Library

Accused Women Drinking Their Own Poison

But back to 331. The slave informant rebutted the allegation that the concoctions were healthy, challenging the women to drink the potions if they were so nice, after all. After discussing it amongst themselves, the twenty matrons downed the poison and unsurprisingly, all died. Why was this mass trial conducted publicly, in a criminal court, rather than privately? Because it wasn’t just about family; these women had tried to dismantle all of Roman society. After this, the conspiracy was swiftly dismantled. It was revealed that 170 matrons were involved and were found guilty (other, later sources place the number at 370, although both numbers were probably exaggerated).

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Livy claims that, at this point, mass poisonings were so rare that the public regarded it as an instance of insanity rather than “felonious intent.” In order to restore sanity, the community resurrected an old custom: a dictator would drive a nail into something, which would make everyone normal again somehow. A Roman official was elected to be the nominal dictator—he drove in the nail and then resigned—and everything went back to normal.

‘The Plague at Ashdod’ by Nicolas Poussin

What Was the Real Reason Behind the Deaths?

Why did these women poison so many high-ranking Romans? Perhaps, as one scholar suggests, they were offing male leaders in an effort to secure equal rights for women. These matrons resorted to extreme action in order to free themselves and others. Others have suggested that real-life epidemics were indeed just that—widespread illnesses—but people suspected poisonings and targeted human scapegoats instead. But perhaps the most important takeaway from this story of mass poisonings, as suggested by historian Victoria Pagán, is the association of multiple strata of women with secretive murders, poisoning, and conspiracies.

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    10 Christians Were Sentenced Work In The Mines

    Working in the mines sounds like a job that an average Joe would have. It doesn&rsquot sound scary, like getting eaten by a lion or being burned alive. Also, it appears to be a slap-on-the-wrist punishment compared to the typically harsh punishments that are associated with ancient Romans.

    So was it really a &ldquopunishment&rdquo?

    The proper Roman term for condemning some to the mines was damnatio ad metalla (&ldquocondemned to the mines&rdquo). Christians were not always immediately killed by the Romans. Instead, for their transgressions, Christians could be sentenced to work in the mines until they died.

    Conditions in the mines were brutal. Believe it or not, it was considered to be the most severe punishment other than execution. One could describe it as &ldquoa slow death sentence&rdquo or &ldquobeing worked to death.&rdquo [1]

    It’s Driving Them Out of Their Minds: The First Big Poisoning in Ancient Rome - History

    The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.

    Oh. ( Score: 5, Funny)

    Re:Oh. ( Score: 4, Insightful)

    If this were true I wouldn't even have a brain left.

    I bet there are so many caveats here that the truth of this is almost certain to be lost in the noise. People differ so much, I tend to take it with a very large dose of salt when someone tells me such and such consequences are inevitable. People smoke their entire lives, no cancer. Others, bang, almost right away. Some people have immense physical stamina. Some enjoy the night. Some like the day. Some think kids are the most wonderful thing in the world, others think they're the purest form of annoyance. Some people live for sex, others don't care.

    And then there's the stats angle. Headline: "your chances are TWICE the nomal fella if you (fill in the blank)", when it turns out that the chances for the normal fella are one in ten thousand, and yours are now a whopping 1 in 5000. Yawn.

    Nah, not buying it. Think I'll skip sleeping tonight and play with my radios.:) 80 meters is open all night, and it's pretty quiet (in the atmospheric noise sense) now!

    You know what probably REALLY gives you brain damage? Superstition.

    This is true ( Score: 3, Insightful)

    It never said that the brain damage it gives you is as dramatic as you're making it out to be. It is actually miniscule damage. But that minuscule damage could cause very minor memory loss, such as forgetting one thing in a test or forgetting something on your shopping list.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Or it could be why so many elderly people suffer from sleep disorders.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    People differ so much, I tend to take it with a very large dose of salt when someone tells me such and such consequences are inevitable

    There is a lot of truth in what u're sayin. But the ones u mention are statistically rare cases. I wreck my circadian rythm every now and then and yes the next day is buzzed. What the article suggests is , unlike previous belief that it's like an account where you can lose some sleep and make up for it aint entirely true. It takes a while to make up for it.

    Re:Oh. ( Score: 5, Informative)

    LONG TERM sleep deprivation. As in your lifestyle - swing shifters, etc. Not the occasional amphetamine binge, or caffeine fueled cram/D&D/gaming session.

    never mind the actual experiment they conducted where they found neurons destroyed in the brains of mice that were kept on a wonky sleep schedule.

    our bodies are TUNED to be active during the day, sleep at night.

    probably contributes to jetlag.. see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C. [wikipedia.org] "Although circadian rhythms are endogenous ("built-in", self-sustained), they are adjusted (entrained) to the local environment by external cues called zeitgebers, commonly the most important of which is daylight."

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    Congrats, you are nocturnal.

    Embrace it and you will be much happier. Been professionally nocturnal for 7 years now and I love it. If you live in a big city is is actually very easy to do.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Embrace it and you will be much happier

    Proceed with caution - This can cause issues depending on where you are in your life, or where you want to be. If you want to one day settle down with someone and have kids, then a nocturnal lifestyle is really incompatible with that. My sister is married to a nocturnal guy, and now that they have two kids it puts a real stress on their marriage. School, school events, swimming lessons, birthday parties - These regular 'family life' events all occur during the da

    Re:Oh. ( Score: 4, Informative)

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    LONG TERM sleep deprivation. As in your lifestyle - swing shifters, etc.

    So what about people who permanently work 3rd shift? Is it just a problem for people who keep shifting their schedule around?

    Re: ( Score: 3)

    You know what probably REALLY gives you brain damage? Superstition.

    A pity superstition (like stupidity in general) isn't painful. Stupid should hurt, dammnit.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    A pity superstition (like stupidity in general) isn't painful. Stupid should hurt, dammnit.

    It is, and it does. But pain is a bad, ambiguous teacher: does it hurt because you are a Neo-Nazi in modern-day Germany or because you are an antifascist in Nazi Germany?

    The only thing pain tells you is that you're at odds with your surroundings. It does not reveal which one, if either, is in the right.

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    You know what probably REALLY gives you brain damage? Superstition.

    It's bad luck to be superstitious.

    Re:Oh. ( Score: 5, Funny)

    You know what probably REALLY gives you brain damage? Superstition.

    Fortunately a lucky rabbit's foot gives 100% protection against this effect.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Except that real lucky rabbits don't lose their feet and have to get prosthetics fitted. You're only getting unlucky rabbits' feet.

    Re: ( Score: 3)

    I tend to take it with a very large dose of salt

    Well taking that much salt will clog your arteries and you will die in horrible suffering studies say:-)

    Re: ( Score: 3, Informative)

    Mostly, I agree with what you say. But I do believe that long term sleep deprivation is not healthy. I once read a believable article claiming that sleep clears the brain of waste chemicals, kind of like going to the bathroom. Without losing that waste it starts to build up and poison you.

    Other than that, it's also rather straightforward self-experience. If you feel like shit after pulling 24hrs it's probably because shit is happening to you. Just like when drinking too much alcohol.

    Anecdote=truth ( Score: 1)

    Science is always trying to catch up.
    to me.
    I figured out a long time ago, the sleep you miss is merely deducted from your lifespan. You can't get it back.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    I wouldn't go as far as that, but considering that sleep is garbage collection, that a lot of living creatures risk their life every time they go "offline" to perform it, and that it's the only occasion for nerds to have satisfying interaction with the other sex (in their dreams, that is), I am sure treating sleep with RESPECT.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Let me guess, you also think that drinking a lot of soda pop will not make you fat?

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    If this were true I wouldn't even have a brain left.

    I bet there are so many caveats here that the truth of this is almost certain to be lost in the noise. People differ so much, I tend to take it with a very large dose of salt when someone tells me such and such consequences are inevitable. People smoke their entire lives, no cancer. Others, bang, almost right away. Some people have immense physical stamina. Some enjoy the night. Some like the day. Some think kids are the most wonderful thing in the world, others think they're the purest form of annoyance. Some people live for sex, others don't care.

    And then there's the stats angle. Headline: "your chances are TWICE the nomal fella if you (fill in the blank)", when it turns out that the chances for the normal fella are one in ten thousand, and yours are now a whopping 1 in 5000. Yawn.

    Nah, not buying it. Think I'll skip sleeping tonight and play with my radios.:) 80 meters is open all night, and it's pretty quiet (in the atmospheric noise sense) now!

    You know what probably REALLY gives you brain damage? Superstition.

    How would you know if the all nighter is BS? After all, you may be thinking that because your brain was modified (ie, damaged in a particular way).

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    I bet she slept regular hours.

    No shit ! ( Score: 4, Interesting)

    Not all of us like to pull all-nighters.

    For some of us, our brains refuse to stop going overdrive until our mission / project is over.

    Since my college days, whenever I am in a mission for something, my brain kicks up to the overdrive, and even if I sleep, it still keep churning and churning, resulting in me having really lousy sleeps, with imageries of what I was doing, what I am going to do, what I ought be doing (some times they are " hints" from the sub-conscious) kept on flashing up in my dreams.

    For example: I may be in the middle of a very difficult and confusing debugging job.

    After non-stop eyeballing the codes, countless re-and re-re-running of the resulting compilations, I get tired and hit the sack.

    But in my dreams, images of the screens popping up, with texts (source code) scrolling up and down and sideways, with my "dream self" doing the "virtual debugging" inside my dreams.

    It's a goddamn fucking torture, man.

    That is why sometimes I rather pull an all-nighters to get the job done, rather than having those un-ending-loop of imagery invading my sleep.

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    Agreed, if I have to pull an all-nighter, then someone else could be subject to permanent damage.

    Re:No shit ! ( Score: 5, Interesting)

    with my "dream self" doing the "virtual debugging"

    Then there are the nights you do real debugging.

    I modified an overnight cron job that downloaded sales from and uploaded prices to shops. Woke up at 2AM thinking "that program will not work". Logged in remotely and looked over a plethora of failing jobs. Stopped them, edited the program, set it running again, watched it run for a while and then went back to bed. What had I remembered? Not putting a double-semicolon on a new entry in a case-esac statement.

    Ah! Dream Coding. ( Score: 5, Funny)

    Re: Ah! Dream Coding. ( Score: 1)

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    That wasn't the kind of dream I was having.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    I remember dreaming at a keyboard, and when I snapped awake, I had found that I had typed words from my dream into my code. I decided that it was time to go home at that point.

    it's more embarrassing to dream-type the commit message and get just wake enough to do "git push" so everybody can see it. (real story, less than a week old)

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    and even if I sleep, it still keep churning and churning

    I had the same issue, I found it was what I was eating and how I exercised. I stop eating anything with sugar, citric acid, or caffeine after 8. Try to eat before 7. With a bit of exercise. If I do that my body naturally falls into a sleep by 12:30 (usually 11:30). I wake up around 8-9 very refreshed and usually bang out whatever bug was killing me last night.

    You are not falling completely asleep. You are not getting past your dreaming state. So

    Re: ( Score: 3)

    My most infuriating experience was when I solved a problem I had at work, it compiled, it did everything it needed to do, but when I went to commit it to SVN I had no Internet. After a few attempts, I realised I was dreaming and I woke up. And I had to type all that again when I got into the office.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    I used to do that often as a kid. I would dream through a boring school-day in all it's tedious monotony and in excruciating detail. then wake up and find I had to do it all again. The last time it happened, the waking up and doing it a second time part was also just a dream and I went through that day three times. Thankfully, that was the last of that recurring dream sequence.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Sounds implausible to me ( Score: 4, Insightful)

    Sleep deprivation has been a natural and common occurrence throughout human evolution. It seems highly implausible that "an all-nighter" would cause permanent brain damage in any meaningful sense.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    And if it did cause damage, then wouldn't an MRI or such be able to show the damage?

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Probably not unless it was acute or traumatic damage - individual neurons don't show up in modern MRIs, much less individual dendrites, and if the damage is minor and internal to the cells it would be essentially impossible to detect at all with modern technology.

    Re:sounds implausible to me ( Score: 5, Insightful)

    Sleep deprivation has been a natural and common occurrence throughout human evolution. It seems highly implausible that "an all-nighter" would cause permanent brain damage in any meaningful sense.

    I doubt a single all-nighter is going to cause a measurable change to your long term brain function. However, anything that takes a small toll, may become measurable in aggregate after a given number of occurrences.

    Regarding human evolution people generally sleep when it is dark. And with no unnatural sources of light, historically sleep deprivation would not have been anywhere near as common as it has become in modern society.

    The blurb doesn't give enough for a discussion ( Score: 2)

    > anything that takes a small toll, may become measurable
    > in aggregate after a given number of occurrences.

    I think that's overly vague. Us animals have very resilient bodies. Our muscles get damaged during exercise but years of hard exercise doesn't wear our muscles away.

    The article itself (or at least the blurb) is sensationalist in its use of "brain damage".

    If I never did any all nighters, ok, maybe I would have avoided some "measurable" but insignificantly small amount of damage, but I would hav

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    > anything that takes a small toll, may become measurable > in aggregate after a given number of occurrences.

    I think that's overly vague. Us animals have very resilient bodies. Our muscles get damaged during exercise but years of hard exercise doesn't wear our muscles away.

    Ummm. years of hard exercise most definitely does cause permanent injury [wikipedia.org], Google "overuse injury" to see as many links on it at as you care to read. Athletes are forced to end careers all the time for this reason. And then there is Osteoarthritis [wikipedia.org] which causes permanent disability due to bone damage from overuse.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    I said muscles. You're talking about tendons. And your example is a corner case - most people who exercise never get tennis elbow. Even among those whose sport of choice is tennis!

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    I think that's overly vague. Us animals have very resilient bodies. Our muscles get damaged during exercise but years of hard exercise doesn't wear our muscles away.

    But if you go too far over the line, you actually can exercise your way to rhabdomyolysis.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Muscles are not necessarily damaged by small amounts of activity, but take them beyond their limits too often or too quickly and you get tears, strains and other indirect problems related to interconnects like bones and tendons. Sleep deprivation is not a typical activity and should be likened to overexertion or overuse.

    I agree the blurb is sensationalist in its claims, but the observations in the article are still valid within the domain in their claims of how sleep deprivation affects the mice they were t

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Last I checked (a few years ago), the pretty much universally accepted theory of muscle growth is that muscle fibres suffer micro-tears during exercise, and these heal back slightly stronger than before. Bodybuilders inflict more micro-tears on their muscle fibres than other exercisers and then try to maximise nutrition, rest, and hormones afterwards to maximise the healing.

    The observations might be valid in some sense (e.g. not incorrect) but it looks to me like an insignificant finding that's been dresse

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Just to back up the parent, TFA is not talking about one all-nighter, but does say that a few days on a "shift work" sleep schedule (whatever that is) has a dramatic effect. To me this reads as if it's more about getting poor quality sleep on a regular basis, rather than "missing sleep."

    Bear in mind, the linked article is from CNN, and CNN is NOT known for their deep thoughts or complete, or even accurate, coverage.

    Re: ( Score: 1)

    CNN is NOT known for their deep thoughts or complete, or even accurate, coverage.

    But the Fox tabloid is, right?

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    But the Fox tabloid is, right?

    Hell no. What, out of my post, would make any reasonable person infer that? WTF is wrong with you?

    Re:sounds implausible to me ( Score: 5, Interesting)

    Being eaten by tigers was also common and natural. Natural is not a synonym for healthy.

    This study is a long way from proving anything, but I suspect a lot of people will just dismiss it entirely because they don't want to believe it.

    Re:sounds implausible to me ( Score: 4, Informative)

    Re:sounds implausible to me ( Score: 5, Funny)

    "Natural is not a synonym for healthy."

    Unless, of course, you are the tiger.

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Being eaten by tigers was also common and natural. Natural is not a synonym for healthy.

    Saying that "sleep deprivation is common and natural" is a shorthand for saying that "sleep deprivation has exerted evolutionary pressure on humans frequently and since prehistoric times". If it caused significant and permanent brain damage, it would have reduced human fitness and been selected against, in particular since we know that there are many mammals that can deal with sleep deprivation just fine. Hence, it is im

    Re: ( Score: 2)

    Are you really so biologically illiterate that you are confusing my statement with the common "natural is good" fallacy? Geez.

    Are you really so humour-impaired that you are mistaking his witticism for serious debate?:-D

    Re:sounds implausible to me ( Score: 4, Interesting)

    And it's implausible that people being eaten by tigers cause death, right?

    There's nothing wrong with the GP's analogy. Sleep deprivation may have been common, but it's not like every human being suffered from it. As a result, like numerous other natural factors, from the plague, the numerous historical waves of lead poisoning (ancient rome, 19th Century plumbing, 20th century car exhausts) to "being eaten by tigers", the mere fact we've survived it doesn't mean that it's harmless.

    But yes, it's (probably) exerted some minor evolutionary pressure, though not the pressure you appear to think (and you're claiming the GP is "biologically illiterate"?)

    This is about minor but very real brain damage. If our bodies have not found a way to adapt to childhood lead poisoning, which has a much greater affect on the brain, then it's pretty safe to assume that human beings have survived in spite of this, not finding some way to make our bodies stronger. A more plausible solution to how we've survived as a species despite numerous natural attacks on our ability to think clearly is that we've evolved, or always were able, to deal with a certain amount of poor thinking, to route around brain damage rather than fix it.

    Is a slightly impaired brain going to prevent the person whose brain it is reproducing? Some would argue the opposite. Will it prevent that person from living? No, because they still function enough to perform the basic tasks required in any society to live, and because the social constructs we've evolved to want and demand provide a minimum level of support for every person. Will it make it harder for that person to bring up their offspring? No, again because they'll still function enough to perform the basic tasks required in any society to live, and because of the aforementioned social constructs.

    The tigers, if anything, are more likely to have had a significant evolutionary effect, in that nobody survives being eaten by one, and so it would stand to reason that we've developed more traits related to avoiding being eaten by tigers than about repairing or preventing brain damage.

    Re: ( Score: 3)

    Are you really so biologically illiterate that you are confusing my statement with the common "natural is good" fallacy? Geez.

    Easy there pardner. Don't go throwing around accusations of "biological illiteracy" when your premise ("sleep deprivation common throughout human history") has zero support. Before the age of lamps staying up all night would be quite rare, and would not have become particularly prevalent until the age of electric lighting made light cheap and abundantly available at night.

    And since all kinds of things humans were subjected to in prehistory still cause us injury the notion of this broad form of argument is f

    Day-to day resistance

    Running away was less dangerous than rebellion, but it was still a hazardous enterprise. Slave-catchers apart, Roman law forbade the harbouring of fugitives, so slaves on the run were always in danger and if caught could be savagely punished. To many therefore it must have made sense not to risk life and limb by running away, but to carry out acts of wilful obstruction or sabotage that harmed slave-owners' interests at minimal risk to themselves.

    Slaves, for example, might steal food or other supplies from the household. Those in positions of responsibility might falsify record books, and embezzle money from their owners, or arrange for their own manumission (setting free). Ordinary farm labourers might deliberately go slow on the job, or injure the animals they worked with to avoid work - or they might pretend to be ill, destroy equipment, or damage buildings. If your job was to make wine and you had to produce a certain quota, why not add in some sea-water to help things along? Almost any slave could play truant or simply waste time.

    . sporadic acts of defiance created a permanent undercurrent of low-level resistance to slavery .

    All these petty forms of day-to-day resistance appealed to Roman slaves. They allowed slaves to frustrate and annoy their owners, and offered the satisfaction of knowing that their owners' powers were not absolute - that even the most humble of human beings could take action to empower themselves.

    Owners complained that their slaves were lazy and troublesome - instead of working they were always pilfering food or clothing or valuables (even the silverware), setting fire to property (villas included), or wandering around the city's art galleries and public entertainments.

    But it was in the decisions they made to cause vexation that slaves most forcefully expressed their humanity, and their opposition to the institution that oppressed them. Their sporadic acts of defiance created a permanent undercurrent of low-level resistance to slavery that was deeply embedded in Roman society.

    The slaves were motivated not by a sense of class solidarity - Rome's slave population was far too heterogeneous for that - but by the desire to find ways in which, as individuals, they could find relief from their subject status, if only temporarily.

    The relationship between slaves and masters at Rome was a contest fought in the arena of the mind. Masters could draw on all the weapons of law, status and established authority - there was never in Roman history any movement to abolish slavery - whereas slaves had little more to fight with than their wits.

    But as Plutarch's story symbolically shows, the lines of battle had to be constantly redrawn, as slaves matched their will against the will of those who owned them. And it was not always the masters who won.

    1272: Medieval Butchers Registered in England

    15th-century illustration of butchers at the market.

    Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

    In York, England, two citizens registered as 𠇏reemen Butchers” joined the 36 members listed on the Freemen’s Rolls, the city’s first reference to a guild structure. Butchers were important fixtures in medieval York: One of its oldest and most famous streets, the Shambles, was lined with butchers’ shops and houses, many of which featured slaughterhouses in the back. (The word “shambles,” now meaning disorder or confusion, was once used to refer to the table in the butcher’s shop used to display meat.) The pavements along the narrow street were raised on either side, forming a channel where medieval butchers would wash away the offal and blood produced by their trade.

    The Origins and History of Rats

    Rats have not always been the fun, multi-coloured, patterned little pets that we see or own today. There are many different species and they can be found more or less all over the world. They play a major part in history and religions worldwide, as well as today's modern society. This article aims to explore the history of rats in various different cultures.

    Let's begin with the origins. Rats are rodents of the Muroidea family. As rodents, their teeth grow continuously and they need to gnaw things on a regular basis to prevent their teeth from over growing and causing painful damage to their heads. They are not picky in what the gnaw, they can even gnaw through concrete and steel and are reputed to have a biting pressure of up to 7000lbs per square inch.

    Many rodents and small mammals are described as rats although they are not 'True rats', example of these include the North American Pack Rat and the Kangaroo Rat. 'True Rats' are rats which fall in to the Latin genus Rattus, the most common of these being the Black Rat - Rattus Rattus and the Brown Rat - Rattus Norvegicus. These two rats are the best known and most important to humans. The Black Rat is more timid and less seen compared to the Brown Rat. This is mainly due to the Brown Rat driving out the Black rat, taking over its habitat and competing for its food. Many other species have also become endangered through competition with both the Black and Brown Rat. Fancy Rats are of the Rattus Norvegicus species, the same as sewer rats!

    Rats are distinguished from mice by their size, mice generally being smaller and lighter. This is not an entirely accurate way to determine the class, as some rats can have the characteristics of mice and vice versa. As new species are being discovered the standard classifications can be confusing.

    Brown Rats originated in Asia in the grass lands of China. They began to spread across Europe in 1553 and arrived in the US in 1775 after hiding away and travelling on cargo ships. Black Rats arrived in Britain long before the Brown Rat although there are no specific record of an exact time. Reports of bones found in London indicate that the Black Rat lived there as early as the mid-third century A.D and in York in the 5th Century A.D.

    Today's rat is opportunistic and lives near to humans, quite often in their houses! This has caused them to become classed as pests. Since one pair of rats can produce up to 300 young per year, many places have become overrun with the mischievous little critters.

    Most people don't realize that rats are a lot more complicated and interesting than they are portrayed. They live in colonies which contain complex hierarchies, where they form deep bonds, often risking their own lives to save family and friends. They are highly social, very intelligent and posses psychological traits very similar to humans.

    A group of rats are known as a pack, or more aptly a 'mischief'. The males are referred to as bucks, females as does and the young as pups or kittens. Domesticated rats differ greatly to their wild counterparts, with smaller hearts, brains, livers, kidneys and adrenal glands. They are also more prone to illness, possibly due to inbreeding.

    These animals are usually portrayed as being dirty and diseased, though it is not true. Rats are constantly cleaning and grooming themselves and other pack members. Wild rats are generally robust and healthy, though city dwelling rats have poor diets and can have internal parasites. These cannot be passed on to humans. In fact, rats have very few zoonotic conditions. The most well known of these is Leptospirosis which is also known as Weil's disease and infects the liver, although this is very rare.

    Rats have spread all over the world and are worshipped in many cultures. Though in the Western world they are still frowned upon, possibly because of their association with the Black Plague which I will talk about later on.

    First, let's look at India, where rats are treated like royalty. In the North West Indian city of Deshnoke there stands an ornate temple dedicated to Karni Mata, the rat Goddess. Many people in our society would describe the temples interior as horrifying, but to a rat lover such as myself, the contents are both wondrous and beautiful.

    Thousands of furry brown bodies writhe across the floor and scurry up the intricate gold and silver work that lines the walls. The temple is overrun with rats, there are well over 20,000. It is the duty of the attending to put out bowls of milk and grain for the swarm of rats, because they believe that eventually, these furry brown souls will be reincarnated as Sadhus, Hindi holy men. People pilgrimage to this temple, travelling miles just to sit and share food with the rats, or Kabbas, their name for the holy animal. They often eat and drink from the same bowls as the rats, believing that food touched by a Kabbas is a blessing from God.

    Many people in our culture would find this temple to be strange or revolting, but it cannot be denied that all religions practise customs that may seem strange to an outsider. The rat loving Hindu temple was constructed in the 1900's by the Maharaja Ganga as a tribute to the rat Goddess Karni Mata. Kings often constructed temples to Goddesses more than Gods, believing the Goddesses to be more sympathetic and likely to help them achieve their goals.

    The legend goes that Karni Mata was a mystic matriarch from the 14th century. It was said that she was an incarnation of Durga, the Goddess of power and victory. At some point during her life, the child of one of her clansmen died. She tried in vain to bring the child back to life, only to be told by Yama, the God of death, that the child had already been reincarnated. Karni Mata then cut a deal with Yama: From that point onwards, all of her tribes people would be reborn as rats until they could be reborn in to her clan once more.

    The rat is also recognized in India as the vehicle of Lord Ganesh and pictures often depict him riding on the back of a rat. There are always statues of rats in the temple of Ganesh. In Curzon Park, Calcutta, India there is an attraction simply named 'Rat Park', where hundreds of rats scurry around inside a huge wire enclosure.

    In Imperial Chinese culture the rat is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac. Rats are revered for their quick wit, ability to hold on to items of value, friendliness, natural charm and loyalty to their friends and family. The year of the rat falls on 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996 and 2008. People who are born in the year of the rat are said to possess the rat-like qualities of creativity, honesty, generosity and ambition, but also a quick temper and wastefulness.

    The rat is the first animal of the Chinese zodiac and the story goes that the twelve animals were stood on the bank of a river arguing about who should head the cycle of years. The Gods were asked to decide and they held a contest, whoever reached the opposite side of the river first would win and the rest would receive their years in the order that they finished. They all jumped in to the river, but what the ox didn't realize is that the rat was travelling on his back. So the rat jumped off first and won. The pig was very lazy and finished last. That is why the rat appears first, with the ox second and the pig has the last year.

    In old Japan, white rats were seen as the messenger of one of the seven Gods of luck, Daikoku. It is because of this reason that rats are not killed. There is an old story about rats in the Japanese culture: An elderly rat coup0le wanted the strongest husband in the world for their daughter. They asked the sun, who declined, saying that the clouds were stronger than him as they could cover him up. They asked a cloud who said, 'The wind is stronger than I because he can blow me away.' The wind could not make the grade either, 'The wall stops me cold,' he said. Even though he wall was honoured by the offer, he wailed 'The rat is stronger than I! He can bore a hole right through me!' So the couple wisely gave their daughter in marriage to another rat, who was indeed the strongest creature of them all. At New year, the Japanese leave rice cakes out to honour the rats.

    In Ancient Rome there was no classification between rats and mice, they were simply referred to as 'big mouse' and 'little mouse'. The Romans saw rats as omens, seeing a white rat was considered auspicious, though black ones had unfortunate significance. It was said that if a rat had gnawed your personal possessions, you should postpone any business you may have been considering that day.

    It is unclear as to whether or not rats held any significance in Ancient Egypt. There are pictures which show anthropomorphic rats, but there appears to be no rat deity. It is believed that rats were pests in Egypt, destroying crops and belongings, which is probably why the cat is held in high favour.

    Perhaps the most memorable event in British history concerning rats is undoubtedly the Black Plague. It is possibly because of this that the Western world has such a negative association with the rat.

    It is often said that the rats were the actual cause of the Black Plague. This is not true, the rats themselves were also victims. The plague was caused by the micro organism, Yersinia Pestis, which was carried by the Tropical Rat Flea. The bacteria blocked the fleas stomach causing an insatiable hunger. So the fleas fed on the rats. During the feeding process the flea would regurgitate some of the bacteria in to the open would, infecting its victim. After a while the victim died and very soon the starving flea had less and less to prey on, so it moved on to another victim, humans.

    The disease itself flared up in Mongolia in the Gobi desert around 1320 and rapidly spread along the trade route, infecting much of Asia before moving through Europe. The plague eventually arrived in Britain in 1348, and by 1349 every town and village in Britain had been infected.

    The disease became known as the Bubonic Plague, as it caused painful swelling of the lymph nodes - bubodes. Throughout the years there were many cases as the plague came and went through areas of Britain. But in 1665 the great plague hit London, killing half of its population. The disease was spread from person to person via airborne water droplets, mainly coughs and sneezes. Due to the lack of medical knowledge at the time, it raged through the city. An epidemic was upon us.

    It started as an accute fever with headaches, exhaustion, chills and delirium. The lymph nodes swelled up and became hot and painful to touch. The final stages were septicaemia, coughing up blood and a lung infection. Four or five days later, death arrived.

    No one really knows how the plague eventually came to an end. Reasons could have been lack of food sources, the bacterium becoming weaker or simply the fact that the surviving humans were becoming immune. Frighteningly enough, the Bubonic plague is still common in parts of the world today, though it can be treated and does not have the same devastating effects.

    During the Victorian ages, London was swarming with rats. Rats being the cheeky, opportunistic creatures that they are, realized that there was plenty of food and places to live instead of having to struggle for survival. The abundance of rats lead to a cruel new blood sport, which although is ghastly and gory, is one of the reasons we have Fancy Rats today.

    Rat baiting was seen as an entertaining way to keep the pests under control. Men caught large amounts of live rodents and brought them in sacks to public sporting houses. The rats were then dumped in to a pit with a dog, or sometimes even a grown man. The dog (or man) was then timed as it tore through the pack. Whichever dog killed the most rats in the shortest time was declared the winner.

    Jimmy Shaw managed one of the largest public sporting houses in London. After a while he began collecting and breeding oddly coloured rats to create more colours and patterns. He then sold these 'new' rats to the public as pets.

    But the man who can be credited as the originator of the first true domestic rats, was the Royal rat catcher, Jack Black. The rise of the rat population meant that many men had found new employment as exterminators, or rat catchers as they were known at the time. It was often these men who supplied to sporting houses. In his line of work, Black came across many rats and after a while he too began to collect and breed the odd coloured ones he found. After a while he had quite the collection albinos, fawns, greys and marked rodents, which he then sold as pets. Between them, Jack Black and Jimmy Shaw sold hundreds of pet rats, laying down the foundations from which today's Fancy Rats originate.

    In the 1800's, coloured or 'Fancy' mice became popular pets. People began to realize that these furry little critters made delightful and entertaining companions. They were very easy to keep, only needing small housing as well as food and water, and with the different varieties in colour and pattern they were also pleasing to the eye. Interest in mice continued to rise, until in 1895 the National Mouse Club was founded in the UK. The NMC set up the different standards and varieties and also held shows.

    Meanwhile, dwelling in the background was a very special lady, Mary Douglas. In 1901, Ms Douglas wrote to the NMC concerning Fancy Rats and asked if their club would consider expanding their interests to include the Fancy Rat. After much debate, the NMC agreed and that same year, the classes for Fancy Rats were staged.

    By 1912 the interest in Fancy Rats had exploded and was so high that t he NMC decided to change their name to 'The National Mouse and Rat Club'. It was during this time that the scientific community discovered the benefits of rats in research. In 1921 Mary Douglas passed away and the interest in rats began to wane again. The NMC returned to their old name.

    Over the following years, the rat lovers longed for an official club of some description, but the interest in rats as pets was still too low and there was not enough rat fanciers to make a decent club or society. The rat fanciers were left wanting until 1976, when interest was high enough again to start up the National Fancy Rat Society, the first ever rat only organization.

    Interest in having rats as pets grew rapidly and very soon new varieties were founded and standardized. The National Fancy Rat Society is still active today and remains the UK's number one rat club.

    Stacey Silver has kept and bred rats for twelve years, caring for around 200 rats in this time. She has also owned an Exotic Pet shop and studied courses in animal husbandry.

    Evolution of Angels: From Disembodied Minds to Winged Guardians

    Divine messengers haven't always looked like the familiar Christmas tree toppers.

    'Tis the season for winged humanoids to alight everywhere from store windows to Christmas tree tops to lingerie runways. But it wasn't always so.

    Angels, at least the Christian variety, haven't always been flying people in diaphanous gowns. And their various forms—from disembodied minds to feathered guardians—reflect twists and turns of thousands of years of religious thought, according to an upcoming book.

    "There is lots of interesting theology about angels, and in some ways we've kind of lost the knack for that," said John Cavadini, chair of theology at the University of Notre Dame.

    "We tend to think of angels as things that we'd find in a Hallmark card," Cavadini added. "But many people, especially in antiquity, were very interested in them"—in what they might look like, how they might organize themselves, how they behave.

    In the Bible angels served as envoys of God—angelos being Greek for "messenger." Other than that, the scriptures leave a lot of room for interpretation.

    "There isn't a lot of detail, and that's the fascinating thing," said Ellen Muehlberger, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Michigan.

    "The Same Substance as God"

    In the early days of Christianity, some believers considered Jesus Christ himself to be one of many angels, said Muehlberger, who's working on a book on the shifting theology of angels in ancient times.

    "We only know about this because of later, fourth-century authors who penned negative descriptions of this belief" to refute it, she said.

    Jesus officially lost his angelhood when the Roman Emperor Constantine I convened the Council of Nicea in 325. There, bishops were charged with turning the still varied and sometimes conflicting conceptions of God, Christ, and Christianity into a single, unified theology.

    "The Council of Nicea defined Christ as totally divine, as of the same substance as God," Muehlberger said.

    "Christians who worked to interpret the council's decrees over the next several decades took this to mean that Christ was not an angel. Angels were something else entirely."

    In the early centuries of the church, perceptions of angels may have been as varied as the descriptions of Christ himself—or Judas, for that matter.

    A fourth-century Christian monk and ascetic known as Evagrius, for example, developed a theory that explained the human essence in three parts.

    "One part is governed by appetites and makes us hungry or sleepy or want to have sex," Muehlberger explained. "That's sort of the lowest part.

    "A second is an emotional part that allows us to get angry or makes us prideful.

    "Then there is a rational part," she said. "And that is the part, according to Evagrius, that is most like God and the angels too."

    Evagrius "thought that something like anger was like a demon that came and attacked you. And if you couldn't fight off those attacks yourself, a totally rational angel, standing beside you, could help you."

    Others followed this line, proclaiming that angels were disembodied minds, or intellects, according to Muehlberger.

    Around the same time, debate swirled over just who angels served on Earth.

    At early Christian monasteries, for instance, many ascetics assumed that really good students would get some kind of divine guide or coach to help them.

    "These monks said, Hey, not everybody gets a guardian angel—it's a mark of moral success," said Muehlberger, citing monastic letters from the period explaining the need for monastery inhabitants to cultivate their own angels.

    In the towns, though, a more democratic view of angels prevailed.

    Bishops and other officials began to assure their congregants that everyone has a guardian angel.

    In Egypt, some bishops went on to suggest that some desert-dwelling monks—who had renounced pleasures of flesh and family—might themselves be angels on Earth.

    The Egyptian monks rejected this out of hand, saying, in Muehlbergers' words, "We act like animals, not angels."

    Eventually this populist view won out: I'm no angel and neither are you, but they watch over all of us.

    No sooner had believers begun to vaguely agree on what angels were than scholars began to debate how heavenly messengers organize themselves.

    The Bible sheds little light on angelic society, but writers have been happy to fill in the gaps, including the unknown author of the circa-A.D. 500 On the Celestial Hierarchy.

    Incorporating some earlier ideas, the tome ranks angelic beings into nine orders. From lowest to highest: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim.

    "It was not an official church teaching," said Michael Root, a theologian at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

    Notre Dame's Cavadini added, "I think it contributed to the beauty of the universe that all these different levels of beings were incredibly diverse but completely interdependent, and that all that multiplicity yielded a harmony instead of a dissidence."

    Of course not all angels are angelic, according to some Christian traditions. Satan himself, it's been said, was once an angel named Lucifer.

    The fact that angels can fall from grace is an important point, Catholic University's Root said—it implies that they have free will.

    "You even had some theologians in the medieval and the early modern periods who thought that there was an adversarial angel, a fallen angel, assigned to each person as well as a guardian angel—though this was never an official thought," Root said.

    As early as the second and third centuries, Christian scholars such as Origen of Alexandria saw important roles for fallen angels, Notre Dame's Cavadini said.

    "For Origen and a lot of church fathers, angels participated in the governance of the universe at God's will," Cavadini said.

    "That also meant that the fallen angels were intended to participate in the betterment of the universe, and that you have to take them very seriously, because they still did participate—but in a negative way."

    Though modern Americans may spend less time puzzling over angels' forms and ways than the ancients did, Americans do tend to believe heavenly messengers are among us, and actively so.

    Some 55 percent of Americans think they've been protected by their guardian angels at some point in their lives, according to a 2008 Baylor University survey conducted by the Gallup organization.

    "I've been looking at over 1,100 stories we collected from people about their experiences with their guardian angels," Baylor sociologist Carson Mencken said.

    "People talk about close calls like auto accidents, especially accidents in which someone else was killed. Others were victims of assault or survived near-drownings or had combat-related near-death experiences," Mencken said. (See "Near-Death Experiences Explained?")

    "It's the random death that frightens us—there's nothing that we can do to control it.

    "Based on our study, many of the people who survive those close calls attribute their survival to their guardian angels," he said.

    In most of these cases, he added, the angels are not seen but only felt. And yet to many Christians, their heavenly guardians are as real as the ones on their Christmas trees.

    What Ancient Rome Tells Us About Today’s Senate

    The U.S. Senate’s abdication of duty at the start of this Memorial Day weekend, when 11 senators (nine of them Republican) did not even show up to vote on authorizing an investigation of the January 6 insurrection, makes the item below particularly timely.

    Fifty-four senators (including six Republicans) voted to approve the investigative commission. Only 35 opposed it.

    But in the institutionalized rule-of-the-minority that is the contemporary Senate, the measure “failed.” The 54 who supported the measure represented states totaling more than 190 million people. The 35 who opposed represented fewer than 105 million. (How do I know this? You take the list of states by population you match them to senators you split the apportioned population when a state’s two senators voted in opposite ways and you don’t count population for the 11 senators who didn’t show up.)

    The Senate was, of course, not designed to operate on a pure head-count basis. But this is a contemporary, permanent imbalance beyond what the practical-minded drafters of the Constitution would have countenanced.

    Why “contemporary”? Because the filibuster was not part of the constitutional balance-of-power scheme. As Adam Jentleson explains in his authoritative book Kill Switch, “real” filibusters, with senators orating for hours on end, rose to prominence as tools of 20th-century segregationists. Their 21st-century rebirth in the form of phony filibusters (where senators don’t even have to make a pretense of holding the floor) has been at the hands of Mitch McConnell, who made them routine as soon as the Republicans lost control of the Senate in 2006.

    The essay below, by a long-time analyst and practitioner of governance named Eric Schnurer, was written before the Senate’s failure on May 28, 2021. But it could have been presented as a breaking-news analysis of the event.

    Several days ago I wrote a setup for Schnurer’s essay, which I include in abbreviated form below. Then we come to his argument.

    Back in 2019, I did an article for the print magazine on Americans’ long-standing obsession with the decline-and-fall narrative of Rome. Like many good headlines, the one for this story intentionally overstated its argument. The headline was, “The End of the Roman Empire Wasn’t That Bad.” Of course it was bad! But the piece reviewed scholarship about what happened in the former Roman provinces “after the fall,” and how it prepared the way for European progress long after the last rulers of the Western Empire had disappeared.

    Many people wrote in to agree and, naturally, to disagree. The online discussion begins here. One long response I quoted was from my friend Eric Schnurer. I had met him in the late 1970s when he was a college intern in the Carter-era White House speechwriting office, where I worked. Since then he has written extensively (including for The Atlantic) and consulted on governmental and political affairs.

    In his first installment, in the fall of 2019, Schnurer emphasized the parts of the America-and-Rome comparison he thought were most significant—and worrisome. Then last summer, during the election campaign and the pandemic lockdown, he extended the comparison in an even-less-cheering way.

    Now he is back, with a third and more cautionary extension of his argument. I think it’s very much worth reading, for its discourses on speechwriting in Latin, among other aspects. I’ve slightly condensed his message and used bold highlighting as a guide to his argument. But I turn the floor over to him. He starts with a precis of his case of two years ago:

    I contrasted Donald Trump’s America then—mid-2019—with the Rome of the Gracchus brothers, a pair of liberal social reformers who were both assassinated. Of course, the successive murders of two progressive brothers at the top rung of national power would seem to suggest the Kennedys more than, say, Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren, to whom I compared them. But that’s to say that no historic parallels are perfect: One could just as fruitfully (or not) compare the present moment to America in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a period we managed to make it through without ultimately descending into civil war.

    Yet, historical events can be instructive, predictive—even prescriptive—when not fully de-scriptive of current times and customs.

    What concerned me about the Roman comparison was, I noted at the time, “the increasing economic inequality, the increasing political polarization, the total eclipse of ‘the greater good’ by what we’d call ‘special interests,’ the turn toward political violence, all of which led eventually to the spiral of destructive civil war, the collapse of democracy (such as it was), and the wholesale replacement of the system with the imperial dictatorship: Looks a lot like the present moment to me.”

    In the 1960s, such developments were in the future, although perhaps apparent then to the prescient …

    The question that raised was the extent to which the tick-tock of republican decline in Rome could provide a chronometer something like the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ famous “doomsday clock”:

    If we could peg late summer 2019 to the Gracchi era—roughly up to 120 B.C.—with the fall of the Republic equated to Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon and subsequent assumption of the dictatorship (roughly speaking, 50 B.C.), we could set our republican sundial at, more-or-less, “seventy years to midnight.” But time under our atomic-era clocks moves more quickly than in ancient Roman sundials, so how could we equate a seventy-year margin on a sundial to our own distance from a possible republican midnight? We’d need another contemporary comparison to understand not just where we stood, but also how fast we were moving.

    A year later I wrote about the developments of 2020 that seemed to move us closer to midnight. I compared last year’s Trump to Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix: Despite common descriptions of Trump as a would-be Caesar, Sulla is, in terms of temperament and background, a closer match to The Donald: “Sulla, a patrician who indulged a fairly libertine, sometimes vulgar, lifestyle even throughout his several marriages, was nonetheless the champion of the economic, social and political conservatives.”

    Of perhaps greater similarity—and great concern, in my view—was the increasing hollowing out of the Roman state from a “common good” into simply another form of private corporation benefiting the already-wealthy and powerful who could grab hold of its levers and hive off its components … After a tumultuous reign, Sulla retreated to his villa at Mar-a-Lago, er, Puteoli, and Rome fell into a period of relative quiescence.

    That took us from the 120’s B.C. in July 2019 to roughly 80 B.C. by August 2020: By that measure, our republican doomsday clock had lurched forward about 40 Roman years—a little more than halfway to midnight—in roughly a year …

    But as U.S. politics fell into a period of relative quiescence lately, with Trump ensconced quietly at Puteoli—er, Mar-a-Lago—and a relatively calming, moderate and institutionalist Everyman (if no Cicero …) installed in the White House, I didn’t think much further about the Roman comparison.

    That is, until last week, when I made an off-hand comment about a young family member’s misbehavior, jokingly complaining, “O tempora, O mores!”: “O the times, O the customs”—the most famous line from the most famous speech by Rome’s greatest lawyer, politician and orator, Marcus Tullius Cicero. I was suddenly struck by the similarity between the circumstances of Cicero’s famed oration and those we face now in the wake—and denial—of the assault on the Capitol of January 6.

    I have a personal fondness for what have become known as Cicero’s “Catilinarian Orations”—a series of speeches he delivered at the height of a failed conspiracy to assault the citadels of republican governance and seize power. I read them in the original in my high school Latin class, at a time when my major focus was on school politics and, as the immediate past student body president, I was leading a similar (in my mind) effort to beat back a coup attempt by the would-be conspirator who had been defeated electorally by my chosen successor.

    As a result, I found reading Cicero’s words uncovering, indicting, and overcoming Lucius Sergius Catilina (known to us as Catiline) and his co-conspirators, and thereby preserving democracy, rather thrilling. These orations—especially the first—have become famous as among the greatest speeches in history, not least because of the self-promoting Cicero’s promoting them as such. But to read them in the original is to recognize them as deservedly so.

    Latin is an extremely complicated but flexible language. Its elaborate system of agreements between nouns, adjectives and verbs allows for words to be ordered in sometimes almost-random-seeming patterns requiring extensive detective skills to puzzle out the actual meaning of a sentence. At the peak of my Latin studies, for example, I could probably translate an average sentence in the great Latin epic, The Aeneid, at the rate of about one per hour. Reading Cicero in Latin, however, is like spreading warm butter over a piping-hot piece of bread: It simply flows.

    Cicero could reach unequaled heights of high dudgeon with the simplest of sentences. He reached for his greatest in the opening lines of his first Catalinarian Oration to the Roman Senate. The immediacy of the language fairly leaps off the dead pages as if alive itself, overpowering the reader with the desperation of Cicero’s fight for democracy, his courage in the face of danger, his importuning his at-first-impassive audience seated in their clean white togas amidst the marble walls and red-cushioned banquettes, slowly distancing themselves from the censored Catiline as Cicero’s oratory builds in mighty waves.

    Catiline was yet another aristocratic yet amoral politician who had aimed at absolute power by appealing cynically to the reactionary foot soldiers of Sulla’s former army and their “blue-collar” supporters. But he nonetheless was headed to a loss in the consular election of 63 B.C., which would have ended his political ambitions, so he conspired to overthrow the Roman state, intending literally to decapitate the official vote count on election day by killing the consul overseeing it—Cicero—and seizing violent control of the government.

    Cicero could be considered something of a moderate, an institutionalist who revered the Republic as he rose to power in its capital despite being what the Romans called a “new man,” one who had made his own way from an undistinguished upbringing in the hinterlands (“Cicero” means “chickpea,” a literal and uncomplimentary nod to the family’s roots).

    Upon uncovering the conspiracy, Cicero called an emergency meeting of the Senate to denounce this attempt to short-circuit the election and end republican government through violence. Cicero was surprised that Catiline dared pompously to show himself at the day’s proceedings, as if his efforts to undermine the state were perfectly proper, and to deny he was doing what everyone knew he was doing: “When, O Catiline, do you mean to cease abusing our patience? How long is that madness of yours still to mock us? When is there to be an end of that unbridled audacity of yours, swaggering about as it does now?”

    But what is most notable about the famed opening of this first and greatest oration is Cicero’s clear astonishment at the blasé reaction of much of the Senate to this open assault on republican values. “O the times, O the customs,” he responds, and then continues:

    “The Senate understands these things, the Consul sees them yet this man still lives. He lives? Indeed, he even comes into the Senate, he takes part in public debate, he notes and marks out with his eyes each one of us for slaughter!”

    Despite the fact that, at this point, Catiline’s intent to murder Cicero and various other members of the Senate, to stop the vote count and overturn the foregone election results, and unlawfully to seize the levers of government through violence is well known to all of them, a good number of these very same legislators and leaders shrug the whole thing off. Some sympathized with his political program others were implicated in the plot still others were basically in the same boat as Catiline, having committed similar crimes and sexual debaucheries that limited their political futures and still others were perfectly fine with ending the trappings of republicanism if it meant they retained their power and Senate seats. And some simply couldn’t be roused to care.

    The conspiracy ultimately collapsed and was defeated, but not without further militant uprisings aided by Rome’s enemies abroad. Catiline, a demagogue but in the end not the best of politicians or insurrectionists, was killed. Democracy, and the old order of things, seemed to have survived, and matters returned to a more-or-less normal state under Cicero’s stable hand.

    But it turned out to be a brief reprieve. The rot had already set in. What mattered most in the long-term was not the immediate threat of the insurrectionists, but rather the complacency, if not sympathy, of the other ostensibly-republican leaders. It revealed the hollowness of not just their own souls but also the nation’s.

    Another 10 months in America, another 15 years forward on the Roman sundial. At this rate, we’re about a year before midnight.

    I don’t know how many people in the reading public would recognize the name Dan Frank. Millions of them should. He was a gifted editor, mentor, leader, and friend, who within the publishing world was renowned. His untimely death of cancer yesterday, at age 67, is a terrible loss especially for his family and colleagues, but also to a vast community of writers and to the reading public.

    Minute by minute, and page by page, writers gripe about editors. Year by year, and book by book, we become aware of how profoundly we rely on them. Over the decades I have had the good fortune of working with a series of this era’s most talented and supportive book editors. Some day I’ll write about the whole sequence, which led me 20 years ago to Dan Frank. For now, I want to say how much Dan Frank meant to public discourse in our times, and how much he will be missed.

    Dan Frank during a 2015 interview with Thomas Mallon at the Center for Fiction in New York

    Dan started working in publishing in his 20s, after college and graduate school. While in his 30s he became editorial director at Viking Books. Among the celebrated books he edited and published there was Chaos: Making a New Science, by James Gleick, which was a runaway bestseller and a critical success. It also represented the sort of literary nonfiction (and fiction) that Dan would aspire to: well-informed, elegantly written, presenting complex subjects accessibly, helping readers enter and understand realms they had not known about before. As it happened, Gleick worked with Dan on all of his subsequent books, including his biographies of Richard Feynman and Isaac Newton, as well as Faster and The Information.

    In 1991, after a shakeup at Pantheon, Dan Frank went there as an editor, and from 1996 onward he was Pantheon’s editorial director and leading force. As Reagan Arthur, the current head of the Knopf, Pantheon, and Schocken imprints at Penguin Random House, wrote yesterday in a note announcing Dan’s death:

    During his tenure, Dan established Pantheon as an industry-leading publisher of narrative science, world literature, contemporary fiction, and graphic novels. Authors published under Dan were awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, several National Book Awards, numerous NBCC awards, and multiple Eisners [for graphic novels] ….

    For decades, Dan has been the public face of Pantheon, setting the tone for the house and overseeing the list. He had an insatiable curiosity about life and, indeed, that curiosity informed many of his acquisitions. As important as the books he published and the authors he edited, Dan served as a mentor to younger colleagues, endlessly generous with his time and expertise. Famously soft-spoken, a “writer’s editor,” and in possession of a heartfelt laugh that would echo around the thirteenth floor, he was so identified with the imprint that some of his writers took to calling the place Dantheon.

    There are surprisingly few photos of Dan available online. I take that as an indication of his modesty of the contrast between his high profile within the publishing world and his intentionally low profile outside it and of his focus on the quiet, interior work of sitting down with manuscripts or talking with authors. The only YouTube segment I’ve found featuring him is this one from 2015, when Dan interviewed the author Thomas Mallon at the Center for Fiction in New York. (I am using this with the Center’s permission.)

    Dan is seated at the right, with his trademark round glasses. The clip will give an idea of his demeanor, his gentle but probing curiosity, his intelligence and encouragement, his readiness to smile and give a supportive laugh. Watching him talk with Mallon reminds me of his bearing when we would talk in his office at Pantheon or at a nearby restaurant.

    Everything that is frenzied and distracted in modern culture, Dan Frank was the opposite of. The surest way to get him to raise a skeptical eyebrow, when hearing a proposal for a new book, was to suggest some subject that was momentarily white-hot on the talk shows and breaking-news alerts. I know this firsthand. The book ideas he steered me away from, and kept me from wasting time on, represented guidance as crucial as what he offered on the four books I wrote for him, and the most recent one where he worked with me and my wife, Deb.

    Dan knew that books have a long gestation time—research and reporting, thinking, writing, editing, unveiling them to the world. They required hard work from a lot of people, starting with the author and editor but extending to a much larger team. Therefore it seemed only fair to him that anything demanding this much effort should be written as if it had a chance to last. Very few books endure hardly any get proper notice but Dan wanted books that deserved to be read a year after they came out, or a decade, or longer, if people were to come across them.

    The publisher’s long list of authors he worked with, which I’ll include at the bottom of this post, only begins to suggest his range. When I reached the final page of the new, gripping, epic-scale novel of modern China by Orville Schell, called My Old Home, it seemed inevitable that the author’s culminating word of thanks would be to his “wonderful, understated” editor, Dan Frank.

    What, exactly, does an editor like this do to win such gratitude? Some part of it is “line editing”—cutting or moving a sentence, changing a word, flagging an awkward transition. Dan excelled at that, but it wasn’t his main editing gift. Like all good editors, he understood that the first response back to a writer, on seeing new material, must always and invariably be: “This will be great!” or “I think we’ve really got something here.” Then, like all good editors, Dan continued with the combination of questions, expansions, reductions, and encouragements that get writers to produce the best-feasible version of the idea they had in mind. Their role is like that of a football coach, with the pre-game plan and the halftime speech: They’re not playing the game themselves, but they’re helping the athletes do their best. Or like that of a parent or teacher, helping a young person avoid foreseeable mistakes.

    You can read more about Dan Frank’s own views of the roles of author, editor, publisher, and agent, in this interview in 2009, from Riverrun Books. It even has a photo of him! And you can think about the books he fostered, edited, and helped create, if you consider this part of Reagan Arthur’s note:

    Dan worked with writers who were published by both Pantheon and Knopf. His authors include Charles Baxter, Madison Smartt Bell, Alain de Botton, David Eagleman, Gretel Ehrlich, Joseph J. Ellis, James Fallows, James Gleick, Jonathan Haidt, Richard Holmes, Susan Jacoby, Ben Katchor, Daniel Kehlmann, Jill Lepore, Alan Lightman, Tom Mallon, Joseph Mitchell, Maria Popova, Oliver Sacks, Art Spiegelman, and many, many others.

    Deb and I will always be grateful to have known Dan Frank, and to have worked with him. We send our condolences to his wife, Patty, and their sons and family. The whole reading public has benefited, much more than most people know, from his life and work.

    Harris & Ewing / Library of Congress

    The renowned filmmaker Ken Burns has a new project called UNUM, about the sources of connection rather than separation in American life.

    His latest segment involves “Communication” in all its aspects, and it combines historical footage with current commentary. Some of the modern commenters are Yamiche Alcindor, Jane Mayer, Megan Twohey, Kara Swisher, and Will Sommer. You can see their clips here.

    One more of these segments covers the revolution in political communication wrought by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s radio addresses known as “fireside chats.” It was drawn from Burns’s earlier documentary Empire of the Air, which was narrated by Jason Robards. You can see a clip from that documentary here.

    As part of the UNUM series of contemporary response to historical footage, Burns’s team asked me to respond to the FDR segment. (Why me? In 1977—which was 44 years after FDR’s first fireside chat, and 44 years ago, as of now—the newly inaugurated President Jimmy Carter gave his first fireside chat, which I helped write. It’s fascinating to watch, as a historical artifact you can see the C-SPAN footage here.)

    This is what I thought about FDR’s language, and how it connects to the spirit of our moment in political time:

    For reference, here is the text version of what I said in the Burns video, about those FDR talks, as previously noted here:

    The most important words in Franklin Roosevelt’s initial fireside chat, during the depths of Depression and banking crisis in 1933, were the two very first words after he was introduced.

    They were: My friends.

    Of course political leaders had used those words for centuries. But American presidents had been accustomed to formal rhetoric, from a rostrum, to a crowd, stentorian or shouted in the days before amplification. They were addressing the public as a group—not families, or individuals, in their kitchens or living rooms: My friends. A few previous presidents had dared broadcast over the radio—Harding, Coolidge, Hoover. But none of them had dared imagine the intimacy of this tone—of trying to create a national family or neighborhood gathering, on a Sunday evening, to grapple with a shared problem.

    Roosevelt’s next most important words came in the next sentence, when he said “I want to talk for a few minutes” with his friends across the country about the mechanics of modern banking. Discussing, explaining, describing, talking—those were his goals, not blaming or declaiming or pronouncing. What I find most remarkable in the tone that followed was a president talking up to a whole national audience, confident that even obscure details of finance could be grasped if clearly explained, rather than talking down, to polarize and oversimplify.

    Consciously or unconsciously, nearly every presidential communication since that time has had FDR’s model in mind. In 1977 the newly inaugurated 39th president Jimmy Carter gave a fireside chat about the nation’s energy crisis, a speech that, as it happens, I helped write. Nearly every president has followed Roosevelt’s example of the basic three part structure of a leader’s speech at time of tragedy or crisis: First, expressing empathy for the pain and fear of the moment second, expressing confidence about success and recovery in the long run and third, offering a specific plan, for the necessary next steps.

    Some of these presentations have been more effective, some less. But all are operating against the background, and toward the standard of connection, set by the 32nd president, Franklin Roosevelt, starting in 1933. “Confidence and courage are the essentials of success in carrying out our plan,” he said in that first fireside chant. “Let us unite in banishing fear.”

    The opening words of that talk had been “My friends.” His closing words were, “Together we cannot fail.”

    Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

    The pandemic ravaged America’s big cities first, and now its countryside. The public-health and economic repercussions have been felt everywhere. But they have been hardest on the smallest businesses, and the most vulnerable families and communities.

    This is an update, following a report last month, on plans to repair the damage now being done.

    1) What the federal government can do: The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is a group concentrating on the business-structure, technological, political, and other obstacles that have held small cities and rural areas back—and how they might be reversed.

    This month the ILSR released a report on steps the federal government could take to foster business and civic renewal at the local level. The report is available in PDF here, and a summary is here. The larger argument is designed to:

    … help the federal government avoid the mistakes made in the wake of the 2007-08 financial crisis …

    Rather than the housing sector [as in the previous crisis], the current economic fallout is decimating America’s small businesses. Nearly 100,000 small, independent businesses have already closed their doors permanently, with Black-owned businesses taking the biggest hit. As of early November, small business revenue was down a stunning 31 percent from January. As small businesses close or hang on by their fingernails, meanwhile, a handful of big corporations are recording massive profits, increasing their already-dominant market share, and dramatically accelerating concentration of the economy….

    People are losing their dreams and livelihoods. Neighborhoods are losing beloved local stores and gathering spots. The country is losing much of its local productive capacity. To answer this generational challenge, we must have a federal economic recovery strategy focused on rebuilding, creating, and growing America’s small, independent businesses.

    The report covers large policy areas—a different approach to antitrust—and very tangible specifics, like the way credit-card processing fees are handled. It is certainly worth consideration by the Biden team. (And, in the same vein, here is another worthwhile piece, by Maddie Oatman in Mother Jones, on the importance of economic prospects for rural America.)

    2) What some state governments can do (a California model): Responding to a crisis that is both global and intensely local naturally involves a combination of measures—international efforts to detect and contain disease, nationwide economic strategies, and city-by-city and state-by-state responses to the problems and opportunities of each locale.

    California, which has roughly one-eighth of the whole population of the United States and produces roughly one-seventh of U.S. economic output, also has been responsible for an outsize proportion of innovations. Some of them have run afoul or amok, as Mark Paul and Joe Mathews described a decade ago in their book The California Crackup (and as I mentioned in this 2013 profile of Jerry Brown). Others are a positive model for other states and the nation as a whole—notably, a non-partisan, anti-gerrymandering approach to drawing political-district lines. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who was governor when this reform came in, has been taking the anti-gerrymandering cause nationwide, as Edward-Isaac Dovere reported here.

    One of California’s innovations that deserves broader attention is its “Little Hoover Commission.” After World War II, current president Harry Truman appointed former president Herbert Hoover to head a commission looking into broad questions of government organization and efficiency. That was the “big” Hoover Commission.

    California’s “Little Hoover Commission” counterpart was created in 1962 and was meant to be a permanent, independent, non-partisan source of oversight and expertise about the state’s long-term challenges, and the state government’s response to them. In my new print-magazine article, I argue that, on the national level, formal commissions have played a surprisingly important role in investigating calamities (the space shuttle Challenger explosion, the 9/11 attacks) or assessing crises and trends (educational failures, resegregation and racial justice). California has, in effect, institutionalized this kind of non-partisan inquiry.

    This month, the Little Hoover Commission has released its report on how badly the pandemic-era economic implosion is hurting businesses and families in California, and what might be done about it. The executive summary is here, and the full report is here.

    I won’t attempt to summarize the whole thing here, but in essence their recommendation is an emergency effort to link public and private resources of all sorts—individual donors, NGOs, corporations, financial institutions—in a “rebuilding fund.” The fund, in turn, would concentrate on small businesses, and especially those in disadvantaged communities. One of its recommendations:

    The state needs to use its megaphone to make financial institutions, private investors, and philanthropic donors aware of the Rebuilding Fund and to encourage high-net-worth individuals, impact investors, and major corporations to lend and/or donate to the Rebuilding Fund.

    This may include working with regional business councils to disseminate information about the Rebuilding Fund and explain why it is vital to support small businesses, especially those in underserved communities. It may also include fully leveraging existing state investment networks..

    In order to encourage investment, GO-Biz and IBank should also develop a strategy for publicly recognizing institutional investors and explore additional means for incentivizing participation.

    In parallel with this effort, two California-based business-and-economic authorities, Laura Tyson and Lenny Mendonca, have put out a paper on the urgency of a new federal stimulus program. (For the record, both of them are friends of mine.) They say:

    It is incumbent on the federal government to provide more generous and flexible funding for state and local governments. Governors and mayors across the country are pleading for help ahead of a challenging winter. Most states and cities have exhausted rainy-day funds and are facing a collective shortfall of $400 billion or more, according to the most recent estimates.

    Because most state and local governments cannot legally spend more than they receive in revenues, they need no choice but to raise taxes or cut essential services and employment in health, public safety, and education, as many are already doing. Either option will the fiat of Mitch McConnell, the U.S. Senate seems likely to end this year without addressing the states’ and cities’ needs. Many states and cities are improvising in useful ways, but national crises require a national response. Help!

    (And while I am at it, here is another locally based initiative to create more supportive ecosystems for entrepreneurs.)

    3) Ways around the college-degree bottleneck: Research universities and four-year colleges are simultaneously the glory and the heartbreak of America’s educational system. They’re the glory for obvious reasons. They’re the heartbreak because of the financial challenges for many liberal-arts schools, and the student-debt burdens for millions of young people, and the factors that can make higher education reinforce existing privileges, rather than offset them.

    The negative power of judging people purely by sheepskin credentials is very familiar. (I actually did an Atlantic cover story about it 35 years ago, here.) But a positive counterpart in the past few years has been rapidly opening pathways to careers that don’t require a four-year degree. That’s what we’ve emphasized in our reports on community colleges, “career technical” programs in high schools, apprenticeship systems, and other ways of matching people with the opportunities of this moment.

    Last week The New York Times had a story by Steve Lohr with the headline, “Up to 30 Million in U.S. Have the Skills to Earn 70% More, Researchers Say.”

    This is a great headline that conveys the essential point: There are opportunities (post-pandemic) for people who for various reasons have not completed the four-year bachelor’s gantlet. More information is available at [email protected] and through the Rework America Alliance. (For the record, I know many of the people involved in the Opportunity and Reword initiatives.)

    As with previous dispatches, none of these approaches is “the” answer to this era’s many crises. But they’re all potential parts of an answer. They deserve attention.

    When I was a kid, the sin of returning books late to the public library populated a category of dread for me next to weekly confessions to the Catholic priest (what can an 8-year-old really have to confess?) and getting caught by the dentist with a Tootsie Roll wrapper sticking out of my pocket. So decades later, when I heard about libraries going “fine-free,” it sounded like an overdue change and a nice idea.

    Collecting fines for overdue books has been going on for over a century, originally seen as a source of revenue and as an incentive for people to behave responsibly and actually return borrowed books. Then, as early as the 1970s, research and experiments with going fine-free began to pick up steam. But as recently as four years ago, over 90 percent of libraries in the U.S. were still charging small change for late returns.

    A Seinfeld episode from 1991, called The Library Cop, seems at once timely and untimely. This is Seinfeld it will make you laugh.

    Missions, Policies, Changes:

    The last five years have been very busy in the world of overdue fines. In what has been the “Fine-Free Movement,” many librarians have begun to question the traditional policy of overdue fines, and attitudes have begun to change. Are fines consistent with a fundamental mission of libraries: to serve the public with information and knowledge? And to address that mission equitably across the diverse population of rich and poor library users?

    A 2016 Colorado State Library system report showed that eliminating overdue fines removed barriers to access for children. While some people only notice fines as an irritation, others feel the weight heavily enough to be driven away from the library.

    In 2017, a Library Journal poll of 450 libraries found that over 34 percent considered eliminating at least some fines.

    In 2018, a poll of Urban Libraries Council (ULC) member libraries found that the most common reason (54 percent, dwarfing all others) responding libraries had gone fine-free was that eliminating fines increased access for low-income users and children.

    By late in 2018, several big-city public-library systems including San Diego, Nashville, Salt Lake City, Baltimore, St. Paul, and Columbus, Ohio eliminated overdue fines.

    The powerful American Library Association, representing some 55,000 members, adopted “a resolution of monetary fines as a form of social inequity” at their midwinter meeting in 2019.

    In January, 2019, the city of San Francisco issued an extensively-researched and influential report called Long Overdue, on the impact of fines on the mission of libraries, and the costs of eliminating fines on libraries, users, and the city and county of San Francisco. The report ultimately recommended eliminating overdue fines throughout the public library system.

    When the pandemic closed libraries and made it hard or impossible for people to return books, many libraries revisited their policies on overdue fines. In Washington D.C., an early shorter-term amnesty experiment at the beginning of COVID-19 grew into a subsequent vote by the Public Library Board of Trustees to expand eliminating fines for only youth, to everyone.

    Experiments in fines, amnesties, alternatives:

    Libraries have been experimenting with lots of different ways to address fines for overdue books. Some stopped fining all patrons others only children or youth still others exempted active military and veterans from fines. Some forgive fines up to a certain dollar amount. Santa Barbara, California, follows one common practice—forgiving fines for a certain number of days (30 in this case) days, then charging for the cost of the book, which can be forgiven upon its return.

    Lost or damaged books are in a different category. The loss of a book is much more costly and cumbersome to a library than a late return, and libraries work out various ways to address that.

    When libraries offer popular amnesty periods for returning overdue books, the books often pour in like gushers. An amnesty program in Chicago brought in 20,000 overdue items Los Angeles nearly 65,000 San Francisco just shy of 700,000. And a bonus: After the Chicago library went fine-free, thousands of users whose fees were forgiven returned to the library for new cards, and readers checked out more books overall than before.

    Other libraries found substitutes for monetary fines. In 2018, the public libraries in Fairfax County, Virginia, began a food-for-fines program, which collected 12,000 pounds of food to donate to a nonprofit food pantry. Each donated item accrued one dollar toward a maximum $15 fine forgiveness. In Queens, New York, the public library has a program for young people to “read down” their 10-cent per day fines. One half hour of reading earns one dollar in library bucks to pay off fines.

    Calculating costs of fines and the benefits of going fine-free:

    The 2017 Library Journal poll of about 450 libraries across the country estimated that nearly $12 million in monthly library fines would be collected nationwide that year.

    In fact, loss of revenue takes different size bites from libraries’ budgets. Some seemed like nibbles. When the New Haven, Connecticut, public library went fine-free in July 2020, the sum of overdue fines was less than one-quarter of one percent of the library’s annual budget. In San Francisco, fines in FY 2017-18 represented 0.2 percent of the operating budget. In Schaumburg Township, Illinois, 0.25 percent of the annual budget. In Santa Barbara, 1 percent. The St. Paul, Minnesota, libraries found that they spent $250,000 to collect $215,000 in fines.

    But a late 2018 ULC poll of its roughly 160 members reported that one in five libraries that were considering eliminating fines named the biggest deterrent as financial. (Only larger was political reasons, at 34 percent.) The Long Overdue report found that fines disproportionately harmed library customers in low-income areas and those with larger proportions of Black residents. While libraries in all areas “accrued fines at similar rates,” those located in areas of lower income and education and higher number of Black people have “higher average debt amounts and more blocked users.”

    As Curtis Rogers, the Communications Director of the Urban Libraries Council described the findings to me: “Overdue fines do not distinguish between people who are responsible and those who are not—they distinguish between people who have or do not have money.”

    Funding sources for libraries vary considerably. Some libraries enjoy a secure line item in a city or county budget. Others patch together a more fragile existence of fundraising, philanthropy, public bonds and levies, and other sources.

    Other factors have changed the landscape as well. The growth of e-book lending, which can automatically time out and incur no fines, have cut into overall fine revenue numbers somewhat.

    To make up for losses in revenues, libraries have come up with creative answers. For example: processing passport renewals a “conscience jar” for overdue books charging fees for replacing lost cards and for copying, scanning, and faxing charging rent for community rooms or theaters and general tightening of spending.

    The impact of fines should be measured in ways beyond cash revenues. Collecting fines and blocking accounts can be time-consuming, stressful, and unpleasant for librarians, and can cause general discomfort and even ill will in a community.

    I witnessed a small episode of the toll that fines can take on the strong currency of people’s trust and goodwill in libraries. During a summer visit a few years ago to the public library in an unnamed town in the middle of the country, I was hanging around the check-out-desk when I saw a man reach the front of the line to borrow a few books. The librarian told him that his card was blocked, and he needed to pay his fines before he could borrow the book. The man was part of the town’s sizable Spanish-speaking population, and he didn’t understand the librarian. She repeated her message, louder each time. A line was building at the check-out. Finally, the man went to fetch his elementary-school-age daughter to translate for him. It all ended badly: He was embarrassed, the daughter was embarrassed. Others like me who witnessed the exchange were embarrassed. The man left without borrowing the books. The librarian was stuck behind non-transparent rules, although I have seen more gracious handling of such situations.

    In 2016, the Orange Beach, Alabama, public libraries swapped overdue fines with voluntary donations, which they soon dropped as well. Steven Gillis, the director of the public library, wrote that the overall goodwill the library earned in the community with their new fine-free policy had leveraged into increased municipal funding from a sympathetic and appreciative city council.

    The Long Overdue report also found that eliminating fines increased general goodwill between users and staff, and also increased the numbers of users and the circulation of books. They saw no increases in late book returns.

    * * *

    In 2018, a young research fellow at the Urban Libraries Council (ULC), Nikolas Michael, set out to tell the story of libraries going fine-free by creating an interactive map, which has since become one of ULC’s most used resources.

    Here is the map and how it works:

    View larger map | Provided courtesy of the Urban Libraries Council

    Each arrow on the map represents a library that ULC has logged to tell its story of going fine-free. The gold arrows are ULC member libraries silver are non-member libraries.

    The map is interactive click on an arrow and you’ll see some of the whys, wherefores, and impact of the change on a particular library. The map updates with each additional entry.

    Curtis Rogers, from ULC, and Betsey Suchanic, a program manager there, described on a Zoom call the background and impact the map has made on telling the story and building a movement.

    The map helps libraries make well-informed decisions, as they use it for research and evidence to weigh the pros and cons of going fine-free.

    In Philadelphia, Councilwoman Cherelle Parker called for a hearing to explore eliminating fines at the Free Library of Philadelphia. She directly referenced the ULC map of fine-free libraries as evidence. ULC also submitted written testimony for the hearing.

    The map and ULC’s other reporting on the fine-free movement contribute to larger-context conversations—for example, on the topic of the pros and cons of other kinds of municipal fines, like parking tickets.

    The Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County just went fine-free, and they used the map specifically to make their case to their board. You can see the map on page 8 of the library’s PowerPoint presentation.

    * * *

    America’s current national focus on issues of racial, economic, educational, health, and environmental equity, and on policing and justice, has a way of reaching a sound-bite ending in media segments or conference panel wrap-ups. It goes something like this: “We need to have a national conversation about …”

    Public libraries, which are in business to be responsive to public needs and wants, are a model for moving beyond conversations to action. For example, public libraries open their doors to homeless people, they feed hungry children in after-school programs, they offer free Wi-Fi access for people and places (especially rural) where it is hard to come by, and in increasing numbers, they find ways to forego monetary fines. These actions shore up in a tangible way a major mission of public libraries: to provide equal access to information and knowledge for all citizens.

    As it was in 2016, so it is again in 2020: A central axis of national-election results is the rural-urban gulf. Larger cities—really, conurbations of any sort—mainly went for Joe Biden. Donald Trump’s major strength was in the smallest cities and in rural areas.

    Obviously there has been more to Donald Trump’s power than purely regional dynamics. (In particular, there are racial dynamics, as laid out here and here and here.) And as Deb Fallows and I have argued for years, the United States looks more hopelessly divided when it comes to national elections than it does from any other perspective. For instance, see these dispatches from western Kansas, back in 2016.

    But also obviously, national elections matter, and regional and locational polarization makes every other challenge for America more difficult. In a new paper for Brookings, John Austin argues that Midwestern voting patterns for Trump and Biden show how the sense of being “left behind” fuels resentment-driven politics—and how a sense of possibility can have the opposite effect. August Benzow of The Economic Innovation Group has a related paper on the stark differences within rural America on racial diversity, economic positioning, and political outlook.

    Does anyone have an idea of how to blunt these differences and open more opportunities? Especially as a new administration faces all the economic, public health, law-enforcement, and other crises the new Biden team is about to take on? Here are some recent items worth noticing:

    1) A Marshall Plan for Middle America: During election years, reporters troop into cities (and especially diners) in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and other parts of “interior America” to get political quotes. Then, typically, the press spotlight moves someplace else.

    This past weekend in The Washington Post, the mayors of eight of these middle-American cities wrote about what could be done to move their areas ahead. These are places we know and have written about, many of whose mayors we also know personally. The cities are Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, and Youngstown in Ohio Louisville, Kentucky and Huntington and Morgantown, West Virginia. All are in the Appalachian or Ohio River Valley regions, often stereotyped in national discourse as the land of coal mines and decrepit factories.

    The mayors argue that it is time to draw on the region’s manufacturing heritage, and recreate its economy in a fundamental way. For instance:

    According to our research, taking advantage of our community assets, geographic positioning and the strengths of our regional markets can help create over 400,000 jobs across the region by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency upgrades to buildings, energy infrastructure and transportation assets.

    Renewable sources of power are proving less expensive, and fossil fuel companies are increasingly dependent on federal subsidies to survive. Couldn’t these subsidies be strategically shifted to invest in a green economy that keeps these largely suburban and rural jobs but transitions them, with federal support, into new industries that will grow in the 21st century?

    Like our friends at Reimagine Appalachia—a grass-roots community and environmental organization—we believe a Marshall Plan-scale reinvestment is necessary. Rather than a “Green New Deal,” our plan would seed long-term regional investments in Appalachia’s rural and suburban communities, while leveraging the technological successes of our tentpole cities to assist them. The same goes for our neighbors in the Ohio River Valley throughout the Rust Belt and up to the Great Lakes region.

    I agree with their pitch, and hope their prospectus gets attention. Here is a complementary argument from Bill Peduto, the mayor of Pittsburgh, and another from Annie Regan, in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    2) Reducing Polarization by Modernizing Rural Policy: The political and cultural ramifications of a rural-urban divide are hot topics journalistically. “Rural policy,” not so much. But in a new report for Brookings (available here), Anthony Pipa and Nathalie Geismar argue that straightening out the rat’s-nest of programs intended to help rural America could make a big difference.

    Rat’s nest? Take a look at this organization chart included in the Brookings report:

    Courtesy of the Brookings Institution

    “The economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to further disrupt local economies that in 2019 were still recovering from the Great Recession” and other long-term disruptions, Pipa and Geismar write. They add:

    Just recently, COVID-19 prevalence in nonmetro U.S. areas surpassed those in metro areas for the first time Rural residents are now almost 2.5 times more likely than urban residents to die from the virus. This is compounded by the decreasing access to health care that many rural communities face …

    Now, rural communities must navigate a virtual world of work with intermittent broadband access and adapt to additional shocks to manufacturing and agriculture supply chains ….

    Despite these challenges, rural communities are diverse—both demographically and economically—and entrepreneurial. They help power, feed, and protect America at rates disproportionate to other geographies. They house 99 percent of wind power capacity and will play a key role in national climate strategies that require investments in clean energy infrastructure.

    The report has many recommendations, but here are the three main ones:

    1. Launch anew development corporation, to invest in local vision and leadership through long-term block grants at the community level and innovative financing tools that give communities a fighting chance to strengthen and renew their local institutions, economies, and vision.
    2. Create a national rural strategy, elevate White House and interagency leadership, and undertake a set of specific and targeted reforms to enhance federal coherence and effectiveness.
    3. Appoint abipartisancongressional commission to undertake a top-to-bottom review regarding the effectiveness of federal assistance and build political momentum to transform federal rural policy.

    3) Local journalism and local recovery: This is a big ongoing theme, which will only gain in importance if recovery efforts like those mentioned above are giving a serious try in communities across the country. Margaret Sullivan of The Washington Post, a former editor herself and an indispensable media observer, published a book this year about the accelerating forces working against local news. Just after this year’s election, Dan Kennedy, another important longtime media writer, argued on the GBH news site that shoring up local journalism would have direct benefits community-by-community, plus the broader potential of calming down now-fevered national discussions. On the Poynter site, Rick Edmonds—yet another important longtime media writer—gives a comprehensive overview of how “shoring up” might actually work. For instance:

    As the pandemic advertising recession and longstanding negative trends have made the financial precariousness of these enterprises obvious, Congress has pretty much decided it should come to the aid of local news. The question of how remains, together with making the help timely.

    My take comes from conversations with a variety of advocacy groups pushing one form or another of legislative assistance. A surprising favorite approach has emerged, too—direct subsidies for news subscribers, local journalists and small business advertisers.

    That’s the structure of HR 7640, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act, sponsored by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Wash.) and more than 70 co-sponsors from both parties.

    There is a lot more detail in Edmonds’s piece, and the others. (See also this pre-election analysis at the Ground Truth Project, by Steven Waldman, whose work I have described here.) And while I’m at it, please check out the latest dispatch from John Miller, creator of the film Moundsville, about regional culture gaps. Also this, by Katherine Bindley in The Wall Street Journal, about big-city tech-industry people who have considered entirely different careers, in entirely different parts of the country, because of the pandemic.

    Important transformation work is underway at the national level, as I’ll discuss in an upcoming print-magazine article. But that would be doomed, or at least limited, without comparably intense efforts to improve local-level prospects. These ideas are a start.

    Watch the video: 02 Ρώμη Η Πρώτη Υπερδύναμη του Κόσμου (June 2022).


    1. Ifor

      What engine is it? I also want to start a blog

    2. Zuluran

      Curiously, and the analogue is?

    3. Nilabar

      Instead of criticism, it is better to write your options.

    4. Chochuschuvio

      Uh, explain, please, otherwise I didn’t quite enter the topic, what’s it like?

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