Century Marks

Century Marks


The state of Alabama has strict voter ID laws, which the ACLU claims has a disproportionate negative effect on minority voters. Due to a budget crisis, the state has now closed down 31 driver’s license offices, making it all the more difficult to get one of the few forms of acceptable ID. Eight of the ten Alabama counties with the highest percentage of nonwhite voters have had their driver’s license offices closed. Many of the counties where the offices were closed also lean Democratic. In 2013 the Supreme Court gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, addressing a case that originated in Alabama (Talking Points Memo, October 1).

World wars

The United States is involved in many more wars than its citizens know. This year alone, U.S. Special Operations forces have been deployed in 135 nations—about 70 percent of the world’s countries. Many of these operations are training missions to help build up local forces. In some cases, though, Special Operations forces like the Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs are engaged in direct action. Funding for these covert operations has grown exponentially since 9/11, and their personnel have more than doubled in that time. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) re­fuses to disclose where such forces
are deployed or the nature of their missions (Nation, September 24).

It’s the guns

The five deadliest shootings in the United States in the 21st century resulted in a total of 101 deaths. But in 2012 alone—the most recent year for which there is data—32,288 people died from gunshot wounds in this country. Suicides account for 64 percent of these deaths, a reality that the media miss by their preoccupation with mass shootings. Research has shown that the availabil­ity of guns is as much a risk factor for suicide as mental illness, substance abuse, or family his­tory. One study revealed that men were 3.7 times more likely to die by gun suicide in the 15 states with the highest gun ownership compared to the six states with the lowest; women in those states were 7.9 times more likely to kill themselves (Newsweek, September 21).

Let’s talk

“What has happened to face-to-face conversation in a world where so many people say they would rather text than talk?” asks Sherry Turkle, professor at MIT. Texting has diminished our ability to empathize with others, since it is in conversation that we look each other in the eye and learn the capacity to empathize. The constant need to check one’s smartphone has also decreased our ability to live with solitude. The capacity for empathetic conversation goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude, says Turkle. Experiments with youth have shown that these trends can be reversed when devices are taken from them for extended periods of time (New York Times, September 27).

Populist power

The precedents for a figure like Donald Trump in American politics include Andrew Jackson, the seventh president, who was regarded as a vulgar and hotheaded personality with little political experience. He forced thousands of Native Americans to relocate from southeastern states to the Oklahoma territory. He dismantled the centralized Bank of the United States, creating state banks instead. The move pushed the country into a depression. Despite these initiatives, Jackson left office a popular president (NPR, September 24).