Latest find: Harpers.org

I run into new sites all the time I wish I had more time to spend consuming. The latest is Harpers.org, home of Harper’s Magazine and the famous Harper’s Index. If you’re into fact / numbers / trends / random-data like I am, you’ll love it.

For instance, you probably didn’t know that in September ’05 it was announced:

  • Number of chickens trained by European scientists to choose between photos of human faces by pecking: 6
  • Chances that college students select as “most desirable” the same face chosen by the chickens: 49 in 50

What is this saying? That college students aren’t significantly more intelligent than chickens? That chickens are far smarter than they act? That “beauty” is universal and recognizable by lesser species?

Who the H-E-doublehockeysticks knows!?! I’m not sure that’s the point. It’s random; it’s trivial; it’s interesting. They’ve been in this business since 1850, so there’s obviously a market for it.

Anyway, not all the information is trivial. Actually, most of it isn’t from my initial peruse.

Sample #2:

  • Percentage of Americans in 1983 who thought it was “possible to start out poor in this country…and become rich”: 57
  • Percentage who think this today: 80
  • Percentage of U.S. income in 1983 and today, respectively, that went to the top 1 percent of earners: 9, 16
  • Average income of an African American today, expressed as a percentage of the average income of a white American: 74
  • Average income of an American child of Mexican immigrants, expressed in the same terms: 71

So, we see that Americans are increasingly hopeful in the potential of living the American dream. But, the rich are actually the ones getting richer–not the general population. And it’s still a white-man’s world here in the US of A.

I’ve had this site bookmarked for who-knows-how-long and came back to it while I was clicking through bookmarks while researching for a story I’m writing about Katrina clean-up efforts for the University’s annual report.

Harper’s has turned out to be a great reference, because in addition to their monthly Index, they do a weekly review of events across the world. And then they group stuff into themes and present information relating to those themes chronologically.

Evidence C:

Selected Katrina commentary from the week of Sept. 13, 2005:

Emergency officials in Louisiana requested 25,000 body bags for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and a total evacuation of New Orleans was ordered. Much of the city was still underwater, though several people who lived on high ground objected to the evacuation. “I haven’t even run out of weed yet,” said one woman.

Wealthy residents of New Orleans were devising ways to rebuild the city with a minimum of poor people. Barbara Bush visited the Astrodome and said that, given that the evacuees were “underprivileged anyway,” things were “working out very well” for them, and Representative Richard Baker gave the hurricane credit for finally cleaning up public housing in New Orleans.

Click Katrina and you get a chronicle of Harper’s coverage of natural disasters. Click underprivileged, you get stuff on poverty. Very interesting and useful. I think I’ll be able to put this little tool to work as I gather information about the rebuilding of New Orleans and Mississippi.

And while I’m at it, I’ll be picking up loads of other information, such as the change in average pitch of Australian women’s voices since 1945. It’s gone down 23 hertz.

Joel Maust

Joel Maust is a blogger, marketer and photographer living in the beautiful Flathead Valley of northwest Montana.

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