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The Atlantic
The Atlantic
Podcast: How The Evangelical Machine Got Made
Listen and subscribe: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Stitcher | Google PodcastsThese days, everyone assumes that this is just a fact of life: Evangelicals are Republicans, and Republicans are evangelicals. The powerful alliance culminated in the 2016 election of Donald Trump, tying the reputation of Christianity in America to the Trump brand—maybe permanently.It wasn’t always like this. One man—a political operative from Georgia named Ralph Reed—devised a plan to harness the energy of young Christians and turn them into America’s most powerful voting bloc, one church mailing list at a time. Decades later, when Donald Trump came on the political scene, Reed knew he would be big—and convinced his fellow evangelicals that they should give him a shot.Trump’s election was everything Reed spent his entire career fighting for: a president who was anti–abortion rights, listened to evangelical leaders, and advocated for Christians who felt pushed out of the public square. But Reed’s victory had a cost. Many, many Christians have come to feel that their church cares more about politics than Jesus. They have spoken out. They have grieved. And some of them have left.This week on The Experiment, we have the first episode in a two-part series: Meet the man who turned a disparate group of evangelicals into America’s most powerful voting bloc and invented the evangelical political brand. Then join us next week for Part 2, when we’ll look at the human cost of political victory—a cost that might ultimately be very high.Further reading: “A Christian Insurrection”Be part of The Experiment. Use the hashtag #TheExperimentPodcast, or write to us at episode was produced by Katherine Wells and Alvin Melathe, with reporting by Emma Green. Editing by Julia Longoria, Tracie Hunte, and Emily Botein. Fact-check by William Brennan. Sound design by David Herman.
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Vaccinate Adults in India Before American Children
In the coming months, the United States and other rich nations will have the opportunity to save hundreds of thousands of lives threatened by COVID-19 in South Asia. On Monday, the FDA authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in children ages 12 to 15. But in the name of global equity, Americans should delay vaccination of our own children until global vaccine-manufacturing capacity significantly expands and the crisis in India subsides. Such a delay would mobilize tens of millions of additional doses, which could be used almost immediately in hard-hit regions overseas. Especially now, as the supply remains limited, leading nations should work to ensure that doses go where they will do the most good for public health.Allowing the export of doses would be not only effective vaccine diplomacy but also in Americans’ own interest. Gaining better control of the disease across the globe would prevent or slow the emergence of worrisome viral variants.[Thomas J. Bollyky: Democracies keep vaccines for themselves]For the U.S. to focus on preventing sickness among American children before turning its attention abroad might seem only natural. But the imminent danger to adults in global hot spots is simply too great and demands attention now. Compared with children ages 5 to 17, people ages 75 to 84 are 3,200 times more at risk of dying from COVID-19. For children, the risk of disease is not zero, but the mortality risk is comparable to that from seasonal influenza, and hospitalizations occur in about only 0.008 percent of diagnosed infections. Recent studies have provided reassurance that long-term COVID-19 and post-COVID heart problems in children and young adults are rarer than initially feared. A small number of children have conditions—including immune deficiencies, certain cancers, and severe obesity—that put them at greater risk of harm if they contract COVID-19, and in these unusual cases, vaccines need not be delayed.In general, though, research has consistently found that children are less likely to catch and transmit COVID-19 than adults are, and even in places where the more infectious B.1.1.7 variant is dominant, children do not appear to have driven the increase in infections and hospitalizations earlier this year. Among people 19 and younger, COVID-19’s reproduction number has been estimated at less than 1. This means that, on average, an infection spreads to less than one additional person—the threshold under which the disease begins to die out. By contrast, the reproduction number among adults ages 20 to 49 is higher than 1. These adults are thought to be responsible for more than 70 percent of all infections nationwide, even after most school-closure mandates were lifted.Fortunately for the United States, the incredible power of vaccines is becoming more and more evident. As of Monday, 46 percent of all Americans have received at least their first dose of one of three COVID-19 vaccines—which until Monday’s decision had been approved in the U.S. only for people older than 16 or 18. Israel and the United Kingdom—where 63 percent and 51 percent of the population, respectively, has received at least one dose—have rolled out vaccines even faster. In all three nations, rising levels of adult vaccinations have led to reductions in cases among all age groups, including (unvaccinated) children. This is because vaccines prevent not only infection (as well as hospitalization and death) for the individual recipient, but also transmission to other people. Britain has such low case counts that experts there recently downgraded the health threat “from a pandemic to an endemic situation.” More important than the drop in new cases is the plunging number of hospitalizations and deaths, even as the B.1.1.7 variant has come to account for 60 percent of U.S. infections. The vaccines are defanging the virus. In these three highly vaccinated countries, life is returning to normal.In India, however, only 9.8 percent of the population has received a first vaccine dose, the health-care system is collapsing, and a humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding. Countries with low vaccination rates are all at risk of a similar fate. The World Health Organization has called for prioritizing the vaccination of those at greatest risk from infection and those most at risk of spreading the virus. Thankfully, children rank lowest on the priority list by either criterion.Even so, many American parents might assume that vaccinating children is essential to their return to pre-pandemic life. Yet despite the benefits of eventually securing shots for them, doing so is not a matter of immediate urgency. It should not be a requirement for reopening schools. As adults gain immunity from vaccines or previous infection, children will also be afforded protection. COVID-19 rates in children have consistently reflected those of adults in their community. For every 20-point increase in vaccination among adults, one recent study found, the risk of transmission to children halves. The most important thing U.S. policy makers can do to protect children in the next school year is to encourage their parents—and all adults—to get vaccinated.[Read: India is what happens when rich people do nothing]Meanwhile, by donating vaccines to countries with the worst COVID-19 outbreaks, the United States could help save lives quickly. Despite a common perception that vaccines require weeks to work, a reduction in the number of symptomatic coronavirus cases was evident in clinical trials as soon as 10 days after participants got their first shot. Because symptoms take several days to appear, vaccines’ protection may kick in just days after administration. Such protection is all the more important under the catastrophic conditions now evident in India. The Biden administration last week announced its support of waiving intellectual-property protections in order to accelerate the deployment of vaccines to where they are needed most. Many public-health experts are pushing for rich countries to donate surplus vaccine doses to South Asia. Postponing the vaccination of most American children may have an even more immediate effect on the supply of doses.The U.S. must use the available science to everyone’s advantage rather than take a purely nationalistic approach that risks lives in the short term and is likely to be less effective against COVID-19 over the long term. An equitable and science-based approach will not only save lives now, but set a precedent for better global pandemic cooperation in the future.
Unearthing an Origin Story for Gentrification
Historians have always assumed that the medieval city of Angkor, today located in Cambodia, was huge, simply based on how much land its kings commanded. From the ninth to the 15th centuries, Angkor was the capital of the Khmer empire, which at its zenith stretched across modern Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. The city was thronged with visitors from all over Southeast Asia—royalty and peasants alike—and was home to large numbers of farmers who kept the city fed, as well as workers who built its palaces, canals, and reservoirs. But precisely how many people lived in Angkor is one of the enduring mysteries in archaeology.The problem is that, centuries after the city’s decline, only the great walled temples at Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom remain standing. The city’s residential neighborhoods were made entirely of perishable materials such as wood. Angkor’s city grid quickly disappeared beneath thick vegetation, and farmers ploughed over its far-flung neighborhoods. Though generations of experts have studied the city’s ruins, they’ve been unable to come up with a reliable estimate of its population that would help them make sense of how such a large city was run.Now the Leiden University archaeology researcher Sarah Klassen and her colleagues believe that they’ve found the magic number. Based on a comprehensive analysis using nearly 150 years of data, they peg the peak population of the greater Angkor region at 700,000 to 900,000 people in the 13th century. The only European city approaching that size at the time was Constantinople.“Population is one of those fundamental building blocks to understanding an archaeological site,” Klassen told me. “This number changes everything.” With a solid population number, Klassen can extrapolate how much rice Angkorians needed to grow to feed their neighbors, for example, or how much wood and water they consumed. The estimate restores human activity to the empty halls of the city, revealing all the work people were doing to maintain it. But the estimate also reveals more fundamental patterns in how cities develop over time, as their swelling populations change the urban landscape.Klassen and her colleagues arrived at Angkor’s peak-population number by reading the landscape as a palimpsest left behind by the ancient Khmer peoples. Back in 2012, a team used helicopter-mounted lidar—3-D laser scanning—to measure minute differences in ground elevation beneath tree cover. It revealed an unmistakable grid of housing foundations, roads, farms, and canals sprawling for 1,158 square miles in what the team calls the greater Angkor region, similar to a modern-day metro area like the San Francisco Bay Area, with its multiple urban centers and low-density residential areas in between.Meanwhile, archaeologists broke ground in a number of places across Angkor to verify that the mounds on the lidar maps were truly the remains of homes and not simply natural features. During that process, Klassen’s colleague Alison Carter spotted an unexpected pattern. Carter, a University of Oregon anthropologist, was digging beneath what archaeologists call a “ceremonial center”—a city center with temples and other public buildings—which would ordinarily have attracted a higher population than outlying areas. But when she dug deeper, uncovering the settlement that existed before the temples were built, the quantity of debris and other human-made items suggested the area had already had a very high density of residents.The researchers theorize that local built homes in these proto-centers because they sat atop valuable farmland. Then the Khmer king ordered temples and water infrastructure to be built on top of the already valuable land, making the place even more valuable, in a virtuous feedback loop.Angkor’s density, then, seems to have grown from the ground up, starting with local farmers and ending with kings laying claim to the land with their temples. The process didn’t end there, though. In the most densely packed downtown ceremonial area around Angkor Thom, the researchers discovered that the 12th-century King Jayavarman VII had evicted an entire neighborhood to build the roads around his palace. “When you look at the lidar, you can see … roads and causeways which used to be houses,” Klassen said. “You can just imagine them saying, ‘Sorry, we’re building a road here.’”For Klassen, the most intriguing question is whether the sequence of development she found at Angkor is part of a more universal pattern. Are all cities doomed to see displacement follow growth? In modern megacities, Klassen told me, it’s hard to know for sure what’s causing that pattern—we can attribute growth to a wide variety of technological advances, to transit, or to economic booms. But what if we could strip away all the gleaming machines and look at how cities develop without the thumb of industrial capitalism on the scale? We might get a metropolis like Angkor. “Angkor is like a lab for investigating [urban] relationships without those variables introduced by technology,” Klassen said.If that’s true—and there are some reasons to be skeptical—Angkor offers one kind of origin story for the process that today we call gentrification. Stacey Sutton, an urban-planning and -policy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, describes gentrification in contemporary cities as the process by which wealthy, privileged populations displace poorer, marginalized ones. One might certainly characterize Angkor’s history in those terms too. In retrospect, it appears that the city’s growth involved wealthy elites pushing people off the land they had made valuable, so that the richest residents could live in city centers while the poorest were displaced to Angkor’s distant suburbs.But scholars who study the early history of cities elsewhere in the world are hesitant to endorse the claim that this sequence is inevitable. Rebecca Boyd, an archaeologist affiliated with University College Cork who studies the origins of Dublin, told me via email that Dublin began as a meeting of two great rivers and five great roads across Ireland. There is no evidence of extensive farming or population density on the site until the Vikings arrived and set up their own town in the winter of 840–1. Local Irish people kicked out the invaders in 902, and continued to develop the city on their own. Great cities, in other words, don’t always begin organically. Sometimes they need Viking invaders to jump-start the process.The archaeologist Sarah Parcak has identified hundreds of urban sites from ancient Egypt using satellite data. Parcak told me that Klassen’s work on population size is incredibly valuable, and provides an excellent model for anyone using remote sensing like lidar or satellite maps in combination with old-fashioned data on the ground, but Parcak is very cautious about applying the growth models Klassen found to ancient Egypt. “Every landscape is different,” Parcak said. “There is so much nuance to understanding specific cultures and places.” In Egypt, for example, some capitals did start as small, organic farming communities based around turtlebacks, or sand formations high enough to stay dry during the Nile floods. But later, once the Romans had colonized Egypt, new cities were built on the orders of the occupying government. “The way cities grow changes over time,” Parcak concluded.Still, the ancient pattern of urban growth identified by Klassen and her colleagues resonates in the modern world: As population density increases, a city’s original inhabitants are typically pushed out, literally marginalized. But if the study of Angkor reveals that the roots of gentrification stretch deep into the urban past, the diversity of ancient urban forms suggests that the pattern represents a choice—and that alternatives exist, if we’re willing to deliberately embrace them.
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