Demographic Trends in the US, 2019

April 26, 2019

The Pew Research Centre has issued its latest overview of demographic trends in the United States as analysed over the last year. Their headlines:

  • Millennials are the largest adult generation in the United States, but they are starting to share the spotlight with Generation Z;
  • Hispanics are projected to be the largest racial or ethnic minority group in the U.S. electorate when voters cast their ballots next year;

  • The American family continues to change.;

  • The immigrant share of the U.S. population is approaching a record high but remains below that of many other countries. 
  • The U.S. unauthorized immigrant population is at its lowest level in more than a decade.
  • Incomes are rising in the U.S., but the increase is not being felt equally by all Americans.



The American Diet, 1961-2015

April 9, 2019

Some interesting charts on the changes in US food consumption over the last few decades.  From Business Insider:


I had previously reported on changes to US fast food.

Drowning In Poutine

April 6, 2019

The seemingly irresistible onslaught of poutine into the mainstream marketplace is surely now complete: it is available in select IKEA stores across Canada.

Source: Daily Hive

Poutine is a dish that has not worked its magic on me. But then I like to eat some things that others would think odd, too. Vive la difference!

Mood and Emotion: The History of Blue

April 5, 2019

French historian Michel Pastoureau has written Blue: The History of a Color. The Claremont Review of Books published a review that describes the work as:

“an exhilarating and richly informing book on how the European peoples from the Iron Age until today have decorated themselves and their cultural artefacts with the color blue.”

Early Mediterranean civilizations had little use for blue:

Homer’s sea was “wine dark”; blue would not be used as water’s color until the seventeenth century .. [T]he Romans associated blue with the savage Celtae and Germani, who used the woad herb’s rich leaves for their blue pigments.

And this remained the state of affairs going into the Middle Ages.  However:

“Artisans employed by the mysterious twelfth century Abbot Suger of St. Dennis Abbey developed what would become known as “St. Denis Blue.” Its beauty inspired Christians to adopt it as fitting for heaven, nobility, and the Virgin Mary, who had traditionally been shown in dark clothes highlighting her suffering.”

Pastoureau’s book carries the history of blue (and often green and red and black, too) through the medieval period, the introduction  of indigo in the 1640s, of Prussian blue in the 1700s, the adoption of blue by the Romantics, the French Revolutionary militias, the Napoleonic army, Levi Strauss, and on into today.

“For Pastoureau, color schemes are the essential building blocks of our conceptualization of the world … The introduction of blue, yellow, and other colors in the Western palate reflected not simply a broadening of the easel, but a broadening of consciousness, which entertained increasingly new ideas.”

The effect of colour on culture and society is a fascinating subject and I can thoroughly recommend the review.

For related material, I wrote about the strange history of Prussian Blue some time ago.

The Trend To “No Religion”

April 3, 2019

Open Culture has an article on the popularity of religious groups in the United States.  The growth of those declaring “no religion” over the last couple of decades is noteworthy.

The reasons given are also interesting.  A non-belief in God is only the fourth most popular reason; complaints about religious institutions scores higher. Much of the decline seems to have come from “mainline” protestant denominations.

These changes have significant political effects:

“Evangelicals punch way above their weight,” says [Ryan] Burge. “They turn out a bunch at the ballot box. That’s largely a function of the fact that they’re white and they’re old” … A 2016 PRRI report noted that “religiously unaffiliated Americans do not vote in the same percentages as evangelicals, and are often underrepresented at the polls … Additionally, and most importantly to point out any time these numbers come up: “the nones” is an entirely overdetermined category full of people who agree on little.”

That compares problematically with the evangelicals who tend to vote a lot and as a bloc.

The Zipper

April 2, 2019

Source: YKK

In the last couple of weeks I have come across two very interesting articles about the humble zipper. One, from the Economist, examined the history of the fastener; the second, from The Conversation, looked to the future. This is what I learned.

“The zip was one of the later fruits of the Industrial Revolution, and one that was slow to ripen: the internal combustion engine, the turbine and the light bulb spread across the world much faster. But the zip, too, has become ubiquitous. .. That the zip is relatively new, and was slow to spread, fits into the broader history of fastening. It is an arena where innovation has been slow and fitful.”

The Economist piece runs through the history of clothes fasteners, noting that the button was originally just a decorative item without a button hole so “many societies held things together with loops and toggles … Others used buckles … Most people tied and wrapped.”  Later, in the MIddle Ages, laces came into fashion followed by the hook-and-eye.

“These days they survive mostly as point-to-point fastenings, sometimes above a zip, often on bras, a development for which women can thank, or remonstrate with, Mark Twain. The writer patented a hook-and-eye clasp on stretchy material in 1871.”

The historian of the zipper, Robert Freidel, remarks that unlike the light bulb and the telephone, both introduced around this time, “there was no general sense that [fastening] was an area begging for improvement, much less replacement”.  However, it was into this milieu that the Universal Fastener Company of Chicago introduced the zipper. It did not work very well and was not a success.  However, the Company

“was saved by Gideon Sundback, an immigrant engineer from Sweden. His developments were inspired, it is said, by two interleaved sets of soup spoons, stacked bowl on bowl but with their handles pointing alternately to one side and the other, and thus locked firmly together. Ignoring the company’s new name—the Automatic Hook and Eye Company—he ditched the hooks and eyes and replaced them with today’s design, more or less”

The convenience of the zipper, sold at a premium price compared to a button, was not immediately obvious to the general public, and sales were still difficult.

“Then, in 1923, B.F. Goodrich, an American company best known for tyres, put zips on its rubber galoshes. It called the new footwear Zippers, thus giving the device—previously the “hookless fastener”—its name.

About this time, the zipper made major advances in the clothing market.

“They were cheap and easy to replace, with a wide range of colors and uses. But the need for speed and fashion’s appetite for novelty finally prevailed to make the zipper an essential accessory.

Zippers became a success in part because the zipper represented “easy access” or “unfettered undoability”. They were as Tom Robbins later called them “little alligators of ecstasy.”

“Aldous Huxley, in his novel “Brave New World”, published in 1931, realised that this could, regrettably, end up as a feature, not a bug. The inhabitants of his dystopian World State wore “zippicamiknicks” and “zippyjamas”, showing them simultaneously to be disturbingly modern and endlessly sexually available.

Now, zippers are ubiquitous.  In 2017 the value of the zipper market was estimated at $11.2 billion, and is expected to be worth $19.8 billion by 2024.  The elephant in the market is Japanese industrial YKK, with about 40% of the global market and “which makes more zips every year than there are people on the planet.” They guarantee every zipper for 10,000 uses.

“Unlike its competitors, the Japanese firm based its expansion on developing its own materials and equipment. From the outset it designed its own tools and fed them proprietary materials. It only purchased plastic pellets and a mixture of alloys of its own invention. YKK operates along similar lines to Michelin, the France-based tire manufacturer, closely guarding the secret of its manufacturing processes and making constant improvements.”

Outside a few niches, no genuine rivals to the zipper have appeared. Velcro, an obvious contender, has limited appeal and failed as a military fastener in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nothing else comes to mind. Zippers it seems are here to stay.

Both of the source articles are recommended.

#Trending: Love

March 23, 2019

The Visual Capitalist has a fascinating graphic showing how the girl (etc)-meets-boy (etc) scenario has changed over the decades.

Select image for a closer view.

“Since the launch of Tinder, hundreds of dating services have appeared on app stores worldwide. Investors are taking notice of this booming market, while analysts estimate the global online dating market could be worth $12 billion by next year.”

That’s $12 billion a year that couples didn’t used to spend, although to some extent, it also involves a switch of spending from one set of consumer items to another.  Either way, it is a significant economic shift.