Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Wolf Returns

Watercolor Masterpiece Okami Has Found New Life on Modern Consoles

Wired Julie Muncy 12/14/17

More than a decade later, the thing I most remember about Okami is how color follows you wherever you go. Released in 2006, by the now-defunct Clover Studios, the game starred a wolf-god named Amaterasu in a vibrant world inspired by Japanese ink wash painting. The folkoric Japanese landscape Ameratsu finds herself in, though, is dying—empty and colorless. The eight-headed demon Orochi has been unsealed to wreak havoc, and in doing so he has turned everything literally black and white; the world is effectively a painting with its hues all gone.

That color comes flooding back when you help the people of Japan fight Orochi. It bursts forth from Amaterasu—an incarnation of the Shinto goddess of the sun, an avatar of life and light—and fills the landscape outward. Flowers erupt from the ground. Okami's pastoral landscape sings and becomes new with each victory, each step made against the malingering darkness. It's as potent an image of renewal and redemption as I've ever seen, one of the only moments in any game to stir the religious parts of me.

Now, after a lengthy absence, Okami itself has been renewed, updated to run on modern consoles and the PC. For a game that only sold around 200,000 copies at launch, released only months before the studio that made it collapsed, it's a well-deserved resurrection. Okami deserves a place in the modern landscape; however, its return is more than a commercial boon. Meditative and warm, dedicated to an uncomplicated belief in the beauty of the natural world and the power of people to make the world better, the game is a balm—an emotional corrective in a time of upheaval.
In keeping with the sumi-e art style, Amaterasu herself is an artist, wielding a magic paintbrush with the help of a tiny helper named Issun. Her magic ink gives her direct authorial sway over the world itself—a sweeping brush stroke might create a mighty wind, while a wide circle might be a means of pushing life back into the dead world. Playing Okami is a surprisingly creative endeavor, using Amaterasu's powers to not only redeem but transform the world, opening up passages, slaying demons, and calling the powers of nature itself to your aid.

The creators at Clover placed this ideas within the familiar structure of a 3D The Legend of Zelda-style game. Okami has a narrow open world to navigate and various constrained encounters and dungeons gating off parts of that world, creating, like in a Zelda game, a slow sense of progress and a broad sense of adventure. Amaterasu plays the role of a vagabond god, setting right what once went wrong, occasionally pausing along the way to indulge her inner wolf and howl at the moon or dig for a buried treat.

Okami's biggest weakness is that it's, perhaps, too long, hedging its bets too far toward a traditional single-player game experience and pushing past the point where its distinct mechanics start to lose their mystic luster. But at the same time, every moment in this world feels special. The creators at Clover Studio, which included Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame, Hideki Kamiya, and a bevy of other minds who would go on to create Platinum Games, put everything they had into Okami. They built an underrated masterpiece, the kind of beautiful work that's critically acclaimed but forgotten all too quickly.

Now, good fortune and the good sense of its publishers at Capcom have made Okami more widely available than it's ever been. Amaterasu will be there waiting, her white tail bushy and wild in the wind, eager to lead the way into a world worth saving.

Sisters Are Doin' It for Themselves

In Alabama, black women saved America from itself – as they’ve always tried to do

African-American women came out in droves and voted 98% against Roy Moore, preventing what could have been a huge wrong 
The Guardian   Dec. 14, 2017

Lisa-Kaindé Díaz, Halle Bailey, Naomi Díaz, Beyoncé, Amandla Stenberg, Zendaya and Chloe Bailey, from the Lemonade video. Photograph: Beyonce: Lemonade Black women have been trying to save America from itself for generations. So the breakdown of who voted in Alabama’s Senate election this week come as no surprise. Since as far back as the 19th century, African American women have been fighting for civil rights; they have always been front and centre in terms of mobilising support for equality and justice. Though it would not be surprising if you’ve never heard their stories – by and large black female trailblazers have tended to be erased from history.

But that marginalisation has never stopped their continued fight for justice and equality. In Alabama, 98% of them voted against Roy Moore, a man who – among other things – is accused of assaulting teenage girls. And yet 63% of white women voted for a man accused of such things. But there’s form here. Despite allegations of sexual impropriety against Donald Trump during the 2016 election race, 53% of white women voted for him to become president, compared to 3% of black women.

So the figures reflect that in Alabama, overwhelming numbers of white American women opened their arms to an alleged paedophile and gave him their votes. Whereas those black women in Alabama voted for change for their families and themselves in a part of America that has huge numbers of people in poverty (nationally, more than 28% of African-American women live in povertyhigher than the corresponding figures for white or Hispanic women). And to keep out of office a man whose list of alleged sexual misdemeanours is ever growing.

African-American men did that, too. Exit polls show that 6% of black men voted for Moore – compared to 72% of white men.

But it’s African-American women who have largely been ignored in history. It’s their political power that tends to be ignored, and the feminist movement tends to erase. Figures such as Sojourner Truth, Ida B Wells-Barnett and Mary McLeod Bethune fought for so much, and yet are heard of so little.

What is surprising though is that in the era of the #MeToo movement, white women in Alabama didn’t see the accusations of underage sexual conduct as enough of a reason not to put someone in office. In fact I watched one woman defend her choice with these words: “I’m sure God had forgiven him [Moore] so I forgive him too and will vote for him. Who am I to go against God?”

History will not look favourably on this era in America. In the midst of all this you’ve got black women who are trying to raise families in higher levels of poverty and amid nearly double the unemployment rates of white women. That strength and resilience reminds me of a Malcolm X speech – which Beyoncé actually sampled on her album Lemonade: “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman
Some African-American women would argue that not much has changed since that speech in 1962. But despite being disrespected, unprotected and neglected, they came out in their droves and righted what could have been a huge wrong.

Charlene White is a British broadcast journalist who works for ITN

Anime 2017


Anime didn’t see any massive hits in 2017, but there was a lot to watch

by   Contributing Writer 
It takes only two words to sum up why 2016 was always going to be a hard act to follow: “Your Name.”

To call Makoto Shinkai’s body-switching romance a hit is a little like calling Tokyo Skytree “pretty tall.” The film made up nearly half the domestic anime box office and, worldwide, became the highest-grossing anime film of all time (Hayao Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” still claims that honor on the Japan charts). Its success did not go unnoticed in Hollywood, where J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot snapped up the remake rights this September.

The year 2017 did not feature any “Your Name.”-size theatrical hits — though not for lack of imitating. Engaging in that sincerest form of flattery, films such as “Napping Princess” and “Fireworks, Should We See It from the Side or the Bottom?” featured “Your Name.”-esque rural settings, teen romances and fantasy/sci-fi twists, and while they were modest successes they didn’t quite click like Shinkai’s smash did.

But those films were decidedly coy in their imitation compared to “Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” the first film from Studio Ponoc, a studio created and staffed by former employees of Studio Ghibli, which went into hibernation after 2014’s “When Marnie Was There.” “Mary,” the story of a young girl who suddenly gains magical powers, wore its inspiration on both sleeves and, while anything but original, it successfully replicated the Ghibli look and feel, and positioned Ponoc as the natural successor to that legendary studio in the post-Miyazaki era.

That is, until the man himself had something to say about it. Studio Ghibli co-founder Miyazaki, who had retired in 2013 (some Miyazaki watchers count it as the seventh time he had done so), announced in March he was getting the band back together for one last party. Ghibli uber-producer Toshio Suzuki has described the film, titled “Kimitachi wa Do Ikiru Ka,” (“How Do You Live?”) as an “epic fantasy.” It’s expected to take three or four years to complete, by which time Miyazaki will be in his 80s — maybe making it his actual final film (for reals), whether he wants it to be or not.

Fittingly, perhaps, 2017’s sleeper hit was a film from 2016. “In This Corner of the World,” which tracks the story of a young woman in Hiroshima Prefecture in the years leading up to and during World War II, debuted in November of last year and, thanks to repeat viewers and a huge grass-roots push from fans on social media, never really went away. The film is, as of this writing, still in theaters, and an extended version has just been announced.

Though computers have been used to color and composite anime for years now, individual frames are still drawn largely by hand and then scanned in for digital manipulation. That was true even in 2017 — but an increasing number of theatrical films and TV series this year were either partially or completely animated via 3-D software. At the forefront of the 3-D CG movement is the studio Polygon Pictures, who released two feature films in 2017 — “Blame!”, an adaptation of a sci-fi manga, and “Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters,” the first-ever anime film based on the iconic beast. 

3-D animation made inroads on the small screen, too, with hit titles such as “Land of the Lustrous” and “Kemono Friends,” with the former winning over a good number of CG skeptics with its stunning animation and the latter, about a group of animals transformed into cute girls, becoming one of the year’s most beloved series despite its decidedly dodgy CG, not because of it. Regardless, anime fans may end up looking back on 2017 as the year 3-D anime came into its own.

And the innovative use of computers in 2017 wasn’t limited to just 3-D. Cult favorite Masaaki Yuasa, who had not directed a full-length film since 2004, released two in short order this spring: “Night Is Short, Walk on Girl” and “Lu Over the Wall.” The secret to the director’s speed? Flash animation.

Land of the Lustrous Trailer『宝石の国』本PV | Houseki no Kuni 1 min. 55 sec.

Kemono Friends episode 01 english 23 min. 56 sec.

Flash may be known best in the West as the software used to cheaply animate late night, stoner-friendly cartoons, but Yuasa has mastered an innovative, artistic use of the software, which he uses to fill in the gaps between key frames, duplicate background elements, and perform other time and labor-saving tricks to create anime — all with a third of the staff of most other studios.

Anime traditionalists may have qualms about Japan’s hand-drawn animation getting a computer assist (after all, since Disney has gone all-in on 3-D, it’s almost unquestionably the world’s best), but the industry’s working conditions may demand it. It was announced this year the anime industry made record profits in 2016, but little if any of those profits trickled down to animators — according to the Japanese Animation Creators Association (JAniCA), animators in their 20s make an average of just ¥1.1 million a year. This is by no means a new problem, but 2017 saw the issue investigated by several major media organizations, including NHK, and the Labor Standards Inspection Office in Tokyo, where most anime studios are located. It has been reported that 90 percent of all young animators quit within their first three years, many flocking to better-paying gigs, including animation for smartphone games or the growing Chinese market.

Individual animators aren’t the only ones in trouble, either. Despite the industry’s record trillion-yen income in 2016, 1 in 4 animation studios are in the red. More anime is produced every season than ever before (there were about 170 series in 2017), which has led to a fracturing of the audience. This may be a boon for individual fans, who now have an incredible selection to choose from (you want a show about strains of rice anthropomorphized into cute teenage boys? You’ve got it!) but it means that on TV, it’s almost impossible to produce a series that captures the public imagination “Your Name.”-style. And with Netflix and other streaming players getting in on the game, that fracturing will only continue.

That said, Netflix’s original anime (it currently has more than 30 titles in production) may point to a possible way forward for the industry. It has been reported the streaming giant’s budgets are much higher than that of an average broadcast series, and, unlike domestic players, it has the power to simultaneously release titles in each of the 200-odd countries where it operates. Bypassing TV may also allow writers and directors, no longer constrained by multiple sponsors, to let their creative juices flow in interesting directions — that, or they may just simply be forced to create the kind of anime Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings wants to watch.

K9s and K5 at the SF SPCA

Security robot bullied and forced off the street in San Francisco 12/13/17  
A robot patrolling a street in San Francisco to ward off homeless people has been removed after complaints from locals, who also knocked it over and smeared it with feces.

The Knightscope K5 security robot was deployed by the San Francisco branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to deter homeless people from sleeping and loitering near its building.

But it was forced to take away the 400-pound machine as it was operating in the public realm without a permit, and threatened with a $1,000-a-day (£745) fine.

The K5's presence also angered the local community, who took to social media to complain.
Reports claimed that a group doused its sensors with barbecue sauce, knocked it over and veiled it with a tarp. One Twitter user claimed they saw feces smeared on its shell, while another described the robot's use as "shameful".

"The money that was spent on these robots could have gone towards homeless shelters," said another tweet.

The shelter said it released the robot, nicknamed K9, to patrol the pavements around its centre in the Mission District, which had become a camp for the city's homeless population.

"We weren't able to use the sidewalks at all when there's needles and tents, and bikes, so from a walking standpoint I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment," the SPCA's president Jennifer Scarlett told the Business Times.

Responding to Dezeen, the shelter said that it only hoped to improve the safety of its employees, following an influx of crime in the surrounding area, and that it is "extremely sensitive" to the issue of homelessness.

"In the last year we've experienced a great deal of car break-ins, theft, and vandalism that has made us concerned about the security and safety of the people on our campus," the SPCA's media relations manager Krista Maloney told Dezeen.

"The security robot that we've been using on a pilot basis has been very effective at deterring these criminal incidents. The device helps us prevent crime; it doesn't attempt to remove homeless people from the sidewalk."

The K5 is equipped with four cameras that monitor its surroundings, and moves on wheels at speeds of up to three miles per hour. It measures 1.5 metres tall and nearly one metre wide at its base, creating a sizeable obstacle on the pavement.

San Francisco is tightening restrictions on autonomous machines on the streets – particularly delivery robots – with growing concerns over public safety.

Knightscope's K5 model has already been embroiled in other controversies elsewhere, including knocking a toddler over in Silicon Valley, and falling into a pond in Washington DC after missing a set of stairs.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Who Made the Big Wolf Bad?

Why Do We Fear Wolves?

Throughout History, They've Been Made to Answer for the Sins of Men  

Yolande Waddington walked to the Six Bells Pub for a pack of cigarettes around 10 p.m., slipping in before last call. It was Friday, the week before Halloween, 1966. Outside, the moon was a fat pearl. Inside, drinkers sipped pints at the polished wood bar.

The village parish of Beenham is located some 50 miles southwest of London, surrounded by sheep-freckled fields and stands of skeletal hawthorne trees. It is a storybook town: quaint brick houses with windowsills frosted in white; one pub; one primary school; one medieval church that was rebuilt after being torched by lightning. Today, as in 1966, Beenham is the sort of place where you know your neighbor, and you know who is new.

Yolande was new. She was 17-years-old and had arrived a few days earlier to start work as a farmhouse nanny. Photographs show her with dark swoops of eyebrows and a long plaid skirt. I do not know if she drank a pint or had a laugh or brought a book. I do know that she wore a sweater and a white headband. I know that some 30 minutes after arriving, she left the pub and stepped into a cool night. I know that after that night, Yolande was never heard from again.

Last July, I went to Beenham for two weeks to watch wolves. I had been studying the rhetoric of fear that surrounded them in America when I received funding to investigate an international angle at the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. Established in 1995, the UKWCT is an organization dedicated to “challenging any misconceptions” about wolves and showing the animal “as it really is.” Housed on a private estate less than a mile from the town center, the Trust keeps 10 wolves for the observation of visiting scholars and the visiting public. The public pays to see these “ambassador wolves”

—listening to educational talks and photographing them through holes in the fence, or, if they have ponied up a bit more, maybe handing a wolf its daily chunk of bleeding meat. Profits are sent to wolf reintroduction projects abroad, from Bulgaria to India. It seemed to me that if you wanted to believe that wolf reintroduction was “Government-Sponsored Terrorism”—as a certain brand of American bumper sticker liked to assert—than the UKWCT was an international hub.

I grew up in Oregon, where the last decade of wolf reintroduction has polarized neighbors and towns. I knew what coyotes did to the woolly lambs on my grandfather’s farm, and I could empathize with those who had had wolves tear through similar sprawls of pasture. But I did not believe the bumper stickers that said wild wolves were terrorists, just as I did not believe that terrorists were lone wolves, as The Times of London had called the man who drove a van into a group of worshippers outside a mosque in the diverse Findley Park neighborhood a few weeks before I arrived in Beenham.

“All stories are about wolves,” writes Margaret Atwood in The Blind Assassin. But what is the wolf? If you look at what philosopher Noël Carroll calls its “symbolic biology,” you see an animal taxidermied from myth and history, sculpted into an opponent that man—now primed as hero—can fight. When it comes to wolves, we have so long animalized humans and humanized animals. And though I do not know how to reconcile the pain that either species can bring, I have staked myself to a solemn belief that unsnarling our old metaphors might help. As Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson writes in Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About Human Nature: “I do not consider the suffering that prey experiences from a predator a form of cruelty.” The difference between humans and other predators, Masson believes, is choice. The animal predator does not decide to draw blood: he kills so he can stay alive. Humans, of course, are different. This is why most wolf metaphors go slack.


To arrive at the UKWCT with the other students and wolf researchers by 9 a.m., I would take a public bus down the highway and then, at an unmarked road that led into the sprawl of industrial parks beneath Beenham, begin walking toward the Trust. My total trek was just less than two miles. Above me, the sky often hung like a damp, dark rag, heavy with the promise of rain. There were no sidewalks and no pedestrians, and the few vehicles that passed were mostly trucks and white unmarked vans that rattled toward the surrounding warehouses. Sometimes the drivers slowed when they neared me. Sometimes they sped past. I did not know which made my heart beat faster.

Soon the road narrowed to gravel and the hedges on either side grew taller and formed a sort of chute.

I kept to a clip and tried to think of cheery reasons for why one soggy ballet flat would be poking out of a bramble-filled ditch. When I went to the Trust, I did not yet know the specifics of Yolande Waddington’s death, and I did not know about the girls who came after, the two nine-year-olds who had left their Beenham homes one April afternoon in 1967 to collect primroses. I did not know about The Telegraph headline that had asked, 30-some years later, “Can a Village Ever Get Over A Trauma Like This?” But I knew, intimately well, the shape of my own disembodied worry. No place to run, I would think, fingers tapping the bulb of pepper spray in my pocket. I had brought the keychain from America because I believed it might make me feel more confident. Still, I was aware that the one time I had been assaulted by a strange person on a strange street, I had found my body paralyzed: unable to reach for the canister in my purse, unable to find either fight or flight as the man’s arms closed around me. That time I had been lucky—another pedestrian had been able to intervene. But I felt my limbs had let me down. I did not want to wait to be saved.

After a few minutes, I veered onto a dirt footpath that bordered a pasture with big-eyed cows as it climbed into a shadowy forest. At these moments, I could pretend I was in an idyllic, pastoral dream. Here, the trappings of fairytale began to amuse me. I was a girl walking into the woods. I was walking to the wolves.


England exterminated its last wild wolf in the late 1600s—a distant era when royalty were known to dine on dolphin and clean their teeth with soot. I soon got the sense that reintroduction to the U.K. was a distant prospect, and maybe not even a conservationist goal. As the Trust’s “wolf keeper” Mike Collins told me, it was not just a question of whether the wolves were good for a place, it was a question of whether the place was good for the wolves. “They would get hit by cars here,” he said. “We just don’t have the wilderness for them yet.”

Lurking behind all this was the question of public opinion, which seemed to be primarily a question of fear. Though there have been almost no non-rabies wolf attacks in Europe in the last century, a 2009 study showed that 48 to 53 percent of U.K. teens had reported being afraid of the animals. This fear was, in part, a remnant: from a time when the Saxons had called January “wolf month” because it was when you were most likely to be “devoured of Wolves”; from the era in which Scottish highlanders had erected refuges called “spittals” to shelter travelers “overtaken by night,” according to James Edmund Harting’s 1880 text British Animals Extinct Within Historic Times. Nowadays this fear seemed an inheritance, worn like a reflex or an old tic, like opening your mouth and having your grandfather’s unfashionable crikey seep out. But what was its cost?

“The animal predator does not decide to draw blood: he kills so he can stay alive. Humans, of course, are different. This is why most wolf metaphors go slack.”
“I have come to believe that fear is a cruelty to those who are feared,” writes Eula Biss in Notes from No Man’s Land: American Essays. When I read this, I thought of the wolf, and then I thought of the people we had turned into them, from Cotton Mather calling Native Americans “Ravenous howling Wolves” in 1689, to The New York Daily News’ headline about the Central Park “Wolf Pack” exactly 300 years later. In Songlines, Bruce Chatwin notes that wargus, the Middle Latin word for wolf, is the same as the word for “stranger,” and Harting writes that the Saxons once referred to outlaws as “wolfs-heads”—unprotected by the law and liable to be killed anywhere, like animals. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Gratiano references “a wolf, who hanged for human slaughter,” a line that smacks of metaphor until you read reports from medieval Germany of wolves that were dressed in human clothes, wigs, and masks before being strung up at a town gallows. The line between an evil man and an evil wolf has always been thin.

In other words: how have we tried to reconcile the evil that lies within our human communities and human hearts? We have made it strange. We have made it an outlaw. We have made it a lone wolf.
The ten wolves at the UKWCT, meanwhile, were rarely alone. Wolves traditionally live and hunt in packs, and the animals at the Trust lived between four enclosures with their mates or their siblings. I often found myself staring through the chain-link at three Arctic siblings, the biggest of the onsite wolves. Unlike the others—European wolves whose fur fell on a spectrum of dirtied snow to cookies-and-cream to the gray-brown of a young bird’s downy feathers—the Arctics were white and tinged with gold. When they rolled over into the grass, their bodies fell like Slinkies, first the front half and then the back half lolling into the sun. In these moments, the wolves reminded me of my old dog.

But later, when I would kneel in front of the fence with a plastic bucket to offer an Arctic its daily hunks of cow or deer meat, I might feel a quick bump of tooth against the blue plastic of my glove, and then, a second later, hear the smash of his teeth slicing through the bone of his bleeding meal. It was a noise like rock-fall, and it always sent a bump of awe rolling up and down my spine. What big teeth you have, I would think, instinctively running my tongue over the smooth ridgeline of my own jaw. The wolf, of course, would not respond. He was just a carnivore being a carnivore. Those teeth were not all the better to eat me with.


In the earliest printed version of Little Red Riding Hood, published in France in 1697, Charles Perrault writes about a dawdling girl “running after butterflies, and gathering bouquets of little flowers.” In this version, there is no woodcutter to intervene. The girl dies. At the end of the tale, Perrault notes that “young lasses” should not listen to strangers unless they want the “Wolf” to get his dinner: “I say Wolf, for all wolves are not of the same sort; there is one kind with an amenable disposition–neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!”

The 19-year-old man who killed Yolande had been drinking at Six Bells when she walked in. I do not know if they spoke, or if he just trailed out behind her, like the lingering bass note in a song. He was a local truck driver with a glass eye from an air-pistol accident, a man who, in the words of another town resident, had once been the “the kid who ‘pull[s] the wings off insects.'” When I read this back home in America, I found myself ragged with an old, familiar grief. Yolande’s naked, stabbed, and strangled body had been found in a ditch on a farm I had seen on my daily walks. The spring after her death, the same man left the bodies of Jeannette Wigmore and Jacqueline Williams in a retired gravel pit just northeast of my footpath. Every day, I had unknowingly walked beside the churchyard cemetery that held their graves.

So listen: I don’t like Little Red Riding Hood. I don’t like that the girl is swaddled in a cloak of victimhood from the start, and I don’t like that she is punished for stuffing her fists with bright sprays of flower. I don’t like the salesman sleaze of the wolf, and I don’t like what the legend continues to do for the intelligent, caramel-eyed animals I observed at the Trust. But because I was raised to like walking alone—hiking through mossy forests and also kicking across neighborhood sidewalks, humming Stevie Nicks beneath my breath—I resent that this is the only wolf tale I cannot easily shake. For all that I want to toss out about the story, I hold onto a pebble of wary truth.

I think back to the night that my body froze. It was August, and I had left a Minneapolis brewery when the sky was still smudged with light. Though I had seen a bartender escort a man out a minute earlier, my mind raised only a small red tassel of concern as I walked to my bike a block or so away.

When I heard the thunk of steps behind me on the sidewalk, I told myself to be cool, to keep walking, to chill out. A split-second later, I changed my mind and saw the blurred wax of the man’s drunk face just as he flung his arms around me. My voice, meanwhile, had dried up. In France, having a hoarse voice is called le loup—you have been silenced by the fear of a wolf.

Two things, I know, are true. Humans are scary, and wolves have long been one of our scapegoats. As scholar Martin Rheinheimer writes about 18th century Denmark: “The entire fear of death [is] thus put into the wolf hunt.” But I want new medicine for my fear. I want new language for my rage. After all, it can be dangerous to be a woman. It can be dangerous to walk alone. But we live, we walk, we sing and raise our fists. Somewhere, a wolf bites through a bone. That wolf is just a wolf. There is no other moral here.

The US Is Sliding Toward 3rd World Status

Alabama Has the Worst Poverty in the Developed World, U.N. Official Says  by

"I think it's very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this," Philip Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of earlier this week as they toured a community in Butler County where "raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits."

The tour through Alabama's rural communities is part of a two-week investigation by the U.N. on poverty and human rights abuses in the United States. So far, U.N. investigators have visited cities and towns in California and Alabama, and will soon travel to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, as reported by The Guardian.

GettyImages-465399018 A pedestrian walks through a neighborhood with rundown homes on March 6, 2015, in Selma, Alabama. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) 
The U.N. investigation aims to study the effects of systemic poverty in a prosperous nation like the United States.

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. That's second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income, according to Quartz.

These income and wealth disparities affect minorities the most. Black, Hispanic, and Native American children, for example, are two to three times more likely to live in poverty than white kids, according to a study using Census data by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Minorities in the United States have also historically had higher rates of unemployment, worked longer hours, and gotten paid less than their white counterparts on average, as reported in a 2013 article in The Atlantic that analyzed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics stretching back to 1975.

Economic inequality and racial discrimination have also been linked with civil rights abuses, particularly in Alabama and other states across the South. Police shootings of unarmed black men and women are also of deep concern to the U.N.

Alston, who's also a law professor at New York University, said in a statement announcing the start of the U.N. investigation that poverty in the U.S. has been overlooked for too long.

“Some might ask why a U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights would visit a country as rich as the United States," Alston said. "But despite great wealth in the U.S., there also exists great poverty and inequality.”

Alston also pointed out that the U.S. "has been very keen" on other countries being investigated by the U.N. for civil and human rights issues.

"Now, it's the turn to look at what's going on in the U.S.," Alston said. "There are pretty extreme levels of poverty in the United States given the wealth of the country. And that does have significant human rights implications.”

GettyImages-465399024 Tires lay in the grass in front of a shuttered auto parts business on March 6, 2015, in Selma, Alabama. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) 
Despite these concerns, the Republican Party, which controls all three branches of the federal government, is on course to pass a tax bill before the end of the year that will increase the federal deficit by $1 trillion in 10 years—costs that GOP leaders have said will be offset by reducing an already-weakened social safety net.

For Alston, these political decisions are at the root of systemic poverty in the U.S.

“The idea of human rights is that people have basic dignity and that it’s the role of the government—yes, the government!—to ensure that no one falls below the decent level,” he said. “Civilized society doesn’t say for people to go and make it on your own and if you can’t, bad luck.”

“Politicians who say, ‘There’s nothing I can do about that’ are simply wrong,” Alston told WKMS 91.3 FM, a public radio station in Ohio near one of the other sites under investigation by the U.N.

Phone Poles Rock

Why Is Anime Obsessed With Power Lines?

Exploring the reasons behind the genre’s lavishly detailed electrical infrastructure.