monument valley road 2.

This is the first day of the fortnight (August 29 – September 12) governed by the rune Rad or Raidho. It has a phonetic value of “R.” Its meaning is variously described as “road,” “riding” (as on horseback), “wagon,” and “wheel” (as on a wagon or chariot). In fact, the German word “Rad” does translate as “wheel.” It is referred to as the “travelers rune.” However, my preference of meaning is “road,” as I have devoted so many years to driving and understand the road as a unifying metaphor.

raidhoIn its essence, Rad signifies the channeling of your life-force along the right road leading to the right result. The “right road” traces a particular path leading to your particular destiny. Everyone’s pathways reflect the natural laws of Karma and Dharma. Your “right” path illuminates the way forward and gives you the means to get there. This dynamic is reinforced by the Rad’s position opposite Tyr (meaning “arrow”) on the Runic Compass. I think of this pairing as representing the arrow of eternal time.

The relationship of Rad and Tyr along a single axis also has special significance to me because it was within the fortnight of Rad that Holly died. Somehow the timing of her death seemed appropriate: it was an auspicious time for her to be traveling the road on her soul journey. That the rune on the other end of the axis is Tyr reminded me that her journey through time would ultimately result in spiritual triumph. It was a strange comfort to me that her death seemed to come at the appropriate time.

I have since come to understand this soul journey we take at a deep level that I know as truth. We are eternal spirits who have serial human experiences. We each come into this lifetime with a spiritual “learning assignment.” We are born into particular families and circumstances in order to experience certain lessons which can be framed within an overarching theme—and probably several stacked themes as you think into it more deeply.

One of the major themes in my present lifetime has been “Learning from Illness and Death.” From the time since I was a young boy, most of the significant people in my life have had chronic illnesses and disabilities. Many of the most important lessons in my life have resulted from my observation of, and participation in, the challenges and choices that have accompanied the mental and physical maladies of people I love. The greatest emotional landmarks in my life history have included standing in for my mother at the commitment of my father to a VA hospital when I was twelve years old and Holly using my finger as a bite-stick when a surgical tube was being removed from her abdomen without anesthetic. Now that I am older and experiencing irreversible changes in my own health, it is clear that I have been learning and preparing my whole life to live well and wisely in this present moment.

When it is my time to die, I know there will a review of my life and a summation of what it has taught me and what I have learned before I am given my next assignment and continue down the road of spiritual progress. I am blessed that I have had glimpses of my immediate past life, and through them, have gained a sense of the continuity of experience which exists from one lifetime to the next. This continuity is for me the deepest meaning of Rad and the “road” it represents.

In esoteric terms, Rad also represents the “vehicle” which must be employed in order to achieve anything, but most important, to achieve spiritual development. Rad signifies the necessity to appropriately channel our energies and attention if we wish to achieve the results we desire. The emphasis of Rad is being in the right place at the right time to perform the right act.

But the main emphasis is on personal transformation. It signifies seeking and striving, a quest and search for spiritual wisdom. Rad symbolizes our conscious attempts at controlling the facts which affect our fate and well-being. Rad also symbolizes the wheel of the year, with which we must come into harmony if we are to live a reasonably successful life. This is reinforced by observation of such natural phenomena as the daily path of the sun and the cycles of nature and humanity. Good advice and judgment according to right order are ascribed to Rad.

Materially, Rad can mean physical travel, a change of address, or forced relocation.

Magically, Rad can be used to explore the unknown. Applied to another person, it arouses restlessness and dissatisfaction, and causes changes in life which may be good or bad depending on which runes accompany it.


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everything is free

Neon Sign -Free.

The story is famously told that Nicola Tesla’s financial backers pulled the plug when they discovered what he was really working on: “All peoples everywhere should have free energy sources,” Tesla said. “Electric Power is everywhere present in unlimited quantities and can drive the world’s machinery without the need for coal, oil or gas.” If they couldn’t meter and charge for it, Tesla’s investors had no desire to invest in its development, no matter how beneficial to humanity.

This morning I have just listened to a lecture at a 2012 energy conference in Holland by Michael Tellinger, the South African scientist, explorer, and author who has become an authority on the origins of humankind and the vanished civilizations of southern Africa.

Scholars maintain that the first civilization on Earth emerged in Sumer (present-day Iraq) some 6,000 years ago. However, new archaeological and scientific discoveries made by Tellinger and a team of leading scientists show that the Sumerians and even the ancient Egyptians inherited their knowledge from an earlier civilization that lived and mined gold at the southern tip of Africa more than 200,000 years ago.

african_stone_structuresSince 2007, Tellinger has been researching stone circles which can be found throughout South Africa, and which have been erroneously labelled “cattle kraals” by clueless academics who do not understand their function and grossly underestimate their age and number.

Tellinger estimates that there are well over 10-20 million interconnected ancient stone ruins scattered throughout the mountains of southern Africa. Various tools and artifacts that have been recovered from these ruins show a long and extended period of settlement that spans well over 200,000 years. Using sophisticated equipment to make measurements, Tellinger has determined that the purpose of these ruins was to somehow access the Earth’s energy and put it to work for man—much as Tesla had envisioned. How this worked, Tellinger still has not figured out. But he has determined that each site draws energy out of the Earth into a active vortex and portal that goes up into the sky. In other words, the Earth is continuing to generate a tremendous amount of free energy at these stone ruin sites, but we still don’t understand how to use it. In the meantime, he continues with his investigations.

As they so often do, one thing leads to another, and Tellinger suspects that his discoveries are placing him on a collision course with the entrenched vested interests of our extractive power structure and economy. He has begun postulating that we are born onto this planet as free persons, but we are born into jurisdictions not of our choosing, our movements restricted, our sovereignty denied, and subject to rules, laws and taxes that we did not agree to.

He points out that at a time that millions of people are starving, one-third of the world’s food supply (1.3 billion tons) is wasted because it cannot be sold for profit.

Tellinger says that money was created 6,000 years ago—not out of natural trade and barter—but as a malicious tool of control and enslavement, and what we are experiencing today is the consequence of this innovation. We have been living with the concept of money for so long, it seems like it is the most natural and basic artifact of civilization. Yet for the last four decades it has been backed by nothing at all and is sustained only by our belief in it. He says that money has been used by governments and banks to steal the land and its natural resources from the people for the benefit of corporations (which include governments and banks). Tellinger has recently been evangelizing for money’s retirement as a building-block and for the institution of a moneyless society.

Money, he says, is the primary cause of the seven deadly sins: gluttony, greed, envy, pride, lust, wrath, sloth. It prevents the flow of free energy for the benefit of mankind. It is not the love of money that creates the problem, but the presence of money. He quotes Thomas Jefferson that “the issuing power should be taken back from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.”

Tellinger has developed a philosophy called “Contributionism” which he believes is the new way. It is based on the premise that small-scale communities should once again become the basis of society, and that we should withdraw our children from public schools, which condition them to lives of slavery—and though he doesn’t mention it, places them at risk of the “school-to-prison pipeline,” at least in the US. Schooling would become a matter to be led by local communities, which would alone be responsible for designating the most skilled/knowledgeable among their elders as “master teachers.” Kids—and all people in the community—would cycle through a variety of tasks that create community-based productivity and abundance that is shared and traded with neighboring communities. Small scale volunteerism—3 hours per week—would generate a large-scale multiplier effect for the common good.

Not surprisingly, Tellinger has come under intense attacks. He has been libeled, his lawyer’s office has been ransacked, and legal files stolen to prevent precedent-setting rulings. It is doubtful that the banksters and politicians will allow his initial efforts to succeed. Even though his ideas may be dismissed by some as utopian, he has at least gotten us to thinking.




Groove of the Day

Listen to Gillian Welch performing “Everything is Free”


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l ran


random walk


A random walk is a mathematical formalization of a path that consists of a succession of random steps. For example, the path traced by a molecule as it travels in a liquid or a gas, the search path of a foraging animal, the financial status of a gambler, and the price of a fluctuating stock can all be modeled as random walks, although they may not be truly random in reality.

The term “random walk” was first introduced by English mathematician and biostatician Karl Pearson in 1905. Random walks have been used in many fields: ecology, psychology, computer science, physics, chemistry, biology and economics. However, random walk theory gained its greatest popularity in 1973 when Burton Malkiel wrote A Random Walk Down Wall Street, a book regarded as an investment classic.

Random walk states that the past movement or direction of the price of a stock or overall market cannot be used to predict its future movement.

I recently began thinking about random walk theory when I happened upon a YouTube video of  the “Top 10 Most Evil Children In History” and was surprised to see two of our kids listed there. Knowing these young people as I do, I have thought about their troubled lives many times, but I have never thought of labeling either of them as the “most evil in history.”

This website has it all wrong. If these kids—either of them—truly belonged on this list, their crime would have been inevitable, no matter what their circumstances or decisions. However, so many of the events that unfolded happened by chance and coincidence and as a result of the actions of other people besides the kids. Had the situation been only slightly different, the crime would probably not have happened.

This is not to say that the kids bear no responsibility for their decisions. However, given their young ages and lack of experience and maturity, they cannot be held as responsible as the adults in the situation. If the moniker “evil” should be assigned to anyone, it is to the adults.

Now as these kids enter adulthood and bear more responsibility for their choices, the 254,200 people who have viewed this video have been influenced to believe that these kids are “evil.”  Their lives moving forward are by no means certain, yet the prejudices of society presume—contrary to random walk theory—that their past actions can be used to predict the future trajectories of their lives.

This is wrong and unfair.





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‘Slender Man’ Case: Kids Should Still Be Treated Like Kids

by Jim Moeser and Marcy Mistrett, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

August 20, 2015

Michael O'BorenThe latest step in the tragic case in which two 12-year old girls were charged with stabbing a classmate multiple times to please the fictional “Slenderman” character was taken on Aug. 10 when a Waukesha County judge determined that the case should be kept in adult court. The seriousness of the offense and concerns for the victim in this case are indisputable.

But, what is also indisputable is that the Wisconsin statutes created in the 1990s that forced this case into adult court is out of touch with everything that has been learned in the last decade about brain science, diagnosed mental illness and the effectiveness of the juvenile system to meet the needs of these young girls while also furthering the goal of ensuring safe communities for our children.

If we have learned anything, it is that the things that often make a youth’s behavior hard to understand is also what makes it the right time to be optimistic about their ability to adapt and change. Absent this knowledge, the statutes and process that push children into the punitive adult courts are largely informed by fear and a reliance on the notion that punishment and incarceration is somehow equal to achieving justice.

The truth is that kids are different from adults. It is the reason the juvenile court was created in the first place, and the reason it has been cited by the Supreme Court four times in the past decade as the justification for treating children in the criminal justice system differently from their adult counterparts. It is also the reason that in poll after poll, the American public reaffirms their belief that children should be held accountable but in age-appropriate ways with a focus on rehabilitation.

Furthermore, long-term community safety is not well-served, as research has shown that youth convicted as adults are 34% more likely to recidivate than those kept in the juvenile system, and for more serious offenses.

Since being arrested at age 12, these girls have already spent almost 10% of their life locked up pending trial. Reports that they are responding to treatment, as limited as it has been, suggest there is every reason to believe that spending another five to six years (essentially one-third of their life) in a juvenile facility and/or under careful supervision in the community will be successful in protecting the community and helping them become contributing members of our community.

In the adult system, any progress made in this regard will be set back by eventual confinement in an adult facility. Even when they are released, they will have on their record a conviction that will prevent them from getting federal aid for higher education, serving in the military or working in a multitude of careers that exclude felons.

In many ways Wisconsin remains an outlier in its lack of reforms for this young population. It is one of only nine states that sets the age of adult criminal responsibility to begin for kids younger than 18 and is in the minority of states that allow children under the age of 13 to be tried as adults. Filing charges directly in adult court, especially for children this young, is contrary to the process in many states where the case is filed in juvenile court, then a decision to transfer the case to adult court is made by a judge and based on the case’s individual circumstances.

This would be an easy fix for Wisconsin that would be better for everyone, including the community. Nationally, we need to take note that approximately 200,000 youth under age 18 are treated as adults, some as young as these girls or even younger.

We believe that treating kids as adults, especially kids at this age, based solely on the nature of their offense amounts to justice for no one. This case is far from over. There has been harm caused to the victim and her family and in some ways to the community that should not be discounted. But, is justice really served by the decisions of the court? We think not.


Jim Moeser is deputy director of the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families, which is a multi-issue policy research and advocacy organization promoting statewide policies that promote a safe and healthy future for all children in Wisconsin.

Marcy Mistrett is CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice, which is a national organization dedicated to ending the practice of trying, sentencing and incarcerating youth under the age of 18 in the adult criminal justice system.


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nazi gold

Gold BarIs This Where The Long Lost Nazi “Gold Train” Is Located?

Earlier this week, two people, a Pole and a German, said they may have found the legendary, long-lost Nazi train rumored to be full of gold, gems and guns—the prize possessions of years of Third Reich plunder—that disappeared just before the end of World War Two. As BBC first reported, the train was believed to have gone missing near what is now the Polish city of Wroclaw as Soviet forces approached in 1945.

It is said, the Mail adds, that Nazis loaded all the valuables they had looted in Wroclaw, then called Breslau and part of Greater Germany, to escape the advancing Red Army. According to a local website, the train was 150m long and may have up to 300 tonnes of gold as well as unknown “hazardous materials” on board.

A law firm in south-west Poland says it has been contacted by the two men who have discovered the armored train.

Their demand to unveil the precise whereabouts of their discovery: 10% of the value of the train’s contents. Since the contents of the train has been said to be in the billions, such an agreement would make the two discoverers rich overnight.

ksiaz_0According to local news websites the apparent find matched reports in local folklore of a train carrying gold and gems that went missing at the end of World War Two near the gothic Ksiaz castle, which served as the Nazi’s headquarters in the area during World War II. The claim was made to a law office in Walbrzych, 3km (2 miles) from Ksiaz castle.

According to local news websites the apparent find matched reports in local folklore of a train carrying gold and gems that went missing at the end of Map - Nazi GoldWorld War Two near the gothic Ksiaz castle, which served as the Nazi’s headquarters in the area during World War II. The claim was made to a law office in Walbrzych, 3km (2 miles) from Ksiaz castle.

Some of the locals are skeptical, perhaps because all previous searches for the train had so far proved fruitless: Walbrzych’s local leader Roman Szelemej said he doubted the supposed find but would monitor developments. “Lawyers, the army, theHill Over Gold Site police and the fire brigade are dealing with this,” Marika Tokarska, an official at the Walbrzych district council, told Reuters.

Still this time may be different: Joanna Lamparska, a historian who focuses on the Walbrzych area, told Radio Wroclaw the train was rumored to have disappeared into a tunnel. “The area has never been excavated before and we don’t know what we might find.”

At this point the story turns bizarre, because the latest discovery—if it is indeed that—may not be genuine: according to the Mail, a group calling itself The Silesian Research Group insists that it in fact found the legendary train here over two years ago.  The group claims the  duo who made the news this week by filing the discovery claim with local authorities pilfered their information.

One group member, who asked not to be identified after receiving threatening phone calls from a ‘mysterious man,’ told MailOnline: “About two or three years ago we carried out extensive research of the area using geo-radar and magnetic readings. We came across an anomaly about 70 metres below the surface and further investigation revealed this was most likely a train.

“It is well-known that the Nazis built a network of railway lines under the mountains.

“And we know that in May 1945 gold and other valuables from the city of Wroclaw were being transported to Walbrzych when they disappeared between the towns of Lubiechow and Swiebodzice.”

Resting at the foot of the Sowa (Owl) mountains in woods three miles outside of the town of Walbrzeg in western Poland, is the alleged train, filled with gold, possibly diamonds and maybe even masterpieces stolen from Polish noble families and museums. Specifically, according to the researchers, the actual train is now resting somewhere under the surface of the hill shown in the photo above.

The researcher went on: “During the war, there used to be an SS barracks here which was heavily guarded. And just behind the railway bridge was the entrance to the tunnel. We recorded our findings and marked the location on a map as well as storing the information on computer records.”

Here the researcher’s story becomes even more bizarre: “We were and are convinced that this is where the gold train is. But, soon after our discovery, the map and data for the area went missing. At first we thought it had been mislaid, but then we heard about the findings of these two people and we realized they must have got hold of our information.”

He then added that he had been “warned off’ talking about the subject or investigating it further” adding that “last night I received a phone call from a mysterious man who warned me to stay away from the story and to not get involved.

“A lot of dangerous people are interested in finding this train, this could have been a warning from one of them. This man who called me knows that I know something.”

Joanna Lamparska explains that there are two main theories about the gold train. “One is that is hidden under the mountain itself. The second is that it is somewhere around Wabrzych. Until now, no one has ever seen documents that confirm the existence of this train.”

nazi tunnel_0The story is given credence because under the local hills is a mammoth subterranean project called RIESE—German for giant—which was the construction of a honeycomb of tunnels, bunkers and underground stations begun in 1941.

Stretching from the gothic castle of Ksiaz overlooking the town of Walbrzeg they built the labyrinth deep into the surrounding mountains. The idea was to move supplies, factories and workers underground in the event of Allied bombing.

Local explorer and treasure hunter Andrzej Boczek, who is also a member of the Silesian Research Group, guided MailOnline to the site where he says the train is buried. He said: “We think it is here because first of all it is between the two places were we know it disappeared. And it is just 2.37km from Ksiaz castle which was the German headquarters during the war. That’s where all treasures were taken.”

The 55-year-old, who has been searching the region for 25 years and has already found numerous artefacts, said: “Also, this path used to be where the path ran down to the tunnel,” he says pointing at a dirt track leading towards the woods. “We don’t know where the entrance is as we need permission to dig. But we have carried out tests and we know something is there. During the war this place was open to the public and then it suddenly was closed by the Germans, they clearly had a secret to hide. A man who lived nearby told me he used to see strange activity at night with trains rolling in and disappearing into the tunnel.”

Two other locations identified by local media in Poland have since been rubbished by experts. One is close to the town of Walbrzych the other in the town of Walim, 17km away. Historian Mrs. Lamparska added: “These two areas are very well known and have been well-researched. The chances of the train being there are zero. It is likely that they found something, however, whether this is the gold train is a different matter.”

But while the latest rumor that the legendary train has been found may end up being a red herring once again, people in the region have woken up their Indiana Jones and are rushing into the area: the news of the possible discovery has sent people from across Germany and Poland to the area with metal detectors. Germans piling on to trains the spoils of their carpetbagging in foreign lands towards the end of the war was not a rare occurrence. And the Reichsbank in Berlin, many of its buildings and vaults shattered by intense American and British air raids, used precious Deutsche Bahn rolling stock to hide treasure in regional towns, often in the cellars of fortified post offices.

The loot was destined for a number of purposes: getaway money for high-ranking war criminals, the basis for a German resistance movement called “Werewolf” intended to fight the occupiers; and to become the pension funds for generals whose vast estates bequeathed to them by a grateful Führer in the east which fell into the hands of new, unforgiving owners.

That is why the story of the 590-foot long train which steamed into the tunnel long ago has fired the imagination of many. But it also comes with many caveats, as expressed by Focus magazine in Germany, which asked: “Is there really a train and is it mined?”

Real or not, the story may be enough to provide an aspiring screenwriter enough ammo for the next Indiana Jones—or at least American, er European—treasure sequel.

Finally, for those looking for real treasure, forget the Third Reich’s plunder, which by 1945 had been mostly spent, but focus on trains and other vehicles operated by the Bank of International Settlements: the discovery of even one such train should be enough to keep a small country funded in perpetuity.



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surrounded by blah


One of my readers, a Minnesota friend, sent me a whole bunch of links related to the backlash of Minnesotans against this article, which used a bureaucratic invention by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to rank every county in America in terms of the desirability of its scenery and climate. Those qualities include mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water.

According to the USDA’s so-called “natural amenities index,” the Great Lakes region—my original home—fares poorly, with some of the lowest scores being in Minnesota—my adopted home of thirty years—presumably due to its long and cold winters. Some of the lowest rankings are clustered around the Minnesota/North Dakota border (I can’t disagree), and Red Lake County MN was established as the absolute worst place to live in the whole US. Wow. Talk about harsh.

Fourteen years ago, after spending my entire life seemingly surrounded by blah, I finally moved to West Texas, attracted by its sparse population, mild winters, and spectacular scenery. Out of 3,111 counties, I had bettered the desirability ranking of my surroundings from 2,790 (St. Joseph County IN), to 2,637 (Hennepin County MN), to 155 (Brewster County TX). Not exactly #1 in the nation, but 155 out of 3,111 isn’t bad.

Minnesota wasn’t the only state that looks undesirable according to the USDA’s bureaucratic scale. Iowa and Delaware don’t have any counties ranking at average beauty or above. A number of states—North Dakota, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin among them—have just one or two counties of at least average beauty. But there hasn’t been a single word of protest from folks in these states.

Nooo. Only Minnesotans have taken a public stand to defend their state’s honor. Why is this?

According to the Washington Post writer who drew attention to the USDA’s scorn, the most plausible explanation is that “Minnesotans have thick coats but thin skin.” Yet this isn’t the truth. If anything, they’re super-insulated by a thick layer of blubber.

Minnesotans know their weather is arguably the worst in America—they’re famous for it. They know that “cabin fever” should be listed as the leading cause of death in the state. They cut jokes about how the mosquito should be designated as the state bird. So they have no illusions.

I’ll tell you a story about Minnesota that illustrates the reason why you can say no wrong about the place.

I was traveling north on one of my many road trips, fighting driving snow and icy roads to avoid fishtailing my way through Iowa. Then, immediately after passing a “Welcome to Minnesota” roadsign, the highway miraculously changed to dry pavement, even though the weather—if anything—had remained the same or even worsened. It was clear and dry all the way home. I felt like Moses passing through the Red Sea.

I also felt a swell of pride at living where I did at the time. Even though Minnesota is one of the most inhospitable places to survive in North America, Minnesotans have not only adjusted to prevailing conditions, but learned to thrive in them. For them, cross-country skiing is the antidote to winter, even if it is below-zero. Most Minnesotans would view my move to this beautiful refuge from winter as a disloyal act of apostasy.

I understand where they’re coming from. Maybe they’ll think better of me when I remind them this place is just as extreme, though in an opposite way.

Every place sometimes sucks in its own way.



 Every county in America, ranked by scenery and climate

August 17, 2015
Ventura County CA is the absolute most desirable place to live in America.

I know this because in the late 1990s the federal government devised a measure of the best and worst places to live in America, from the standpoint of scenery and climate. The “natural amenities index” is intended as “a measure of the physical characteristics of a county area that enhance the location as a place to live.”

The index combines “six measures of climate, topography, and water area that reflect environmental qualities most people prefer.” Those qualities, according to the US Department of Agriculture, include mild, sunny winters, temperate summers, low humidity, topographic variation, and access to a body of water.

These “natural aspects of attractiveness,” as the USDA describes them, are intended to be constant and relatively immutable. They’re not expected to change much over time, so the USDA hasn’t updated its data beyond the initial 1999 scoring. “Natural amenities pertain to the physical rather than the social or economic environment,” the USDA writes. Things like plants, animals or the human environment are excluded by definition. “We can measure the basic ingredients, not how these ingredients have been shaped by nature and man.” I stumbled on these numbers after reading about a recent study linking natural amenities to religiosity. (US counties with nicer weather and surroundings tend to have less religious residents.)

I’ve mapped all the counties above according to where they rank on the natural amenities index—mouse over to check out how desirable (or not) your own county is. Click here to access this interactive map. You’ll see that Sun Belt counties fare pretty well—especially ones in California and Colorado. In fact, every single one of the 10 highest-ranked counties is located in California. After Ventura County, Humboldt, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and Del Norte counties round out the top five.

By contrast, the Great Lakes region fares poorly, with most of the lowest rankings clustered around the Minnesota/North Dakota border region—hey there, Fargo! The absolute worst place to live in America is (drumroll please)… Red Lake County MN (claim to fame: “It is the only landlocked county in the United States that is surrounded by just two neighboring counties,” according to the county Web site).

And sorry, Alaska and Hawaii residents—the USDA didn’t have some of the data for your states (a common problem), so you’re left out of the rankings. It’s probably for the best, since Hawaii would probably have swept the top of the rankings, what with it being an island paradise and all.

For a sense of what contributes to these rankings, check out the maps below of the individual measures comprising the index—darker counties rate as less desirable on these measures, while lighter ones rate higher.


Now, if you spend even a few minutes with the map above you can probably find a few things to quibble with in the methodology. If you hate summer, like me, it may seem that there’s an inordinate emphasis on warm weather and ample sunshine. How else to explain that Inyo County CA—home to Death Valley, a place so inhospitable to human life that it literally has death in its name—ranks so much higher than, say, the bucolic rolling hillsides of New England?

Or that Maricopa County AZ—home to Phoenix, a place that feels like the inside of a hot car for half the year—ranks higher than Iowa’s stunningly beautiful and criminally underappreciated Loess Hills region? Or that Washington DC—home of sweltering summers, miserable winters, swampy humidity and little natural beauty to speak of—ranks higher than any place at all?

On the other hand, it turns out that this index correlates well with a lot of human behaviors that researchers and politicians are constantly trying to understand better. For instance, the USDA’s original report on the natural amenities index found that these measures “drive rural population change.” The USDA found that rural areas with a lot of natural amenities saw the greatest population change between 1970 and 1996.

“The relationship is quite strong,” the study found. “Counties with extremely low scores on the scale tended to lose population over the 1970-96 period, while counties with extremely high scores tended to double their populations over the period.”

Of course, correlation isn’t necessarily causation, and it would be easy to overemphasize the importance of natural amenities in the decisions Americans make about their lives. Still, the rankings provide plenty of food for thought. And the natural landscape is certainly one piece in the giant puzzle that explains why Americans do the things they do in their lives.

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy, and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.


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