29.5.20

How to buy the best bike camera — plus 7 of the best


Whether you want to record the traffic around you or super-fast Alpine descents, here's what you need to know before spending your cash.

There are a couple of good reasons for cycling with a video camera. You might want to record interesting rides — climbing Alpe d'Huez, for example, or descending Sa Calobra — or you might want to collect video that could be used as evidence in the event of a road traffic incident, in the same way that a car's dashcam does.

road.cc Near Miss of the Day videos show the potential value of riding with a camera. Many incidents would be a matter of one person's word against another but for the video evidence.
7 of the best action cameras for 2020


Here's what you should look for when deciding what to buy.

Recording quality

Start looking into picture quality and you'll all of a sudden meet a whole lot of jargon relating to pixels and resolution.

• 720p consists of 1280 x 720 pixels (so over 900,000 pixels)
• 1080p consists of 1920 x 1080 pixels (just over 2 million pixels)
• 4K consists of 3840 x 2160 pixels (over 8 million pixels)

1080p is able to give finer detail than 720p, and 4K offers greater detail again. On the flip side, higher resolution tends to cost more and it takes up more memory for the same amount of time.

You'll also come up against fps, or frames per second, which is exactly what it sounds like.


The Cycliq Fly12 HD Camera and Front Light  shoots in a maximum resolution of 1080p and 60fps.

It also has electronic 6-axis stabilisation, meaning that the footage doesn't bounce around when you're trying to read the number plate of a car that cut you up.

"The footage is very good," said Dave Atkinson in his review for road.cc. "The 135° angle lens gives a nice wide view and the picture is sharp and clear, making it easy to read car number plates, for example.

"The six-axis image stabilisation does a great job of making the recorded image nice and smooth, although the horizontal stabilisation means that you get a bit of a delay and then a sharp movement when you start a turn. That's not so much of an issue when you're turning from one road to another, but it can make the video a bit choppy when you're out of the saddle, or you're struggling up a steep climb."


The GoPro Hero7 Silver will give you 30fps at 4K, while its big brother, the Hero7 Black, will shoot in 4K up to 60fps and as Dave Atkinson found when he reviewed it, do an awful lot more beside.

And if you're in the market for a camera at the top of the price range you should also look at DJI Osmo Action, which Dave was also really impressed with.

The Acer Xplova X5 Evo GPS Cycling Computer features a 720p video camera that records 30fps with a wide 120 degree horizontal field of view.

"The footage from the X5 Evo is no match for a GoPro or Garmin ViRB in terms of colour, detail and overall visual appeal," Jez Ash said in his review. "It can't match a modern high-end smartphone camera either. None of those are direct competitors, of course, but if your main goal is to shoot beautiful film of your bike rides, this is not the tool for the job... If you see it primarily as a GPS computer with the video as an added bonus, then it does make sense."

You can get pretty good standard action cameras for not much money if you don't feel that you need something like a Cycliq. A QUMOX SJ8 Air, for instance, is very well regarded and you can pick one up online for 110€.

It shoots at a maximum resolution of 1296p, records on loops of 3mins, 5mins or 10mins (see Looping video, below) and has a battery life of 90 minutes.

One other aspect of the recording to consider is the sound.

When reviewing the Acer Xplova X5 Evo GPS Cycling Computer, Jez Ash said, "The microphone on the device is just about usable when completely stationary, but at any kind of speed it becomes useless – the combination of road vibration and wind noise (even at low speeds) overwhelms all other sound."

We also felt that the TomTom Bandit action camera could do with some sort of muffling device to improve the audio quality.

"When you put cameras of this kind in a mount the sound quality is awful most of the time," warns road.cc'sident video guy Matt Howes. "In fact, the sound quality of action cams generally isn't very high, although that isn't really the point of them; the quality of the video is much more important to most people."
Looping video

Looping video allows a camera to record continuously. When it runs out of memory space it starts to overwrite your existing footage. This is a really valuable feature, meaning that you don't have to delete unneeded footage manually and you'll never find that the camera has stopped recording because the memory card is full.

If anything notable happens while you're riding — anything you want to keep as recorded evidence, for example — you can save it before it's overwritten.

The Cycliq Fly12, for instance, chops the video into 5-, 10- or 15-minute segments (depending on your preference) and when the card is full, it deletes the oldest footage.

It has an incident detection system built in. If the camera detects that it is tilted more than 60° from the horizontal, it triggers an automatic process that locks the current footage, and the segment either side. You can also press a button on the Fly12 to do the same thing.
Size and weight

Chances are that you want a camera that's small and unobtrusive, especially if you're planning to mount it on a helmet as opposed to the bike, but you might want to balance that against battery life; a very light weight camera can sometimes have quite a short runtime.

The least obtrusive camera that we've reviewed on road.cc is the 62g RoadHawk Ride R+ Cycle Edition Camera, but that's unfortunately no longer available.




Something like the GoPro Hero7 Silver is considerably larger — 62 x 45 x 28mm and 94g — while the Cycliq Fly12 measures 103 x 59 x 35mm and weighs 195g, but it's a light as well as a camera.



The Acer Xplova X5 Evo GPS Cycling Computer mentioned above — which features a 720p video camera — weighs just 122g.
Battery life

Battery life varies considerably between different cameras and, as mentioned above, there's often a balancing act between size/weight and runtime, so make sure you choose something that suits your needs.

The Cycliq Fly12 has a battery life of about 8hrs with the camera on and the light off, 5hrs with the light on low, and a couple of hours with the light on full power. With regular recharging, that'll cover most people's needs.


Cycliq's Fly6 rear light camera  gives you up to seven hours of continuous recording in camera-only mode and four to five hours with lights on.

GoPro reckons that you'll get from 1:20hrs to 2:30hrs of continuous recording from a fully charged battery in its Hero cameras, depending on the video mode, while TomTom claims up to 3hrs of nonstop recording with its Bandit.
Mounts

Chances are that you'll want to mount your camera to either the handlebar or a helmet, or facing backwards on your seatpost. You can get chest mounts too, which are great for mountain bike videos, but we've found them a bit cumbersome and not particularly comfortable for long rides. If the mounts you want aren't included in the package you'll need to budget for them separately.

A Cycliq Fly6 rear light/camera, for example, comes with a standard mount, but a rear pannier mount costs 25€.


A GoPro Hero camera comes with adhesive mounts but a vented helmet strap mount costs 20€ and a handlebar/seatpost mount is 35€. A Cycling Combo Mount for a Garmin Virb Ultra 30 is 35€ too.

It's worth checking what's in the box before handing over your cash.

Most helmet mounts just point the camera forward, but we were impressed with the Techalogic DC-1 Dual Lens Helmet Camera which, as the name suggests has two lenses, one pointing forward and the other backward
.
Apps
These days cameras have apps that can make the user experience a whole lot easier.

For example, you can connect your Cycliq Fly12 to your smartphone and have access to all the settings, so you can configure the camera the way you want and control it (if you ride off-road you have to turn the tilt feature and emergency alarm off otherwise it will sound when you lean too far over in a berm or lay your bike down). You can alter the settings via a computer desktop app too, while another desktop app allows you to edit video.

If you simply want to use a camera to record any road traffic incidents that occur, you won't spend much time editing footage so app capability can afford to be pretty basic. GoPro's desktop app, on the other hand, is designed for making more impressive action videos. You can add photos and time lapse sequences, for instance, and sync music to your videos — well beyond anything you'd want for everyday footage of riding through traffic.

Apps are also used for firmware updates. Of course, you need to make sure than any app is compatible with your phone and/or computer.
Warranty

Most cameras come with a 12-month warranty. Cycliq, TomTom, Garmin and GoPro, for example, give you a warranty that says their cameras will be free from defects in workmanship and materials under normal use for a year.


Mat Brett

28.5.20

The mind beyond the brain and the search for the meaning of the world

Gustavo Rodrigues Rocha

Would the ultimate nature of reality be only material? 
So is consciousness just an illusion caused by our brain or a fundamental part of the fabric of reality?


Who answers these questions is the philosopher and historian of sciences Gustavo Rodrigues Rocha, who transformed the Sursem Group experience into a case study in his postdoctoral position at the University of California at Berkeley, in the United States.

Tell us a little about your experience in the Sursem group. 
It is in the context of the epistemic battle for the inclusion or expulsion of a human image from the universe, which began in 1998, at the Esalen Institute Theory and Research Center, an alternative education and research space located in Big Sur, on the California coast, in the United States. United States, a multidisciplinary research initiative that brought together between 40 and 50 researchers from all over the world. The Sursem group (an acronym for “Big Sur seminars”) worked on the subversive and dissident thesis within the context of the contemporary academic-scientific system, according to which the mind could not be understood, explained and reduced entirely to the functioning of the brain . Defending the effectiveness of conscience against being restricted by the dominant neurosciences and cognitive sciences, the Sursem group intends to present empirical evidence, theories and models that suggest that consciousness is independent of the brain and, perhaps, that “something” of our mind can survive the bodily death. In fact, the acronym Sursem also means, alternatively, “survival seminars”.

What is the relevance of the research developed by the Sursem Group? 
I reproduce the words of the theoretical physicist Steven Weinberg, who in a book of scientific dissemination stated that, "the more understandable the universe seems, the more meaningless it appears to our eyes". The worldview presented by the dominant neurosciences, cognitive sciences and philosophies of the mind, that is, more commonly found in the modern academic system, seems to support Weinberg's point of view.

At the beginning of the last century, sociologist Max Weber, in his essay “Science as a Vocation”, found that what we know through astronomy, biology, physics and chemistry not only could not teach us anything about the meaning of the world, how, quite the contrary, these knowledges dried up the faith in the existence of anything that can be considered as “sense” of the world. In other words, modern empirical sciences have rendered the search for the “meaning” of the world inoperative.

Nevertheless, as the psychiatrist Viktor Frankl pointed out in his career dedicated to the attention of psychic illnesses caused by what he called “the proliferation of the existential vacuum”, the human being has always sought, in all places, at all times, a “meaning last ”for its existence. Thus, the relevance of the research carried out by the Sursem group, in regaining consciousness as something that constitutes the fabric of the cosmos, consists in alluding, in a way, to this “sense of the world”, a vision that changes, completely, at least when compared to the conventional scientific hegemonic view, our view of ourselves, society and human identity, as well as our understanding of reality.

Consciousness, as we experience it, forms our sense of identity, purpose, meaning and freedom. Thus, if consciousness is part of reality (that is, if the mind is ultimately irreducible to the brain), the search for the meaning of the world (or meaning of existence) becomes, again, legitimate and relevant.

Is that the basis of your online course “Mind beyond the brain”? 
My job as a researcher in the history and philosophy of the sciences is not to endorse or challenge these dissident researches, but to understand them from the historical, philosophical and epistemic perspectives. I had never met a group of academics of such scope, with such a solid and consistent construction, proposing to face, from a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary perspective, such thorny issues of the modern knowledge system.

First, in the neurosciences and in the cognitive sciences, there is a plurality of experimental methods, tools and protocols, but a lot of conceptual confusion. Thus, one should initially clear this conceptual terrain. Second, there is a huge empirical basis ignored or insufficiently studied by the mainstream. I address all of this in my course, using clear, easy and accessible language, including studies on near-death experiences, secondary centers of consciousness, paranormal phenomena, “apparition” crises, “deathbed visions”, states altered consciousness and mystical experiences.

Does consciousness survive the death of the physical body? Is it home to our spiritual "DNA"? 
It is difficult to even ask this question, since an adequate definition of “I” (ego or self) is assumed, that is, what survives bodily death - the problem of knowing the nature of consciousness and its relationship with the our sense of identity. Furthermore, as “being born” and “dying” are mutually defined based on the concept of life, it is also necessary to understand it (its origin, its nature, its relationship with its material substrate). This is what he sought to investigate, for example, the physicist Erwin Schrödinger, in his famous seminal essay, from 1944, "What is life?". Anyway, in spite of what our scientific culture may want to lead us to believe, we are just crawling on that understanding.

The philosopher Wittgenstein, in his most celebrated work, stated that "even if all possible scientific questions have been answered, our life problems will not even have been touched". It is likely, therefore, that many of these issues are even beyond the reach of scientific scrutiny, that is, that they do not make sense, or have no expression in our scientific vocabulary. The question is whether we are just a “computer made of meat” (as MIT cognitive scientist Marvin Minsky put it) or “something else”. The mind-brain problem, namely, the question about the relationship between brain processes and our subjective experience, may be the best chance to address this issue in contemporary scientific-philosophical language.

Ana Elisabeth Diniz

27.5.20

Auschwitz renovation uncovers objects hidden by prisoners

The items found in the chimney may have been used to plot escapes, or for everyday activities.

Renovation works at Auschwitz have turned up spoons, forks, cobbler's tools and other objects hidden beneath a chimney flue -- some that might have been used to plan escapes, a national fund said Tuesday.

The objects, which also include knives, hooks, scissors, pieces of leather and parts of shoes, were found last month in block 17 of the main camp, Austria's National Fund for Victims of National Socialism said.

The fund commissioned the renovation and restoration works in the block at the former concentration camp in Poland in preparation for an exhibition.

"These utensils, kept out of sight of the SS guards, were perhaps used by shoemakers, or to prepare an escape or simply to be able to eat," fund secretary general Hannah Lessing told AFP on Tuesday.

The items were likely hidden in the chimney because block 17 was used to house manual workers.

"It is no coincidence that a chimney was used as a hiding place in the very building where chimney sweeps were accommodated," the fund's structural consultant Johannes Hofmeister said, according to a press release from the fund.

The objects are not expected to be on display at the exhibition, due to open in 2021, but instead have been handed over to the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum for conservation.

One million European Jews died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which Nazi Germany set up in occupied Poland in 1940 and which became Europe's biggest death camp.

More than 100,000 others including non-Jewish Poles, Roma, Soviet prisoners of war and anti-Nazi resistance fighters also died there.

Items scattered around the camp and its surroundings continue to turn up periodically during works.

26.5.20

Immunity Passports and the Perils of Conferring Coronavirus Status

Immunity passports, which would verify whether someone has been infected with covid-19,
could help open up travel, but their deployment raises concerns.

In January, a Swedish entrepreneur named Joakim Hultin co-founded Sidehide, a new digital app intended to streamline hotel reservations. Weeks later, some of the first confirmed cases of covid-19 were reported in Europe. Almost instantly, Hultin told me, “demand stopped.” Before the pandemic, Sidehide was working with a London-based company called Onfido, which uses artificial intelligence and facial recognition to verify identities. Hultin learned that Onfido had created a way for users to upload a serology test to a private server and use facial biometric data to unlock the data and display the results. He asked the company to build that capacity into his app. In June, Sidehide will launch again, in a few Miami hotels, having added what is being called an “immunity passport.” Patrons who have been tested for covid-19 antibodies and are shown to have them will have that information embedded in a QR code, to be scanned by hotel staff upon arrival. The Miami launch is a test, a proof of concept, and, if it works, Hultin is hopeful that it will help revive the travel industry. (Officials from Delta Air Lines and Heathrow Airport have expressed interest in immunity passports.) The idea, Hultin said, is to let the hotel staff know “the guest is safe.”


In April, Onfido raised a hundred million dollars in venture capital. In a press release announcing the deal, Onfido’s attorneys noted that the pandemic presented the company with the opportunity “to work on a new set of use cases,” which range from “virtual voting and passport/visa applications through to secure ways of carrying out contact tracing to track the spread of a virus without compromising user privacy.” Recently, Onfido submitted a proposal to members of the U.K. Parliament’s science and technology committee, as they consider ways to lift stay-at-home orders, including the development of immunity passports. The M.P.s are following the lead of the Chilean government, which is issuing documents that allow anyone who has recovered from covid-19 to go back to work and move around freely during quarantine. (Onfido has not worked on that program.) After pushback from members of the Chilean medical community—and from infectious-disease specialists around the world, who say that it’s too early to know if people who have had the virus are immune to reinfection or incapable of spreading the disease—the government started calling the documents “release certificates” rather than immunity passports. Either way, they confer the same benefits. Onfido’s C.E.O., Husayn Kassai, told me, “As a society, is it acceptable for people who have had the virus and recovered to signal that or not? It’s a good question, but not one for us to answer.”

Other companies are pitching similar products. covi-Pass is an immunity passport that uses VCode—a proprietary cryptographic image, similar to a QR code—that can be scanned at a distance of a hundred metres. It will reveal if a person has tested positive for antibodies, flash green if a person has tested negative for the virus, and red if tests show that they have the virus or don’t have antibodies, or if their test result has expired. (A yellow light shows when it’s time to be retested.) The app can “geo-fence” a point of entry, prohibiting visitors with a red light from entering a building or stadium or school. “I believe that all governments will move toward a global health passport, which will be as common as carrying a driver’s license or a passport, because this is not going to be the last pandemic we have,” Adam Palmer, the C.O.O. of covi-Pass, said. A recent press release from the company, which is also based in the U.K., states that the passes were in the process of being shipped “to both the private sector and governments in over fifteen countries,” including Italy, France, India, and the United States. covi-Pass would not say, specifically, which companies and governments in these countries had purchased the product. But Louis-James Davis, the C.E.O. of VST Enterprises and the creator of VCode, did mention that the company’s V-Health Passport, which also documents users’ covid-19 status, would be rolled out at sports venues in the U.K. this summer. The passport will have to be scanned in order to buy a ticket online, and then again at the stadium, before approaching the gate.

The deployment of immunity passports raises a number of logistical and ethical concerns. In the United States, testing could become a barrier to getting a pass: diagnostic testing has been limited, and serology tests, which measure covid-19 antibodies, are still being developed. Even if testing were universally available, people without antibodies will be shut out from the activities of everyday life, creating a divided landscape of antibody haves and have-nots. “The reality is that access to society with [this kind of] certification will likely reflect existing systemic biases, corruption, and discrimination in the system,” Alexandra Phelan, an assistant professor in infectious diseases and law at Georgetown University, told me. And, if testing positive for covid-19 antibodies becomes a prerequisite for being able to work, there may be a perverse incentive for people to put themselves in the path of the virus. “This would not be like bringing your kids to chicken-pox parties,” Phelan said. “Individuals who have economic pressures to get back to work may already be in socioeconomically vulnerable positions, and we know that these are the people who are disproportionately more likely to get more severely ill.”

Rob Davidson, an emergency-room physician in western Michigan and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare, an advocacy group, worries that immunity passports based on tests with high rates of false positives will be especially pernicious. “If we have tests with a five-per-cent false-positive rate, and you are forced to take a test that is not very good, and you test positive, you will have a false sense of security,” he told me. “The government and the employers probably know the shortcomings of the test, but a lot of the workers probably don’t.” In those cases, immunity passports may increase the risk of infection to both their holders and to the community at large. (Both covi-Pass and Sidehide say that they are partnering with local, well-regarded testing facilities.)

Privacy, too, may be at risk, even with immunity passports that do nothing more than display a user’s test results. “We are in a less-than-ideal situation with the coronavirus,” Onfido’s Kassai told me. “This is one of the ways people can signal they are safe without divulging personal information.” But immunity status is personal information. If a person’s immunity status were linked to an insurance policy, or attached to an employee’s human-resources file, it could cause rates to rise, or promotions to be denied. Already, officials at the U.S. Defense Department have proposed banning anyone who has had covid-19 from enlisting in the military. And a recent story in the Times inventories a long list of people who have been shunned as a consequence of others knowing their disease status: “The veterinarian who refused to treat a recovered woman’s dog. The laundromat worker who jumped at seeing an elected official whose illness had been reported on the local news. The gardener who would not trim the hedges outside a recovered man’s home. 

The neighbor who dropped off soup, and said not to bother returning the Tupperware it was in. And the sick teenager whose solace during his long illness was the thought of fishing with friends, only to have them ghost him when he recovered.”

Sue Halpern

25.5.20

Art lessons for leadership


Art is one of the best ways to understand the world around us and reflect how we are inserted in it. From this source we can also draw important lessons for thinking and exercising leadership, from history, literature and philosophy. I include sport in this list, which I consider a possible form of artistic expression. All of these dimensions, in addition, of course, to everyday life, complement and illustrate the learning derived from concepts, research results, academic proposals and direct observation, as well as the analysis of practical cases of the trajectory of leaders in various areas of activity.

Those who have already participated in a Leader Development Program promoted by Empreenda, a company I manage, have already exercised reflections based on learning about leadership, career and business life extracted from some films, plays, art exhibitions, music, literary texts and events sporting goods. I am convinced that learning about these topics goes far beyond the 'classroom' and reading technical and academic books.

We can take advantage of this moment of social isolation imposed by Covid-19 to deepen our incursion into the field of the arts, in search of inspiration and knowledge about leadership.

In painting, for example, the avant-garde works of Tarsila do Amaral, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso are inexhaustible sources, with analyzes of the representativeness of several of his works. Also consider that the trajectory and behavior of these artists have become outstanding examples of the exercise of leadership.

Monet's “Le Levant du Soleil” / “Impression, soleil Lift”, painted in 1874-1872, was a decisive milestone in the history of painting, inaugurating the Impressionist movement. Leonardo da Vinci's multifunctional personality as a painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician and inventor enshrined him as a precursor to the innovative and transformative leadership, so demanded by the market today.

One possibility of immersion, for those who are at home and have some time for 'functional leisure', is to visit virtually some of the best museums in the world, such as the Prado, in Madrid (ESP); the Ufizzi Gallery, Florence (ITA); and the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg (RUS).

In the theater, plays like “12 Men and a Sentence” put us in front of the complex decision-making process, including the ability to influence and negotiate, when a popular jury is deciding whether or not to convict a young man accused of murder. This piece is based on the famous eponymous film produced in 1957, available on different streaming systems.

Another recent highlight is the monologue “The Shadow of the Invisible”, whose script is based on letters exchanged between Van Gogh and his brother Theo. The play allows for a beautiful dive into aspects of self-management, which persists as a kind of "Achilles' heel" for genius leaders in the execution of tasks and projects, but vulnerable in the ability to lead themselves.

Other ancient theatrical works that were very striking in my personal learning were “Galileo Galilei” and “The Death of the Traveling Salesman”. We can also watch, at home, videos of several famous musicals like "Trickster's Opera", "Rent", "Chicago" and "The Miserables".

Obviously, cinema is not far behind and can provoke extraordinary debates regarding themes linked to leadership. I have used the films “Invictus” and “The Devil Wears Prada” a lot. However, I would like to highlight some of the most recent must-see works from 2019, such as “Two Popes”; “Judy”, about a bright star on the stage, Judy Garland, while experiencing a waning moon in her personal life; and "Ford vs Ferrari", with several lessons on brand competition, collaboration between teams, courage, betrayal and dynamics of family and social relationships in the field of work.

In this delicate and scarce moment that we are going through, the film “Lost on Mars” deserves to be seen, as it reports the rescue capacity and the enormous pressure of time, in addition to the determination of the astronaut, who was 'abandoned' on Mars, to survive the extreme adversity. It is worth reflecting on the prerequisites for a turnaround, whether in the economy or in companies and families, given the current period of forced confinement.

Still in the audiovisual, I recommend some series, such as “Succession”, on Netflix, which can be masterfully complemented by reading or a video of the play “King Lear”, by William Shakespeare.

This form of learning, permeated by leisure and cultural enrichment, appears in several other manifestations of art such as dance, music and literature. All are lavish in leadership lessons, as are many sports. However, this would already be a topic for an upcoming text.

When reading these suggestions, if a film, play, cultural activity or idea that can serve as a source of learning comes to mind, please do not hesitate to provoke me. I am an eternal apprentice on leadership and other topics.

You have to transform yourself to be an agent of the transformation that your company needs and that the moment demands!


César Souza is the founder and president of Grupo Empreenda, consultant and speaker in Business Strategy, Leader Development and in structuring Innovation Hubs. Author of “Be the Leader the Moment Requires”

24.5.20

Sony’s upcoming ZV-1 point-and-shoot camera looks perfect for vloggers


When it comes to the world of online content, a genre that has steadily gained traction over the years is vlogging. Video hosting platforms like YouTube and Instagram have contributed to a generation of vloggers, who document anything and everything in their lives.

This is reflected in the focus that camera manufacturers have placed on vlogger-centric cameras such as Canon‘s G7X series. Sony‘s RX100 VII compact camera has been a solid performer in this regard, and the company could now be building upon that with a new compact camera: the Sony ZV-1.

Sony Alpha recently tweeted a tantalising-looking teaser that promises a new compact camera on the 26th of May 2020, which is just under a week away. The Tweet doesn’t actually have any information on the camera beyond “new compact camera”, but leaked images have already been surfacing online in the past few days.

According to Sony Alpha Rumors, the mysterious camera referred to in the Tweet is the Sony ZV-1. The site also lists down the expected specs of the camera, which include an integrated ND filter, Sony’s EyeAF feature, a 20MP 1-inch sensor, as well as a 24–70mm f/1.8 –2.8 lens.

What’s interesting is that the ZV-1 is referred to as “an RX100 VII successor made for vloggers” by the site. This emphasis upon vlogging means that we could see a flip screen that folds out sideways, as well as a larger-than-normal recording button for easy access. The flip screen, in particular, should come in handy for vloggers who plan to use external microphones and accessories that usually block conventional flip-up screens.

Additionally, a leaked press release from Nokishita claims that there will be a “Bokeh Switch”, which basically allows you to blurred background effects. It isn’t clear if this will be software or hardware-based at this point. Plus, there’s also going to be something called the “Soft Skin Effect”, where the camera will remove your wrinkles and blemishes on your skin without losing the natural tone of skin.



Here’s an excerpt from the press release, which you can read in full here.


“The Sony ZV-1 is a 20.1MP digital camera specifically designed for vloggers and content creators. It features a 1.0-type stacked CMOS sensor and super-fast AF for high quality images and 4K video. The 24-70mm zoom lens is perfect for both portraits and wide-angle shooting. The Image stabilisation helps to keep your photos and videos blur free. It has an ergonomic, comfortable grip plus a 3-inch vari-angle LCD screen with recording lamp, which makes selfie-shooting very easy.”

Lastly, some of the leaked images also reveal a gimbal or grip with the Sony ZV-1. The grip in the images look a lot like Sony’s GP-VPT2BT Bluetooth grip, so it’s unclear if this is an updated version, or if it will be included as some sort of a package with the ZV-1.

For now, we’ll have to wait and see. No pricing or availability details have been revealed just yet, but we’ll officially find out on the 26th of May—probably.

23.5.20

Will coronavirus change Germans’ love of cash?

The German habit of saving dates back centuries - and has endured through economically turbulent times

‘Cash is king’ has long been the motto of German consumers and small business owners – but Covid-19 is bringing rapid change.

Germany might be known for its proud culture of technological innovation, but it's not uncommon for newcomers and tourists to be caught out at cafes and small businesses that only take cash.

Although online and mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay have made inroads in recent years, for many German businesses owners – and consumers, too – cash is king. This is especially true at smaller establishments, like the corner shop and neighbourhood restaurant. It’s a habit rooted in a thrifty culture with a preference for tangible spending.

Covid-19 has probably changed German payment behaviour faster than any single technology ever has - Georg Hauer

Yet since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, cash payments have, for the first time, been actively discouraged in Germany. “Covid-19 has probably changed German payment behaviour faster than any single technology ever has,” says Georg Hauer, general manager of the Germany-Austria-Switzerland region at N26, a Berlin-based online banking start-up. 

For many Germans, using cash isn't just a personal preference; it's a cultural value that they've grown up with — and one tied closely to a national value with centuries-old roots.

Cash as a national value

The longstanding preference for cash “is based on an underlying preference for the supposedly concrete versus the abstract”, says Dortmund-based historian Robert Muschalla, who curated 2018’s Saving – History of a German Virtue exhibition at Berlin’s German History Museum. Muschalla says this ideology emerged in the late 18th Century, when Germans were socialised to prioritise a tangible result from their labour over more abstract forms of exchange, such as IOUs, as the economy evolved.

A century later, with worker-employer clashes increasingly common, Muschalla says encouraging saving was seen as a way to reduce factory tensions. “The motto was: ‘Those who work hard and save and have something to lose do not make a revolution’,” he says. Thrifty values persisted through periods of economic turbulence after both World Wars. After World War Two, he adds, savings banks opposed the introduction of consumer credit, fearing it would damage saving culture.

By the time bank cards were introduced for much of Europe and the US, Germans were still just fine dealing with cash. This belief has stuck around: ‘card payment’ in Germany still largely means debit card – and German-style ‘credit cards’ largely don't accrue long-term debt but deduct the balance in full from a user's bank account the next month.


Growing up in Bavaria in the 1980s and ‘90s, Anna Steigemann, an assistant professor in urban studies at the Technical University of Berlin, remembers going with her family to take cash out of the bank once a week. Her father would withdraw it on Thursdays, they’d go grocery shopping on Fridays and to the market on Saturday, and the remainder saw the family through the week. 

Maik Klotz, 44, co-founder of Payment & Banking, which reports on fintech innovation, says his parents taught him as a child to value cash. Debit-style card payments, if available, weren't popular when he was growing up. “Back then, the fear of losing track of things and the fear of abuse was high," he says, adding that his parents still remain sceptical of card payments. 

A changing landscape 

In recent years, the German payment landscape has evolved. In 2017, an ongoing Bundesbank study tracking consumer payments noted a slow but steady shift in habits, but showed that 88% of Germans wanted to continue using cash in the future. The same study found that Germans carried an average of €107 ($116, £95) in their wallets; the year before, a European Banking Commission report found Germans led their Eurozone neighbours in carrying cash.

It was in 2018 that card payments made in stores overtook cash payments in value for the first time, the Cologne-based EHI Retail Institute reported, by fractions of a percentage (48.6% for card, 48.3% for cash). Yet cash was used in 76% of all retail transactions, still dominating smaller purchases. “In Germany, restaurant visits and groceries are paid in cash more than twice as often as the European average," Boston Consulting Group expert Holger Sachse told The Local in 2018. 

Young Germans, in particular, are looking for new payment alternatives, the Bundesbank’s 2017 study showed. Yet there are concerns that transitioning to a cashless culture would alienate both the older generation and lower-income people who might be unbanked. Many point to lingering concerns over privacy, especially among older consumers. 

"Many older Germans still remember a previous era of state surveillance all too well. This is why many Germans continue to guard their personal data and privacy fiercely, and have been less trusting than many of their other European counterparts when it comes to adopting new tech solutions," says Hauer.

But older consumers aren’t the only hold-outs. Small businesses still prefer the simplicity of cash – even millennial owners. Sami Gottschalk, 28, owns MINE Salon in Berlin’s arty, alternative Kreuzberg neighbourhood. The hair salon has always been card-free because he finds it easier to avoid the constant juggle between what’s in the cash drawer and what’s gone through on cards. “This is how I’ve worked before in a previous hair salon, and I thought it was easier for me to keep going with this method,” he says. 

At the salon, which is popular with both Berliners and expats, he's noticed that German clientele tend to carry more cash than Americans or Brits. Cashless customers are asked to withdraw money from a nearby ATM, something Gottschalk says people generally don't mind, though it can catch his foreign clients by surprise. 

With Covid-19, a cultural shift to cards 

Yet since Covid-19 began spreading around the world, Germany’s on-the-ground reliance on cash has been upended. In a few short weeks, cash went in many places from being expected to stigmatised or banned altogether. Of course, Germany's not the only country where cash reliance has dropped as a result of the pandemic: One survey in the UK, where 50% of people are already estimated to be cashless, suggested that 75% of people were using less cash due to the outbreak. However, the shift is especially noticeable in cash-loving Germany. 

“[Covid-19] was the first time Germany’s biggest retailers all began actively promoting the use of contactless payments,” says N26's Hauer. “From grocery stores to petrol stations, and in-store signs to even purchased radio spots, big retailers encouraged Germans to change their behaviour.” Smaller retailers who only used to accept cash have pivoted, too: "Not only have most of them started accepting card payments, quite a handful of them are actually only accepting card payments now, especially here in Berlin.”

A Bundesbank survey has already shown Covid-19-driven changes in Germany’s consumer behaviour, aided by a change in late March that doubled the limit for contactless transactions at the till to €50. (The UK, similarly, raised the limit from £30 to £45 from April to drive card payments.). By late April, 43% of respondents said they had changed their payment behaviour, compared to 25% at the start of the month. Sixty-eight percent of those who changed their behaviour said they were now more likely to pay with a card. 

Another recent survey, taken by the German Payment System Initiative, revealed that 57% of Germans use debit and credit cards now more than they did before the pandemic, and almost half have “significantly reduced” their cash use. At N26, Hauer says the bank recorded 56% fewer withdrawals from ATMs in the first month of Germany’s lockdown compared to the previous month.

"Since I’m always paying with debit, I have no idea how much money I’m actually spending right now"
- Anna Steigemann

For Anna Steigemann, the transition has been tough. “Now I’m in a situation where I go to [natural supermarket] Bio Company and buy a single pretzel or roll and pay [for] even that with a debit card because they ask for it,” she says. “Since I’m always paying with debit, I have no idea how much money I’m actually spending right now…. It’s a very unstable and insecure time now anyway and losing control over my account right now makes me even more insecure.” 

Following historical precedent, Germans appear to be responding to the current crisis by spending more carefully – and saving. Hauer says an internal bank survey found that 55% of Germans (taken from a sample of 10,000 people across the bank’s main markets) had “already changed their financial priorities for 2020”. About two-thirds of respondents said they were putting aside more money than before the crisis. 

Thomas Giese and Marion Coulondre opened Bichou Cafe, a French comfort food outpost in Berlin’s gentrifying, eclectic southern district of Neukölln, in 2016. "When we opened, very few businesses in Neukölln were offering card payment,” Coulondre says. "People were totally used to paying cash, and as we were a small neighbourhood café, this was not an issue at all to not accept cards. It was just more simple for us and cheaper to start off like this.” 

They started taking cards at the beginning of 2019. And, while they continue to accept cash, have seen more customers than ever pay by card during the pandemic – even regulars who always use cash. Yet, income is down. “At the moment we have as many card payments as on a regular day but sometimes half the revenue,” Coulondre says. Looking to the future, she anticipates an increase in card payments as the trend she's seen over the last two years continues. 

Post-Covid: back to cash? 

It’s hard to imagine cash regaining its former throne in German consumer life. In Hauer’s view, Covid-19 provided a nudge that society was ready for. “All this together helped drive a change in behaviour: the speed and magnitude of the change tells us that it wasn’t difficult to make, but people needed a strong reason to break an old habit.” 

He says N26 believes that Covid-19 will “accelerate” the way to a future in which “cash payments are the exception rather than the norm”. Ingo Limburg, head of the German Payment System Initiative, told DW on 7 May he expects greater card use to continue: "We assume that the trend toward card payments will increase disproportionately.” 

At MINE, Gottschalk is sticking with cash for the moment – with hand sanitiser ready at the cash register – but he's open to change. “I don’t think people will actually go back to cash as often as they were,” he says. "It's true now that [card payment is] starting more and more, and it’s definitely something we might have to consider in the future. I don’t think we can keep on going using cash only.”

Krystin Arneson

203 Years of the Bicycle

This may be the most famous photo with a bicycle ever made. 
Albert Einstein riding a bicycle in Santa Barbara, CA in February 1933.
The theoretical physicist Albert Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany in 1879. 
He developed the theory of relativity and received the 1921 Nobel Prize in Physics. 
Einstein immigrated to the United States in 1933 and died in Princeton, NJ in 1955. 

It is hard to know where to start when singing the praises of the bicycle. After all, riding a bike is not only healthy but also environmentally friendly. Bicycles are relatively easy to handle, need not be expensive, and are fast into the bargain – in fact, they are the fastest way to get around within a five-kilometre radius, beating not only buses and trams but also cars.


Once upon a time

The history of the bicycle begins in the year 1817. Baron Karl Drais introduced the first two-wheeled self-propelled vehicle in the summer of 1817, calling it the "dandy horse." Two hundred years later, that same concept has democratized travel like no other means of transportation, granting women new-found freedoms and offering ordinary people an affordable means of travel all over the world. The mechanically powered velocipede took off in the 1860s, followed by the iconic penny-farthing, but the golden age of cycling arrived with the late 19th century, as people relished the freedoms afforded by self-powered travel, and cycle touring became a popular pastime. 

Two wheels, a saddle and moveable handlebars – the first bicycle looked fairly similar to today’s model, though one important thing was missing from the version designed by German forestry officer and inventor Karl von Drais: pedals. This was why Drais had to use his feet to propel his invention along the ground on his maiden trip in the city of Mannheim, a ride of 14 kilometres. Even without pedals his machine met with an enthusiastic response, though it was not until 1867 that the next milestone came when the "Velocipede" was presented at the Paris World Exposition. It featured pedals on the front wheel that allowed a circular pedalling movement, just like on a modern bike. The high-wheeler – also known as a penny-farthing – followed in 1870. Featuring a much larger front wheel than rear wheel, it required quite a bit of athletic prowess as even a simple fall could prove fatal. Today cycling is a global phenomenon both in professional sporting and non-professional spheres.

Bicycles for the masses

1885 saw the prototype for today’s bicycle patented, equipped with two wheels of equal size and a chain drive: the safety bicycle. When this model went into mass production, the bicycle finally became a must-have for everyone. Postmen, soldiers, lorry drivers and farmers were all able to make good use of the bike. Cars began to reduce the popularity of the bicycle, from the 1920s in the USA and from the 1960s in Germany, though bikes began even in the 1970s in Germany to experience a renaissance that continues to the present day.

Faster and lighter, and once around the world


The popularity of the bicycle can be seen from some statistics, as can its ability to set records. Here are five examples:

  1. The highest speed ever achieved on a bicycle is 268.8 kilometres per hour. 
  2. Once around the world by bike? The Scot Mark Beaumont was the fastest, taking just 195 days to complete the 30,000 or so kilometres – averaging 154 kilometres per day. 
  3. The lightest bicycle weighs roughly 2.7 kilograms. 
  4. Germany has almost as many bicycles as inhabitants. 
  5. 98 percent of Germans can ride a bike.
Current bicycle research

Even 200 years on, bicycles are continuing to evolve. Examples include bamboo bikes, cargo bikes and the increasingly popular electric bikes. Bicycles are studied from all kinds of different angles at German universities and research institutions. The development of lighter bicycles is one area, while others include safety and mobility research.

Making electric bicycles safer

Researchers at Technische Universität Kaiserslautern are hard at work to make electric bicycles safer. To this end, scientists from the Department of Civil Engineering have teamed up with colleagues from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering on the project Safety-Oriented Driver Assistance Systems for Electric Bicycles (SIFAFE) (only in German). The assistance systems are designed to alert cyclists to potentially hazardous situations in good time. The researchers in Kaiserslautern analysed accidents and plan to come up with prevention concepts on this basis, including sensor-based concepts for monitoring the cyclist’s surroundings based for example on cameras, radar or ultrasound. The goal is to develop bike-friendly functionality that can help the rider switch lanes or warn of a possible collision.

Bicycles in society

Sociologists are also conducting research into the bicycle, for example at the Institute of Social Sciences at Technische Universität Braunschweig. A project entitled "Future of the Mobility Chain: the Bicycle as a Hinge" (only in German) is underway there until September 2018. In the greater Braunschweig area, the sociologists are studying the interplay of all different types of environmentally-friendly locomotion, including bicycles, pedestrians, public transport and car-sharing schemes. The researchers are keen to find out how bicycles can best be combined with other means of mobility. To this end, they are first analysing movement patterns of people in their everyday lives. The project’s objective is to find answers to the following question: Which incentives are needed to encourage people to use their bicycles more often?

200 years bicycle

Karl von Drais, the inventor of the bicycle, came from Baden-Württemberg, which was reason enough for this German state to celebrate the anniversary of the bicycle with a dedicated website. As well as charting the history of the bicycle, information about upcoming events is provided – including bike races on the original machines invented by Drais.

22.5.20

Nudes Are Old News at Playboy

Playboy debut in 1953 with Marilyn Monroe.

In a wood-paneled dining room, with Picasso and de Kooning prints on the walls, Mr. Jones nervously presented a radical suggestion: the magazine, a leader of the revolution that helped take sex in America from furtive to ubiquitous, should stop publishing images of naked women.

Mr. Hefner dies in 2017, but still listed as editor in chief. As part of a redesign that has now been revealed, the print edition of Playboy will still feature women in provocative poses. But they will no longer be fully nude.

Its executives admit that Playboy has been overtaken by the changes it pioneered. “That battle has been fought and won,” said Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And so it’s just passé at this juncture.”

Previous efforts to revamp Playboy, as recently as three years ago, have never quite stuck. And those who have accused it of exploiting women are unlikely to be assuaged by a modest cover-up. But, according to its own research, Playboy’s logo is one of the most recognizable in the world, along with those of Apple and Nike. This time, as the magazine seeks to compete with younger outlets like Vice, Mr. Flanders said, it sought to answer a key question: “if you take nudity out, what’s left?”

It is difficult, in a media market that has been so fragmented by the web, to imagine the scope of Playboy’s influence at its peak. A judge once ruled that denying blind people a Braille version of it violated their First Amendment rights. It published stories by Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami among others, and its interviews have included Malcolm X, Vladimir Nabokov, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jimmy Carter, who admitted that he had lusted in his heart for women other than his wife. Madonna, Sharon Stone and Naomi Campbell posed for the magazine at the peak of their fame. Its best-selling issue, in November of 1972, sold more than seven million copies.

Playboy’s circulation has dropped from 5.6 million in 1975 to about 800,000 now, according to the Alliance for Audited Media. Many of the magazines that followed it have disappeared. Though detailed figures are not kept for adult magazines, many of those that remain exist in severely diminished form, available mostly in specialist stores. Penthouse, perhaps the most famous Playboy competitor, responded to the threat from digital pornography by turning even more explicit. It never recovered.

Even those who disliked it cared enough to pay attention — Gloria Steinem, the pioneering feminist, went undercover as a waitress, or Playboy Bunny, in one of Mr. Hefner’s spinoff clubs to write an exposé for Show Magazine in 1963.

When Mr. Hefner created the magazine, which featured Marilyn Monroe on its debut cover in 1953, he did so to please himself. “If you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you,” he said in his first editor’s letter. “We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex ...” He did not put a date on the cover of the first issue, in case Playboy did not make it to a second.

Mr. Hefner “just revolutionized the whole direction of how we live, of our lifestyles and the kind of sex you might have in America,” said Dian Hanson, author of a six-volume history of men’s magazines and an editor for Taschen. “But taking the nudity out of Playboy is going to leave what?”

The latest redesign, 62 years later, is more pragmatic. The magazine had already made some content safe for work, Mr. Flanders said, in order to be allowed on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, vital sources of web traffic.

In August of last year, its website dispensed with nudity. As a result, Playboy executives said, the average age of its reader dropped from 47 to just over 30, and its web traffic jumped to about 16 million from about four million unique users per month.

The magazine will adopt a cleaner, more modern style, said Mr. Jones, who as chief content officer also oversees its website. There will still be a Playmate of the Month, but the pictures will be “PG-13” and less produced — more like the racier sections of Instagram. “A little more accessible, a little more intimate,” he said. It is not yet decided whether there will still be a centerfold.

Its sex columnist, Mr. Jones said, will be a “sex-positive female,” writing enthusiastically about sex. And Playboy will continue its tradition of investigative journalism, in-depth interviews and fiction. The target audience, Mr. Flanders said, is young men who live in cities. “The difference between us and Vice,” he said, “is that we’re going after the guy with a job.”

Some of the moves, like expanded coverage of liquor, are partly commercial, Mr. Flanders admitted; the magazine must please its core advertisers. And all the changes have been tested in focus groups with an eye toward attracting millennials — people between the ages of 18 and 30-something, highly coveted by publishers. The magazine will feature visual artists, with their work dotted through the pages, in part because research revealed that younger people are drawn to art.

The company now makes most of its money from licensing its ubiquitous brand and logo across the world — 40 percent of that business is in China even though the magazine is not available there — for bath products, fragrances, clothing, liquor and jewelry among other merchandise. Nudity in the magazine risks complaints from shoppers, and diminished distribution.

Playboy, which had gone public in 1971, was taken private again in 2011 by Mr. Hefner with Rizvi Traverse Management, an investment firm founded by Suhail Rizvi, a publicity-shy Silicon Valley investor, who has interests in Twitter, Square and Snapchat among others. The firm now owns over 60 percent. Mr. Hefner owns about 30 percent (some shares are held by Playboy management).

The magazine is profitable if money from licensed editions around the world is taken into account, Mr. Flanders said, but the United States edition loses about $3 million a year. He sees it, he said, as a marketing expense. “It is our Fifth Avenue storefront,” he said.

Ele e Jones sentem que a revista permanece relevante, principalmente porque o mundo adotou gradualmente as visões libertárias de Hefner sobre uma variedade de questões sociais. Questionado se as opiniões de Hefner sobre as mulheres eram uma exceção a essa regra, Flanders respondeu que Hefner "sempre comemorou a beleza da figura feminina".

"Não me interpretem mal", disse Jones sobre a decisão de dispensar a nudez. "Eu, de 12 anos, está muito desapontado com a minha atualidade. Mas é a coisa certa a fazer.


Carol Mercedes
Editora Hot Pink / Revista United Photo Press
www.unitedphotopressworld.org

21.5.20

Is Capitalism Racist?

On June 11, 1963, two African American students attempted to register for classes at the University of Alabama. Vivian Malone and James Hood were accompanied by U.S. Attorney General Nicholas. The students were stopped at the entrance door by Governor George Wallace.The following day, Governor Wallace moved from the door, when Malone and Hood returned with the National Guard and the students were successfully enrolled.


A scholar depicts white supremacy as the economic engine of American history.

Before the Civil War, Southern slaveholders used to claim that their labor system was more humane than “wage slavery” in the factories of the industrializing North. They didn’t win that argument, but the idea took root that the South, during and after slavery, did not have a true capitalist economy. In 1930, twelve Southern writers (all white men) published a collection of essays, titled “I’ll Take My Stand,” that opened with a declaration that they “all tend to support a Southern way of life against what may be called the American or prevailing way; and all as much as agree that the best terms in which to represent the distinction are contained in the phrase, Agrarian versus Industrial.” To believe that the South was economically different didn’t entail being a defender of slavery or segregation; it didn’t even have to mean you were a political conservative. When I was growing up in New Orleans, among the descendants of antebellum sugar and cotton planters, efficiency and industriousness were not highly valued, and all the general social indicia—income, health, education—were much lower than they were in the North. This condition seemed connected to the exploitation and political disempowerment that went along with a racial caste system. It was worse than capitalism, not part of capitalism.


But for many years now historians have disputed the old Southern agrarian notions about how the South related to capitalism. This form of revisionism, which has blossomed in the academy and beyond during the past decade or so, takes its inspiration from “Capitalism and Slavery,” published in 1944 by Eric Williams, a young historian who later became the first Prime Minister of an independent Trinidad and Tobago. The book, which argued for the centrality of slavery to the rise of capitalism, was largely ignored for half a century; now its thesis is a starting point for a new generation of scholarship. Large-scale Southern slaveholders are today understood as experts in such business practices as harsh, ever-increasing production quotas for workers and the creation of sophisticated credit instruments. Rather than representing an alternative system to industrial capitalism, American plantations enabled its development, providing the textile mills of Manchester and Birmingham with cotton to be spun into cloth by the new British working class. As Walter Johnson, one of our leading historians of slavery, wrote in 2018, “There was no such thing as capitalism without slavery: the history of Manchester never happened without the history of Mississippi.”

The new history of slavery seeks to obliterate the economic and moral distinction between slavery and capitalism, and between the South and the North, by showing them to have been all part of a single system. Inevitably, this view has generated intense arguments, not only about how integral the slave plantation was to the national and global economies but also about whether we should regard the end of slavery as an important breakpoint in American history or merely a rearranging of an oppressive system into an altered but still essentially oppressive form. Critics of the new history of slavery chastise it for downplaying developments like Britain’s abolition of slavery in its colonies and the American Civil War, and for overstating slavery’s importance to the growth of the early American economy, even if the plantation was a particularly ruthless business enterprise.

The arguments about slavery imply larger arguments about America. At least among respectable academic historians, the days of triumphant historical accounts of the greatness of the United States are long past. But for some the national enterprise can still be seen as a slow and often interrupted progression toward a more just and democratic society; for others, it amounts to a set of variations on racial hierarchy and economic exploitation. Once slavery is positioned as the foundational institution of American capitalism, the country’s subsequent history can be depicted as an extension of this basic dynamic. This is what Walter Johnson does in his new book, “The Broken Heart of America: St. Louis and the Violent History of the United States” (Basic). The study demonstrates both the power of the model and its limitations.

Johnson, who grew up in Missouri, tells us that he was moved to write the book by the events in Ferguson in the summer of 2014—the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen-ager, by a police officer named Darren Wilson, and the period of local unrest and national attention that followed. In Johnson’s account, Ferguson emerges as the distillation of a vexed history that goes back to the city’s beginnings. Johnson’s earlier work presented slavery as the furthest thing from a “peculiar institution” set apart from the American mainstream; here, he makes a similar case for the centrality of St. Louis. “St. Louis has been the crucible of American history,” he writes. “Much of American history has unfolded from the juncture of empire and anti-Blackness in the city of St. Louis.”

Johnson’s guiding concept is “racial capitalism”: racism as a technique for exploiting black people and for fomenting the hostility of working-class whites toward blacks, so as to enable white capitalists to extract value from everyone else. For his purposes, St. Louis is a case study in the pervasiveness and the longevity of racism outside the formal boundaries of slavery. As he wrote in an earlier essay, “The history of racial capitalism, it must be emphasized, is a history of wages as well as whips, of factories as well as plantations, of whiteness as well as blackness, of ‘freedom’ as well as slavery.”

A small French outpost situated just below the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, St. Louis became part of the United States in 1803, owing to the Louisiana Purchase. Thomas Jefferson soon put in motion the Lewis and Clark expedition, which set off from St. Louis, in 1804. In Johnson’s account, St. Louis in its early decades becomes the staging area for the brutal taking of the American West. For blinkered whites like William Clark, the complicated realities of the West were “subordinated to a racially fundamentalist understanding of the world (red, white, and black) and the politics of white settler imperialism and ethnic cleansing.” The Missouri Compromise, in 1820, admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state, and, Johnson points out, Missouri’s new constitution restricted the rights of black people, preventing free blacks from settling in the state.

A parade of men (most of them, in Johnson’s telling, closely connected to St. Louis) who were long presented to schoolchildren as the heroes of American history are revealed to be anything but. The iniquities of Jefferson and of Lewis and Clark are a mere prologue to those of Andrew Jackson, “the nation’s most prominent Indian hater”; John C. Frémont, the explorer and the first Presidential candidate of the Republican Party, who “was an imperialist and, by any modern standard, a war criminal”; and Ulysses S. Grant, whose essential military technique was “murderous fury.” Abraham Lincoln comes off no better. He began his career as a “settler militiaman,” and, for the rest of his life, “remained committed to ethnic cleansing.” Lincoln developed a winning political platform for the Republicans in which slavery was opposed mainly because it competed with the economic interests of white farmers and laborers; Lincoln’s first priority was to deliver a whites-only frontier to the “white supremacist, imperialist, and removalist” Republican base. Horace Greeley’s Liberal Republican movement, following the Civil War, was based on a “white nationalist” ideology whose “predictable result” was genocide.

At the World’s Fair of 1904, hosted by St. Louis, Johnson finds a literal exhibit of this enduring legacy: an elaborate celebration of the centennial of the Louisiana Purchase that was “designed to domesticate the restive immigrant workers of St. Louis by turning them into white people,” and to insure white workers’ “proper alignment with the course of freedom-through-capitalism and imperial progress.” Such racial capitalism led to the city’s most notorious incident of racial violence before Ferguson, the East St. Louis massacre of 1917, which left dozens of black people dead and thousands more displaced, and which was sparked by the hiring of black replacement workers during an aluminum-ore processors’ strike. “The white workers of East St. Louis kept on somehow believing that the city belonged to them rather than their corporate overlords,” Johnson writes. “They believed it with such force and passion, such a sense of beleaguered entitlement, that when the time came, they would prove more than willing to kill for it.” And this massacre, Johnson says, “forecast” a series of violent post-First World War incidents in other American cities.

Indeed, as Johnson moves through the twentieth century, he consistently treats what are often taken to be national trends as toxic gifts from St. Louis. In the early years of the century, St. Louis voters passed one of the country’s first public referendums to institute residential segregation. Later, the city made copious use of restrictive covenants that barred black home buyers from white neighborhoods; the 1948 Supreme Court opinion that declared restrictive covenants legally unenforceable—a decision that was widely ignored—originated in St. Louis. Harland Bartholomew, the St. Louis version of mid-century urban master planners like Robert Moses, used his “malign genius” to become “the segregation and suburbanization czar of the United States.” The bulldozing of black neighborhoods that looked to whites like slums (such as the one where the Gateway Arch now stands) and their partial replacement by high-rise public-housing projects, aggressive policing, mass incarceration, and the use of business-friendly, community-unfriendly tax abatements to revitalize older cities—all this, in Johnson’s telling, was pioneered in St Louis.

Racial capitalists conquered the West; racial capitalists waged the Civil War; racial capitalists industrialized St. Louis, and then deindustrialized it, at every step exploiting black people just as brutally as slaveholders did. It’s a big, all-explanatory theory that is serviced by the tone of Johnson’s account, which is forcefully didactic at every moment. “The Broken Heart of America” is a history populated by good guys and bad guys—many more of the latter. Johnson doesn’t hesitate to use terms that didn’t exist at the time to describe the motivations of historical actors: “genocide,” “settler colonialism,” “ethnic cleansing”—terms given a honed edge by being relieved of historical specificity. Even one of the few entities he approves of, an “urban guerrilla” organization called action, which staged public demonstrations to protest, for example, the lack of black construction workers hired to build the Gateway Arch, in the mid-nineteen-sixties, is reprimanded for being “racist, sexist, and heteronormative” in its embrace of the view “that a male breadwinner was the keystone figure of healthy Black family life.”

Johnson’s propensity for pasting condemnatory labels on his characters displays a concern that, without his firm guidance, readers may not draw the proper conclusions from the material he is presenting. He is disinclined to describe any situation as ambiguous. In the case of Michael Brown, Johnson doesn’t hesitate to call it a murder. Darren Wilson, he suggests, stopped Brown for jaywalking, and then, “after a short scuffle in the street, Brown ran away. When Wilson shot him, several witnesses later asserted, Brown had his hands raised in the air.” Johnson is polite about the Obama Justice Department’s 2015 report on the Ferguson police department’s systemic racial bias, but only in the endnotes does he mention the Justice Department’s second, simultaneously issued report, on the incident itself, which concluded that the facts of the case didn’t warrant federal prosecution. Giving particular weight to witnesses whose testimony was consistent with the forensic evidence, investigators concluded that Wilson heard of a robbery at a local market, that Brown reached into Wilson’s car and tussled with him, and that Brown was approaching Wilson when he was fatally shot. (Many of these points are intensely in dispute.) Without addressing the specifics, Johnson writes that the report “is, at best, a legalistic restatement of the extraordinary latitude provided police officers who shoot unarmed people in the United States and, at worst, a complete misunderstanding of the full circumstances surrounding the shooting.”

In the craft of history, tendentiousness is an ever-present temptation; Johnson is as insistently moralizing in his way as previous generations of romantic, heroic historians of the West were in theirs. A story centered on a transhistorical force of oppression—spotlighting St. Louis as the capital of racial capitalism—offers an all-encompassing explanation but doesn’t leave much room for racism untethered from capitalism or capitalism untethered from racism. Other scholars have found different ways of explaining the same parlous present-day conditions in distressed black neighborhoods. James Forman, Jr., in “Locking Up Our Own” (2017), showed how a series of late-twentieth-century policing and sentencing techniques, widely endorsed by tough-on-crime public officials, black and white, wound up putting many more black people in prison and making things worse in black communities. In “The Origins of the Urban Crisis” (1996), a work centered on postwar Detroit, the historian Thomas Sugrue insisted on an approach to urban history that took into account a range of factors, including not obviously racial ones like deindustrialization; in its introduction, he wrote, “The coincidence and mutual reinforcement of race, economics, and politics in a particular historical moment, the period from the 1940s to the 1960s, set the stage for the fiscal, social, and economic crises that confront urban America.” The implication of these books is that significant policy changes would help black communities. They have that in common with many previous books about urban black America in the twentieth century, including the greatest of them all, St. Clair Drake and Horace Cayton’s “Black Metropolis,” from 1945. Johnson, impatient with such particularity, always goes both smaller, in the sense of depicting St. Louis as a fulcrum of history, and bigger, in the sense of making racial capitalism an eternal, all-powerful force, floating free of any specific time or place.


The idea that racism can be connected to capitalism has been around for a long time; the question is how the connection works, and whether the two are inextricable. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his great speech on the steps of the Alabama statehouse at the conclusion of the Selma-to-Montgomery march, in 1965, said, “The segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land.” King was at that moment pushing for the passage of the Voting Rights Act and other civil-rights legislation, so he had a reason to locate the nexus of race and capitalism specifically in the Southern Jim Crow system. Within a year, he was leading demonstrations against slumlords in hyper-segregated Chicago, and advocating new forms of national legislation, like the Fair Housing Act. In 2018, more than ninety per cent of African-American voters in Missouri cast their ballots against Josh Hawley, the victorious Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate; Hawley now presents himself as a critic of global capitalism without ever mentioning race. It’s possible to be anti-capitalist without being anti-racist, and anti-racist without being anti-capitalist. Johnson might say that both positions are deluded, but they have appeared regularly in our country’s history.

Through it all, black neighborhoods, especially poor black neighborhoods, still bear the weight of a malign history. Reading “The Broken Heart of America” inevitably prompts the question of how what’s broken might be repaired. Does a politically charged history come with a politics for the here and now?

Historically, Johnson doesn’t find many people to admire. Among whites, the main exceptions are a few Communists and radically inclined labor organizers. He takes a dim view, too, of mainstream black organizations like the N.A.A.C.P. and the Urban League. Liberal politicians hardly attract his notice, except when, as in the case of Lincoln, their reputations require revising downward. But after laying out a relentlessly bleak history he ends, jarringly, on a hopeful note. During the unrest following Michael Brown’s death, he tells us, “the disinherited of St. Louis rose again to take control of their history.” Since then, a number of activists—Johnson provides thumbnail sketches of them—have launched efforts in poor black neighborhoods meant to reverse, or at least resist, the pernicious workings of racial capitalism. Today, Johnson writes, “I have never been to a more amazing, hopeful place in my life.” Underlying his stated optimism is an implicit conviction that it wouldn’t do much good to look for help from the larger society; the victims of oppression must find a way forward by themselves.

As a child in the Jim Crow South during the civil-rights era, growing up in a conservative white milieu, I often overheard bitter adult conversations about the hypocrisy of white liberals in the North. Were they really any better than Southern segregationists, to go by their lived behavior? Walter Johnson, coming from the left, offers a good deal of empirical support for opinions like that. His account discourages us from drawing much hope from past events like the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, the major civil-rights victories of the sixties, or the election of Barack Obama as President; the regime of racial capitalism, in his vision, always manages to reconstitute itself. Broader reforms that aimed, at least, to smooth the roughest edges of capitalism—like the regulation of business excesses or the creation of Social Security and Medicaid—are, we gather, no match for white supremacy.

Democratic politics, especially in a country with a racial history like ours, is necessarily messy, impure, and capable of producing no more than partial victories, and, even then, only when pushed hard by political movements. But deflating and deriding the progress it has made in the past and the promise it might hold for the future invites the hazards of defeatism. It distracts from the kinds of economic, educational, and criminal-justice reforms that mainstream progressives hope to enact. These are the tools we have at hand. It would be a shame not to use them. 

Nicholas Lemann