WHEN NO ONE WINS A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

m_topn picture

Atlantic Monthly Sidebar

Go to this issue’s Table of Contents.

O C T O B E R  1 9 8 0  

Deadlock

by Laurence H. Tribe and Thomas M. RollinsJanuary 20, 1981. For the first time in history the Inaugural stand has been built on the West Front of the Capitol, facing Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House a mile away. But at noon, the time fixed for the Inauguration, a lone workman standing on the Inaugural platform sees only the normal traffic of a midwinter midday. The platform is ready, but there is no new President — none of the candidates carried a majority of the electoral vote on November 4, 1980.

Behind the West Front, the House of Representatives, as the Constitution provides, is trying to decide which of the top three candidates in the electoral vote should become the fortieth President. In fact, the House has been trying for over five weeks, without success, to break that deadlock. Ronald and Nancy Reagan are waiting across the river in Virginia in a rented house that once belonged to John and Jacqueline Kennedy. John and Keke Anderson are in their modest Bethesda home; he has been third in the House voting all along, but he still hopes to be the compromise choice. This morning, Jimmy Carter and Rosalynn moved out of the White House into the Madison Hotel and a unique political twilight: he is not quite President and not quite ex-President. 

Walter Mondale today becomes Acting President. Almost immediately after the electoral deadlock, the Senate carried out its constitutional duty and named him over George Bush for Vice President. (The House must select from the top three presidential finishers in the Electoral College, the Senate from the top two vice-presidential finishers.) Now Mondale has a presidency — of sorts. He will keep it — for a day or for four years — until the House makes up its collective mind. No one thought it appropriate for Acting President Mondale to be sworn in amid ruffles and flourishes from the splendor of the Inaugural platform. Instead, at noon, he takes his oath quietly, in private, with only one television camera permitted to film this unique ritual of American public life. He gives no Inaugural address; he only hopes, he says, that the House will soon finish its work.

From the archives:“Big Business in Ballots,” by Cullen Murphy (November 1984)
With 188,432 U.S. precincts, the demand for fast, secret, dependable systems is great and constant.
This scene is not idle fantasy. Two presidential elections have been decided in the House of Representatives and four others, including the elections of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 and John F. Kennedy in 1960, have come within 30,000 votes of requiring a decision by the House. Three others, in 1912, 1924, and 1968, came close. In 1980, a victory by independent candidate John Anderson in just a few key states could throw the election into the House. If Anderson wins only the thirty-nine electoral votes of Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Connecticut — three states in which Ronald Reagan’s polls have shown Anderson leading — Jimmy Carter could end up with 230 votes from the urban Northeast and part of the South, forty short of the 270 needed for a majority, and Reagan could take the rest — including the West and Midwest — for a total of 268 electoral votes, two votes short of the presidency. In fact, former President Gerald Ford flatly predicted during the Republican convention in July 1980 that the Anderson candidacy will throw the election into the House of Representatives. And responsible analysts think it unlikely that any of the candidates could win the votes of a majority of the state delegations in the House. A deadlocked House election is not a sportive daydream; many consider it a nightmare.Americans have awakened to the prospect of an election that fails to elect with a sense of fear — a feeling that a House election is proof that we, our politics, even our Constitution, have somehow failed. There is a pervasive and unquestioned reaction that it is a disaster to make a President this way, just as many feared that it was a disaster in 1974 to unmake the President by invoking the impeachment power for the first time in more than a century, after teaching generations of schoolchildren to regard impeachment as a dread instrument and a dead letter. Mr. Ford, our only appointed President, agrees with the view that an election of the President by the House would be “tragic,” even though such House election is a device in which the Constitution’s designers took pride. Politicians, political scientists, reporters, all haunted by the specter of an electoral deadlock, have proposed vote-switching, restricted media coverage of third-party candidates, private agreements, congressional resolutions, even constitutional amendments, to prevent a presidential election by the House of Representatives. Reaction before the 1968 election, the most recent one that seemed headed for Congress, foreshadowed today’s fears: an article in the September 1968 Atlantic pleaded with voters to “Keep It Out of the House!”

That the odds of a House election seem high in 1980 is not just a function of Anderson’s strong showing in the polls; those odds will remain high and grow higher as the political gaps left by our major parties continue to widen. But before we rush to dismantle the present system, it would be wise to review the history that has brought us here. Like an impeachment, an election in the House is a tempting source of terror-mongering because it seems so alien: 155 years have passed since the House last chose a President in 1825, 179 years since the election of 1800 was decided on the thirty-sixth ballot by the House of Representatives. But that is not so long ago in a constitutional lifetime, and it is by borrowing the time-view of our most enduring political document that we can absorb the lessons of its experience. That experience teaches that our fears may be more a product of reflex than reflection, and that the system itself did not cause the crises linked with earlier deadlocks or near-misses. Each such crisis resulted from a fractured political consensus which the electoral system simply mirrored. Nor does history show that our forefathers have forsaken us by leaving behind what anyone would regard as an unworkable way to select a leader: no one disagreed or was distressed when George Mason predicted to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 that nineteen out of twenty elections would be decided by the House. And there is nothing unique about a President without a majoritarian mandate; nearly half our Presidents have lacked a popular vote majority.

The Electoral College, dominated by the large states, converts popular pluralities and even minorities into clear victories. The House and Senate have the same function one step removed: through a voting mechanism dominated by the small states, they turn electoral pluralities and even minorities into Presidents and Vice Presidents.

In its initial conception, that system was bottomed on the shakiest of political premises. The Constitution was written as if political parties were a scourge the nation must and would avoid; but the precursors of today’s parties in fact emerged as early as the first presidential election in 1789 — and immediately started to unravel the Framers’ design. Parties seized control of state legislatures and muted the voices of opposing minorities by adopting the winner-take-all systems now in use in every state: suddenly all of a state’s electoral votes, with only a rare stray here or there (like the Ford elector who cast his lot with Reagan in 1976), went to the winner of even the narrowest popular plurality. The Framers had expected that a district system, which would allow each state to divide its electoral vote, would be used. Instead, as parties organized the way electors would vote, they eliminated the scatter of votes that the Framers expected and quickly produced a system in which everyone expected elections to be decided before they ever reached the House.

Almost as quickly, this produced a crisis that made clear the need to amend the Constitution to provide for separate elections for President and Vice President. For the original plan had a fatal flaw that emerged with the rise of the parties. Since the electors could not designate which candidate they preferred for President and which for Vice President (the runner-up in electoral votes won the vice presidency), a host of dangers was created by party voting. If the opposition gave some unwanted extra votes to the vice-presidential candidate, or if malefactors within the party withheld votes from the presidential candidate but gave them to the vice-presidential nominee, a party’s presidential and vice-presidential candidates could be reversed. If the leading party threw away some of its vice-presidential votes to prevent a reversal of its candidates, the opposition could win the vice presidency. In 1796, Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson was in fact elected Vice President this way. And if no votes were thrown away and the opposition did not boost the votes of the vice-presidential candidate, then the two candidates’ totals could tie and the election would go to the House. This is exactly what happened in 1800, when the Democratic-Republican party ran Jefferson and Aaron Burr with the clear understanding that Jefferson, not Burr, was the presidential candidate. All seventy-three of the Republican electors voted for Jefferson and Burr — and then, in a context the Framers never intended, the House had to decide. Alexander Hamilton, who opposed Burr’s attempt to seize the presidency, was killed by Burr in a duel in 1804.

The operation of political parties had thus turned the game of presidential politics into a team sport. The players had to change the rules, and did so with the Twelfth Amendment, which reshaped the Electoral College in 1804: henceforth, electors would vote separately for President and Vice President. Two more recent amendments modified the system further. In 1933, the Twentieth Amendment specified that the new Congress would meet seventeen days before the new President’s Inauguration. By statute, the new Senate and House, not the lame ducks, pick the President and Vice President if the Electoral College produces no majority. The second change, a relatively minor one, came in 1961: the Twenty-third Amendment granted the District of Columbia the right to cast three electoral votes, although the District still has no representatives or senators and could not vote in any House or Senate election.

Disputed elections

The Constitution’s election rules may seem specific, but they leave open as many questions as they answer. And it is in the gray areas not illuminated by the Constitution that the battle for the executive branch may be fought again — and has been won before.

Some of those gray areas, potentially touching every election whether or not it goes to the House, hardly seem to be the stuff of which high political and legal drama are made. But in 1980, the election could turn on the seemingly innocuous constitutional mandate that “the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the Certificates, and the Votes shall then be counted.” Who counts the votes, and which votes count? Here, the Constitution is silent; yet the question could become crucial if a state’s electoral votes are disputed. The margin between Anderson and Reagan in a state such as Illinois could be a matter of a few thousand votes — narrow enough to invite the tombstone voting that was reported in Chicago in 1960. Or a Republican election board in a critical state could exploit a narrow margin between Anderson and Reagan to certify the state’s votes for Reagan. Congress would then have to decide somehow whether to recount the votes.

Although we have arrived at that point only once, in 1876, vote manipulation in presidential elections goes back to the very beginning. In 1800, Aaron Burr circumvented New York’s requirement that voters own a minimum amount of property by persuading landless Republicans to pool their funds and purchase enough as “joint tenants” to meet the requirement. The special magic of the joint tenancy was that each tenant, no matter how large the group or how small his contribution, “owned” the entire estate. The Federalists responded by locating a loophole in New Jersey law, which did not specifically exclude women from voting. They marched their wives, daughters, and any other females they could find to the polls and buried the male Republican vote.

By 1876, Jefferson’s Republicans had been transmuted into the post-bellum Democrats and the Federalists into the new Republican party, but vote fraud on both sides endured. And in 1876, the Republicans’ tactics almost started a second civil war. The election returns on November 7, 1876, showed that Democrat Samuel Tilden, the governor of New York, had won a landslide victory over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. But the Republicans charged that the Democrats had won the votes of South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana through force and fraud to intimidate and disqualify newly enfranchised black voters. The Democrats challenged one Republican elector in Oregon, leaving Hayes with 165 undisputed electoral votes and Tilden with 184, one short of the 185 votes he needed.

The Republican-dominated governments of the disputed states sent new electoral totals to Congress, showing Hayes the winner of every disputed contest. The Democrats in those states, two of which were ruled by rival Democratic and Republican governments, submitted electoral returns of their own showing Tilden to be the victor. The Constitution did not say which votes to count. To resolve the dispute, Congress established a fifteen-member Electoral Commission. The bill creating the commission required both the House and the Senate to vote on each commission decision; either house could thus delay the verdict past Inauguration Day. This provision gave both sides an incentive to bargain — and what the Republicans promised was nothing less than an end to Reconstruction in the South. Hayes also offered one or two Cabinet posts for the South, aid for a southern railroad, and increased spending in that region for internal improvements.

However, there were doubters and dissidents in the Democratic-controlled House. They launched a filibuster to prevent Hayes’s Inauguration by postponing beyond Inauguration Day any House vote on the commission’s ruling, which had awarded all twenty disputed electors to Hayes. The House session of March 1, 1877, just three days before the scheduled Inauguration, was described as “probably the stormiest ever witnessed in any House of Representatives.” The galleries were packed; members shrieked for attention; one representative jumped up and down on his desk in an incoherent rage; lobbyists swarmed the House floor. Representative William Levy of Louisiana then rose to announce that he had received “solemn” assurances that Hayes would withdraw federal troops from the South. After eighteen hours, the filibuster died out. At 4:10 on Tuesday morning, March 2, 1877, the count was completed: Hayes had won by 185 votes to Tilden’s 184. President Hayes promptly ordered an end to the federal occupation of the southern states.

The electoral crisis of 1876 mirrored a national crisis over the legacy of the Civil War. The Republicans traded away Reconstruction. Freed of federal interference, the South took its revenge. Blacks were disenfranchised and segregated. The crisis of race relations had been postponed to the next century. Eight decades after the Great Compromise of 1877, another Republican President, Dwight Eisenhower, had to send federal troops back to the South, to Little Rock, Arkansas, to force the integration of Central High School.

Except in cases as extreme as the one in 1876, political realities generally dissuade losing candidates from potentially bitter challenges to the electoral results. Yet challenges remain a real possibility, and there is no settled procedure for disposing of them. The need for improvisation has often been avoided only narrowly: no fewer than twenty presidential elections would have come out differently if less than one percent of the vote had shifted. The margin of victory can be all but invisible. A shift of 116 votes to Tilden in South Carolina in 1876 would have given him the one electoral vote he needed to defeat Hayes. A switch of 575 votes in New York in 1884 would have made James G. Blaine President rather than Grover Cleveland. Woodrow Wilson would have lost the election of 1916 to Charles Evans Hughes if Hughes had won the votes of 2000 more Californians.

Electoral bargaining

The popular vote counts for very little as a national total, but makes all the difference in the Electoral College, because a tiny margin in a few states can deliver a decisive block of electoral votes. Fifteen Presidents have won without a popular majority, but many of them have enjoyed comfortable majorities in the Electoral College. Or apparently comfortable majorities — for the system invites political dealing and electoral bargaining.

The invitation to bargain could be irresistible in a case where three candidates split the electoral vote, with no one receiving the necessary majority. What sort of bargain might be struck in a disputed or deadlocked election in 1980? One thing is clear: the public would not necessarily regard every possible bargain as a political deal. The Hayes-Tilden result was seen as the Great Compromise of 1817, which, like the Missouri Compromise of 1850, settled sectional differences without resort to civil war. But the 1877 bargain was elevated to the status of statesmanship because it centered on a single, overriding question that divided the nation. The Republicans could gain the presidency by yielding to the Democratic assault against Reconstruction.

Such bargains could be struck in 1980 without House or Senate involvement; a candidate might simply persuade the electors chosen to support him on November 4 to cast their ballots for someone else. Indeed, electors could do so on their own, since the Constitution makes them free agents. In every state, they run on a party or independent-candidate slate; but no pledge in advance to any party, to any candidate, or to the voters binds the electors after their slate has carried the state. They could even vote for someone who had not run in the November election — perhaps Gerald Ford.

The manipulation of electoral votes is as old as the history of the presidency — despite the Framers’ attempt to sequester the electors in separate state capitals, all voting on the same day. In the first four elections, electors made agreements to throw away votes to prevent the accidental election to the presidency of their vice-presidential choice. The failure of one Republican elector to do just that caused the crisis of 1800. In 1960, fourteen Democratic electors from Alabama and Mississippi and one Republican elector from Oklahoma cast their votes for Senator Harry F. Byrd of Virginia, who was not even a declared candidate for President. Democratic ballots in Alabama and Mississippi were “blind” — voters cast their votes only for parties, not for candidates. If the electoral count between Kennedy and Nixon had been closer, the Byrd electors could have negotiated their support for concessions on civil rights. Or they could have forced the election into the House, where southern delegations could have tipped the election either way.

In 1968, George Wallace publicly offered to barter with his electoral support. Wallace’s electors pledged in writing to vote as he told them to. In a celebrated press conference on February 19, 1968, he named his price for delivering the presidency to someone else: the criminal indictment of anyone advocating Viet Cong victory; the elimination of the federal antipoverty program; cuts in foreign aid to any nation that refused to support the United States in Vietnam; a tough stand on law and order; the repeal of all civil rights legislation; the appointment of “differently oriented” judges to the Supreme Court; and a return to the states of all power over housing, school, and hospital integration, over reapportionment, and over congressional redistricting.

As the campaign wore on, Nixon told reporters he was sure that neither he nor Hubert Humphrey would ever make a deal with Wallace. Humphrey, whose famous speech on civil rights at the 1948 Democratic convention had provoked Wallace and the Alabama delegation to walk out of that convention, insisted that he would never bargain with Wallace, saying: “If there’s any office in this country that ought to be above any kind of deal with Mr. Wallace … it’s the presidency. I’m a no-deal man.” On October 14, 1968, Humphrey’s campaign manager, Lawrence O’Brien, suggested that “secret negotiations” had already begun between Nixon and Wallace. Two days later, it was reported that emissaries of Nixon and Wallace were negotiating in New York — and that Nixon campaign manager John Mitchell was pushing the strategy. But because Nixon won decisively in the Electoral College, he never had to pay Wallace for the presidency.

In 1980, it seems unlikely that John Anderson would or could barter his independent electors to the highest bidder. But there are other possibilities. The Anderson electors could vote to put another candidate over the top rather than let the election go to the House. Indeed, they could seek a deal with at least a tint of statesmanship. They could offer to spare the nation a House election by trading votes for President in return for all of the Democratic votes for Vice President: the bargain could result in a Carter-Anderson administration. Or the Anderson electors could move the contest into the House, but with a new choice altogether. Anderson’s Massachusetts electors, for example, could vote for Edward M. Kennedy and put him in third place and the House runoff — even though he had not been a candidate in November.

Electors for any candidate could shift to prevent a deadlock as the deadline draws near. Because television admits all of them into a single, electronic Electoral College that the Framers never foresaw, electors on the West Coast have at least three hours on December 15 to decide whether to shift any of their ballots after all the electoral votes of the industrial Northeast have been cast in nominal secrecy — but almost certainly deciphered and broadcast within minutes by the media. Thomas Jefferson once argued that if the Electoral College did not reach a majority decision on the first attempt, it should be given a second try. In effect, television could give midwestern and western electors that chance — with plenty of advice on how to use it. Although few electors have been faithless in the past, few elections have been close enough in electoral votes to tempt electors to bolt.

The turbulent politics of 1980, which inspired cries for an “open” Democratic convention where delegates could vote their conscience, could lead finally to an “open” Electoral College where electors would abandon their pledges out of a higher fidelity to the national interest — or from less lofty motives. How many would resist the lure? By the time the electors meet in their state capitals in December 1980, more than a month after the November election, an uncertain America could be ready and enough electors could be willing to have an open Electoral College.

Either by betraying their trust or by keeping it, the electors may deny any candidate a majority, and the House of Representatives would ballot for a President for the third time in 180 years.

Continued…(The online version of this story appears in two parts. Click here to go to part two.)


Copyright © 1980 by Laurence H. Tribe and Thomas M. Rollins. All rights reserved. The Atlantic Monthly; October 1980; Deadlock: What Happens If Nobody Wins ; Volume 246, No. 4; page 49-62. 

FACT CHECKING

 

Custodial Repentance

GOP presidential candidate Marco Rubio did not say rape victims belong in custody if it’s suspected they’re considering abortions.

rubio abortion custody

CLAIM: Marco Rubio said rape victims should be taken into custody and held if it’s suspected they’re considering abortions.

FALSE

EXAMPLE:[Collected via e-mail and Twitter, November 2015]

Did Rubio really say “Rape Victims Should Be In Custody If There Is Suspicion That They’re Planning Abortion”

ORIGINS: On 8 November 2015 the web site Newslo published an article titled “Rubio: ‘Rape Victims Should Be in Custody If There Is Suspicion That They’re Planning Abortion,'” claiming that Florida senator and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio said during a town hall event at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire that:

“I believe it is outrageous that Hillary Clinton supports partial-birth abortion, which is a gruesome process that’s been outlawed in the United States, but she supports it as a process that should be legal,” Rubio asserted.

Taking another question from the audience, Rubio also took the opportunity to discuss rape victims by revealing he would “put rape victims into custody and under strict supervision if it is determined that they are planning to have an abortion.”

“I’m just totally against the whole shebang, I won’t deny it,” Rubio said. “I am appalled by how insensitive and self-centered rape victims can sometimes be. I mean, sure, okay, you were just violated in the most intimate way, and sure, you had to undergo a detailed physical examination afterwards, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to kill an innocent baby regardless of what it’s [sic] father has done to you, come on.”

While it’s true Rubio said he believed it was “outrageous that Hillary Clinton supports partial-birth abortion,” the “put rape victims into custody and under strict supervision if it is determined that they are planning to have an abortion” portion of the quote was fabricated (as Newslo itself indicated). Articles on the self-described Newslo “hybrid” news site Newslo (and related sites such as Religionlo) build upon controversial news items with embellished elements to generate outrage-based traffic.

Articles on Newslo (and its companion sites) include an interactive feature allowing readers to “Show Facts” or “Hide Facts,” distinguishing between real news items and the fake embellishments added to them:

 

Articles published by Newslo default to the “Hide Facts” option, leaving most visitors unaware of embellishments included alongside otherwise accurate information. In addition to the site’s “Show Facts/Hide Facts” feature, Newslo‘s disclaimer explains that:

Newslo is the first hybrid News/Satire platform on the web. Readers come to us for a unique brand of entertainment and information that is enhanced by features like our fact-button, which allows readers to find what is fact and what is satire.

FORSKOLIN: ESSENTIAL FOR HEALTH?

botanical herbs

 

ANCIENT REMEDY FOR WEIGHT LOSS, HEART HEALTH, BLOOD PRESSURE REGULATION, AND SPORTS SUPPLEMENT

Coleus ForskohliiColeus Forskohlii Herb Extract is drived from roots from Coleus Forskohlii. Coleus is used in India folk medicines and is a traditional digestive remedy. Currently the plant is extensively cultivated is Southern India. Forskohlii helps to lower blood pressure, dilates the blood vessels. It is concerted to be a good Heart tonic.

This “power” herb has an active ingredient in it called forskolin. It has been used in ayruvedic medicine for many years. Forskolin’s basic mechanism of action is that it increases the amount of cyclic AMP (adenosine monophosphate) in cells by activating an enzyme called adenylate cyclase. Cyclic AMP (cAMP) is one of the most important secondary messengers in the cell. It is considered to be one of the most important cell regulating compounds.

Under normal circumstances, cAMP forms by adenylate cyclase activation due to hormonal stimulation at the cell receptor site. However, forskolin seems to bypass this reaction and allows for an increase in intracellular cAMP to occur. Why is it important to increase cAMP levels? Well, there are several benefits of this to athletes including relaxation of the arteries and smooth muscles, lowering blood pressure, enhanced insulin secretion (which can help drive carbohydrates and protein into muscle cells for energy and recovery), increased thyroid hormone function (which can help enhance metabolic rate), and significantly increase lipolysis (fat burning). Forskolin also seems to benefit other cellular enzymes as well.

The breakdown of fat for fuel (lipolysis) is actually regulated by cAMP. Forskolin has been shown to not only enhance lipolysis but it may also inhibit fat storage from occurring. This is very good news for individuals trying to lose bodyfat and get lean. Another way that forskolin may allow for fat loss to occur is by stimulating thyroid hormone production and release. Thyroid hormone controls metabolism and can enhance metabolic rate, which may translate into more fat loss.

One of the overlooked benefits of forskolin includes its stimulation of digestive enzymes, which can allow individuals to digest and assimilate their food better. It has been shown to increase nutrient absorption in the small intestine.

Forskolin has been shown to be safe and effective and has a great amount of potential as a sports supplement. As with most dietary supplements, more human research is needed but the future looks bright for this compound.

The Garrison Keillor You Never Knew

By CARA BUCKLEY  (JUNE 16, 2016)

0619KEILLORCOVER1-blog427

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/19/arts/the-garrison-keillor-you-never-knew.html?_r=0
ST. PAUL, MINN. — Garrison Keillor was riding shotgun in a rented Chevy, motoring east through the steamy Midwestern heat.

His linen suit was appropriately rumpled — everything about this public radio legend suggests disregard for crisp lines — and his gangly legs were jacked up against the glove box, as he resisted suggestions to slide his seat back. Hitching a ride with a reporter from Minneapolis to his home here, he filled the yawning silences with a weird little singsong, “bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp.”

He had just spent hours rehearsing for the following night, May 21, when he hosted “A Prairie Home Companion,” at the State Theater in Minneapolis, before a packed, adoring crowd for the last time.

After more than four decades of hosting this homespun Americana musical variety program, which he created and which, in turn, created him, Mr. Keillor is retiring. He has done this before, in 1987, though that retirement ended up being a sabbatical. In 2011, there were rumors — baseless, Mr. Keillor’s people said — that he was thinking of abandoning ship then, too.

But this time, Mr. Keillor, 73, said he means it. He has named a successor and lined up meaty post-“Prairie” projects, among them columns for The Washington Post, a screenplay and a book. While he has a solo tour planned through the year, along with a “Prairie”-esque Labor Day weekend show at the Minnesota State Fair, he will host his final official “Prairie Home Companion” on July 1 at, of all places, the Hollywood Bowl.

“It’s very much real, and it’s simply a matter of wanting to rearrange one’s life,” Mr. Keillor said after we had arrived at his large, handsome Georgian house, and he had eased his stooping 6-foot-4 frame into a porch chair. “In order to do these things, I’ve got to clear out the big buffalo in the room, which is the show.”

At his home, Mr. Keillor looms, a melancholy presence, and doesn’t make much eye contact, keeping his bespectacled eyes averted under scraggly eyebrows. Rather than savor the conversation, he seems to cordially endure it. His mellifluous voice, likened to a down comforter or “a slow drip of Midwestern molasses,” feels warmly familiar to any public radio listener who has heard him sing “Tishomingo Blues,” which opens his show each Saturday evening.

Yet as familiar and cherished as “Prairie” has become to millions, it was always about Mr. Keillor’s fascinations, rather than the inner tickings of its host.

“It was never about self expression, never,” Mr. Keillor said.

Everything about “Prairie Home” — the Guy Noir and Lives of the Cowboys sketches, the spots for Powdermilk Biscuits and the Ketchup Advisory Board, the monologues about the fictional Lake Wobegon — sprang from Mr. Keillor’s imagination. But the man spinning the plates at the center of it all managed to stay a mystery, even to people who know him well.

“Garrison in person is quite different,” said his longtime friend, the writer Mark Singer. “Garrison does not express emotion in interpersonal conversations the way the rest of us do.”

Performers often cultivate alternate personas, but with Mr. Keillor the difference is startling. That night, onstage in Minneapolis, he was garrulous and affable, and afterward ventured out onto the sidewalk to meet his hundreds-strong admirers, many of whom feel they know him intimately.
As fans flocked around him, Mr. Keillor graciously deflected questions, directing queries back to the scrum. This helps him gather story ideas but also serves as a bridge from his onstage personality to his default setting, the introverted, removed man who seems miles away, even when you’re sitting two feet from him on his porch, eating the jelly beans he has set out.
“His gaze is often floating and takes you in from a strange distance,” said the writer and editor Roger Angell, who in 1970 edited Mr. Keillor’s first piece for The New Yorker. “He is certainly the strangest person I know.”

There is debate about whether Mr. Keillor should have exited a while ago. His weekly radio audience peaked 10 years ago, at 4.1 million, and has since dropped to 3.2 million. While that does not include listeners on Sirius XM, or the show’s three million monthly digital requests, many stations have dropped their Sunday repeat broadcast of his show.

“Prairie Home” captured a time, before tweets and Facebook posts, when people talked more over fence posts and pots of coffee but nowadays feels increasingly removed from many listeners’ lives.

“A lot of the conversation has been: ‘Did Garrison wait too long? Should Garrison have done this years ago?’” said Eric Nuzum, former vice president for programming at NPR. “The problem of ‘Prairie Home Companion’ is it’s part of public radio’s past, not their future,” Mr. Nuzum said. (American Public Media distributes “Prairie Home”; NPR member stations air programs from APM as well as from other distributors.)

Still, Mr. Keillor played an outsize role in shaping what public radio has become.

He was a pioneering force and taught public radio valuable lessons, Mr. Nuzum said. The live performances and touring built audiences and kept them connected and deeply loyal. That proved lucrative, as did sales of “Prairie Home Companion” recordings, books, clothes and tchotchkes. Mr. Keillor also became one of public radio’s earliest celebrities, appearing on the cover of Time in 1985.

The show itself, with its singing, quirky sidekicks, stealthily dark humor and fart jokes, forged a new path.
“‘Prairie Home Companion’ came on the scene just as public radio was trying to figure out what its identity was,” said Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life.” “The fact that here was such a visibly weird, funny, idiosyncratic show opened up the space of other weird, idiosyncratic shows, like ‘Car Talk,’ and our show.”
Adored as he has been by millions, Mr. Keillor drove a few critics around the bend.

Detractors view “Prairie Home” as excruciatingly hokey, syrupy and dull. In a 1993 episode of “The Simpsons,” Homer bangs on the television — the Disney Channel broadcast the show in the late ’80s — hollering, “Be more funny!” In a withering review of Robert Altman’s 2006 film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” Rex Reed called Mr. Keillor “a myopic doughboy” and his program “a lumbering, affected and pointless audio curiosity.”

Yet Mr. Glass believes that many people mistake “Prairie Home” for quaint, homespun nostalgia, even though the tales from Lake Wobegon are, as often as not, richly emotional, contemporary and quite dark.

In recent monologues, Mr. Keillor has lambasted the gun lobby, told of people’s relatives being buried alive and mentioned a would-be suicidal woman left bald after she accidentally set her hair on fire in her gas oven, a presumably fictitious anecdote that is trademark Keillor: equal parts alarming, heartbreaking and funny.

“Like Howard Stern, Garrison Keillor created a packaging that nonlisteners took as real,” Mr. Glass said. “And the actual show is so much more complex, and human and complicated than nonlisteners think it is.”

Mr. Keillor has had health concerns, suffering a stroke in 2009, and, less than a week after the Minneapolis show, a seizure. But he insists it’s his other projects that compelled him to step away. After July, he will continue to have a small radio foothold, hosting “The Writer’s Almanac,” a stand-alone five-minute radio program he started in the early ’90s. And “Prairie Home” reruns will continue to air. Jon McTaggart, chief executive of American Public Media Group, the parent of American Public Media, said that as much as “Prairie Home” contributed financially, he has faith in the allure of the new version of the show and that “this transition has been planned for a while.”

Still, the future of “Prairie Home Companion,” and public radio, without Mr. Keillor remains somewhat of an open question.

Mr. Keillor’s handpicked successor, the folk musician Chris Thile, 35, who first performed on the show as a teenager, cheerfully admitted in an interview that it could all go down the drain if audiences reject him after he begins hosting on Oct. 15. Details are still being hammered out, but Mr. Thile plans to do musical numbers and comedy bits. There will be no Lake Wobegon.
“Public radio always wondered what it was going to do when Garrison leaves,” Mr. Nuzum said. “It’s about to find out.”

For all his radio fame, Mr. Keillor has always seen himself first as a writer, though that legacy was largely overshadowed by the success of “Prairie Home.”

Stripped of the sentimental trappings of the show, which he writes almost entirely by himself, Mr. Keillor’s words leap off the page and bite. In an excoriating book review in The New York Times, he called Bernard-Henri Lévy “a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore.” Thrice wed — he and his third wife, Jenny Lind Nilsson, a violinist, have a daughter, Maia, who just graduated from high school — he once described marriage as “the deathbed of romance.”

Throughout his career, Mr. Keillor penned columns, stories and books. He wrote regularly for The New Yorker, where he had a desk, until Tina Brown’s arrival as editor in 1992. “The day I heard that she would replace Bob Gottlieb, I packed up my stuff in a couple cardboard boxes and left in a cab and have not looked back,” he said in an email. But it was radio, his Plan B, that came to define his life.

Born in 1942 in Anoka, Minn., Mr. Keillor grew up the third of six children. His family was Plymouth Brethren, a fundamentalist Christian sect that forbade dancing and going to the movies. But Mr. Keillor’s youngest sister, Linda Keillor Berg, said theirs was a happy home, where family members routinely gathered to sing hymns.

“Becoming a star of any kind wasn’t an ambition our parents seeded in any of us,” Ms. Keillor Berg said, but Mr. Keillor could not be contained. In junior high, rather than signing poems with his given name, Gary, he began using the more regal sounding Garrison. It stuck. He went on to write for the local paper, majored in English at the University of Minnesota, and in 1969 took a job at a radio station as a classical music announcer.

There, he began breaking from convention, interspersing Mozart overtures with songs by the Beach Boys and Grateful Dead. One morning, he aired a live predawn show featuring a cowboy singer and a performer who made wine glasses sing. He later asked his boss, Bill Kling, who founded Minnesota Public Radio and also started American Public Media, to weigh in. “I said I thought it was awful, that it was one of the worst ways to wake up I had ever remembered,” Mr. Kling said. “He said, ‘Well, you know, it’s a beginning.’”
Mr. Keillor’s big break came when his short, slyly racy short story about local parents hiring a live-in prostitute for their teenage son fell into the hands of Mr. Angell at The New Yorker. “I thought it was brilliant,” Mr. Angell said. “The nearest thing to E. B. White that had come along.”

It was Mr. Keillor’s wildest dream come true. But it also made him miserable.

“Writing for the magazine put me in thrall to their reputation, to their style, to having fathers who were more talented than yourself,” said Mr. Keillor who, at that time, was supporting his first wife and their son, Jason. He recalled sitting frozen at his typewriter in his bedroom in Minnesota, wondering, “How do you measure up to the gods?”

In 1974, The New Yorker gave him what would turn out to be a pivotal assignment, covering the Grand Ole Opry’s final show at the Ryman Auditorium before its move to Opryland. Mr. Keillor was struck by the musicians’ rapport, by Minnie Pearl’s wry humor. He soon called Mr. Kling, telling him this was the kind of show they had to do back home.

Scant months later, the first “Prairie Home Companion” was performed live in St. Paul before an audience of 12. Mr. Keillor’s New Yorker colleagues were astonished, wondering how this painfully shy man could possibly host a radio show, let alone divert his energies from a burgeoning literary career. But Mr. Keillor adored the socializing, the camaraderie and the musicians’ gregariousness and generosity.

“With radio, I owned it. I owned it. Nobody else was doing this,” Mr. Keillor said. “You find yourself on new ground, and you are so free. You are so free.”

Onstage, a new side of Mr. Keillor shone; looser, less aloof, at times even jolly. Margaret Moos Pick, Mr. Keillor’s early producer and former longtime girlfriend, said his Lake Wobegon monologues put him into something like a state of hypnosis. In them, he could lose himself.

“I don’t think he’s necessarily a happy man,” Mr. Angell said, “But the time he is happy is when he is doing his monologue.”
As audiences embraced the show, more stations picked it up, and it began broadcasting nationally in 1980. Mr. Singer, a friend from The New Yorker, said the show appealed to baby boomers and felt like a counterweight to the Reagan era, when images of American life suddenly felt scripted and controlled. “It was an antidote to all that,” Mr. Singer said. “There was just a deeply wonderful feeling that this was speaking to many of us.”

Curiously, Mr. Keillor has always found it difficult spending so much time with the strong, good-looking, above average people of Lake Wobegon, which he based on his relatives, past and present.

In “The Keillor Reader” (2014), he complained bitterly about “their industriousness, their infernal humility, their schoolmarmish sincerity, their earnest interest in you, their clichés falling like clockwork — it can be tiring to be around.”

Speaking on his porch, Mr. Keillor said of Lake Wobegonians, i.e., his relatives, “I am frustrated by them in real life.” They were too controlled by good manners, he said, and “have a very hard time breaking through.”

So why devote so much of his professional life ruminating about them? “It’s the people I think I know,” he replied.

Will he miss them, and the weekly jolt of the show?

“No,” he replied. “No.”

And yet. It was gloriously warm and sunny in Minneapolis for his last show there. In the State Theater, the audience — nearly all white and middle-aged or older, the very Midwesterners Mr. Keillor has such a fraught yet close connection with — packed the auditorium.

After his show drew to a close, Mr. Keillor stayed onstage and began leading the audience in song, keeping them singing and swaying for perhaps half an hour. Then he stepped offstage and swept through the wings, heading toward the lobby, where he would greet his people like a preacher. He stood for photographs with fans for nearly two hours.

As he passed by backstage, striding purposefully, he glanced at me, registered no recognition, and continued on, muttering, “bomp, bomp, bomp, bomp.”


A version of this article appears in print on June 19, 2016, on page AR1 of the New York edition with the headline: The Garrison Keillor You Never Knew.

CELL PHONES AND CANCER

Making Sense of the New Reports on Cell Phones and Cancer

You may have read the headlines about a new study linking cellphone radiation to cancer.

What does this mean for your health?

Researchers at the National Toxicology Program found an increase in tumors among rats exposed to radio-frequency radiation similar to that emitted by cell phones, compared to a control group of unexposed rats. These findings are significant on their own, but to truly understand what they mean the NTP research has to be viewed in context of other research on this issue.

In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, said that radio-frequency radiation emitted by cell phones might be carcinogenic, based on some studies that found links to tumors in the brain and inner ear. This was a contentious determination because results from human studies have been inconsistent.

The strongest evidence for carcinogenicity came from case-control studies, which could have critical limitations. These studies compare the exposures of people who already have a disease to people without disease. People with brain tumors, however, may not accurately recount how much they used their cell phones. If they blame their cell phone use for causing their cancers, they may subconsciously exaggerate the hours spent on their mobiles. The subjective nature of human memory can bias study results.

Here is why the NTP study is so important. Some rats exposed to cell phone radiation developed gliomas and schwannomas– the same types of tumors observed in human case-control studies. Since rats don’t succumb to recall bias, the higher number of tumors among radiation-exposed rats is powerful evidence to support the associations observed among humans.

Should you be concerned? Yes, but there are a lot of points you need to consider before freaking out.

Biological findings in rats are relevant to human health, but rats and humans don’t have identical physiologies. The NTP story also left some questions unanswered: Why did only male rats develop more tumors? Why did the rats in the control group have shorter lifespans than the irradiated rats?

In any case, gliomas and schwannomas are quite rare among people and would remain so, even with modest increases in risk from cell phones.

Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, once remarked, “It is scientific only to say what is more likely and less likely.”

Considering the NTP findings alongside other research, it is more likely than not that cell phones could cause harm. And since it is so easy to reduce an individual’s radiation exposure, it makes sense to take precautions. If you’re worried about exposure to radiation, click here to learn more about your cell phone case.

The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-06-13/we-ve-almost-reached-peak-fossil-fuels-for-electricity?utm_medium=email&utm_source=digg

-1x-1

The way we get electricity is about to change dramatically, as the era of ever-expanding demand for fossil fuels comes to an end—in less than a decade. That’s according to a new forecast by Bloomberg New Energy Finance that plots out global power markets for the next 25 years.

Call it peak fossil fuels, a turnabout that’s happening not because we’re running out of coal and gas, but because we’re finding cheaper alternatives. Demand is peaking ahead of schedule because electric cars and affordable battery storage for renewable power are arriving faster than expected, as are changes in China’s energy mix.

Here are eight massive shifts coming soon to power markets.

1. There Will Be No Golden Age of Gas

Since 2008, the single most important force in U.S. power markets has been the abundance of cheap natural gas brought about by fracking. Cheap gas has ravaged the U.S. coal industry and inspired talk of a “bridge fuel” that moves the world from coal to renewable energy. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.

The costs of wind and solar power are falling too quickly for gas ever to dominate on a global scale, according to BNEF. The analysts reduced their long-term forecasts for coal and natural gas prices by a third for this year’s report, but even rock-bottom prices won’t be enough to derail a rapid global transition toward renewable energy.

“You can’t fight the future,” said Seb Henbest, the report’s lead author. “The economics are increasingly locked in.” The peak year for coal, gas, and oil: 2025.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

2. Renewables Attract $7.8 Trillion

Humanity’s demand for electricity is still rising, and investments in fossil fuels will add up to $2.1 trillion through 2040. But that will be dwarfed by $7.8 trillion invested in renewables, including $3.4 trillion for solar, $3.1 trillion for wind, and $911 billion for hydro power.

Already, in many regions, the lifetime cost of wind and solar is less than the cost of building new fossil fuel plants, and that trend will continue. But by 2027, something remarkable happens. At that point, building new wind farms and solar fields will often be cheaper than running the existing coal and gas generators. “This is a tipping point that results in rapid and widespread renewables development,” according to BNEF.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

The pink stuff on the top of this chart is new this year. It represents flexible capacity—technology, primarily large batteries for the home and grid, that smooths out the peaks and valleys inherent in wind and solar power. By 2028, batteries will be as ubiquitous as rooftop solar is today.

3. Electric Cars Rescue Power Markets

In this discussion of peak fossil fuels, the focus is on electricity generation, not transportation fuels. For cars, peak oil demand will take a bit more time. But the sudden rise of electric cars is on the verge of disrupting oil markets as well, and that has profound implications for electricity markets as more cars plug in.

In fact, electric cars couldn’t come at a better time for developed economies. Take Germany, where increases in efficiency mean that without electric cars, demand for electricity would be headed toward a prolonged and destabilizing decline. Electric vehicles will reverse that trend, according to BNEF.

The charts below show the soaring demand for battery capacity for cars and the difference that EVs will make to power demand worldwide. The adoption of electric cars will vary by country and continent, but overall they’ll add 8 percent to humanity’s total electricity use by 2040, BNEF found.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

4. Batteries Join the Grid

Renewable energy and electric cars create a virtuous cycle of demand growth. Unlike fossil fuels—where a surge of demand leads to higher prices—with new energy technologies more demand begets more scale, and that drives prices lower.

The scale-up of electric cars increases demand for renewable energy and drives down the cost of batteries. And as those costs fall, batteries can increasingly be used to store solar power.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

5. Solar and Wind Prices Plummet

The chart below is arguably the most important chart in energy markets. It describes a pattern so consistent, and so powerful, that industries set their clocks by it. It’s the beautiful math of declining solar costs.

The chart is on a logarithmic scale, so the declines are even more profound than at first glance. For every doubling in the world’s solar panels, costs fall by 26 percent, a number known as solar’s “learning rate.” Solar is a technology, not a fuel, and as such it gets cheaper and more efficient over time. This is the formula that’s driving the energy revolution.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Wind-power prices are also falling fast—19 percent for every doubling. Wind and solar will be the cheapest forms of producing electricity in most of the world by the 2030s, according to BNEF.

6. Capacity Factors Go Wild

One of the fast-moving stories in renewable energy is the shift in what’s known as the capacity factor. That’s the percentage of a power plant’s maximum potential that’s actually achieved over time.

Consider a wind farm. Even at high altitudes, the wind isn’t consistent and varies in strength with the time of day, weather, and the seasons. So a project that can crank out 100 megawatt hours of electricity during the windiest times might produce just 30 percent of that when averaged out over a year. That gives it a 30 percent capacity factor.

As technologies continue to improve and as project designers get smarter about their placement, the capacity factors of renewables are increasing. Here’s a watercolor plot of wind power capacity factors over time. Some wind farms in Texas are now achieving capacity factors of 50 percent, according to BNEF.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

Improving capacity factors make renewables more attractive. But capacity factors of gas and coal plants are also changing. Once a solar or wind project is built, the marginal cost of the electricity it produces is pretty much zero—free electricity—while coal and gas plants require more fuel for every new watt produced. If you’re a power company with a choice, you choose the free stuff every time.

As natural gas and coal plants are increasingly idled in favor of renewables, their capacity factors will take a big hit, and lifetime cost of those plants goes up. Think of them as the expensive back-up power for cheap renewables.

7. A New Polluter to Worry About

China, the biggest and fastest-growing polluter, became a major global environmental concern over the past few decades. But that perception is changing fast. China’s evolving economy and its massive shift from coal to renewables mean it will have the greatest reduction in carbon emissions of any country in the next 25 years, according to BNEF. That’s good news for the climate and is a significant change for the global energy outlook.

But that leaves India, which is emerging as the biggest threat to efforts to curb climate change. India’s electricity demand is expected to increase fourfold by 2040, and the country will need to invest in a variety of energy sources to meet this overwhelming new demand. India has hundreds of millions of people with little or no access to electricity, and the country sits atop a mountain of coal. It intends to use it.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

8. The Transformation Continues

BNEF’s outlook for carbon dioxide emissions has improved significantly over the past year, in spite of cheap fossil fuel prices. The shift to renewables is happening shockingly fast—but not fast enough to prevent perilous levels of global warming.

Without additional policy action by governments, global carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector will peak in the 2020s and remain relatively flat for the the foreseeable future. That’s not enough to prevent the surface of the Earth from heating more than 2 degrees Celsius, according to BNEF. That’s considered the point of no return for some of the worst consequences of climate change.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance

BNEF’s report focuses on fundamental economics: price, demand, supply. It includes climate-related policies that have already been set into action but doesn’t make any guesses for new policies beyond those. It also doesn’t include any jumps in technology that aren’t clearly already under way.

That could be heartening for people concerned about climate change, because if there’s one thing that energy markets have shown in the past decade, it’s that there will be more surprises to come.

TURNNG CO2 EMISSIONS INTO STONE

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/10/science/carbon-capture-and-sequestration-iceland.html?utm_medium=email&utm_source=digg&_r=0

10CARBON-web-SUB-master768
For years, scientists and others concerned about climate change have been talking about the need for carbon capture and sequestration.

That is the term for removing carbon dioxide from, say, a coal-burning power plant’s smokestack and pumping it deep underground to keep it out of the atmosphere, where it would otherwise contribute to global warming.

C.C.S., as the process is known, has had a spotty record so far. While there are some projects being designed or under construction, only one power plant, in Canada, currently captures and stores carbon on a commercial scale (and it has been having problems). Keeping a lot of CO2 out of the atmosphere would require a costly expansion of the technology to many more power plants and other industrial facilities.

Among the concerns about sequestration is that carbon dioxide in gaseous or liquid form that is pumped underground might escape back to the atmosphere. So storage sites would have to be monitored, potentially for decades or centuries.

But scientists at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University and other institutions have come up with a different way to store CO2 that might eliminate that problem. Their approach involves dissolving the gas with water and pumping the resulting mixture — soda water, essentially — down into certain kinds of rocks, where the CO2 reacts with the rock to form a mineral called calcite. By turning the gas into stone, scientists can lock it away permanently.

One key to the approach is to find the right kind of rocks. Volcanic rocks called basalts are excellent for this process, because they are rich in calcium, magnesium and iron, which react with CO2.

Iceland is practically all basalt, so for several years the researchers and an Icelandic utility have been testing the technology on the island. The project, called CarbFix, uses carbon dioxide that bubbles up naturally with the hot magma that powers a geothermal electrical generating plant 15 miles east of the capital, Reykjavik (Read more about it here).

In 2012, they pumped about 250 tons of carbon dioxide, mixed with water, about 1,500 feet down into porous basalt. The CO2 was laced with a radioactive isotope and there were other compounds in the water that helped the researchers trace its spread into the rock.

Early signs were encouraging: Among other things, a submerged pump that was used to obtain samples of the mixture as it spread underground stopped working after a while because it got gummed up by calcite. And now the scientists have reported more authoritative evidence that their technology works, in a paper published in the journal Science.

The scientists found that about 95 percent of the carbon dioxide was converted into calcite. And even more important, they wrote, the conversion happened relatively quickly — in less than two years.

“It’s beyond all our expectations,” said Edda Aradottir, who manages the project for the utility, Reykjavik Energy.

Rapid conversion of the CO2 means that a project would probably have to be monitored for a far shorter time than a more conventional sequestration site.

WHEN DID WE START SEEING THE COLOR BLUE?

http://www.sciencealert.com/humans-couldn-t-even-see-the-colour-blue-until-modern-times-research-suggests

8847475262_d1460b702c_k_web_1024

by FIONA MACDONALD, 4 MAR 2015

Humans didn’t even see the colour blue until modern times, research suggests

 

Earlier this year, we all had our minds torn apart by a dress that was clearly blue and black to some people, and 100 percent white and gold to others. But what’s more mind-blowing is that there’s actually evidence that, until modern times, humans didn’t see the colour blue at all.

In a fascinating feature over at Business Insider, Kevin Loria breaks down the evidence behind the claim, which dates all the way back to the 1800s, when scholar William Gladstone, who later went on to be the Prime Minister of Great Britain, noticed that, in the Odyssey, Homer describes the ocean as “wine-dark” and other strange hues, but he never uses the word ‘blue’.

A few years later, a philologist called Lazarus Geiger decided to follow up on this discovery, and analysed ancient Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts, to find no mention of the word blue. And, when you think about it, why would they need one? Other than the sky, there isn’t really much in nature that is inherently a vibrant blue.

In fact, the first society to have a word for the colour blue was the Egyptians, the only culture that could produce blue dyes. From then, it seems that awareness of the colour spread throughout the modern world.
But just because there was no word for blue, does that mean our ancestors couldn’t see it?

A few years later, a philologist called Lazarus Geiger decided to follow up on this discovery, and analysed ancient Icelandic, Hindu, Chinese, Arabic and Hebrew texts, to find no mention of the word blue. And, when you think about it, why would they need one? Other than the sky, there isn’t really much in nature that is inherently a vibrant blue.

In fact, the first society to have a word for the colour blue was the Egyptians, the only culture that could produce blue dyes. From then, it seems that awareness of the colour spread throughout the modern world.

But just because there was no word for blue, does that mean our ancestors couldn’t see it?

There have been various studies conducted to try to work this out, which you can read more about in Loria’s feature, but one of the most compelling was conducted by Jules Davidoff, a psychologist from Goldsmiths University of London, who worked with the Himba tribe from Namibia. In their language, there is no word for blue and no real distinction between green and blue.

To test whether that meant they couldn’t actually see blue, he showed them a circle with 11 green squares and one painfully obvious blue square. Well, obvious to us, at least, as you can see below. But the Himba tribe struggled to tell Davidoff which of the squares was a different colour to the others. Those who did hazard a guess at which square was different took a long time to get the right answer, and there were a lot of mistakes.

blue
Business Insider

But, interestingly, the Himba have lots more words for green than we do. So to reverse the experiment, Davidoff showed English speakers this same circle experiment with 11 squares of one shade of green, and then one odd square of a different shade. As you can see below, it’s pretty tough for us to distinguish which square is different. In fact, I really just can’t see any differences at all.
Green1

The Himba tribe, on the other hand, could spot the odd square out straight away. FYI, it’s this one:

GreyGreen
Business Insider

Another study by MIT scientists in 2007 showed that native Russian speakers, who don’t have one single word for blue, but instead have a word for light blue (goluboy) and dark blue (siniy), can discriminate between light and dark shades of blue much faster than English speakers.
This all suggests that, until they had a word from it, it’s likely that our ancestors didn’t see blue at all. Or, more accurately, they probably saw it as we do now, but they never really noticed it. And that’s pretty cool.