July 19, 2023


The Seneca Falls Convention began 175 years ago today, launching the women's suffrage movement.

In today's report: Independent bookstores have been threatened by one force or another for decades — big chains, Amazon, e-books, the COVID pandemic — and yet they are improbably healthy. We hear perspectives on what bookstores mean to a community from two of Knoxville's independent outlets: the long-established Union Ave Books and the brand-new Fable Hollow Coffee & Bookshoppe.

Tennessee in the news, part 1: In a new article for The Atlantic that — if you're like us — everyone you know has probably already forwarded to you, writer Anne Applebaum poses a salient question: "Is Tennessee a Democracy?"

Applebaum is best known as a foreign policy writer and has spent much of recent years focused on the growth of authoritarianism and one-party rule in endangered democracies like Hungary and Poland. Her interest in Tennessee was piqued by the hubbub around the "Tennessee Three" and the state Legislature's steadfast refusal to consider Gov. Bill Lee's calls for gun safety measures despite what appears to be widespread popular demand.

Applebaum conducts a tour of political hotspots, including Sumner County — where a newly elected slate of "Constitutional Republican" county commissioners is in charge — as well as Williamson County and Nashville. She talks to Republicans and Democrats — including Knoxville state Rep. Gloria Johnson — and comes to the conclusion that while democracy is healthier here than in Viktor Orbán's Hungary, it is troubled.

In particular, she notes the increasingly apocalyptic tone of the state's ruling party. It's a framing that leaves little room for recognition of the political legitimacy of any contrary views.

"The language itself wouldn’t be unusual, if this were a radical minority fighting for its very existence," Applebaum concludes. "But this is the Republican Party, the party that controls pretty much everything in Tennessee. They are going to win the next election, and probably the one after that. Yet they sound as if winning isn’t enough: They also want their opponents to fall silent, and they are doing what they can to make that happen."


Tennessee in the news, part 2: The New Yorker also takes a detailed look at the Volunteer State this week, in writer Emily Nussbaum's inquiry into political, cultural and racial divides in country music.

Nussbaum examines the gulf between the mainstream "bro-country" epitomized by Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan, and the diverse performers clustered under the "Americana" umbrella — including Knoxville's Adeem the Artist.

Adeem — who told Compass earlier this year that they were considering a move away from East Tennessee — tells Nussbaum of plans to relocate their family to Pittsburgh.

Although Nussbaum's focus is different from Applebaum's, both note the outside conservative forces that have found a home and a receptive audience in Tennessee in recent years, including firebrand Ben Shapiro's relocation of his Daily Wire media operation to Middle Tennessee.

"This crew, along with other alt-right figures — the commentator Tomi Lahren, executives at the social network Parler — joined forces with MAGA-friendly country stars, such as Kid Rock and Jason Aldean, who owned clubs on Broadway," Nussbaum writes.

The article also includes discussion of another East Tennessean, Sneedville native and Gibbs High School graduate Morgan Wallen. Nussbaum recounts the country superstar's racism scandal, when he was caught on video using the n-word while carousing with a group of friends. Wallen's music was removed from streaming platforms, and he felt compelled to release an apology video.

The cancellation was short-lived. Wallen is now more popular than ever and currently has the number one single and number two album on the Billboard charts. (The single is admittedly pretty catchy.)

During her visit to Nashville, Nussbaum writes, "When I asked an Uber driver, a woman in her sixties with a scraped-back ponytail, what music she liked, she said, 'Morgan Wallen, of course.' Asked what she thought about the scandal, she said, in a clipped voice, 'He come back up real quick. They didn’t get him for too long. He’s No. 1 again.' When she dropped me off, she added, sweetly, 'You have a blessed day, Emily.'"

Cameron Brooks, who is running for City Council At-Large Seat A this year, has secured the endorsement of Democratic state Rep. Gloria Johnson, his campaign announced Tuesday.

“I’m proud to support my friend Cameron Brooks for Knoxville City Council At Large Seat A,” Johnson said in the campaign's statement. “Cameron’s support of working families and our neighborhoods runs deep, and that kind of advocacy is exactly what we need on Council.”

Brooks said he has also garnered the endorsements of Democratic state Rep. Sam McKenzie, former City Council members Carlene Malone and Brenda Palmer, and school board member Jennifer Owen.

The endorsements of Johnson and McKenzie don’t come as a surprise — Brooks is a former Knox County Democratic Party chair and a former member of the party’s State Executive Committee.

Brooks is running against incumbent Council member Lynne Fugate and political newcomer Darin Worsham. Fugate has been endorsed by East Tennessee Realtors, even though Brooks is a Realtor. Knoxville Mayor Indya Kincannon has also endorsed her.

Early voting in the city primary begins Aug. 9. You can check out our profiles of the At-Large Seat A candidates here.


One doesn’t have to witness the melting of ice sheets in Greenland or Antarctica to see and feel the effects of global warming

Many locations in the Northern Hemisphere are in the grip of record heat waves. Water temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico have soared, approaching 100 degrees in the Florida Keys. The smoke from wildfires in Canada — which have consumed an area roughly the size of Kentucky — has pushed local air quality to harmful levels. According to scientists, climate change has made wildfires more common and more intense.

The accuracy of today’s weather forecast (a high of 84 degrees with thunderstorms in Knoxville, but a searing 117 degrees in Phoenix) is easily determined, while long-range climate predictions (in a word, grim) take decades to play out. 

Predicting weather conditions next spring or a year from now hasn’t received much attention from the general public, but researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have trained their sights on near-term impacts.

The area of climate science known as subseasonal or seasonal prediction fills the gap between short-term forecast and long-term prognostications. Researchers say the field can help project where extreme weather can strike, forcing the dislocation of populations and the need for emergency aid.

Moetasim Ashfaq, a computational climatologist in ORNL’s Computational Earth Sciences Group, looks at how factors such as ocean temperatures and jet streams could affect weather in particular regions over the next several months.

“If we have a subseasonal understanding of processes shaping the Earth’s climate, then we can respond to extreme climate events much better than we have in the past,” he said in an ORNL news release.

The research is of particular interest to the military because of the critical need to plan missions in regions around the globe. The Air Force Weather program is funding the project.

The research’s simulations and analytical frameworks are run on both the AFW systems and the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility’s Summit supercomputer to ensure their accuracy and reliability. 

“The Air Force Weather Wing relies on real-time weather prediction to keep the United States and our service people safe,” said Kate Evans, director of the Computational Sciences and Engineering Division at ORNL.

Yeah, Jeff Bezos.