Slate asks a rhetorical question: How Would You Do at the National Spelling Bee?
Kevin Carey, in Too Weird for The Wire, deploys a well-timed run-on sentence to highlight the nuttiness of conspiracy theorist John Wales:
Soon, Posses were sprouting across the country, attracting veterans of the 1960s-era tax protest movement, Second Amendment absolutists, Christian Identity adherents, and ardent anti-communists who had abandoned the John Birch Society because they felt the organization wasn’t extreme enough. Local groups would meet to share literature, listen to tapes of Gale’s sermons, and discuss preparations for the approaching End Times. This extremist stew produced exotic amalgamations of paranoia, such as when Posse members would explain the need for local militias to stockpile weapons in order to defend white Christians from blacks in the coming race war sparked by the inevitable economic collapse caused by the income tax and a cabal of international Jewish bankers bent on global dominance through one world government, for Satan.
The paragraph appears 3,400 words into the article and is so out-of-place that you’re almost forced to stop midway through and start again from the top, except more slowly. Its sheer length highlights the absurdity of Wales’ ranting illogic, which is, of course, the point.
I’m a long-form journalism junkie and Kevin Kelly’s The Best Magazine Articles Ever is my dealer.
John H. Richardson crafted a fantastic profile of Newt Gingrich for the September issue of Esquire. It examines the contradictions between Gingrich’s public persona and private life, at times deliberate and idealistic and at others impulsive and craven.
I forwarded the story to Kelly with this description: Newt Gingrich, architect and arsonist. Perhaps too pithy, but to be honest, convincing people to read about Newt Gingrich is as hard as it sounds.
Borrowed from the UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Report, this map compares economic development levels across US-Mexico border counties.
—Janet Fitch, Jacket Copy
If you were shown an outline of the United States’ territory and asked to divide it into 50 distinct states, you might approach the question in any number of ways. Relative population parity might seem important. Or perhaps things like cultural heritage and contiguous metropolises and physical geography would drive your thinking.
But surely, no matter your criteria, would you draw a map that looks like this:
The accidents of history and the calculations of politicians have left us with a map that distorts everything from the election of presidents to the balance of political power in the Senate. This has been true to some degree ever since the Founding Fathers hatched the Connecticut Compromise (which was meant as just a short-term fix). Though equal representation took enormous steps forward with the passage of the 14th, 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments, the distortion caused by disproportionate state populations has only intensified.
The 1790 census reports that the biggest state in the original union, by population, was Massachusetts (with 378,787 people), while the smallest was Delaware (with 59,096). This is a 6.4 to 1 ratio.
These days, Texas’ population is 17 times as large as the combined populations of North Dakota and South Dakota (which, not incidentally, were themselves introduced as separate states specifically to give the region disproportionate political force). And California’s population is 69 times as large as Wyoming’s. (If the rest of the country had a senator for every 246,891 people, like Wyoming does, the United States would have 1,140 senators).
The Status Quo and Governability
James Fallows writes that this problem is made worse by “[t]he very recent practice of subjecting almost every Senate action to the threat of filibuster, which requires 60 votes to surmount… …means that in theory Senators representing only 12% of the U.S. population could block efforts that Senators representing the other 88% support.”
At least viewed strictly through the Democrat/Republican lens, things aren’t quite this dramatic:
“[Including new Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown]…the 41 Republicans in the Senate come from states representing just over 36.5 percent of the total US population. The 59 others (Democratic plus 2 Independent) represent just under 63.5 percent. (Taking 2009 state populations from here. If you count up the totals and split a state’s population when it has a spit delegation, you end up with about 112.3 million Republican, 194.7 million Democratic + Indep. Before Brown’s election, it was about 198 million Democratic + Ind, 109 million Republican.)
Let’s round the figures to 63/37 and apply them to the health care debate. Senators representing 63 percent of the public vote for the bill; those representing 37 percent vote against it. The bill fails.”
Unfortunately, health care is not the only important but politically toxic policy issue.
Moving Closer to “One Man, One Vote”
“In 2000, the Census Bureau determined the United States population to be 281,421,906, distributed in 50 states and one federal district. The states ranged in population from 493,782 to 33,871,648. This Electoral Reform Map redivides the territory of the United States into 50 bodies of equal size – 281,421,906 divided by 50 is 5,616,997. This map shows one possible way to redraw the fifty states.”
Given that Wyoming’s two senators carry the same power as every other senator, even though they represent a population roughly equal to that of Fresno, CA, this is a step in the right direction.
Matt Yglesias observes:
“One interesting thing about this is that it would shake up some of our existing party/region alignments. Today, for example, the Pacific coast is a solid stack of three Democratic states. But there are actually a lot of conservative voters living in Oregon, Washington, and California, and I believe the expansion of Oregon into “Willamette” would produce a red state. But it would be a different kind of red state from our existing red regional blocs. Conversely, some of these new southern states would be considerably more liberal than any existing ones, but their Senators would still band together with southern conservatives on certain topics of regional interest.”
The next step is for both chambers of congress to call for an amendment to the Constitution. Upon passage from the House, the bill would require the vote of 67 senators (representing a total of somewhere between 94 million and 285 million of the nation’s 306 million people). Of course, ratification’s even harder: the objection of just 13 states (home to somewhere between 12 million and 182 million people) would kill the bill.
It’s hard to beat the spontaneity of their monthly list. But with access to material since 1984, you can see how a subject like baseball or DNA or Al Gore intersected with the national consciousness (or at least that of the Harper’s editorial board) over the past 25 years.
I wasn’t alive to witness Martin Luther King at work, but this speech makes me feel as though he’s coming right through the screen.
Volume II, Issue I, Spring 2009
One of the finer things about having a little sister is always being able to call them your little sister. Another is the pride one can take in their accomplishments.
A couple of months ago my sister Kate’s paper on Uganda’s fight against HIV/AIDS earned publication in an undergraduate international development journal called Articulate. Heady stuff for a college sophomore.
Skip to page 13 for the good stuff.
National Geographic recently published a chart examining the ROI of the United States health care system:
As designer Oliver Uberti notes in a follow-up post,
“Designing a graphic is like writing a story. You can’t include all your material, nor can you present it with uniform emphasis. To engage readers, you have to selectively edit and then order your information into a narrative. In other words, what is most important for people to see and in what order?”
This reminds me of Mark Twain’s observation about “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” A grain of truth is sometimes more powerful than the whole thing and few things are more complicated than our health care system. And when I consider certain ridiculous memes, I’m left with the inescapable feeling that people’s desire for simplicity works against healthcare reform.
I’ve only been blogging here for a few months, but I’ve been whispering into the great unknown for a bit longer. Back when I was interning as a technical writer at Sun Microsystems, I authored a blog called Mark Settle’s Mighty Pen.
I just pulled it up for old times sake, and some of the entries are cringe-inducing. Like my take on Sun’s penchant for cross-branding:
SunThis, an extension of SunThat, leverages SunSomeOtherThing to preserve network resources and speed time-to-market.”
I’m not a particularly sentimental person, but John Martin’s The Awakening still gets me. I sang for four years at Niwot High School, and we concluded our last performance of each year by pouring our hearts into this incredible song.
Singing The Awakening is an utterly exhausting task, both mentally and physically. But when it’s over, you know you’ve been a part of something.
My high school singing career ended on The Awakening‘s last, triumphant note. What I would give to sing this just one more time, and for but a moment be on the cusp of all that was to come.
I hope I never forget the feeling.
I met up with Doug Johnson, co-founder of the Catshot Group, a venture capital fund targeting U.S. energy plays, tonight. We shared a drink, and spoke about the Colorado business climate and my career goals.
Soon enough, Doug invited me to join him at Jay’s Bistro, where CSU’s President’s Leadership Program (PLP) was hosting its Fall Networking Event. Good thing I was already wearing a suit!
I spoke with the best-and-brightest of CSU, and ran into some PLP alumni, many of whom I count as friends. I caught up with folks who I worked closely with during my ASCSU days, like Mike Ellis and Pam Sampson, and learned about State Rep. Randy Fischer‘s old honey bee business.
Given that I am looking for a new job, the timing could not have been more fortuitous. I was encouraged by my mentors’ kind words and promises of support, and am really energized about my career. Here’s to friends in high places!