Map courtesy of USGSIt is a matter of public record that I'm an avid fan of weird maps. And over at the appropriately named Strange Maps blog, Frank Jacobs has unearthed a pretty neat one: John Wesley Powell's proposal to divide the western United States into a series of amoeba-like blobs amoeba-like water districts. Powell, the one-armed geologist who first mapped the Grand Canyon, believed that water management was the single most important issue facing regional development, and therefore the West should be governed accordingly. Per Jacobs:
Powell's warning at an irrigation congress in 1883 seems particularly prescient: "Gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict and litigation over water rights, for there is not sufficient water to supply the land." Powell must have been frustrated by the contrast between the way his achievements were lauded, and his warnings ignored...
Like Jefferson's states, the units proposed by Powell seem, well, the wrong shape. From a purely cartophile point of view, they don't work as well as the states that did eventually make the cut. Ironically, they lack the normality of the present batch of straight-border states. Or is that just the force of habit talking?
To jump to Powell's defense, I'd say the whole thing actually has a sort of Central Asian feel to it; you won't find any box-like Wyomings hovering around the Hindu Kush. The biggest problem, though, seems to be that these places would be even less populated than our existing western states. The southwestern corner New Mexico, for instance, gets its own hypothetical state/district, even though no one actually lives, or ever has lived, southwest of Las Cruces.
Anyways, Powell was prescient in that he understood that management of natural resources and environmental limits were going to be preeminent issues facing the nation a century hence. But he was obviously shortsighted in thinking that 21st-century (or 20th-century, or 19th-century) leaders might ever be moved to do anything about it. To wit: His amoeba plan was scrapped at the behest of...the railroad industry.
The much anticipated release of The Anthology of Rap has gotten off to a bit of a rocky start. The project, which features a foreword by Henry Louis Gates Jr., has drawn criticism for the abundance of transcription errors—and in hip-hop, the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between, well, George Wallace and Gerald Wallace (an actual mistake in the book). That's a shame because, errors aside, it's an awesome compilation: 920 pages of some of the baddest, phattest, flyest tracks ever dropped.
And that, invariably, means plenty of preposterous pop-culture references. Unless you rolled with Junior M.A.F.I.A. back in the day or hail from Queensbridge, you're probably not included in this book. But plenty of totally random people (and things! and historical events!) are. So what exactly shakes like Smucker's grape jelly? What's the best way to hijack a space shuttle? And what does Nas really think about Calvin Coolidge? We've got you covered. Here's our unofficial, abridged political and pop-culture Anthology of Rap index.
Daniel Radosh's Rapture Ready! is one of those books where, as soon as you finish, you wish you could go back in time and revisit something you wrote previously, now that you actually know what you're talking about. In this case, that would be my dispatch from the Focus on the Family bookstore in Colorado Springs. At the time I wrote that Christian pop culture was about added value: product + God = better product. But there's actually a pretty intense debate, as Radosh's book makes clear, over contemporary Christian performing arts. Should Christians try to work within the secular system and promote their values through actions? Should they shun the system and purge their pop culture of non-Christian references? And beyond that, should they really be focusing so much on profits rather than, say, prophets?
It's a fascinating book; Radosh checks in on Christian music festivals, Christian wrestling, Christian chick-lit (and its End Times counterpart, Christian pit-lit), Christian stand-up comedy, Christian Batman ("Bibleman"), Christian raves, Christian sex workshops—you name it, really. Anyway, check it out. And in the meantime, here's a clip of Psalty the Singing Songbook, my favorite revelation (sorry) from the book; he's like a mix of Ronald McDonald and Spongebob, if Spongebob weren't an agent of the homosexual agenda:
That man there on the left is Rep. Jonathan Cilley, a promising young Democrat from the great state of Maine. Or rather, he was a promising young Democrat, until his distinguished colleague, Rep. William Graves of Kentucky, a Whig, shot him in an 1838 duel. Like most duels, it was a little absurd; as the House website notes, "neither man had any known grievance with the other prior to the incident" (normally a deal-breaker). But Cilley had offended Graves' friend, and so Graves felt that it was only right—gentlemanly, even—to demand satisfaction on his behalf.
Never letting a good crisis go to waste, the House passed stringent anti-dueling legislation one year later in Cilley's memory, and then, in another timeless congressional tradition, totally ignored it. In 1860, six members convened for an epic 3 v. 3 gunfight in Maryland; that same year, one congressman challenged another to a battle with bowie knives.
And that was just the beginning. I dug up more than a dozen instances of our distinguished representatives in Washington beating the bipartisanship out of each other, police officers, and, occasionally, total strangers. Forget everything you've heard about how Washington is more polarized than ever before; armed confrontations are as much a part of the legislative process as backroom deals and motions to recommit. Check it out.
Over the weekend I was reading up on Andrew Johnson (don't ask) and stumbled upon what might be the least prescient editorial the New York Times has ever published. Context: Johnson has just taken the oath of office as Vice President visibly drunk, prompting critics to suggest that this might be indicitive of, say, a total lack of preparedness for the enormous challenges facing the nation. At one point during his address, he blanked on the name of the Secretary of the Navy and asked the audience; the man he replaced, Hannibal Hamlin, literally tugged on his coattails to get him to stop. When Johnson finally finished, he tried swearing-in the incoming class of senators, but "became so confused that he had to turn the job over to a Senate clerk." Cue The Times:
No man in this country has rendered, within his sphere, more substantial service to the Union cause, or earned more thoroughly the gratitude of the Union party than ANDREW JOHNSON; and we venture to predict that...he will abundantly vindicate himself from the slanders of his enemies, and the ungenerous misconstruction of some who have claimed to be his friends.