The historical basis for vote distribution in this year’s election goes back farther than I thought… by several million years

I’ve been examining maps on my own and also reading commentary on voting patterns in the southern United States this year, most of which reaffirmed some not-too-surprising facts:

  • African-Americans voted overwhelmingly in favor of Barack Obama
  • White voters voted substantially less for Obama than did African-American voters
  • Racism played a role in some voters’ decision, at least to the extent that some white McCain voters would not support Obama due to his race

As a result of these and other facts, some correlated, some not, some distinctive maps of voting patterns have emerged. One I found interesting (which I will add to this page if I can locate it) showed that while almost the entire country voted more Democratic than in 2004, there was a band through the Middle South stretching from West Virginia to Oklahoma that moved towards the Republicans.

But within the mostly “red” region of the South, there also was a smaller “Blue” band that went for Obama. And here we’re referring to actual percentages, not changes with respect to 2004 voting patterns.

Again, not a terribly big surprise. Population distribution of African-Americans is not even throughout the South; blacks tend to live predominantly in areas where cotton plantations existed during the pre-Civil War era. So, looking back into history a few hundred years, we can see that patterns of plantation distribution and the profoundly regrettable history of slavery contributed directly to the distribution of voting patterns in the 2008 election.

But it goes back a lot farther than that. Why were plantations distributed as they were? Well, that comes back to the soil — a “fertile crescent” of deep black soil through that region. And why does that soil exist as it does, in that particular configuration? This question takes us all the way back to the location of the Atlantic coastline during the Cretaceous Period, 85 million years ago. For a deeper explanation, read on.

Sometimes, distortion is truth

I talked on election night about how the electoral college is skewed* towards the less populous states, and I’ve also been talking about how the red state/blue state map doesn’t accurately reflect the will of the people, both because of the winner-takes-all nature of the state-by-state distribution of the electoral votes, and also because most of the population of the country lives in concentrated areas.

Well there’s a great site that takes this a step further and actually proves it with some fancy-pants technology that can distort the map so that area corresponds to population. Here, then, is the site’s ultimate modified red-and-blue map, giving a better sense of just how “blue” or “red” or “purple” the country really is, overall…

*You may notice discrepancies between my numbers and the New York Times. I certainly defer to the “newspaper of record” on this. They are using the number of eligible voters in each state; I was using the total state population. Different numbers, and not in a trivial way, but the point, and the relative state-to-state variations, remain the same.

Fear of a Blank Planet

No, I’m not referring to the most recent Porcupine Tree album (although I do highly recommend it). I am referring to my rather strange phobia.

This fear — well, not really so much a fear as just a source of inexplicable anxiety — is something that’s been with me for so long (and is so inconsequential most of the time) that I scarcely think about it, and even more scarcely ever think about how weird it is. But today in conversation with a couple of co-workers, I happened to mention it for some reason, and I really think they thought I was nuts.

So what is this phobia of mine? I’m afraid of blank spaces on maps. What does this mean exactly? It means that studying a map, and letting my eyes drift off into an unmarked void (or even worse, scrolling Google Maps to a point where recognizable features disappear) freaks the shit out of me. It’s even worse when I have Google Maps in aerial view, and I scroll off into open water, or God forbid, zoom in to a level where they don’t have any photos. (And don’t even talk to me about the cheese on Google Moon!) I’m immediately overcome with a visceral agitation at the site of, well… nothing, and I have to scroll the map back to civilization (or at least non-nothingness) or close the window immediately.

I searched for any sign online of anyone else with this particular quirk, but came up empty. The promising term “cartophobia” turned out to refer to the much more mundane (and much more understandable, I suppose) “fear” of maps in the sense that a person is intimidated by maps and doesn’t understand how to read them. My problem, I think, is precisely the opposite: I love maps and can study their minutiae in detail for hours. And I think that is exactly why “voids” on the maps freak me out so much… it’s like stepping into non-existence.

Although I don’t know the date, I can pinpoint the first moment in my life when I was struck by this fear: I was probably around 10 or 11, and my parents had gotten me a large poster-sized map of the world, for which I was quite grateful. I enthusiastically unrolled it and began examining it in detail. After what was probably several hours, I got ready to put it away, and then I made that most dreadful mistake: I looked at the blank reverse side. It’s nearly impossible to convey this in a way that doesn’t sound completely stupid, or that effectively communicates the apocalyptic panic that ensued. It really felt like I was staring right into the heart of nothingness, like the universe didn’t exist.

Certainly this phobia of mine is a minor inconvenience at best. It is not incapacitating in any way. As I said, I rarely think of it, and although I think I’ve talked to SLP about it, this is probably the first time I’ve ever mentioned it to anyone else in my entire life. But still, it’s real. And still, I wonder if anyone else has ever experienced it.