Holiday map blogging


I’ve always enjoyed maps of things like “what if the 50 states were arranged in a different way?” This 2012 map, by Neil Freeman, is one of my favorites. The author imagines what the 50 states would look like if they were reorganized the way congressional districts are, each being equal in population. It also helps that the map is beautifully drawn, the sort of thing I just enjoy looking at.

Freeman drew his map with Electoral College reform in mind. If the states were all equal-sized by population, then lefty complaints about the Senate and the Electoral College would be eliminated. After the 2012 election, however, Nate Cohn pointed out in a New Republic article that a map with the states arranged in Freeman’s new pattern would have actually given the election to Mitt Romney, despite Obama’s commanding lead in the popular vote. As an electoral reform, then, the idea only made things worse. But as a piece of art and a thought experiment, it remains a success.

I had no such lofty goals, but I did wonder what my home commonwealth of Pennsylvania would look like with 67 equal-population counties. I drew it up here. This is not something I endorse as a political matter (although Philadelphia might do better as a group of smaller governmental units) but just a bit of fun. It also gives a visual representation of where Pennsylvania’s population is concentrated in a way many other maps don’t.

equipop-pennsylvaniaequipop-pennsylvania-se-inset equipop-pennsylvania-phila-insetequipop-pennsylvania-pitt-inset

Philadelphia votes


This year, at last, the dream of Republicans in Pennsylvania came true as our swing state finally swung. It wasn’t my dream for 2016, exactly, since I voted for Johnson, but for many who pushed back against the idea that the Commonwealth was a purely Democratic state at the Presidential level, it was gratifying. In fact, according to Nate Silver’s 538 website, Pennsylvania was the tipping point in electing Trump.

Over the weekend, I charted the precinct-level results in Philadelphia, the city Hillary thought would save the state for her. As most observers of the Philly political scene would have expected, Clinton was weakest in the Far Northeast. I was also surprised at Trump’s strength in South Philly and the river wards. Trump’s best division (we call precincts divisions here) was in South Philly, 39-14, where he tallied 70.3% of the vote (it’s the big one in the far south of the 39th ward). Clinton had three divisions in North Philly where the people chose her unanimously (29-07, 29-16, and 32-29,) which I’ve marked with asterisks on the map. There were also two ties, both in the Northeast (64-17 and 66-18).

Most of this is only of interest to my Pennsylvania readers, but I hope you all enjoy the map. You can click on it to zoom in, but the file is pretty big, so it may take a minute.


Against contractors


This weekend SEPTA1 is opening a new train station in Lansdale. It is between two existing stations, and will help deal with some overflow parking when nearby Lansdale station undergoes parking garage construction. Building this station, the first new one since 1997, has been a low-profile affair. The construction was pretty quick, as transit agencies go, and was conducted with in-house labor and resources.

That last fact stood out to me as I read another SEPTA story in the Inquirer yesterday about the trains that spray leaves off the track in fall.

These wash trains weren’t made specifically for the purpose of cleaning away leaves. Between foul weather and the vibrations from the moving train, the gear takes a beating. Mechanics improvise makeshift, low-tech solutions to keep the thick gel flowing properly and the wash trains running.

They proudly point out how a particular problem was solved simply by punching holes in a pipe, or how a flatbed car’s equipment, including a shelter for the two 265-gallon gel tubs, a generator, a fuel tank, and high-pressure electric pumps for the water all were installed in-house.

There’s a pattern here. Quality, affordable work being done by the people SEPTA already employs. This is a theory that deserves further consideration by governments and agencies at all levels. Former Bush administration official (and Philadelphian) John DiIulio explores this theme as it applies to the federal government in his book, Bring Back the Bureaucrats.

It’s a good read, and it makes a good point. We associate shrinking the federal workforce with shrinking the federal government, but the two aren’t the same. The taxpayer’s money is still being spent, it’s just going to a different person’s paycheck. Many duties of the government are farmed out to contractors (often no-bid contractors) in the interests of efficiency, but those same jobs could be done better and more cheaply with government workers.

Associating efficiency with the government workforce is not something you often hear, but when you consider situations like the one above, you’ll see it makes sense. SEPTA already employs these people, so the cost of finding them is eliminated. And their interests align far more with the agency’s than an outside contractor’s would. If they do a bad job, they have to live with it and fix it. If a contractor does a bad job, he either moves on to another project, or gets paid more to correct his own errors.

I’ve been a permanent employee and a temp, and believe me you approach the two jobs differently. It may be time to consider that difference and change our approach to government hiring.

  1. The Philadelphia-area mass transit authority, for you non-Pennsylvanians

Philadelphia Maneto


I don’t normally listen to TED talks. Typically, the seem like a lot of hot air. But this one by Roman Mars on the subject of flag design intrigued me, so I took a listen. I’m glad I did because his point, that city flags are horribly designed, is one with which I absolutely agree.

Take a look for yourself, if you like:

Inspired by this, I took a look at the flag of my hometown, Philadelphia:


It’s not the worst you’ll ever see. It has colors in a pattern that most flags don’t replicate, so it’s recognizable. Those colors actually have a purpose, too, being derived from the flag of the first European settlers in the region, the Swedes. So that’s good. But it still has that seal-on-a-bedsheet problem that many state and city flags have. The seal is too small to be recognized from a distance, and has too many components to be easily remembered or drawn by hand.

But what does symbolize our city if not the city seal? Well, what makes Philadelphia unique in American history, even more than the brief colonization by the Swedes, is that it was the largest city founded by Quakers. The religious tolerance of William Penn and his coreligionists drew thousands of settlers from Europe to the city and the surrounding colony of Pennsylvania, making Philadelphia the colonies’ largest city for a time.

The Quakers don’t have any official symbol that I know of, but the American Friends Service Commitee has long been associated with what is informally known as the Quaker Star:


Those colors on a blue and yellow flag would not be easy on the eyes, but the symbol is one that spoke to me as a perfect representation of the city’s Quaker connections. A little tinkering with the color scheme led me to this, with the dark blue of the state flag and the lighter blue of the city flag standing in for the AFSC’s red and black.

Revised Philadelphia flagSo there’s my proposal. Elegant, simple, and symbolic of the city’s storied past. Let’s make it happen, Philadelphia!