Puerto Rico needs Lincoln

Yesterday the US Senate authorized a vote in Puerto Rico: for the first time in the island's history, residents will be asked what they want their status with America to be. Congressional approval of this referendum is seen as a big victory for statehood advocates. If I jump ahead a couple years... when this might actually reach the point of an up or down statehood vote in Congress, the measure may lose because of a lack of bipartisan support. That is, Republicans will see Puerto RIco as a Democratic state--and block statehood. If statehood advocates are smart, they will do what I suggested in my Wall Street Journal article a week ago--find a dancing partner. That is, encourage a Republican-leaning statehood proposal to balance things out. This worked with Alaska-Hawaii in 1959... and with Missouri-Maine in 1820. America likes to add states in twos. So who should be Puerto Rico's date? I suggest Lincoln, an oft-proposed idea that makes a lot of sense. (For more on Lincoln, get the book.)

Puerto Rico statehood in Congress this week

In the next few days, the U.S. Congress will vote on a bill that would mandate a referendum in Puerto Rico on the island's status. Congress isn't voting on statehood per se, but this vote is seen as a first step in a longer-term statehood strategy. In recent days there have been a wide range of heated arguments made on both sides of this issue. I'm not qualified to sort out the pros and cons--but there is one point I'd add to the mix. Some opponents of Puerto Rican statehood have made statements that sound strikingly similar to arguments made against statehood for Cuba in the early 1900s, Yucatan in the 1840s, and the Philippines in the 1910s. In all three instances, racism was the primary obstacle to statehood.  Rep. John Sharp Williams of Mississippi, for example, opposed statehood for Cuba because  —in his words— “we have enough people of the Negro race.” Statehood for Puerto Rico may or may not be a good idea. I just hope Congress bases its decision on the right factors.

Statehood for Iceland

Everyone's been thinking about Iceland the last week or so, but why hasn't the news media been reporting on proposals to make Iceland a U.S. state? Well, um, maybe because the idea was only considered briefly--60 years ago. The main proponent was Rep. Bud Gearhart of California, who figured that owning the strategically-positioned island would help keep America safe from the Soviets. Gearhardt actually wanted to buy up a whole bunch of Atlantic islands to buffer the U.S. from foreign threats. As mad as the idea was, less than 2 decades after Gearhart's proposal was dismissed, the Soviets set up nuclear missiles in Cuba and pointed them right at Washington D.C. Maybe Bud was onto something. (More in the book)

Oops! Now? Writing for the Wall Street Journal

Writing an article for the Wall Street Journal (the top-selling paper in the country) was a fun challenge... WAY different from writing a book. Everything happens extremely fast. For example, minutes before press time, the managing editors decided the story needed a major change--rather than lead off with an anecdote about Chicago, they wanted to instead start with Long Island. Yikes! Clocking ticking, I hammered out a new open. True confession: I liked the Chicago open better. The fast pace of news biz means mistakes can happen... a lot of people were stunned that the Wall Street Journal's map made a big error--putting Michigan's upper peninsula into Canada. (SEE ABOVE) On one hand, I feel the need to point out that I never saw the map until the paper showed up at my door. On the other hand, this all goes so fast, I can understand how the artist can make mistakes under time pressures. Anyway, the folks at the Journal were all very smart and professional... it was a fun experience. (Oh, and they corrected the map online)



Lower your tax bill... form a new state

Sure it sounds silly, but it's a time-honored tradition in American life. if you don't like how your state is spending your tax dollars, you can try to form a new low-tax state. The U.S. Constitution specifically allows for this--and people have been attempting it since the very beginning. Today I'd like to honor the first of these new-state tax-havens: Franklin. Back in 1785, Franklin had traction, more than half of the existing states voted in favor of admitting it to the Union. The Franklin constitution included a "no taxes for two years" provision. A popular idea.... then again, new enterprises do need a bit of startup money.

Don't confuse secession with secession

It's one thing to secede from your state and form a new state. It's a VERY different thing to secede from the country! Eagle eye Ryan Txanson alerted me to a resolution in Minnesota's 5th district yesterday to secede from the United States. That's a really bad idea. We fought a big war over this very thing. Lots of people died. Conversely, I think seceding from a state (to form or join a new state) can actually be a smart idea. But I would NEVER suggest seceding from the United States. That's insane. What are they thinking in the 5th District??

A Superior review

"Superior" is the very first lost state I ever came across... I read about the proposal in a Newsweek article in the 1970s--when I was a teenager. It seemed like such a weird, cool, fascinating idea. In today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, book reviewer Jim Higgins echoes that fascination in his very nice review of Lost States. While the online version of the review has no maps, the print version of the newspaper had a big map of Superior. Cool. So if you missed it, the map is above.... and a bigger version here. 

Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel review

Lots of nice reviews have been coming in, but it's especially nifty when one's hometown paper chimes in. I appreciate that the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel's reviewer, Jim Higgins, really seems to understand the tone and purpose of Lost States. Makes my day! (Read the review HERE)

Response to the Mormons

Wow, a number of Mormons have written some rather nasty things about me on the NPR site; I feel compelled to offer a bit of a response. First, nothing in the entry on the Mormon state of Deseret is incorrect. Some folks thought that my statement that Mormons only "sort of" gave up polygamy was inaccurate, but I wasn't referring to the breakaway groups that practice polygamy today. Instead, I was referring to the LDS teaching that polygamy will be practiced in heaven. Yes, the church has given up polygamy on earth, but they expect to return to the practice in the afterlife. Let me quote church president Joseph Fielding Smith who said (in Doctrines of Salvation Vol. 2 p. 67) "...my wives will be mine in eternity. I don't know how some other people feel, but that is a glorious thought to me." Now, it's fair to say that I can be snarky, and that abbreviating a long history into a few words can lead to misunderstandings. But you can't say I don't know anything about the LDS church. I lived in the most-Mormon city in America: Idaho Falls, Idaho (yes, the percentages are higher than Salt Lake). I've had long discussions with stake presidents. I have poured through literally thousands of pages of church history.  (And I'm not focused on anti-Mormon materials. For example, I agree with most Mormons who think The Godmakers was an unfair portrayal.) Lastly, anyone who reads my book will understand the jovial nature of the text. We're trying to have some fun here--everyone needs to lighten up. I'm a good Lutheran, but I laugh heartily listening to Garrison Keillor's spot-on ribbing of Lutheran culture. I even have a "sin boldly" coffee mug (Lutherans will get that one).
Mike Trinklein

Biggest geographic goof ever

You may have already seen Rep. Hank Johnson's now-infamous statement... the most bizarre geographic fact ever spoken by anyone in the U.S. Congress: He is worried the island of Guam will tip over. Lots of people ridiculed him when the video went viral... but I figured that no one could be that dumb, and there must be an explanation. So I went to his official web site. Johnson's retort is almost as hilarious as the original clip. He claims he was making an "obviously metaphorical reference." Yeah, right. Look at the clip. (Skip ahead to the 1:15 mark if you want to get to the good part). You decide. I had an even bigger laugh when I clicked on Rep. Johnson's official portrait. It's ENORMOUS. What is he thinking? Perhaps he assumes constituents will want to wrap skyscrapers with his image. It's so big, that all I could fit in the box above was his eye. But maybe that's good.... you get a great opportunity to look deep into the soul of America's biggest geographic blunderer ever.

Yahoo home page

Forgive a bit of self-indulgence. Yesterday's Yahoo home page featured Tiger Woods, the iPad, and Lost States. Now if I could just get Tiger Woods to read Lost States on his iPad--now there's a publicity event!

All Things Considered

Today was the day for my interview... You can listen here.

Bobby Brown, Kevin Federline: map "geniuses"

Did you see this on Leno last night? In "Battle of the Stars" Jay posed a series of questions to Bobby Brown, Kevin Federline, and Nicole Eggert. At one point he asks: "How many states in the Union." Bobby Brown says 52. FIFTY-TWO!  Nicole Eggert has NO IDEA. Kevin Federline finally takes a "wild guess" and goes with 50. It may be easy to say "oh, celebrities are dumb," But these three actually didn't do all that bad overall. They just don't know anything about U.S. geography. I want to send them a copy of Lost States... but I'm worried the cover map would send them into a tailspin. (You can watch the Leno clip HERE... skip ahead to the 4 minute mark.)

Google and Topeka

Did you see Google's home page this morning. That's it--unretouched--above. It's a reference to Topeka's attempt to curry favor with Google by temporarily changing it's name to Google, Kansas. I guess Google thought it was funny to return the favor on April Fools Day. Still, there was at least one time in American history when a good-sized city actually did change it's name at the request of a major corporation. It's in the book... and our previous entry here.