It’s 1884 and we’re in Berlin. We’re all in Berlin, “we” being the major powers of Europe. Europe has a problem: it’s Africa. We all want it, and we’re trying to decide who gets it. We decide we all get some of it, as long as we’re there already, but there’s a problem: the middle of Africa is a dense rainforest and everyone who goes there gets malaria. Who gets that part?

Amid appeals from contestants for the prize of the Congo, the King of Belgium rises from his seat. “I will take it.” he says

“Ah!” the council exclaims. “Belgium would accept the responsibility?” …


Madagascar is an island 260 miles off the eastern coast of Africa. Geographically, the island is African, but its people aren’t, not originally. By that, I mean they didn’t get there, in a historical sense, by sailing from the African coast, even though that’s the nearest major landmass. Instead, the people who would become Madagascar’s first inhabitants arrived on boats they’d built and boarded 4,000 miles away in Indonesia.

Here’s a map for reference, because there’s no way the human mind can properly conceptualize 4,000 miles. For comparison, Northeastern Maine to San Diego, the length of the contiguous United States, is about 2,700 miles. To compare, Columbus’s voyage to the Americas spanned almost the same 4,000 mile distance. The difference, though, is that Columbus set sail in 1492, and the new people of Madagascar left about a thousand years earlier. …


Navigation is hard. The world is big and there are things and places everywhere. Today, we’re pretty lucky; when I need to go anywhere, I can plug my destination into Google Maps and the quickest route is immediately beamed to my brain. Before Google, I have no idea how people navigated. My parents used to print out longform directions from MapQuest numerated across two or three sheets of paper. That was post-internet (so, after 1800, or whenever the internet was invented), and they still ran the risk of missing an exit and jeopardizing the whole plan. Before that, what did people use?


How much do you know about Bhutan? If you’re like me, until relatively recently, your answer is “not a lot”. If you’re not like me, your answer is also probably “not a lot”. Most folks don’t know about Bhutan. It’s a small, landlocked country in the Himalayas nestled softly between the ultracolossal nations of China and India. It’s by Nepal, but the two don’t border each other — there’s a little strip of India in the way.

On the world stage, Bhutan’s a pretty minor player — you’d be forgiven for not knowing much about it. In terms of population, we’re looking at somewhere between North Dakota and South Dakota. If I hadn’t grown up in one of the Dakotas (I forget which), I wouldn’t know much about them either. …


Part 1: “Q” & A

Hear me out: The Democrats are full of shit. We all know that. They’re trying to ruin this country. But do you know why? It’s obvious: They’re devil-worshiping pedophiles. That, or friends of pedophiles. And celebrities who support the Democrats? They’re pedophiles, too, part of a worldwide network involved in trafficking children all over the globe. Where do they do their business? Secluded, Medici-era villas in the Italian countryside? Million-dollar New York penthouses? No, you fool, it’s so obvious: pizzeria basements.

They’ve been at it for decades. Centuries, maybe. So why doesn’t anyone do anything about it? As it happens, you’re in luck; someone is. His name? Donald J. Trump. By running for President, he set forth to rid DC and Hollywood of its ruling pedophile class. …


Democracy is important. The ancient Greeks knew that. Everyone else forgot it for a couple thousand years, and then America remembered. Suffering beneath the widespread paw of the British tea-and-taxes machine, a spunky bunch of would-be American patriots found common ground in vanquishing the evil empire and building atop its ashes a democratic nation.

Similar to their plight, I find myself under the collective weight of the internet’s political bros, banded together to remind me that the newly-conceptualized United States was never intended to be a proud democracy, but instead a rudimentary republic, one built out of equal parts compromise and necessity. I acquiesce; they’re right. The United States is not and has never been a proper democracy. …


Thanksgiving is late this year. It’s actually the latest it can be. Set by Congress in 1942 as the fourth Thursday in November, a Thanksgiving this late in the month requires that November 1st falls on a Friday. The result is a truncated Christmas season and maybe a comment here and there. Hardly notable. But there’s a history here that not many know about, dating back to another late Thanksgiving in 1939.

Before we go back 80 years, it’s necessary to first go a little bit further. History is linear, right? I think it’s fair to assume that we all know the basic story of Thanksgiving: a fleet of pilgrims land on the Autumn shores of North America and meet a group of Native Americans. Elected as fit representatives for the millions of people on the continent, they happily trade away their rights to America’s land resources in exchange for student loans, compounding mortgages, and some beads. …


The apocalypse is here for North American cervids. It arrived no fewer than five decades ago and its progress has been… slow. Make no mistake, the zombie deer are here. As their range extends throughout North America, it’s become increasingly likely that you’ve heard something about them. It’s 2019, though, and evidence of impending doom falls at our door every day. Are “zombie deer” really a threat?

To understand our risk, we should first understand the affliction itself. What some media sources are calling the “zombie deer disease” isn’t particularly unique to deer or the current year. Sure, the disease itself, Chronic Wasting Disease is limited to deer and their close relatives in the wild (so far), but its kin are not. …


Murals might encourage vandalism. This is art.

South Dakota’s getting ornery again. A new Rushmore State law mandates the display of the United States motto, “In God We Trust” in every one of the state’s 697 public schools. Displaying the motto is required by law, but, schools are allowed to get fun creative with the new rule, which gives school principals the authority to choose between mounted plaque, student artwork, or other. …


The United States House of Representatives is a cornerstone of the American Democratic system, a piece of living history, and a real shitshow. Actually, that’s a little harsh. The House is much better designed than the Senate, the legislative Branch’s resident lead paint fiend. Still, the House is a never-great-but-once better American institution whose worth as a pillar of American democracy is waning each year.

Let’s go!

Originally established as the lower house of the American bicameral legislative system, the House of Representatives was the bad boy people-representing house where the Senate was built to represent the states individually. Where each state received a set-in-stone count of two senators, the House was a little more flexible, allocating seats based on population. The more people your state has, the more Representatives. Mostly. The allocation of House seats comes with a catch: no state can have fewer than one representative. The rule exists to stop any state from going unrepresented (wise) but also means that if we, as a society, come together and convince everyone to move out of Wyoming, the state still gets a representative. …

About

Ben Grapevine

Writer, Minneapolitan

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store