Burning the Flag

I’ve ranted about burning the flag before. While I find it offensive, I tend to view the flag as a piece of cloth on a stick that implicitly has “America” written on it. I don’t care about the piece of cloth as much as what it stands for.

So I find it mind-bogglingly contradictory that anyone would propose banning the burning of the flag. If you burn the flag, you’re a jerk. But the First Amendment grants you the right to do so. Those that seek to ban flag desecration, in my opinion, are trampling the Constitution instead of the flag. The flag is ultimately just a piece of cloth, while the Constitution is the fabric that built America. This is one of the comparatively few issues where I just can’t fathom the other side of. Abortion, gun control, taxes, health care, wars, airport security, domestic wiretapping… I can understand why someone might weigh in on the other side. But this isn’t one of them.

OKCupid is one of the largest free dating sites. (Bear with me. I’ll tie this together in a minute.) Besides all the usual dating stuff, they have a lot of polls. In addition to lots of polls and lots of users, they also have some people who are as obsessed with extracting interesting statistics and trends from all the stuff sitting in their database. The survey questions are user-generated, and they’ve found that the most controversial ones tend to bring in the most responses. (This isn’t really surprising.)

So they started generating reports, state-by-state, on the answers to a lot of these questions, and posting them on their blog. [Be warned that the subject matter involves a question on rape. Not really NSFW, unless you’ve got your laptop out at a company-wide meeting and someone mentions the OKCupid blog and its data.] Most leave me feeling pretty good about living in the Northeast. There’s a question about how often you shower, and it blows my mind that anyone wouldn’t shower every day. But what really fascinates me was the question about flag-burning. There are small, dense pockets of blue (“don’t outlaw flag-burning”) amid an enormous sea of red. It’s hard to gauge actual proportions, though, because there are giant clumps but enormous numbers of scattered answers.

Actually, a second thing fascinates me about that graph. Very indirectly, it’s a graph of population density. It might not be representative of the whole US population (it’s OKCupid.com users who answered a question about flag-burning), but I’d tend to think that the results are at least fairly representative. It doesn’t surprise me terribly that some areas are more dense than others, and I’m only mildly surprised to find that America’s borders are practically drawn on the map by increased population. Look at Florida or the Great Lakes. The sparsely-dotted terrain gives way to a nearly solid line on the oceanfront.

But what fascinates me most is that you can see the vast falloff in population density, and that it occurs nearly dead-center in America in a straight line.

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