The Universe of Discourse

Fri, 04 Aug 2023

Worst waterfall in the U.S. and Doug Burgum pays me $19

North Dakota is not a place I think about much, but it crossed paths with me twice in July.


Last month I suddenly developed a burning need to know: if we were to rank the U.S. states by height of highest waterfall, which state would rank last? Thanks to the Wonders of the Internet I was able to satisfy this craving in short order. Delaware is the ⸢winner⸣, being both very small and very flat.

In looking into this, I also encountered the highest waterfall in North Dakota, Mineral Springs Waterfall. (North Dakota is also noted for being rather flat. It is in the Great Plains region of North America.)

The official North Dakota tourism web site (did you know there was one? I didn't.) has a page titled “North Dakota has a Waterfall?” which claims an 8-foot (2.4m) drop.

The thing I want you to know, though, is that they include this ridiculous picture on the web site:

A stream
pours over the lip of a steep hill into a puddle at the bottom of a
muddy depression in an overgrown forest clearing.  There is nothing
for scale so there is no way to guess how far between the top of the
hill and the puddle.

Wow, pathetic. As Lorrie said, “it looks like a pipe burst.”

The World Waterfall Database claims that the drop is 15 feet (5m). The WWD is the source cited in the official USGS waterfall data although the USGS does not repeat WWD's height claim.

I am not sure I trust the WWD. It seems to have been abandoned. I wrote to all their advertised contact addresses to try to get them to add Wadhams Falls, but received no response.

Doug Burgum

Doug Burgum is some rich asshole, also the current governor of North Dakota, who wants to be the Republican candidate for president in the upcoming election.

To qualify for the TV debate next month, one of the bars he had to clear was to have received donations from 40,000 individuals, including at least 200 from each of 20 states. But how to get people to donate? Who outside of North Dakota has heard of Doug Burgum? Certainly I had not.

If you're a rich asshole, the solution is obvious: just buy them. For a while (and possibly still) Burgum was promising new donors to his campaign a $20 debit card in return for a donation of any size.

Upside: Get lots of free media coverage, some from channels like NPR that would normally ignore you. Fifty thousand new people on your mailing list. Get onstage in the debate. And it costs only a million dollars. Money well spent!

Downside: Reimbursing people for campaign donations is illegal, normally because it would allow a single donor to evade the limits on individual political contributions. Which is what this is, although not for that reason; here it is the campaign itself reimbursing the contributions.

Anyway, I was happy to take Doug Burgum's money. (A middle-class lesson I tried to instill into the kids: when someone offers you free money, say yes.) I donated $1, received the promised gift card timely, and immediately transferred the money to my transit card.

I was not able to think of a convincing argument against this:

  • But it's illegal For him. Not for me.

  • But you're signing up to receive political spam I unsubscribed right away, and it's not like I don't get plenty of political spam already.

  • But he'll sell your address to his asshole friends His list may not be a hot seller. His asshole friends will know they're buying a list of people who are willing donate $1 in return for a $20 debit card; it's not clear why anyone would want this. If someone does buy it, and they want to make me the same offer, I will be happy to accept. I'll take free money from almost anyone, the more loathsome the better.

  • But you might help this asshole get elected If Doug Burgum were to beat Trump to the nomination, I would shout from the rooftops that I was proud to be part of his victory.

    If Doug Burgum is even the tiniest speedbump on Trump's path to the nomination, it will be negative $19 well-spent.

  • But it might give him better chances in the election of 2028 I have no reason to think that Burgum would be any worse than any other rich asshole the Republicans might nominate in 2028.

Taking Doug Burgum's $19 was time well-spent, I would do it again.

Addendum: North Dakota tourism

Out of curiosity about the attractions of North Dakota tourism, I spent a little while browsing the North Dakota tourism web site, wondering if the rest of it was as pitiful and apologetic as the waterfall page.

No! They did a great job of selling me on North Dakota tourism. The top three items on the “Things to Do” page are plausible and attractive:

  1. “Nature and Outdoors Activities”, with an excellent picture of a magnificent national park and another of a bison. 100%, no notes.

  2. Recreation. The featured picture is a beaming fisherman holding up an enormous fish; other pictures boast “hiking” and “hunting”.

  3. History. The featured picture is Lakota Sioux in feathered war bonnets.

Good stuff. I had hoped to visit anyway, and the web site has gotten me excited to do it.

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Wed, 24 Jun 2020

Geeking out over arbitrary boundaries

Reddit today had this delightful map, drawn by Peter Klumpenhower, of “the largest city in each 10-by-10 degree area of latitude-longitude in the world”:

Equirectangular map of the
world, divided into squares, each 10 degrees in latitude and
longitude.  Most of the squares have a settlement marked, usually a
large city such as Moscow, London, or New York.  But many of the
settlements are much smaller, especially in Micronesia (Kiritimati,
Bora Bora, Fa'a'a) and the polar regions (Nizhneyansk, Utquiagvik,
(Click to enlarge.)

of Philadelphia and environs, with the 40th parallel marked in purple,
passing through its northern regions

Almost every square is a kind of puzzle! Perhaps it is surprising that Philadelphia is there? Clearly New York dominates its square, but Philadelphia is just barely across the border in the next square south: the 40th parallel runs right through North Philadelphia. (See map at right.) Philadelphia City Hall (the black dot on the map) is at 39.9524 north latitude.

This reminds me of the time I was visiting Tom Christiansen in Boulder, Colorado. We were driving on Baseline Road and he remarked that it was so named because it runs exactly along the 40th parallel. Then he said “that's rather farther south than where you live”. And I said no, the 40th parallel also runs through Philadelphia! Other noteworthy cities at this latitude include Madrid, Ankara, Yerevan, and Beijing.

Anyway speaking of Boulder, the appearance of Fort Collins was the first puzzle I noticed. If you look at the U.S. cities that appear on the map, you see most of the Usual Suspects: New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Dallas, Houston. And then you have Fort Collins.

a small region,
six squares wide by two high, including most of the continental US.
The cities in the north six squares are: Seattle, Boise, Fort Collins
(Colorado), Winnipeg (Canada), Chicago, New York.  In the south
squares the cities are San Jose, Los Angeles, Cuidad Juárez (Mexico),
Dallas, Jacksonville, Philadelphia.

“Fort Collins?” I said. “Why not Denver? Or even Boulder?”

Boulder, it turns out, is smaller than Fort Collins. (I did not know this.) And Denver, being on the other side of Baseline Road, doesn't compete with Fort Collins. Everything south of Baseline Road, including Denver, is shut out by Ciudad Juárez, México (population 1.5 million).

Eastern and central China, three boxes
wide and four tall.  The cites in order from right to left in rows
are: 1. Baotou, Hohhot, Shenyang; 2. Chengdu, Beijing,
Shanghai; 3. Chongqing, Shenzhen, Taipei; 4. Ho Chi Min City
(Vietnam), Wenchang, Quezon City (Philippines).

There is a Chinese version of this. The Chinese cities on the map include the big Chinese cities: Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing, Shenzhen, Chengdu. Shenyang. A couple of cities in Inner Mongolia, analogous to the appearance of Boise on the U.S. map. And…

Wenchang. What the heck is Wenchang?

It's the county seat of Wenchang County, in Hainan, not even as important as Fort Collins. China has 352 cities with populations over 125,000. Wenchang isn't one of them. According to the list I found, Wenchang is the 379th-largest city in China. (Fort Collins, by the way, is 159th-largest in the United States. For the 379th, think of Sugar Land, Texas or Cicero, Illinois.)

Since we're in China, please notice how close Beijing is to the 40th parallel. Ten kilometers farther north and it would have displaced Boise — sorry, I meant Hohhot — and ceded its box to Tianjin (pop. 15.6 million). Similarly (but in reverse), had Philadelphia been a bit farther north, it would have disappeared into New York's box, and yielded its own box to Baltimore or Washington or some other hamlet.

Opposite to the “what the heck is?" puzzles are there “what the heck happened to?” puzzles. Some are easier than others. It's obvious what happened to Seoul: it's in the same box as Shanghai. The largest missing U.S. city is Phoenix, which you can probably guess is in the same box as Los Angeles.

But what the heck happened to Nairobi? (Nairobi is the ninth-largest city in Africa. Dar Es Salaam is the sixth-largest and is in the same box.)

What the heck happened to St. Petersburg? (at 59.938N, 30.309E, it is just barely inside the same box as Moscow. The map is quite distorted in this region.)

What the heck happened to Tashkent? (It's right where it should be. I just missed it somehow.)

Map of the southern tip of South
America.  There is a west box, containing the very end of Tierra del
Fuego, and an east box.  The tiny Falkland Islands straddle the
boundary between the two boxes, with their capital city, Stanley, in
the eastern box. There are some boxes where there just isn't much space for cities. Some of these are obvious: most of Micronesia; notoriously isolated places like Easter Island, Tristan Da Cunha, and St. Helena; other islands like Ni‘ihau, Saipan, and Bermuda. But some are less obvious. We saw Wenchang already. Most of West Falkland Island is in the same box as Río Gallegos, Argentina (pop. 98,000). But the capital, Stanley, (pop. 2,460) is on the East Island, in the next box over.

Map of a tiny corner of the
African Guinea Coast, just below the Equator.  About 96% of the box is
ocean, but a little snippet of Gabon intrudes at the northeast corner,
and Port-Gentil happens to be in it. Okay, enough islands. Some of those little towns, alone in their boxes, are on the mainland and (unlike, say, Ittoqqortoormiit) in places where people actually live. But they just happened to get lucky and be the only town in their box. Gabon isn't a big part of Africa. Port-Gentil (pop. 136,462) isn't the largest city in Gabon. But it's on the mainland of Africa and it's the largest city in its box.
An even tinier corner of South
Africa, just south of Durban.  This time less than 1% of the box
contains land, with Port Shepstone marked. Durban is just barely in
the next box north. I think my favorite oddity so far is that Maputo (population 2.7 million) would have won in its box, if Durban (population 3.7 million) were 13 kilometers farther south. But Durban is at 29.9°S, and that means that the largest settlement in Africa east of 30°E that is also south of 30°S is Port Shepstone (pop. 35,633).

M. Klumpenhower, creator of the original map, has a vexillology- and geography-themed YouTube channel.

[ Addendum: Reddit discussion has pointed out that Clifden (pop. 1,597) , in western Ireland, is not the largest settlement in its box. There are two slivers of Ireland in that box, and Dingle, four hours away in County Kerry, has a population of 2,050. The Reddit discussion has a few other corrections. The most important is probably that Caracas should beat out Santo Domingo. M. Klumpenhower says that they will send me a revised version of the map. ]

[ Thanks to Hacker News user oefrha for pointing out that Hohhot and Baotou are in China, not Mongolia as I originally said. ]

[ Addendum 20200627: M. Klumpenhower has sent me a revised map, which now appears in place of the old one. It corrects the errors mentioned above. Here's a graphic that shows the differences. But Walt Mankowski pointed out another possible error: The box with Kochi (southern India) should probably be owned by Colombo. ]

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