Week 4

The story so far….

My podcast topic is on the 2008 general election and what really interests me about this race is that it’s the first time since 1964 that Virginia voted Democrat, and only the second time since 1952. It’s Virginia’s birth as a swing state and I want to know why. Part of the reason can be seen by comparing the map of 2008 election results with a map of population density, in this case, one made from 2010 census data. The more populous cities and counties, particularly the NoVa suburbs and the Norfolk area voted, as cities tend to do, for the Democratic candidate. As reported in Virginia Issues and Answers, “Between 2000 and 2010, the population of Virginia’s metropolitan areas grew by 14.3 percent while the non-metro area population grew by only 6.8 percent. Northern Virginia was the main driver of the state’s population growth. More than half (51.4 percent) of the state’s net new residents over the past decade live in Northern Virginia. Five of the state’s 10 fastest-growing counties and independent cities are located in Northern Virginia: the counties of Loudoun, Prince William, Stafford, and Spotsylvania, and the City of Manassas Park.”  So not only is the population of left-leaning areas larger, but is growing faster than the more rural right. But the shift from red to blue cannot be explained by numbers alone. The larger political arena has to be taken into consideration. 2006 was a resurgent year for Democrats in Congress, following discontent with George W. Bush’s policies. According to Gallup, Bush’s approval ratings fell from an average of 62% during his first term to 37% during his second. An unpopular Republican president and the increase in population in Democratic areas created the perfect environment for a young Barack Obama to woo Virginia.


Topic modelling

I actually have some experience with data mining and textual analyses. Since August I’ve been working on Dr. Ewing’s Russian flue project. A lot of what I do for it is reading through old newspapers and medical journals, to pull out keywords that signify a certain topic or event in order to understand how the disease, and the news about it, spread. On the computer science side we’re also trying to improve OCR technology and create better systems of getting data from digitized sources. It gets confusing at times, especially with so many different parts, but I’ve enjoyed it so far.

For my own benefit, and I have no clue where this idea came from, but I would like to see a project on the correlation between immorality and death of young women in Victorian literature. Rob Nelson discovers that poetic language and anti-north diatribes tended to go hand and hand with each other and I think a researcher would find a similar link between my two topics.

On a more serious note, I would be very interested in see the profits from some medicine companies that come up frequently in my old newspaper findings compared with the the number of false reports of the Russian influenza. So much of disease medicine was surrounded by hysteria in the 19th century and I’d like to know if any companies used this to their advantage, especially as it was also the heyday of newspapers and magazines.

3.) I have one episode left of In the Dark. I’ve been listening to it while I work on my Congressional data. It’s made me question the politicization of the sheriff’s office. Is it right that we leave a key law enforcement official up to the people? Does this keep them accountable or make them too focused on their own likability? Will they become afraid to admit mistakes and take on difficult cases? This is especially important to me right now as my home county is having a bit of a governmental shake-up in light of the opioid crisis.

But in terms of technique, I’ve noticed that the longer In the Dark goes on, the more our narrator puts herself into the story. I’m not sure if I necessarily like some of the choices she and the editors have made about what comments to keep during interviews, but I do understand. We are now at the point of the story where she as a journalist was a participant in the case and I think it’d stand out even more if she took herself out completely.

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