Friday, December 14, 2007

In praise of the Harper's Index

No, it's not a stock index, nor a fund index, nor related to maps, encyclopedias nor to a government census. Harper's Index is a page of offbeat statistics published each month in Harper's Magazine. We are talking odd and outlandish statistics that seem to flow into each other in some sort of semi-poetic stream-of-consciousness progression. A quasi organic tumble of cultural quirks - evidence from which (perhaps) deductions can be made. Need to know the percentage of Americans who claim they'd like to have a plug to the internet surgically hooked into their brains? The amount of CO2 released from opened champagne on New Year's Eve? The chances your daughter's bright red lipstick has an unsafe level of lead? You need this month's INDEX to find out...
(Note: Harper's Magazine is NOT to be confused with Harper's Bazaar which is NOT NOT NOT on my reading list.)

The Harper's Index that arrived today (on Page 15) has 39 tidy snippets of intrigue and outrage. Some of their stats hit like a sucker punch with a quick one-two rhythm. Here's an example of the one-two style. Tidbit number 29 - in the state of California 19,300 credit card disputes have been resolved since 2003. While that one fills readers with a satisfying sense of justice, it's a short-lived delusion. It's just the setup line. The punch is the next line which reveals that 94 percent were resolved in favor of the credit card company. On page 82 in a neat source box, you can discover that both these statistics were provided the Public Citizen, an organization founded by Ralph Nader

For the 37 other bits this month, including the three odd questions posed in the first paragraph - subscribe! Or go to the library! You can also wait two months and get the index online. Or if you know me, I can lend you the issue. And yes I realize I am plugging a bit of traditional media. I like it. If you are bored or in need of small talk stunners I urge you visit the Harper's Index Archive which runs all the way back to March of 1984. - regards and happy reading!