Mapping Armageddon?

It didn’t take long from the dropping of the first atomic bombs to imagine the new landscape of mutually assured destruction that would defined the Cold War, when the ICBM’s that haunt the current global landscape–Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles–did not actually exist, save as imagined threats.  The mapping of their threat to the United States invited Americans to envision the possibility of attack, resurgent in the nuclear standoff with North Korea.  If the escalation of tensions between North Korea and the U.S. is mapped to process the increasing power of rocket engines on which nuclear warheads have been mounted, the maps provoked fears of a nuclear strike on United States that capture the panicked need to escalate defenses shortly after World War II.  Trump has insisted that his threat of returning “fire and fury” was not only a dare, and  cautioned that “if something happens to Guam, it will be an event the likes of which no one has ever seen before, what will happen in North Korea,” cautioning that they’d be “in trouble like few nations have been in trouble, ever, in this world.” It was hard to interpret the cryptic comment as anything but a reference to Hiroshima.

But the ingenuous insistence that his comments were less a dare than a statement returned us to the myth of the winnability of a nuclear war, an odd myth that never had any narrative coherence.  And it led folks to worry with increased clarity of the possibility of North Korean bombs reaching San Diego, Denver, or Chicago, based on the suspected range of the Hwasong-14 missiles–possibly up to 6,500 miles, temporarily distracting attention from how Trump’s own presidency seems in danger of collapse.  The genealogy of a survivable atomic attack might begin as far back as the first atomic bombs were dropped.  Only months after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan–from early August to mid-November–the possibility of a return salvo on American grounds had been presented in a striking lead article Life magazine, but in ways that suggested, in a quite inconclusive manner, the possible  that offered a map of the landscape of a coming “thirty-six hour war” accompanied a report of General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces in World War II, author of the popular Victory through Air Power, that he presented to the U.S. Department of War.

Although Arnold was not probably involved in planning the many visual images that appeared in the article, the letter made enough of an impact for editors at Life arranged for a technically skilled illustrator, Alexander Leydenfrost, to visualize fears of the devastating scope of the air-based attacks on the United States in “Thirty-Six Hour War,” which Arnold had stonily predicted would consist largely of atomic missile strikes arriving “with shattering speed” from launching sites.  The magazine described missiles launched from an unknown site, hidden in to escape notice of the United Nations; the magazine imagined missiles as successfully flying “1,800 miles up and some 8,000 miles around the earth from equatorial Africa”–an unheard of distance. But even if omitting a country of origin, the location of the danger was clear.  The fear of such a swift airborne threat whose rapid arrival allowed little time for response seemed as worrying as the destroyed landscape, but neither was recognized as the product of a war of Mutually Assured Destruction.  If they arrive from an unnamed location over the horizon–


Atom Bombs Descend on US LIFE 1945The Atom Bombs Descend on the US (November, 1945)/Alexander Leydenfrost


–the article had it both ways, by raising the cartography of fear of a destroyed nation before it moved to an optimistic conclusion, despite the deep grays of the panoramic image, of victory in an age of atomic war.

If it doesn’t suggest the deep feelings of guilt on the destruction of Japanese cities, it maps the dangers of a strike of missiles that bridged continents suggest the vulnerability of the country to new weapons.  And as if to acknowledge the impossibility of creating a clear narrative about such a nuclear strike–and indeed the scale of massive destruction which it would occasions–the message that it gave was inconclusive.  For the cartography of fear which it began with prefaced how the article advocated the weapons needed to survive and reach victory in a war which might arrive.  The terrifying image of “The Atom Bombs Descend on the U.S.” start the “catastrophe of the next great conflict,” perhaps a consequence of the dropping of the atomic bomb Arnold had seen as in fact unnecessary to win the war without a military invasion of Japan.  The article’s narrative of surviving such a war was open-ended, but the specter of such a fear seemed important to process.  Even without crediting the vision to Arnold, but the image suggested the fears that Hiroshima would have provoked in the U.S., which was rendered oddly as if it were an island, comparable to Japan, and vulnerable to arial bombing attack–not that any country on the globe was not.

The terrifying landscape of an arrival of atomic bombardment under starlit skies seems to have haunted our notion of what a theater of war based in intercontinental missiles would look like.  But as Arnold’s Report argued “airborne troops have become one of the most effective units of a modern fighting force,” the unsigned article imagined that radar detected the arrival of bombs,  allowing a counter-attack–“real security against atomic weapons in the visible future will rest on our ability to take immediate offensive action with overwhelming force,” the report argued. And the article shifted from such an apocalyptic narrative to how that war might be successfully waged, as the detection of enemy rockets by radar systems plotted the course and positions and, in the thirty minutes available to prepare for attack,  launch defensive rockets that intercept the atomic explosives–“an effective means of defense,” as Arnold had argued and Life’s illustrator tried to convey.  Arnold felt it only a matter of time we develop something similar to German V-2 rockets, able to strike with precision “but armed with atomic explosives,” central to the hope of survival–and victory–in an era of atomic attack.   The article provided a powerful visual narrative for his appeal, creating a scenario for how such powerful defenses could defuse the existential danger of the threat of nuclear arms, echoing a promise urged by later Presidents, and creating the myth of a winnable nuclear war.


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Long before ICBM’s were entered the plans of the U.S. Department of Defense, Arnold’s report occasioned a widely-circulated set of maps in Life magazine, warning in haunting grey-drenched images of missiles arriving over American cities, where the sort of total defeat that was visited on the Japanese was depicted as a possible survival.  Even as nuclear warheads arc above unseen populations as they sleep, as if removed from human agency, launched from beyond the horizon, the  magazine’s artist rendered how such an attack might be resisted, and indeed victory be won–with the development of a large system of underground silos able to fire missiles back against the enemy whose lands might be later recaptured by airmen, in a future war waged largely from the skies.  The image accompanied a narrative inviting readers to imagine the rapid pace and unprecedented destructive scale of nuclear war which so deeply tapped unspoken concerns of the nation’s future survival to lock in a logic of an atomic war.


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Leydenfrost’s elegant two-page spread accompanied an article about General Arnold’s recommendations to the US Department of War about an inevitable future air war.   “Hap” Arnold, who would work at the Cold War think tank the Rand Corporation, believed the expansion of nuclear weapons in airborne war as a crucial matter of import for the Secretary of War.  Rather than view the terrible nature of war from the air–think of Picasso’s 1937 Guernica and the tragedy of its tortured bodies–the advance of foreign rockets is a problem to be confronted, without people; and the map of the atom bombs descending on the United States in “Thirty-Six Hour War” ask us simply to confront the question of what the nature of the war will be and how it can be best waged and won for a wide audience, affirming  “we should devise every possible active defense against an atomic bomb attack,” lest the image of “a great shower of enemy rockets falling on thirteen key U.S. cities” armed with atomic bombs not be withstood.

The panorama captured the “startling speed” with which rockets bearing atomic warheads arrive over the United States in a future war of such short duration, delivering, “devastating blows at our population centers and our industrial, economic, or governmental heart even before surface forces can be deployed.”  The hemispheric panorama Life‘s skilled in-house illustrator Leydenfrost designed as if seen from over the Pacific Ocean renders the continental United States “as it might appear a very few years from now,” above “a great shower of enemy rockets” exploding over New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boulder Dam, New Orleans, Denver, Washington, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Kansas City, and Knoxville ” that will kill 10,000,000 instantly.  Only eight  sites of impact seem to have occurred, but the list of destroyed cities activate a landscape we suddenly recognize, if we might not immediately grasp.  Yet as we recognize the landscape and the names of cities destroyed, the terror of the “ghastliest of all wars”–its remove from the present erased by a legend warning this may be “the U.S. as it might appear a very few years from now.”  Yet in this odd narrative, even through the baptism of fire, the United States might survive, and even after “San Francisco’s Market Street, Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, and New York’s Fifth Avenue are merely lanes through the debris,” it prophecies that American rockets could “lay waste” to the enemy cities, allowing airborne American soldiers to take the enemy country and claim a very pyrrhic sort of victory.

The empyrean remove of the rockets arriving contrast with how a fractured picture plane of Guernica of tangled bodies render the scene of utter terror or the experience and utter confusion of an airstrike on the ground that Picasso famously tried to render.


picasso_1937_guernica_progreso_01.jpgDora Maar, Early Draft of Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica”


In contrast, the cartography of fear that “Hap” Arnold helped instill in the nation’s mental geography  has been activated once again today.  Indeed, it seems that this landscape is not removed from Donald Trump’s thoughts on what is suitably Presidential.  For is the surreal map that accompanied “Hap” Arnold’s prophecy of the winnable atomic war not somehow informing Donald Trump’s rather grotesque saber-rattling in response to the threat of North Korea to attack the U.S. territory of Guam with missiles with nuclear warheads?  The promise that the President made threatening that North Korea “will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” before aggressive nuclear threats to the United States and its military bases have escalated global tensions, by evoking the landscape of arcing missiles, removed from the terror any attack might create.  The threats responded to North Korea’s achievement of a long-sought ability to place nuclear warheads on intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles.  While not as reliable as the sophisticated intercontinental ballistic missiles able to be immediately launched by the United States, raises alarms since it marks the only time that a nation not participating in the non-proliferation treaty, possesses nuclear arms.   But Trump’s threat unhesitatingly translate the danger into a Cold War landscape, evoked in 1945, and the logic by which missiles bearing atomic explosives across a sky demanded a massive response of military power and correspondingly massive funding of new military programs.  Indeed, the argument of cultivating a defense of the nation besieged by external threats suddenly seems to be part of the script of what Trump sees as Presidential.


Atom Bombs Descend on US LIFE 1945

panoramaThe Atom Bombs Descend on the US (November, 1945)/Alexander Leydenfrost


The rendering of the rain of bombardment under the cover of night-time skies is eerily prescient, and in fact predates technologies of intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying atomic warheads that it foretold.  Skilled in-house illustrators like Leydenfrost, a former professor of industrial design at the Royal Joseph Technical University in Budapest, are often credited for the chilling panoramic view of arcing strikes from an unseen antagonist, “Hap” Arnold, as well as a commander of the Pacific theater of war in World War II, helped create the first propaganda training films for the US Air Force.  In addition to being “the Architect of America’s Air Force,” he founded the office that helped  produce some 400 propaganda films for the US Air Force during the war; the panorama of arriving enemy rockets image, which accompanied a striking realistic painting of New York destroyed by atomic bombs, was effectively propaganda for the expansion of the military budget in the post-war era of what was then the US Department of War.

Whatever the case, the cinematic staging of such an ominous image of arcing arriving intercontinental missiles landing in multiple North American cities was close the images that not only haunted the national psyche but lodged itself for future years in the mental landscape of the duck-and-cover era as an image of immanent destruction, against which counterattack–the hope of exploding impending atomic bombs in the air by a rocket–can forestall the rain of atomic bombs over what we now recognize as the United States.  The idea here, which haunted the mental imaginary in the Cold war, is that the United States, even as it was poised after World War II to be the preeminent world power, could be struck down by warheads while most of its citizens are asleep, without any warning.




If the continent was difficult to recognize, the article showed Washington, DC as the target of attack, as it had never been seen, below an incipient mushroom cloud.


DC under attack.pngThe Thirty-Six Hour War (November, 1945)/Alexander Leydenfrost


The apocalyptic landscape conjured a new primal fear in incredibly stark terms, drenched in grays to suggest a grim future, beneath the brilliant “shower of white-hot enemy rockets [that] falls on Washington, D.C.”  The panorama from outer space was perhaps not easily recognizable by readers at first; but the actuality of the destruction of a familiar landscape was activated by a litany of place-names in the article that were suddenly seen as targets of the arcs of long-range missiles, in a strike occurring while much of the country lay shrouded in darkness, unprepared for the sudden attack.  The darkness was appropriate, as it suggested the dangers of being unprepared for the new landscape of war; and a case could be made that the image prefigured if not inaugurated the Cold War.  It acknowledged the terrible discovery of the atomic bomb might soon be used against the cities of the United States capitol. “It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered,” President Truman mused in his diary entry of July 25, 1945.  But if the recent targeting of Nagasaki was only imagined by mapping ground zero as an abstract field, without houses, schools, children, civilians or families–




–the imagined approach of a rocket above Washington, DC stirred fears by targeting a recognizable home ground about the Washington Monument and National Mall.

There is something about apocalpytic imaginaries that makes them particularly striking occasions to consider one’s mortality.  The above panoramic map was printed beside an article that described a letter that “Hap” Arnold wrote as the commander of the U.S. Air Forces to the Department of Defense.  It served as a call to stir up public opinion about the need to continue boosting preparedness, on the eve of Hiroshima, for the Next Big War,–a war which would demand a system of returning missiles armed with warheads.  The article effectively asked in 1945 whether American cities might suffer the fate the United States had inflicted on two Japanese cities in such a historically unprecedented show of force.

While not included in the Life article, Arnold  the 1945 Arnold report  included ta striking image of the damages air strikes that seems to contemplate the extent of damages already inflicted on Japan before the atomic bomb was dropped–and echoed Arnold’s doubts about its necessity.  As if to make the point, Arnold mapped the damage that B-29 bombers had inflicted on Japanese cities of a size relative to American cities, listing the percentage “burned out by B-29 incendiary attacks” beside a “U.S. city of approximately the same size.”  The rhetorical point of imagining a similar scale of destruction in the United States itself invited readers to consider what the shifting of place-names would mean for the future landscape of the United States–or presumably what could have happened if another nation invaded the U.S. by air, let alone developed the bomb.


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While the illustrator who signed the apocalyptic panorama is credited with their truly cinematic effect, Arnold’s own acquaintance with cinematic scenarios may be revealed familiarity with storyboards and scenario.  He would have gained close familiarity with military propaganda when planning the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Forces, when he tried from 1942 to persuade Warner Bros. producers and screenwriters to create war propaganda films for the U.S. Air Force–resulting in “Winning Your Wings,” a recruitment film for the Air Force starring Jimmy Stewart–which glorified the future of war combat in the air and the ease of enlisting as a pilot, but minimized any potential personal sacrifice.  Arnold had worked on propaganda films for the war effort, and may well have helped placed this piece of public opinion propaganda in the premier magazine in order to boost support for expanding our dedication to an expanded military and Air Force even after the war’s close.  The image of the possible future destruction of Washington, DC, captured in the most visceral way possible Gen. “Hap” Arnold’s deep-set belief that the only “real security” against atomic weapons in the visible future will rest in our ability to make potential aggressors realize” that “an attack on the United States would be immediately followed by an immensely devastating atomic attack on him [sic],” after which, he argued, airborne troops could follow-up to secure the country’s infrastructure.  The range of images in Life suggest, much as the current crisis with North Korea, the quick migration of military maps to civilian readers.

The sequential maps of the outcomes of futuristic wars created an argument that forced readers to try to process the issue of future nuclear strikes far more compellingly than words alone could make.  The episodes that visually dominated the issue of November, 1945, after prefatory advertisements, “The Thirty-Six Hour War–Arnold Report Hints at the Catastrophe of the Next Great Conflict“–made explicit the greatest fears on everyone’s mind, starting from the image “The Atom Bombs Descend on U.S.”  Arnold’s urgent rhetoric to the Department of War in 1945 of course mirrors the threats of nuclear reprisal Donald Trump has recently made, startling much of the world as well as South Korea and Japan–as well as North Korea itself.  The earlier Life article sought to reach a mass audience of readers to create pressure about the request to continue to grow the post-war military budget.  It is striking that Arnold’s article was accompanied by an image designed by another Life illustrator conjuring an underground facility dedicated to manufacturing, storing, loading and firing ICBM’s that did not yet exist, an underground city not able to be attacked from which retaliatory missile strikes could be fired through hidden “firing tubes” that could readily respond to the enemy in an hour.  The scary article invited readers to visualize a coming nuclear apocalypse raised the possibility of a missile defense system, while allowing that “our defensive machines stop few attackers,” and advocating the expansion of a retaliatory strike mechanism as the best possible defense.  The image of a the missile trajectory of a feared attack of a ballistic missile on the island of Guam or its surrounding waters–


Hwasong-12 paths.pngReuters Graphics (August 16, 2017)


–have provoked the fear that the increasing power of their engines would eventually also expose the nation to missile strikes, activating a mental imaginary not tapped since the early 1960s–and compared by members of the Trump administration openly to the Cuban Missile Crisis, undoubtedly for added immediacy and rhetorical effect.

Is the current geographical imagining of a nuclear response to such a nuclear threat by a counter-attack not only hopelessly out of date, but oblivious to the actual dynamics of tensions on the Korean peninsula?  The recent mapping of the sudden and sizable growth of missiles from North Korea that can be classified as of intercontinental range from March 2017 raise a similar alarm.  The   firing in May of the Hwasong-12, or KN-17, which broke all previous records for the distance at which North Korea had fired missiles suddenly reactivated such a landscape of first nuclear strikes.  For the course of its flight, which rose some 3,000 km before falling into the Sea of Japan, when leveled out suggested the attainment of a striking range able to reach even beyond the U.S. army base in Guam–and it was followed by two subsequent missile launches in July of startlingly greater range.  The apparent range of the Hwasong-14 on July 17 may have revealed an ability to strike Alaska, possibly Denver, or even Chicago–attaining an ability to target cities in the United States and North America–even though it is far from clear that the missile would survive the trip.




Troy Griggs/New York Times (March 4, 2017) Source: The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


nyt hwasong 12Troy Griggs/New York Times (March 4, 2017)


Recent news maps take care to list the names of places where American military personnel could be struck by North Korean missiles, to concretize fears of the cities that North Korean missiles of greater range might attack.  The maps posed questions of first strike capabilities without any consideration of the local dynamics of power on the Korean peninsula.

Even in an age of web-mapping and data visualizations, the rehabilitation of classic cartographic projections have been used to situate North Korea at the center of a theater of conflict.  The employment of an azimuthal equidistant projection–a useful strategy to be able to show each point in the world lies in a uniform scale from North Korean missile bases, if in ways that its Renaissance pioneers, Gerard Mercator or Guillaume Postel, would hardly recognize.  For the azimuthal projection serves to activate fears of future nuclear strikes by rendering North Korea at its center in bright red–and process the fears of what a first strike would entail, and indeed to globalize what is in fact a confrontation between the United States and North Korea–and a response to the sense of vulnerability that the North Korean government has to joint military exercises near its shore..  The projection helps to map North Korea as a prime global threat, however, as if to mirror the responses it had provoked from Donald Trump, and its place at the center of global media attention, isolating the country that has tested increasingly powerful ballistic missiles from May to July as an absolute and undeniable danger for the entire world.  The map helps process the emergence of North Korea a hot-button issue, to be sure, but also removed it from networks of local knowledge or diplomacy, identifying it with the color associated with danger signs to map the newly expanded striking capacities of its missiles as a focus of global concern in no uncertain terms.

North Korea Can StrikePolitico


The arrival of a projection centered on North Korea suggests not only a shift in perspective on geopolitics in the post-Cold War world.  It foreground a new threat tied to nuclear proliferation:  North Korea has been recognized as able to produce compact missile-mountable nuclear weapons with rapidity and the fear that North Korea is able to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States–and that North Korea has enough a fissile material stockpile sufficient for 60 bombs today to produce additional fissile material at a rate of 12 bombs per year–meant that it would even have the chance or possibility of exploding warheads over multiple American cities, even if the July launch of a Hwasong-14 that shot up to a height of 3,700 km didn’t demonstrate successful atmospheric re-entry on which the delivery of a nuclear warhead would depend, although North Korea claimed it suffered no structural damage during its July 4 test; but the test suggested that the new North Korean missile was able to travel the 5,500 km to qualify as a truly “intercontinental” ballistic missile the country had ever constructed.

But the geographical imaginary of the Cold War is not able to be so seamlessly translated to the Korean peninsula, where the “arms race” that seems to have developed as the result of the buying of warheads and technological expertise  suddenly available on the black market, and perhaps from a missile plant in Ukraine, from a factory from which Russia had canceled their order to upgrade their own fleet of nuclear warheads, and from which North Korea tried to purchase “missile systems, liquid-propellant engines, spacecraft and missile fuel supply systems” a year earlier, according to  United Nations investigators, much as memos from the Obama administration released by WikiLeaks  described North Korea using missile designs used in Soviet-era thermonuclear warheads.

Maps are good to think by, and important tools to process such striking and difficult to digest information about a shift in power reand global threat.  But if maps are what we use to think about conflicts, although the technology transfer of Russian-designed missile engines to North Korea may have come from missiles languishing in Russian warehouses, the translation of a geographic imaginary from the Cold War North Korea’s use of the missiles makes little sense:  the confrontation about increasing ICBM potentials able to strike the U.S., about which rumors circulated in 2009, and for which bomb testing began from 2013, is poorly mapped as a confrontation only between two adversarial nations, but complexly enmeshed in the tensions and politics of the Korean peninsula,–and not successfully visualized as from an adversarial unseen enemy lurking over the horizon, and threatening to strike cities in the United States, as in the terrifying panorama rendering “Hap” Arnold’s dark view of the future of warfare.

Alarmingly, if the global relations of Pyongyang to the inhabited world were shown in ways that better accommodated imagined arcs of ICBM’s along its surface, the global reach into North America, so long desired by North Korea, can be alarmingly shown in ways that suggest the expanding reach of North Korea to cities in the midwest and east coast, assuming the missile’s standard trajectory to crest above 10,000 km, and, given the eastward extension of this range by the planetary rotation of the Earth, allowing an even greater range depending on their direction, perhaps placing New York and Boston within striking ability of North Korea, if leaving Washington, D.C lying just barely beyond range.



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Troy Griggs/New York Times (March 4, 2017) 

Source: The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


The “growing reach” of North Korean nuclear warheads has been showcased repeatedly in recent months, as the firing of ballistic missiles launched on rockets has brought renewed speculation on just how far the ability of Pyongyang to target cities in North America is–raising questions that indeed echo “Hap” Arnold’s own concerns, and seem closely tied to support for renegotiating the military budget in the Trump administration.

The maps that visualize the growth of North Korea’s striking range displayed in the news are, after all, far from disinterested, and often seem designed to alarm.  It has been pointed out that a series of misleading maps, often involving estimates of intercontinental missiles “currently being tested” or under construction, have also expanded the striking range of North Korean missiles into North American territory, in ways that concretize the immediacy of their threats, and the need to expand American military spending to respond to their clear threats, given the alarming rate at which North Korea is “growing nuclear and missile capabilities,” as Heritage Foundation expert Bruce Klingner has recently argued on television news shows in a locution that oddly sounds as if it were an organic process that is self-contained, but threatens to escalate what was an “existential threat” to South Korea into a “direct threat to the continental United States” meriting a nuclear response when it becomes “imminent.”   Korean news agencies KCNA released an image of Kim studying a “Strategic Forces Firing Strike Plan” that traces a missile’s path arcing above the Sea of Japan to strike the island of Guam from a launch site on North Korea’s coast in a flight of but fourteen minutes as it traverses Japanese airspace, above U.S. bases on the islands–


imminent threat to Guam?.pngKCNA via Reuters




–but is the mid-August map an “imminent” threat?  Or is it only a public taunt?  The North Korean media certainly staged this photographic opportunity as a means of shifting power from Washington D.C. to Pyongyang, where generals using pointers indicate the missile strikes they might now achieve.

The notion of “imminent” threats, an opaque language first used by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, suggests the start of a new post-Cold War world–or at least recuperates the threat tied to lobbying for new military budgets that “Hap” Arnold advocated.  How this notion of “imminent threats”–although the quite chastening threat North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Po made to the press, and to the United States, that “Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force,” indicates eagerness to stage nuclear strikes for defensive ends–the compromising of the Department of State having hampered possibilities of skillful negotiation or fruitful talks.

The problem of mapping the flights of bombs or ballistic missiles was rarely shown so openly in intervening years after the “Hap” Arnold’s letter presented the specter of nuclear holocaust to readers of Life magazine.  How we map the flights of arcs of ballistic missiles over space are distorted by the Mercator projection, leading the bulk of Russian ICBM’s pointed at the United States to be located in its heartland of a nation that we still seem to prefer to color red:




But the arcing nature of missile strikes, not able to be clearly communicated in Google Maps, and the considerable liabilities of web-Mercator, or pseudo-Mercator, has also led to a resurgence even in the age of web-based mapping of the globe to render the fears of such strikes more credibly communicated–at least to understand them as the existential threats they truly are.




The fears of such strikes were long contained by arms control negotiation and nuclear arms bans, but the resurgance of the nightmarish image that can be traced by to “Hap” Arnold has led to a SALT talks temporarily froze numbers of ICBM’s that were held by Russia and the United States from 1970, trying to hit a “reset” long before Hillary Clinton presented a “reset button”–although weapons designers and manufacturers managed to circumvent the treaties’ stipulations, and helped Ronald Reagan run on the platform to “rearm America” as if strategic arms negotiations had hindered military modernization–and while reducing strategic arms, introduced futuristic speculation about building a missile defense shield:  “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” Reagan asked the nation, as if to accommodate the threat of intermediate range missiles, in ways that evoke the very solution that “Hap” Arnold had provided.

The proposal responded to “Hap” Arnold’s problem of the need to rely on retaliatory nuclear strikes as the best possible option of defense, by imagining the early detection by United States military surveillance satellites of high-altitude missiles that could be zapped before they even returned to the earth’s atmosphere.  Did Reagan draw inspiration from the futuristic scenario that “Hap” Arnold imagined?  (Was Arnold at all a model for Reagan’s growing post-war involvement with Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG), of which he became President in 1947, three years before Arnold’s death?  At any rate, Arnold’s ideas seem to have percolated into Reagan’s later devotion to the SDI program known as “Star Wars”, which he championed as US President, as a way to eliminate the threat of incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.)


SDI map end MAD


While the notion of a space-born system including particle beams and “battle mirrors” and ground-based lasers removed the question of nuclear conflict from the earth, with the promise of destroying nuclear warheads as they soared far above the stratosphere, and before re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, and non-nuclear deterrence seemed to merit the name Star Wars in 1983, if the use of surveillance satellites is eery, mapping the eventuality of such a ballistic missile strike more terrifyingly acknowledged its fear as all to real, and depended on the accuracy of interception far above the earth–hopefully above a place like Greenland, which seemed pretty well removed from most inhabitants, but recuperated and modernized many of “Hap” Arnold’s ideas.


SDI againt Millise attack.png


North Korea’s recent plans to expand its ballistic missile arsenal from June, 2017 provoked similar considerations of just how far such strikes could extend and what cities they could strike:  maps are presented as the way of defining something of a red line of aggression, even if the nature of these strikes is totally hypothetical, and the precision of the missile strikes may be totally off.  Despite the apparently unbalanced desire Kim Jong Un voiced to reduce the United states “to ashes” by “invincible Hwasong rockets tipped with nuclear warheads,” the vainglorious boast seemed to gain new levels of reality after the success of ballistic missile tests that were shot into the Sea of Japan to altitudes of above 1,300 miles, but which seemed to be able to gain far further strike capacities.

Although military experts assure us that the Korean missiles currently developed could strike targets as far as New York, but the precision of these strikes cannot be guaranteed.  But the accuracy of the genre of mapping seems to presume that the accuracy of strikes against cities is most likely.  And even if the accuracy of North Korean ballistic missiles can’t be ascertained–and the embarrassment of a strike that fell in the ocean or in the desert demanded to be avoided, even if the threat to target Guam is all too real for many, after North Korea  promised to fire missiles into the waters surrounding the island at a distance of just fifteen miles from the shore–a threat that echoes the charge that Kim Jong Un gave his military to develop arms capable of striking Guam and Hawaii, as well as the continental U.S.  (The dryly worded fliers offering emergency tips about surviving a nuclear strike from North Korea published and distributed by the Department of Homeland Security caution against looking directly at the flash or fireball and not wearing conditioner after the strike as it might bind radioactive elements to one’s hair–although showering off is recommended to remove contamination–although the fourteen minutes that residents would have to prepare for an actual attack wouldn’t give one much room to take cover or protect loved ones.)  What the official readiness website advocated as the most important mode of preparation–to be as far from the site of attack as possible, according to, of course seems by far the most unattainable.

The discussion by North Korea of the eventuality of a strike by intermediate-range ballistic missiles on the island of Guam, traveling several times the speed of sound, evading the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system–a land-based anti-ballistic system located in South Korea to counter North Korean nuclear missile threats deployed since July.  (Pyongyang and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea have seen this system as an initial stage of aggression, and have responded by accelerating missile launches.)  The fears of the strikes have been accelerated by maps of the expanding capacities of North Korean ballistic missiles, although this is unable to  test.  Accuracy and precision be damned, however the recent cautioning that 120,000,000 lives would be “compromised” or endangered by North Korean airstrikes as the range of North Korean ICBM’s grows over time echoed the same landscape of fear from February 2016–as the number of ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests ordered by Pyongyang grew–occasioned a return of a similar iconography of terrifyingly unknown agency:


screen shot 2016-12-02 at 105318 am.png


Confidence in mapping the precision of these strikes seems to have led North Korea’s News Agency KCNA to release photographs of Kim, surrounded by military advisors,  studying maps on video and paper alike that displayed the new range of North Korean ballistic missiles–


Kim Jong Un with Map KCNA.png


–as the increased range of intercontinental ballistic missiles of over 7.000 miles suddenly seems to put cities like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago within striking range.   Although it may be more terrifying that cities in Japan like Tokyo are most directly in range of the common Taepodong-1 missiles, the notion of American cities lying within striking range has been taken as the most bellicose action–in large part because it can be mapped, even if the intersection of such a map of capacities with the bellicose rhetoric of the newly “elected” American President more of a concern than the maps Kim studies.

Rather than being based on an actual launching of an act of aggression, the promise of the American president to met any military action will be “met with fire and fury” used apocalyptic rhetoric of biblical proportions to suggest a deep panic over the inability to contain North Korea’s nuclear capacities–although the departure of North Korea from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, during the Bush Presidency, was something of a ticking bomb, as it led to accelerated nuclear weapons development.  As much as throw a familiar alliteration of mass destruction to Trump’s base in the fundamentalist right, North Korea was given a jump start when Trump used America First bombast to urge nuclear programs be developed in Japan and South Korea, and that the Unite States would no longer station troops in bases in both of North Korea’s neighbors.

The specter of a proliferation of warheads close to North Korean shores must have triggered a deep-set fear in Pyongyang of the need to ramp up their own defenses, following the same sort of logic that “Hap” Arnold long ago advocated, shortly after he had moved the bomber force of B-29 planes that became the Twentieth Air Force to Guam? Actor Ronald Reagan would probably have best known Arnold for his role in creating the First Motion Picture Unit which produced over 400 war propaganda films after 1942, including The Last Bomb, about the payloads that B-29s delivered over Japan–a film which began in Guam and which concluded in operatic fashion with the mushroom coud over Hiroshima explosion, as a reassuring voice-over reminds viewers at its close saved hundreds of American lives.   If Reagan starred in many of the films the the FMPU produced, a young Donald Trump would likely have been impressed with the cinematic standard such films set for mass destruction by guided missiles, or provided the basis for the level of destruction that the world had, indeed, seen–if only on a screen.

The mapping of missile ranges are removed from any broader military context of troop movements in the declarative statements of the missile ranges that North Korea has been able to achieve, as if to place the entire story within its shores.


Map-North-Korean-missile--001Guardian (2016)


The eventuality of such an expanded ballistic missile program has, quite surreally, led the country to issue a new series of commemorative postal stamps that proclaimed its arrival on a world stage of ballistic missiles, which North Korea has done its best to promote in order too suggest the range of its missiles–most notably in a stamp, pictured below at right, that makes a clear visual case that it would be no problem to fire a missile into any site in North America, by juxtaposing its launching from the red peninsula of North Korea into the North American heartland–or at least suggesting that North America lies increasingly within striking distance.  (Inflammatory rhetoric of North Korea that the country was studying plans to according to state create wall of “enveloping fire” about the island has helped ramp up the hysteria of the United States.)  The philatelic celebration of the benefits of dedicating so much of the defense budget of a poor country to the development of nuclear warheads and ICBM’s suggest that the goal of striking the once-elusive continent of North America is finally in reach.





North Korea proudly claimed that all of the mainland United States was “within striking range of the DPRK missiles” with considerable satisfaction, as if to mark the arrival of the country on the global stage, and, as if in response, terrified news organizations imagined the results of this increased striking range of long-range missiles in global projections.

Exploiting the elegance of a shifting projection, North Korea suddenly was placed at their centers, as if to confirm a narrative proclaiming North Korea’s new image of itself as a nuclear power:   maps alarmingly showed North Korean missiles like the Hwasong-12 gaining a striking range beyond 3,700 km; maps reflected the estimated expansion of the radius of potential missile strikes in an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on North Korea, in order to better render the danger of North Korea’s development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles–or ICBM’s–to carry missle-ready nuclear weapons.



over 3,700 kmpng.png


Pro Publica:  Natural Earth, Defense Manpower Data Center; May 2017 reports


Maps indeed have a terrifying ability to increase the real effect of such strikes, and rather than merely tracing estimates of the striking range of bombs on the globe–




–the grant immediate concreteness through the inclusion of specific place names, allowing us to envision the very white-hot arcs that “Hap” Arnold helped us to imagine.

North Korea Can Strike.pngPolitico  SOURCE: Natural Earth, Defense Manpower Data Center May 2017 reports


The range of individual North Korean ballistic missiles’ respective ranges provides the most effective way to describe the abilities of their arsenal, but the most accurate mode of assessment may be to specify the ranges of specific missiles.  However, the ranges of missiles in question does not seem to be nearly so stable as a map might suggest:  the estimated range might vary by over a thousand kilometers.




While the panorama that “Hap” Arnold may have imagined inaugurated the landscape of atomic fear that became known as the Cold War, the resurgence of fears for visualizing the new nuclear landscape strikingly omits any sense of the effects of such bombs’ explosions, and only pauses to indicate the range at which such strikes may occur.

The imperative to view the actual implications of what such strikes might bring has led increasing numbers of users to visualize the destruction of cities in historian Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap.  The website immediately attracted after its 2012 launch thousands to detonate bombs of varying payloads over cities worldwide after visiting the website–after thousands used it soon after it was first posted in 2012, the site has become astoundingly popular as a platform to allow visitors to stage over a hundred million virtual detonations of nuclear bombs since its launch.  In the website that invites viewers and users to consider the impact on actual targets of the bombs–an aspect that is handily omitted in most maps of the range of North Korean missiles, though one would not have wanted it any other way, the effective but rather flat Google Maps API provides a salutarily chastening platform for viewing the potential scale and devastation created by such mass destruction and even for quantifying its human losses likely to occur, if only to remind us of the unthinkability of starting a nuclear war.  And although the rhetoric of the North Korean state-run media undoubtedly escalated matters when it cautioned in an item intended for domestic consumption, that the United States “will sink into an unimaginable sea of fire on the day when it dares to touch our country by stupidly causing mischief and brandishing its nuclear and sanctions clubs,” the improvised if ill-considered response it provoked about “fire and fury” suggested a willful avoidance or ignorance of human lives that would be the consequence of such devastating attacks.

The detonations that can be placed in any neighborhood mapped on Google Maps offers a chastening but increasingly popular exercise of imagining the erasure of one’s home town that seems to be the inverse of an art of dying well, if not preparation for the inevitable–far more popular than its designer, Alex Wellerstein, predicted, although the apparent objectivity of its option to “detonate” a bomb of different payloads seems a video game of its own, although one without much action–and whose own apocalyptic narrative has a pretty abrupt conclusion.  (Wellerstein devoted an great post, to which I’m indebted, on his Restricted Data blog about the 1945 Life panorama of nuclear destruction, which conjured a graphic rendering of Arnold’s report as Commanding General of the Air Forces.  After the Washington Post called his 2013 Nukemap website a “sign of our jittery times,” Wellserstein rightly observed that visualizing nuclear apocalypse has actually been an “old media pastime”–existing at least from the time that the first atom bomb was dropped.)  The platform Wellerstein cto visualize the implications of the aftermath of a nuclear strike should give one pause–for they are far more honest than visualizations that privilege the incursion into our local airspace or sovereign space.


Blast of Topol SS-25Ivy King over SF


The ready mapping let one map the consequences of a nuclear strike on any browser that supports the Google Maps API, effectively dropping Fat Man-style bombs or H-bombs or the largest fission bomb in the United States’ arsenal or bombs from the Russian battery of nuclear warheads on the city of your choice in a “nuclear effects calculator” of the intensity of the airburst and fireball, rem exposure, major overpressure, number of fatalities and injuries–as well as radioactive fallout, across bombs of different yields on any place in the earth that is mapped by Google Maps–allowing us to come to terms with destruction of different levels in different centers of population, imagining that any city anywhere may be indeed subject to a nuclear strike of a significant payload.  The notion of mapping your own apocalypse in ways that are pretty conclusive may have been designed as a cautionary and chilling website, but a few years after it has made the rounds online has perhaps ramped up hysteria about a foreign ballistic strike.

All this seems startlingly concrete once again in the age of Trump.  In rightful response to the fears of the greater range of missiles from Pyongyang, one cannot tell if the current American President would want to test the actual accuracy of North Korea’s new ballistic missiles.  But the sort of saber-rattling in which Trump has indulged seems designed to promote the growth of the military budget in allegedly exceptional circumstances in ways that echo “Hap” Arnold’s project of inviting us to envision strikes that would bring nuclear disaster.  The heights of missiles fired from May to July suggest strikes that would not offer much of a response from US interceptors in Guam, or Alaska, as their trajectories their engines allowed would only permit targeting at low altitudes.  The missiles would, in other words, in deeply frustrating ways, evade the massive military presence of the United States in South Korea and Japan given their high altitude.


THAAD interceptReuters Graphics (August 16, 2017)


The missiles, however, in an attempt to shift public discussion and concern from the issues of racism, hate-filled language, and homegrown violence that seem to be most central on our national plate–or from the inquiry into coordination with foreign actors or governments to tilt the results of the 2016 Presidential election.  Perhaps Trump merely wants to create a media sensation and rush of endorphins that seem designed to obstruct any inquiry into his administration’s ties to foreign governments or distract from legal inquiry into its potential crimes.

The mental imaginaries of destruction that the maps of the newly increased range of North Korea’s missile set off alarms, however, and compelled Guam’s Homeland Security office–the local branch of DHS–to issue a “Guidance entitled “Preparing for an Imminent Threat”–using the same term adopted by Rex Tillerson as if to acknowledge the arrival of an occasion of imminence of an explosion that would release enough radiation to compel islanders to locate windowless shelters with thick concrete walls “dense enough to absorb radiation” that the nuclear warheads would release.  The genealogy of images of unmarked missiles arcing over inter-continental space is not that submerged a current in American history but has a genealogy that might be forgotten, but parallels the swings in the pendulum of increased requests for a military budget.  The transmission of this political demonology is less targeted against demons that are located within the country, to be sure, but the threats to security that arrive from afar are rooted in a language of the future in order to justify the expanding horizon of military expenditures against an unknown menace.  If the demonology is less directed toward internal subversives, it is of a piece with “Hap” Arnold’s conjuring of a nightmarish landscape of impending clouds of war, and demonizes subversives who don’t recognize or distract from the war effort.

As much as serving to demonize a cultural “other”, the “first strike” landscape of intercontinental arcing missiles paints an indelible picture of ongoing existential threats from the outside, with the ends of magnifying fears of an unknown other, who is seen as a threat to the world.  Continuing to evoke the specter of nuclear strikes has served to stage false claims of patriotism in particularly effective–if dangerous ways–in recent American history over several generations.   But the false patriotism reflexively instilled by invoking nuclear attacks in public media is, strikingly, no longer particularly American, but broadly diffused as the same sort of false patriotism has been widely imitated:  it has now globalized, and is not easily exorcized, in large part because it both seems and is particularly real.  We demand maps to process the expanding threats of ballistic missiles, but their threats are all too easily summoned to discount diplomacy, ignore negotiation, and naturalize a global threat of nuclear Armageddon–as a threat that merits dangerously confrontational rhetoric–although rhetoric that demonizes the threats to global and national security only serves to exacerbate actual global conflicts, imperil the world,  and do so with potentially catastrophic consequences.

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Filed under Donald Trump, graphic design, military maps, North Korea, war propaganda

The Earth of Nvogorod

“Nvogorod [is] the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus,” clarified Jared Kushner in the eight page of his 11-page testimony to the United States Senate, seeming to intend to reference Novgorod, but not following the best lesson in Belarusian geography or Kushner family history.  In describing an ancient Russian city somewhat near Moscow but long part of Lithuania that was the residence of many Jews, Kushner seems to have revealed his hazy purchase on a site dear to his father Charles, whose parents had once been members of the city’s large Jewish community.  Kushner’s grandparents had fled the walled ghetto of Novogrudok in 1941, as the German troops arrived in the city near Minsk, to join a Jewish partisan squad in the Belarus–escaping the ghetto via a tunnel of over two hundred yards dug over weeks by his brave grandmother Rae, then seventeen, with her brother Chonom, below electric fencing surrounding the ghetto, a conduit through which some 350 Jewish men and women fled the ghetto to nearby forests.  The path of her flight from Novogrudok in the underground tunnel she dug commemorated by an overground path and in the Museum of Jewish Resistance situated in the tunnel which the Kushner family has long helped to support with its deep pockets.  Rae arrived in Czechoslovakia, months after clawing her way through the tunnel with her brother, using hand-made instruments to tunnel to escape Novogrudok’s ghetto, and she probably had little attachment to her place of birth or its non-Jewish residents.

Jared conflated the name as Nvogorod in somewhat surprising ways.  For Charles Kushner, Jared’s father, preserved the memory of Rae’s escape on family journeys there with his sons as they reached adulthood, presumably before their Bar Mitzvah; somewhat predictably, given these ties, most Belarusian media openly crowed over the arrival of Kushner, given his ties to Belarus, in the Trump White House.   And so it made some sense for the head of Russia’s state bank, the Vnesheconombank, to arrive to meet Jared Kushner in New York before the inauguration bearing a bag of dirt from the town that the Kushner’s had maintained a close tie, but which Jared seems to have misidentified.  Perhaps for Jared, the memory just didn’t stick, partly due to the differences between the Belarusian place-name from that transmitted in Jewish memory and the Russian toponym:  Kushner’s testimony to Congress described his family as hailing from the authentic-sounding but imagined hybridized non-place of Nvgorod, notwithstanding Charles’ best intentions, rather than Navahrudak,–a city is in fact much closer to Minsk, Belarus’ capital, than Moscow, and pronounced quite differently.




Donald Trump’s candidacy was fed by Russian media, although it remained unpopular in the Baltic states and Ukraine, nonetheless developed a considerable Belarus following partly based on the appeal of Trump’s populism.  When Trump unexpectedly won the Presidential election, the President of Belarus, Aliaksandr Lukashenka, a survivor from the Soviet era, warmly congratulated him–assuring Trump “You shook up American society and returned it to a real democracy,” even as he warned Russians against taking too much pleasure for Trump’s victory.  Lukashenka, a wily politician, demonstrating political acuity by summoning with a sense of sageness to observe “Trump wants to make America great again–but where does that put Russia?”  He has already concluded to his nation that “American society is not yet ready to elect a female president, even one as experienced as Hillary,” but more attention derived from the ties to Navahrudak.   “Of course I am very proud that there is someone from Navahrudak in the White House,” said the fifty-seven year old businessman Boris Semyonov when approached what Navahrudak (the city’s Belarusian name) felt for the prominent post a Kushner would hold in a Trump White House:  “I am waiting for him to visit us.”

Eager for how Trump has been portrayed in Russian media that is widely consumed there, even while noting the clear similarities between local strongman Lukashenka and the prominence of faux populist themes in Trump’s Presidential candidacy, the notion that “Of course, Trump is closer to Russia–and hence to us,” even if little trade between Belarus and the United States seems likely to emerge.  Rae, of course, understood her own town as in north Poland in a community of 6,000 integrated but religious Jews, possessing an independent yeshiva, hospitals and strong cultural life, and were often schooled in Cracow; her hat-maker father shared a particular antipathy to Poles, who treated the family badly.  Rae intensity in digging that tunnel to safety and survival from the Novgrugok ghetto that may reveal the intensity and tenacity of the Kushners.  But Jared’s geographical vagueness ended up trying to place this “village” in a major Russian city, probably as the intent of the gifts was basically to suggest his ostensibly Russian roots.  While Jared Kushner tried to cast the arrival of a bag of soil from Belarus as “the normal course of events in a unique campaign,” it fit into a plan to encourage US-American friendship, although it was cast by the not-so-quick-on-the-symbolism Kushner as “a bag of dirt,” which he probably threw somewhere on the White House lawn.

Novgrudok was in the Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth, although the region between Pinsk and Minsk was to change hands a few times, being subsumed into Russian empire before reverting to Poland in the 1920s, before it was absorbed into the U.S.S.R.–but was a clear site, carefully and precisely evoked by Rae in her life, though it remained a “village” that was probably pretty unspecific to Jared.  (There has been an absence of public reactions to the transportation of Belarus’ sovereign soil out of the country from Lukashenka, which may have come from a nearby Russian military base Russia runs in Baranavichy, but also wouldn’t have helped his relations to Trump, Kushner, or Putin.  But it seemed very Putin-esque to play on an old spatial imaginary of the Russian Empire and of the USSR at a time when he is seeking to redefine his country’s geopolitical status.)




REgion between Pinsk and Minsk.png

Mare Balthicum-Seraphico.pngGeorge Matthius Seutter, Polonio seraphico observans (Poland and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), 1753 


The imperial imaginary that the trans-Atlantic transportation and presentation of soil from Mother Russia must have had some meaning for Gorkov or his compatriot Kislyak didn’t have much truck with Kushner, for whom Gorkov remained but a “banker” and Moscow existed as a Trump-friendly place, rather than ever having been an empire.

What all the symbolism of the soil might have meant to Kushner is most unclear:  if someone in Moscow must have taken the classy banker, with western tastes, as best able to display a sense of kinship to Trump’s son-in-law, who had so tried to cast himself as a cosmopolite from New York, the Kushner’s much-vaunted orthodoxy is perhaps the best known thing about him save his problematic relation to the New York Observer.

Kushner’s orthodoxy is well-known.   He regularly takes a day of rest on the Sabbath as Special Advisor to the President, and during the Trump campaign took the time to make a widely publicized pilgrimage to the Lubavitcher shrine of the grave of the late Rebbe Menachem Scheerson or “Ohel” with Ivanka–at the same time that an alleged attempt on The Donald’s life was averted in Reno, leading to much speculation that the visit brought divine intervention forestalling the threat on his life due to Schneerson’s intervention as election day approached:  “Ivanka Prays – The Donald Saved! As Ivanka Was At Ohel Of Rebbe, Secret Service Rushed Him Off Stage,” exulted an ultra-orthodox website on November 5, playing with notions of salvation and the efficacy of prayer to the Rebbe; Trump returned triumphantly to the stage from which he had been whisked by Secret Service to pronounce “Nobody said it would be easy for us.  But we will never be stopped.  Never ever be stopped,” thanking law enforcement and his protection before vowing solemnly to the audience of believers to “Make America Great Again.”




While Trump’s cultivation of the legend of the “assassination attempt” seemed a media ploy, and appeared conveniently timed, it seems to have been interpreted in some circles as a benefit of a back-channel Jared had opened by gaining the blessing of the immortal Rebbe, whose favor for the Father-in-Law was evident in his life-saving intervention.




The sense of intercession perhaps provided some sign that the orthodox Kushner would appreciate receiving a bag of Belarusian earth later brought to him from Belarus by Sergei Gorkov, chairman of the Russian VEB, or state-owned Vnesheconombank, or ‘Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs,’ still under United States sanctions for its involvement in Ukraine–whose cash flow has recently turned negative, as it holds increasing state debt.  When Gorkov arrived at the meeting bearing gifts of particular significance, as Kushner innocently recalled, as if he did not recognize the care that Gorkov hoped to communicate by selecting such items as a sign of his interest in the boy prince:  “a piece of art from Nvogorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus” and, curiously, “a bag of dirt from the same village.”   If only mentioned in passing to show their lack of any suggestion of collusion, the specificity of these gifts the revealed the research and sense of familiarity Gorkov took care to communicate to young Jared, suggested the message’s importance, though what it said hasn’t been clear.

Vnesheconombank has long focussed on Russian exports, and it was perhaps recalling this function that Gorkov, deeply tied to the Russian FSB and apparently having cut a deal with them, in December, 2016, brought a bag of Belarusian earth to the orthodox Kushner as a highly symbolic–and oddly personal–note from a man Kushner would only saw was important to meet since he was “someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration” at the time Kushner sought to set up a “back-channel” to Moscow.   In a December 12 meeting with Kushner’s assistant, the promise of meeting with Sergey Gorkov–who Kushner described as just “a banker and someone with a direct line to the Russian President who could give insight into how Putin was viewing the new administration and best ways to work together,” rather than a state agent with complicated ties to the Kremlin and head of Russia’s largest economic stimulus agency, funded directly by the state budget and a tool go national leadership–with a branch in Nizhniy Novgorod, not Vileky Novgorod, but raising questions of whether Jared might have mis-recognized the city from which his family hailed with this branch location.




But VEB is not just a bank of the sort that Trump or the Kushners are both used to taking loans and borrowing billions, but something far closer to an office of state, able to disburse funds in circumstances deemed necessary.  Locations round the Russian periphery and near its eastern border suggest its status as a sort of para-state operation to pump funds into local economies; a broader range of covert government activities are suggested by charges against Vnecheconombank’s New York City employees recruiting foreign spies. Putin appoints and is in lose contact with its director, and the bank has been tied to the state despite its recently declining fortunes and net income–




Jared Kushner’s sense of innocence is not only an odd contrast to Gorkov’s tenacity.  He seems to have been played with through the promise of ties to Moscow for the incoming administration, and his ambitions for a Russian Reset through his own backchannel.  Kushner felt “Ambassador [Kislyak] has been so insistent” that he meet Gorkov “because Mr. Gorkov was only in New York for a few days.”  But it’s hard to believe Kushner didn’t Google Gorkov before their half-hour meeting; Gorkov seems an attempt at an evocation of kinship if the presentation of a bag of Belarusian earth wasn’t recognized as a carefully planned sign, as well as a talisman by which Gorkov must have believed the diaspora Jew would be affected as a signal of his respect and recognition of Kushner’s tie to the city–although most Jews in Belarus’ ghettoes dreamt only of Eretz Israel in 1941–in ways that Gorkov may have believed analogous to the treasured earth from the Mount of Olives kept for scattering over burial sites in the diaspora, but remained a powerful symbolic tie for Jews before the war.




Jerusalem, c. 1920-30/Earth from Burial Ground in Mt. of Olives, Jewish Museum in Prague


The bag of soil from the land of Kusher’s forefathers was rich with a symbolism that didn’t grab Kushner’s attention or his sympathy nearly as strongly as Gorkov and his circle had hoped.  Of course, Belarus is not in Russia, but in the former empire; even if Gorkov would claim clear access to the city in the former Soviet, even if it was “close to Moscow” and militarily tied to Russia, their bonds aren’t clear.  Did the “gift” of a bag of soil from the former imperial territory of Mother Russia which Kushner received in mid-December in New York City a proposal that the new administration in which he was to playa prominent role recognize Russia’s relation to the nearby city, and, by analogy, to Ukraine?  Putin’s hopes to regain old imperial lands within the new Russian Federation is rarely openly stated or so prominently mapped, the presentation of the token of soil from outside of Russian bounds but in the old imperial territory recalls the hopes to recover a notion of nationhood rooted firmly in the nineteenth century–long predating the USSR.  Reclaiming land outside of current state boundaries is closely tied to the mission statement of the VEB and to the  “blood and iron” image of Russian Empire in which Estonia, Lithuania, Belarus, and Latvia are central as part of the Baltic States.  The presentation of this earth was part of a geopolitical vision, as well as providing an oddly off-beat appeal to the Jewish origins of Trump’s most trusted Presidential advisor.




Whatever the answer, the Special Assistant to the U.S. President only remembered the considered gift as a “bag of dirt”–without attaching symbolic or spiritual significance to its presentation.  But the gift seems to have been carefully selected by Kushner’s visitor, probably with high-level approval, and the consideration about transporting a bag of earth from a region from where his family hailed seems intended as an attempted tie of affection.  It also might reveal a bizarre post-Cold War political geography, seeking to create dialogue with the faith of the orthodox Jewish son of a real estate magnate in New Jersey in ways that carried messages about Russia’s newly expansive claims over areas of central Europe once part of the Russian Empire.

The centrality of Belarus to the Eurasian Economic Union has become increasingly clear, although Belarus is not eager to accept Russian annexation of Crimea.  Why the head of the VEB decided to carry a bag of dirt from the former imperial territories, if not in the hopes to end the sanctions that had hurt his country, as well as to establish Russia’s prominent place in the EEU?  VEB described the meeting as part of its ‘development strategy,’ rather than an innocuous encounter.  Gorkov seems to have been sent to meet Kushner as something of an analog–a modern businessman–who Kushner would recognize, as not brash if owning two Porsches and a Mercedes Benz, both more worldly, down-to-earth and western than most oligarchs, and closely tied to IT, as well as being a tough deal-maker able to close agreements.  The VEB presents a unique view of the Russian Federation, as well, mirroring geopolitical ambitions, closely tied to the Eurasian Economic Union.




The survival of the sanctions would have surely been on his mind when he met with Trump’s son-in-law, on the eve of the inauguration of the new United States President, with an open agenda.  The issues of sanctions and Belarus are closely tied:  not only has Putin been attempting, ever since the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, to control the independence that Belorus has shown since that year, when Lukashenko fears the possibility of a simultaneous invasion or Russian military operation inside Belarus–but the greater proximity of Belarus to Europe–but Belarus has grown militarily close to China, as a joint missile system was developed between Minsk and Beijing, and trade with the EU declined significantly.   “Not everything always goes smoothly in our relations with brotherly Russia,” Lukashenko observed on Belarus’ July 1 Independence Day, as he compared Belarusian-Russian political strains with its positive economic and military ties with China, amazed at Belarus’ “luck that we have established such friendly relations with this great empire . . . practically at the level of our relations with Russia.”

The relations between the countries were not easy, and long fraught, as Belarus sought to position itself with new alliances.  Russia’s Sputnik railed against Belarus; in a July 9 article entitled ‘The EU’s “Eastern Partnership” Threatens to Turn Belarus Into a “Second Ukraine,‘” published by Russia’s government-affiliated Sputnik in English, to struggle against the transformation of “Minsk, following Kiev, into an instrument of anti-Russian forces” by the ‘siren call’ of the “forces of globalism and modern-day fascism,” embodied by the EU’s ambitious Eastern Partnership.  Gorkov would have been familiar with the same sentiments in December, and was irked by the annoyance of Belarusian neutrality.


easternpartnership-mzv-czMinistry of Foreign Affairs, Czech Republic


The earth from Belarus was, in other words, highly charged for Gorkov–both as a sign of his investigation of the Kushner family and Jared’s family values, and as a message about the geopolitics of Europe and the possible future relation of the incoming United States administration to the expansion of the European Union and the place in it of Belarus.  (Lukashenko was very quick to refuse to recognize Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,  while allowing joint military exercises and making public displays of affability with his former compatriot.)



gjseyoa7yrrfhs0fkkspxvheaiihebmx.jpegPutin with Lukashenko, reviewing troops in Belarus in 2013






But Lukashenko may not have much choice, even if he is one of the world’s few remaining dictators.  Did Kushner?  Kushner may have professed to have not known what the meeting was “about,” but the longstanding fears of secret Russian involvement in the spread of ultra-nationalist parties in Belarus, apparently to destabilize the government of nationalist strongman Lukashenko by fomenting non-violent governmental change, revealed Putin’s attempt to influence the former Soviet republic  run by the former leader of a Soviet, who cannily maintained his power while affirming independence from Putin’s Russia.   Belarus is treading a fine line of independence, foreign economic cooperation with the Eurasian Economic Union is something the European Union is far more interested to pursue than, say, VEB; Russia would also very much like to see the EU sanctions lifted on trade.  Lukashenko’s nationalist proclamations, and rejection of Russian as a state language and use of Belarusian–“We are not Russian — we are Belarusians“–heightened tensions around trade disputes on energy pipelines, prices, and transit of gas to Poland and the European Union.

The question is not whether bright eyed Jared Kushner colluded–a term without definite legal meaning, but how he failed to pick up on an invitation for colluding, and why he missed it.  Unless the mention of “Nvogorod” was more than a slip, and a signal of some sort of rejection of a proposal that didn’t seem worth the attention Gorkov had hoped.  But Gorkov and his superiors clearly had some other level of collusion in mind by inviting a tacit recognition of a proximity akin to kinship over a month before the inauguration, and seem to have been looking forward to a newly proximate sort of relation to the thirty-six year old advisor to the incoming President:  Kushner’s title as Senior Advisor was made official on January 9, reportedly without salary, before being named to head an Office of Innovation, although the Russian government seemed to anticipate his unexpected role as a sort of “Shadow Secretary of State” far more powerful in the administration than a Special Assistant.   Despite insistence of no “improper contacts,” the propriety of the bag of Belarusian soil might be questioned beyond its clear symbolic value.  For a President who had promised  “improved relations with Russia” and committed to “make a deal that’s great” not only for “America, but also good for Russia,” the stakes were probably pretty high, and Gorkov’s mission on December 13 would have been delicate, probably involving the immediate loosening of sanctions.

The absence of any actual meaning in criminal law of a term like “collusion” suggests that his denial was a way of dancing around the issue, or just of keeping the conspiracy vague.  Kushner is quite well-connected to Russians, and particularly Russian Jews with ties to Chabad, and perhaps over-eager for an Orthodox Jew to lump Russians and Jews:  he is closely tied financially to a real estate money launderer of Russian heritage and birth, Lev Leviev, a colorful Uzbeki who allegedly transferred the skills of his father, a mohel, to diamond cutting, to which he dedicated himself after leaving a Yeshiva two months after he began his studies in Israel, who helped Kushner out with some massive loans and real estate transfers–including the purchase of the former New York Times building–and was until recently involved in construction projects in the West Bank and East Jerusalem:  Leviev, known as the “King of Diamonds,” amassed an empire around the importing, cutting and polishing diamonds from Angola, Russia, and Namibia in Israel and Russia, raising many questions about the labor practices in his mines:  despite trepidation returning to the former Soviets and Russia, Leviev did so after the intervention of none other than the Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson, who earnestly encouraged him not to forget his fellow Jews,–perhaps a banality that assumed some significance in his career.  Leviev not only continues to be tied to both Putin and Chabad, and is a partner of the Russian Prevezon Holdings, who recently settled a money laundering case in the United States on light terms and was under investigation for some time by the office of Preet Bharara.

The weird geography of international finance overlaps in odd ways with Rae Kushner’s heroic escape through a tunnel she dug through Belarusian earth underneath the walls of the ghetto of Novogrudok to escape from the ghetto has been improbably linked to the playing out of a conspiratorial drama of international proportions, in which a bit of Belarusian soil was brought, some seventy seven years later, to New York City, maybe as a carry-on item of the chairman of VEB, to be presented as a “gift” to Rae’s grandson.  This wasn’t a simple gift, and was carefully selected.  But if the bag of soil somehow procured from Belarus–and specifically from “the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus”–before being brought to an off-the-record meeting with the trusted adviser who was already central to Trump’s transition team as VEB feared facing the continued imposition of sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Crimea.  The desire to lift such sanctions immediately raises questions of the propriety the “gift.”  “He told me a little about his bank,” Kushner testified to the Senate while not under oath, “and made some statements about the Russian economy.”  Was the discussion not apt to range to topics closely related to the issues on the table for the bank, and did the oddly misplaced attempts to tug at Kushner’s heart strings not suggest a tone-deaf “restart” button?  The anthropological oddity of the offering of earth, as much as a considered gift, not only fell on deaf ears but seems to have misread the ties to Novogrudok as a family residence.

Much as the activities of VEB are not those of a regular bank, or even a bank, the relationship they sought to cultivate with Jared Kushner had little propriety at any event.  We’ll probably never know about whatever statements Gorkov made as he presented the bag of Belarusian soil which later became a “bag of dirt.”  The new descriptor diminishes its symbolic significance, and paints Jared as having made time in a busy schedule for an amicable meeting.  But it’s hard to believe that the symbolism was not lost, or that Jared could even consider placing the Belarusian earth atop Rae’s grave.  Despite the deep paradoxes of Rae’s grandson placing earth reminiscent of the very earth through which she had clawed out of the ghetto over her final resting place in New Jersey–wouldn’t Rae have scolded him with some incredulity?–whatever the hopes of the higher-ups of VEB, they seem to have escaped Kushner.  The late Rae Kushner had quite vividly recalled–and which she must have described in terms Jared must have often heard her retell–the blood-soaked earth of the shooting of the Novogrudok suburb where many of the 30,000 men and women brought from a ten mile radius around the city–after soldiers executed Jewish doctors, teachers, and lawyers in 1941 in a public square in a suburb of the city, staining its paving stones with blood as an orchestra played, Rae was brutally ordered to wash the stones in preparation for a public ball in the city.  While an articulate woman, she would probably have scolded Jared wordlessly for accepting the bag of earth as if it were a friendship offering.

The location of the earth was very significant to the Russian Federation higher ups, if its significance or sybmolism may have passed Jared by.  As Russia seeks to expand its imperial past, presenting the gift of a bag of earth from the old empire seems more of a demand to recognize the new geopolitics they intend to pursue.  Such are the perils of having advisers without experience in international politics.  Such is also the bizarrely shifting map of a post-post-Cold War world, where VEB hopes to forge ties to a new American administration by offering something close to a caricature of nourishing a spiritual attachment to a place of origin in the service of expansionist ends–as if transmuting Kushner familial pietas to affirm an expanding Russian military presence in what was once Eastern Europe grater than since the Soviet Union collapsed.  The notion of appealing to Kushner’s alleged Belarusian roots seems a poorly judged symbol, but it was a potent one for a Russian Federation eager to remap broader European influence.  Gorkov’s presentation of this bag of dirt might not have been recognized as a statement of geopolitics, but suggests one:  it paralleled the long-planned military exercises of Russian military presence in Belarus and along the NATO border–a zone of influence on the western front of the Russian Federation–or “Zapad”–defended with increasing aggressiveness from 2014 with surface-to-air and anti-ship missiles, from around the same time that Putin directed increasing attention to destabilizing the European Union. The planned 2017 military exercises of 60,000-100,000 air and naval units to be held from September 14-20, around the Baltic and North Sea, is widely seen as a test of NATO’s interest in protecting its member-states of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Poland–and Donald Trump’s interest in endorsing Article 5 promising NATO’s collective defense.  The Zapad exercises of staging a staging a military invasion of the Baltic without allowing any outside observation of the same 800 tanks involved in the exercises that appears a clear show of force in the very region from which Kushner’s family hails.


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Mike Nudelman/Business Insider



DGJerf_WsAAy5gzRussian tank exercise in 2013 outside Grodno, Belarus/Alexey Druginyn


The longstanding exercises of the Russian military in the “Russian West” have acquired increasingly offensive tones.  Recent “Zapad” exercises of the Russian military in 2017 that are based in Belarus–and although the joint exercises Russia and Belarus will conduct to simulate a NATO invasion will pack in an unknown number of troops and although Belarus is not eager to accept many more permanent Russian troops, Zapad 2013 involved an uncertain number of troops–Russians declared “12,000” or perhaps “12,500,” but reports indicating the presence of up to 75,000 boots on the ground, as Belarus became something of a military staging ground for Russian strength–if not in actual preparation for the invasion of Crimea that occurred shortly afterwards.




–will include the greatest number of military troops to be involved in a military exercise without the observation of international observers, in ways NATO observers increasingly see as a hostile threat–if not, as Chatham House speculates, leaving a permanent military contingent in Belarus.   While the stationing of troops might not occur, the threat to destabilize the European Union, a pet-project of Putin from 2015, the expansion of military presence seems an open reclamation of Russian earth.


170802-zapad-mc-13-02_2b6542e454c21b579f8fa8e21fe5f79d.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000Vladimir Putin watching Zapad exercises in Grodny, Belarus, in 2013 (RIA Novosti/Reuters)



Filed under Belarus, Cold War, geopolitics, Vnesheconombank

Data Visualization Fake-Out?

“Nothing in the world could take us back/ to where we used to be,” as Mariah Carey sung in I Don’t Wanna Cry, a hit song in 1990–the very same year Tim Berners-Lee and CERN collaborators unveiled the World Wide Web, using HTML to share documents across huge networks and URL’s to specify computer targeted and information requested.   The  coincidence of the design of such a document system that led TBL to build and design the world’s first web browser on an NeXT computer and Mariah Carey’s cooing soft-pop hit on only emptiness inside came together again in the release the WannaCry malware–malicious self-propagating code, able to exploit back-door vulnerabilities of Windows 7–which revealed a landscape from which nothing in the world can take us back to where reused to be.  But the data visualizations we’ve used to describe the lateral progression of the encryption of data files from hard drives around the interlinked world lent a new prominence to the World Wide Web as a conduit for targeting destabilization.  It not only revealed how the world wide web has reshaped what we still call the world, but posed questions of how to map such a change.

Wanna Cry left many literally crying for the sudden encryption of data, and many without services–and was intended to leave an unimaginable number of people desolate, if not quite with the absence of love that Mariah Carey wistfully evoked.  But the  virulence of its spread should offer a wake-up call to possibilities of global disruption we are still working to be able to track, map or fully comprehend in adequate fashion–but record as a virulent virus blocking systems most densely in nodes of a web-linked world.


the-wannacry-ransomware-attack_535798c2-38bf-11e7-b30b-76e7402dac55Malware 2:10 pm

New York Times


The very same visualizations indeed obscure, by oddly rendering it as distributed, the agency that underpins such carefully orchestrated cyber attacks of global consequence, by almost naturalizing its spread.  For by moving the sites where data was most encrypted into a geographical frame of reference, the graphic doesn’t help orient us to its spread, so much as overwhelm us with the data-laden content to visualize a paralysis of global systems; it removes it from context or human agency, in order to capture the omnipresence of the self-propagating cyrptoworm as much as tell a story that helps to orient us to its spread.   Perhaps that is what was intended.

The mapping of global disruption is perhaps a nightmarish puzzle for members of the interlinked world, and demands a place on the front burners of data visualization:  the inadequate nature of considering the spread of systems-wide corruptions can be visualized by cases of the compromising of data, we lack the symbolic tools to grasp the rise of a new map of global dangers.   While such data visualizations provide a terrifying premonition of the destabilization that might result from the encryption of data on a broad scale, they obscure the possibilities of specifically targeted attacks on data and visible infrastructure that are now able to be developed, and the nature of targeted threats that we have only begun to imagine.  The redefinition in this new geography of document-sharing Tim Berners-Lee and friends developed has prepared the way for a landscape of interaction between removed places broadly adopted as a protocol for information-sharing– but one that, as Mariah Carey sung, and instigators of the malware hoped, left one only wanting to cry from behind one’s screen, devastated at the scope of the unforeseen swift data loss.

The data visualizations adopted to depict the flare-ups in compromised hard drives that the cryptoworm created in a manner of hours show the particular virulence with which malware crossed national divides in unprecedented ways, displacing relations of spatial proximity, geographical distance, and regional divides.  In crippling databases including Russian and Chinese private and public institutions in but a day, demanding immediate payment for data to be restored, the ransomware raised the curtain on a new age of uncertainty.  But was the threat eclipsed by the scale of the attack by which information was encrypted?  If the spread of malware seemed to grow across computer systems without apparent relations, the distributed agency that was invested in how the malware spread worldwide seemed to obscure the possibility of agency of the attacks, concealing the tracks of any perpetrator by placing a problem of urgency on screens worldwide.






Websites of news media of record widely adopted animated data visualizations to orient their readers to the proliferating corruption of data on tens of thousands of computers and computer systems on account of the malware caused.   Such elegantly animated maps don’t claim to be comprehensive, and are information-laden to the extent that seek to capture the unprecedented speed and range of the spread of the cyberworm launched Friday, May 12, 2017.  We have trouble even comprehending or grasping the scale or speed with which the virus spread on systems, of course, and speed at which malware was propagated itself across networks and spread laterally across systems, rather than by geographic relations, working without a phishing hook of any sort but exploiting an NSA-developed backdoor vulnerability in the Windows 7 operating system to infect networks across national bounds, as it spread laterally across systems worldwide.

The spread of the encryption of hard drives data across space occurred in apparently haphazard ways, spreading globally in the first thirty minutes of across more advanced web-reliant regions of what we still call the globe.  While their spread “followed” systems whose operating systems had not been fully updated, it is important to remember that rather than spreading laterally along a system of their own accord, their release was planned and released by agents, rather than being a casualty of the World Wide Web; a map of instances of hard-drive vulnerabilities however can offer few diagnostic signs or clues to interpret their spread, but offer only a catalogue of individual instances difficult to process in their entirety, so overwhelming and geographically dispersed was their occurrence to defy easy interpretation or processing–they provide little that might be suggested as forensic evidence about their spread.


ransomeware 0 hr 30 min 0 secRed Socks Security: Malicious Threat Detection


If the growth of the virus’s spread across nations made it seemed to progress in ways that lacked a target, we may lack the tools to visualize the attack.  The systems afflicted were not linked on a geographical register, and in some senses didn’t make sense to read in a map–but if they spread on internet traffic, the broad scale of the attack of ransomeware only foregrounded the fears of where it had arrived from or offer any signs to appreciate any agency within its systems-borne spread.  But if the map seemed the best way to the speed of its growth, it was a distraction from the potential targeted threats of the malicious worm–until a lone British researcher, known as “MalwareTech,” saved the compromising of global systems as he serendipitously identified its kill switch to stop its spread:  what dominated the headlines conceals the dangers of losing sight of the specificity of the wide-ranging attacks, even while registering them in real time.

The rest of the world could only sit in silence, as Mariah Carey once sung, and watch the range of attacks unfold in space in real time:  something went wrong in the mode of sharing data across online systems that had to be couldn’t quite be understood.  If Maria Carey’s hit single contemplated the definite break in time, “only emptiness inside us,” the shock of the screens informing users across the world that their data had been definitively compromised made then realize that any notion of data security vanished, and any hope for composure in the face of cryptoworms had disappeared, as Mariah Carey’s softly-sung lyrics described, and as far away as a network-free world, or one where inter-connected users didn’t define the primary routes of its transmission, without considering the dangers of the compromised infrastructure–not only in banking, but in traffic system, airport controlling, water quality monitoring, and even traffic flows.

But we continue to rely on geographic registers, as if we can’t let go of them, and it is what we have to explain the global spread of compromised systems and a collapse of data security.  The cryptoworm successfully obtained advanced user privileges that allowed it to hijack computer systems that allowed hackers to encrypt documents worldwide in one day, reaching such a broad range of hard drives to make it seem the attack was random or haphazard.  The attacks used code to release a self-propagating worm  that didn’t really move spatially, but progressed online, using a vulnerability for which Microsoft had released a patch only two months previous, in March, in devices that share files across local networks.   After the patch arrived, we were still mapping its spread, and contemplating the prospects of the return of a similar virus, so clearly had it asked us to redefine internet traffic.  But was did the broad spread of the worm and broad scope of systems compromises, which was quick to provoke deep fears of the vulnerabilities that exist from ransomware erase the targeted nature of a similar subsequent malware attack?  The spread of thousands of infections in over a hundred–and then over a hundred and fifty countries–across hard drives across the world exploited the failure to update software systems so broadly to obscure the origins or coordination of such malware attacks, whose use of normal language to alert users of encryption made them seem as if it were an isolated standard operating failure, able to be resolved by individual payment–





–even as the malware crippled networks in different countries without having the appearance of any fixed target.  And if masquerading as a form of ransomware, later variants of the cryptoworm suggested a far, far scarier version of the scope of data corruption.


wannacry_03Kapersky Lab/Ars Technica


We were of course struck by the unprecedented speed with which such worms replicated along these dispersive networks–following paths that are not made evident in the map of compromised hard drives provided by data security firms, which show the progression of a disease that, like a cancer, creeps invasively along a hidden network, suggests a nightmare of the distributed agency of the internet, invaded by a particularly vicious parasite that for a considerable amount of time even experts saw no way to resolve.

We can now watch the spread of internet attacks in real time, looking at the threats of hacking in real-time, in ways that reflect the emergence of the internet and World Wide Web as a real-time battlefield, even if this is only a representative tracking of hacking attempts tracked by Norse.  It doesn’t include the ten millions of daily attempts to hack into the Pentagon, or the similar number of threats that the National Nuclear Security Administration tries to fend off–and the millions of attacks universities daily confront.  But if we are apt to be mesmerized by the range of such attacks, impossible to fully comprehend or track, we’re likely to be overwhelmed by the serious fears of the security vulnerabilities of which they cannot but remind us, although the abstracted sense of a constant barrage of online attacks can remove us from all too real dangers of their infrastructural effects–and the dangers of destabilization of specifically targeted strikes.




And if we might do well to take stock of the range of attacks by hackers to which the United States is vulnerable, mostly from China and Chinese sources, privileging our country as the target of future strikes–




–we loose sight of their increasingly global nature, now that much of the software to exploit vulnerabilities is available in the Dark Net.  The origins of such attacks aren’t really clearly able to be mapped–hackers are experts at deflecting or rerouting their signals, and bouncing around their traces to make hacks that are located from one site appear to emanate from another from another.  And infrastructural vulnerabilities of infrastructure are increasingly on the table for nations other than the United States, often without the means to monitor such cybersecurity issues or strikes.

In an age when the pathways of internet links may have spawned spontaneous revolutions, uprisings, and unexpected results of elections, non-human communication and propagation of such malicious malware viruses seem an apotheosis of the absence of any agency–a worm that is able to replicate itself within hard drives world wide, removed from any intent.  To be sure, the range of sped-up animated maps to track the progress of the viruses that compromised data across the world produced a sense of wonder at our vulnerability of a sort that has not been widely mapped since the Cold War:  the images generated of internet threats mirrors the map of the danger of missile strikes that emerged in Life magazine back in 1945, at the end of the Second World War–only months after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by American atomic bombs, that increasingly stand as a premonition of the new nature of things to come.


Atom Bombs Descend on US LIFE 1945.png

Life Magazine: The Thirty-Six Hour War (November, 1945)


Mutatis mutandi, the image of the visual culture of the early Cold War was adopted by the Russian internet security agency, the Kapersky Labs, as a strategy to image the globally expanding threat of hacking to compromise hard drives and data-based systems.


malicious threats USA scaleKapersky Labs


In an era that was defined as after or following the thaw of the Cold War, the internet emerged in 1990–just a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall heralded its thaw–as a new battleground to wage global conflict.  To be sure, the cybermaps of phishing schemes and potential email attacks are traced by the Kapersky labs in real time, to monitor for global security on the interlinked world-wide online systems.  But their dynamic images retain the symbolic structure of the arcs of a violation of national airspace to suggest the magnitude of the incursions into cyberspace they monitor and report on round the clock.

We continue to map the global spread of malware as if to wonder at its scale:  the distributed compromising of data as an animated sequence of simultaneous flare-ups of intensity from yellow to burning red across the world, as if to pose the question of its communication in terms of spatial continuity and proximity.  In some of the best data visualizations of the scare of WannaCry and Petya viruses, the brightly burning flare-ups signalled a fire that burned so brightly to become impossible to contain as if a metastisizing online cancer spread across the world’s wealthiest regions.  Despite the power of the animated visualization, we may map it wrongly, as if to imply it can be diagnosed as a spatially transmitted contagion without a target or destination.  In using the data-laden information of cybersecurity firms to map the occurrence of data corruption and systems infection, the political antagonisms and animosities that have fed the growth of malware are cunningly left absent from the map at our own peril.







Although these maps suggest the scope and nature of the self-replicating cryptoworm, they may take the metaphorical value of a computer virus in literal terms, as a disease map, or biological virus whose contagious could be explained,–like the famous Snow Map, created by a founder of modern epidemiology,  Dr. John Snow, to devise a mode to convince readers of the transmission from a water source of the 1854 London cholera outbreak.  Of course, the malware maps do not try to communicate the pathways or mechanics of the virus’ spread.  For rather than showcasing an event that was planned and of human agency, and whose propagation was in some sense designed, they run the risk of naturalizing both the incidence of systems’ compromises and the malicious nature of the very phenomenon that they describe.  While the meaning that each bring pixel cannot even be understood or processed in a global scale–its impact was local–the intensity of the outbreak seemed almost a skin disease on the surface of the world.  The intensity of its transmission surely mirrors the density of online connections or an economy that was web-based, as networks allowed its contagion spread from Indonesia to Europe the United States, raising alarms as it seemed to actualize some of the worst fears of a cyberattack, of the de-empowered nature of a computer system suddenly devouring its own data, but like a faceless god, from 11:00 one Friday morning, so that by 1:20, the spread of the malware had dense sites of infection on five continents.

The local merged with the global, however, in ways difficult to map:  the maps of real-time tracking of the spread of the worm across a grey, global map made it seem totally removed from human actors, in hopes to capture the speed by which the worm managed to rapidly to spread laterally across systems, using an onslaught of randomly generated IP addresses as a way to target an ever-proliferating range of hard drives through multiplying packets sent to remote hosts, whose own hard drives were hijacked, leaving anonymous-sounding messages of no clear provenance to pop-up on users’ screens, in ways that seem to imitate the “normal” logic of an algorithmic process entertaining the possibility of implicating the user in the encryption of their hard drive or the deletion of necessary valuable files.




The communication of the virus–a biomedical metaphor that seemed particularly unable to offer any diagnostic value, suggesting either the banality of the infection or its nasty spread–was not nosologically helpful, but suggested the virulence of its spread.  The natural history metaphor of the worm–or, better yet, the coinage of the cryptoworm–better expressed the lack of clarity as to its provenance or the seriousness of its damage.  Although subsequent investigations found that the first infections appeared, globally, on computers in India, Hong Kong, and the Philippines, according to SophosLabs, the stage was set for a three-pronged global spread–as if in a negative version of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, moving from South-East Asia worldwide–that began from 7:44  UTC with such startling rapidity that it will demand detailed unpacking to understand the target or decipher any of the aims that underlay the attack, or the extent of its destructive scope. The spread of the self-proliferating worm was only stopped by the inadvertent discovery in the code of the ransomware of a kill switch, which allowed a security researcher known only as MalwareTech to register a domain name able to slow the spread of the infection in a compromising manner, effectively halting its viral spread.  Despite the rapid proliferation of visualizations of the unprecedented sale of its virulence, in retrospect, it might make sense to ask whether the undifferentiated global nature of the visualization, while stunning, distracted from the malicious operations of its code, and what better metaphors might exist to describe the spread of something dangerously akin to cyberwar.

We only have a few cartographic metaphors to describe the lateral spread of online compromising of computer data and the infiltration of networks, because of the speed with which it spreads challenge human cognition.  Even if it can be schematized in a format that suggest the density of data compromises or the amount of encrypted files, the visualizations offer a limited basis to orient oneself to the seriousness or the danger of these infections, which once they start offer little possibility of stopping their spread.  The later visualizations of the global impact of the release of Wannacry network worm are usefully foreground the rapidity of its spread, and raise the specter of its unstoppability.  But the visualizations of the rapid flare-ups of malware that infect hard drives and encrypt their data may conceal the targeting of instability.  If the spread malware and ransomware have been primarily linked to extortion, the spread of self-propogating cryptoworms cannot only be seen in numbers of systems compromised:  for they are  released and created in order provoke instability, as much as for Bitcoin revenues.  Although theft of data is usually seen as most valuable to the owner of the dataset, the potential interest in ransomware as a service–and much ransomware is now available on the darknet in different forms, suggests a needed growth in cybersecurity.

If ransomware collectively netted about $1 billion during 2016–and stands to become a growth industry of sorts–the latest Petya virus netted but $10,000, although the benefits of the attack might have been much greater–in the form of the disruptions that it creates, often not so clearly racked or visible in the data visualizations of its spread, whose animated explosions suggest its out of control migration across networks as wildly crossing boundaries of state sovereignty, encrypting data on computer systems across space as it travelled along the spines of the internet as if without any destination, as tens of thousands od systems were entered and compromised via ‘back door’ disrupting hospitals in the UK, universities in China, rail in Germany, or car plants in Japan, in ways that were far more easy to track as a systems collapse by locking its victims out of critical data that allowed their continued operation.  The demand for ransom payments to restore apparently stolen data was a screen for the disruption of invasive attack on companies’ computer networks, whose compromising can only start to suggest the infrastructural disruptions they created as they rapidly globally spread, whose apparently anarchic spread revealed the new globalized nature of system vulnerabilities.


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While malware is distinguished by the demand to hold hostage the encrypted files of one’s hard drive, the viral spread of worms targeting systems vulnerabilities can disrupt systems and infrastructure in ways particularly difficult to defend against.  Although the attacks depend on failures to update systems and to preserve retrievable back-ups, the vulnerabilities invite disruptions on a scale only so far imagined in futuristic films.  These apocalyptic scenarios are perpetuated by security firms–and by the video games of the global imaginary that require only greyed out background maps to treat data visualizations as having sufficient complexity if they register the intensity of attacks, even if this only gives cover for the malicious actors who perpetuate their spread.  But the assault on systems by the backdoor vulnerability first discovered by the NSA, in its program for targeting and infiltrating select foreign computer networks, but now for sale on the Dark Web, may only raise the curtain on a far more malicious range of malware, able to backdoor systems that are connected to transportation networks, water treatment plants, traffic systems, credit card systems, banking and airport controlling, far beyond cel phone systems, and able to–as the attack, just before WannaCry plagued web-based systems, compromised IDT Corporation–evade security detection systems.  While regular, complete and restorable systems back-ups may be the only response to ransomware, the possibility of already backdoored systems has lead to fears that the Shadow Brokers group who unleashed the Eternal Blue code from the NSA is a group of Russian-backed cybercriminals, and the hackers who released WannaCry who cyber researchers believe have tied to North Korea, may raise the threshold on cyberwarfare of a scale unheard of in previous years.

“Nothing in the world could take us back/to where we used to be.”  Golan Ben-Omi–who views the analytic skills honed in studying Torah as good training cybersecurity in the Chabad-Lubavitcher community–  Chabad-Lubavitch communities are interested in preserving the integrity of their websites from profane pollution, but are attuned to the dangers of data breaches.  The attack that was made on his company, IDT, by means of an NSA tool with the capacity to penetrate computer systems without tripping alarms–named “DoublePulsar”–enters the kernel of computer systems, or its inner core, to trip the connections between hardware and software that would allow hackers to steal systems credentials in order to compromise systems with far greater impact than earlier breaches and infections, appearing as ransomware, but perpetrating far more serious damage on a system.  The sequential flaring of compromised computer hard drives suggests a landscape that Ben-Omi has been studying for over fifteen years–and believes that the analytical skills honed in the study of Torah will allow his students to analyze.

While we lack the tools to start to map disruptions on such broad scale, the  If the attacks on hard drives that occurred in over one hundred and fifty countries on Friday, May 12, 2017 may have been a case of intentional disruption, but the Petya ransomware attack of July, which successfully targeted the same vulnerabilities, exploited similar vulnerabilities in a potentially more targeted weaponized manner.  Although it “is only code,” the lateral spread across the spines of the internet created fears of impending disaster across the most digitally rooted areas of the world, spreading fears of data disruptions, crashes and infrastructure collapse whose potential won’t be able to be so clearly mapped for quite some time.

The terrain of the crypto worm’s spread is better able to be understood, if not quite familiar.  During the most recent space of malware attacks left most untouched places those farthest from the most unreflective internet-dependent, the map only can suggest the real-life inconveniences that can hardly be captured by the burning flares of yellow-red bursting at spots across the globe at unprecedented velocity.


2000px-InternetPenetrationWorldMap.svgGlobal Internet Penetration 2012/Jeff Ogden



Oxford Internet Institute (2011) Data on Internet users and population from World Bank 


For while not only communicated–as at first believed–by malicious email attachments, internet links clicked by users whose unreflective response unleash lost data, frozen systems, or looted bank accounts, the spread of ransomware parallels the amazing intensification of net-dependence and systems-based communicative tools, revealed below in the new information ecosystems that have arisen, illustrated in the quite spread of Facebook use over a short amount of time.




The relation between online activity and real-time consequences are difficult to map.

All maps serve to help tell stories, and the intensity of Facebook connections suggest more than a huge time-suck of human lives:  it reveals the increased homogeneity of the systems we use, and the similarity of what we see and read.  But if all maps tell stories, the necessarily partial nature of the dense visualizations of the global disruptiveness of malicious attacks on computer systems seem compromised:  while over-laden to challenge the abilities of viewers to process their content, they only tell the most superficial part of real-time story–the compromising of data–and not the consequences that the widespread collective compromising of hard drives will effect both immediately and in the long run.  And here we get onto thin ice in terms of what can be visualized, and the limits of counting the datasets of the corruptions of computers or systems, and the difficulty of counting beyond the density of compromised hard drives to the real-world implications of systems’ collapse.  One can only start to imagine the implications of such collapse in maps contracting the real-time compromises of computer systems, in ways that reveal the global nature of an infectious spread of malware, but also obscure the different places that might be targets of weaponized malware attacks.


Malware Explosion 12:52


What we can track is the most immediate end-product of the malicious attack, but it offers few clues to interpret the basis for the attack or indeed the different scale of its real-time long-term consequences.

The visualizations track an almost near-inevitable progress of red flares in internet-dependent hubs that appear to overwhelm viewers with their over-laden information in ways that run the risk of obscuring any sense of human agency–or intent–as if to track the spread of a virus across a system that lacks internal logic of its own.  The intensity of attacks on computer networks tracked from the Wannacry ransomware showed the astoundingly rapid spread of the infectious cryptoworm that caused the attacks.  But it presented them as if they were in fact geographically localized, but the disruptions were purged of any explanatory context, geopolitical or other.  For the inevitability of the spread of malware that the images provoke–and the fears of the unstoppability of further crypto worms–may obscure the dangers of their weaponization.  If the launching of cyberthreats is often depicted as a real-time war by cybersecurity firms as Norse–


world wide war.png


–we may be increasingly in need of mapping the intersection of such live attacks on data and their real-life consequences beyond the compromising of datasets.

We  were recently warned how the expansion of malware and ransomware would soon propagate over networks in more virulent ways.  Earlier worms that infected hard drives as Conficker in 2008 and SQL Slammer back in 2003 or SamSam, spotted in 2016, offer but “a harbinger of a new wave of more malicious, tenacious and costly ransomware to come,” of even greater scale, warned Joe Marshall of Cisco Talos, with “bigger payouts.”  Marshall warned of the greater goals of hackers to infect networks, and his warnings might be augmented by suggesting the dangers of hackers working with governments to use malicious code to “cast a wider net” through self-propagating crypto worms able to laterally traverse  huge corporate networks as tools by which to target nations–and national infrastructure–in ways that the fear of network intrusion have only begun to come to terms.  When Marshall and his co-author Craig Williams noted in 2016 that the rise of ransomeware was an “ever-growing problem” that will involve greater payments to restore databases in Ransomware: Past, Present and Future with greater “intrusive capabilities,” with the repurposing of network vulnerabilities, on a massive scale, presumably including the targeting of entire systems.  The maps of data encryptions and corruptions that WannaCry caused worldwide served to capture these fears, and their broadly trans-national consequences; the trans-national nature of such a strike on hard drives may well obscure and conceal the strikes and intentions of other malicious actors.  Although some believe payment the easiest option to retrieve data, as the worms are developed that target vulnerabilities in systems, they will potentially be able to compromise targeted banking, transportation, and emergency infrastructures.

Do visualizations of the immediate fears of the spread of one virus conceal concerns of the weaponization of such internet-born infections on specific targets and nations, despite the seemingly unplanned ubiquity of their spread across interlinked systems?  Despite their shock, such visualizations of the intensity of compromised systems, often echoing hubs of internet service, raise pressing questions about how to map the operations and actors behind them that are far more complicated to process fully–and lie off of the map.


1. Viewing visualizations of such rapidly spreading worms that compromised computers on a global scale, one wants to be able to peel away layers of the visualization, to reveal, as layers of an onion, the networks along which the cryptoworm laterally spread and the extent of disruptions that its spread caused.  For the scale of the disruptions, and the intent of the hackers or those who launched the malicious code, may only be revealed in a more localized map of the sorts of destabilization that cryptoworms might produce.  While leaving us to wonder at the unprecedented scale of their recent spread over a few hours or minutes, the visualizations take geographical space as their primary register, blank background maps bleached of underlying history, may make them all the more misleading and difficult to read, as they are removed from human agency and context, and treated as an artifact of the spread of the reliance of increasing multinationals on internet services and web-based networks.

Differences in online activity are far less lopsided across geographic space than in previous years, as shown by the Oxford Internet Institute by a cartogram warping of global space showing the relative density of online activity by 2013 data, in ways that allow the broader targeting of systems to conceal a malicious attack on a country.


World Online 2013Percentage online OIL


–which might also  be read as a record of the increased vulnerability of specific areas, and the systems vulnerabilities might offer to compromise local infrastructure, and start to focus on the implications for those places.  Doing so would consider the growing intersections between The Real World and the internet in a complex social continuum, where stability can be disrupted at select nodes more dependent on how worlds of finance, banking, shipping, health, and traffic are increasingly interlinked.  Given the inevitable nature of such vulnerabilities, the frequent backing up and smooth restoration of backups are necessary to erase the growing threats not only of malware or ransomware, but the disruptions of critical infrastructure future attacks might allow.

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The Cognitive Clouding of Global Warming: Paris and Pittsburgh; Creditors and Debtors

Donald Trump took advantage of his having Presidential podium to diss the Paris Accords by a torrent of alliteration as resting on a “cornucopia of dystopian, dishonest and discredited data.”  Even if one wants to admire the mesmerizingly deceptive alliteration, the notion of rooting an initial response to planetary climate change in the perspective of one nation–the United States of America–which produced the lion’s share of greenhouse gasses–is only designed to distort.  Pretending to unmask the Paris Accords as in fact a bum economic deal for the United States, as if it were solely designed to “handicap” one national economy, set a sad standard for the values of public office.  For as Trump dismissed data on climate change as discredited with mock-rage, and vowed that the entire affair had been designed by foreign groups who had already “collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices” and were desiring to continue to inflict similar damage.  But the large future on trade imbalances–which he treated as the bottom line–he staged a spectacle of being aggrieved that seemed to take on the problems of the nation, with little sense of what was at stake.

But then again, Trump’s televised live speech was preeminently designed only to distract from the data on which the Accords had been based.  And even as Trump sought to pound his chest by describing the Accord as a “bad deal for Americans,” that in truth “to the exclusive benefit of other countries.”  By turning attention to an America First perspective on global warming, Trump sought to replace the international scope of the challenge–and intent of the much-negotiated Climate Accords–by suggesting that it obscured American interests, even if it only took America’s good will for granted.  As if explaining to his televised audience that the agreement only “disadvantages the United States in relation to other countries,” with the result of “leaving American workers–who [sic] I love–. . . to absorb the cost in terms of lost jobs [and] lower wages,” he concealed the actual economics of withdrawing from the Accords were buried beneath boasts to have secured “350 billion of military and economic development for the US” and to help American businesses, workers, taxpayers, and citizens.  In dismissing the data out of hand about the expanded production of greenhouse gasses, Trump ridiculed the true target of the nearly universally approved Accords, scoffing at the abilities to reduce global temperatures; instead, he concentrated on broad figures of lost jobs in manufacturing and industries that are in fact small sectors of the national economy, and incommensurable with the dangers of ignoring global warming and climate change, or the exigencies of taking steps to counter its recent growth.


global warming

Increased likelihood of temperature rising above previous records by 2050 and 2080


oceanic-warmingSea Surface Temperatures compared to historical baseline of a century ago


As if years of accumulated data of earth observation could be dismissed as deceptive out of hand by executive authority, independent of an accurate judgement of its measurement, Trump dismissed expert opinion with the air of a true populist whose heart lay in the defense of the American people and their well-being–as if they could be abstracted and prioritized above the world’s  Trump’s largely rambling if gravely delivered comments in the Rose Garden press conference that painted himself as daily fighting for the country cemented the alliance of populism and a war on science by its odd substitution of bad economic data for good scientific data.  The switch is one in which his administration has specialized.  His address certainly culminated an outright dismissal of scientific conclusions based on a distorted America First picture of the world, where a stolid declaration that “the United States will withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords” made sense as form of national defense–despite the potential global catastrophe that rising global temperatures and sea surface temperatures threaten.

The catastrophes were minimized by being argued to be based on “discredited data” in a bizarre flourish designed to dismiss scientific concensus  Trump conspicuously faulted not only the “discredited” but distracting nature of data  in the speech he gave in the Rose Garden on June 1, 2017 that supposedly justified his announcement of withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords in 2015 to limit heat-trapping emissions of carbon fuels that have been tied to observed climate change.  Rather than foreground the international nature of the accords among agreed upon by almost 200 nations, trump advanced the need to heed local interests, perversely, but even more perversely argued that the Accords resulted from disinformation.  He spoke to the world to chastise their recognition of scientific observations, in so doing destabilizing not only global alliances but undermining a long-negotiated climate policy by pulling the rug out from long accepted consensus not only of climate scientists but a role of national leadership that sought to remedy the failure of the Kyoto Protocol of 1997.  Trump turned his back on the Climate Accords on how to curb greenhouse gas emissions  by proclaiming their unfairness to American interests, and attacking unwanted constraints on American industry, through his own deployment of data that was even more discredited as an excuse to walk away from the prospect of a greener world.


Exiting the Green.png  Al Drago/New York Times


If Trump steered the nation away from green energy and into darkness, Vladimir Putin seemed to mock Trump’s rationale for the withdrawal when he mused, jokingly but ever so darkly, that “maybe the current [U.S.] president thinks they are not fully thought-through,” making open fun of Donald Trump’s image of global leadership by wryly noting in ways that echoed the absurdity of Trump’s defense of the local in place of the global.  “We don’t feel here that the temperature is going hotter here, . . . I hear they are saying it snowed in Moscow today and its raining here, very cold,” Putin noted, as if relishing undermining long-established trends in climate data by invoking a populist championing of local knowledge as if it trumped the advantages of earth observation that satellite observation has long provided.   Populism trumped expertise and Putin laughed at the possibility that the Accords might soon fail as a result.

Given the longstanding desire of Moscow to be released from constraints on exploring the billions of tons of Arctic oil on which Russia has chosen to gamble, Trump’s almost purposive blindness to a changing environmental politics of the global economy astounds for its parochialism, and its championing of place to dismiss undeniable effects of climate change that seems closely tied to carbon emissions.  For with a false populism that championed the limited perspective of one place in the world–or one’s own personal experience–Trump dismissed the maps and projections of climate change, on the basis that the “deal” was simply “BAD.”  And as a man who views everything as yet another deal, while he pronounced readiness to “renegotiate” an accord he sought to cast as a failure of President Obama to represent America’s interests, the rebuke fell flatly as the accord was never designed to be renegotiable.

Putin’s remarks were met by scattered laughter of recognition, and some smirks at the decision of the American president to withdraw form a long-negotiated set of accords to the collective dismay of our military and environmental allies, and its implicit endorsement of deniers of climate change.  The potential “axis of mass destruction” France’s climate minister has cautioned against might indeed be one of mass distraction.  For in dismissing and indeed disdaining the historical accords to limit carbon emissions, Trump sought a soundbite sufficient to stoke suspicions the climate treaty.  He sought to cast it as yet another deeply rigged system of which he had taken to compulsively warning Americans.  Such a metaphor of bounty was jarring to reconcile with onerous economic burdens cited as the prime motivations for deciding to reject the Paris Accords on Climate Change.  The jarring cognitive coinage seemed to connote its negative by a disorienting litotes; but perhaps the most striking element of the entire news conference was that Trump offered no data that backed up his own pronouncements and appearance of steadfast or only obstinate personal resolve.

Before the coherence of the embodiment of climate change in maps, Trumps jarringly juxtaposed radically different sorts of statistic to snow the nation–and the world–by disorienting his audience, on which Trump turned to a litany of complaints and perceived offenses striking for providing no data of any sort, save several bits of false data.  As much as Trump betrayed uneven command over the data on climate change, as if embedding discrete numbers in unclear fashion that supported a self-evident argument, as if they addressed one of the most carefully documented changes in the atmosphere of the world.  By juxtaposing a threat that “could cost Americans as much as 2.7 million lost jobs by 2025“–a number described as extreme but decontextualized to exaggerate its effect, framed by the dismissive statement  “Believe me, this is not what we need!“– with a projected small temperature decrease of two tenths of a degree Celsius–“Think of that!  This much”–as if to indicate the minuscule return that the “deal” offered to the United States that would have made it worthy accepting its costs–




The gesture seemed designed to juxtapose the honesty of direct communication with the deceit of the experts.   Trump’s notion of direct communication concealed the surreal enjambment of disproportionate numbers more striking by the difference of their scale than their meaning.  Of a piece with his citation of partial statistics that exaggerate his points, from “95 Million not in the U.S. labor force” as if to imply they are all unsuccessfully looking for work, targeting some 8 million immigrants as “illegal aliens”ready for deportation, or how immigrants coast American taxpayers “billions of dollars a year.”   Such large figures deploy discredited data difficult to process to conjure fears by overwhelming audience, distracting from specific problems with large numbers that communicate an illusion of expertise, or even overwhelm their judgment by talking points disseminated in deeply questionable media sources.

If the power of this juxtaposition of unrelated numbers gained their effectiveness because of a lack of numeracy–Trump’s claim of 100 million social media followers lumps his followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, many of whom may be the same people, and other fake persona —the numbers seem to exist for their rhetorical effect alone, as if to awe by their size and dismiss by the miniscule benefits they might provide. The point of contrasting such large and small statistics was to suggest the poor priorities of the previous administration, and dilute form the consensus reached on the modeling of climate change.  To be sure, the Trump administration also barters in fake facts on Fox News Sunday. inflating the number of jobs in coal industries, that show a misleading sense of the government’s relation to the national economy, generating a range of falsehoods that disable fact-checking, obscuring the fact that the global marketplace increasingly gives preference to cleaner energy and clean energy jobs more quickly others sectors of our national economy beyond energy industries.  The ties of Trump’s administration to fossil fuels–from the Secretary of State to the Secretary of Energy to the Secretary of the Interior down–employ the obsfuscating tactics of fossil fuel industries to obscure benefits of low-carbon fuels.  Indeed, the inability to “renegotiate” a deal where each nation set its own levels of energy usage rendered Trump’s promise of the prospect of renegotiation meaningless and unclear, even if it was intended to create the appearance of him sounding reasonable and amiable enough on nightly television news.


Broad hands.pngCheriss May/Sipa via AP Images 


Another point of the citation of false data was to evoke a sense of false populism, by asking how the Accords could ever add up.  In isolating foregrounded statistics great and small, tightly juxtaposed for rhetorical effect, the intent seems consciously to bombard the audience to disorienting effect.  We know Trump has disdain for expertise, and indeed the intersection between a sense of populism with disdain or rejection of science may be endemic:  in formulating responses to a global question like climate change that he has had no familiarity with save in terms of margins of profits and regulations.  Rather than consulting experts, the President has prepared for public statements by consulting sympathetic media figures like Kimberly Guilfoyle who endorse climate conspiracy–and not experts–who use data as obscuring foils, suggesting an ecology of information originating from pro-fossil fuel industry groups.

But as much as adopt talking points from other media, Trump uses data to frame overstatements of unclear relation to actualities–as making the distorting and meaningless promise to drop power plant climate rules, clean water rules and other regulations to “help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next seven years”–a figure drawn from a fossil fuel industry nonprofit, which offered little grounds for such a claim, and was a cherry-picked large number offered without any contextualization–or consideration that $30 billion would not fill the pockets of 300 million.  The point of allowing workers to continue to fire coal without hoping to meet any guidelines for carbon emissions did secure the total of 50,000 jobs in coal mining in the US, bit seems out of synch with the decline of demand for coal world-wide.



The point of citing such numbers offer a scaffolding for many of Trump’s claims, but as talking points serve to disorient as much as instruct, and disorient from a global perspective and became the basis for pushing the groundless withdrawal from the Paris Accords.  Perhaps the orientation for the talking points that migrate from many right-wing news sites into Trump’s public speeches As many of the talking points culled from the unsourced ecosystem of the internet inform Trump’s public statements that may be drawn from a special dossier that arrives on his desk, as Shane Goldmacher suggested, many of which are circulated in the White House to feed Trump’s personal appetite for media consumption, many both dislodged from their original contexts and some neither substantiated or fact-checked, are printed and placed on his desk in the Oval Office, effectively introducing dissembling as much as dissenting information into Trump’s significantly reduced three-page Presidential Daily Briefing.

Such a new information economy that defines the Oval Office in the Age of Trump makes it less of a nexus of information-sharing from scientific communities.  It rather serves to introduce information designed to swamp existing facts–as the eight inch rise in sea levels since 1880, or the catastrophic floods on course to double by 2030, or economic disparities of the global footprints of different parts of the world, and only recently recognized ecological debts that patterns of consumption generate globally.


Eco deficits

creditors and debtors


It is almost difficult to tell whether the jarring incommensurability of great and small numbers that Trump cited in his Rose Garden press conference was intentional–a strategy designed to mystify,–as some have cautioned–or a sort of cognitive dissonance between the ingrained skepticism before data, and  belief in his own powers to resolve a problem of any size.   It may well be a combination of both:  but the history of long-term measurement of climate change suggest a perfect storm between his own doubting of data and persuasive skills with his outsized cognitive sense of his abilities to resolve an issue of such magnitude, and the inability he had of acknowledging that the United States had a need to recognize a debt it owed anyone.

The very overflow and abundance of data on global warming and climate change, in this context, cast a gauntlet and raised a challenge to be dismissed, and negotiated around in ways that did not depend on scientific observations, but would reflect his own ability to get a better deal for the United States alone, in a perverse impulse to isolationism in response to one of the greatest consequences and challenges of globalization–climate change–and the particular problems faced by the developing countries and for nations that were defined as biocapacity debtors.  Indeed, in separating the nation from a pact between developing and developed countries on energy use and fossil fuel emissions, the notion of any prospect of global compact is unsettled by the withdrawal of the largest developed nation form the Accords–under the pretense that their interests were not respected enough–with one other nations that sought to enforce stricter emissions guidelines.


Developed and Undeveloped Nations Signed onto Paris Climate Accords/Washington Post

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Filed under American Politics, Climate Change, climate policy, Donald Trump, Global Warming, globalization

On the Road and Off the Map: Maps for Self-Driving Cars in an Over-Paved World

Self-driving or autonomous cars promise a change in patterns of mobility more radical than any change in transportation.  They have been rapturously accepted in the United States as the next generation of driving vehicles in a culture ready to embrace the new, perhaps because they promise the very possibility of constant motion in a country of speed.  But by removing routes of human motion and how humans move through road systems from direct intelligence, the very maps that are being designed for autonomous vehicles to navigate the roadways of America and beyond suggest a new nature of space, as much as of transportation or transit:   For in promising to synthesize, compress and make available amazing amounts of spatial information and data sufficient to to process the rapid increase of roadways that increasingly clog much of the inhabited world, they are maps for the age of the anthropocene, when ever-increasing spaces are being paved.

The expansion of roads and of mobility removed from the limits of human attention made the self-driving car a particularly tempting commodity of the future.  But do the maps that are being designed for self-driving vehicles also not suggest their limitations?  These maps promise new means to bring to amassing of data to put places on the map comes at potential costs, however, by creating a downloadable cloud-based record of space able to substitute for drivers’ own intelligence, or indeed the evolved tacit knowledge of roadways.  Indeed, even the hopes to provide a high-density record to be able to navigate roadspace leaves an eery imprint for what it leaves out, and trace a rather ghostly skeletal system of roadways, raising compelling questions about the sort of space that maps serve to embody and the abilty to recreate or preserve tacit knowledge of roadways and driving skills.  For rather than trace the deserted roads of an imagined landscape that one might be compelled to or inspired explore with curiosity, the streets blanched of a world where discoveries are made suggest a tracery of recorded tracks removed from local testimony or a concept of place, removed from the curiosity of map-reading, discovery or way-finding, or a notion of transit that rooted in familiarity with place.

The maps for self-driving cars, as much as the vehicles or their technologies, raise questions about what the nature is of a map that is removed from recognizable concepts of an inhabited place.  A considerable promise of self-driving cars to be sure lies in the internal maps with which they would be hard-wired for ready cloud-to-car delivery, with an accuracy allowing for reducing the potential of accidents while driving behind the wheel:  as if accidents while driving have been ascribed to the fault of human drivers’ judgements, as much as bad road or weather conditions, and the potential liabilities of self-driving cars colliding with one another and with human beings–who is liable?  the programmer?  the designer of the software?  the engineers who built the roads?–delivery on such a promise depends on the accuracy of the high-definition maps they are supplied.  Although the market for such maps have lead to steep competition between not only Uber and Google, but Zenrin, And as the surveying of road networks, highway interchanges, and road conditions, the promise of bettering travel experience lies in the odd remove of the map from the human reader.   While the tools of automatic driving and cruise control seem but a stone’s throw from the self-driving cars in theory, arely have detailed travel maps been so widely removed from human readers–perhaps the final image of the country of speed, roadways and motion that Jean Baudrillard so quickly idealized as a land of space and speed.

But while the map lends itself to the fantasy, much as future maps provide powerful templates for collective betterment, the future in maps for self-driving cars may be bleaker than one might have expected.  Maps have been long created to frame the promises of the benefits of increasing roadways and access to space.  An early instance of mapping the promise that paved interstates would bring good roads everywhere promised an opening up of national spaces and the economy, just over a century ago–in the Good Roads Movement.  At a time when roads were not uniformly paved at the same level, a situation that Good Roads cheerleaders drew attention to the obstructions of poorly paved nature of the nation in the years.  Long before World War One, they presented as a national project of economic betterment and self-improvement in a series of compelling maps that posed black-and-white arguments:  in calling attention to how poorly-paved roads hinder national growth, the promotion of road-building as an economic value that have removed the existence of remote spaces or roadless areas.


National Highways to Bring Good Roads Ass'n.pngNational Highways to bring about Good Roads Everywhere (1895/1913)




The promise of self-driving cars to organize road-space along maps that internalize an image of the roadways provides a new sense of driving experience.  It is one that  presupposes pretty perfect road conditions, in ways that may seem no certainty in an age of decaying infrastructure.  For all their vaunted promise of a smoother sense of driving, removed from accident.  For the patterning of automative space that inform maps for self-driving cars, instead of recording inhabited space, or the natural world, seem to pose propositions of the existence of a purely driven space, occupied less by cars or at least not by passengers but by a visualization of road conditions, in ways that eerily suggest less a world that can be filled in as a broader canvas of living or nature, but a purely man-made world, free of human inhabitants.  And despite the great appeal of a crash-free world of the automated vehicle that the huge demand for self-driving cars promises, the high data density maps being developed to place space on a map presents a terrifyingly circumscribed landscape of roadways that demand attention as a way of looking at the world–and symbolizing inhabited space.

Perhaps this is largely due to their machine-readable nature, as much as they increasingly “roaded” nature of most of the increasingly over-paved inhabited world–in which Pierre Ibisch and colleagues of the Roadless Initiative have found in their map of “roadless” areas to suggest the fragmentary nature of regions not defined by roads.  The striking new global map of roadless areas, using open data from Open Street Map, the extent of global penetration of roadspace has in essence so dramatically increased the possibilities for human access to divide the global ecosystem into some 600,000 fragments, removed from roads, which stand only to increasingly fragment over time.

Roads in world:roadless world.pngPierre L. Ibisch, Monika Hoffman, Stefan Kreft, Guy Pe’er, Vassiliki Kati, Lisa Biber-Freudenberger, Dominick A. Della Sala, Mariana M. Vale, Peter R. Hobson, and Nuria Selva (December, 2016)


The absence of spaces without paved roads–or not lying within a km of roadways–has divided much of the world in the past century so that the only roadless areas of over a hundred square km lie in the tundra or boreal forests, and most of these lands are not protected.  The map of self-driving cars are not perhaps seen as motors of geographical change, but reflect a growing sense of a tacit naturalization of roadspace–rather than open space–in ways that has already defined as “densely roaded” areas in Europe, the United States and Japan, as well as much of Pakistan and India and the Horn of Africa.




hintergrund.jpg Map by Monika Hoffman (from Ibisch et al., 2016)


Roaded USA.png


For one rarely appreciates the costs for what is left off the map, and the removal of the map from the roadways–and the alienated image of the roadways that they seem to present.  For  muchlike the paths of pilgrimage of medieval times, which viewed isolated itineraries in geographic space, or the disembodied paths of nautical charts imagined itineraries across the Mediterranean on compass lines, the skeletal tracery of the roadscape suggests a sense of routes removed from testimony and disembodied, distilled to the information of the roadways and a purely anthropogenic world and removed from its context, as if roads remain oddly stripped of their local references.  If places are where we inhabit, the disembodied nature of the datasets of the maps for self-driving cars are removed from them, and suggest their remove from first-hand testimony–the tracery of roads being privileged over the sites of habitation that they connect.


ITaly as Nautical Compilation



And despite the possible multiple benefits for autonomous cars, maps made for ensuring safe driverless driving test the not only the huge amounts of data that enter in maps, as well as the problems of prioritizing selective data, that raise questions not only about the richness of these high density maps, but the sorts of world that the arrival of autonomous cars register.  The promises of self-driving cars that range from greater efficiency, fewer accidents, and a comprehensive data of roadways suggest a mapping of roadways alone, albeit with finely-grained knowledge of driving conditions.  The intense interest in creating a map omitting roadless areas provide a scary map of the potential future of an absence of any strategy for preserving or conserving roadless areas.


1. The eerily ghostly roadways of the maps made for self-driving cars seem quite proper:  for they track the road as inhabited by the car, and not by the spaces around them.  If the intellectual property of tools for processing and formulating driverless maps stands at the cutting edge of recent lawsuits, is the increasingly ghostly character of maps made for driverless cars not also a serious cost?  The fragmentary picture of strings of man-made space erase the notion of a pilgrimage to a detention, providing a real-time record of roads’ obstacles, speed rates and traffic density, offering clues for how the car can move across and over space, but does so in the context of distilling the roadways to the basic criteria that cars will most especially need to know, and far less about the spaces that we might visit.  While made for autonomous driving vehicles, the absence of testimony and the lack of differentiation among places seems poignantly and particularly wanting.

The roadways that entangle much of the inhabited earth with transit corridors demand a complicated set of tools for their mapping, but does the erasure of the experience of driving, converted into a matrix of data, also register a deep danger in how we have come to inhabit space?  For if the proliferation of interchanges show the growth of roadways and arteries of automotive transport, some including up to fifteen lanes, branching out into eight directions, inspiring one netizen to ventriloquize, “Car GPS: ‘I can only take you this far, the rest is up to you,‘” imagining frustrated befuddlement at this Chongqing interchange, whose curving on-ramps and shifting elevations can hardly  be untangled by data from motion sensors or GPS.   The radically curtailed influence that the map offers readers stands in uneasy juxtaposition with the fears mazes of manmade roadways may even outstrip navigational capabilities.  One imagines not only the sort of dialogue that might occur with automated navigational services as Siri, their GPS coordinates overloaded by the multi-directional arrival of cars on different lanes in the freeway exchange, but the difficulty–and the need–for the data density of a map for automated cars that would process the possible courses of lane changes and arcs of on-ramps in ways that the driverless car would be able to navigate.




2. All maps are made to meet demands, and the expanding market for maps for self-driving cars is no exception.  But if we have become able to map traffic and routes for some time, the ghostly sense of inhabitation in maps for self-driving cars seem worth reflection–for the image of the world they create; the ethics of mapping the road conditions, and how theses maps orient us to the world. Fort he intelligence of such maps, made to be machine-read rather than read by humans,  propose a different notion of the “inhabited world” that is in truth increasingly closer to the road-covered world that we increasingly inhabit.  While the safety of such maps effectively allow us to be passengers in such self-driving cars, they also render a new sense of the worlds in which we are inhabitants.  For the haunting ghostly worlds that maps for self-driving reproduce and create provide an odd record of our increasingly paved-over world, where roads-free landscape is ever shrinking.  Are the maps for self-driving cars a premonition of a paved over future?

Driving is among the most familiar extension of an embodied experience, and the most familiar experience of navigation and way-finding that we have today.  But as maps are increasingly present behind the wheel, as it were, and built into many cars, today, both in the form of dashboard monitors, handheld devices, and disembodied voices, the relation of the map to the experience of driving has changed.  As maps have become data and datasets, we have no only constructed far more visually elegant renderings of roads and driving conditions.  As the maps for driving have departed from the over-folded pieces of paper, often ripped or worn at the crease, that used to be stuffed into the romantically named “glove compartment” and migrate underneath sun visors or into  the side-compartments on front doors, into interactive experiences that we read, they have in many ways transcended our abilities for attention.  And the increased demands for attention in our society and even for our drivers has led to a new market not only for for data rich maps, but for the maps that would help guarantee the safety of self-driving cars.

In an age where Google dominates mapping, creating the tools to develop maps for autonomous vehicles–“self-driving” cars that navigate by LiDAR software, real-time radar and laser sensors, streaming data libraries and programs–


perched processing directions for URBER.png


–which stands to prove the most important mapping innovation since the satellite, and perhaps the most valuable ever, as over thirty companies are applying to test-run their own self-driving cars in California, seat of the future, and the winner seems destined to be the one with the most complete and sophisticated mapping tools.  The tools planned to allow the cars to navigate real space don’t provide anything similar to a recognizable landscape, but Google’s driverless car division–Waymo–used the code-name ‘Chauffeur’ to refer to the armory of LiDAR tools as if to humanize the tools by which autonomous cars will be instilled with the ability to develop an effective cognitive relation to space.   Although autonomous cars may threaten to overturn the hegemony of Google has retained as a mapping engine,  the new remapping of the freeways also threatens a changed relation to most all extra-urban off-road space.   Is the growth of the market for self-driving cars not in itself emblematic of a new relation to space, where the car is less the instrument of exploration or navigation–the Keruoac’s image of being “on the road”–but a now bulky mode of transit and commuting, whose increasingly mechanical modalities of operation seem to be best performed by an artificial driver, built-in to the car.  Even as it is foretold AI is destined to replace increasing numbers of workers with world-changing effects that are only “50 or 100 years away,” we have kept fears of economic shocks and needs for massive retraining at bay, but face a profound fear of decreased human agency.

The diminished agency of the human is perhaps no more apparent than in the rapid race to design maps for self-driving cars–maps read by cars to familiarize themselves with traffic conditions and their routes, in ways that dispense with human judgment behind the wheel–one of the most privileged sorts of agency in existence–even if the maps for self-driving cars are now limited to the most mechanical forms of transportation on “smart highways” and shipping routes.

What sort of intelligence is lost, one might well ask, and what gained?  The promise of improving the navigation of roadways is analogous to the Good Roads movement, insofar as they promote a new notion of travelled space, and a new notion of mobility in it, but suggest the notion of a cartographic intelligence removed from the map-reader.


I.  The Intelligence of the Map

While not likely to ever be as dense with pictorial detail as a topographic map, but seeking to provide the crispness of an older road map shows a matrix of paved routes of shifting thickness that seem so eerily modern in their configuration in a Pennsylvania Road Map of 1926 that seems to invite roadsters to explore Western New York–





While the configuration of this disembodied network of pavement recalls the instructions for a map for self-driving cars, the range of maps that are currently being crafted for self-driving cars condense not only roadways, but road conditions, lane-changes, stop signs, speed limits, curving interchanges and current traffic conditions, all absent from the creased maps drivers once stowed in glove compartments to keep at hand, as well as the content needed for lane changing, intersections, speed limits, and navigating unforeseen obstacles that lie off the map.

But if the map is often imagined as an open book, rich with a variety of places and spatial reference points that can only be distinguished by diverse fonts and typography–




–the far more intangible nature of the algorithms and instructions comprising maps for self-driving cars are necessarily far more prescriptive than they invite exploration, as machine-readable texts.   Despite their high data density, such maps avoid the topical details encoded in early 1915 highway maps of local topography to suggest their continuity, that announced the cartographer’s art at encrypting information on two dimensions–





–maps for self-driving cars rather combine a somewhat skeletal sense of extreme data richness of local road conditions, to which they assimilate real-time information of the roads themselves, fading out all non-essentials, without any expectation of addressing a human eye.  Indeed, they can’t be described, perhaps, as forms of authorship, in an individual sense, because they are “written” and “surveyed” by sensors of the very cars which accumulate data needed for their content.

These maps raise the question of how the set of instructions that they will give cars to navigate roads and relate to the highways on which they travel and the traffic they also have to navigate can be a text–able to be claimed as a form of intellectual property and as a product–rather than a set of instructions, and, indeed, what sort of liability will lie within the maps for any possible accidents that occur within autonomous vehicles.  Indeed, although the questions of culpability and liability are all too absent from the sleek maps that promote the range of data in such “high density” maps of the roadways, the questions of liability could not be far off the minds of their designers.  But they demand to be explored, anyway, for the powerful nature of the contents of their design.

The functionality of such maps reflect the sort of traffic-maps that have long been provided to human drivers, but are radically pared-down versions of the same.   Take, for example, not only Wayz maps–but the improved maps of traffic intensity that are produced in strikingly color-coded precision to foreground traffic flows, rather than human buildings or monuments, but offering an immediately striking means of showing the traffic conditions of a city and its routes of traffic in Washington, DC to a human eye.  The strikingly lifeless nature of these arteries seem to register degree of obstructions, by color-coding roadways in terms of personal convenience which remove judgement from the reader of the map in ways that suggest a new paradigm of map reading:  rich with information, the “smart” map dictates course of driving, and demands a quite different from of map-reading–one that can be imagined to transfer more far more easily to machine-readable maps.




Mapbox cartographers have worked hard with their style sheets to create a new iconography able to distinguish prominent the tunnels, show intersections of traffic and onramps, that blocked out the habited areas of lower Manhattan, unlike most any maps that were made of the area, but link driving routes to transit lines in ways that improved the legibility of routes, improving on the right-hand 1.0 to the 1.2 to the left.


tunnels, intersections mapbox.png.jpg


But if the problems of rendering the notion of progress or itinerary is already revealed in these color coded and sized streets, the density of data in the maps for self-driving cars, which dispense with the pictorial symbols in favor of parsing the density of data dots for ready access.

Similar sorts of rendering of interchanges have been developed by online mapping agencies that seek to render traffic flows and in real-time, as a way of providing the sort of up-to-date information for human drivers that are especially challenging in New York, where they seem to update radio traffic, but condense a wide range of news about relative traffic congestion in ways that can be readily grasped, so that drivers can maybe not use them to navigate city streets, but at least to survey the lay of the road.

The roadways indeed have been gaining an increasing entity of their own in some of the traffic maps provided by Mapzen’s Transitland, which offer a way to imagine driving in ways that almost verge on the ability of a self-driving car, although it is fair to say that maps as the below seem to use a human capacity from moving from the general overview to the specific interchange that autonomous driving cars cannot enable.


Manhattan Dumbo.png


The considerable beauty of these renderings in real-time lighting offer their viewers suggest a particular chromatic appreciation of the salience of the roadways that offer a further pleasure of map-reading–here combined with a sense of building heights and shadows–to capture the time-sensitive notion of traffic conditions that can be readily appreciated and intuited, as if to make the map a “smart” surface, from early morning to night.


Lower Mtananhat AM.png

Lower Manhatan MapZen.png

Night Time Manhattan .png


Yet in capturing the essence of travel in the map–and distilling the voyage to the essence of road conditions–the maps for self-driving cars create an oddly isolated sense of the roadway, largely limited to the paved surfaces without much inclusion of the overall pan.


2.  The Road and the Path

The disembodied nature of the maps for self-driving cars provide a new avatar of the extended of artificial intelligence and its challenge to displace an embodied experience.  If maps remain among the most human of creations to orient viewers to place and space, allowing us to navigate and master a spatial continuity we can’t otherwise readily perceive, training cars to read this space depends on the challenge of conveying the tacit familiarity with roadscapes into machine-readable form.  While such maps are not often considered similar graphic embodiments of space, the embodiments these maps offer of roadscapes demand to be examined.  For the notion of driving as wandering–or wanderlust–seems to be skipped over entirely in the maps for self-driving cars, which one could only say that Jack “Nothing-behind-me,-everything- ahead-of-me,-as-is-always-so-on-the-road” Kerouac would find queasy-making if not downright repellent.  Rather than wondering insistently “what’s in store for me in the direction I don’t take?” the adventure of rolling on for the man who preached that “the road is life” would find the denatured aspect of the roadways and roadscapes all too much akin to disembodied instructions.

For the interest in making maps singly for self-driving cars is so removed from human skills of map-reading to make them profound alienating landscapes, and yet eerily inviting to inhabit, raising questions about the safety of their use but also awe at the level of details gathered and organized in their visual fields.  These are not landscapes occupied by humans, to be sure, but may suggest an increasingly common aspect of the landscapes which we are creating for cars, and the ways we are learning to navigate an increasingly paved world, where roadless areas have not only diminished but are increasingly rare and indeed unfamiliar.  The ways that the landscape that will be used by the self-driving car seems to register on-road experience for self-driving cars are ghostly landscapes of the “roaded” world, as much as they place us in a space where we are increasingly removed from reading maps.  The contrast to the human landscape through which we might walk to orient ourselves, as Jeremy Wood sought to render by showing personal travel as a sort of “geodetic pencil or cartographical crayon” that registered his familiarity during personal travels around London by combining GPS tracks over seventeen days of walking–



Jeremy Wood, “My Ghost” (2009)


–the maps for self-driving cars are less concerned with intensity of travel, or pulled by the interest of sites of pleasure, work, and curiosity, but they define a set of pathways abstracted from place, but designed to ensure safety.

Indeed, in contrast to the contingency of navigation or exploration in a world we know by traveling, and learn while walking, the maps for self-driving cars are a sort of synthesis of streets, stripped of cities or sites–rather than the sort of matrix of spatial relations to which we are accustomed.  We’ve long expected maps orient human readers to the continuity of inhabited space that affirm regional integrity and offer needed cognitive way-finding tools.  The continuity maps create makes them among the most humanistic of documents, extending cognitive skills and establishing needed frameworks for understanding space and place as less than abstractions but in concrete terms.  The cognitive magic of embodying spatial relationships to be grasped at a glance functions in large parts by the success of their selective conventions as tools to place ourselves in a form of vision accessible to the human eye, condensing markers that often lie in the land to a form we can readily engage.  The new maps that promise to orient self-driving cars to the roadways rather focus on charting data on flow, and the constraints of space, rather than they organize space as a recognizably continuous record of the roadways.  They offer what one might call the “First World” perspective on our changing inhabited space.

And so the dramatically curtailed nature of the mis en scène of the maps for made for self-driving cars offer seems to demand attention:  to be sure, such maps make less appeal to human cognition, offering a purely machine-readable sense of place and of space oddly removed from human habitation.  But they condense and transpose a human relation to the landscape into readable form that, in the end, serve to orient us to how we navigate and voyage through space.   Is this mapping from a machine point of view, or is evidence of the new dominance of road space and roadways in an increasingly over-inhabited world, where a sense of place has been increasingly eroded within a continuum of constant transit, far more sensitive to flow than place or space?

A rendition of the spatio-temporal database. Source: Zenrin Co.

A rendition of the spatio-temporal database. Source: Zenrin Co.

The uncanny absence of engagement with the natural–and the transformation of the map, as it were, to a network of man-made roads that is removed from a human landscape.  Once stripped of the real mosaic of place and removing human settlement from a web of forests, landscapes, or wilderness–and indeed entirely from the natural and non-man-made world:–the concentration on roads filter out any sense of motion through space from any experience outside a car.  In an overly detailed armature of isolated itineraries, organized from discrete data points, the maps designed for autonomous cars present a denuded landscape, stripped of context that is not immediate, and without any accreted human knowledge preserved in place-names.  If the map is often described as a text, Hi-Def maps replace text with rich data points and a feeds of real-time information from sensors.  Rather than locate oneself in relation to space by successive markers in a landscape along a road or pathway–



D.T. Valentine and George Hayward, Common Lands between three- and six-mile stones (1799) (Museum of the City of New York)

–the condensation of road signs and driving conventions seek to allow a car to orient itself to space in ways that strip space of its tactile surroundings, doing the work in many ways for orienting oneself to signs located along the roads.  Rather than chart location for a viewer, HD maps for self-driving cars are sensitive to capturing the constraints and flows by which a car can orient itself to the shifting traffic and crowded lanes that organize the changing terrain of highway space, an area to which so much increasing land cover has been dedicated across the inhabited world:  the HD maps take the space of the highways something like as a proxy for the inhabited world.  As records of the shifting space of the speedways, these maps promise to register the complex calculus of highways to promise a safe trip for future passengers.  If J. B. Jackson famously suggested the rise of “auto-vernacular” landscapes in the United States whose deceptive sense of ‘placelessness’ reflected the changing middle class lifestyles of suburban tract homes and suburban subdivisions and strip housing located along highways, the maps for self-driving cars are cultural landscapes stripped of signs of habitation save the roadways.

But it also seems terrifying insofar as one rarely appreciates the costs for what they leave off the map, in the selective attention to roadways.  For the removal of the map from the roadways–and the alienated image of the roadways that they seem to present.  For like the paths of pilgrimage of medieval times, which viewed isolated itineraries in geographic space, or the disembodied paths of nautical charts imagined itineraries across the Mediterranean on compass lines, the skeletal tracery of the roadscape suggests a sense of routes removed from testimony and disembodied, distilled to the information of the roadways and a purely anthropogenic world and removed from its context, as if roads remain oddly stripped of their local references.  If places are where we inhabit, the disembodied nature of the datasets of the maps for self-driving cars are removed from them, and suggest links around them that lack any actual testimony.


ITaly as Nautical Compilation


And despite the possible benefits for autonomous cars, maps made for ensuring safe driverless driving test the not only the huge amounts of data that enter in maps, as well as the problems of prioritizing selective data, that raise questions not only about the richness of these high density maps, but the sorts of world that the arrival of autonomous cars register.  The promises of self-driving cars that range from greater efficiency, fewer accidents, and a comprehensive data of roadways suggest a mapping of roadways alone, albeit in finely-grained knowledge of driving conditions.  They contrast to the hype with which the Good Roads movement promoted economic development, in short, because if the boosterish boast for economic development through road improvement advanced a national highway system as a way to re-imagine routes of commerce in a newly paved nation as a new way to see the nation by the efficiency of its system of improved roadways that allowed states to generate wealth readily.




–the gospel of improvement and advancement seems removed from a sense of place in the machine-readable maps for self-driving cars.


3.  Reconsidering the Broader Risks of HD Maps

The provision of these maps by sensors register real-time accounts of spatial relationships that suggest the range of tools by which we have come to orient ourselves to the world’s paved highways:  yet at a time when Google Maps register space universally, from a synthesis of local surveys and satellite imagery, the maps for self-driving cars offer a downloadable cognitive framework, preserved on the cloud, for how cars can orient themselves to space by surveying their real positions on roadways, and depend less on human drivers in an age when, the distracted driving is so widespread, according to analytics company Zendrive, that American drivers use phones on 88% of the journeys they make on the road–and in spend 3.5 minutes per hour looking at their phone, and not only for directions.

In an age of mass-distraction where drivers can’t be as trusted to watch the road, maps for self-driving cars are perhaps needed to reduce risk–even two-seconds of distraction on your phone increases individual drivers’ risk by 20 percent; the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently counted almost 3,500 people deaths in distraction-related car crashes in the United States in 2015, and almost 400,000 injured, and the problem stands to worsen as after a recent trend toward declining numbers of driving fatalities, fatalities due to distracted driving are substantially rising, and especially among teens.  The statistics are unclear, as accidents involving cell phones are under-reported by authorities.  At a time when paper highway maps are no longer consulted, and in fact rarely sufficient–and navigation has migrated to the hand-held phone, if not Siri, it’s no surprise the need and market for maps for self-driving cars has so markedly grown.


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The response to such distraction has been to provide a newly comprehensive map able to interface with self-driving cars, in ways that might allow our existing habits of distraction to grow.  In a sense, this is a local–as much as a universal–recuperation of the perspective of the single surveyor, providing a local automobilistic model of mapping with advantages one can’t gain from satellite/LiDAR alone, or a filling in of the gaps.   But the maps for self-driving cars are not made for human audiences, and as much as orienting individuals, offers perspectives of an inhabited world that is defined only by the extent of traffic on roadways–and which consumes increased cognitive attention of commuters–but which offers an extremely alienated perspective on the world.


The shift from the schematic detail of most road maps and atlases reflects the range of 3-D topographic displays motorists using Navteq consult on dashboards, which include skies, buildings, and real-time information about traffic and road obstructions, similar to Wayz. Going far beyond GPS, the prototypes for “high definition” maps of increasingly expanding data density move from 3-D to an enhanced maps rely on local surveying in what suggest a new eagerness to make maps to move to fully automated cars, giving maps a centrality to the commercial enterprise, tied to monopolistic schemes of corporate enrichment to better life analogous to what Daniel Defoe famously called the “Age of Projectors” plagued by self-interest.  Maps for automated driving claim authority by converting roadways to a new legible form, less  dependent on personal surveying or extant maps, than the rapid creation and provision of a corpus of maps–or, rather, competing libraries of maps, depend on extracting data from sensors and cameras from a fleet of several thousands of cars, trying to embody a collective dataset of every option of driving on existing roads, and compiling little information outside the road-system.  Are their costs, as well as benefits, in this massive assembly of a record of space?



The format for mapping space purged of place-names and distilled from earlier traditions of encoding knowledge may always risk providing an overly thin notion not only of place but of history, and a marginalization of environments from maps, but in amassing the data-intensive rendering of road space–in which rendering a highway or road may require 1.4 billion data points, from medians and road barriers to curb height to tunnel breadth to sewer grates, in ways that codify the tacit knowledge drivers daily account for, the potential data overload depends on parsing a data rich record in effective ways–and raise potential questions about the interruption of data flows from the sensors of autonomous car due to weather interference, from ice to snow to pollution, And even the integrity of what we are left with as onboard HD maps of the everyday.Yet even artificial intelligence that most adeptly parses relevance of road signs and real-time images of a region’s traffic won’t necessarily align with the interests of drivers or of how we understand and live in space.

The maps for self-driving cars in a sense respond to the promise of speed, by imagining the lattice-like structure of roadways as a space of themselves, and fluid lines stripped of place or home, but focussing on abilities to sense and integrate real-time traffic flows: relying on graphic processing units–GPU’s or visual processing units–they use electronic circuitry to rapidly create real-time images of traffic conditions, able to be mapped onto templates of roads.  Such chips, already used in many cars’ navigational systems and dashboards, now being developed to allow driverless cars to store massive amounts of data on the progress of cars in traffic and space–cataloguing human driving habits in ways that many Americans–and especially many American men–seem eager to buy.   Yet few are certain that artificial intelligence is to be trusted more than human intelligence, most think they will dramatically cut fatalities.)

Yet safety depends on the quality of maps.  Maps for driverless cars open perspectives on the basic cognitive operations of maps, and of autonomous cars–“An autonomous-driving vehicle without good maps is like a human being with a missing part in his brain,” says an engineer trying to explain the need to augment existing map databases with complex algorithms of enhanced computer learning.  The amplification of data in maps for self-driving cars must be paired with engineering filters by which self-driving cars will define their selectivity, prioritizing meaning to efficiently view the world.   Maps have long imitated human perceptions of space; in considering the maps created for self-driving cars recently promoted as the “future of mapping,” what they exclude seems as important as what they include.  While offering 3-D maps of “end-to-end” travel in HD maps, these machine-readable maps offer shifting networks offering cars the ability to navigate roads, traffic signs, and highway traffic.  They may seem artifacts of an age of ADD or inattentive driving, ad actively foreground features from more data far surpassing tha existing road maps–absenting human agency from the car.  A large part of the problems and promise of such maps is to parse information about road conditions, hierarchically sorting and ranking their relevance to driving, by using “deep learning” software to train the cars to best judge intersections and lane changes.  The abstracting of itineraries from place is not only alienating to a human viewer, but seems mapped in ways oddly stripped of human presence.

For despite their synthesis of such a map of considerable granularity, they depend on filtering the overabundance of detail accumulated by sensors in decisive ways.  Oddly, and unfamiliarly, they create a somewhat terrifying unpeopled landscapes–rather than providing signposts a human eye would recognize as orientations or guideposts in the ways that roads were long historically defined.  In amassing a huge amount of quantitative detail on how to navigate, they use sensors to encode a rich density of spatial information in what is rendered as a weirdly flattened landscape, limited to routes of vehicular transit that occupy an increasing share of our ground-cover in expanding megacities whose edges stretch out to the start of interstates in center less urban sprawl.  A large part of the problem for such maps is to filter out information, and point the car in a direction by end-to-end coverage.

The primary problem of such maps is to prioritize relevant information on the roadways; the mandate to chart the road systems alone, at a remove from local context, filters the world in what seems a fantasy of speed, allowing self-driving cars to navigate the paved world from behind the wheel, rich with the immediate signs and pavement-markings that simulate the semantics of the road, independent of human habitation or local environments.

The changing nature and subject of these maps may suggest a change in how we understand roads–in many agrarian societies, the metaphor of the “path” or “way,” the Chinese dao, describes a path discovered, and not followed.  If maps suggest the possibilities of paths of travel and routes, “end-to-end” HD maps proscribe precisely the way that must be followed by cars to reduce risk  For the format of map making can be compared less to a landscape than “roadscape” driven through.  And if we take it seriously as the future of mapping, the costs of limiting its content deserves to be examined.  Rather than describe places along the way, or situate place in a field, these 3-D maps suggest a road-bound notion of continuity, prioritizing and parsing the vast amount of detail that might be sensed on a system of roadways to allow the car to situate itself on speedways without accident, and to navigate roads earlier navigated followed by human intelligence and judgement.  The primary problem of such maps is to rank relevant information on the roadways; the mandate to chart the road systems alone, at a remove from local context, filters the world in what seems a fantasy of speed, allowing self-driving cars to navigate the paved world from behind the wheel, rich with the immediate signs and pavement-markings that simulate the situated semantics of the road, independent of human habitation or local environments.

US Roadscape and transcanada highway.png


4.  The Fate of Place

The fate of place is increasingly difficult to assess in a globalizing world.  But it’s tellingly absent from most 3-D map of what appears an abstracted “roadscape”:  place disappears in the 3-D maps created for automated vehicles, which despite data-richness offer a phenomenology of the roadways that substitute “roadscape” for landscape–constructing a quite unfamiliar notion of the inhabited world by isolating a network of roads and the conventions of driving from their surroundings in quite spectral ways.  In privileging paved roadways and managed traffic over place, such maps seem to say important things about our changing notions of space.  Rather than marking distance points, or the embededness of routes in a landscape, as the trails in the American West or the geologic ridge that served as the basis for the Natchez Trace from Mississippi to Tennessee, used by Chickasaw and Chocktaw before it became the “Colombian Highway,” the network of roads are reduced to traffic signs and abstracted from local settings save elevation changes; in contrast to the man-made scale of ancient networks of trading routes, such as the Silk Road, whose rich historical palimpsest re-emerged only after the fall of the Soviet Union, as active signs of its survival as a cultural corridor remerged.

But historical signs of habitation disappear as lines of navigation are disquietingly disembodied from place, stripped from historical texture or depth, and rendered as a isolated paths:  the historical texture of the three-lane El Camino Real, which snakes through Mountain View and Palo Alto, some of whose right-hand lanes are wide enough to sustain and invite two lines of traffic, becoming the site for a crash for one of Google’s autonomous vehicles, which predicted erroneously that a bus would in fact yield as it waited to turn. Perhaps until every car is autonomous, similar  glitches are to be expected occasionally.  But the image of traffic and mobility it creates seems scarily thin:  roads loose far more than historical resonance in maps for self-driving cars, as they omit or elide accumulated judgement shared between drivers.  The highly conventionalized pathways by which roads are rendered in such maps show a peculiar  relation to the land, removed from walking, or from a sense of the meaning that is invested in place, home, or sacred site.

A more extended contrast seems to the point.  If the overland trails and  itineraries across America were travelled on foot to the American West, from the Mormon Trial to the California Trail, as documented by personal accounts, and moving across space at different rates over time, space and time seem conflated and combined in the maps for self-driving cars as data of different if related registers for the car to process and learn for its spatial orientation.  Unlike the overland trails that follow topography to trace ties for carriages that went West in the late nineteenth century, with different rates of survival and at different speeds, the maps for self-driving cars allow the maximum possible driving velocity within limits of safety, and remove agency from motion.

OVerland Trails.pngAmerican Panorama: The Overland Trails

In ways foreign to the framework of maps for self-driving cars, the interactive atlas of “Overland Trails” shows the place-bound nature of carriage-driven migrations when moving along overland way-stations from Independence, MO to Oregon or San Francisco along the California Trail or Oregon Trail–and which reveal the multiple varied iterations of progress recorded in diaries, stopping at forts or pausing at rock formations along the treacherous western topography, long largely defined by water scarcity, but evident as a form of exploring the local terrain and its landmarks.

Time and space are flattened in the maps created for self-driving cars, which than filter high data flows about space and time to cars to foster an artificial intelligence of the roadways, and prompt the question of whether AI will provide the sort of records in drivers’ own interests after all.

Likening the “huge gap between making current navigation maps and maps for autonomous driving,” to “comparing climbing Mount Fuji to climbing Mount Everest,” Zenshi Takayama, President of Zenrin Co., which has the dominant market share of tools for car navigation in Japan, said in Tokyo.  Zenrin has  transitioned from paper maps to digitized navigation systems, hopes to provide tools for moving in three dimensions on crowded roads to the expected 12 million autonomous vehicles that will be driving from 2035 worldwide, in what may be up to a tenth of total automotive traffic, by amplifying existing map databases with deep learning capabilities to orient self-driving cars to a system of roads, other vehicle, weather changes, and the eventual accidents.  Takayama may seem to use a landscape metaphor to naturalize the subject of the map, but if Mt Fuji is a Shinto shrine in Japan, preserved from development and a sacred forest below the tree-line, moved across by well-known paths, an ascent of Everest depend on ice-conditions, moving glaciers, Icefalls, and earthquakes on which the decision of any route is contingent–the routes of ascent need to be constantly calculated and assessed.  The analogy is not only meant to convey the sheer difficulty of the task, but practical problems of synthesizing such a diverse range of data.


Yet the analogy may minimize the qualitatively different nature of maps for driverless cars, by treating them as if they addressed a human viewer or audience .  Indeed the notion of climbing a path by practiced routes of ascent along ridges or “magic lines” suggest the sort of situated itinerary that maps for driverless cars don’t try to recreate, and the different nature of end-to-end maps that trace an entire route in real time.  Risk does not exist in the different routes to the peak, but rather in the chance of a collision with a driver.



For rather than suggest the sort of tactile relation to space that maps exceed in providing, the discrete data-points they gather embody less of a coherent image than a calculus of spatial relations and relatedness.


5.  The New Roadscape

If the maps primarily describe two dimensions, maps for self-driving cars seek to are orient cars in 3-D, parsing of spatial information that translates into axes of data density, mobility, and risk.  The demand for real-time generation of maps for self-driving cars raise some serious questions about their selectivity and about the conventions and coverage they adopt, and how maps will be augmented with fresh information with sufficient speed to be risk-free.  All maps depend on what their users expect to find, but the maps for self-driving cars gain value because of their frameworks for prioritizing information that will replace the range of actions that most drivers internalize, and register the constantly changing conditions of roads and traffic, a by prioritizing the information on the road far above the local landscape.

The maps for autonomous vehicles focus on a roadscapes alone, creating a new experience of the roads oriented to cars, and not drivers, by filtering information from LiDAR surveys and sensors that relate to conditions of traffic and road signs–the sites of traffic lights; their heights; the size of cross-walks; the curvature of roadways–so that the cars, rather than their drivers, can assess where they are.  In mapping images that privilege the roadscape, over a landscape where place no longer exists, and which is only habited by roads and automated cars.  For such high-definition maps seek to redefine the experience of driving, promising to re-orient ourselves to the congestion of highways, offering a perspective of the roadways that determines and privileges the place and position of the individual car.




The maps for so far designed self-driving cars offer machine-readable images of space, privileging frameworks of highways but able to incorporate real-time data to train automated cars to drive with low risk.  Their content privilege and magnify systems of paved roads in anthropocentric ways that increasingly structure our sense of the inhabited world.  By removing the “roadscape” from other perceptual contexts, they suggest the overbuilt nature of highway systems in the inhabited world, winnowing away extraneous details from an autombilist perspective on our roadways, and manifesting something like a fantasy of the unlimited expansion of driverless cars in the future:  as much a marketing device as a way finding system, the promise of driverless cars is boosted without any attention to the image of a road-bound world that they offer, and the anthropogenic space of highway expansion they seem to enable.

Needless to say, the “work” done by such maps presumes the infinite expansions of roadways soon to be navigated by intelligent cars, altering our infrastructure without ever describing the costs or technologies of road systems increasingly in need of maintenance and worse for wear.  As many other maps, maps for self-driving cars are idealistic constructions, removed from practice, and from spatial travel.  Already, an Audi SQ5, festooned with autonomous driving technologies from radar to high-end microprocessors drove coast to coast  from San Francisco to New York covering 3,500 miles over nine days.  The automated caran Audi SQ5, made a trip the was 99% automated, carrying six engineers in changing weather conditions, across fifteen states.  Delphi announced its radar, cameras, and collision warning systems set a new standard for driving–and a promise of product development–and collected some three terabytes of data on highways across the southern United States, creating a new image of driving with no one at the wheel, in a car that was named “Ottomatika.



Audi-SQ5-Delphi-autonomous-car-rear-876x583Car and Driver

These maps suggest a radically new relation between car and driver, and man and machine, concretized in the remove of their maps from human intelligence or judgement.  The cartographical operations allowing real-time feeds of information to be included in maps, together with road conditions, is a primary problem for the high-density maps created for self-driving cars.  Their content reflects a spatial ontology of greater impact on the world and on our changing sense of space than we are ready to acknowledge. South Korean plans for the creation by 2020 of a system of “smart highways” for automated driving vehicles are promised to ease problems of traffic congestion and cut emissions., suggesting worthy hopes to reduce car accidents by instituting a virtual structure of traffic monitoring.

The planning of routes on its already quite extensive national road system are to be replaced by “smart highways” able to accommodate traffic flows, reducing all appearance of human agency.  Indeed, the mechanization of the roadspace that the South Korean government has promised will eliminate toll booths, allowing a smoothly-moving flow of cars which are able to gauge speeds against one another, and to function in a constant perpetuum mobile of the roadways, in ways that recall something like a system of die-cast cars on multi-lane highways with the by-product of ending congestion, traffic jams, and long commutes.  The big promises of such maps raises questions of whether they can alone deliver a new notion of commuting and highway travel, from a system of “smart tolls” allowing cars to move without stopping along the f 1,000 kilometers of new highways that will join the system of over 5,000 km by 2020, and which promise to ensure that no South Koreans will need to drive more than a half hour to enter.




Such a new system of roadways may seem far off in the United States, which must now be accustomed to lag behind in adopting a network determined by cloud-based sensors of wide-area motion imagery, creating accurate 3D maps, as much as networks of “smart highways,” seems to stand at the cutting edge of cartography.  Rather than rest on web-based maps, combining the cloud and Graphic Processing Units (GPU’s) and Cloud Moving Target Tracking (GC-MTT) system suggest a front-end web-based server that could offer the real-time target recognition and tracking needed for fully automated self-driving cars to navigate road space, to avoid the un-American notion of road space rationing, even if it means redesigning our national highway systems.


6.  Virtual Navigation

The maps that are being designed for self-driving cars are designed to make sure autonomous cars can navigate space, they rather uniquely organize space from the perspective of the car–in the hope to build abilities for cars to orient themselves to the growing expanse of our national road-space.  As much as offer navigational tools, maps produced for self-driving cars seek to assure us of the safety of their future of such automated automobilist experiences.  For the ghostly maps of roads capes that are disembodied from a broader context or landscape seem to offer the promise and fantasy of speed that underlay much of the twentieth century, of which the self-driving car is to an extent the apotheosis and end-product.  For the maps embody a promise of speed, as they map for the growth of road space during the twenty-first century.

The stand-alone virtual spaces that let self-driving cars to map their positions on roads chart a different way of looking at the world by transit routes, organizing space about roads as much as buildings, signposts, or human habitation, in ways that focus on infrastructure as a separate world.  The models of mapping “smart highways” are organized as they are less in terms of landmarks, and more in terms of routes, focussing on the features of the road that they privilege above all else, concentrating a far greater range of data in the streets.  Indeed, their richness of data almost discards the very notion cartographical selectivity–perhaps the basic premise of a map–in ways that seem to saturate the viewer with more detail than an individual glance than might be reasonably expected to readily process, inundating their mechanized readers with a floodgate of data that seems so comprehensive in its detailing of three dimensions that it might seem to, in virtual form, recreate the total landscape through which a car moves–or might meaningfully drive itself without risk–mapping the length of a cross-walk, the height of a traffic light, the angle and curve of a turn from one lane to another–in ways  that map out the options of driving for automotive vehicles by registering the options and alternatives on road systems in a spatio-temporal database.

0*NQI1hHJZudK_nV3L..pngWaymo Team

The skeletal framework of driving lanes that is the basis for the driverless map provides a more explicitly detailed account of the roadways than is likely to exist, mapping the alternatives that would exist for a human driver into a template that can translate data into a comprehensive account of the roadways that cars can access in real-time.  The maps promise to be augmented in real-time, by rich data feeds that themselves eliminate the confusion of overly large data flows registered by sensors or light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to see and map the world.  They are in a sense a fantasy of a world of increased ADD, promising a machine-readability that focuses only on those things relevant to the driving experience, by prioritizing relevant aspects of sensed space.   Rather than depend on cartographical selectivity, the software used in self-driving cars will be able to perform operations of selectivity in real-time.

The maps will effectively themselves prioritize urgent matters from stop signs to lane signs to pedestrians and bicyclists–rather than note and include the full range of all objects, garbage, and overhead trees or building windows, an information overload of remote sensing which would slow down the generation of real-time maps that self-driving cars are in most need.  Hence, the need for a new semantics of mapping–recognizing the most important signs needed for driving, and doing so in a way that might be eventually universalized in maps, and be able to compare sensed objects to the preloaded maps or GPS that is already in the image-banks of self-driving cars.

Civil Maps/Wired.

Most visualizations seek to make people “smarter with data.”  But rather than orienting human audiences to the massive accumulations of data that self-driving cars register, the stripped down data-dumps of maps for self-driving cars offer a cognitive overload, by concentrating entirely on the roads often rendered only as lines in most highway maps.  For maps for autonomous cars seek to integrate GPS measurements within a framework for reacting to road conditions, lanes, traffic signs, and accidents, read by real-time sensors.

Such real-time monitoring will allow cars to accurately map its place in a shifting road space, as much as a terrain, or imagine the problems of mapping a terrain focussing on the systems of roads on which it is likely to drive–and predict what lies on the roads by the amazing degree of precision of within ten centimeters.  Are such maps even safe?  That depends on the degree of density of data that they can accurately include.  The data of distance and dimensions of each road together with other prominent features to let addition of an increased range of road condition features in real-time, from accidents, intersection density, driveways, and weather changes, as well as pedestrians.  The data-rich framework would allow for crowd-sourcing a richly augmented plastic if necessarily limited record of routes, providing the sense of an infinite options of travel, and articulating a busy system of driving on roads.  Maps historically concentrated  on the inhabited world.  But the goal of such maps is a textured account of the inhabitation of the roadways–not a selective record of space, extracting and encoding an expansive amount of local detail in order to manage the unmanageable  density of traffic that clog highway systems.




7.  New Navigational Tools for an Overpaved World?

The maps for automated cars suggest a new register for mapping in interesting ways.  While removed from any sense of “marking” or identifying place save for the space of the roadway and mobility across its lanes, the resulting maps of three dimensions creates a framework that seems to embody hopes for speed, from  which any off-road landscapes recede, and the pre-eminence of paved space is enhanced and extremely data rich, to allow the car to place itself in the world.

Of course, the focus is on the road-system because the stakes are so exceedingly high, and the map assumes a determinant weight of the sort that it rarely has:  whereas in “a car navigation system, the liability is still on the driver,” as one of the thousand surveyors working for Zenrin navigation, a firm that originally specialized in mapping therapeutic natural hot springs and old-style public baths–onsen--which are such sought-after tourist destinations, and so numerous that the existence of over 3,000 in local communities in fact demands a map of considerable data density.   But while the Edo citizens used to trek between local hotsprings in Hakone or Atami to seek out their pleasure from a geothermal spring–local onsen run from Hokkaido in the north to the Okinawa islands of the southernmost islands–modern Tokyo is dotted with onsen made by drilling to geothermal springs.  But the sense of walking along a path seems removed from the traffic streams in maps for self-driving cars, although the notion that the car should be trained to notice local details seems somehow Japanese.

The notion of the naturalization of the map As the surveyor Fumiaki Kohguchi, put it, “But for autonomous-driving cars, the liability could be on the maps.”  Such natural springs are a far cry from the data streams required for navigation, but the the local surveys provide the secret to a more comprehensive treatment of the roadways.  Yet the displacement of all detail to the road system suggests a concentration on our future roadways allowing the software of automated cars of the future to augment with recently sensed items and moving objects, from pedestrian, vehicles, and construction zones, completing a picture of where they are located on the roads.

Zenrin Co. is the largest mapmaker in Japan, and has received a large investment to translate its detailed knowledge of Japan’s topography into driverless maps.  A surveyor at Zenrin, Kohguchi was assigned to complete in the Bunkyo district of Tokyo, by a specially outfitted car monitor the roadways.  The car allowed him to gather sufficient data for a 3-D map as its high-precision lasers measure lanes and traffic signs for a spatial architecture of Tokyo’s roadways.  So different is the map from all earlier forms of street mapping that surveyors have effectively re-surveyed Japan’s road space for its product in what it sees as a form of “thinking highways” to allow cars to re-think its road space–that translate road space into a navigable system.  The premium on translating data of roads to a three-dimensional record of roadways use “structure-from-motion algorithms” to create a sufficiently detailed 3D mapping space for cars to situate themselves while driving.


A high precision sensors on car gathers data on lanes and traffic signs.

Zenrin Co.


The hope is to create a framework for mapping that was destined to compete with the maps made by Mobileye, an Israeli firm which has made software for driverless cars from before 2014, partnering with General Motors and Volkswagen, and German-based HERE, a mapping unit purchased from NOKIA by Audi, BMW, and Daimler.  So carefully calibrated must these routes be that HERE boasts of an accuracy of mapping to four inches; an even greater level of detail is needed for imagining risk-free fully automated vehicles.  The mapping tools Zenrin has concentrated on are designed to gather crowd-source data in real time from sensors attached to automaker’s cars.  Zenrin hopes to fashion such 3-D roadmaps for clients at Google and Toyota by 2020, and has already intensively re-mapped much of the Japanese road-system by its own surveying cars.  To expand beyond tourist maps of onsen, sites of natural springs that were long transmitted in the landscape, the expansion to a map for self-driving cars is in a sense the next level of mapping routes for a market for automated cars.  Spurred by investments from Toyota, Zenrin has grown as a way to market local knowledge in a market for maps of self-driving cars.

Zenrin is working on a system to translate data that vehicles gather from mounted cameras and other sensing equipment in real-time to enable autonomous driving in much of Japan, as if to create a constrained sets of ways for driving.  Whereas the twelfth-century Buddhist monk Shenrin Shonin described the path of a “single, unobstructed way to salvation and Buddahood and Enlightenment,” the collection of obstructions encountered on Japanese roadways were traced by Zenrin for Japanese highways, in a valiant attempt to calculate the multiplicity of obstructions cars might avoid.  Such maps give rich models of the world’s roads and highways.  A real-time portrait that may enable a fleet of automated driverless cars, but offer the portrait of a world that privileges ribbons of road space as the basic network of navigation a fundamentally anthropocentric fantasy, even if its machine-readable nature is created to offer automated cars the best means to place itself in space?  The painstaking compilation of skeletal information about roadways offers an attempt to privilege the variations of road space with a detail that is rarely registers in selective maps of roadways.  (Of course, the risks of error in the maps for driverless cars are potentially terrifying, even if responding to the future market for driverless cars that seems destined to expand, driven by consumer desires, that stretch the borders between states and regions, and indeed so elevate paved highways and subsume all sense of place to the network of roads that they register.)

Orienting cars to an expanded road space corresponds to the increased over-crowding and land cover change that the growth of national infrastructures has created in the twenty-first century, when land cover world-wide has so intensively segmented a great extent of the most densely inhabited world–


Global Roadless.png

National Geographic., from Ibisch, et al.,  in Science

–which partly provided the basis for crafting frameworks of maps for driverless cars.  Such map will, no doubt, help orient us to a globe increasingly crisscrossed with road space that the driverless car will be able to freely navigate, presumably no longer bound or constrained by the limits of human attention spans.  But we anticipate the mechanics of harvesting the information for such maps and the sorts of spatial cognition that they offer–and the complex portraits of an ever-mobile world that these three-dimensional maps create.  The absence of selectivity in maps for driverless cars or autonomous vehicles is as important as the degree of precision that is necessary for such a cloud-based map.

The maps leave much of the space other than road space off the map.  Roadless areas are dark areas of the map, inverting the manner that many maps privileged sites of human habitation:  for the habitation of the roads is the subject of these map.  By allowing cars to compute their locations from a combination of sensor-derived and GPS data, and even exploiting LiDAR remote sensed surveys of roadways, the firms create maps removed from human cognition, if drawing on the most human-engineered of structures–roads–to understand space..  Indeed, the hope to calculate real-time records of spatial position and create its own internal map have led to the structure of the map being rethought as a plastic cognitive web of assembling data that is always moving, and is of necessity data-driven, since the plasticity of the map is their basic selling point.

HD-Live-Map-3Zenrin Co.

For the maps made for self-driving cars are something like armatures of the roadways, which would allow cars to use AI to orient themselves to the automotive world.  They offer little off-the-road context, but evoke pure directionality, in a fantasy of speed and autonomous driving from which coherent landscapes fall away.  Rather than allow human readers to name or recognize place, maps devised for self-driving cars offer non-human readers a model to order what are fluid and mobile positions in the world:  these maps transfer the calculations of place to the automotive intelligence of the car, offering the possibility of automative mobility.  They are unique documents of a culture envisioning how driverless cars move across paved space, navigating the networks of paved roads clustering around our megacities and urbanized areas.  The car is equipped to drive with little localized perception of space, in which data processing will be located in the vehicle alone, and the times of communication between vehicles and cloud shrink to something like effective real-time.  The disembodied nature of such motion on a road-scape seems designed to allow increased acceleration, and allow autonomous cars to communicate with one another.

This is, of course, quite a different notion of autonomy the one might associate with a human subject.  As much as offer signposts that human readers would recognize, the information relays that maps for driverless cars encode suggest weirdly flattened landscapes, not able to be inhabited but designed to ensure they are driven through without incident–a map without clear or fixed destinations, where roads are able to measured in real-time to reflect traffic conditions, lane closures, road repairs and obstacles:   place is replaced by ribbons of roads.  The directionality of the roads and the speed of travel trump place; the hope is to create highway maps whose data richness has enough flexibility to allow cars to track their place in a road space–paved or unpaved–of which paved intersections are most carefully mapped.

Zenrin-3d-mapping-1.jpgZenrin Co.

Maps designed for driverless cars, using data gathered from vehicles mounted with sensors and cameras to create a sense of road conditions in real-time, provide the possibility for autonomous cars to “learn” the limited, if semantically quite complicated highways and “roadscapes.”   One would not like to imagine much room for trial and error.   In contrast to a landscape we inhabit, and describe a road-scape that is in itself fluid–as the images that Zenrin creates of real-time roads that create a landscape ready for deep learning, and other crowd-sourced real-time maps that will furnish requisite levels of information for autonomous vehicles to navigate streets and harvest information, and invite users to develop increasingly detailed maps over time that register data processed offline for cars’ ready consumption.


8.  Road Density and Self-Driving Cars

The maps made for driverless cars untangle the landscape of an increasing density of roadways we’ve built–of which the self-driving car is to some extent the reflection, end-product, and which becomes the framework that the driverless car needs to internalize to navigate the national road space.  Rather than map space as it exists for human cognition, cloud-to-car relays filter a huge quantity of immediately amassed data effectively to make sure safe navigation as well as orient cars to paved space–amassing and relaying variations on road conditions of the sort which we rely on traffic reports over the radio, but hope to make internal to fully automated cars.  Roads are among the most-mapped networks of human communication, and provide a surrogate for commercial networks and habitation across the United States, whose glorious density this map including 240 million segments of individual roads across the lower forty-eight impressively synthesizes, and which in 2009 was redone with TIGER/Line shape files from the U.S Census, which strikingly suggests the deep irregularities of the spatial distribution of roads of every road in the United States–paved or unpaved alike.


Every Road.png

Each and Every Road in Mainland United States/ WestCoastBestCoast94

The massive shape files of coordinate data maps only the basis where self-driving cars would orient themselves, and use as their basic spatial framework and frame of reference–and be able to bind temporal variations in traffic flows in a form to be able better to navigate, as much as correspond to familiar notions of legibility.  Whereas a road maps shows clear clustering around cities that defined extensive road density reflect centers of population and huge urbanized expanses, as well as the density of car traffic and automobiles congestion.  The map by Reddit user “WestCoastBestCoast94” to suggest the relatively open areas on the west coast–save the Los Angeles-San Diego highly trafficked shores–in comparison to the east coast, as if in a polemic statement about the coasts:   we are increasingly in danger of confusing the road and the coast, but can see one is far more darkly defined by the congestion of cars.

imrs-5.phpEach and Every Road in Mainland United States/ WestCoastBestCoast94Fathom’s All Streets 

The landscape for self-driving cars are not meant to recreate a human perspective, after all, but driven through; to that extent they are an alternate embodiment of the road map, although they go far beyond it in local detail.  Despite the incredible detail of this skein of paved land cover, the activity of the country and its social fabric lies not in the road network alone–despite the rich infrastructure they offers, but the sites that they link and bind, and traffic flows that they contain.  (One remains struck by the relative inefficiency of its dense tangles, and the problems of an utter absence of selectivity–despite the obstacles to roads against natural obstacles, the web of infrastructure suddenly encountering open spaces in the natural world, or bunching up in black webs of increased road-density around centers of population.)  The success of binding data to the system of roads and highways across the country offers the best index of the scope of data that maps made for self-driving cars.  The country rests more often in gaps within this network–the blank spaces on the map, including rivers, mountainous topography, and lakes–as well as their balance with the dense black nodes of urban and extra-urban agglomerations able better apparent at a local level, if not in print.

imrs-5.php.pngFor a mouse over version of the map, see Fathom’s All Streets

Indeed, a closer examination of the national road system may help to unpack the sites where such a system of self-driving cars evolved, and the sense of an interlinked network that enabled the self-driving car.  The irregularity of roadways more clearly appears in regional maps.  New York State nicely reveals steep discrepancies between the paved and unpaved, and extreme and disproportionate density of the concentration of roads in inhabited space, concentrated at select sites of densest habitation.

NY State Roads.png

The chromatic variations of grey reveal deeply diverging local perspectives on space, that an image of road space in Colorado renders in similarly pronounced ways, suggesting the hugely different ranges of data that a self-driving car would need to be able to quickly draw upon, as in Colarado–


The designers of maps for self-driving cars face the problem of mapping not road density, of course, so much as road navigability–and doing so in data rich ways that include questions of up-to-date road conditions that can be processed with spatial accuracy, and even depend on the precision of local accuracy for their value.

The authority of the maps made for self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles rests on their ability to allow cars to process a concentration of the data of the roadways at any place in space, in ways that create problems of composing a machine-readable map quite unlike those for maps that orient human readers to their content.  This is even clearer in looking at local regions in west coast urban agglomerations as the Bay Area, particularly in the peninsula, with its dense roadways–the site where the imagined driverless car originates, and on whose dense overly trafficked highways the driverless car was imagined:

detail-allstreets-bay-area_1024x1024.jpgFathom’s All Streets

or L.A., where many regions seem to simply fade to black:

coverphoto-008c.jpg Fathom’s All Streets

But the huge density of traffic–and inability to accommodate even the largest multi-line highways to traffic flows that never seem to stop from commuters–seems to have made commutes almost impossible, and whose broadly based provision of internet services provided a new basis for imagining commutes.

Average Inboudn Commute

Time:Inbound Commute

For the commute-times that have worsened beyond even Los Angeles in recent years have created an incentive for imagining automated driverless cars, encouraged by a broad expansion of wifi across the region, far more linked to the web and cloud than most of the United States remains.




For in the Peninsula, Google had, in fact, already confronted some of the very same questions about how self-driving cars would actually navigate the street ways–particularly intersections and traffic accidents, let alone road conditions.  The minimal hands-on input has been a major obstacle to their development, as would be the sort of glitches that crop up quite regularly in some mapping apps.  Google has played up the hype and the boasts of Google’s Waymo and its predecessors:  “Imagine if everyone could get around easily and safely, without tired, drunk or distracted driving,” Google entices us to desire the driverless Waymo; its website earnestly appeals to clients, “Time spent commuting could be time spent doing what you want to do”–spending less time Googling directions, even in the sunny tree-lined suburbs of Sunnyvale.  Indeed, as distracted driving has been directly tied to an increasing number of fatalities–standing to rise to a number above 4,000 in 2017, as growing numbers are lost yearly on national highways, in a 7.2% increase from 2014 to 2015–and traffic fatalities grown 14% in two years, with an 11% growth in pedestrians killed; with the most pronounced growth in distracted driving among newly licensed teen drivers, the problem of driver distraction stands only to grow more serious.




The claims to have based its maps on some 300 years of human driving experience is pure hyperbole, and of course is largely confined to city streets.  Even claims of 1 billion simulated miles driven in 2016 alone, and raises questions of how a sufficiently plastic map could be readily redrawn to allow drivers to feel safe, however–in ways that went beyond the network of a select range of city streets.  And it is this problem of a relative paucity of groundcover quality of road networks that cloud-based mappings of the routes of driverless cars aims to somehow remedy, by excluding them from its map–another set of mappers might be tasked with finding ways to preserve that local knowledge, while drivers relax behind seat belts in automated cars.


Waymo.pngWaymo Team

So far, the four regions where Google has focussed in mapping car routes have compiled an only partly sufficiently compelling road atlas to make customers sufficiently confident about the abilities of a prototype.  The maps have been made without raising questions of liability for any eventualities of accidents occurring when driverless cars might hit unsuspecting pedestrians, or collide with other cars, to the shock of human drivers.  Yet the lack of a large coverage of open roads raises questions about how such information will be compiled, stored, and updated over time or in real time, and chosen spaces that seem particularly well-paved.

Google Maps on City Streets

Four Cities in which Google has Mapped Car Routes/Waymo Team

The combination of a map of routes, however, and a comprehensive real-time high-density data feed of traffic conditions and flows remain the elusive target of the maps for self-driving cars.


8.  Historical Reflections

A point of interesting comparison is the charts of navigation of the late middle ages, and the first attempts to reconcile nautical technology to space by means of compass lines.  Such charts imagine directional axes of nautical travel between ports, or coastal cities, and foreground networks of a nautical space with only limited reference to the inhabited world.  Such detailed detailed portolan charts, showing the shores of the Mediterranean and probably composed of composite of individual coastal maps, seem to have helped orient ship routes when they first emerged from the thirteenth century, offering a basis to imagine Mediterranean sea routes in oceanic space, and  allowed sailors to return home or long shipping distances to be imagined.  They provided some of the first synthetic maps of shorelines.

The charts are not properly descriptions of space–or of a known world–but orient ships’ captains and mariner on the largely commercial travels that they increasingly planned by the fourteenth century, in ways that called into being the creation of ‘portolan’ charts, which served to supplement written directions for nautical itineraries or routes or “portolans.”  The secondary status of such charts has created considerable historiographic debate as to whether the trajectories of compass lines sketched on charts were used by pilots to orient themselves to open seas–or what sort of concept of space, or ontology of space, they encode, largely because they prioritize individual ports against a broad schema of compass points, repeated in the motif of the compass rose, that appear to orient pilots on courses of nautical travel.

But the maps that were kept in trading houses seem to have offered the ability to plot courses of trading routes, or possibly suggest the extent of voyages, as well as orient pilots to the shores and the waters over which they travel.  The presumptions about nautical continuity they contained may have created something of a cognitive obstacle to charting terrestrial continuity, as such charts primarily privileged a notion of nautical travel.  By orienting the itineraries of Mediterranean travel on rhumb lines oriented on a compass, and privileging coastal ports and cities as their primary way stations, they saw the oceans as the primary surface of spatial transit–and spatial travel, or suggested the shores as a set of points that constituted the range of possible destinations or ports of call available for nautical itineraries, imagining spaces of travel, rather than terrestrial continuity.

Genoese nautical chart of Albino de Canepa

For distances to be measured on a sense of terrestrial continuity that didn’t privilege marine travel, terrestrial maps increasingly turned inland, sewing the coastal regions as limits, and less as ares of exchange.  The growth of maps that oriented viewers to inland inhabitation often privileged fluvial networks of travel, taking rivers as major points of orientation to space,  and viewing the coast as a far less crowded site of habitation or orientation.   Such maps are striking in their differences because of how they provide collective frameworks for collective notions of continuity and points of bearing.  They remind us of the absence of destinations in the sorts of interfaces of self-driving cars will rely, and the motion-based nature of these maps.

The different sort of continuity is faced by designers of the maps meant for driverless cars, rooted less in a human experience of spatial travel.  For the synthesis of data points to orient self-driving cars to roads abandon points of reference that foreground human habitation, as they have far less interest in recording or transmitting anything external to road conditions.  Unlike most any map that has been made for human audiences, continuity only has meaning for the driverless car where it lies on the road–such maps hence dispense with notions of continuity encoded around human settlement or topography, even if the topography they chart is man-made.  Rather than the embodiments of a coherent space maps present to human readers–and led many to define the map as a “human” medium that presents one’s own place or spatial location in a broader canvas or interface of a densely detailed geography –the perspective of the driverless car omits pedestrians or points of view.  In binding data to graphic elements, maps for driverless cars only include data from sensors that the car needs to know.

The lack of any coherent framework that the self-driving car would be asked to judge or evaluate, as well as the difficult hybrids needed to translate human-made roads into code which replaces space.  It makes sense that few maps for self-driving cars will include markers of the inhabited world as we know it.  The computer-generated images of ribbons of roads offer an up-to-the-moment record of traffic conditions and real-time records that can assist in moving along the roads with ample time for turn-outs, lane-changes, and potential weather conditions, but have no need to create a clear embodiment of space in the manner of maps made for humans–much as the maps for driverless cars omits any place save that on the road.   Such cloud-to-car mapping system that will allow self-driving vehicles to be created register only the options for navigating lane changes at an interchange and are made for cars–rather than people–in one of the first instances of real-time maps not made for human audiences.  (The important question of how to include pedestrians or humans in such maps is not able to be addressed.)

Although the space that they map are designed for cars, rather than people, they privilege space in terms of speedy itineraries–motion across roads–to the exclusion of the their surroundings or even land-cover surfaces.  As it moves through space, the sensors on Google car’s internal map at an intersection create a “screen” that orients the car to three dimensions by laser range finders, aggregating information on its own to develop new forms of way finding–although the very high-tech principles that allow the car to navigate through “space” prevent accurate readings of distance beyond a hundred meters, in large part because of the limits to encoding reliable data within a single comprehensive map, already enriched by almost 1 GB of data gathered per second, which must then be filtered and digitized for driving purposes.  While much of the LiDAR data may err, as the GPS data that cars use to plot their courses, the use of sensor derived data algorithms to update vehicle position is crucial to reducing uncertainty–and danger or risk.

BJEXYWlCMAEEAsuGoogle car’s internal map at an intersection/tweeted by Bill Gross


Despite a worthwhile focus on questions of liability, the world that is being mapped for autonomous cars bears some reflection in itself.

The problem of how to map time and space–and to bring them into harmony on the map–has never really existed in a non-localized way with such particular urgency to the detail:  weather maps are broadly based; local guides to traffic like Wayz are apps that are designed for specific situations and drivers.  The challenges for rendering continuity is confronted by the designers of cloud-based computer-generated maps for self-driving cars that synthesize multiple points in a skein of travel conditions.  They include few markers of the world, and note no pedestrians or wildlife; cloud-to-car mapping system will allow such vehicles to read roadways and driving conditions, in one of the most ambitious cases of “real-time” maps made for non-human audiences, that bridge the map as a human artifact and its machine readability by orienting automotive traffic to space.  Hence, the sorts of maps that are currently produced to map “end-to-end” travel for self-driving cars like Nvidia are a new frontier of mapping, providing real-time records of the conditions on ribbons of roads, able to be kept up-to-date and comprehensive by providing an architecture able to assimilate new types of data in the cars that will be provided deep learning algorithms to detect lanes, signs and other landmarks.




The conditions of roads that can already be read up to twelve hours in advance, leveraging greater than a trillion data points to tabulate the length of a trip taking into account real-time traffic conditions, traffic flow in recent years, and local temperatures, provide an effective database to suggest the far greater range of information a diverges car can effectively access.

Is this way of taking the roadways–a central site of tacit and collective knowledge, transmitted collectively among generations, tantamount to altering their character by isolating them from space?  While based on creating a machine readable architecture of navigation from GPS data, the image of space that these maps for self-driving cars pass on is stripped of recognized sites of interest, signposts, and local context as if to streamline a spatial architecture of the road.  What does the creation of such an architecture of space tell us or say about the cultures that produced it, which places a premium on machine-readability of up-to-the-minute traffic?  The focus on routes suggests a focus only on motion, where the system of roads and conditions of traffic replace the inhabited world in ways that oddly echo our increasingly paved-over world.


9.  The Challenge to Process the Increased Dominance of the Road

The status of roadways–the quintessential human creation, even when one speaks of inter-linked highway systems–has so rapidly intensified over fifty to seventy years that the growth of webs of car space have shifted most of our attention from the in-between, as the expansion of roadway views, routes for interior penetration and roadside advertising and attractions has created not only a landscape for distraction, but overlooked many of the habitats that one might have thought remained in the sides of increasingly complex cloverleafs or the medians of highways, but are effective “dead spaces” where no habitat remains.  The decline of urban gardens is as radical, but the growth of paved land cover is less noticed and, from the car, less seen.




The expanding growth of national highway systems (NHS) to some 160,955 miles (259,032 km) starting from the Interstate Highway System offers perhaps a quintessential register of man re-made space as automotive, or designated for human-driven cars.



Although this space is not often urban, in a city like Tokyo, where much of this post was written in Azabu-Jūban, a residential part  of Minato City, Japan, where cars run up on-ramps to raised platforms of terraced freeways and urban expressways, whose tapestry of concrete platforms twist overhead as if they might contain driverless cars,  moving  at an orchestrated combination of speeds across the city.




13238240884_1f4cd29e52_b.jpgView from Tokyo Tower, Minato City (Tokyo)

tokyo tower freeways.jpg

The perptuum mobile of the city cars seem a shadow population, always in motion, in multi-level traffic patterns whose arced on-ramps and curved borders in Minato-ku eerily recall the dioramas of model die-cast cars, blurring urban and suburban in a liminal space not really part of the city, but are subtracted from its space.

The spaces of roadways and urban expressways are not only foreign to urban life, but outside of it, and at a tempo of their own that is disjoined from the surrounding landscape not only in land cover or use.  Indeed, the growth of such urban highway systems seems almost to reflect a setting aside of space for cars, and for transport lanes, analogous to the train systems that similarly exist for JR rail in Tokyo, and almost in a mirror reflection of the dedication of garden spaces, spaces for temples, and spaces for cemeteries that seems to continue to define Tokyo.  The segregation of such spaces is unlike the spatial design of modern American cities, where cemeteries, parks, and green space have been pushed aside by modernity.

The continued romance of the road, in other words, and the optimistic ideal of ever-increased speed, has continued to animate the expansion of highway maps from the first interstates.  The same ideals have provided a view that privileged the routes we regularly use to move among our communities, with the dangerous result of diminishing attention to measure the rapidly reduced integrity of the areas in-between, those interstices of the roadways interrupt the fewer and fewer habitats that remain, leaving few regions of the land designed for driving, but where roadways threaten to marginalize the in-between to such an extent that few space is any more in-between at all.

Highways are indeed imagined in the United States as not only an infrastructure but a circulatory system of its own– animated not by passenger cars but by trucked freight, may offer the spatial imaginary for the self-driving car, filing multi-lane highways that span the nation, and offering a contracted notion of space–




–that may respond to the already crowded congestion of daily truck traffic that crowded the nation’s highways by 1998, according to the US Department of Transportation, emitting a huge amount of CO2, and creating a gamut of environmental problems not registered at all on the map which sees truck traffic as something like the nation’s life blood.




and standing to create something of an almost apocalyptic vision of overcrowded freight traffic by 2040 of long-haul traffic across the continent.


The expansion sion of such huge tonnage of freight traffic suggest not only a huge source of carbon emissions, but a dystopia against which the self-driving car provides a sort of needed relief, reducing the hours logged by truckers, if perhaps at an unknown cost.

The huge density of passenger traffic in Europe’s roadways have similarly fragmented the livable space of much of the continent, not to mention the health and integrity of its ecosystems.  Driverless cars will not change this–they may indeed only intensify this loss and augment the growth of road space–if one hopes they might be combined with something like a break on it, it is hard to imagine a decline in daily road traffic without huge market controls.



10.  If these spaces sometime seem as if they might as well be driverless, the possibility of smooth traffic their raised ramps offer has created something like a collective framework for driving through space on smooth surfaces:  the huge amount of money invested in developing driverless cars may distract from the absence of a comparable investment in infrastructure on which cars could so readily move; the maps seem to hide the absence of any requisite investment in asphalt resurfacing or road quality, all absent from and elided in the cloud-based road maps created from driverless cars, which oddly imitate the optimistic idealism of highway maps of the 1950s, and to imagine that the vehicles of the future can move on roads, bridge, and freeways that will maintain themselves without cost, although the pace of their increased erosion of ecosystems and subtraction from public space are increasingly acknowledged, as the costs of such a dramatic expansion of road space is increasingly recognized.

Slide 1


10.  Our New Paved Continuity

The maps made for self driving cars create continuity by synthesizing a gamut of optional itineraries, to allow future developers to create and crowdsourced information that will allow self-driving cars to map their courses in relation to other self-driving cars, and be updated.  The aim is to note in particular plastic ways the calculus of road closures and construction projects, as wells traffic jams or meteorological conditions.  The sort of dynamic maps that cars would depend on gathering information from sensors embedded in cars, in ways that mean the map would be, in an extension of the ways that all maps register a collective knowledge about space, a sort of neural network animated by a huge data flows that far exceed what a human audience would be able to process, and for which to real template or model in most real-world maps now exist:  the expanded ability to incorporate and code data within the surface of the map, and indeed to give it greater plasticity is being pushed most dramatically in the maps that are being created for such cloud-to-car relays create new communicative webs for future cars that don’t yet exist.

But the problem of road-building is something that these maps seem to presume, or skip over–presupposing the surfaces and setting up potential liabilities by directing our attention only to how we might measure traffic flows, without transmitting any sense of road conditions.  There is no claim to take such considerations into account, but the idealized forms of cloud-based mapping for future cars omits any human judgement of the consequences of road wear or uneven pavement, creating a closed circuit of car-to-car communication that seems to challenged the man-made nature of maps.

The machine-readable and -generated cartography developed by groups as Here,  Civil Maps, and Nvidia will require abilities for the easy localization of multiple vehicles in the most economic form, but synthesize huge ranges of data in new forms of machine learning and graphics cards able to synthesize high levels of data streams in a sort of multi-lane perpetuum mobile of the roadways.  The dynamic platforms that are poised to evolve with the introduction of self-driving cars may be hard to imagine, but a range of companies are trying to create the mapping platforms that would be needed to allow them to grow.  HERE uses the sort of “Predictive Traffic Maps” that can help plan journeys up to 12 hours in advance, by using more than one trillion GPS data points to estimates how long the trip will take will take by factoring in real-time traffic with historical traffic flow data and other factors such as seasonal conditions, creating a skein-like map of color-coded routes of individual automotive itineraries.

The skein of routes seems oddly removed from their surroundings, and, oriented only to driverless cars, removed from the effects of the roadscape or the surfaces of the roads, providing a means of mapping by automotive movement alone, imagining a universe of cars taking to one another.  The resilience of 2-D maps to describe the routes of self-driving cars is amazing, given the considerable complexity which they are able to process.  The continuity that exists in computer-generated maps from data points that orient self-driving cars to the roads that they travel similarly include few markers of the inhabited world,  since they register only the options for navigating lane changes at an interchange; the continuous lines offer optional itineraries, as it were, in hopes to allow developers to create and crowdsource information to allow self-driving cars to map courses in relation to other self-driving cars, and be updated in particular plastic ways to reflect road closures and construction projects, traffic jams, or meteorological conditions.  The dynamic maps in such cars depend on gathering information from sensors embedded in cars, in ways that mean the map would be, in an extension of the ways that all maps register a collective knowledge about space, a sort of neural network animated by a huge data flows.  While suggestive of three dimension, the two-dimensional nature of the mapping of travel seems a bit of a throwback in an era of data-driven projections and complex mapping.

HD Map Interchange.png

The dehumanized nature of the roadways, vegetation, and signs of human interest, which seem reduced to a spectral negative land world out of the early days of night-vision glasses  or the Twilight Zone suggests a landscape evacuated of the human, or just a crude version of VR.

But the map that is designed for the self-driving car is primarily designed only for its routes–so its fit with any imprint of the manmade nature of the map seems more like a remnant or an obligation, and an atavistic survival that will soon fall apart from the sleek organization of the map, which fittingly if  uniquely privileges the directional paths of cars over all other aspects of space, showing their trajectories in an oddly disembodied landscape that augurs a future world foregrounding cars against a washed out world in an Mad Max, but where cars talk to one another through maps, knowing the world as it is meant to be driven across and privileging only the paved parts of the inhabited world.

The aim is to complete a set of data on road travel would supercede Google Maps by driverless, Siri-free mobility.  The data that the computer platforms in cars would digest, sift, and correlate routes to produce a readable map may merit the tag “HD Maps”–meant to suggest “high data,” instead of “hi-definition,” which is more of a tweak than a different mode of collating or assembling readable information able to be stored in the cloud for instant use.  The car would itself become a node to relay augmented information, amassed through forward-looking cameras, forward and rear radar sensors, and OEM’s for transmitting the harvested data to a cloud, to create a readily updated map each and every day that includes the needed traffic updates in data flows and to localize themselves in traffic flows, far surpassing the level of data that might be registers in Google Maps cars, and include roof-mounted sensor mast packing 96 megapixels’ worth of cameras, a 32-beam Velodyne LIDAR scanner, and highly accurate Novatel GPS Inertial Measurement Units to generate sufficient data for a sufficiently flexible road map for other driverless cars.  The resulting readable map able to  record current traffic flow conditions would be relayed other self-driving vehicles, who share among themselves, as it were, a record of real road conditions.


11.  The Ubiquity of Road Networks and our Sense of Space

The ambitions of the HD maps of roadways start from a new model of mapping, unlike the sense one has that Waymo is building on the platforms of Google Maps.  The sense of rebuilding the nature of the map from the ground up for cars to talk to each other in ways able to be accessed from the cloud has created considerable excitement about the innovative nature of maps that need to be devised for self-driving cars among Google’s less secretive competitors.

“We’re essentially building the road network in order to have this map available for the first fleets of cars that are going to be leveraging this technology that are going to be showing up on the roads around 2020,” explained Sanjay Sood, Vice President at Here, one of the companies now building platforms and gathering the enhanced level of data necessary for such a map to include and encode to allow self-driving cars to make decisions not only about directions, in the manner of GPS, but enhance the network of roads with constantly updated information that would allow the car to read, include, and process the necessary information on road traffic and conditions in regularly updated ways that one hope convince future clients of their reliability.


But it makes sense to consider the implications of such a collectively harvested map, for the very reason that it ignores what lies off the roadway or paved landcover.  The road conditions of much of the paved world is, of course, changing our own ecosystems in ways the one only begun to be mapped in ways that fully accord complexity to their impact on the land, or to be visualized in relation to roadless regions.

Maps for self-driving cars in a sense may map the fury roads of the Mad Maxes of the future, where a crisscrossing roadmap of self-driving vehicles expands to exclude other ecosystems, literally dividing the inhabited world into fragmented ecosystems, most too restricted to furnish habitat to wildlife or allow ecosystems to emerge:  the splitting of the inhabited world into some 600,000 fragments is in a result of privileging a map on which one drives from the landscape–and indeed of the altered space of landscape which has morphed into the scenery which one drives by, and does not inhabit.

The danger that we obscure the existence and value of the dramatically decreasing extent of roadless areas of the world seems the flip side of the portrait of the world that is offered in maps for self-driving cars, which focus only on the roads that connect human habitations, and offer what may in fact be the most anthropocentric maps ever made.

Roads in world:roadless world.pngPierre Ibisch, as published in Science

Since the map is hard to read in such reduced form, it might help to scrutinize the degradation of ecological value in areas, as measured by proximity to those regions removed from roads, or at a proximity greater than a one km buffer, and consider the regions in Europe, Japan, and America where driverless maps are most centrally being designed, in order to capture the world-view that they inherently perpetuate:


North America roadless.png

Ibisch,et al.,  Roadless Spaces in North and South America



Roadless EurasiaIbisch et al., Roadless Eurasia

The expansion of roadspace on the world’s surface is slated to expand by 2050 by some 60%, creating a scenario that will be doubtless fueled by the growth of the technology of self-driving cars, in ways that should force us to examine the sort of maps that such cars stand to use, and the limited worlds they portray, despite the richness of data that they are able to encode.



The mirror on national road space that is generated in North America excludes not only the roadless spaces of the world.  The global context of the expansion of road space is of course also absent in the cloud-based road atlases being fashioned for the driverless car.  The current rapid expansion of complexity of the road-scape has already led to the obliteration of the prominence of spaces of ecological value, however.  If one wants to be pessimistic, the remove of vast areas of roadless space–barely 5% of which have any legal protection from the tundra to rain forest–in ways that have splintered wildlife populations.

Estimating that land within a km of the road is affected by its presence, scientists at Ebserwalde University for Sustainable Development, in Germany, argue that the striking failure to conserve, restore and monitor roadless areas stands only to increase the rising pace of mass extinctions which increasingly threaten our ecosystems.  For Pierre Ibisch, only some 7% of roadless areas remain greater than a hundred square km, and his teams analysis of open-access maps of 36m km of road space across the world’s surface allowed him to compute rather quickly the quite scary fact that based on the Global Roads Open Access Data Set (gROADS) of mapped roads–a very conservative estimate, in fact.  For over half of the 600,000 fragments into which roads now divide the world exist as marginalized spaces of less than a square km., not offering significant ecosystems–in ways that place the United States as among the regions of the most dramatically reduced roadless space worldwide.

North America roadless.png

National Geographic/Ibisch, et al.

The prospect of mapping car routes with almost no attention to the spaces outside the roads seems a dangerous privileging of the paved surfaces for road travel that have already restricted not only open spaces, but habitat.  The problems of privileging the ribbons of road that run criss-cross the planet’s surface ignore the huge impact of land cover changes that asphalt introduced, of course, or the expansion of road-rich infrastructures that not only allow the exploitation of resources and pollution of most regions of the world, but dismember the ones able to support life:  the eastern seaboard of the United States and the nation of Japan are without regions unaffected by the presence of roads.  To be sure, greater low-emissions vehicles may cut vehicular pollution, but the crisscrossing of a network of paved space have left much of the inhabited world with no sense of areas populated by animals.  For roads have increased the areas able to be inhabited by insects, removing them from natural predators, and remove all remaining roadless areas from any legal protection in ways that the maps of leaderless cars echo in not deigning to record or orient viewers.

Roadless Regions.png

The sustained failure of governments to map the expansion of roads, and to privilege roads as arterial frameworks facilitating economic expansion and infrastructure, have blinded us to a sense of their environmental consequences.  The generation of machine-readable maps of the mobility of driverless cars along a similar road space suggests a diminished and compromised world.  The nature of movement the along similar pathways exist for the neural network generated by self-driving cars exist in isolation once again from they impact of roads on environments, and the mapping of the external world from the vehicular point of view stands to only increase the extent of our remove from a roadless world.

Perhaps the two-dimensionality of the maps of road space that result place us at a further remove from monitoring the existence or presence of unpaved lands, or even acknowledge the border between the paved and unpaved.  For the world that they represent is the world is it is paved.  The danger that it remains both overlooked and underrepresented in the maps that are made for self-driving cars reflects the increased fragmentation of ecosystem that have become a characteristic of our increasingly road-divided worlds.

An already-crowded web of national highways makes up the NHS seems unruly and often inefficient as a way to divide inhabited space–


half highways


–and, as the comparable heightened density of the crowded roads in Japan, to provide a framework often incommensurate with traffic flows—




–are not only already congested our national infrastructure in unhealthy ways–

fig22Federal Highway Administration Freight Analysis Framework/Federal Highway Administration

–but are only posed to grow increasingly in coming decades, so that by 2020, or not soon off at all, we were predicted to arrive at an over-congestion of national highways, as road networks that already exceeded capacity meet the needs for freight transportation even as they suffer increased wear:

fig26Source: Federal Highway Administration Freight Analysis/Federal Highway Administration

Which brings us again to the quandary of mapping the road system that stands in danger of deterioration and congestion for the driverless cars that  so many are working to produce to remove people from the inevitable road congestion of combing years, or at least from behind the wheel.  The problem of growing congestion of America’s roadways are not likely to end, but rather grow in unexpectedly complicated ways with the technological changes posed by self-driving cars.  Whereas the demands for increasing roadways and road lanes to accommodate such a surge in automotive traffic will depend on the ability to create more miles of paved roads, the costs of such creation are not clearly able to be funded and lie far off the map–as do their impact on our landscape will be a significant step in an even more dangerous direction of terraforming.


Is an actual danger that the automotive perspective of driverless cars maps stand to accelerate further the absence of attention to areas off paved roadways?  To be sure, the notion of mapping driving routes at a remove from human pathways, and alone, only remind us of the dangerously growing scarcity of what Herman Melville famously used to describe a Polynesian island that was one of those already rare “true places” that are not down on any map.  These are the interstices one might discover by chance, and not find written down–the places at a remove from anthropogenic noise and lying in the roadless landscapes we can discover.

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Filed under 3-D maps, autonomous cars, HD Maps, machine-readable maps, self-driving cars

Mapping Bannon’s Ban

American President Donald Trump claimed that his attempt to prevent visitors from seven countries entering the United States preserved Americans’ safety against what was crudely mapped as “Islamic terror” to “keep our country safe.”  Trump has made no bones as a candidate in calling for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims” as among his most important priorities if elected President.  The map the he has asked the nation to draw about who can enter the country–purportedly because they are “terrorist-prone” nations–a bizarre shorthand for countries unable to protect the United States from terrorism–as if this would guarantee greater safety within the United States.  For as the Department of Homeland Security  affirmed a need to thwart terrorist or criminal infiltration by foreign nationals, citing the porous borders of a country possessing “the world’s most generous immigration system” that has been “repeatedly exploited by malicious actors,” and located the dangers of terror threats from outside the country as a subject for national concern, provoking anxiety by its demonization of other states as national threats.  And even though the eagerly anticipated “ban” lacks “any credible national security rationale” as governmental policy, given the problem of linking the radicalization of any foreign-born terrorist or extremists were only radicalized or identified as terrorists after having become Americans, country of citizenship seems an extremely poor prognostic or indicator of who is to be considered a national danger.

Such eager mapping of threats from lands unable to police emigration to the United States oddly recall Cold War fears of “globally coordinated propaganda program” Communist Parties posing “unremitting use of propaganda as an instrument for the propagation of Marxist-Leninist ideology” once affirmed with omniscience in works as Worldwide Communist Propaganda Activities.  Much as such works invited fears for the scale and scope of Communist propaganda “in all parts of the world,” however, the executive order focusses on our own borders and the borders of selective countries in the new “Middle East” of the post-9/11 era. The imagined mandate to guard our borders in the new administration has created a new eagerness to map danger definitively, out of deep frustration at the difficulty with which non-state actors could be mapped.  While allegedly targeting nations whose citizens are mostly of Muslim faith, the ban conceals its lack of foundations and unsubstantiated half-truths.

The renewal of the ban against all citizens of six countries–altered slightly from the first version of the ban in hopes it would successfully pass judicial review, claims to prevent “foreign terrorist entry” without necessary proof of the links.  The ban seems intended to inspire fear in a far more broad geography, as much as it provides a refined tool based on separate knowledge.  Most importantly, perhaps, it is rigidly two-dimensional, ignoring the fact that terrorist organizations no longer respect national frontiers, and misconstruing the threat of non-state actors.  How could such a map of fixed frontiers come to be presented a plausible or considered response to a terrorist threats from non-state actors?




1. The travel ba focus on “Islamic majority states” was raised immediately after it was unveiled and discourse on the ban and its legality dominated the television broadcasting and online news.  The suspicions opened by the arrival from Wall Street Journal editor-in-chief Gerard Baker that his writers drop the term “‘seven majority-Muslim countries'” due to its “very loaded” nature prompted a quick evaluation of the relation of religion to the ban that the Trump administration chose at its opening salvo in redirecting the United States presidency in the Trump era.  Baker’s requested his paper’s editors to acknowledge the limited value of the phrase as grounds to drop “exclusive use” of the phrase to refer to the executive order on immigration, as if to whitewash the clear manner in which it mapped terrorist threats; Baker soon claimed he allegedly intended “no ban on the phrase ‘Muslim-majority country’” before considerable opposition among his staff writers–but rather only to question its descriptive value. Yet given evidence that Trump sought a legal basis for implementing a ‘Muslim Ban’ and the assertion of Trump’s adviser Stephen Miller that the revised language of the ban might achieve the “same basic policy outcome” of excluding Muslim immigrants from entering the country.  But curtailing of the macro “Muslim majority” concealed the blatant targeting of Muslims by the ban, which incriminated the citizens of seven countries by association, without evidence of ties to known terror groups.

The devaluation of the language of religious targeting in Baker’s bald-faced plea–“Can we stop saying ‘seven majority Muslim countries’? It’s very loaded”–seemed design to disguise a lack of appreciation for national religious diversity in the United States. “The reason they’ve been chosen is not because they’re majority Muslim but because they’re on the list of countRies [sic] Obama identified as countries of concern,” Baker opined, hoping it would be “less loaded to say ‘seven countries the US has designated as being states that pose significant or elevated risks of terrorism,'” but obscuring the targeting and replicating Trump’s own justification of the ban–even as other news media characterized the order as a “Muslim ban,” and as directed to all residents of Muslim-Majority countries.  The reluctance to clarify the scope of the executive order on immigration seems to have disguised the United States’ government’s reluctance to recognize the nation’s religious plurality, and unconstitutionality of grouping one faith, race, creed, or other group as possessing lesser rights.

It is necessary to excavate the sort of oppositions used to justify this imagined geography and the very steep claims about who can enter and cross our national frontiers.  To understand the dangers that this two-dimensional map propugns, it is important to examine the doctrines that it seeks to vindicate.  For irrespective of its alleged origins, the map that intended to ban entrance of those nations accused without proof of being terrorists or from “terror-prone” nations.   The “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” defended as a legal extension of the President’s “rightful authority to keep our people safe,” purported to respond to a crisis in national security.  The recent expansion of this mandate to “keep our people safe” against alleged immanent threats has focused on the right to bring laptops on planes without storing them in their baggage, forcing visitors form some nations to buy a computer from a Best Buy vending machine of the sort located in airport kiosks from Dubai to Abu Dhabi, on the grounds that this would lend greater security to the nation.


2.  Its sense of urgency should not obscure the ability to excavate the simplified binaries that  justify its imagined geography.  For the ban uses broad brushstrokes to define who can enter and cross our national frontiers that seek to control discourse on terrorist danger as only a map is able to do.  To understand the dangers that this two-dimensional map proposes, one must begin from examining the unstated doctrines that it seeks to vindicate:  irrespective of its alleged origins, the map that intended to ban entrance of those nations accused without proof of being terrorists or from “terror-prone” nations.   The “Executive Order Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States,” defended as a legal extension of the President’s “rightful authority to keep our people safe,” purported to respond to a crisis in national security.  The recent expansion of this mandate to “keep our people safe” against alleged immanent threats has focused on the right to bring laptops on planes without storing them in their baggage, on the largeely unsubstantiated grounds that this would lend greater security to the nation.

The lack of compunction to attend to the religious plurality of the United States citizens bizarrely date such a purported Ban, which reveals a spatial imaginary that run against Constitutional norms.  In ways that recall exclusionary laws based on race or national origin from the early twentieth century legal system, or racial quotas Congress enacted in 1965, the ban raises constitutional questions with a moral outrage compounded as many of the nations cited–Syria; Sudan; Somalia; Iran–are sites from refugees fleeing Westward or transit countries, according to Human Rights Watch, or transit sites, as Libya.  The addition to that list of a nation, Yemen, whose citizens were intensively bombed by the United States Navy Seals and United States Marine drones in a blitz of greater intensity than recent years suggests particular recklessness in bringing instability to a region’s citizens while banning its refugees.  Even in a continued war against non-state actors as al Qaeda or AQAP–al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula–the map of Trump’s long-promised “Islamic Ban” holds sovereign boundaries trump human rights or humanitarian needs.

The ban as it is mapped defines “terror-prone regions” identified by the United States will only feed and recycle narratives of western persecution  that can only perpetuate the urgency of calls for Jihad.  Insisting national responsibility preventing admission of national citizens of these beleaguered nations placed a premium on protecting United States sovereignty and creates a mental map that removes the United States for responsibility of military actions, unproductively and unwarrantedly demonizing the nations as a seat of terrorist activity, and over-riding pressing issues of human rights tied to a global refugee crisis.  But the mapping of a ban on “Foreign Terrorist Entry” into the United States seems to be something of a dramaturgical device to allege an imagined geography of where the “bad guys” live–even a retrograde 2-D map, hopelessly antiquated in an age of data maps of flows, trafficking, and population growth, provides a reductive way to imagine averting an impending threat of terror–and not to contain a foreign threat of non-state actors who don’t live in clearly defined bounds or have citizenship.  Despite an absolute lack of proof or evidence of exclusion save probable religion–or insufficient vetting practices in foreign countries–seems to make a threat real to the United States and to magnify that threat for an audience, oblivious to its real effects.

For whereas once threats of terror were imagined as residing within the United States from radicalized regions where anti-war protests had occurred,  focussed on Northern California, Los Angeles, Chicago, and the northeastern seaboard and elite universities–and a geography of home-grown guerrilla acts undermining governmental authority and destabilizing the state by local actions designed to inspire a revolutionary “state of mind,” which the map both reduced to the nation’s margins of politicized enclaves, but presented as an indigenous danger of cumulatively destabilizing society, inspired by the proposition of entirely homegrown agitation against the status quo:



Guerilla acts of Sabotage and Terrorism in US


Unlike the notion of terrorism as a tactic in campaigns of subversion and interference modeled after a revolutionary movement within the nation, the executive order located demons of terror outside the United States, if lying in terrifying proximity to its borders.  The external threats call for ensuring that “those entering this country will not harm the American people after entering, and that they do not bear malicious intent toward the United States and its people” fabricate magnified dangers by mapping its location abroad.


2.  The Trump administration has asserted a need for immediate protection of the nation, although none were ever provided in the executive order.  The  arrogance of the travel ban appears to make due on heatrical campaign promises for “a complete and total ban” on Muslims entering the United States without justification on any legitimate objective grounds.  Such a map of “foreign terrorists” was most probably made for Trump’s supporters, without much thought about its international consequences or audience, incredible as this might sound, to create a sense of identity and have the appearance of taking clear action against America’s enemies.  The assertion that “we only want to admit people into our country who will support our country, and love–deeply–our people” suggested not only a logic of America First, but seemed to speak only to his home base, and talking less as a Presidential leader than an ideologue who sought to defend the security of national boundaries for Americans as if they were under attack.  Such a verbal and conceptual map in other words does immense work in asserting the right of the state to separate friends from enemies, and demonize the members of nations that it asserts to be tied to or unable to vet the arrival of terrorists.

The map sent many scrambling to find a basis in geographical logic, and indeed to remap the effects of the ban, if only to process its effects better.




But the broad scope of the ban which seems as if it will have the greatest effect in alienating other nations and undermining our foreign policy, as it perpetuates a belief in an opposition between Islam and the United States that is both alarming and disorienting.  The defense was made without justifying the claims that he made for the links of their citizens to terror–save the quite cryptic warning that “our enemies often use our own freedoms and generosity against us”–presumes that the greatest risks not only come from outside our nation, but are rooted in foreign Islamic states, even as we have been engaged for the past decade in a struggle against non-state actors.  In contrast to such ungratefulness, Trump had repeatedly promised in his campaign to end definitively all “immigration from terror-prone regions, where vetting cannot safely occur,” after he had been criticized for calling during the election for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” until they could “figure out what is going on.”

But the targeted audience was always there, and few of his supporters were likely to have forgotten the earlier claims–and the origins of this geographical classification of national enemies terrifying that offers such a clear dichotomy along national lines.  While pushed to its logical conclusion, the ban on travel could be extended to the range of seventy-odd nations that include a ban against nations associated with terrorism or extremist activity–


totalcountriesensnaredintrumpproposals_ea1d4e4541c1a7fc9ec0d213f172e67e.nbcnews-ux-600-480Nick Kiray/NBC News


–but there is a danger in attributing any sense of logical coherence to Trump’s executive order in its claims or even in its intent.  The President’s increasing insistence on his ability to instate an “extreme vetting” process–which we do not yet fully understand–seems a bravado mapping of danger, with less eye to the consequences on the world or on how America will be seen by Middle Eastern nations, or in a court of law.  The map is more of a gesture, a provocation, and an assertion of American privilege that oddly ignores the proven pathways of the spread of terrorism or its sociological study.

But by using a broad generalization of foreign nations as not trustworthy in their ability to protect American interests to contain “foreign terrorists”–a coded generalization if there ever was one–Trump remapped the relation of the United States to much of the world in ways that will be difficult to change.  For in vastly expanding the category “foreign terrorists” to the citizens of a group of Muslim-majority nations, he conceals that few living in those countries are indeed terrorists–and suggests that he hardly cares.  The executive order claims to map a range of dangers present to our state not previously recognized in sufficient or honest ways, but maps those states in need as sites of national danger–an actual crisis in national security  he has somehow detected in his status as President–that conceal the very sort of non-state actors–from ISIS to al-Qaeda–that have targeted the United States in recent years.  By enacting a promised “complete and total ban” on the entry of Muslims from entering the nation sets a very dangerous precedent for excluding people from our shores.  The targeting of six nations almost exemplifies a form of retributive justice against nations exploited as seats of terrorist organizations, to foment a Manichean animosity between majority Muslim states and the United States–“you’re either with us, or you’re against us”–that hardly passes as a foreign  policy map.

Rather than respecting or prioritizing human rights, the identification of Islam with terrorist organizations seems the basis for excluding citizens and nationals of seven nations who might allow “foreign terrorist entry.”   The ban was quickly noted that the list of nations pointedly excluded those where Trump did or pursued business as a businessman and hotelier.  But while not acknowledging this distinction, it promotes a difference between “friend” and “enemy” as a remapping of threats to the nation along national lines, targeting nations not only as suspicious sites of radicalization, but by collectively prohibiting their residents and nationals from entry to the nation.  While it is striking that President Jimmy Carter had targeted similar states identified as the nations that “have repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism” back in 1980–President Carter cited the long-unstable nations of  Iraq, Libya, South Yemen, and Syria, following then-recent legislation indicating their abilities “support acts of international terrorism.”  The near-identical mapping of terror does not exemplify an egregious instance of “mission creep,” but by blanketing of such foreign nationals as “inadmissible  aliens” without evidence save “protecting the homeland” suggests an unimaginable level of xenophobia–toxic to foreign relations, and to anyone interested in defending national security.  It may Israeli or Middle Eastern intelligence poorly mapped the spread of growing dangers.

But it echoes strikingly similar historical claims to defend national security interests have long disguised the targeting of groups, and have deep Cold War origins, long tied to preventing entrance of aliens with dangerous opinions, associations or beliefs.  It’s telling that attorneys generals in Hawai’i and California first challenged the revised executive order–where memories survives of notorious Presidential executive order 9006, which so divisively relocated over 110,000 Japanese Americans to remote areas, the Asian Exclusion Act, and late nineteenth-century Chinese Exclusion Act, which limited immigration, as the Act similarly selectively targets select Americans by blocking in unduly onerous ways overseas families of co-nationals from entering the country, and establishes a precedent for open intolerance of the targeting the Muslims as “foreign terrorists” in the absence of any proof.

The “map” by which Trump insists that “malevolent actors” in nations with problems of terrorism be kept out for reasons of national security mismaps terrorism, and posits a false distinction among nation states, but projects a terrorist identity onto states which  Trump’s supporters can take satisfaction in recognizing, and delivers on the promise that Trump had long ago made–in his very first televised advertisements to air on television–to his constituents.


trump-ban-on-muslimsfrom Donald Trump’s First Campaign Ad (2016)

Such claims have been transmuted, to members of a religion in ways that suggest a new twist on a geography of terror around Islam, and the Trump’s bogeyman of “Islamic terror.” Although high courts have rescinded the first version of the bill, the obstinance of Trump’s attempt to map dangers to America suggests a mindset frozen in an altogether antiquated notion of national enemies.  Much in the way that Cold War governments prevented Americans from travel abroad for reasons of “national security,” the rationale for allowing groups advocating or engaging in terrorist acts–including citizens of the countries mapped in red, as if to highlight their danger, below–extend to a menace of international terrorism now linked in extremely broad-brushed terms to the religion of Islam–albeit with the notable exceptions of those nations with which the Trump family has conducted business.




The targeting of such nations is almost an example of retributive justice for having been used as seats of terrorist organizations, but almost seek to foment a Manichean animosity between majority Muslim states and the United States, and identify Islam with terror–  “you’re either with us, or you’re against us“–that hardly passes as a foreign  policy map.  The map of the ban offers an argument from sovereignty that overrides one of human rights.


3.  It should escape no one that the Executive Order on Immigration parallels a contraction of  the provision of information from intelligence officials to the President that assigns filtering roles of new heights to Presidential advisors to create or fashion narratives:   for as advisers are charged to distill global conflicts to the dimensions of a page, double-spaced and with all relevant figures, such briefings at the President’s request give special prominence to reducing conflicts to the dimensions of a single map.   Distilled Daily Briefings are by no means fixed, and evolve to fit situations, varying in length considerably in recent years accordance to administrations’ styles.  But one might rightly worry about the shortened length by which recent PDB’s provide a means for the intelligence community to adequately inform a sitting President:  Trump’s President’s Daily Briefing reduce security threats around the entire globe to one page, including charts, assigning a prominent place to maps likely to distort images of the dangers of Islam and perpetuated preconceptions, as those which provide guidelines for Border Control.

In an increasingly illiberal state, where the government is seen less as a defender of rights than as protecting American interests, maps offer powerful roles of asserting the integrity of the nation-state against foreign dangers, even if the terrorist organizations that the United States has tired to contain are transnational in nature and character.  For maps offer particularly sensitive registers of preoccupations, and effective ways to embody fears.  They offer the power to create an immediate sense of territorial presence within a map serves well accentuate divides.  And the provision of a map to define how the Muslim Ban provides a from seven–or from six–countries is presented as a tool to “protect the American people” and “protecting the nation from foreign terrorist entry into the United States” offers an image targeting countries who allegedly pose dangers to the United States, in ways that embody the notion.  “The majority of people convicted in our courts for terrorism-related offenses came from abroad,” the nation was seemed to capitalize on their poor notions of geography, as the President provided map of nations from which terrorists originate, strikingly targeting Muslim-majority nations “to protect the American people.”

Yet is the current ban, even if exempting visa holders from these nations, offers no means of considering rights of entry to the United States, classifying all foreigners from these nations as potential “foreign terrorists” free from any actual proof.


two bans.png


Is such an open expenditure of the capital of memories of some fifteen years past of 9/11 still enough to enforce this executive order on the nebulous grounds of national safety?  Even if Iraqi officials seem to have breathed a sigh of relief at being removed from Muslim Ban 2.0, the Manichean tendencies that underly both executive orders are feared to foster opposition to the United States in a politically unstable region, and deeply ignores the multi-national nature of terrorist groups that Trump seems to refuse to see as non-state actors, and omits the dangers posed by other countries known to house active terrorist cells.  In ways that aim to take our eyes off of the refugee crisis that is so prominently afflicting the world, Trump’s ban indeed turns attention from the stateless to the citizens of predominantly Muslim nation, limiting attention to displaced persons or refugees from countries whose social fabric is torn by civil wars, in the name of national self-interest, in an open attempt to remap the place of the United States in the world by protecting it from external chaos.

The map covered the absence of any clear basis for its geographical concentration,  asserting that these nations have “lost control” over battles against terrorism and force the United States to provide a “responsible . . . screening” of since people admitted from such countries “may belong to terrorist groups. ” Attorney General Jeff Sessions struggled to rationalize its indiscriminate range, as the nations “lost control” over terrorist groups or sponsored them.  The map made to describe the seven Muslim-majority nations whose citizens will be vetted before entering the United States.  As the original Ban immediately conjured a map by targeting seven nations, in ways that made its assertions a pressing reality, the insistence on the six-nation ban as a lawful and responsible extension of executive authority as a decision of national security, but asked the public only to trust the extensive information that the President has had access to before the decree, but listed to real reasons for its map.  The maps were employed, in a circular sort of logic, to offer evidence for the imperative to recognize the dangers that their citizens might pose to our national security as a way to keep our own borders safe.  The justification of the second iteration of the Ban that “each of these countries is a state sponsor of terrorism, has been significantly compromised by terrorist organizations, or contains active conflict zones” stays conveniently silent about the broad range of ongoing global conflicts in the same regions–

Conflict-Map-2015-480x270.jpgArmed Conflict Survey, 2015

–or the real index of terrorist threats, according to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI), compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace

18855940_401.png Institute for Economics and Peace


–but give a comforting notion that we can in fact “map” terrorism in a responsible way, and that the previous administration failed to do so in a responsible way.  With instability only bound to increase in 2017, especially in the Middle East and north Africa, the focus on seven or six countries whose populace is predominantly Muslim seems a distraction from the range of recent terrorist attacks across a broad range of nations, many of which are theaters of war that have been bombed by the United States.

GLobal Alerts.png

The notion of “keeping our borders safe from terrorism” was the subtext of the map, which was itself a means to make the nation safe as “threats to our security evolve and change,” and the need to “keep terrorists from entering our country.”  For its argument foregrounds sovereignty and obscures human rights, leading us to ban refugees from the very same lands–Yemen–that we also bomb.

For the map in the header to this post focus attention on the dangers posed by populations of seven predominantly Muslim nations declared to pose to our nation’s safety that echo Trump’s own harping on “radical Islamic terrorist activities” in the course of the Presidential campaign.  By linking states with “terrorist groups” such as ISIS (Syria; Libya), al-Qaeda (Iran; Somalia), Hezbollah (Sudan; Syria), and AQAP (Yemen), that have “porous borders”–a term applied to both Libya, Sudan and Yemen, but also applies to Syria and Iran, whose governments are cast as “state sponsors” of terrorism–the executive orders reminds readers of our own borders, and their dangers of infiltration, as if terrorism is an entity outside of our nation.  That the states mentioned in the “ban” are among the poorest and most isolated in the region is hardly something for which to punish their citizens, or to use to create greater regional stability.  (The citation in Trump’s new executive order of the example of a “native of Somalia who had been brought to the United States as a child refugee and later became a naturalized United States citizen sentenced to thirty years [for] . . .  attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction as part of a plot to detonate a bomb at a crowded Christmas-tree-lighting ceremony” emphasizes the religious nature of this threats that warrant such a 90-day suspension of these nationals whose entrance could be judged “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”)

4.  It’s not coincidental that soon after we quite suddenly learned about President Trump’s decision to ban citizens or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries before the executive order on immigration and refugees would released, or could be read, maps appeared on the nightly news–notably, on both FOX and CNN–that described the ban as a fait accompli, as if to deny the possibility of resistance to a travel prohibition that had been devised by members of the executive without consultation of law makers, Trump’s own Department of State, or the judiciary.   The map affirmed a spatial divide removed from judicial review. Indeed, framing the Muslim Ban in a map not that tacitly reminds us of the borders of our own nation, their protection, and the deep-lying threat of border control.  Although, of course, the collective mapping of nations whose citizens are classified en masse as threats to our national safety offers an illusion of national security, removed from the actual paths terrorists have taken in attacks plotted in the years since 9/11–


–or the removal of the prime theater of terrorist attacks from the United States since 9/11.  The specter of terror haunting the nation ignores the actual distribution of Al Qaeda affiliates cells or of ISIS, let alone the broad dissemination of terrorist causes on social media.


For in creating a false sense of containment, the Ban performs of a reassuring cartography of danger for Trump’s constituents, resting on an image of collective safety–rather than actual dangers.  The Ban rests on a conception of executive privilege nurtured in Trump’s cabinet that derived from an expanded sense of the scope of executive powers, but it may however provide an unprecedented remapping the international relations of the United States in the post-9/11 era; it immediately located dangers to the Republic outside its borders in what it maps as the Islamic world, that may draw more of its validity as much from the geopolitical vision of the American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington as it reflects current reality, and it offers an unclear map of where terror threats exist.  In the manner that many early modern printed maps placed monsters at what were seen as the borders of the inhabited world, the Islamic Ban maps “enemies of the state” on  the borders of Western Civilization–and on what it sees as the most unstable borders of the larger “Muslim world”–



–as much as those nations with ISIL affiliates, who have spread far beyond any country.


But by playing the issue as one of nations that are responsible for maintaining their own borders, Trump has cast the issue of terrorism as one of border security, in ways perhaps close to his liking, and which plays to his constituency’s ideas of defending America, but far removed from any sense of the international networks of terror, or of the communications among them.  Indeed, the six- or seven-nation map that has been proposed in the Muslim Ban and its lightly reworked second version, Ban 2.0, suggest that terrorism is an easily identifiable export, that respect state lines, while the range of fighters present in Syria and Iraq suggest the unprecedented global breadth that these conflicts have won, extending to Indonesia and Malaysia, through the wide-ranging propaganda machine of the Islamic State, which makes it irresponsibly outdated to think about sovereign divisions and lines as a way for “defending the nation.”

18980564_401Deutsche Welle/2016

Trump rolled out the proposal with a flourish in his visit to the Pentagon, no doubt relishing the photo op at a podium in the center of military power on which he had set his eyes.  No doubt this was intentended.  For Trump regards the Ban as a “border security” issue,  based on an idea of criminalizing border crossing that he sees as an act of defending national safety, as a promise made to the American people during his Presidential campaign.  As much as undertake to protect the nation from an actual threat, it created an image of danger that confirmed the deepest hunches of Trump, Bannon, and Miller.  For in  ways that set the stage for deporting illegal immigrants by thousands of newly-hired border agents, the massive remapping of who was legally allowed to enter the United States–together with the suspension of the rights of those applying for visas as tourists or workers, or for refugee status–eliminated the concept of according any rights for immigrants or refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries on the basis of the danger that they allegedly collectively constituted to the United States.  The rubric of “enhancing public safety within the interior United States” is based on a new way of mapping the power of government to collectively stigmatize and deny rights to a large section of the world, and separate the United States from previous human rights accords.

It has escaped the notice of few that the extra-governmental channels of communication Trump preferred as a candidate and is privileging in his attacks on the media indicates his preference for operating outside established channels–in ways which dangerously to appeal to the nation to explain the imminent vulnerabilities to the nation from afar.  Trump has regularly claimed to undertake “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in a speech made “directly to the American people,” as if outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.  And while claiming to have begun “the most substantial border security measures in a generation to keep our nation and our tax dollars safe” in speeches made “directly to the american people with the media present, . . . because many of our reporters . . . will not tell you the truth,” he seems to relish the declaration of an expansion of policies to police entrance to the country, treating the nation as if an expensive nightclub or exclusive resort, where he can determine access by policies outside a governmental apparatus or legislative review.   Even after the unanimous questioning by an appellate court of the constitutionality of the executive order issued to bar both refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations, Trump insists he is still keeping every option open and on the verge this coming week of just filing a brand new order designed to leave more families in legal limbo and refugees safely outside of the United States.  The result has been to send waves of fear among refugees already in the Untied States about their future security, and among refugees in camps across the Middle East.  The new order–which exempts visa holders from the nations, as well as green card holders, and does not target Syrian refugees when processing visas–nonetheless is directed to the identical seven countries, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and Libya, while retaining a policy of or capping the number of refugees granted citizenship or immigrant status, taking advantage of a linguistic slippage between the recognition of their refugee status and the designation as refugees of those fleeing their home countries.


While the revised Executive Order seems to restore the proposed ceiling of 50,000 refugees chosen in 1980 for those fleeing political chaos with “well-founded fears of persecution,” the new policy, unlike the Refugee Act of 1980, makes no attempt to provide a flexible mechanism to take account of growing global refugee problems even as it greatly exaggerates the dangers refugees admitted to America pose, and inspires fear in an increasingly vulnerable population of displaced peoples.




For Trump’s original Executive Order on Immigration rather openly blocks entry to the country in ways that reorient the relation of the United States to the world.  It disturbingly remaps our national policy of international humanitarianism, placing a premium on our relation to terrorist organizations:   at a stroke, and without consultation with our allies, it closes our borders to foreign entry to all visa holders or refugees in something more tantamount to a quarantine of the sort that Donald Trump advocated in response to the eruption of infections from Ebola than to a credible security measure.  The fear of attack is underscored in the order.


5.  The mapping of danger to the country is rooted in a promise to “keep you safe” that of course provokes fears and anxieties of dangers, as much as it responds to an actual cause.  And despite the stay on restraints of immigrations for those arriving from the seven countries whose residents are being denied visas by executive fiat, the drawing of borders under the guise of “extreme vetting,” and placing the dangers of future terrorist attacks on the “Homeland” in seven countries far removed from our shores, as if to give the nation a feeling of protection, even if our nation was never actually challenged by these nations or members of any nation state.

The result has already inspired fear and panic among many stranded overseas, and increase fear at home of alleged future attacks, that can only bolster executive authority in unneeded ways.


The genealogy of executive prerogatives to defend the borders and bounds of the nation demands to be examined.  Even while insisting on the need for speed, security, and unnamed dangers, the Trump administration continues to accuse the courts of having made an undue “political decision” in ways that ignore constitutional due process by asserting executive prerogative to redraw the map of respecting human rights and mapping the long unmapped terrorist threats to the nation to make them appear concrete.  For while the dangers of terrorist attack were never mapped with any clear precision for the the past fifteen years since the attacks of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, coordinated by members of the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda, Trump has misleadingly promised a clear remapping of the dangers that the nation faces, which he insists hat the nation and his supporters were long entitled to have, as if meeting the demand to remap the place of terrorism in an increasingly dangerous world.

The specter of civil rights violations of a ban on Muslims entering the United States had been similarly quite abruptly re-mapped the actual relation of the United States to the world, in ways that evoke the PATRIOT act, by preventing the entry of all non-US residents from these nations.  Much as the PATRIOT act led to the detention of Arab and Muslim suspects, even without evidence, the executive order that Trump issued banned all residents of these seven Muslim-majority nations.  The above map, which was quickly shown on both FOX and CNN alike to describe the regions identified as sites of potential Jihadi danger immediately oriented Americans to the danger of immigrants as if placing the country on a state of yellow alert.   There is some irony hile terrorist networks have rarely been mapped with precision–and are difficult to target even by drone strikes, the executive order goes far beyond the powers granted to immigration authorities to allow the “territoritorial integrity of the United States,” even as the territory of the United States is of course not actually under attack.


What sort of world do Trump and his close circle of advisors live–or imagine that they live?  “It is about keeping bad people (with bad intentions) out of the country,” Trump tried to clarify on February 1, as the weekend ended.   We’re all too often reminded that it was all about “preventing foreign terrorists from entering the United States,” as Trump insists, oblivious to the bluntness of a blanket targeting of everyone with a visa or citizenship from seven nations of Muslim majority–a blunt criteria indeed–often not associated with specific terrorist threats, and far fewer than Muslim-majority nations worldwide.  Of course, the pressing issue of the need to enact the ban seem to do a psychological jiu jitsu of placing terrorist threats abroad–rooting them in Islamic communities in foreign lands–despite a lack of attention to the radicalization of many citizens in the United States, making their vetting upon entry or reentry into the country difficult–confirmed by the recent conclusion that, in fact, “country of citizenship [alone] is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity.”  So what use is the map?

As much as focussing on the “bad apples” among all nations with a predominance of Muslim members–


–it may reflect the tendency of the Trump administration to rely on crude maps to try to understand and represent complex problems of global crises and events, for a President whose staff seems to be facing quite a steep on-the-job learning curve, adjusting their expectations and vitriol to policy making with some difficulty.  The recent revelation of Trump’s own preference for declarative maps within his daily intelligence briefings–a “single page, with lots of graphics and maps” according to one official familiar with his daily intelligence briefings–not only indicate the possibility that executive order may have indeed developed after consulting maps, but underscore the need to examine the silences that surround its blunt mapping of terrorism.  PDB’s provide distillations of diplomatic, intelligence, and military information, and could include interactive maps or video when President Obama received PDB’s on his iPad, even encouraging differing or dissenting opinions.  They demand disciplined attention as a medium, lest one is distracted by uncorroborated information or raw intelligence—or untrained in discriminating voices from different areas of expertise.

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Filed under Donald Trump, human rights, Immigration Ban, Islamic Ban, refugees

Mapping Trump

As news anchors stared directly at the camera on Election Day 2016, they might gesture mutely to the apparent dominance of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, shown the blanket of bright red polygons that took the viewer’s breath away by their sheer continuity affirmed that the people had spoken definitively.  The map was a bit of a total surprise, evidence of the disproportionate appeal of Trump across most states other than the coasts.  And it is an icon with which Trump has taken to celebrate in an almost proprietorial way as the result of his labors and his own hard work that he tried to celebrate in addressing the Boy Scouts’ annual jamboree this year.  Casting a now-forgotten moment of compact between himself as Presidential candidate and the nation, incarnated in a map, and presenting it as a personal triumph, he recalled the electoral map as a definitive rebuttal of a “dishonest” press and media, urging we all “remember that incredible night with the maps and the Republicans are red and the Democrats are blue; that map was so red, it was unbelievable,” and rhapsodizing how the map struck so many dumb with disbelief so that “they didn’t know what to say?”  The electoral map, for Trump, provided the ultimate confirmation for a “dishonest press” and “dishonest media,” but just how honest was that map, anyway?


Trump at Jamboree.png


The map seemed to show a dramatically lopsided margin of victory, but it of course concealed just as much.  It seemed to celebrate red nation, indeed, until one considered the concentration of population, and drilled deeper down into population distributions than an electoral map can reveal.  The map however remained so cognitively powerful that the geodemographics of the 2016 Presidential election seems to mark the return of a landscape of blue vs. red states, and a sense of the self-evident nature of a newly redivided republic.  The promise of national maps to parse the division of the popular vote–a conceit fundamental to the electoral college–however creates a false sense of the breadth of support or the links between an individual candidate and the land–distilling the distribution of the vote into a false if compelling continuity of a sea of bright red.  And it is not a surprise that the map has become a favorite demonstration of the extent of Trump’s popularity, and the myth of a landslide victory not seen in earlier years.  Even if its geodemographic illusion demands to be unpacked, the scale immediately gave rise to the magnification of a margin of victory that is entirely to be expected from Trump.

But for a national figure who has convinced what seem continuous swaths of the nation’s so-called heartland he could speak for their interests, it is striking that despite some considerable variations among voting patterns, the intensity of that red block so clearly endured.  The distribution illustrated the intensity of the affective relation to the candidate, or rather the failure of achieving any deep to Clinton as a candidate–but became a symbolic icon of Trump’s claim to represent the nation’s ‘heartland.’

reference-mapBen Hennig, from results of 2016 US Presidential Election

The geodemographic conceit was not much evidence that he actually did.  Despite the strength of such affective ties, Trump has only slim familiarity with that heartland–and rarely showed much tie to it.  Despite the compelling nature of the geodemographics that suggest Trump’s close tie to the nation’s center, the region Candidate Trump convinced was ignored by the media and press alike was largely avoided by Candidate Trump.  And few of its interests can be said to have been sustained by the President we now have, whose electoral success in the upper midwest will be hard to measure with a feared decline in health care subsidies, should the Affordable Care Act be repealed and Medicare gutted, leaving older working class voters in the cold, as a new tax code does little comfort.

But was Trump ever so tied to the band of red running vertically down the country?  For the region that voted for him is increasingly becoming disaffected, as he qualifies his opposition to NAFTA and his assurances about the need to construct a border wall, in ways that raise questions about his strong showing across middle-America and his identification with the people’s will.  Yet the iconic map itself may have provided for Trump himself a bit of a mirror illusion–as if to trigger a sense of recognition of his identification with the entire nation in ways that came as something as a surprise, it also effectively validated his long-time aspirations to the presidency, not only for the media, but for himself.  To be sure, the notion of a “heartland victory” reflected the growth of a tendency to shift Republican on a county-by-county level, which reflected a targeting of the midwestern states that seem to have been conducted below the eyes of team Clinton in the 2016 US Presidential election; Trump’s vote share substantially grew in Ohio, West Virginia, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri.


Republican Blush.png


By normalizing the same choropleth of Trump votes, or using a color ramp that will foreground the percentages of voting intensity, a recommendation for all future voting maps Kenneth Field rightly suggests, the deep intensity of reds are brought out better, focussed almost in targeted sites in ways that might merit more retrospective scrutiny.


Trump votes normalized choropleth.png

Kenneth Field

But the deep reds of the electoral map were the most compelling to The Donald, and continue to lead him to retreat into rhapsodies, some eight months after the election, in Cedar Rapids IA, about how “Those electoral maps, they were all red, beautiful red.” As much as Trump has seemed to be processing the legitimacy of his victory well past the first hundred days of his term, a framed version of the electoral map infographic is rumored to have been hung, framed, as an icon in the Trump White House for visitors, to which he can point only to ask, as if in desperation,  ‘Aren’t you impressed by this map?’”  The map has become something of a calling card to which Trump seems both boastful and still gleefully processing, perhaps precisely because it was so often broadcast on TV.  The image transformed to a wall-map seems a needed confirmation of the areas that sent him to the White House, and has become a distributed visual for news interviews, as if its presence reminds interviewers that they are engaging with the representative of the real country.





Why post the map on the wall?  The infographic presumably captures those areas of the US where Trump must continue to address outside Washington–and of the disempowerment of the mainstream media–as if to remind him of his ongoing sources of strength.   Trump cannot conceal his pleasure to continue to crow, reveling in his unexpected ability to cathect with voters across so much of the northern midwest if not the silent majority of the national interior, and the map confirms a moment of joy:   the map of a “sea of deep crimson” offered credible needed visual confirmation of the legitimacy his newfound power that responds to continued crises, and a sort of symbolic consolation:  Trump, as if planning a billboard to the nation, requested no one less than the Washington Post run the image on his hundredth day in office, perhaps in hopes to brainwash the nation by the repetition of that apparent sea of deep, deep red.  It reveals, moreover, the very silent majority that Trump had long evoked:  Trump’s skill at resuscitating the Nixonian conceit of a “silent majority” supporting the Vietnam war and rejection counter-culture became a bulwark of sorts against the press; it  was particularly pleasurable as it re-appeared within the very news maps that the media produced which were broadcast on television screens, in ways Trump himself wants to continue to broadcast.  Trump not only holds TV in famously high regard–even if he did not mostly watch television for all of election night–it is almost credible that the iconic electoral map was framed for the White House walls, if distorting , offered a recollection of the magnitude of his margin of victory that must be comforting to show guests.

The considerable shock of the electoral results led many readers to recognize the reduction of support for the Democratic candidate, so well-qualified, to isolated regions near the more diverse and reliably Democratic coasts.  The visualization of disembodied counties for Clinton registers an immediate anxiety in projecting the angst of isolation from the same heartland, as if to show what seem only pockets of Clinton supporters in a very tenuous archipelago with outposts hewing predominantly to the nation’s coasts, as the outliers of the vision of America that Trump was able to propose.  As much as showing the lack of contact of Clinton’s messaging to so many counties in the in-between “forgotten heartland” that the Trump vote seemed so successfully to invest coherence in, the image shows a heartland that is almost abandoned by Clinton voters who seem not to have migrated from the country, but seem exiled from an increasingly fractured nation, in their own filter-bubbles, in which their own place has been rendered up for grabs.


clinton_v2-Artboard_6.pngTim Wallace/New York Times

The geodemographic illusion of such fracturing however belies the sharp dissonance that a deeply provincial figure long resident in one of the nation’s largest metropoles felt to much of the country and the nation that he so convincingly claimed he was able to represent.  Trump’s ability to have convinced much of the country he could guarantee their continued safety lies in contrast with the limited presence Trump ever remained in many of the regions that the force of his Presidential campaign so solidly and deeply colored red.  The clear divisions in the country that emerged in the 2016 Presidential election revealed a clearly widening set of divides between islands of populated blue and regions that trusted different news sources, more suggestive of a divide driven by eduction than wealth, using available census data on education from the Data Observatory in a CARTO visualization of the lower forty-eight, to create a more finely-grained record of the distribution of votes that allows the chromatic vacation to pop–

Carto Trump.pngMichelle Ho‘s Carto Blog

While the “split” between “heartland” and “blue islands” pops out better in the above courtesy the Carto dashboard, the surface of a flat map can conceal the extent to which the vote broke among more and less populated counties, as the following sizing of counties by votes received by Clinton (blue) or Trump (red).

Coutnies.png Carto

The thin distribution of red dots calls into question the existence of “heartland” in the nation, and how much the notion of a coherent heartland is the creation of a map, suggests the extreme oddity of an election where votes so clearly broke with electoral votes.   Notwithstanding the visualization of Alexis Egoshin being picked up on right-wing sites as a basis to argue for the need to continue the electoral college to represent the mass of land, pictured as a plateau, with which Trump won decisively, and could be called “TrumpLand” as it was so solidly voting in his favor–


–the thinly stretched archipelago of Tim Wallace might defy geographical explanation, and be rooted as much in media bubbles, fractured politics, anti-immigrant sentiment as it can be said to be geographically determined, and perhaps the tendency that we have to believe that there could be a geographic explanation at the root of the Trump victory, or a definable “Trump” community or constituency might be more tied to the contingency of information economies than anything as easily mappable in purely objective terms.

1.  Trump’s own overly inflated claims to represent the red expanse of the rust belt was, for one, most strikingly undermined, however, by his regular return flights on his Boeing jet to his New York penthouse while on the campaign trail.  For as he campaigned, Trump maintained a remove from much of the country, even as he evoked the “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,” and excoriated the policies that he claimed created them, urging voters to “take our country back again.”

While we are still trying to understand what he meant by “American carnage” save as a way to conjure fear, and a landscape beset by violence and “drugs pouring into our country and poisoning our youth,” within an “environment of lawless chaos,” the exaggerations of specters of social threats that proliferate from Trump’s mouth seem to be as emotionally figurative as they reflect actuality, and more a reflection of the America on television news than statistics.  The call to “shake off the rust” appealed, however, by binding themselves to the possibilities of “wistful time travel” that Donald Trump’s candidacy seemed to promise voters, as Zadie Smith has keenly observed.  Who better, in fact, to convince most of the country that he could bring it out of the shadow of threats of terrorist attacks that 9/11 has continued to cast across much of the nation, as if creating a bond of reassurance that stood in for any other tool of manufacturing consent.

And the tie was reified in maps.  A land map magnifying the extent of Trump’s 2016 US election results in the electoral tally was widely trumpeted by right-wing news sites, as well as the nightly news, to proclaim Trump’s was a landslide victory–even though the differences in popular voting was not only decisive, but Trump’s own relation to the nation he now leads is poorly understood.

Trump can be claimed to have converted more far more Republicans to his candidacy than recent Presidential candidates, but Trump was long an outsider.  And Trump’s imaginary tie to nation seems just that, despite some considerable crowing over Trump’s close relation to the American heartland that he claims as deeply tied to and to be the territory that he best represents–


–although these stark divisions in the distribution of voting patterns disappear in the district-by-district electoral votes map posted by Mark E. J. Newman in clearly contrasting stretches of red and isolated islands of blue with only the occasional all-blue state.

county-map-2016University of Michigan/M.E.J. Newman

But the map of the distribution of electoral votes is only the start of the attenuated relation Trump has to the country.  Trump’s insistence on an alleged “mandate” or a “massive landslide” seems designed to provoke collective amnesia by its repetition–Trump’s own convictions seem born from the illusion of democracy displayed in broadcast electoral maps on TV news.  For the vagaries of the current electoral system meant that a shift of four counties from one state to a neighboring state, data scientist Kevin Hayes Wilson pointed out, would have redrawn the map of the election, and our picture of the nation to a more comforting baby blue–although this tantalizing alternate reality is not to have been, but is in fact not so far away at all:

imrs-1.php.pngKevin Hayes Wilson/Redraw the States

Yet the victory of a continuous stretch of red is so iconic that the mapping of votes by counties is taken as an affirmation of regions of deep scarlet, as if the county is a meaningful unit for displaying voting tendencies:


The image of “red” states or counties is so potent, however, that the image is taken as evidence of the appeal of Trump’s promise to “Make America Great Again”–as if the slogan spoke to the heartland–that converting the map of counties to a cartogram which sized counties by population and voter size seems to be a weaponized warping of the nation for polemical intent, in which the center of the heartland has been stretched into a skein of thing red strands that slighted the region by stripping it of its political voice, as if created by a leftist cartographer who polemically diminished the heartland by rendering it as so much connective tissue in contrast to the prominence of blue cities.

Stretched thing

vote share.pngBenjamin Hennig (detail of Hennig’s cartogram of 2016 US Presidential election)

The rendering of the heartland as a stretched skein of what seem ruts in the American landscape seems the polemic of a leftist cartographer from a metropole, to many, ready to slight the heartland in favor of the magnified cities whose names appear on the map.

hennig skein

To be sure, the tea leaves of county voting patterns do parse voter populations:  to be sure, Trump did almost twice as well as Clinton in those counties that were at least 85% white, rural (fewer than 20,000 inhabitants), and won huge preponderance of the votes–70%–where less than 20 percent of the population has a college degree.  But the continutiy that one can translate into spatial terms is much less clear, and the county is not the clearest organization or translation of a voting bloc, despite the clearly greater diversity of the cities, and the dominance that Trump exercised in counties that were predominantly–85%–white, in ways that may have single-handedly overturned the electoral map, and were the audiences to whom the visions of prosperity Trump promised most appealed, and where the Democratic candidate’s losses in comparison to Barack Obama were big–and where Trump won almost twice as much of the counties.


Bloomberg, “The Voters Who Gave Us Trump” (Nov. 9, 2016)

But, by and large, the rhetoric of the red intensity of maps perhaps have originated as pollsters talking among themselves, and against each others’ expectations, as much as the distribution of a close connection to the candidate; the intensity of the red appeared in a contrast of the predictions of the popular vote distribution against the actuality, even if it seemed within a margin of error, as the final actual distribution–


Beta News

–broke ever so slighty, but so definitively and so strikingly, from their expectations:


Beta News

2.  Trump’s claims for a personal relation to the nation is far less apparent.  It demands to be scrutinized, as it only seems demonstrated in electoral maps.  Even though seven out of ten Republicans voiced expressed a preference for America of the 1950s rather than that of today, and Trump’s candidacy both entertained and invited such acts of willed nostalgia, it’s hard to believe Trump’s own proximity to the nation’s heartland is based on “lived” experience.  The surprising story of Trump’s campaign may be the alchemy by which he cemented a bond among evangelicals, with the help of his only nominally Catholic running mate, Mike Pence, paired with the poorly thought-out strategy of Hillary Clinton to focus on cities, rather than rural areas or the economically depressed areas that reject the effects of globalization, which could have spread those blues out along the map with far greater surety–a need that the map of Hayes Wilson reveals by the washed out areas of even the states whose delegates she won.

For while growing the share of Republican voters across several states presumed to vote Democratic, including many in the so-called “rust belt”–here colored dark red–


–President Donald Trump seems himself to be quite alienated from the very folks whose economic interests he persuaded he would strongly defend, and less than ready to spend time there, save in his Florida estate, the new Winter Palace, Mar-a-Lago, ensconced as if forever a foreigner to much of the nation.

3.  The familiarity that Trump created with the nation seems rooted in an imaginary, built on the lifestyle of the Trump brand–even though his election leaves us with a shrinking horizon of expectations.  To say Trump ever knew much of the country is not only an exaggeration, but an outright deception that was willfully perpetrated if not orchestrated by his campaign.  Despite the broad appeal of a Trump lifestyle, Trump seems to have little connection for the man in the street or his job.  But his keen sense of playing the salesman for his brand, which promises to be a central part of his Presidency, led him to have so much practice at delivering people’s fantasies and recasting the art of promising anything but the greatest product ever to “innocent . . . exaggeration.”

For his policies betray little familiarity with the nation, beyond empty sloganeering, evident the belief that a repeal of the ACA would help the nation–when it would most likely, as Paul Krugman noted, “send the numbers right back up—[after] 18 million newly uninsured in just the first year.”  And the imposition of punitive measures against American companies who chose to locate their production overseas or in Mexico, and even more punitive tariffs against foreign competitors demand to be called out as instances of economic bullying, rather than anything like a realistic economic policy or plan.  And the notion of a 20% import tax would be passed on not to the Mexican government, but to heartland consumers who would pay for it in their purchases.  And ending the American Care Act would put almost a half a million aging folks off of health care, in ways we cannot yet fully map, but will have deep consequences for the very deep red “heartland” that Trump champions.  And as Anwar al-Awlaki, the radical Islamic American-born al-Qaeda preacher, foretold that the “West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens,” Trump has successfully made his prophecy an actuality.  (“You were a nation of ease,” al-Awlaki had addressed the United States ominously, inviting a similar sort of time, but “imperial hubris is leading America to its fate.”)

Although Trump claimed to speak for the country, he was most famous for retreating to the confines of Trump Tower:  he was, confessed long-time political operative Roger Stone, something of a homebody.  His attachment to owning properties in Manhattan and his estate in Mar-a-Lago were so great to start rumors Trump declined to make the White House his regular residence as President.  And when Trump regularly returned to New York City or Mar a Lago, he always kept most of New York at a remove while sequestered in Trump Tower.   While totaling some 276,000 miles in the air by late September since announcing his candidacy for the U.S. Presidency  on June 16, 2015, Trump traveled over half of the days since announcing his candidacy, even while visiting far fewer places than other Republican candidates and fewer than his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.  And if one is to judge his familiarity with the country in terms of the cities where he chose to build and promote hotels as evidence for the sites he earlier visited, it is striking that the sites of Trump’s North American properties are located on its coasts, or outside of the very areas where his campaign was so wildly and only perhaps improbably successful.

North Am Trum Properties.png

For on the campaign trail, Trump buzzed about the country to create the sense of direct contact with constituents even without spending that much time in a single place, but regularly returned to New York, he may have visited places like Brooklyn, where Clinton’s campaign was based, far less frequently–and spending a considerable amount of time on the campaign trail sleeping in Trump Tower, if not resting in the large bed stationed in his 757; tweets from sites on the campaign trail conveyed his endless motion, but many began “just returned from . . .” in multiple tweets during the early days of the primary.

Were the steady accusations of his opponents’ tiredness but projections of his own somnolence or power naps?


Trump was regularly cast by ABC news as Palm Beach’s Most High-Profile Homebody by the year’s end.  Trump was no doubt tired out by the extensive campaign where he projected his exhaustion first onto Jeb Bush and then, more dramatically, Hillary Clinton:  for two weeks in December, rather than assemble his incoming cabinet, the PEOTUS remained in the sumptuous Mar-a-Lago, rarely leaving the estate for golf and dinner at the Trump International Golf Club, or Christmas Eve mass, and meeting with his transition team just “a stone’s throw from the croquet garden,” before returning to Trump Tower in January to assemble the rest of his incoming cabinet in the nineteen days before his inauguration–and expressed reluctance in leaving his aerie in Manhattan for periods of a week after assuming the Presidency, proposing frequent returns to his three-story penthouse on the 58th floor of Trump Tower for family time during his Presidency.

4.  Even if he has warmed to the White House’ decor and furniture soon after moving in, Trump is a man who has stayed put in his lavish multi-floor apartment for much of the last three decades, and it has provided the perspective from which he looked at the United States–and may offer a perspective from which the strong opinions of his policies were formed.  For a candidate who saw the sumptuous quarters designed in Louis XIV style as a tribute to his creation of his own self-image, was his creation of a time-frame also particularly revealing?  Did his identification with an apartment decorated in 24-karat gold and marble and furniture and tapestries  in Louis XIV style with a Tiepolo ceiling put him in ideal place as a candidate to promise a project of time travel to Americans seduced by his timeless lifestyle–


so effectively isolated as he was from the changes in the external world over the past twenty to thirty years?  (And doesn’t being called a “homebody” mean quite a different thing for such a home?)  For a man who grown up in a house with four white columns that were adorned with a confected crest and coat of arms and white columns, as a palace set apart from Queens, N.Y., with twenty-five rooms and nine bathrooms, the palatial abodes that he has continued to created for himself and his family similarly stepped outside of time.

The series of luxury hotels with which Trump’s name has been synonymous promote lifestyle packages promote pastiches of European luxury that are, after all, the tricks of the trade of a master hotelier–whose expertise is to offer an escape to a new comfort zone.  Since winning an election for United States President seems to provide only an extension of the art of escapism he has already refined in the political sphere that can translate to the trade of the hotelier, it seems no surprise that recent publicity even integrated the image of the White House facade to a promise of escapism at Trump International located in Washington, DC–even if this reveals something of a conflict of interest or confusion of jobs, or rather imagines the sort of “Suite Escape” in which Trump Hotels specialize the possibility of looking at the photoshopped blanched federal Environmental Protection Agency  through drape-graced windows in utmost Trump luxury, even if it does, as Philip Bump noted keenly, capture the “mess of conflicts of interest” that Trump is now likely to himself face far beyond that hotel.



5.  For it seems that a large part of the promise of Trump Hotels is to offer to assemble for their eager visitors pastiches of the “finer things of life,” such as the guesthouse in the Blue Ridge foothills, combining a Georgian-style mansion with old-world elegance from Waterford crystal chandeliers, oil paintings, and statuary in surroundings recalling the Tuscan countryside; every one of his Trump International hotels or Trump Hotels is prized for its own thematic program of interior decoration that offer to their visitors.  This is distilled in the utterly escapist residence Trump loves in Trump Tower, whose time-shifting decor to transport one to an idyllic past, free from social consequences or concerns, that might be the emblem of the escape he offers the country.


The notion of Trump sequestered, as a self-made Rip van Winkle, is somewhat appealing.  Donald Trump rarely travels, and seems something of a homebody, flying home regularly while he was on the campaign trail on his private jet–and asking the Secret Service to follow him home, on an air company he owns.  To the tune of $1.6 million, agents accompanied him on regular return flights on TAG Air, on which he logged some $6 million personally, boasting “I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” as he walked to the bank, even outfitting his own ostentatious Boeing 757 jet at a cost of $1 million that situated his own name prominently in red, white, and blue. Trump often made late night trips back to New York during the Presidential campaign, to sleep in his own living quarters, according to the New York Times.  (The cost of outfitting his plane in suitable luxury may have given Trump grounds to criticize current government contracts with Boeing for the real Air Force One of $4 billion–“Cancel the order!“–although the mechanics of what was entailed in that plane were probably not in his grasp.)


All those daily flights home on “Trump Force One” to sleep in Trump Tower during the Iowa Caucuses were at first feared to cost him some votes across the midwest.  Trump had regularly returned to his morning view of Central Park and his lavish home quarters, however, and seemed to relish returning with regularity during the campaign.  He didn’t allow any press members to accompany him on these flights, though the staff grew.  But he didn’t hesitate to outfit the luxury jet which was a frequent backdrop for news conferences and televised appearances, at a cost of an extra cost within the 3.8 million taxpayers payed to Tag Air, Inc., to operate the jet which approximated his personal quarters in Trump Tower, from a master bedroom approximated with silk wall coverings, mohair couch that converts to a bed, 57-inch television, home theater, shower and gold-plated toilet on this fuel-inefficient plane–all the while insisting on returning to his penthouse in Trump Tower almost each and every night.  (Trump claimed his flights were funded by checks he wrote to his own campaign, and the sale of MAGA hats and souvenirs at rallies, but the $27,000-$36,000 increase in daily operating costs of such regular flights home–the result of a deep resistance to overnighting outside his home long noted on the campaign trail–left the Secret Service sending a tidy check of $1.6 million for much of 2016 to Trump’s own airplane company.)

6.  The web of financial ties to Trump are far-flung in their nodes, and their ties to members of the incoming Trump cabinet–including Betsy “Ah, Betsy; Education, Right?” DeVos–and seem to stretch to areas only begging to be fully mapped, but which extend far, far beyond the properties of the Trump Organization.

Trump Mafia.png

–in a virtual web of business connections, many concealed within his tax statements.  The ties to much of the nation and newfound legitimacy and recognition of the Trump brand seems undeniable–even if Donald Trump, Jr. dismissed the idea that Donald, now that “he’s got real stuff he’s got to deal with” and “real people’s lives,” is anything but occupied with his governmental duties or realizes the extent to which hid new platform of recognition might encourage the expansion of a luxury hotel chain to new regions of the country.   While scoffing at the “notion that [President Trump] is still running the business from the White House is just insane,” however, the network of hotel chains he has administered provide something like the template for Trump’s notion of his relation to space, as the deals he brokered with construction firms, cities, and property taxes have provided him with the basic tools by which he seems destined to project Presidential authority.  Even as Trump sons Eric and Donald, Jr., the surrogates of his hotel empire, claim “There are lines that we would never cross, and that’s mixing business with anything government,” the inescapable confusion is one from which they will benefit.

Indeed, the range of hotel properties Trump owns are wide-ranging, although notably removed form the African continent or Australia, not to mention an almost entire absence in Asia, restricting interest in South America to the tourist destination of Rio and a planned residential development in Uruguay; and with no properties in continental Europe outside Istanbul–and an avoidance of Mexico which, for the owner of a chain of luxury hotels and hotelier, seems almost to be rooted in something like a deep personal dislike–


The selective seats of Trump International perhaps befits an entity long styled as “real estate super-brand” and linked to the lifestyle it marketed.   But the absence of Trump’s ability to market the Trump lifestyle and brand of hotel destinations in Europe, save the recent and requisite golf courses in Scotland Ireland, may reveal a long ambivalent attitude to Europe and NATO countries, given the absence of Trump interests outside golf courses in Aberdeen, Tunberry and Doonbeg.  (Indeed, Trump took no time after assuming the Presidency to rail against the EU based on his own experiences from “another world” of business–based on the firm refusal  of the EU to resist a proposed seawall on the dunes of Trump International Golf Links and Hotel in Doonbeg, Ireland, on the grounds of the environmental protection for endangered animals.  Trump was forced to curtail his planned seawall, the basis for the objection–an endangered snail–post-dates his aversion to expanding Trump International in Europe.

But is emblematic of the disproportionate scale with which Trump seems to view the world.  While mocking local disturbances faced by his building projects as annoying disturbances, he promotes his vision of a single way of life cobbled together from historical periods, providing residents a view from Mumbai at the Park at a remove from the poverty of homeless families who sleep on cardboard on Mumbai’s streets–in an image long suspected to be photoshopped.

58681cd31500002f00e9ddcc.jpegPaul Needham (2014)

The withdrawal of Trump Tower is the opposite of global engagement, but is the site to which Trump seems to invite us all to retreat in an age of global refugees.  Is it any coincidence that the self-confessed germaphobe so fearful of contamination from crowds is most inclined to adopt metaphors as floods, swarms, or infectious to describe the experience of refugees as threats to the social body, metaphorically re-framing their plight at a remove from social, politics or economics–and insisting on our need for better self-protection?  The distorted view from Trump Towers elides the experience of many through the distorting lens of real estate.

7.  Indeed, Trump’s gift for getting his name put on every empty surface known to man–including Trump-themed fiction–seems to have been taken as an excuse for his interest in political representation, which it is not.  But it is no secret that business interactions have most importantly shaped and helped formed Trump’s world view.  And the somewhat striking absence of Trump hotels in much of Eurasia–save residential developments in Seoul, and some under construction in Mumbai, Pune and the Philippines–raises questions not only of the appeal of the version of Trump glitz that they offer, but also of the place of these actual locations in Trump’s current mental map; the distance of the Trump brand entirely from the neighboring state of Mexico is more than clear, and may derive from personal distaste.

The presence of properties under construction in Uruguay, India, and Makati may indicate constraints of the Trump lifestyle, whose limited truck in Europe is not destined to grow in the future.  The relative absence of Trump’s presence in Asia–save Baku–suggests not only a compromised notion of geography for Trump, but an untimely withdrawal from international markets that analyses of the previous administration suggested place millions of jobs at risk.  How can we collectively trust a man with so compromised a notion of geography to can the Trans-Pacific Partnership?  The punitive measures proposed to be taken against companies making products overseas suggest a deeply skewed notion of the place of the American workplace in the global economy, and punitive measures against foreign competitors, suggest a limited and deeply narcissistic notion of global economic transactions, distant from and out of touch with the distribution of global populations.

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The remove of a spatial imaginary of real estate was long prominent in Trump’s mind.  The sharply concentrated and geographically small circuit of properties Trump owns in New York suggests not only a limited knowledge of the huge diversity of New York City but define the notion of the Trump lifestyle he has sold to America as an outer borough boy.  It betrays his narrow range of interest in coveted properties around Midtown and Trump Tower, revealing Trump’s longstanding interest in focussing his sights on Manhattan, despite his father Fred’s disinterest in the far fancier borough–and his open discouragement to Donald for chasing such properties from a firm that had roots from the Verrazano Bridge to the Long Island border, and offered middle-class housing, for hubris in reaching beyond his Brooklyn roots.  Is the focussed expansion of Trump Properties into Midtown, by now long naturalized by its epicenter at Trump Tower, a form of inter-borough envy with roots in the class conflicts of New York City’s urban geography?

Such inter-borough rivalry seem to have guided not only the expansion of Trump properties as it expanded to the area around the future Trump Tower, site of the tony area of Tiffany’s, the Plaza Hotel and Central Park South–

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–but the position in which he sees himself in relation to the world, and the caricature of the populist millionaire that became the conceit of The Apprentice and since become a basis for Trump to sell himself and his brand to the country.

Indeed, the eagerness of Donald to move to the toniest areas Fred Trump disdained, by casting himself from the “streetwise son of Brooklyn’s largest apartment builder,” allowed him to expand his stylized image as a colossus of Manhattan, but to disdain the outer boroughs of New York City as a place to plant the gold-plated image of his name.

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In staking claims to building in such a restricted area of Manhattan, Trump may have used midtown as a sort of arena or performance space to broadcast his identity with such well-polished sheen that it served as a launching pad for Reality TV, long before declaring his Presidency.

8.  More scarily, however, is that the quite limited previous experience Trump gained with world affairs from his perch in New York seems destined to shape the judgements that he shapes on issues of global consequence:  as being in Queens and looking at Manhattan defined Donald’s appreciation and interest in power, the very tactics of aggression that worked for him to launch his brand in New York has become generalized in the trademark launching of hotel facades, and the confrontational bullying of world leaders seems to be the chosen metier of foreign policy, as cultivating allies and personal rapports; divisions between personal space and national destiny seem far closer than in the past, who seems to see foreign policy as conducted in confidence and in tête-a-tête rapports; foreign non-immigrant workers of HB-1 visas are viewed as “cut-rate” bargains, analogous to foreign construction workers; constant commentary on foreign affairs in Twitter permitted; brinksmanship is a working strategy; market negotiations as a primary means of statecraft with overseas partners and adversaries alike.

Trump’s deep need to impress world leaders takes precedence over policy or statements of national interest; tax-cuts are for corporations, whose rate is cut to 15 percent, and tax brackets collapsed from seven to three–while omitting how the US government would be able to afford the cuts.  Trump works on small-scale corporate deals with companies about aircraft, but the big picture seems to slip away.

For Trump’s apparently unremitting focus on staking claims to what he considered higher status in New York City’s real estate market, and to promote his name in doing so, developed with an intensity that led him to continue to stake claims to that status for new arenas.  This began in New York City, greedily and relentlessly, from the West Side Highway where his promise of a waterfront apartment building led the city to permanently close an exit ramp, to Soho, to Wall Street.  This apparent search seeming to chase an image of prestige in the mirror of his own gold-plated marquee, combining deep desire with disinterest in much of the external world, almost desiring only to look in the mirror of the gold reflective surfaces naming the multi-billion dollar towers to which the developer lends his name and the status they take pains to create.  Trump indeed boasted to a biographer Harry Hurt III, back in 1993, about having the best living room view in all of New York City, by virtue of being able to see from his Trump Tower apartment his own name on all sides:  beside the Hudson River in the West Side Yards; on Third Avenue, atop the thirty-nine story Trump Plaza or the fifty-five story Trump Palace.  Hurt compared it all to a child-like fantasy: mirrored in miniature on the ultimate stage of self-indulgent fantasy, as Trump’s name is branded not only on buildings but also “on a Monopoly-tyle board game branded ‘Trump'”, in a sort of ubiquity that needs its own constant affirmation, and itself engenders a desperate need for confirmation of loyalty and admiration.

For Trump seems to have lived in an extended or protracted mirror stage, where the materials of building provide themselves the foil for revealing the “I” that the builder seeks to cultivate, forged in a pre-linguistic stage but continuing as a distorting monumentalization of selfhood that desires to obscure if not obliterates the very map across which it spreads, disorienting the viewer.  The reality of the Trump presidency seems retaining the sheen on the name that seems to gain a greater aura the more that it is reproduced.

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Trump Tower



But how long can that last?  While Trump boasted that his ability to have “added show business to the real estate business” is an apt characterization as “a positive for my properties and in my life,” is the nation able to be defined as his property, or is he able to fulfill the fantasies of his constituents through inflated promises and empty patina?

Rather than build such bold pronouncements of self without oversight in Washington, DC, Trump seems to offer the nation new ideas of the landscape of governmental authority.  For rather than seeing the role of the Presidency as representing the nation, Trump seems to have relentlessly presented the function of the Presidency as expanding own his personal enrichment at the cost of the nation–and indeed at the cost of the Presidency’s historical prestige.


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