Super-Saturated Southeastern Texas

Weather maps are among the most widely consulted visualizations in our over-mediated world.  They provide not only sources of fascination, however, but are among the most confounding media to orient viewers to the world’s changing climate.  Even as we are still trying to calculate the intensity of damages in Puerto Rico and of the fires in California, or the snows that suddenly blanketed the northeast, driven by a collision of hot water and cold air in the Atlantic, hoping to piece together the increased evidence of extensive collateral damage of global warming, we still need to come to terms with the intensity of rainstorms that hit southeastern Texas–the hurricane deluged the city with rainfall surpassing the standard meteorological chromatic scale, and at a pace which challenged the groundcover of the overbuilt and overpaved region to absorb:   for the mapping of “natural” levels of rainfall blurs the pressing problem of how shifting landcover has created an impermeability to heightened rains.

Real estate demand intersected with extreme weather in southeastern Texas in ways which dat visualizations have had trouble exposing, but which raise a curtain on the coming crises of a failure of ability to accommodate increased levels of rainfall  If the lack of precedent for the intense rainfall in Galveston Bay generated debate about introducing a new color that went beyond the rainbow scale employed in weather charts, what seemed a problem of the cartographic color-spectrum suggested a problem of governability and indeed government response to extreme weather conditions.  How to register the dangers of rainfall that goes of the scale or standards of measurement?   What is the best way to orient viewers to the intensity of consequent flooding, and to considering its consequences and better prepare ourselves for the arrival of deluging rains without falling back on the over-freighted metaphor of rains of biblical scope?

For many of the maps that chart the arrival and impact of hurricanes seem a form of climate denial, as much as they account for climate change.  Long after the hurricane season ended, the damage for hurricanes caused have hardly been assessed in what has been one of the most costly and greatest storm damage since 1980 in the United States,–including the year of Hurricane Katrina–we have only begun to sense the damage of extreme weather stands to bring to the national infrastructure.  The comparison to the costs of storm damage in previous years were not even close.  But distracted by the immediacy of data visualizations, and impressed by the urgency of the immediate, we risk being increasingly unable to synthesize the broader patterns of increased sea surface temperatures and hurricane generations, or the relations between extremely destructive weather events, overwhelmed by the excessive destruction of each, and distracted from raising questions about the extremely poor preparation of most overbuilt regions for their arrival, and indeed the extent to which regional over-building that did not take the possibility of extreme weather into account–paving large areas without adequate drainage structures or any areas of arable land–left inhabitants more vulnerable to intense rains.  For in expanding the image of the city without bounds, elasticity, or margins for sea-level rise, the increasingly brittle cityscapes of Galveston and much of the southeastern Texas shoreline were left incredibly unprepared for the arrival of hurricanes or intense rains.

To characterize or bracket these phenomena as “natural” is to overlook complex interaction between extreme weather patterns and our increasingly overbuilt environments.  To be sure, any discussion of the Gulf of Mexico must begin from the increasingly unclear nature of much of our infrastructure across land and sea, evident in the range of pipelines of gas and oil that snake along a once more clearly defined shore charted by ProPublica in 2012–


pipeline_line_mapProPublica, Pipeline Safety Tracker/Hazardous liquid pipelines are noted in red; gas in blue


-and whose tangle of oil pipelines that extend from the very site of Galveston to the Louisiana coast is almost unable to be defined as “offshore,” so much as an extension of the land, and a redefinition of the shore.




Despite the dangers that such an extensive network of hazardous liquid lines along the Gulf of Mexico, the confusion between mapping a defined line between land and water, and visualizing relations of extreme weather disturbances as hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico and local infrastructure haunts the extremely thin nature of the sort of data visualizations that are generated about the dangers of hurricanes and their landfall in the region.  For all too often, they presume a stable land/sea divide, removed from the experience of inhabitants of the region and how we have remade the shore.


1. How can we do better by going beneath the data visualizations of record-breaking rainfall, to map the human impact of such storms?  How could we do better to chart the infrastructural stresses and the extent to which we are ill-prepared for such extreme weather systems whose impact multiplies because of the increased impermeability of the land, unable to absorb excessive rainfall, and beds of lakes and reservoirs that cannot accommodate increased accumulation of rainfall that  stand to become the new normal?  The current spate of news maps that provoke panic by visualizing the extremes of individual cases may only inspire a sort of data vis-induced ADD, distracting from infrastructural inadequacies to the effects of global warming–and leaving us at a loss to guarantee the best structures of governability and environmental readiness.

Indeed, the absence of accurately mapping the impact and relation between landcover, storm intensity, rainfall, flooding, and drainage abilities increases the dangers of lack of good governance.  There need not be any need for a reminder of how quickly inadequate mapping of coastal disasters turns into an emblem of bad governance.  There is the danger that, overwhelmed by the existential relation to each storm, we fail to put them together with one another; compelled to follow patterns of extreme weather, we risk being distracted from not only the costs but the human-generated nature of such shifts in seasons between extremes of hot and cold.  For as we focus on each event, we fail to integrate a more persuasive image of how rising temperatures stand to create an ever-shifting relation between water and land.  Provoked by the rhetoric of emergency, we may need to learn to distance ourselves better from the aerial views that synthesize intense precipitation, tally hurricane impacts, or snowfall levels, and view them less as individual “strikes” or events and better orient ourselves to a broader picture which put us in a less existential relation to extreme weather.




We surely need to establish distance to process syntheses of data in staggering aerial views on cloud swirl, intense precipitation, and snowfall, and work to peel back their striking colors and bright shades of rainbow spectra, to force ourselves to focus not only on their human costs, or their costs of human life, but their relation to a warming planet, and the role of extreme of weather in a rapidly changing global climate, as much as track the “direct strikes” of hurricanes of individual names, as if they were marauders of our shores:  their creation is as much tied to the changing nature of our shores and warming sea-surface temperatures, and in trying to create a striking visualization, we deprive ourselves from detecting broader patterns offering better purchase on weather changes.




If the patterns of weather maps from Accuweather forecast and projections suggest an exhilaratingly Apollonian view on global and regional weather patterns, they threaten to shift attention form a broader human perspective in quite deeply pernicious ways.  Such maps provided the only format for grasping the impact of what happened as the hurricane made landfall, but provided little sense of the scale of inundations that shifted, blurred and threatened the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.  They provide a format for viewing floods that are disjoined from victims, and seem to naturalize the quite unnatural occurrence of extreme weather systems.  Given the huge interest in grasping the transformation of Hurricane Harvey from a tropical storm to a Category Four hurricane, and the huge impact a spate of Category Four hurricanes have created in the Gulf of Mexico, it’s no surprise that the adequacy of the maps of Hurricane Harvey have been interrogated as hieroglyphs or runes of a huge weather change:  we sift through them for a human story which often left opaque behind bright neon overlays, whose intensity offer only an inkling of a personal perspective of the space or scale of their destruction on the ground:  while data maps provide a snapshot of the intensity of rain-levels or wind strength at specific sites, it is difficult if important to remember that their concentration on sites provide a limited picture of causation or complexity.

All too often, such maps fail to offer an adequately coherent image of disasters and their consequences, and indeed to parse the human contributions to their occurrence.  This post might be defined into multiple subsections.  The first actions suggest the problems of mapping hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico in relation to flooding in data visualizations of the weather and the overbuilt region; the middle of the post turns to an earlier poetic model for considering the relation between land and sea that visualizations all too easily obscure, and the meaning that the poet Elizabeth Bishop found in viewing relations between land and sea in a printed map of the Atlantic; after returning to the question of the overbuilt shore compounds problems of visualizing the Texas coast, the final section, perhaps its most provocative, returns to Bishop’s reading of a map of the Atlantic coast.

What such new weather maps would look like is a huge concern.  Indeed, as we depend on weather maps to orient us to place ourselves in the inter-relations of climate change, sea-level, surface temperatures, and rain, whether maps cease to orient us to place, but when best constructed help to describe the changing texture of weather patterns in ways that can help familiarize us not only to weather conditions, but needed responses to climate change.  For  three months after the hurricanes of the Gulf of Mexico caused such destruction and panic on the ground, it is striking not only that few funds have arrived to cover costs of rebuilding or insurance claims, but the judgement or understanding of the chances for future flooding have almost left our radar–perhaps pushed rightly aside by the firestorms of northern and southern California, but in ways that troublingly seem to forget to assess or fail to assess the extent of floods and groundwater impermeability  along the Texas and Louisiana coast.  The problems that preparation for future coastal hurricanes off the Gulf of Mexico raise problems of hurricane control and disaster response that seem linked to problems of mapping their arrival–amd framing the response to the increasing rains that are dumped along the entire Gulf Coast.



Indeed, the chromatic foregrounding of place in such rainbow color ramps based on GPS obscure other maps.   Satellite data of rainfall are removed from local conditions, and serve to help erase complex relations between land and water or the experience of flooding on the ground–by suggesting a clear border between land and sea, and indeed mapping the Gulf of Mexico as a surface as if it were unrelated to the increased flooding around Houston, in maps prepared from satellite imagery, despite the uneasy echoes of anthropogenic causes for the arrival of ten hurricanes in ten weeks, in ways that suggest how warming waters contributed to the extreme inundation of the Gulf Coast.  Despite NOAA  predictions of a 45% likelihood of ‘above-normal’ activity for the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, with, a 70% likelihood of storms that could transform into hurricanes, the images of inundated lands seem both apocalyptic and carefully removed from the anthropogenic changes either to the ocean or land that intensified their occurrence so dramatically on the ground.


Dartmouth Flood Observatory Flooding Harvey Dartmouth Flood Observatory


Harvey flooding_0.jpgwiDartmouth Flood Observatory/August 29, 2017


Is it possible to recuperate the loss of individual experience in such data maps, or at least acknowledge their limitations as records of the complexity of a changing climate and the consequences of more frequent storm surges and such inundations of rainfall?  As we seek better to understand the disaster relief efforts through real-time maps of effects of Hurricane Harvey as it moved inland from the Gulf of Mexico, shifting from Category 4 Hurricane from a tropical storm, we tried to grasp levels of rainfall that spun out of 115-mile-an-hour winds across southeastern Texas that damaged crops, flooded fields, ruined houses, and submerged cars, we scan stories in hope of clues to assess our position in relation to increasingly dangerous weather systems whose occurrence they may well forebode.  At a time of increased attention to extreme weather has long developed, the gross negligence of climate change denial is increasingly evident:  it recalls the earlier denial of any relation between hurricanes and climate change, when increased hurricanes were cast as “the cycle of nature,” rather than as consequences whose effects have in fact been broadly intensified by human activity.

Current attempts to map the toll of record-smashing hurricanes focused almost exclusively on point-based data view rainstorms largely as land-based records; even as they intend to monitor the effects of Harvey’s landfall by microwave censors, they risk seeming to isolate real-time rainfall levels from the mechanics warmer air and sea-surface temperatures which result from human-caused global warming, not relating increased storm surges or inundations to achanges in coastal environments or climate change.  To render such changes as natural–or only land-based–is irresponsible in an age of reckless levels of climate denial.


2.  Indeed, faced by the proliferation of data visualizations, part of the journalistic difficulty or quandary is to integrate humanistic or individual perspectives on the arrival of storms, rendered in stark colors in the increasingly curtailed ecosystems of newsrooms which seek simplified visualizations of satellite data on the disaster, which fail to note the human contributions to the travails that are often reserved for photographs, which increasingly afford opportunities of disaster tourism in the news, emphasizing the spectator’s position before disasters, by images that underscore the difficulties in processing or interpreting the proliferation of data from MODIS satellite feeds:  we can show the ability to measure the arrival of torrential rains, but in offering few legends, save the date and scale, but offering few keys o interpret the scale of the disaster.

The looming portent of human-made climate change, however, underlies the poor predictions that NOAA offered of perhaps 2-4 major hurricanes this Spring, and the lack of a new director for NOAA–on which local and state agencies depend to monitor the nations shores and fisheries–suggested the, from June to September, which left states on their own to make decisions and plan for disaster mitigation programs and better flood maps.  (The danger of appointing a newly nominated director, Barry Myers, who is a strong supporter of the privitization of weather maps and an executive at the private Accuweather mapping service, suggests the difficulty of determining the public-private divide in an era of neoliberalism, and a free market of weather maps that were once seen as central to national security and standards of safety.)   There are two hidden scales on which we read these opaque maps of global warming and globalization and local inundation are triply frustrating.   For all the precision and data richness of such point-maps of largely land-based rainfall, local temperature, or flooding, the biases of such instantaneous measurements seem to fit our current governing atmosphere of climate change denial, and dangerous in erasing how such storms are informed by long-term consequences of man-made climate change.  (As the mapping tools of coastal weather seem destined to change, what sort of change in direction for NOAA coastal maps do we want:  the appointment suggests the terrifying possibility of a return to the Bush-era proposal nominee Myers supported that prohibiting the agency from producing any maps already available in the private sector then threatened federal weather lines to go dark–lest they literally compete with ad-supported websites private providers–and shift federal information offline?)

For making moves toward the future readability of weather maps may well be at stake in critically important ways.  The 2005 proposal that Myers backed would have eliminated the National Weather Service, even while exempting those forecasts needed to preserve “life and property,” would in essence have returned the weather services to a pre-internet era, even as the most active hurricane season including a record breaking fifteen hurricanes and twenty-eight storms began in the gulf coast, including the infamous hurricane Katrina.  The proposed bill would have prevented NOAA from posting open data, and not only readily available to researchers and policymakers, in ad-free formats, free of popup screens, but allow them to make their own maps on the fly–ending good practices of posting climate data would work quite dangersously to prevent development of tools of data visualization outside commercial models of rendering storms and hurricanes as if environmentally isolated.





A deeper problem of providing such limited weather maps of tropical storms may be the subtexts about the relation of human causes to weather they convey, and the absence of a greater narrative of the transformation of a global ecology or of the ecology of the Gulf Coast.  The curtailed images of “nature” they present by symbolizing rains, winds, floods, or submerged regions in appealing hues as natural–raise questions of the odd simplicity of the absent storylines:  cheery colors erase or bracket complex questions of climate change, the human contribution to extreme weather events, or the human experience of suffering on the ground:  Rita, Cindy, Katrina, Dennis, and Wilma seem not part of the environment, epiphenomenal interlopers moving across a static deep blue sea, in an apparent dumbing down of the mechanics of hurricane or storm formation in a rainbow spectrum removed from a human-made environment.

Visualizations of the rainfall of Hurricane Harvey similarly compress a massive amount of data into elegant chromatic images, but focus attention on the levels of inundation that overwhelmed the gulf coast in ways that the land could not absorb, drain, or adequately process, they ignore critical pieces of the picture of Harvey’s landfall, from the unprecedented ocean heat just days before Harvey made landfall near Galveston–


Ocean Heat Harvey Gulf of Mexico 8-24-17Weather Underground/RAMMB @ CSU/CIRA


–to the surprisingly warm patches of the Gulf of Mexico across which Harvey crossed as it rapidly grew in size–


Harvey Course over Very Warm Water--UW 24 Aug 2017University of Wisconsin-Madison-CIMSS Satellite Blog


–as we treat the ferocity of southeastern Texas’ inundation by rainfall as an isolated question of the extreme amount of rain that arrived on land and sea by mapping the amount of rainfall we can register at a place in isolation from a broader picture, rather than contextualizing the intensity of rainfall within the causation of the Category Four hurricane, or mapping the failure to accommodate such extraordinary levels of rainfall, which have been argued to justify to create a need for seawalls or dikes to preserve the cartographical division between land and sea, to prevent the danger of surge flooding, rather than the new weather patterns that this hurricane season has inaugurated.


Gulf of Mexico Heat content Oct 2017.pngOcean heat content in western Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico on October 6 (U Miami)/WaPo


We are perhaps conditioned to be mesmerized by readily generated weather maps that convert satellite observations of rainfall to reveal unprecedented weather patterns–but are slow to take stock of the mechanics of the dramatically changing nature of a hurricane season in which Category Four hurricanes are making landfall in the United States that in any other, even as their occurrence challenges scales of measurement and putting new stresses on disaster preparedness.  The busiest recored season of hurricanes and the simplicity of the ways that we map their transformation and landfall raises compelling questions of how to best map weather maps and coastal surges in an era of climate change–and how to represent the increasingly destructive potential of tropical storms, cyclones, or hurricanes without succumbing to climate denial.  Whereas point-based visualizations suggest the ability to track rainfall, wind velocity, or the path of hurricanes over time, their limits must be acknowledged as presenting a sufficiently dynamic or situated picture of the increased sensitivity of populated coasts to extreme weather, to better grasp the intensified acceleration, or accumulated cyclone energy, which for 2017 is already, in mid-October, twice the average of previous seasons, as warming waters generate more intense storms–but are omitted from their landfall, as if we desire to curtail the abilities we have to better map.  While the current NOAA nominee insisted quite adamantly that “we don’t have enough data [yet]” to attribute these changes to climate change, noting the potential influence of other cyclical changes in water temperature, and a northward retreat of Atlantic high pressure systems, yet the probability for hurricane increase across the board with higher water temperature and an expansion of warm waters–increasing the humidity of the storms–that it is the ethical responsibility of the cartographer to capture, even if it is blanched from MODIS data or most visualizations that render the “sites” of hurricane landfall in isolation.

It may be that the time-sensitive nature of the rich data in weather maps focus attention on the present moment with such immediacy to makes it increasingly difficult to move from such real-time records to devote attention to evaluating deeper long-term changes in weather systems–or indeed consider weather patterns as natural, and removed from man-made changes in coastal environments or carbon emissions.




The question of how we are best able to read and process the proliferating maps of hurricanes and rainfall extends beyond tracking any single weather system, to the stories maps tell about hurricanes and their landfall, and the new age of weather that they may both announce and exemplify.  Do the color saturated data visualizations that have burned Harvey in our collective retinas and memories herald a new age of weather maps, as much as the actual record-setting levels of rainfall Harvey brought?  The complex cognitive relation to the these maps may be part of the problem, as is the levels of meaning that we try to read into them, not only in the rainbow-spectrum images of rainfall levels, but the difficulty of assembling a coherent picture of them.  We need to more clearly relate that picture to a landscape mark by human intervention and to man-made climate change–moving from datasets mediating select points in space, to an ability to assemble their coherence or better appreciate their specific context and the scope of the natural disaster.  Despite clear limitations inherent in point-based data visualizations, we need to peel away the constraints of overlays to better discern the hidden mechanics of storm surges and their consequences.

For where their sense of continuity lies is as opaque of the sort of causality we might be able to be attached to them:  they place us in an existential relation to datasets, and erase human subjects.  Although rich with information, the proliferation of weather maps of literally off-the-charts rainfall levels raised eyebrows far outside the communities of limnologists, hurricane experts, and meteorologists, as the constant production of datamaps for the micro-economy of newsrooms seemed particularly disjunctive with a coherent narrative, and hinted at more apocalyptic visions by not clearly mapping onto experience and all but erased humans by creating a narrative about extreme weather, if not of nature out of whack.  Even as Hurricane Harvey was three miles south of Corpus Christi, it was feared to be a Category Three hurricane–bringing three feet of rainfall!–as it shifted from a tropical storm to a Hurricane long before it reached Houston.


Harvey Arival Transformation.png


But to read such instantaneous maps as a model for coastal stewardship or disaster response, we need to attend to how the city’s man-made landscape has changed, sinking due to long-term soil subsidence with increased water withdrawal created sinkholes increasingly deformed the surface of the low-lying city that would themselves soon flood, their extreme subsidence acting as a multiplier a multiplier of the intensity of flooding around the greater Houston area that was not recorded in rainfall charts, but that was in large part determined by the impermeability of the landcover, from the concrete banks of bayou to the absence of wetlands by the bay.


deformation2LIDAR Hillshade map of Houston/Dr. Shuhab Khan, 2012


Houston Subsidence. pngSubsidence since 1920.USGS

–at the same time as much local and regional landcover alike dramatically lost absorptive qualities, especially in proximity to the shore, as well as map the consequences of changes in ocean and air temperature to the acceleration of hurricanes.


SMAP Saturating Houston 8:25-26


3.  The cognitive disconnect of these maps that impressed viewers by their intense colors, but seemed The maps elicit fears that they eerily prefigure a landscape marked and shaped by the regular escalation of hurricanes growing rapidly before landfall that go on to drop unprecedented rains–and raise questions of whether new weather systems can be meaningfully measured against gauge-readings of rainfall or stream flow from earlier times.  Indeed, the potential of a tipping point in the extent of coastal hurricanes is suggested by the multiplier effects of global warming on the peaking of the intensity of Gulf Coast weather.  To be accurate, instead of continuing to map the separateness of the land from the sea–and anxieties of the relation of land to the sea in an era of climate change–we may be better off mapping the impermeability of local surfaces, the erosion of coastal offshore islands that buffered storms, the presence of clouds of ozone, and the consequences of the rising surface water temperature of the Gulf of Mexico.

The information relayed in these images overwhelmingly privilege point data–rather than communicate a continuous landscape of assistance in environmental governance or a policy of monitoring coastal protection over the long-term.  They pose questions for the management of the shoreline, as a result, not even taking into account the many chemical plants and refiners that are crowded along the Trinity Bay, Galveston Bay, and Port Arthur, whose spillage poses increased risk during flood that governments would not be able to manage or coordinate with the intensity they deserve:  the problem of not mapping such contextual information lies in the deeply superficial information contained in the rainfall maps calculated by government services and relayed to news rooms where they pass as news, replacing ruined crops, flooded residences, and toxic waste flows by a rainbow.



emissions near to Galveston TX






Galveston to Apalchicola Bay

risk ranking legend gcoosCOOS/Jeffrey Paine (2007)


For whatever reasons, the failure to be able to forecast the arrival of Hurricane Harvey, until the day before it made landfall–with the storm being a  “tropical depression” as late as the evening of Thursday, August 24.  The lack of predictability or of an accurate forecast–although the site of landfall near and the wind velocity of Harvey were forecast immediately before it reached Rockport TX, on August 27, and the rise of its velocity and classification from a Category 1 to Category 5.  The speed of the transformation mirrors how Hurricane Maria quickly intensified from a Category 1 storm to a Category 5 over fifteen hours, its winds reaching speeds of 160 mph, has already led to six Category Five hurricanes making landfall in 2017, Irma and Harvey both making landfall in the US as Category Four Hurricanes.  And even as one is shocked by the sudden impact and uneven predictive powers of maps of hurricanes to drench much of the coastal United States–


wpc-5day-0Z-8.28.17Five Day Precipitation Forecast (NOAA/NWS/WPC)


–one is stuck by a need for mapping the growing proximity or intimacy between land and sea, and the dangers of the settled regions of the shore in an era of increased fluidity of land-sea divides, and the difficulty of developing a more humanistic perspective on the data map.

Data is designed by men–if it is meant to distill nature, as a rainbow spectrum implies.  The poetics of mapping that can be more sensitive to this human perspective must try to record the relation of the human to the monolithic mechanisms of the anthropocene, by locating the human creation of place within the layers of intense precipitation of such striking weather maps.  Before the opaque layers that blur land and water, one thinks of the engaged way Elizabeth Bishop interrogated the same formal divide between land and sea of a framed map of the northern Atlantic in 1934;  the need to map “land under water” and the ways “mapped waters” adequately rests on the ways that water, whose waves “lend the land their conformation”–shaping its structure and organization–and will continue to do so with the arrival of future storms:  Bishop described an engraved map, but her reflection on the poetics of the coastal map occasioned this post.  For the sorts of claims of providing an exact and accurate record of the landscape of the ocean contrast to a cartographical epistemology that is not rooted in seeing space, and erases any subjective relation to their cartographical space.


4.  The deeply personal history that Elizabeth Bishop brought to reading that map–not explicit, to be sure, but evident in the impact of the coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick she knew so well, and felt so far removed from in New York on that Christmas of 1934, as she used its limited tools of world-making to place herself in relation to its making of a palpable space, contrast to the resolute objectivity of the rainbow color ramps of hurricane maps that register measurements in ways that are so oddly alienated from on-the-ground experience.  While Bishop remade the map’s world, stripping it of measure, direction, and national divides, to reshape its signifying power, by using it as a basis for her own sense of literary form and to describe the world it creates, investigating its surface as a sharp-eyed observer, considering its contents without interest in its legend, but looking beneath the constructed nature of its form in an experience of map-reading that questions accepted conventions.

If Bishop is said to read the map before which she stood or sat as a poem, focussing on imagistic elements of its shorelines, tidal basins, or the outlines of peninsulas and landmasses, it could be argued that her engagement of the cartographical details in the engraved map–the crowded eastern bathymetry on the ledges, green layers of land underneath the sea that seem to lift it, or the sand bars on its shore:  was the active role of the elegance of the map’s design and cartographer’s colors as important as Bishop’s own sense of place in triggering her reaction to it’s surface, and the close proximity she implied–intimacy, for some readers–the land had to the sea?  Lastly, the deep meaning that Bishop responded to the map’s surface and conventions as a record of world-making to which she so successfully relates to her own life and sense of time that leave the present-focussed measurements of hurricane maps particularly impoverished.


NOrth Atlantic.png


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The Terror of Climate Change: Uncorking Bombs of Streaming Snow in 2018

The buzz about a “bomb cyclone”–sometimes known as a “weather bomb,” but the emphasis on the first word seems oddly apt–off the east coast of the United States served to register shock, but we are hardly surprised by extreme weather any more.  Flooding shorelines and blanketing eastern states in snow, in what became the coldest holiday on record, the description of the winter hurricane evoked fears of a strike on the Homeland launched not by terrorist attack but by the warming sea-surface temperatures created by global warming, whose effects cascaded along the entire coast, prompting one to reunderstand the relation of coastal weather systems to global warming, and indeed to learn the lexicon of meteorology to better process the effects of climate change.

Althgouth 2017 was on elf the warmest years on record–the third, and the only “warm” year without El Niño to bear responsibility or shoulder the blame–




–an already cold winter was extended by the gusts of wind released by a kink in the meander of the warming Gulf Stream, which as it encountered cooling air generated a bomb cyclone whose winds blanketed the coastal regions with snow.  We were perhaps distracted by the driving winds that streamed piles of snow and freezing rain across the east coast from the turbulent Atlantic, its waters were whipped by hurricane gales not only battering the coast but creating turbidity above what Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has directed attention to as “our” submerged territories in the Outer Continental Shelf.  Indeed, if President Obama sought, in a last-minute move, to make the offshore areas off-limits to oil speculation, the executive order that called for a review of geological and geophysical exploration of the Atlantic coast created something of a new grounds for speculation in the OCS, opening up seismic permit areas in the offshore submerged territories suddenly suggested a steep alienation from maritime economies, and an over-eager idealism sustained by willful ignorance of the extreme weather of global warming.





Indeed, the close ties between Trump and petroleum industry lobbyists who have wanted to make the Outer Continental Shelf available for exploration reveal, in fine pastels, an idealized offshore area of geologic plays that




The bomb cyclone might have would be destined to explode Secretary Zinke’s plans to “streamline” practices of oil and gas extraction of the offshore area, and regrant five-year leases of federal offshore “submerged lands” to his extractive industries, long billed as part of the charge for energy independence Donald Trump promoted on his campaign.  But it barely ruffled a feather.  The Trump administration has been particularly keen in expanding drilling rights he had arrived in Washington, DC to affirm.  By removing the so-called “bans” on coastal exploration of submerged lands for offshore drilling–euphemistically describing “energy exploration,” in a misleading language of energy lobbyists with close ties to Trump appointees, the administration seeks to create a new orientation toward our coastal waters, even trying to buy off coastal states by promising them a cut of revenues for leasing offshore lands.  The planned expansion of energy exploration would expand the two million acres of oil and gas leases that existed in 2014 for potential extraction, exposing any offshore region possibly holding petroleum, in the Accessing Strategic Resources Offshore (ASTRO) Act, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, without due process or public oversight, and voiding all National Marine Monuments, which are cast as obstacles to energy “development.”  But on the eve of the bomb cyclone, as winds whipped the waters and blocks of ice floated down freezing rivers, the very planned seemed evidence of an extreme alienation from the ocean–or the increased generation of bomb cyclones off the entire Atlantic coast.  For rather than the extraordinary snowplow of the bomb cyclone being an outlier, leading to oil shortages, frozen pipes, and flooded downtowns of coastal cities that challenged local infrastructures, the even seemed emblematic of the temperature changes to come.

Did the bomb cyclone, which released hurricane-force winds off the Atlantic, reveal how deeply the desire for opening submerged lands for rapid leasing suggests something of a deep death drive?  Freud had famously adopted in the 1920s the conceit of the “oceanic” as a subjective contact with the eternal, a feeling quasi-religious and outside of perceptible limits; the bomb cyclone that appeared in a kink of the Gulf Stream was an all too concrete point of contact with oceanic manifestation of global warming, creating one of the largest continuous weather systems in recent memory:  warming waters of the Gulf Stream moved up the Atlantic coast to encounter cold air off the eastern seaboard on January 4, 2018, they helped uncork a drop in air pressure and unprecedented levels of snowfall and tidal flooding from Maine to the southern states, driven by cold, arctic winds.  The bomb cyclone didn’t explode, but exposed a deep alienation form warming sea-surface temperature within the administration, and an increasingly melancholic attitude for inhabitants who stand to face increasingly disruptive weather systems.  But the potential disruption of offshore drilling seemed to reveal something like a death wish not only for the habitats of safeguarded whales, dolphins, corals, sea-turtles and fish in drilling without safeguards in federal waters.  The same waters that were already the site of 589 oil spills in between 2001-15, when Royal Dutch Shell drilling in the Chukchi Sea without safety regulations leaked in leased areas–prompted increased fears of oceanic pollution for those living on the shores, fears only exacerbated and made more concrete at the image of expanded offshore rigs facing an increasingly turbulent ocean.




2017-2022-DPP-oil-and-gas-map.jpgSwath of coastal Atlantic Bureau of Ocean Energy Management made available for drilling 


The spread of the storm demanded new visualizations of a powerhouse combination of low pressure and high hurricane winds that may reveal the new relation between the local and the regional.  The spread of dropping temperatures and full-force winds in augured a new relation between the local and global, and in how kinks in the warming waters of the Gulf Stream off the Atlantic shore impact weather not only on the coasts, but a shifting national space.  If the bomb cyclone revealed a new relation between the site of generating extreme weather systems that spread over a huge geographic expanse, the images of coastal pollution that haunted many coastal inhabitants prompted the immediate mobilization of resistance to the proposal to expand offshore drilling and exploratory seismic blasting for underwater reserves of natural gas.


Bomb Cyclone BIG


Although time sequences are difficult to visualize, visualizations of the appearance of the “bomb cyclone”‘ capture the rapid expansion of its intensity and impact on the land as it doubled in size in coastal waters from what seemed a small depression of pressure near the warmer areas where the Gulf Stream ran off the coast of Florida and South Carolina in twenty-four hours–

–to impact the entire eastern seaboard, as the fall in air pressure sent effects rippling over a far larger expanse than is usually affected by a single weather system–



–in ways that responded to the warming extra-tropical waters, as Ryan Maue argued, in ways we cannot separate from climate change, but indeed demand to be seen as a casualty of our changing climate and ever-warming seas.  Indeed, the obtuse denial of climate change as a contemporary phenomenon–seconded by President Trump’s drumbeat of repeated mocking of scientific judgement in his Twitter feed–fails to even start to appreciate the cascading effects of warming global waters on weather systems, and the dangers that extreme weather will pose to the projects of offshore drilling that members of the Trump administration–many of whom are promoting the interests of extractive industries from the American Petroleum Institute to natural gas prospectors, and the potential billions promised by bids on offshore leases in the Outer Continental Shelf–bids on leases that have been long deferred due to their potential environmental impact–and the considerable risks that they pose for local economies on the shore.

Despite the expansion of considerable legislative and public opposition in coastal communities to offshore exploration for drilling and planned seismic blasting in response to the executive order aimed at expanding offshore exploration–evident in local resolutions, among fishing groups marked by blue fish, and in newspaper editorials that are marked by yellow diamonds–



Oppostion to offshore drilling on east and west coast.pngGrass Roots Opposition to Expansion of Offshore Coastal Exploration of Oil and Gas


–the opening of offshore drilling occurred in the funk of a bizarre denial of climate change.

The speed with which the bomb cyclone brought cascade of ice, snow, and hurricane-force winds across a vast array of coastal lands merited its name.  The “bombogenesis” off the coastal waters so suddenly warped weather systems as it moved up the Atlantic coast, gaining an increasing disruptive intensity as it moved that seemed something like a terrorist plot on our ecosystem of anonymous perpetrators yet to be identified.  Rather than a form of weather-based attack of terror, the bomb cyclone terrorized the coast in ways that revealed the deep threat to coastal communities, as well as more parched areas or those afflicted by raging wind-driven fires, of global warming.  As the number of extra-tropical cyclones produced by the upper Gulf Stream are already quite common–about forty to fifty a year from September to March, or after the so-called Hurricane Season, they to stand to go on the rise, as meteorologist Maue tweeted, keeping the country informed through a range of snappy visualizations that reveal the stark pressure contrasts able to generate winter hurricanes that may be part of our new normal.   if indeed the bomb cyclone was a premonition of things to come in our national waters, the announcement of expanding offshore drilling along the Atlantic was spectacularly poorly timed, and may be the immediate casualty of future bomb cyclones.

For extratropical warming waters stand to only increase in the future, raising questions of the expansion of claims to “territorial waters” as part of the nation ripe for expanding the extraction of natural gas and fossil fuels for an American administration that seems, in its insistent identification of energy independence with offshore drilling, eager to forget the lessons of the difficulties of plugging oil leaks as in the offshore Deepwater Horizon rig off the coast of Louisiana created one of the most damaging environmental disasters in United States history, spilling 215 million gallons of crude in the Gulf of Mexico, which, unplugged for three months, spread crude across the coasts of four states along 1,300 miles of shore and,with chemical dispersants killed a majority of endangered sea-turtles and reduced populations of dolphins, tuna, and pelicans in future years, even as it was attempted to be burned off.


Deepwater 2010.pngU.S. Coast Guard/Reuters


NOAA Deepwater Horixzon.png


across four states.pngNew York Times


Despite the deeply dangerous consequences of drilling, the eagerness of lobbyists to open up areas of the offshore “territories” for drilling led the Trump administration to exploit the blurriness of the boundaries of territory to lay what seemed a logical claim to lands that had remained “off-limits” in previous years–as the many images of areas awaiting “unlocking” would not be disturbed by the uncorking of hurricane level winds off the Atlantic shore in years to come:  if it was “technically recoverable,” the notion that the nation would ever be “energy independent” for decades in a nation whose land contains an infinitesimal fraction–2%–of the world’s oil reserves, and whose extraction stands to compromise the coastal industries of fishing, tourism, and compromise habitats.




Indeed, the cartographical propaganda that was unleashed by groups as the “Institute for Energy Resources” as a “rich natural resources” blended notions of natural, marketplace, and environmental danger by disorientingly presenting the OCS as a site for further explorations that United States government crippled America’s economic power by restrictively placing “off-limits,” although the “taxpayer owned lands” contain 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, as if they were a god-given bounty.


OCS_Map.jpgInstitute for Energy Resources


OCS Gas and Oil Leasing Final Program Areas


There was a clear sense that even if states were able to make pronouncements regarding the accessibility of the Outer Continental Shelf, the United States government was doing so in circumstances that were decidedly not in its own control.  The collective disorientation to extreme climactic variations over a year of increasingly unpredictable extreme weather–from hurricanes to fires to mud slides in the United States and western hemisphere–introduced new seasonalities oriented to hurricanes and wildfires into common parlance and to the national consciousness, as we now measure our sense of time and risk by seasons of global warming.  The new seasons defined the greatest billion dollar extreme weather disasters in American history, costing in toto upwards of $306 billion— a record as if on cue with the Trump administration’s release of a Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program.

In the midst of this contesting of the OCS exploration, the arrival of the “bomb cyclone” that dramatically began 2018 with the threat to cover cities with snow, obstruct transit, pound shorelines with waves, drop temperatures, paralyze the coastline, freeze pipes, and precipitously increase snowfall, condensing climate woes.  It was to maps that most turned in order to measure the arrival of cold, but it was also harder than ever to orient viewers to the scattering of snows, swirling water vapor, frozen rain and gusts of wind that spun into being and from the offshore on January 3, 2018.  In part because data visualizations fail to register time, or the immediacy of its arrival, the sudden generation of a new weather system off the coastline was difficult to capture as an event that suddenly changed weather systems across the eastern seaboard, or that registered the relation of its creation–the phenomenon of bombogenesis” with a suitably biblical connotation–to the massive stoppages of traffic, power, and electricity which cascaded spatially across the seaboard, as if to suddenly suggest a new relation of land and sea suggesting that massive shifts in weather systems may be as dangerous to the nation as rising seas.



Bomb Cyclone


Since Hurricane Katrina, if not before, maps of environmental disasters have increasingly become emblematic not only of poor governance, but of our shared vulnerability to extreme weather.  They raise the specter of such inadequacies  to cope with natural disasters and extreme weather, and the decreased abilities or preparation for natural disasters.  After a year of extremely costly extreme weather–the most costly year yet, in fact, as if immediate reactions to the arrival of the bomb cyclone showed not only how poorly the national infrastructure is prepared for the extreme weather that will be the norm of increased climate change, but confirmed yet again how out of step the Trump administration was with the global warming it had been busy denying, in this case with plans to open leasing for offshore drilling in the outermost territorial waters of the United States, in regions of Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) lying over three miles removed from the shores.  It was with a spectacularly poor sense of timing that the Trump administration has proudly come to showcase as a new site of ensuring energy independence to the nation.  The confirmation of this new site of energy-exploration was perpetuated and concretized in maps.  Indeed, if the past eight years saw the subtraction of large swaths of the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans from prospective drilling by extractive industries to protect marine habitats, the Trump campaign decided to focus on the exploration of the Outer Continental Shelf, as if it were a new area of exploration and widely expand drilling as a means to unleash the nation’s “vast mineral wealth,” in the language of a con man and swindler, dangling the notion of “energy independence” before an uneasy electorate as if it promised an end to global entanglement, and promising working together to explore and exploit untapped offshore mineral resources that gas and oil groups have long desired.  Although Ryan Zinke assures us now that local group will be consulted in this process, the eagerness with which the mapping of new “federally administered submerged lands” in the OCS seem absent from state oversight–


Legal Boundaries of the Submerged Lands in Marine Environment  (2005)


–has materialized a new region for prospecting in what is defined as the “territorial sea,” outside international conventions and three nautical miles or leagues off the coast.  It may be no surprise that President Trump, the son of a landlord who has lived in a world of leasing luxury hotel rooms and was long trained in cutting the most profitable deals and sales, should open the OCS to extractive industries, while his Department of the Interior issue empty assurances of the collective benefits of leasing lands that are indeed “tax-payer owned” as if they were the basis for a massive refund on individual taxes, in the form of low energy bills.

But in an era of extreme weather, the prospects of extracting mineral resources from the newly expanded offshore regions seem increasingly and increasingly less rosy–and perhaps the very maps of weather challenges the charted the bomb cyclone and winter hurricanes become emblems not only of poor weather conditions, but the inability to govern the very areas of the “offshore” that the Trump administration has prided its ability to extract revenues, as they allow extractive industries to explore the removed continental shelf.  Although the new administration has come to map the OCS as an imaginary frontier and potential source of untapped economic wealth, containing 98% of technically recoverable oil and gas lying in national lands, the very viability of that access depends on the continued denial of the actuality of global warming, and of the increased sea surges and coastal waves bound to be increasingly typical of global seas, and to redefine our own coasts and shores.  For in enlisting Energy Transfer Partners and Royal Dutch Shell Plc to study sites for natural gas drilling off Louisiana, and to open five-year leases on drilling for minerals and gas off the shore, Trump’s administration has not only allowed the leasing of offshore lands in the name of “energy independence” beyond the Gulf of Mexico, but worked to end the very safety rules of offshore drilling adopted after the BP oil spill of Deepwater Horizon–dramatically increasing the chance of “deadly oil spills.”

Miyoko Sakashita, director of the oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity, has expressed deep fears that the remove of restrictions for extractive industries who should be liable for fundamental safety systems for monitoring any equipment failures in offshore rigs leaves us open to increasingly expensive oil spills and environmental disasters.  The uneasy waters of the bomb cyclone reminds us of the extent of areas that are now open for drilling along the outer “continental shelf”–a notion of “coastal waters” that really refers to the mineral seabed, previously not open to leasing–and their increased vulnerability to future storms across the oceanic expanse.  If the increased area that has been proposed to be opened to drilling–even in the most sensitive of ecosystems–expose the seabed to drilling across the “submerged lands” the lie just beyond the state-owned shelf lying closer to shore, withdrawn from leasing from 2007, when they produced over a quarter of the oil in the United States, suggest a huge windfall for energy companies, who now stand to be able to place bids on offshore lands once more.


OCS Gas and Oil Leasing Final Program Areas


While the shuttering of bids on leasing offshore seabed lots from the federal government ended a practice from the mid-1950s of leasing submerged lands in the outer continental shelf, which lie beyond state jurisdiction, the campaign promises of Donald Trump to return to a vigorous leasing program stands to develop the outer “offshore” to tap its mineral wealth, opening the 94% of “submerged lands” closed to drilling to bids–and doing so with far less public oversight over development of areas for oil and gas exploration from state and local government, as well as the public–as well as legislators who have long opposed coastal drilling or ocean stakeholders, rehearsing the familiar argument that such lands were indeed “taxpayer owned” as a basis to “streamline” extraction of oil and gas from the seabed, without regard to underwater canyons, coral reefs, delicate ecosystems, and National Marine Sanctuaries and Monuments in the OCS from potential drilling.

Not that Trump or Zinke had mapped these lands themselves with unbearable vagueness and an apparent lack of attention to local detail:  the notion that such “federal offshore” lands were defined as “off-limits to development” was a broadside launched in 2012, as the “technically recoverable federal oil and natural gas resources” were embodied by the American Petroleum Institute as a brief for future prospecting, at the same time as the elimination of $4 Billion of tax breaks for the oil industry was presented as discouraging oil exploration–advocating exploration with a very, very broad brush.


offshoreoil-federalNatural Gas Resources (trillion cubic feet) and Oil Resources (Billions of Barrels) in OCS


As we have become an increasingly and definitively less and less of a maritime nation, the effects of energy exploration on coastal America have become elided, especially by a Secretary of the Interior from the inner states–Montana, home of the former Navy SEAL and Special Ops officer–or the Heartland Trump claims to have won convincingly in the General Election, and seems t times to run as a coast-free country, in ways that may even  suggest something of a crisis in political representation in relation to climate change.


Trump votes normalized choropleth





The coasts are largely less well represented, for the most part, in Trump’s cabinet, and the vindictive attitude to the northeast and west seem part of Trump’s newfound attachment to an imagined “heartland.”  Zincke, formerly of the Continental Divide, seems an ideal figurehead to remap offshore rights.  The American Petroleum Institute promoted the image of “vast undiscovered oil and gas reserves” in huge tracts of land lying undersea, in an estimated 89.9 Billion Barrels of oil and 327.5 Trillion cubic feet of natural gas; plans for “unlocking offshore energy” were realized by the Trump administration on January 5, to considerable applause from the American Petroleum Institute for making “over 98%” of areas with technically recoverable oil open to drilling.





The remove of regions long intended to be declared part of our national territory to affirm rights of oil and gas extraction seem increasingly undone by the increasingly unruly oceanic areas we once were so quick to claim lay within our sovereign bounds.  If the ability of the government to lease these lands was based on the map–and the maps of the removed continental shelf that was absorbed into the national territory in the 1940s, the manner that drilling rights have been waged on maps as it was safeguarded from exploration seemed suddenly questioned by extreme weather events–and indeed raise questions of where responsibility for disruptive events in the outer continental shelf would lie for an oceanic region we have only begun to map for future prospecting.




Feeral Leasing Program OCS 2003


Yet as winds battered the shores of the Atlantic, dumping freezing sudden snows and arctic air over the region, was the colonization of the coasts with equipment of energy extraction the best idea?


1.  The confluence of not and cold weather extremes were predicted to “assault” the eastern third of the United States with more “severe weather,” as a “monster storm will hammer locations from Georgia to Maine” bringing thick snowfalls and precipitous drop in temperatures; as cold air was sucked in from the arctic, a drop in air pressure set of winds that sent record high tides to ram the coast as windstorms snarled holiday traffic across the east coast and rattled nerves–even if it also may have provided yet another instance of .  The bomb cyclone “ignited” by the colliding meander of the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream with cold air, creating a dramatic drop in pressure in Atlantic waters, was itself the latest evidence of the dangerous effects weather extremes. In a sense, coming from California and with fires very much on my mind–in specific, the mapping of fires’ spread in Southern California and in the North Bay, whose parched landscapes have helped define a new landscape of combustibility fanned by increased Santa Ana and Diablo winds–the visualizations that sought to provide some orientation on an imbalanced climate was already a focus of attention.

But with particular poignancy, the maps of the sudden air pressure drop seemed to concretely render the actual absence of any center of American leadership on climate policy or climate change, as the steady generation of visualizations of climate imbalances sought to offer some grasp on our increasingly volatile weather combining extreme aridity and intense precipitation, and characterized by warming air temperatures and freezing rain, spinning wildly out of control and sending snows, high winds, breaking waves, and arctic temperatures across the entire eastern seaboard without warning.  In an era of forecasts, the bomb cyclone suggested just how much the prediction of extreme weather was becoming impossible:  long after the hurricane season’s end, the arrival of a winter hurricane raised a curtain on the dangers of such extreme climactic variability.


Bomb Cyclone


The bomb cyclone resulted from the confluence of the warm Gulf Stream and arctic air provides more evidence of increasing climactic instability, high winds, and sea surges across the oceans of an increasingly warm world of weather extremes.  While we were assaulted by visualizations of “observed” snowfall analyses when the northeast already faced blizzard warnings and storm watches extended along the entire coast, the human aspect of its creation–or its impact–was increasingly removed for viewers of images on television news, who watched a winter cyclone at the end of the hurricane season, and bringing a foot of snow to much of the east coast, as if metaphorically bury any human presence beneath it, as if to hope they might crawl their way out, like the alligators frozen in North Carolina ponds who stuck out the frost.




The meteorological violence provoked by such a sudden fall of air pressure off of New England has unleashed winds as strong as Hurricane Sandy, and lower temperatures than on Mars, sets yet a new standard for the explosion of climatological assaults.   Rather than the southern Gulf Coast, or the west coast fires, or the aridity of the great plains, the climate’s coherence was undone along the eastern seaboard, as a coastline already battered by storms, as a kink in the warm gulf stream met an influx of arctic air.  And for one morning, the influx of cyclonic streams of frozen precipitation snowed in the coast, for a few days making the eastern United States and Canada the coldest places on earth–and the sites of the greatest temperature anomalies.




Viewers struggled with the cognitive problem of integrating human experience or presence in the color pallets of the rich data visualizations of the arrival of colder temperatures–and indeed of moving from the global–or regional and continental.  Reading the local effects of the huge drop of temperatures and arrival of arctic air after the sudden drop in barometric pressure posed difficulties of coming to terms with the local effects of the pressure of such a regional onslaught of snow  local populations–or of putting human inhabitants into the space of the weather map.  The problems were reflected, perhaps, in the soundbite of the day that temperatures were colder in Maine than on Mars, or that with windchill, parts of the White Mountains were a full 100°F below zero:   the spread of subzero temperatures at a remove from their impact on humans–save, perhaps, in 4,000 cancelled flights on the east coast, a rise in proliferation of traffic accidents and downed electric wires that made heating failures widespread.  The plight of the homeless were minimized and most stories punted on their relation to global warming or the burning question of climate change.

Perhaps the arrival of the snow and tremendous drop in local temperatures as a result of the bomb cyclone was just too overwhelming to process as we were faced by snows and sudden drops in temperature, and just wanted to measure their extremity, stunned tat the sudden prospect that this was just the new normal.  How to process the plunging of temperatures save with some bizarre sense of irony?  The arrival of bomb cyclone was most oddly paired with the sudden announcement of the plans for the expansion of permits for offshore drilling that the government had so opportunely decided to announce at the same time, with a sense of timing that created a bizarre juxtaposition on news feeds.  While we are used to tracking hurricanes arrival, or were used to NOAA mapping them in the recently concluded hurricane season that so devastated Puerto Rico, the Gulf Coast, and parts of coastal Florida, the sudden appearance of the pressure-shifing “bomb” suggests the climate is turning against itself without a few hours of prediction window, creating a ” bombogenesis” of a sudden free-fall drop of barometric pressure, disrupting not only the seas, unleashing of blinding snows unheard of save in the High Plains of the Old West, when the fall of snowflakes occurs with such a density to disorient all without shelter, in ways that seem a plague on the populations of homeless and most vulnerable.

The sudden drop in temperature, which meteorologists quantify as exceeding twenty-four millibars in just 24 hours, seemed to immersed much of the globe in a weird unearthly gale akin shimmering rain, suspended in odd patterns over the earth rather than directly falling to the ground, uncorking of hurricane-force winds with gusts of fifty miles an hour and higher brings a sudden smothering that warps space itself.  But it must be put in context.  The cyclone bomb was an intensely immediate manifestation which occurred to fourteen of the previous 20 hurricane-force wind events in the North Atlantic in the winter of 2014, as wind speeds accelerated beyond historical averages.  The eruptions, which occur as cold air masses move over warming waters, and collides with the warm air above a warming ocean, are evident in the higher windspeeds over the warming Atlantic, and while perceived as an acceleration of freezing winds, with disastrous cascading effects of snowfall, arise from our ever-warming seas, by which they are generated–much as the hurricanes over the warming Gulf of Mexico that hit its coast–and of which they are the consequence.


 NOAA/Environmental Visualization Laboratory


The sudden warping of climatological space takes its spin from the shifting contours of cold and warm air, creating a specific” density” of hurricanes and cyclonic winds that have rarely–if ever been–observed before.  In ways that suggest the specific appeal of climate change to the End of Times crowd, bands of deep blues in the visualization above that collapses thirty years mark areas where winds have accelerated to levels above the historical 1981-2010 averages, much as the lower than usual wind speeds over the Pacific Ocean in the same period have helped produce far more dry lands in the western states, than usual,  increasing their combustibility to new heights, to the extent that flames are ready to be fanned by the high, hot winds over the central plains.  If such models began to be measured to ensure the safer navigation of waters, by NOAA, in an increasingly heavy area of navigational traffic and shipping, the sudden occurrence of twenty hurricane-force events measured between just January and February of 2014 set a record of something like a time-bomb for the increased acceleration of winds today from early morning.  Howling winds awoke most east coasters, followed by the noisy grating of clunky snow plows pressed into service to clear accumulated heaps of snow.



NOAA, Ocean Service


Another means of visualizing the increasing transformation of hurricane winds to such episodes of bombogenesis, or immediate pressure drops, must start from the increased anomalies in sea surface temperatures of waters themselves, as sensed with accuracy from satellite measurements of stations of earth observation–remote observational stations of the very sort that the Trump administration sees fit to curtail–which suggest the effects of a growing arctic oscillation sending cool air south from the upper north, cooler waters released from melting ice and polar caps, and rising sea surface temperature in the Gulf of Mexico, central Atlantic, off eastern seaboard of the United States, over the same thirty year period of 1981-2010.  If weather anomalies became more apparent for the first time in that period, the changes analyzed in the fall of 2017–just before the election–revealed a troubling record of disparities in sea surface temperatures created something of a schizophrenic palette of sea-surface temperatures–


winter outlook pic 21



–based over a thirty-year period in relation to earlier temperature norms, which was only posed to increase in extremes in the most recent prediction of rising temperatures in sea surfaces worldwide for 2017-18, where the cyclones rise due to increased sea-surface temperatures by two degrees C since 1990, seems only poised to increase the juxtaposition or enjambment of cold and warm waters, and warm waters and cold air.


5_JAMSTEC_mid_Oct_SST_fcst.pngJAMSTEC mid-October forecast of sea surface temperature anomalies for 2017-18 winter season (December/January/February).  The boxed region shows La Nina conditions (colder-than-normal, blue) in the equatorial Pacific Ocean and the circled region shows a mixed bag in the northern Pacific. (forecast map courtesy Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology)


It seems significant that we are hear these predictions from Japan–a nation far more rooted in nautical traffic, fishing patterns, warming waters, and sea-level change.  It seems almost as if our own remote sensing data has failed us.  But it is also evidence of how weather maps have come to illustrate a sense of our unpreparedness and poor governance, and increasingly makes the once neutral tools used to map weather a pointed image of political critique of ungovernability, as much as only as tracking water patterns for convenience or easy consultation on maps.  The increasingly powerful content of weather maps as a barometer of political governance–and of mapping social preparedness, as well as personal safety–suggests the extent to which we are all more and more ready to admit our vulnerability to climate change, and the inadequacy of a continued official denial of its existence.

But the problem of mapping the raging winds of the offshore “bomb” whose howling will be heard across the coast, in a climactic culmination of a week of cold days that will dump snow across the easter coast, was felt in perhaps correct ways as an attack on the usually solid weather systems of our nation, and as if the weather systems of the world were now able to be framed as a clear national threat.  While its eye was solidly located over the sea, but stream blizzards and gale-force winds across the entire coastal region and far inland, paralyzing motion and reminding us again, as we watch maps indoors on screens, of how interrelated extreme weather conditions are, and help force us to get our minds around the complexity of the cascading effects of climate change.  If isolating the wind currents that will be most out of the ordinary seems the primary challenge of needed maps–since it is so hard to measure or render those howling winds, blowing at near horizontal angles across urban canyons, paralyzing traffic and causing authorities to urge inhabitants to remain indoors until it passed.

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Filed under climate change, climate policy, data visualizations, environmental change, Global Warming

Ink-Jet Wonders and Other Printed Curiosities

The appeal of a “globular map” that situated the new continent of “America” in the western hemisphere was not only located in its rarity.  The map gores slated to go to auction this past mid-December provided a geometric organization of global continuity that shortly followed discovery of the western hemisphere, converting Amerigo Vespucci’s description of the New World into a cartographical form that expanded newly arrived knowledge of the earth’s surface into a set of indices that the viewer would be able to process and digest.  But the astronomical price set for the map above $1.2 million by a prestigious auction house is nonetheless hard to grasp.

Was the map hoped to start a bidding war as one of the first mathematical formulations figuring global geography as a globe, a valiant image serving as an emblem of the mappability of terrestrial coverage?  The image that seemed a manifesto of the use of geometric techniques of map projection to orient viewers to the discovery


Scanned Gores?


The auction house estimate Christie’s released was quickly rendered all the more puzzling given that the set of global gores which appeared to be the first mapping of the new world were faked,–and derived from an object since 1954 located in an American university library, and displayed online since 2005.   If the appearance of these maps of quite unclear provenance had raised eyebrows immediately for connoisseur was revealed before the auction hammer sounded:  comparisons to the high res interactive gores displayed at the James Ford Bell Collection‘s website suggested that the newly surfaced “map” derived from the digitized image, rather than being a sixteenth-cnetury imprint that it had been identified by the auction house to be.  Rather quick comparisons of online images had strongly suggested that opportunistic forgers had exploited open access to scam a growing antiquarian market by manufacturing a slightly differently sized “edition” of the gores, by using image capture to sell a download scan of the original map:  traces of a digitized version of this specific engraved image betrayed the theft of what was a treasured property that the James Ford Bell Collection of the University of Minnesota Libraries had long displayed online as a high resolution TIFF.

The manufactured appeal that of the image as an engraving situating the discovery of the New World on a globe might have set a record for rare maps had it reached auction.  And was, as it turns out, not the only such “new edition” of  the same gores that had been sold at a price greater than a million dollars, raising some fears of a history of falsifying Renaissance maps from digitized photo reproductions.  The triumphal early modern statement of the principles for mapping the New World assumed specific value as a rare map.  While the auction price was not addressed to map dealers, those practiced to read such early engravings had suspicions from the very announcement of its sale,–suspicions based and not since Christie’s had previously offered similar, if differently cut, editions of the same set of gores that reconciled late fifteenth-century nautical discoveries with a picture of terrestrial unity.  Map-dealer Alex Clausen of David Ruderman Maps determined after comparing online images that “the [allegedly] printed image was either quite heavy or missing all together” from the sheet of paper–even if it was being sold for approximately the price of a sheet of gold leaf of comparable size, and claimed its value as a unique surviving map of the school of Martin Waldseemüller which had first mapped the nautical discoveries in the New World on a map of Ptolemaic precepts of terrestrial projection.

The modern fear of the detachment of the map from the piece of paper was, in fact, a correct apprehension of the state of play, in a world where are surrounded by constant proximity to online images with which we increasingly interact.   Did the website help the forgers transform the material surface of the map to an amazingly detailed high-quality image downloadable at several sizes and resolutions, passed off as an “authentic” discovery of an unknown edition of the map?  Although the map is described in terms of an opposition between a “fake” and “authentic” historical record, and the historical value of the map gores is considerable, the surfacing of the map suggest the coexistence of two quite specific visual cultures–the mathematical determination of terrestrial position and totality to create a disembodied view and the proliferation of mediated images online, two cultures and ways of seeing that in this case rather catastrophically if somewhat comically overlapped, reminding of how much we rely on a digital support structure for looking at maps–even early modern engraved maps from the sixteenth century that themselves processed the first Age of Discoveries.

The sixteenth-century sectional global gores bracketed an expansive terrestrial expanse by thick, black lines in a mathematical declaration of the totality of global coverage on twelve interrupted ellipsoids  segments the world into thirty degree sections; the map used a new form of projection to depict the earth’s expanded surface along geometric principles of transferring an abstract sense of space, with no cities at all.  The projection offered what may be the first prominent placement of America in the ecumene, or inhabited world, in an expansive western ocean, or Pacific, which all but invite viewers to rotate the surface of a small globe, fashioned of just 11 cm in diameter, in an emblem of the power and promise of cartographical tools–and a cosmographical purification of the fascination and wonder of the recent nautical discoveries that perpetuated the early modern fantasy of scanning a disembodied view of the terrestrial planisphere.


wald.jpgJames Ford Bell Collections/University of Minnesota Libraries


For the mathematically trained school of St. Die, where the cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller advanced mathematical precepts of projecting terrestrial continuity, the map offered a new architecture of space–and an icon of modernity, offering an early modern exercise of the disembodied view, for those entranced by the geometric elegance of transferring the earth’s surface to curved lines of latitude and longitude.  For the forger, the map was rather a grabbed screen image, executed while overlooking the traces of the digitized version of an engraving.

The price set by the auction house was less easy to grasp –the proclamation of cartographical modernity surely distinguished the intellectual prowess preserved of early modern cartographic tools  Presented as something of an art object, the price was inflated independent from the art of cartography, or the accuracy of the map, but its historical value:   the apparent woodcut was valued for its rarity, and its declarative construction, in a way increasingly historically removed, of orienting oneself to a bounded world on a single sheet of paper.  If the original set of gores was gouged in wooden plates, the now clear origin of the global gores on auction in a digitized image raises questions not only about forgery, but about continuity–and indeed about the value of maps–in a visual culture increasingly oriented around online imagery rather than paper maps, and the relation to the mapped past.

Is the arrival of this map at auction, and the quick questions that it provoked in on online information ecosystem, a sign of our own distance from engraved and printed maps?   The antiquated image of a crisply divided world of terrestrial continuity perhaps gained innate appeal in an age of remapping for its material solidity and certainty.  Divided by intervals every thirty degrees, it helped orient viewers to the first reports of the New World Amerigo Vespucci described in 1504.  The map’s unique form of projection, designed by mathematician Peter Appian and the astronomer Johannes Schöner, was perhaps not for assembling an actual globe, but as proposing the legibility of a terrestrial surface ruled by parallels and meridians, and to allow readers to place the New World on its surface:  apparently planned by humanist Martin Waldseemüller, it presented a new proposal for remapping the world on a Ptolemaic system.  But it was priced as if it were a piece of intellectual property.

To be sure, Waldseemüller seems to have asserted his intellectual property of the map in his Introduction to Cosmography (1507), an early primer of global mapping.  The gores foreground prominently the cartographer’s innovative inscription of “America” lying in the western hemisphere, below the Indies where Columbus landed and beside Japan, bestowing Amerigo Vespucci’s name on the New World for the first time.  But the value placed in the new proposal of terrestrial space, orienting viewers to a crescent-like blank “America” in a version of the Ptolemaic projection, as if inviting one to read the new place-name in the western ocean.  The cartographer proudly inscribed the blank region with the name of the navigator who first described its coasts in detail.  If long valued for first literally placed “America” on the map, the astronomical valuation of the new sheet raised eyebrows.  If the projection might have assembled a small globe that would be an object of constant curiosity and discussion–showing the Pacific ocean for the first time, based on recent navigational discoveries, in ways that might create a globe of just 11 cm in diameter to sit on a bookshelf, desk or in a library, its value today seemed to exist as a curiosity and collectible of the symbolic claims its engraved surface staked–even if the gores were themselves unsigned, and the format of projection was not necessarily the first–the humanist Waldseemüller’s map may even derive from other small globes, of the same size, even if he invested the curious mathematical projection with clear pedagogical intent, and is assigned the paternity of the map projection by posterity–and indeed the paternity of the project of the global geographic map.


Minnesota Public Radio/Minnesota University Libraries


If the traditional interactive nature of this sort of assembled map may be the reason for the extreme rarity of the survival of the gores, the Appian projection seems to have been printed as a model of the mathematical tools for assembling the proposal it advanced of terrestrial continuity–and its value as a teaching model.  The appearance of wat seemed another printing of the 1507 edition stored in the University of Minnesota, was thought to be a new imprint of a classic map; though assumed until recently the sole surviving copy of a small version of the first maps of the New World the theological and cosmographer Martin Waldseemüller designed in 1507, which pictured Vespucci beside Ptolemy embracing globes of the western and eastern hemispheres, the gores of the globe seemed a new set of techniques for describing terrestrial continuity, and estimates of its value–up to #1.2 million–just above the approximately 2 million DM (over $1 million) the Bavarian State Library paid for a printing of what seemed the woodcut of apparently identical global gores, discovered in an edition of Aristotle in the University of Munich in 2012, and the bid of over $1 million Christie’s had happy sold another, more trimmed image of the map in 1991:  the new version, apparently printed on a large piece of paper, with minor damage to its uncut edges, seemed destined to attract an even higher bid in 2017, although what audience of collector or internet mogul would raise the bidding war was never known.


Western OceanImage of Gores on offer from Christies in 2017, with detail of the fourth section of global gores from the James Ford Bell Library/University of Minnesota Libraries


To be sure, the greater rarity of earlier globular projections of the world that predated the discover of America–or the new coastline of the western hemisphere–as that included in the so-called Teutsche Ptolomaeus, a woodcut from Nuremberg of earlier date, that used the spherical projection of climates and parallels to project continents as Europe, Asia, and Africa in a spherical globe in c. 1490–just before the discovery of the New World, which created and afforded a far less cognitively appealing form of mapping without the innovative introduction of mapping a new world and less ostensive design.


Globe of Ptol TeutschePtolemaeus TeutschTeutsche Ptolomaeus (c. 1493)/New York Public Library Digital Collections


As the map displayed a far greater  “terra incognita” to Ptolemy or the moderns, the map was less innovative in its structure or terrestrial description:  the odd single sheet, in contrast, if unsigned, presented to viewers a set of gores that was adeptly employed the principles of projective geometry as a guide to orient viewers to scan a total coverage of terrestrial space on a flat surface:  what had been a humanist teaching model seemed destined for high valuation as an object of surprising antiquarian value that captured the vicarious experience of the discovery of a new world, and the invention of a new format of projection–although it was undated, and was not anything as are as the above image of a German-language edition of Ptolemy–but was cast as a major work of engraved art.

The unknown edition of the first mapping and naming of the New World thought printed near Strasbourg in circa 1507 seemed a woodcut designed ordering the global watery surface on Ptolemaic for scholarly consultation.  The auction house identified it as the fifth in all of this unique projection of the world’s surface, and the third to have resurfaced in the lats fifteen years, but an image that suggests the early use of maps as material forms.  Three other similar global gores that elegantly map the world’s totality on visibly curved parallels and converging meridians were sold in a thousand copies, probably to be pasted on a globe.  Rather than being gouged in the sixteenth century, the sheet of worm-eaten paper and yellowed edges was a photographic reproduction–not worth, effectively, the paper on which it is printed.  The image not only suggests an intersection between an online world of digitized images and the world of the antiquarian, but of visual cultures.  The edition that was poised to set to go to auction was quickly found to have been cleverly and not so scrupulously faked, bearing traces of modern glue under the ink, a discovery that has raised questions about whether several gores of the globes that surfaced soon after they appeared in digitized TIFF’s or JPEG files of ready reproducibility.

It may have been as authentic, in a sense–even if it was not engraved map or Renaissance woodcut but created by some sort of hustler if not a psychopathic antiquarian:   far more viewers have consulted the online versions than would ever see the original.  But the fraudulent nature of the object billed as yet another edition of the gores was quickly demonstrated–as the copy was shown to bear the imprint of globe gores that the University of Minnesota’s James Ford Bell library has owned since 1954, and recently made available online, as if to perpetuate the teaching model that Waldseemüller and humanists seem to have assigned the map projection.



Scanned Gores?Global Gores Announced for Sale by Christie’s Auction House/Kirsty Wrigglesworth (AP)


Globe Gores from James Ford Bell Library as displayed online


But the astronomical value that was sought by auctioneers was even more striking because, in an age of scarce humanities funding, it was not even a teaching example, but a large-scale object used to assemble a quite small globe, tied more to an aura of exploration than geographical accuracy or clear cartographical advances.  Mathematically constructed from the precepts of projection, whose curved meridians converge on the unknown poles; the gores were an ideal form to describe hemispheres and nautical expanse, revealing the size of oceanic travel, and comprehending a synthesis of geographical knowledge in transportable form in reduced form, unlike the synthesis by which Martin Waldseemüller combined Ptolemaic principles of map projection with recent nautical discoveries to depict the entire world’s surface.  But the innovation of the larger multi-sheet production was  present in the unsigned gores in the identification of the new land-mass “America,” after navigator Amerigo Vespucci who described its shape, a trademark which quickly passed into common cartographical currency.  But the identifying inscription of the land as “America”–investing the map with a sort of intellectual property was so valued because of its quite anachronistic claims as a “birth certificate” for the hemisphere.  Valued for naming the unknown lands and placing them on a mental map–as much as merely showing the earth’s surface to be round–the globe gores staked a claim to their modernity, which, if it suddenly seem.

The set gores provided early testimony of broad interest to place the New World on fixed meridians and parallels had, after all, created a sort of mythic foundational reference point for geographic science as far back as Alexander von Humboldt.  The first knowledge of its possible existence was provided by historical hints of its presence in map dedications from the Renaissance, and the search for maps that celebrated the discovery of the  New World, and the place of “America” in it–even if America seems defined as South American continent alone.  Martin Waldseemüller had celebrated Vespucci as a new modern counterpart to Ptolemy in his huge engraved wall map of the western and eastern hemispheres of 1507, the  map announced to arrive at auction on December 12, 2017, identified the region by the same name, in far more rudimentary form, without chains of islands, and in a less legible projection.  Vespucci, standing with a set of dividers in hand, served as a signature for the expansive global projection that reconciled nautical charts along a continuous surface of meridians and parallels.


Library of Congress


that was echoed in the continuity of the set of global gores seen for a century as the result of Waldseemüller’s complementary crafting of a solid globe.

Courtesy James Ford Bell Library/University of Minnesota Libraries


The unique value of the global gores as a separate map of the new content may seem an oddity in an age of global map coverage, imbued with a narrative of discovery.  Early curiosity about discovering the discovery of a fifth copy of the gores projected to be bid on for $1.2 million was replaced by consternation, as it was found to be a fake.  The origins in an online image revealed not only scamming an auction house that dared to ask such an exorbitant price for a piece of paper cast a light not only on the long-shadowy rare book trade, but of what the authentic status was of an early map.  As questions proliferated about the authenticity of the item to be pulled from auction, Christie’s reps flew to Minnesota to consult the global gores of most secure provenance, stored in the collections of the James Ford Bell Collections, which has long featured high quality scans of the gores online.  Careful comparison to the object slated to be sold had spied as the source for the surfaced gores, whose uncertain provenance muddied their story:   the faking of the map raised questions about its status and value, and the readiness to accord such an unwarranted value to the map as if it were a .  Closer comparisons confirmed the gores was a skillful fake bearing traces of photo-reproduction of the sectional map:  although printed on paper from the early modern world, it derived from images of the very same map in the James Ford Bell, that the auction house had failed to note; the gores on auction contained inexplicable uneven inking and was even printed or transferred atop a bit of glue in one section.

The admission global attention in an information ecosystem increasingly more habituated to fraud, addicted to unmasking, and habituated to tracking exchanges of sums so astronomical for most that they almost have little meaning in an age of increased economic disparity.  Discovery of the fraud generated far more attention as the faking of a map recently prized as a foundational cultural document–the large twelve-sheet map of America, signed by Martin Waldseemüller and showing the discoveries of Amerigo Vespucci made in the first years of the sixteenth century on twelve large sheets in a huge map of four and half by eight feet as, after all, a valued piece of cultural legacy acquired by the U.S. Government to be permanently displayed in Washington’s capital, whose acquisition over a course of decades from a German Prince which was kept in the family castle demanded approval by the  German government.   If the United States’ government’s purchase of the large wall map had demanded intensive legal negotiation given its value as a cultural property as the sole map of such detail to name America and the western hemisphere, the reduced gores, if a poorer cousin, which had raised some attention once its discovery was announced among experts, whose suspicions were aroused by a shady provenance among a set of papers inherited from a paper collector, grabbed global attention as it was announced to be a fraud.   The story of the map’ faking was less compelling than the near arrival of an icon of cultural property of such extreme rarity at the auction block.

The discovery of the gores poses questions of the relation between fake and original in an age of digital scans–when many more will consult the scanned image than its “original”–may deserves attention as much as the surprising ability of the image to move through appraisal and estimate, and be slated for bids December 13.   The questions that its identification as a fake immediately raised to the original gores, themselves displayed online in high res scans, showcased the modernity of the map as first naming “America”–and of the cultural value of the map that perpetuated the fiction it literally placed “America” on the map.  The unmasking of the single sheet of printed gores as a fake may call both for an examination of how a single sheet of paper gains authority as evidence of and a vicarious testimony to the Age of Discovery and its relation to the authenticity of the versions that had recently surfaced in the past twenty years, and of at least one set Christie’s had relatively recently sold at public auction at a comparably elevated price.


Scanned Gores?Gores Announced for Sale by Christie’s Auction House/Kirsty Wrigglesworth (AP)


Its presence in the Christies lot tells us a lot about our attachment to maps, and the place of the paper map in our imagined relation to the past.  The outing of the ‘faked’ version of what was thought the earliest map of America, shown as a boomerang shaped island, larger than Europe, below the Caribbean, may well provoke reassessment of the recent surfacing of similar sets of gores that place America on the map–a resurfacing of other editions of the “strip map” on thirty-degree intervals–over the previous fifteen years, with the surfacing of several uknown global gores mapping America that have come to auction.  The gores transcend antiquarian value by inviting observers to arrive in the New World–as if illustrating the biblical injunction to “seek, and ye shall find” in Mattew 7:7, beckoning early modern viewers to its blank space–and continuing to orient viewers to the promise of America, if only vicariously to imagine the experience of discovery.


Single Sheet UNMWaldseemüller Gores/University of Minnesota Libraries, James Ford Bell Collections


Even though the map has been dismissed as a fraudulent copy, and not a five-hundred year old engraved image at all, the media blip surrounding its creation may both force us to assess the value of the copy–in many ways, the currency of globalization–if not the increased value we place on the digitized image, and the antiquated media of a paper map.  The presentation of the fraud at auction compels revisiting the appeal of the claims of modernity made by the map, and modernity of its apparatus of cartographic forgery, or the tools of forgery in an age of digital photo-reproduction, when we are increasingly surrounded by digitized imagery and removed from the printed artifact–where satellite maps are indeed icons of globalization.

In an increasingly interconnected era far more likely to tap maps than consult paper, the over-mapped nature of the world makes its blank spaces not only alluring for nautical voyages, or excited contemplation, but exercised far more than antiquarian value by activating an antiquated era, if not providing an early instance of branding a new continent.  Waldsemüller, as he first reasoned that the continent be named America, for Amerigo Vespucci, is widely credited with creating America’s “birth certificate,” in a nineteenth-century fantasy that the continent demanded identifying papers.  Although the map is the poorer cousin of the far larger multi-sheet signed Waldseemüller map displaying the growth of universal geographic knowledge, printed for learned readers as an icon of discovery, though to be printed in a thousand copies.  The smaller scale globe printed on twelve gores was a cheaper, ready-made version, inscribing “America” on the surface of a spacious new continent for a far larger audience.  As if an interactive map of  a more ready made tactile sort, the global gores invited users to assemble a new image of an expanded world.  If the gores of new information offered a new syntax of geographic knowledge, collating information in an accessible compact repository that confirmed the earth’s size and terrestrial continuity, its publication has long been recognized as a sort of reading companion to Vespucci’s Mundus novus [New World], an account of the discoveries printed from 1504; the global gores seemed to allow a man of letters to gloss in his study, more than an actual tool of spatial orientation.


Waldseemulter UNI Muenchen.pngub_fund_2_lLudwig-Maximilians-Universität München (from facsimile)


The map’s topnomy, if declarative and elegant, was notoriously abbreviated. But it has long recalled in compact form an era when we were enticed by open spaces and vague regional names–as “India Superior” or “India meridionale” and “Troy,”–points of reference for a scholar more than an actual navigator–or “America,” the name that invested the “strip map” with such intangible value as a map.  The terrestrial image that contained wide open spaces, if with relatively few toponyms, compared to the expanse multi-sheet wall map that situated new world cities in a curved graticule of parallel and meridians of Ptolemaic form–and had showcased the points of cultural contact in two hemispheres.  The far smaller gores left the New World blank, but suggested a short-hand to calculate its distance, as if it were already an object of status and contemplation.


Could it be that today, in an era where we have moved beyond the printed map and the graticule of longitude and latitude to detailed coverage of the world, and the distance of a time when we are enticed by its open spaces, could it be that the growing trade in old maps transformed the map gores to an epecially attractive investment for a member of the global elite with considerable disposable income?

The format served to reduce the world to a small globe of diameter less than five inches, embodying space to illustrate a grasp of the world’s newly expanded size:  the assembly of the curved earth’s surface prominently inscribed the site and location of the earliest image of America, a slender arc of land lying at the joining of the “eastern ocean” and “western ocean,” in a striking emblem of terrestrial continuity the was a low-level luxury object itself.  But the scan existed in a world of the inflated prices of objects of extreme rarity, the private possession of museal artifacts and monuments of culture, and the remove of the map, in a sense, from a site of memory–and indeed from a fixed object that exists on paper.


While we are urged to see technologies as peeling back knowledge, and advancing new mapping forms of mapping, there seems no better statement of this myth of modernity that casts global mapping as a unidirectional flow than the first sectional map “gores” that peel the surface of the earth open on a plane; the instructional aims of transposing the earth to sectional map “gores” served as a rare icon of the stability of geographical knowledge, whose globular form advanced an image of a total mapping of the world long before the continuous global coverage afforded by GPS.  But the value of the maps that put America “on the map” have so dramatically escalated in recent decades–since 1992–to acquire a value that can only be viewed on their own.  The expectation of such astronomical bids for the sheet which seems a high-quality digital scan of the above set of gores, bearing ghostly white traces of a repair to a torn section of the above gores, confirmed that rather than being the product of a gouged woodblock over five hundred and ten years ago, was a wonder of photographic reproduction or a scan.  And although the value of the engraved image had escalated in the previous decades as the “birth certificate” of the New World, did the unsigned set of gores offer the material record of the first inscription of the discoveries, as has been so long believed?  Or is it more of a nineteenth-century fantasy–or nineteenth-century version of a Renaissance fantasy of naming–to imagine that an official certification definitively bestowed identity on a place or person in relation to a state?  The metaphor of a “birth certificate” seemed in itself as ahistorical as one could get.

The printed image of the map that was appraised and almost made it to auction expose the intense desire for what were deemed the earliest maps registering the New World, first nurtured by antiquarians, but now given broad cultural validity, as well as the ease of how printing of digital scans invited forgeries in an inflated market for old maps.  The cosmographer-theologian Martin Waldseemüller (c. 1470-c. 1522) had described having constructed several maps–maps both “in solid [version] and in a plane [tam in solido quam in plano],interpreted as describing two cartographical constructions, the suggestion of a spherical map has become something of the holy grail of the history of cartography.  Walseemüller lived in the first era of printed editions of Ptolemy’s Geography, an ancient treatise whose precepts for creating cartographical projections of the earth’s surface were taken as a charge for the German geography.  Few gores were thought to have survived, given their ephemeral unbound nature, although the discovery of gores of the globe around 1890, or the fourth centennial of anniversary of America, sought–if not known or seen–by geographers from Alexander von Humboldt, as the first public cartographic communication about the New World after popular editions of the explorer Amerigo Vespucci’s letters described his voyage had become a fundamental text to orient readers to the New World.

The magnification of the value of the map, and the sales of editions of the gores, have reached something of a frenzied pace in relatively recent years, as a surprising number of early maps of America have reached auction and been sold.  After the announcement of the 2001 purchase by the Library of Congress of the sole known copy of 1507 world map, where the expansive twelve-sheet map would take its place as “the crown jewel of the Library’s already unparalleled collection of maps and atlases,” Librarian of Congress James Billington proudly asserted, after the United States House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee justification approved purchase of the large wall map, printed from twelve woodcuts of considerable detail  for an astounding $10 million–and displaying the new continent in one sheet.  The sale shattered records and raised the bar in the global sales of the first cartographical images of the New World, that set new standards for the transportation cultural artifacts and their value —


New Word America Walds.png


–and raised the status of the printed map’s status as a privileged point of access to a distant past.   Another similar set of global gores was sold for the unheard of price of $1 million in 1992 to the Bavarian State Library at Christie’s, flooring which another set of gores discovered and sold in 1993, raising the number of known gores to four; the fifth set of gores seemed poised to exceed Christie’s expectations at a record-setting price above $1.2 million, a good percentage of which would of course remain in house.

The “globular” projection accentuated the situation of America in a watery globe staked a proposition of global continuity, measuring terrestrial expanse on clear indices, in ways that were increasingly taken as a tactile relation to a global past.  But the propositional nature of the map as an elegant emblem of terrestrial continuity seems diminished in what was passed off as perhaps an unknown edition of the Renaissance gores; while valued as an icon that situated “America” in an image of global unity, the iconic map was showed a photoreproduction deriving from a digitized image:  the elegant icon that introduced the ability to contemplate the earth’s largely watery surface, not only matching the digitized version of the rare woodcut gores displayed online by the James Ford Bell Collection online at high resolution since 2005 to allow interactive exploration, together with a cornucopia of historical maps.  If the sheet known in one copy until 1992, and it remains the only copy with a secure provenance, though its identification with the humanist-theologian Waldseemüller was recently questioned, the map has been repeatedly–if ahistorically–identified and accepted as a “birth certificate” of America.


Single Sheet UNM  University of Minnesota Libraries/James Ford Bell Collection


The UMI website provides lovers of old map with a platform for observing high quality scans.  Waldseemüller seems to have described publishing a set of terrestrial maps in 1507, identified with the gores, together with a far more costly twelve-sheet engraved wall map, of thirty-six square feet; the sale of that map in 2011 for a record $10 million to the Library of Congress, helped place an unprecedented value on early world maps, if the sale of an earlier version of the gores discovered in 1992 had already driven their price to $1 million.  The humanist cartographer had described his creating of two maps– “totius orbis typus tam in solido quam in plano . . . pro communi studiosorum utilitate paraverimus [we have prepared a map of the universe for the collective benefit of learned men both in solid form and in a plane]”–has inspired conjectures of what sort of globe the cosmographer might have prepared to show the New World, and encouraged belief in the existence of such an unfound material artifact.

Although the gores are not signed by the cartographer, the late nineteenth century attribution rests on the attribution of Lucien Gallois, relying on a longstanding conviction that the large planisphere of the world, created in a Ptolemaic model, was not the sole creation of the St. Dié school or of he enterprising cosmographer theologian.  The elegance of Waldseemüller’s assiduous synthesis in the expansive wall-map, which displayed Spanish discoveries in the New World, reconciled Ptolemaic precepts with nautical cartography.  The attribution of the gores reflected a belief that the expression in the dedicatory letter of the planisphere describing the creation of maps “tam in solid quam in plano” long interpreted if two distinct maps of differing cartographic media; in such an interpretation, the gores were seen as a sort of counterpart to the work of the same cartographer, prominently placing “America” before the viewer’s eye.  Links between these maps was recently debated–as has the design of the humanist circle of a globe, given their conservative commitment to cartographic representation, rather than devising new cartographic media:  the St. Dié school sought to preserve exact reference to coordinates in a Ptolemaic system, which was all but abandoned in the set of map gores–although the gores were identified with the German mapmaker since they were discovered ca. 1890.

Although the gores were unsigned, belief they constituted a lost counterpart to the Waldseemüller cartographic corpus of a more material interactive form, designed to be cut out and form a small globe by their user.  The material nature of a process of interaction has been taken to explain the sheet’s low survival rate, and existence of but three examples.  Yet the enormous price for the 2002 Library of Congress sale–which secured the existence of the earliest map showing American in Washington, D.C. in the United States government’s possession, no doubt elevated the price of other early maps similarly identifying the recently discovered region in the New World as “America,” as if it were a certificate confirming, in an oddly possessive way, the right of European humanists to name the New World.  The vague provenance of the newly surfaced gores of heavy lines raised eyebrows.

But the fraudulent nature of map now  appears a casualty of the wonder online accessibility of high-res images, whose illusion of tangibility must have made the gores quite a tempting target for a skillful hack, as the over-inflated prices for early maps were boosted, mutatis mutandi, as precedents of the conceit justifying the naming of territories–and a Renaissance conceit of naming.   The utmost intangibility of naming places in the New World on a uniform graticule may have confirmed the ownership of the “trademark” America by the United States government, in ways that helped escalate the interest on the discovery of what seemed a new printing.  The apparent find was no doubt too tempting for Christies to pass up on announcing.   Their appearance seemed credible, if in a sort of Harry Potter way, margins yellowed, worm-eaten in places, and ragged uncut edges raising questions about their stage in a printing process.  The paper was authentically antique, but the ink was not closely examined–until it was noticed that some of the ink lay atop glue used in spots to restore the paper, and that no identifying watermarks–a critical test of the location of paper used in old books–appeared that were similar to Waldsemüller’s printed works which might trace it to St. Dié.

waldseemuller-world-map-2322nedia-12-12-17Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP


The attention to the fraudulent creation of the sheet of twelve ellipsoid gores, ordered like the sectors of a balloon but often discussed as a peeled orange, may have occasioned something like a flight of fancy, imagining the first map as a site for the narrative of national identity.  The near-acceptance of the map–and an earlier similar set of gores, surfaced fifteen years ago at the same auction house–suggest that one might also situate the creation of the gores at an intersection between the aura of the Renaissance engraving long imagined to map the discoveries and the manufacture of evidence by screen grabs or scans, and digital imagery.


1. The fraudulent map seems to  bridge two information ecosystems often treated as incommensurate with one another, but which intersected in the apparently elaborate opportunistic fraud.   But one couldn’t wonder if the resurfacing of new copies of the global gores in the past fifteen years revealed not the serendipity of archival discoveries or our immersion in a world defined by the flow and circulation of digitized imagery.  The concealing of temporal disjunctures is, of course, a basic trick of the forger’s trade.  But one might consider how the somewhat ingenious fraud of recreating the woodcut Renaissance gores displaying the earth’s continuous surface as a performance piece, as well as a scholarly deception:  the plans to sell what seems a scanned version of a map made widely available in digitized form bridged two distinct regimes of mapping–if not ways of seeing–that are artifacts of our own modern age of digitized images and online views, with the modernity of the claims of a Renaissance map to describe the discovery of a new world, and indeed to bestow a name on it of a mapmaker, who converted Columbus’ discoveries to geographical form.

While these two ways of seeing certainly muddy the waters of intellectual property, their attribution to a learned cosmographer both boosted their aura of authenticity and market value, and indeed attributed an authentic level of authorship to the set of gores, despite its lack of any actual signature.  But if we are apt to downplay the value of the reproduction as a copy, it may be that in the globalized world–where they copy is king.  The success of the printed copy of gores has unintentionally offered something of a sort of media archeology, linking media that advanced quite different versions of modernity:  the twelve sectional gores on offer were a skilled reproduction of the famous projection of the earth’s surface on a globe, after all, a rarity stand-alone map designed by the circle of Renaissance humanist theologian Waldseemüller based in St. Dié by reconciling Vespucci’s voyages with Ptolemaic precepts.  The attention the reproduction won among auction evaluators may set a benchmark in skillful frauds of early printed world maps for what was something of the Holy Grail of the history of cartography; known in but four copies, first dated in 1890–just before the fourth centenary of America’s discovery, as if in a feat of early marketing, in Lucien Gallois’ Les Géographes Allemands de la Renaissance–as a long-lost globe described in 1507 as mapping the New World in small form.  (Doubts raised by a recent historian of cartography suggested that researchers had overeagerly attributed the unsigned map to the cosmographer, the tenuous attribution of the globe gores to Waldseemüller’s circle as the map “in solido” he had described may, somewhat ironically, raise questions about the fetishization of the map as an icon of modernity.  (Debates about whether Waldseemüller used the “tam . . . quam” clause to described the two small hemispheric maps that the cartographer placed above the frame of his terrestrial map, or two maps that rendered space on the calculation of latitude by Ptolemaic principles or the tools of sea charts, though this has ceded to the identification of the set of gores as long lost exemplars of a lost teaching map.)  Unlike the large cosmographic wall map displaying the known world below two hemispheres, “according to the traditional method of [Claudius] Ptolemy,” corrected by charts, the gores bestowed mapped “America” with far less precision.


map1507_enlarge.jpgMartin Waldseemüller, Universalis Cosmographia secundum Ptolomei Traditionem . . . . / Library of Congress


In contrast to the grandiose multi-plate woodcut map, surrounded by cherubs and rich with toponymy, that showed an expansive western hemisphere, the smaller gores were designed as a counterpart able to rest on a desk or in a study of more rudimentary form.  Can one even identify the two?   The roughly A4 sheet which measured 7″ x 14″ was described fulsomely with exaggeration as demanding to be similarly celebrated for its “enormous influenced on the science of mapmaking.”   (On the heels of the “discovery” and sale of Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi,” by Christies in November 7, 2017, the map destined to arrive at auction in December looked the part of the image announcing the New World as “newly discovered.”)   Its appearance seemed to fit the age of what is thought to have been sold in numbers up to a thousand as a symbolic guide to orient viewers to its discovery in a newly modern cartographical format, described in the second edition of the cosmographer’s 1507 treatise on cosmography–although that may be as contested as the failure to authenticate the date of the map save as a piece of paper.

The small globe presented a quite low-res image of America on large scale removed from travel, but offered the ability to meditate on an expansive sense of spaciousness or trace space across a larger oceanic expanse than many had earlier imagined, in a tactile form far removed from how we use GPS tools to pin our positions or track our routes.   It was an image of an old way of seeing, or evoked one, and was valued for its aura as such.  Long regarded as orienting mathematically inclined readers to the first illustration of the New World, the map which Waldseemüller described in a letter was rediscovered in the late nineteenth century, presented a popular printed version of a globe that had been previously tied to symbols of imperial authority–now presented to an audience of consumers in far more economic form of engraving, curiously unsigned, the New World in optimistically blank outlines that long predated the violence of European colonization.


Zipagra-America.pngdetail from map gores in James Ford Bell Library/University of Minnesota Libraries


Long regarded as a graphic manifesto illustration the new continent, the original map was a cerebral creation of the mathematical high-tech that would have rarely circulated in a market of engravings closely tied to a university and court atmosphere.  The projection created by a circle who had studied schemes of memory and diagrams of knowledge was prized for encoding space by a somewhat secret key.  But perhaps blinded by the thrill of discovering or locating a new set of map gores that name “America”, if not by the price it could command in an age of “America First,” the digital tools of photo reproduction used to prepare an image grab met the fantasy of a long-lost document, but were readily betrayed by its distance from the techniques of engraving:  despite the thin lines of the graticule and inscription of the new continent, the digitized photograph he printed retrained a ghostly streak utterly foreign to woodcut printing, decisively betraying its photographic reproduction, and leading experts to separate the scanned map from the worm-eaten authentically antique paper on which it lay.  The increased intangibility of intellectual property of naming America separated from the paper on which it was printed, as the map projection was shown to be a digital file–and not a printed woodcut at all, in spite of its antiqued aura.


Scanned Gores?.pngKirsty Wigglesworth/AP


The forged map had progressed so far down the stages of certification for auction to raise several questions about the appearance (and sale) of other “new versions” or editions of the set of gores,   What seemed an over-eager process of authentication was quickly accelerated, as the auction house wanted to keep their announcement under wraps to elevate a bidding war it hoped would rise to £900,000 ($1.2 million), even at the risk of undermining its credit as a broker of fine antiques.  It soon emerged that the supposed woodcut print was likely manufactured by ink-jet printing, at a recent date; evidence of photomechanical reproduction grew given the presence of a ghostly streak of white–in the purported early sixteenth-century wood engraving, leading it to be hastily removed the day before on the roughly A4 sheet was to reach auction on December 13.  Although the announcement of the sale drew some hostile comments on the public comments section of that wryly referenced Google Maps–“Wouldn’t give them a nickel for it.  Can’t get me around at all.  Doesn’t have any streets, restaurants, or retail at all on it.“–the map that was believed to be a version of the lost “in solido” map that accompanied the introduction to cosmography promoted in Waldseemüller’s 1507 introductory text on cosmography, which as well as reconciling Ptolemaic geography and the discoveries described by Amerigo Vespucci, promoted the naming of “America” after Vespucci.  The alleged discovery would have increased the number of known versions of the globe gores to five, a decade after the record setting sale of Waldseemüller’s large map to the Library of Congress for a whopping $10 million–and led Christie’s to be so proud of the sale to associate the newly appeared map below its own brand.


first-america-map-01-ap-jef-171108_4x3_992Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP


As if the creation of a psychopathic antiquarian, lusting after the high quality scans available in line in the several established venues of antiquaries’ map porn, the image might suggest the new relation between the historian and antiquarian in the age of the online scans.  It surely bridged at least two cultures of illustration and display.  The gores’ global coverage evoked a visual culture of compasses and calipers, even if it was a contemporary print.  Its appeal warranted escalation to £600,000-900,000 as it displayed the inscription of “America”on a sickle-shaped band larger than Europe, prominently, if as  an island, floating within an open sea, far removed from other sites of reference.  The transposition of a synthesis of recent discoveries to a geometrically elegant purified form was published as a separate map when most were printed in books.  The discovery from the first age of printed maps was a striking throwback to an earlier age of reproductions in our world of the global coverage of GPS, if it reminded us of the materiality of the map in world before geodesy.  The original woodcut gores is a first run at geographic education, crafting a convincing representation of the globe on a 2D surface, and mapping the world’s surface onto idealized geometric forms and a perfect sphere.

Did the illusion of online proximity with an engraving championed as the first map to offer imagined contact with the New World–an that seemed to decisively name its expanse–serve to encourage the deception of Christies and of the market for maps?  The original image of globalism that the map engraved near Strasbourg advanced in the early sixteenth century for its readers–expanding the inhabited world–tracing a spatial imaginary and narrative of discovery which might be invested with new resonance as an image of a spacious world in an era of widespread sedentarism far removed form one of exploration.  If many now perceive space as mediated online, addicted to dilettantish data visualizations increasingly able to be almost endlessly produced in R, Python, or Shiny, the more tangible globular surface contained few actual positions, but reduced the world, as if miraculously, to a single sheet.  The false solidity of the faked engraved plates provided few points of geographic orientation, expressing an oddly dated spaciousness.  This hardly justified expectation to garner bidding wars reaching the astronomical sum of $1.2 million, paid by the Bavarian State Library for a set of gores in 1991, but the rarity of the faked globe known in but four other apparent examples,–


Waldseemulter UNI MuenchenUNI Muenchen


–was prized as a cultural manifesto of global discovery, and a monument of cartography.  Its fame set the legs of the auction house rep who dealt in rare books trembling in recognition of the map’s surfacing in his office,–before rare-book experts revealed it as a high-quality copy deriving from a known exemplar.  He had, however, allowed himself to be convinced of its authenticity, no doubt imagining the price it could reach at auction, and with a different printing of what seemed the same map gores had sold in 1991.  The James Ford Bell Library had consulted by Christie’s to help verify the surfacing in 2005 surfacing of an earlier, fourth set of gores they auctioned; the Bell this time helped definitively finger the fraudulence of the map gores, first spied in an online image by map dealer Alex Clausen, and quickly compared it with high-res scans; the findings cast considerable doubts upon the earlier alleged exemplar sold in 2005, and perhaps gores bought by the Bavarian State Library in 1992 for over $1 million (two million DM).

The small map that was studied carefully in online images provided an image of integrity and an expression of cartographical precision concretized–an icon deeply and intimately imbricated in–claims for modernity,  discovery, and knowledge claims of the new, so entangled that the set of gores stood as a surrogate for the “birth certificate” purchased by the Library of Congress in 2003 for an astronomical sum.  The stakes of linking the map to the maps of Waldseemüller, and



3H7A7520 _OP_1_CP__1513298839735-1.JPG_11947028_ver1.0.jpgReviewing digital image of faked gores at James Ford Bell/University of Minnesota Libraries


The potential racket in old maps suggest a profitable if pathological antiquarianism, trading in desires for authenticity, the deception stood to set a record profit margin.  The single-sheet condensation was designed as an educational synthesis of geographic knowledge as the field was redefined, removed nautical itineraries and translated into the tools of mathematical geometry in a  material icon of the continuity of the world’s terraqueous surface.  Despite the rarity of printing independent maps on single folio-sized sheets, when maps were printed in books, and as the gores had in an introductory handbook to cosmography; by distilling the recent printed versions of America Vespucci’s voyages with information from nautical charts, it offered a material condensation of geographical knowledge, just two years after the Vespucci’s travels, as if an aid to reimagine the recent discoveries in a tangible form.  While it is hard to link the map’s ambitious reprinting in antiqued form to the elegant website architecture Bell Library Curator Dr. Carol Urness created to display library riches to a large audience of viewers, the multiplication of high-quality digitizations multiplied the illusion of tangibility as objects of desire, tempting some to fake the authenticity of a celebrated icon of modernity on an almost hubristic level of antiquarian deception–as if it may have foretold an scheme for regularly releasing future faked image of the scanned map.

The fraudulent print existed at the intersection of two distinct ways of seeing, with different agendas of modernity, and showcased quite different technologies:  on the one hand, the panoramic opening of the space of the world’s surface by early sixteenth century humanists and mathematicians boasted the ability to make legible the known world’s expanse on a projection developed by Peter Appian, and staked claims to skills of transferring knowledge to a globe first framed in portolan charts and nautical maps as a limit of navigation, situating land masses at intervals of ten degrees on–and revealing a new order of space.  In contrast, the technology of image capture is organized not by engraved lines,–but a digitized image.  If it reminded us of the intangibility of an image with few traces of the hand, and seemed somehow far more flattened than the pioneering 1507 geographical synthesis, the image was its own masterful illustration of modernity.  A masterful fraud, to be sure, its success foregrounded the distance and difference between two ways not one of making images but of seeing mapped space–and oddly evoked a new age of globalism, displacing maps of twenty years earlier in deluxe copies by including a vastly more watery world.




The faked map may belong to two visual cultures at the same time, as if seamlessly folding together two ideas of space.  While we now measure space not by lines, borders, or continents in GPS, the modernity of the purchase and scope of the series of gores is quite  historically removed as a mediation of global space, but the technical ingenuity of crafting the reproduction created an aura of authenticity that was modern; even if the map was a fraud, an impressive and effective feat in itself, the pseudo-engraving seems to derive from a high quality visual scan, without any relation to a gouged wooden plate.  The landmark of early modern engraving was reborn as a wonder of photographic capture. If it went to auction to trigger, it was hoped, exorbitant bids of far above a million dollars,–far above the comparable image sold in 1991 to the Bavarian State Library.  In retrospect, the declaration that the faked map might command a so elevated price seemed a travesty of scholarly ends.  It seemed apt that it was discredited less by skills of carto-bibiliography but knowledge of tools of mechanical photo-reproduction.


2.  The faked woodcut simultaneously existed in two quite different ways of seeing.   The global image that was a Renaissance icon of the discovery of a “New World” became the poster child of desired objects able to generate astronomical bids befitting an age of economic disparity.  The wood engraving that named America has however acquired something of a second life in the age of scanned images.  Impressively printed on antiqued paper–possibly scrubbed?–of folio-size, the copy of the monument of world printing was an artifact of a new age of mechanical reproduction, seeking to con the market to gain new record price.  Despite the impressive feat of scanning, the prices that the fraud commanded makes one wonder at whoever would drop a million and half for a piece of paper being duped by the inkjet as something like their just desert.  Didn’t the auction house bother to test or carbon date the nature of its ink? one wondered, scratching one’s head, before returning to the outrageous price someone was willing to pay for a piece of old paper.  Questionable of standards of judgement may be a sign of the visual culture of image capture, if not of a market that promotes the historical value to anything that is still able to retain an aura of authenticity.

Franz Kafka once snarkily remarked that “nothing can deceive as much as a photograph,” long before photoshop, but in the first age of the mass-market of photographs.  He didn’t see this as a necessarily bad thing, although in his literary work, Kafka was obsessed with deception, verification, or the problem of ever arriving at a stable truth.  The search for this map of America, either as a national state treasure for the German National Library or by the United States government, seems itself an illusory quest for a receding goal, which in the end may have proved to be a fake, which is itself of almost Kafka-esque contortions as a sign of authenticity and authority, which one discovers only to be a creation that in unclear ways somehow won trust.  Kafka himself loved photographs, avidly collected them, took them, and his novel Amerika was itself a phantasmic meditation over a book of photographic images of iconic sites in America, sold in Prague, which encapsulated the attractions and ensnarements of photographs as invitations to the imagination, and offered a basis for many of his own descriptions of sites of the novel:  if Amerika is read as a reflection on photography, it perhaps epitomized the perils of visuality in modern life and the a form of welcome magic by which photographic images could concretize the logic of a dream.  Kafka seems to have relied on photographs as the image of the Statue of Liberty as an irresistible invitation, and a medium that was distinguished by multiple abilities to purvey the fantastic nature of “new”–and even future–worlds, much as he acknowledged that of paintings of America that “they are merely dreams of a marvelous America, a wonderland of unlimited possibilities,” Kafka mused about a set of constructivist photographs; he might have said the same of an album of Arthur Hollitscher’s photographs of his travelogue, which provided him with a critical visual source.

The dismissive verdict Kafka’s off-handedly offered on photography, if made in casual conversation, may have an even more uncanny truth in the case of the photograph of a map employing a graticule in the age of GPS, where we map points far more often than measure expanse on a paper map.  For Kafka, panorama and travel photography were the most convincing ways to make the far-off concrete, but beacons of increased desire, if one found ultimately intangible once one starts as an experience.



Arthur Hollitscher, Amerika–heute und morgen (1912)


OElias Canetti described the material lure of the “pictures from China and India,” by which sinologist Peter Kien tempts the little boy to visit his “massive library” in the Auto- Da-Fébut which he cruelly never allows the boy to visit, declining to have the time to show them to him images that rest hidden on tall shelves precariously laden with books.

The gores boasted a similar comprehensiveness, but the success of the fraud made one wonder about the ways memories are increasingly absent from maps.  The artifice of the fraud enjoyed a special aura since its graphic arrangement of space was decidedly antiquated.  The original engraving devised by humanist Martin Waldseemüller and his circle in 1507 used a mathematical projection on latitude and longitude to display discoveries, and was prided for the legibility; it served as a summary of knowledge and of knowability.  The credible looking antique map similar to the comprehensive geographic maps designed by the humanist circle of in eleven ellipsoid “gores” that interrupt a projection back in 1507 situated string of islands labeled “America” off the Eastern ocean, offering the first view of a land mass that was a sign of definitive scholarly modernity, in a portable icon just over four and a half inches diameter, an early interactive image of the cut and paste variety.  The mathematical permutation of the world’s known surface offered a new way to view and figure space, and a strikingly similar copy of these often vanished ephemera in 1992, when it commanded what was then an unheard of high price.  The arrival of the new version of the same image might have been cause for early skepticism, but the excitement at a new discovery of the Renaissance reproduction–and a readiness to believe that yet another edition of this treasure might exist–may have led an auction house, over-eager to acquire the map to invite a predictable bidding war –to verify its authenticity in a place they might not have been warranted to trust, comparing it to the very image that had earlier resurfaced rather than the other examples of rare map that were long housed in the United States.

The copy that almost made it to auction seemed a successful fraud, until the odd printing pattern of a repaired section of the map the reproduction retained raised eyebrows as a fingerprint of its digital creation, the new connoisseurs of digitized maps combine erudition with a skill of judging flaws in digital reproductions. The discovery of the fake map didn’t even need to be verified at first-hand–or even require its creator to set foot in the library–as scans of the map that almost went to sale were compared with the most widely digitized version of woodcut gores in the James Ford Bell Collection, who from 2005 have exhibited a detailed website exploring the gores, including high quality scans of the map.   The heavy lines of these gores raised questions about the newly surfaced engraving before arriving at auction.   Verification of the falsity of the map makes its trumped up price all the more shocking; since its falsity did not even need a trip to the library; online availability of map scans that suggested techniques of photo reproduction had fatally magnified the trace left by the technology of the “found” map’s ink, even without trying to date its printing.

The auction house might have been convinced by the gores’ invitation to project fantasies of ownership on an old piece of paper that placed the New World so prominently on the map for its owners.  In an age when Renaissance might promote hotels or corporate groups, more than authenticity, the legibility of the projection was far less the point than the ostensible aura that remained attached to it–until scrutiny of a magnification of one gore in particular revealed the unwanted transmission of what a telltale patterns of a digitized copy in its surface, providing incontrovertible evidence of the scanning device’s production of white vertical traces of a sort not produced by woodblock printing, confirming the map’s status as a fake.


Patched Tear MWgoresNew York Times


Nonetheless, the announcement that the image would go to auction–for an attention-grabbing price–in the belief the it might win eager bids that might drive up its price further, and purchased, perhaps by an internet mogul who saw the benefit of showing his concern for public good and interest or display it in a corporate boardroom, as an early hoary icon of globalism as an icon of wealth.  Despite the outdated nature of the printed  terrestrial projection prided for its legibility, the huge appeal of the global gores–the inkjet version constructed by a still unknown if skilled cheat seemed destined to sell above a million and a half dollars–rested not only in its scarcity, perhaps, and its “naming” of the discovery of America, but its advancement of global legibility that has now become internalized in everyone’s phone.  An earlier alleged discovery and auctioning of the same set of gores, in 2003 among the ephemera of a German book collector, the reduction Waldseemüller’s large wall maps to illustrate the discoveries in an economic format, with the help of the Professor of Cosmography at the University of Basel, transposing terrestrial expanse to a graduated scale on regular intervals of thirty degrees as if offering a window on an earlier world of mapping and the past confidence that was once held by a line and geometric order.   Is the nature of the creation of the fake version a by product of a new globalization, where images circulate online and the fake/real binary distinction holds increasingly less weight?


The scan of this classic icon of an earlier globalization, even after the discovery of its forgery, offered a form of performance piece, while not original, confirming the remove of a paper map from a world that values grids–a visual epistemology of global positioning that privileges point or pixel, rather than lines of latitude and longitude that even in the past several decades have grown far more antiquated to our eyes to almost loose their sense of modernity.


America.pngPhotoreproduction of 1507 “Waldseemmüller” globe gores sent to auction


The “fake” was soon shown to be a photomechanical reproduction–and not even an engraving, after all–bears more traces of technologies of scanning and photographic reproduction, which trump the format of projection.  It wasn’t only a later impression of the same plate, as claimed, despite the considerable print run the gores seem to have had–perhaps up to a thousand–but, even if the paper was in fact old, derived from a photograph, in a process that not only created a pattern of darkening and streaking not able to be created by gouged wooden plates.  Was it something of an unintentional performance piece in itself, the creation or casualty of a new accessibility of images, organized on principles of appropriation more than originality?


2.  The fraud remained an impressive wonder of something like inkjet printing, deriving from a screen shot or image capture that placed in a new ecology of image and new technologies of reproduction.  Its aura of antiquity, most convincing in its worm-eaten margins, prefigured an age of globalism at a time when we’ve ceased to map on paper, and perhaps fooled as an early legible pocket-sized reduction of global spatial relations, with increased appeal as an early assurance of global continuity:  its legible surface placed or seemed to situate new world islands within the ken or grasp of the observer, in an era when most all hold the world on the screens of the iThings and androids in our pockets–so much that access to downloadable maps are active signs of globalization.

One might appreciate how the map addressed viewers in two registers–of the modernity of projective geometry or of image capture:  the faking of a map that afforded viewers with the ability to scan global knowledge circa 1500 neatly organized by a graticule on the projection of Peter Appian became a luxury fetish in an era definitely decidedly after the map when remotely sensed space is viewed by technological intermediates.  The two worlds of engraving and digitization were not easily or seamlessly bridged, experts at David Ruderman and historian of science Nick Wilding were quick to detect to rely on a form of photo-reproduction, observing a set of flaws and overprinting that was not to have been created by an image on a gouged plate after all.


r960-02f4f05ff515ae7f504042605e7e9b97Kirstin Wigglesworth (AP)


r960-5b544772c0d8fd17f18a6a84c7641a22The New World of “America” Displayed in the Map/KKirsty Wigglesworth/AP


Despite the care with which it was presented–but because of the traces of photographic reproduction–the theatrical claim that the arrival of the map at the house created quaking at the knees given the “once in a lifetime” chance of the apparent reappearance of an object of such scarcity–one wonders how the scanned image mechanics of printing didn’t go unnoticed earlier, so distracted was the auction house celebrating the discovery.  As questions immediately about the provenance of the engraving and the thickness of its imprint grew before it arrived at auction, the fraudulent nature of the map–a panoramic opening up of the world’s surface that flattened the earth’ continents, interrupted at thirty degree intervals, in a projectional format of Renaissance world-mapping, raised questions about its authenticity.  So few versions survived, its extreme rarity should have posed questions for auctioneers, perhaps, but were only resolved when it was announced for sale, in ways that shifted the apparent serendipity of discovery to signs of its irresponsibility and of the forgery of the map’s antique origin.

Were the forgers unconsciously performing something of a media archeology of the original image, as their work showcased the instability of a simply scanned form, displacing and refracting the certainty of the engraved line and geometric projection?  The forgers were found out quickly enough, as high quality scans of the “new” set of gores revealed a level of detail that allow them to pass as a printed surface, but betrayed their recent printing:  some of the map was printed atop glue, and a trace remained of a repaired tear in one of the few other originals of the set of Renaissance gores.  Unlike many earlier “faked maps” whose authenticity had been questioned, detecting its artifice lay in spying the traces of technologies of scanning, ink-jet printing and photography, and not the authenticity of the map as a document or its level of geographic knowledge.  After fooling the standards of cartographical expertise honed in libraries, who judged it credible, several clues established its status as a reproduction that revealed it to be a skilled copy, especially signs of a repair one of the most digitized examples of map gores–whose torn section survived in the white space that curiously appeared in the map, in the guise of a ghostly blur.


America oceanus.pngGores, Martin Waldseemüller, University of Minnesota Libraries, James Ford Bell Library


Mapmakers long exploited new technologies of reproduction, from early modern engravers to the digitized images and global GPS mapping on grids.  The wonders of such early images are seemingly opened by access to ink-jet printers gave a second life for early modern maps, increasing their wondrous status as objects in unforeseen ways, even if they are far removed from the craftsmanship of map making.  Largely dependent on the high-quality scans of holdings of august institutions and private as well as public libraries, the availability of high-quality images–of which the cabinet of curiosities and marvels known to the world in repositories such as the David Rumsey Map Center, which offers in a mind-boggling abundance online of 82,000 images–exportable at over 100,000 pixels per sq inch–and readily georeferenced–promises virtual exploration for all lovers of early modern maps.  If not a proxy for first-hand observation, the website provides a digital support structure for viewing maps, none of which are likely to be easily available for many.  If few will be used for orienting us to space, the tactile relation to maps and to the past preserves a range of period eyes; the tactile relation to the maps that they preserve may even serve to provide a basis to check the extent of their skillfulness against copies.  For the tactile presence of the map is enhanced by amazingly high-quality downloads, even if  few were designed to privilege touch so much as Samuel Ruggles designed, at the same time as Braille first employed military cryptography to offer the blind a legible system in this 1837 map, which was created for the New England Society of the Blind, made just after Braille’s system was adopted in the United States.


1837 Cartography Samuel Ruggles map of New England for Institute of Education of BlindDavid Rumsey Map Collection/Cartography Associates


The virtual cornucopia of maps and map projections in the Rumsey collection preserves the rhetorical claims of presence in maps as it allows one to explore their space in virtual terms.  Even as we seem to loose that sense of presence so laboriously created over time, in other words, more and more easily located on a map’s surface and enjoined to “manage our presence in Google maps,” the rise of new possibilities to interface with the map’s surface suggests new possibilities of its tactile presence, even in an age of Google Maps.  The accuracy of reproduction offers far greater accessibility to collections of once obscure old maps, how able to be magnified and viewed in high res displays, rapid accessibility of multiple images in online archives offers a temptation to forgers–even if at the same time as it increases the ability of armchair sleuthing able to displace the authority of archival repository.


3.  The immediacy of online repositories of the cartographical powers of engraved images is destined to grow even as new platforms for relaying and creating an image of space.  It may be that GPS grids may weaken interest in the artifice and reading global projections, as gridded space removes the promise of continuity projections offer, or make their epistemological remove more poignant as a contrast to our own era of gridded space, where the reticulation of a gridded space leaves meridians and parallels is far less important, as satellites that circle the earth determine place–and permit a the sort of complete coverage of the terrestrial surface a piece of paper could never contain.



The precision of the grid has in a sense definitively displaced the graticule or the mental tools for viewing place on maps.  It may be that the surface of the world seems almost shrunk by the web of feeds from satellites orbiting the earth.  The orbiting satellites are an icon of globalization, which seem to reduce the world as continuous real-time feeds, in visual architectures increasingly removed from individual abilities of judgment, and measuring position by greater precision than we could ever hope to judge or reproduce.




Does our own visual judgement so removed form the map that a scan of an early modern map can be passed off as a discovered treasure, and the thrill of discovery for a market removed from admiration of its artifice?  The comprehensive detail and multiple scales of satellite images–combining qualitative and quantitative aspects in amazingly high-res images of local detail–may have increased the aura of the very lat/long graticules they appear to render obsolete by their expansive interfaces.  The determination of location on a grid has no embodied frame of reference but describes place in abstract terms, rather than by embodying spatial continuity in graphical terms.

Perhaps it will be argued, if without much grounds, that access to online versions of digitized rare maps–need to be restricted.  But the real dangers of allowing continued online accessibility of old maps are not at all immediately clear, or the result of the fraud almost perpetrated by the photo reproduction of these classic map gores.  The attraction of the map reminded us of its appeal to render legible the innovative compression of global information, the result of an ambitious project of geographical synthesis in St. Dié, compiling recent geographic knowledge in a new legible form, which was reproduced to accommodate different levels of detail, but situated an expansive space “America” prominently inscribed in the bounds of an unknown if newly found sickle-shaped land.


Munich RIngmann.png


The wonder of printing was far more ornately reprinted in a copperplate engraving–enriched with more detailed topography, and suitably craggy coastlines–echoes the second edition of the Waldseemüller gores, labelling the new discovery “AMERICA NUPER REPERTA,” as a sign of its modernity and signature of its authenticity, although the image presented to the Canon of Albi.  While often cast as itself a plagiarism of Waldseemüller long-prized projection of spherical cosmography onto a flat surface, the  multiplication of the dense toponymy of the copperplate engraving borrowed partly from the globe of Martin Behaim, based on his Portuguese travels, but in large part from Ptolemaic maps may be a revision of a larger project of Renaissance globe-making.


Gores Of Waldseemuller, 15071506 Boulangier Gores NYPL

America Nuper Reperta.pngNew York Public Library (NYPL)


When the announcement of a discovery of what seemed a new edition of the gores first appeared at auction, did its appealing grow in an age when our maps are carried in our pockets, on portable devices?  The expanse of the uncut paper image provided a simple and elegant graphic argument of the earth’s sphericity, unlike a UTM grid, presenting the basic Ptolemaic map projection, able to be readily admired as a discussion piece sure to inspire wonder by its owner.  If it weren’t such a crassly commercial project, as well as undermining serious scholarship, the definite technical bravado in its reproduction was worthy of a sort of perverse performance piece, admirable in the ability of a forgery to jigger a trade in antique objects of few scruples:  a perverse item even for a collector to entertain bidding over a million dollars; the fetishization of the paper map was truly obscene, as an object belonging in library vaults had migrated to an auction house to fetch individual bids of even million and a half dollars, at the same time as scholarly projects are defunded, and libraries’ buying budgets are regularly constrained.

Might the almost accepted forgery that was presented with such to do as a once in a lifetime discovery at the auction house, who were delighted to identify the map as a rare example of the “birth certificate” of America–the basis for its elevated price.  It isn’t as if North America hadn’t existed earlier, or bestowing Vespucci’s name on a populated land was ground-shaking; wouldn’t it be nice if the projection of such an astronomical price for a recently printed piece of paper would help provoke a readiness to rethink priorities in the funding of the humanities?


FAKEMAPOAK1-superJumbo.jpgKirsty Wigglesworth/AP


The artifice of the gores provided the power of grasping a sense of global continuity perhaps less linked to measurement than the power of cognitively placing oneself in relation to its form.  But the aura of the map seemed more inherent in its yellowed uncut folio of paper–recalling the somewhat suspicious A2 size of the map found in Berlin in 2012, and rather ridiculously presented as “America’s Birth Certificate” on Independence Day–just a bit, as it happens, after the scandal that surrounded charges of a faked birth certificate of the sitting United States President led President Obama to invite the White House to release long form birth certificate online–seemed to offer a rear-view mirror of the recent rise of global positioning systems.  The value assigned to the map’s clear indices of degrees, and the conjectural notion of its continents and the absence of polar snow, lay in the remove of its confidence of its totalistic coverage from the image of globalism we now derive from satellites.



5b4250-20070928-globe.jpgMinneapolis Public Radio News/Art Hughes/University of Minnesota


Lack of clear provenance led map experts at David Ruderman Maps to compare the image to scans readily available online, their suspicions already alerted by its pretty heavy ink and the mystery of its sudden surfacing in the auction house.  Online scans may well have offered a basis for reprinting the image of the planisphere on suitably antique paper; its printing created the problems of reproduction that allowed the forgery to be quickly spied, and a repaired area where the gores were torn was transferred to one of the ellipsoid gores, replicating an otherwise inexplicable trace on its surface that close comparisons readily revealed, casting doubt on its sixteenth-century date because of the clear similarities of high-quality downloads of the repaired image of the gores that are housed in the James Ford Bell to the odd ink pattern preserved in a quite high-quality ink-jet printing to the left.  The image to the right suggests the echoing of the new paper rectangle in the derivative image to the right.


Patched Tear MWgores.png


The obscene value that was hoped to be gained by what was but a photographic reproduction almost won approval in a period eye that seems increasingly habituated to the quality of a printed version of a scan, and whose aura lay only in the mottled nature of piece of paper that it was printed–which sees an oddly “uncut” sheet intended for a book–yellowed at its margins and eaten in places distant from the gores  in quite convenient ways, While the beautiful production was quickly proclaimed as a “fake” by those who observed its inexplicable similarity to a map in the James Bell Collections in Minnesota were a bit too close for comfort, causing the San Diego based map collector Alex Clausen to examine it beside readily available scans.

The resemblance in the sheet of paper that was being sold as “America’s birth certificate” by the experts at Christies indeed proved too close for comfort.  The presence of the white lines that seem to derive from the scan eventually raised questions about its authenticity that somehow eluded the auction house who was ready to start bids from $800,000 for the single-sheet image and was expected to go upwards of a million dollars, boosted by media buzz and apparently encouraged by the remove of critically reading of a map engraved on paper in an age of online mapping.  The astronomical cost certainly suggests not only a problem of excess on-hand cash, and the global problem of steep economic inequalities, but an unwarranted desire for the map, and its premium as one of the first maps to name America, as a trademark, rather than because of its accuracy or mathematical ingenuity:  thought the counterpart to Waldseemüller’s 1507 World Map, an expansive wall map that is the first map with ‘America’ on its surface, whose sole copy is now owned by the Library of Congress, the gores were presented as a desired fetish of global appeal.   Its odd combination of the innovative and amazingly historical gained new status in a digital age as an image recently reprinted photographic copy or a laster-printed reproduction created an oddly hybrid modern artifact.  Perhaps the presentation of the image as a treasure of early engraving acknowledged the diminished expectations of an era where scans predominate our period eye, or perhaps it epitomized the fraud of the map’s alleged claims to modernity.


r960-02f4f05ff515ae7f504042605e7e9b97AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth


4.  Although printed on quite convincingly old paper, which, in a bibliographical oddity, seemed to retain the trace of a manuscript in its upper right corner, the uncut heavy paper  convinced more than the crispness of the heavy lines of the twelve-section map, which made it quite unlike most artifacts of early modern printing and should have set off early suspicions.  The printed map moreover contained a crease, intersecting one of the ellipsoid gores, as the copy in the James Ford Bell library in the University of Minnesota, where a patched tear in the image reproduced in the fake woodcut revealed it a scan and a scam, if one cleverly forged.  But is the forged item–perhaps the trade of globalization–if not the distinction between the original and copy not questioned by a globalized world?   The display of the image to online observers provoked discovery of flaws in the image billed that was quickly exposed as impossible to be the created by the school of St. Die.  But despite the importance to clarify the provenance of the map, the dismissal of the copy is as much a reaction to globalization, where the manufacture of copies is so often performed to force one to question the binary of fake and original, and where the copy may often force the “fake” to be recognized as often being its own reality.

Both the “original” global gores and the photographical reproduction, in other words, might deserve to be taken taken as the products and icon of two ages of globalization.  There is a certain sense in which the aura of the engraved image has gained a new authority by its antiquated promise to scan across the surface of the inhabited earth in twelve ellipsoids, a reconciliation of perfect geometry with the earth’s curved surface, that we are still working to devise solutions for scanning the geotiffs taken by micro-satellites that ring the actual world to provide high-resolution images of its surface.




To be sure, modern gores exist–organized by cloudless daylight topographic views, and now the icy poles–for now still present–included, and acknowledging its ice-covered polar caps–


modern topo gores.png


The crafting of a modern version of global gores to preserve sites of memory of the blood-spotted current age of globalization might more accurately include sites of genocide–and command attention as such, even when painted on plywood:


Gores of Genocide



The reproduction of the map matches the excellent high-res images available from the Regents of the University of Minnesota.  If the scan wasn’t such a clear case of fraud, could have been passed off as part of an extended art project or performance piece.  It had certainly fooled the eyes, and embarrassed one of the most esteemed auction houses who had certified its authenticity in London, who pronounced it authentic after finding it a perfect match with a version in a state library in Munich, which was itself been bought for $1.2 million in 1991, and which the state library is now compelled to reevaluate.  (That map appeared in the estate of map collector H.P. Kraus, and was accepted as an original print; the current fraud was also passed off to the auction house as from the estate of a deceased paper restorer to manufacture a slightly credible provenance.)  It now seems more likely that the first time the ink-scan forger seems to have struck.  But the  performance of the reprinting from the original set of woodcut gores housed in the James Ford Bell Collection reveal unsavory exploitation of the high quality scans of the map the library displayed online.


waldJames Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota:


The same image was reproduced in other, slightly different, forms, as it had long enjoyed a particularly promising press run, given the huge interest that the unique map gained as a reproduction, either as a flysheet or as able to be included in a book in relation to which its fairly detailed toponymy might be read.


Munich GOresLibrary of Congress


But the value of the performance piece of the production, which seems an inkjet print from a photograph, was not subjected to the sort of rigorous analysis of ink that occasioned Yale University to devote attention to some serious spectral analysis of the chemical content of the ink of the Vineland Map in order to determine its authenticity, using stereomicroscopy to create x-ray diffraction spectra to detect tell-tale traces of titanium in the map–in one of the greatest roll-outs of an antique map back in the golden days of university publishing.  Translated from the practice of digital scanning back into the terms of Renaissance cartography, what was shocking in the fraudulence of the faked reproduction was the absence of continuity that the scan of the copy of the map that was located in the James Ford Bell Library reveals, and the interruption that a glued patch of the map created in the alleged version that recently almost made it to auction–until the comparison to a high-quality scanned version revealed the odd survival in the copy (shown below right) that the scan was not able to conceal or erase.  The accuracy of the scan, in other words, contributed in crucial ways to allow detection of the fraud.


Patched Tear MWgores


The fraud revealed difficulties betrayed through high quality scans.  The evidence of scanning and skillful techniques of reproduction that were in the tell-tale repetition of a glued portion of the Waldseemüller forgery was not not the originality of either the parchment or the ink, the telltale signs of the Vineland Map once ballyhooed by the Libraries of Yale University, who had promoted the discovery of the map as evidence of the new standards of evidentiary techniques of cartobibliography.  As we’ve become good at detecting the manipulation of high-quality scans–and as Nick Wilding, the historian of science who confirmed its absence of authenticity, given the presence of the white line at the place of the patched-up original–the scan has become the premier mode of reproduction.  But if not an art form, the sense of bridging two worlds simultaneously with claims of modernity was echoed in the sort of “counter-maps” that Bull.Miletic began some time back by playing with the technological support by which a Renaissance map could be remade for its viewer to reference consciously the new sorts of observation, by using ink jet techniques to create a material artifact by reordering mapped space through the tiles of a scanned image.


5.  The centrality of the act of reproduction was treated as art practice by the media archeology on offer from Bull.Miletic, a Norwegian-based collective trained in San Francisco.  The two artists, Dragan and Synne, perform a more explicit media archeology on the most classical of Renaissance images from the perspective of the relays of information in a digital world.  The collective scanned an engraved image of Venice that was designed with considerable enterprise by Venetian painter turned printmaker, to invite the viewer to admire Venice at the height of the Renaissance in  order to ask us to meditate on the intensely mediated nature with which we consult digitized maps today, removed tactile form of mapped space.  In order to create the perceptual remove that they suggest exists in a tiled space, the two artists of Bull.Miletic–Dragan and Synne–famously remade identically sized copies of the Barbari map, transposing an icon of modernity by its digitized–rather than its paper–form.  By exploiting the operations of digitized images to disrupt the continuity of the panorama of Venice through a computer glitch, Bull-Miletic scrambled the tiles of the engraved view of the lagoon city, originally engraved on six large sheets, to fragment one of the largest magisterial woodcuts ever made at that time, re-rendering the encomiastic image of the city’s architecture to remind us of the technological platforms that support the image-files that form the basis of our own maps, by revising the “tiled” nature of the digitized view designed by Jacopo de’ Barbari in what seem feedback loops, resizing its tiles into tiles of smaller dimension to make them fail to line up in continuous form, showcasing the instability of a digitized image by fragmenting the elegance of the engraved line.


BullMiletic_VenetieMMXVII_B_72ppiBull.Miletic, VENETIE MMXVII (1500-2017), inkjet print on paper, 52 1/4 x 109 1/4 in. (sheet)  60 3/8 x 118 1/8 in. Courtesy the artists and Anglim Gilbert Gallery


Bull Miletic Detail.pngDetail from above


The resulting displacement of the coherence of the virtuosic perspective view destabilizes the viewer who stands in relation to the retooled digitized image of Jacopo de’ Barbari’s multi-sheet wall map, which proclaimed the architectural harmony of the city.  The displacement of individual tiles within the scan of the Barbari map aptly reminds modern viewers of the distance of our own world of images from when Jacopo de’ Barbari supervised the engraving of three versions of differing content which assemble multiple individual sketches of the city taken at elevation points of some 130 towers, to fashion a unified a perspective that transport the viewer above its actual space  If the Barbari engraving worked to achieve a coherent view of Venice beyond current practices of surveying, in an image that continues to attract viewers’ attention by its organization of a receding perspective on its dense urban architecture, Bull-Miletic disrupted the skill by which its surface opens streets, bridges, houses, and ships–and even individuals–before eyes, in an Apollonian perspective that compels our eyes to pour over the surface of the city presided by Mercury, God of Commerce, acknowledging  the favorably-situated “emporium” [faustus emporium] as a feast for the eyes–





Venetie Map Seams and Neptune below Mercury


If the “favorable situation” of the city is a reference to its privileged position at the mouth of the Adriatic, and a hinge to ships from the east, the woodcut affirmed the propitious location of Venice even as the new world was first known in maps of far greater expanse.  The six engraved plates that compose the imagined aerial perspective celebrate the identity of the improbably lagoon city as a center of culture and Mediterranean capitol, which despite its site of exile on the edge of the Adriatic arose from the waters, as Neptune on the back of a dolphin, as a site of architectural prominence that the clouds themselves seem to part to reveal, the conventions of wind heads that were more familiar from charts and global maps now seeming to announce the prominence of Venice, by 1500, on the world map.  (The combination of conventions of nautical charting and global mapping in the engraved multi-plate aerial view seem almost a reference to the curiously combined global prominence of a city whose wealth derived from the taxes of expansive Mediterranean maritime trade, revealed by ships that have visibly clustered near to its customs’ house.)

The elegantly engraved wall-map is indeed a visual wonder when scrutinized at first hand, inviting observers on imagined itineraries of the city, from a single position; one can walk with eyes down curving streets from the Piazza of San Marco, the imposing bell tower still the city’s center, or snake along its Grand Canal, as it creates a compelling sense of presence and so cunningly conceals its own artifice; even if the seams of individual blocks of the large sheet of Jacobo de’ Barbari’s woodcut engraving can be discerned, the overall sense of wonder leads one to a suspension of doubt and belief.


Sharper Neptune Rising

Jacopo de' Barbari horizontal sharper bridges Venetie MD.png



Jacopo’s expansive print afforded wonder at its assembly of a transcribed record of space, if it also offered a vicarious motion through place–it is hardly cinematic, but suggests a sense of spectacularity.   It allowed viewers to grasp Venice by the totality of its magnificence in an image distilled in a single frame; his shop sold the image as a multi-sheet wall map, for display in the interiors of homes, hallways, or public spaces, allowing it to be poured over as a discussion piece, in ways that must have set  standards for talking about images by describing their construction and detail.  It has been compared–not entirely wrongly, but improbably and confusingly–to the Google Earth ‘of its day,’ offering a sort of virtual inhabitation of space.  But it foregrounded the manual and mechanical craft in its visual vocabulary–evoking a tactile sense of the lapping of the Venetian gulf on its shores–rather than a disembodied perspective or remove, and existed for visual pleasure, but to make a point about the prominence of the lagoon city in a global space and market:   the foreshortened city opens each building and street to allow the viewer to navigate and inhabit an urban space, its oblique perspective offers an invitation that few viewers could resist, that clearly surpassed the tools of surveying employed to create maps of terrestrial space.

The six plates Jacopo de’ Barbara engraved collectively orient viewers to indulge in a virtual–inhabitation of space, inviting one to pan and zoom into streets, houses, and individual detail, foregrounding the artifice of manual and mechanical craft through the continuity afforded by an imaginary point of view by uniting a transcendent perspective.


Barbari zoom.png


The widely reproduced image continue to be widely reproduced to invite a performance of the reproduction of the widely reproduced image–shown above in a somewhat sepia filter–that the interruption of such an invitation was somewhat chillingly played with in the below reproduction that does the reverse of its inventor–by allowing tools of computer imaging to force the tiles of the scanned map to not line up and integrate in a seamless sort view.  In ways that combine Duchamp with video artist Nam June Paik, Venetie MMXVII updates the five-hundred year plates of “Venetie MD” by interrupting their continuity.

Bull.Miletic thematized their repeated, intentional interruptions, which became the subject of their own media archeology of the present moment, in ways far more apparent the seams between the original plates, in order to create an image of dislocation in place of an encomiastic image of place.  An image of placelessness in the age of the digital reproduction, the map is an image of the new interface of digital images rather than the architecture of Venice, which is now blurred beyond recognition save as something like a machine readable image of the Grand Canal, obscuring the alleys and rioni that were so invitingly detailed in the Barbari map, disrupting the artifice of spatial recession that addressed the viewer’s eye by the seams of each tile that fail to line up.


Venetie C.pngVe60 1/3 × 118 1/8 inches; 153.2 × 300 cm)


Neptunus came on Dolphins


Inkjet versions mechanically distort Jacopo de’ Barbari’s engraving of Venice in the project “Venetie MMXVII“, in three stages, dissassembling the ordered space of the original in inkjet images equal to the original’s size, that engage the practice of a mechanical disassembly of the engraving to remind viewers of the assembled–or tiled–nature of downloads of the scanned Barbari map, as if to reconstitute Venice as a place.

Each of the three versions exploit the scan to foreground the digital processing of the woodcut, revealing the viewers’ dependence on the mechanical assembly of a map, as if to suggest the new models we have of assembling a continuous space, or what passes for our perception of continuity.  By not imitating the original map of the city, but exploiting bugs in its mediated sense of coherence, in translating pixellated ties to tiled image, they exploit the division of the map into over 16,000 tiles–a gird far more complex than the original six sheets–to disrupt the attention of viewers, if not the fragmentation of a coherent space.  The inkjet printing allows them to fashion an alternate use of the individual tiles inherent in the assembly of digitized images, disrupting or appearing to disrupt a measured grid, so that rather than aligning perfectly or harmoniously, the 256×256 png files are fit into smaller, 128×128 frames, although the recognizable image of the city–and the engraving–is preserved, perhaps because of its prominence in our memory and minds.  Venice is, indeed, a city preoccupied with fakes and counterfeits, not only as a point of resistance to the expansion of globalization–



Ivar HagendornIvar Hagendorn



–but also in order to conserve its cultural patrimony–



In Venice, the Barbari map preserves a pristine image of the city’s Renaissance cultural glory, and a prime currency of artistic grandeur in which the city trades.  The tiles of the digitized version of Jacop de’ Barbari’s multi-plate perspective view of Venice intentionally–if symbolically–echoed the division of the plates of the woodcut’s eighteen separate blocks, to remind one that the medium is the message.  For rather than meshing in continuity, the tiles of a computer scan fail to jibe to create the wonder of the aerial view, but fragment its pictorial space:  the mechanical practice of image-making call attention to the technological translation of images, and to the wonder that translation continues to hold:  the result is a counter-map, and finds its artifice along other deals than coherence,; it seems so uncannily to shift the map from one regime of modernity to another t0 invites us to inhabit two distinct spaces at the same time.


BullMiletic_VenetieMMXVII_B_72ppi.jpegBull.Miletic, VENETIE MMXVII (1500-2017), inkjet print on paper, 52 1/4 x 109 1/4 in. (sheet)  60 3/8 x 118 1/8 in. Courtesy the artists and Anglim Gilbert Gallery


The inkjet economy encourages experimentation with an image whose tiles–whose scans downloaded in png files disrupt as much as reproduce what the woodcut sought to knit together in an imagined sense of continuity.  The forces us to attend to the technologies of reproduction that made the networked nature of the image a source of its cognitive instability, as in a final iteration of the image, printed as the size of the de’ Barbari’s original, which reordered its over 11,000 tiles in an entirely randomized sequence, as if to jumble its ordered space by rendering ‘place’ illegible in an iteration that recalls a black-and-white television’s static, suddenly rendering the city that the engraving once championed illegible, save in isolated glimpses of the original perspective view.


VENETIA C.pngVENETIE “C”, 1500-2017, inkjet print on paper (60 1/3 × 118 1/8 in; 153.2 × 300 cm)


Rather than reminding of the insane economy we live in in which someone would plunk down a cold million for a sheet of paper, the inkjet images exhibited at the Venice Biennale play with of the fuzzy fragmentation of a promise of tactile access, and the acceptance of the second-nature tiles by which any map assembles itself before our eyes, often depending on download speeds, in web-based maps, and the multiple technological scaffoldings by which maps operate as they circulate in digitized form.  In place of the seamless whole, the seams of the image are expanded to situate wonder in the fracturing of its legibility, if providing us with a legible surface of a very different sort than could have been experienced by the map’s original designer or by a Renaissance period eye.


Fuzzy Venice.pngBull.Miletic, VENETIE MMXVII (1500-2017), inkjet print on paper, 52 1/4 x 109 1/4 in. (sheet)  60 3/8 x 118 1/8 in. Courtesy the artists and Anglim Gilbert Gallery


Wondering what sort of arguments they make about our perception of maps, and our perception of space, seems to be the point of Venetie MMXVII, however, rather than wondering how high a bid a piece of old paper can be counted on to bring at the auction block.  But if our period eye shaped by the wonders of the ink-jet reproduction may be tied to the aura of early mechanical reproduction, scanning the surface of the ink-jet surface seems sufficiently impressive to demand trained historians to remind us of their remove from the technical practice of engraving to discern the sorts of skills by which early maps promised to communicate a visually continuous holistic image of the world, and perhaps the difficulty of recuperating that holism in a world where we map by point, and look at pointillistic maps to see if there is harmony remaining in their content.


r960-5b544772c0d8fd17f18a6a84c7641a22.jpgKirsty Wigglesworth/AP

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Clipping Bears Ears

The tenuous status of public lands was evident in the back seat of a mandate of protection after intense lobbying of the American Petroleum Institute and other players in the energy industry to reduce the limits of National Monuments across the United States, in ways that stand to redefined American West.  The removal of all regulations that the reduction of national monuments would mean fails to understand the monument as an ecosystem of environmental integrity, and indeed the historical value of the lands as sites:  it is almost as if the difficulty of defining the valce in a society which uses GPS to map on a UTM projection provides sites of mineral deposits and potential petroleum drilling, but erases the holistic image of a vanishing landscape that has long been so central a part of our national patrimony.  As parcels of that landscape increasingly stand to be leased to extractive industries, despite the fragmentation of open lands across western states.  Indeed, the encroaching the interests of the American Petroleum Institute on what was once understood as preserved wilderness has become a way to rewrite the state’s relation to federal lands, and indeed the patriotism of the protection of public lands of longstanding historical value.

The gains of that lobby in asserting their claims and rights to access mineral deposits and veins stands to emerge as one of the largest land grabs in American history, reshaping the notion of the protection of public lands and access allowed to drilling, pipelines, and mines on federal lands, as if definitively abandoning any concept of the value in their preservation for posterity.  Indeed, only by recasting the role of government as securing lands worthy of protection as a case of undue restraint on business can the dire effects of  the plans for expanding private leases on public lands be failed to be recognized as a shifting the preservation of historical legacies to permit widespread industrial leases on federal lands in ways that abandon and relinquish a clear long-term view of their value.  When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke questioned whether a third of Interior employees were “loyal to the flag” before the National Petroleum Council, a petroleum industry group–and desired to reduce the “physical footprint” of the Interior Department by reducing the civil service employees who he sees as obstacles to opening up the permitting process for oil-drilling, logging, uranium mining, and energy development he sees as President Trump as having a legal mandate to accelerate, Zinke seems to make an end-run around the public custody or preservation of increasingly fragile lands of sacred resonance to many of the residents who most prize its integrity.


Bears Ears Buttes Big expanseGeorgy Frey, Getty Images/National Geographic


Valley of Gods, in Bears Ears National Monument 


Indeed, the agressively regressive attacks that the Trump administration has made on environmental regulations or responsible custodianship of public lands–leading states to file suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt for rolling back agency policies of designating areas of dangerously high ground-level ozone in unprecedented ways–is mirrored in the attack on protecting public lands, on which the Interior Secretary seems to have no endgame save leasing them to industry.  The agressiveness with which Zinke has taken aim at the government’s custodial role over wilderness and public lands–some of the few places where undisturbed ecologies exist–suggest a widespread attack on the notion of wilderness.  Is it possible that the Trump administration is preparing to excavate any mandate to protect historic lands?

When Zinke complains “I can’t change the culture without changing the structure,” he suggests a broad disbanding of regulations accumulated over time with local groups after consideration of public impact that he wants to cast as obstructionists and arbitrary bureaucrats.  Yet when Zinke suggested that “Fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” he conjures a terrifying hybridization of manifest destiny and unrestrained corporate greed.  Zinke’s initial review of a full twenty-one National Monuments on federal land stand to change the landscape of the American west.  For in removing acreage of interest to private industry from federal protection, in a particularly short-sighted move under the quixotic banner of energy independence, the Trump administration seems bent on allowing the very federal lands protected by government for posterity to be treated as lots able to be leased for private development, without appreciation of their historical, cultural, or sacred value.  The map of National Monuments under “review” suggest a euphemism analogous to downsizing, and a shift in the conception of the custody of national lands–including the Grand Canyon–that seems to prepare for the excavation of what were the most protected federal lands.



Reduced Monuments


The expansion of national monuments currently designated “under review”–which has led to the recent declaration shrinking Bears Ears and renaming two protected areas that constitute but a rump of the once National Monument he Obama administration named after substantive negotiation with local stake-holders, reveal the dangerously unconsidered course by which protected public lands stand to be declassified in order to meet the demands of private industries, many of whom have already mapped mineral deposits or previously leased mines in their ground.  Zinke tweeted images of how he rode to his first day as Secretary on Interior on a horse named Tonto, in a ten gallon hat, flanked by the US Park Police, as a coded gesture to fulfill the demands of farmers and outdoorsmen:  the self-designated cowboy of Trump’s cabinet was on his way to eliminate protected status of federal lands, poised to remap the west’s most delicate open areas for extractive industries and the environmentally toxic mining and drilling of fossil fuels, in the name of energy independence:  if intended to evoke Theodore Roosevelt’s commitment to the outdoors, the dark garb and black hat suggested apt funereal garb to preside over the dismemberment of the American West.  But the usurpation of an identity as a cowboy outdoorsman in which Zinke has cultivated seems an apt metaphor, if unintentional, for the disenfranchisement of native inhabitants of a land that has been hold sacred for generations, and is a priceless repository for cultural artifacts and prehistoric ruins, as well as a priceless fossil record of dinosaur bones.


Zinke Goes to Work.png


Zinke’s image as a faux cowboy outdoorsman who loves western open lands exemplifies a dangerous sort of double-dealing, running rampant over public interests.

For in presenting a public face of affection for the outdoors concealing the agenda of energy industries to shift the landscape of the American West, the re-dimensioning of public lands and National Monuments opens them to coal industries and petroleum and uranium mining.  The redrawing of Bears Ears is isolated, but foretells a terrible vision of the curtailment of federal lands by future leasing, drilling, and mining–at the same time as curtailing access to parks by substantially raising their entrance fees nationwide.  Nowhere are the fears of opening lands to drilling more feared than in the Alaska’s Wildlife Refuge.   Yet under the quixotic directive of ensuring “American energy dominance” the koan of the Trump administration, and the meaningless slogan “Energy Is Good,” the charge to remove regulations on coal, drilling, and oil pipelines are cast as a means to confirm our prosperity and energy independence as a nation, in deeply misguided ways that are based only on doublespeak, but epitomized by the withdrawal of any sense of custody for the increased scarcity of undisturbed open lands.

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Filed under American West, Bears Ears, environmental preservation, federal land protection, Landscape, wilderness

Is Health Care a Democratic Right?

The bulbous, bloated cartogram meant to render the prospective withdrawal of insurers from individual health-care exchanges under the Affordable Care Act in its deepest colors foregrounded the concentration of a reduced insurance market in rural areas.  The image of a nation seething over, and the ground boiling over as if with discontent, cartogram, distorted “red” and “blue” states alike, but seemed evidence of the ways that the Affordable Care Act warped the even playing field in the United States–as if that ever existed, and could be expected to exist today.  But it might be taken as an emblem of the deep anger and resentment that many areas of the United States felt toward what was labeled “Obamacare,” and the regional markets left with but one insurer–and an inevitable feared rise in their insurance premiums–in the health insurance markets that the Affordable Care Act would create.

The designers of the cartogram warped to counties’ population almost aptly if inevitably rendered the country as boiling over with anger:  it seemed to render a powerful emblem to justify if not inspire broad indignancy about the apparently uneven consequences of mandated insurance exchanges which it argued the less populated–and poorer–areas of the country would be stuck with, as a distillation of social injustice.  For the cartogram captured what its designers argued was the distorted market for health insurance which people on the coasts had designed as destined to shut out large areas of the country shaded in lighter colors–and prevalently light pink.  But the prediction of a contraction of providers that undergirds this ominous scenario, as we now know, didn’t come about at all,–even if the strong passions provoked by the fight over health care did leave the country boiling over with anger and indignancy widely felt to be objectively justified.


map2_20170725Warped Map on Insurers Red v Blue Goves

It can be quite forcefully argued that health care deserves to be regarded as a  democratic right–democratic with a “small ‘d,'” in the sense of an egalitarian right, even though debates about access to health insurance are increasingly cast in politically partisan terms.  Although access to insurance exchanges are increasingly treated as a question less of a right than the reflection of a political position, the proposition of guaranteeing health coverage is rejected by champions of the marketplace and its benefits, who argue that its falsity undermines a free market.  As a result, in part, health-care exchanges are increasingly mapped in terms that might well be mistaken for political partisan divisions within the fabric of the nation.  Indeed, the sharp, flat blues, reds, and deep carmine of different regions suggest the hopes and difficulties of providing a uniform insurance plan for a nation of radically different numbers of insured, facing the hope to provide more with coverage in a way that may seem to tilt against the open nature of the marketplace.


Us Marketplaces.png


But democratic rights include not only political participation but due rights to certain benefits that accord undeniable liberties.  And although liberties which were not defined as including health care in the eighteenth century, leading many strict constructionists to view health insurance as an excessive presence of the state in individual lives, the range of liberties have expanded to-liberties to education, or to health, or protect against race-based, ethnic, or sex-based discrimination–revealing the broadening scope of understanding liberties, and might be  mapped into the fabric of the nation as an individual rights, and a basis for ensuring greater egalitarianism–and social equality–as a right.


Obama-healthcareBlack Enterprise


Back in 2013, of course, the institution of health-care exchanges set up a new landscape of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act–the Affordable Care Act or simply ACA–allowing most Americans to buy insurance on  government-run exchanges (or marketplaces) to have access to health care that they were often lacking in all fifty states, creating the reign of designing data vis of Obamacare exchanges often subsidized by the government for those eligible, to make it available to all, in ways that created some thirty-six exchanges run with the federal government, as states ran the others alone–creating the odd scenario that more enrollees came from red states, where they were run largely by the federal government.




But this was not widely accepted, and the rejection of the promise of what is now widely labeled Obamacare reflect the deep divides that its opponents argue the government mandate for buying insurance policies will impose on the nation.  The online popularity of recent projections of a constriction of health insurance options for most counties of the nation that were proposed as recently as the spring of 2017 seemed to reveal the deep dishonesty in the proposals of the Affordable Care Act to level the playing field.  And although the capital of health care as a good to the nation demands to be mapped, the difficulty of parsing the ACA independently of the name of Barack Obama reflect the unfortunate polemic level of debate about seeing adequate health insurance as a right of all–even as fear of losing health insurance dramatically rose across the nation, and the fears of rising premiums posed by its mandates were widely stoked by data visualizations suggesting widespread abandonment of insurance exchanges.


Changes in Providers.pngUS Health Policy Gateway


The data visualization–which almost amounts to a tool of outright propaganda–uses flat carmine to blanket the real improvements in numbers of the uninsured.  The presentation of an apparent distortion of the market is confirmed by declining insurance policies available on Obamacare exchanges, as its accompanying text assures readers that the real people to benefit from “marketplace enrollment” was the “private health insurance industry” who gained $90 billion in premiums, greatly profiting “publicly traded insurance companies”–distorting meanings of “public” and “private” as if to imply the dystopian nature of health exchanges that benefit coastal states alone.  The map of possible changes in rates of premiums were even more striking, and was presented as evidence of poor policy planning, as well as signs of a grim “slow motion death spiral”–a strategic choice of term suggesting the poor level of health-care it provided, and organically faulty nature of its establishment, but alienating the numbers of premium growth from individuals covered.





The familiar series of sequential images forecasting the mass exit of insurers from exchanges over a period of four years of the adoption of Obamacare stand at odds with the fears of losing health care and the defense of health care as a right, as well as a national system of insurance.  And despite an onslaught of maps  ostensibly demonstrating the ever-narrowing options for individuals as available insurers in state-based exchanges  dry up; they convey an imaginary future in which few counties with “active markets” of four or more alternatives–apparently compromising the rights of many Americans.


nssustaniable decline

Bloomberg Graphics/2017 Health Insurer Exits (projected)


Indeed, the image of rapidly dwindling options faced by Americans that such data visualizations claim to be based on data from seem to suggest a focus on individuals.  But the broad brush strokes leave little to the imagination and present an ominous emptying of choice that seems designed to induce panic.  The images are executed with great dramatic effect, but little sense of cartographic skill–they presented a dire picture in which four options would be only available to residents of eight to ten states by 2017, calling into question the ability of much of rural America to remain insured.  The images of rural abandonment by health care exchanges were particularly powerful,  so absolute in their predictions as if to afford little room for interpretation

Yet the projections, for all their power, stand at variance with reality.  There will be, we now know, in fact no Obamacare marketplaces that remain at risk of being without insurers in 2018, as of August 24, 2017–


w:o insurers in echange

–and but a smattering of counties that were at risk for being without any insurers:


at risk of no insurer

Kaiser Family Foundation Interactive Version/Open Street Maps:  Counties at Risk of Having No Insurer on the Marketplace in 2018 as of August 24, 2017


In short, the disruption of the narrative of a dwindling of insurance options has been, after the failure to repeal the ACA, dramatically disrupted.  Even while acknowledging that there was a record low of uninsured in America after the American Care Act was adopted in “Obamacare marketplaces”–a coded term if there ever was one, loaded with disparagement–data visualization were crafted to predict deteriorating coverage options deteriorated in the months ahead in many rural states of apparent objectivity; hastily created maps, at an odd angle to reality, suggested that as much as over a fifth of all federally run marketplaces–predominantly in rural areas–were with only one insurer.

The alleged “bolting” of insurers from such marketplaces were predicted to leave areas like eastern Tennessee without any insurers, like, perhaps, southern Georgia, much of Colorado, almost all of Iowa, many counties in Ohio,  and large numbers of Virginians, as Aetna, Wellmark, and Anthem were predicted to “bolt” from the exchanges, leaving those Obamacare “customers” high and dry.  The argument of the abandonment of rural America was particularly grim.  But as the projections of the “bolting” of insurers fail to acknowledge the sparsely populated nature of many rural areas, the story that they tell of magnifies the poorly managed nature of the marketplace, obscuring the benefits or rights to health care–and the reduction of the number of uninsured across America– that the ACA has managed to create.  By privileging the size of largely unihabited regions of the midwest, maps of uninsured counties presented a decidedly skewed picture of enrollment, where the square miles covered by insurers projected to participate in health exchanges  seemed to outweigh those where insurers participated, irrespective of the sizes of inhabitants.  It is perhaps no surprise that support for Trump’s candidacy did not correlate with support for the ACA–





We focus on individuals to measure popularity for the support for health care reforms across the country.  Although many have recently entertained sustained interactive levels of introspection about where Americans supported  the Affordable Care Act in the months that preceded the election, pouring over the support for the ACA through county-by-county lenses that made sense pretty much only in how they might translate into votes.

While moving toward the acknowledgement of health care as a right is independent from such measurement of support for the ACA, the  low support for the act in sparsely populated areas intensifies as one moved to less populated areas, by and large, to suggest poor penetration of exchanges into much of the nation–and the distance of health care from what seemed in square miles a quite considerable geographic area.  Resistance to the ACA however reflects a rejection of the broad classification of health care as a right–or to even start to affirm it as one nation.   The division of the country, while reflecting the red state/blue state map in many ways, suggest pockets of counties with strong support for the ACA in a surprising range of the south, southwest, and other regions–across the divide between red states and blue.  Haystack’s micro targeting models estimated just under 98,943,000 ACA supporters nationwide–wondering how the electorate would parse on such a push-button issue.  And, indeed, the Senate Republicans were quick to issue a somber grey data visualization that affirmed a clearcut divide suggestive of the status of yellow- or red-alert in areas “abandoned” by Obamacare– in an openly partisan moment, undoubtedly funded by tax dollars.

Senate Republican Party flawed policies 2018U.S. Senate Republican Policy Committee


If over a third of the nation, colored an arresting yellow, seem to flounder in facing monopolies of insurance in the image that the Republican Policy Committee in the United States Senate designed for public consumption, who seem to have sought to raise a yellow- or red-alert for subscribers of Obamacare being abandoned, the map foreground  a divide in deeply partisan ways, failing to note persistently steep inequalities among  uninsured across the states, and the difficulties to attract insurers to markets in equal numbers, particularly in regions where up to a fifth remained uninsured in 2001-3.


% Uninsured 2002-3.png



Despite some questions of whether Republicans would be “alienating their own voters” didn’t affect the results of 2016 congressional elections.  But the power of the continued threat of a coming “implosion” of exchanges that upset the level playing field as an inevitable occurrence was successfully manufactured in projections of insurance markets that peddled groundless prognostications as if they were objective fact:  they successfully mobilized fears of the ability to avoid or precipitate a coming crisis by making it concretely manifest for viewers, pushing many to question the benefits that the extension of the ACA would actually bring–and to see it as a promise that would not be able to guarantee continued coverage or familiar premiums, and indeed to be engineered by the coastal elites and insurance companies that so much of the country has already come to distrust.   For the data visualizations that projected the uneven playing field that exchanges would create cast a divided commonwealth as a result of the limited choices restrictive options of health insurance many Americans would face.  These visualizations raised significant alarms bout the fate of Obamacare–and the specter of its undemocratic nature raised questions of what it provided to the country, or what future it might bright–that were deployed in particularly effective ways.

Flat colors of a data visualization communicate as many falsehoods about its actual relation to people as Trump’s favored declamation of Obamacare “very, very bad insurance.”  They obscure satisfaction ratse of over 75% among those enrolled in plans, and of almost 90% in public Medicaid programs for the poor.  Rather, the picture of an implosion of insurance markets garnered ungrounded trust, and became demonized as but “a first step” toward what he presented as the apocalyptic scenario in which the “government basically rules everything”–a fear of the implosion of a free market–ignoring that the American Care Act is premised on encouraging competition among medical insurers.  Yet the image of such an implosion or collapse perpetuated in data visualizations of crude colors was something that was manufactured in projections that masqueraded as objectively designed maps.  In charting decreasing insurer participation in exchanges as actualities, data visualizations seem designed to stoke uncertainty about the future viability of health insurance markets in America.  Yet the uninhabited nature of this landscape of counties–a metric that makes sense only really as a convention of electoral politics, rather than health care or even of individuals residing in different parts of the country, is starkly removed from health care save in terms of how it might translate into a political choice.

The rhetoric of these “maps” uses projections cover the individuals who benefit from medical care.  They encourage voters to feel slighted in new medical marketplaces, and ask them to chose a future–without considering metrics of coverage or the relative quality of medical care.  They serve to map a landscape of fear, encouraging fears of growing premiums and less choice among voters in what is painted as a compromised medical marketplace.


1.  Construing health-care as part of a democratic system has been understood in surprisingly partisan terms.  Some would restrict liberties to participation a marketplace, by adopting and privileging the market as a primary metaphor if not end of civil society:  the success of such a distinction has lead to a broad and striking demonization of its mandate, rather than the policies of the health care law signed in 2010–the Affordable Care Act–which as a law has consistently received far less opposition than the change in health insurance provision that mentions President Obama’s name.  The divide in perceptions seems to have been broadened considerably by recent visualizations that project the future market for health care, or project the numbers of insurance carriers available in exchanges, the colors of the availability of carriers overwhelms the presence of individuals, and reveal the new markets that the Affordable Care Act (or ACA) created as if it were an uneven playing field for all Americans.

Indeed, as recently as June 2017 and during the Trump-Clinton campaign, media outlets and websites trumpeted “maps” or “a map” as evidence of the uneven playing fields that the ACA would bring in the country and the restrictive options that were increasingly identified with “Obamacare,” as if it were something different from the health policies that increasing numbers of Americans had enrolled in, but rather a specter of higher premiums, fewer rights, and new restrictions on providers if not health policies that could not be trusted, in ways that continued a drumbeat of visualizations predicting coming imbalances for those enrolled in Obamacare to insurance carriers or to a competitive marketplace–if not rob them of access to insurers–concretizing what Donald Trump cannily called “the broken promise” of Obamacare, as some 2.4 million “customers of Obamacare” would be with but one insurer to select in the coming year.   Health officials in the Trump administration issued a “new map showing in full color how many counties in the United States could have zero or just one insurer selling Obamacare health plans in 2018” as if to provide confirmation of the poor deal that was offered the nation; the data vis produced by the folks at the Heritage Foundation was accompanied by an announcement that, in case any one missed the point, insurance exchanges in 2017 would feature ” a major decrease in competition and choice” (italics added) that exposed the deep failure of the ACA to promote competition as promised:


IB-exchange-competition-2017-map-1-825.gifHeritage Foundation (January 30, 2017)


The absence of competition left some state, the not unsubtle point was made, that were neglected by the insurance companies that had promoted the ACA:


ACA Header?.png


The stark contrasts of the data visualization were a rallying cry for a public campaign for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, designed to activate the red states that were shown to be the largest losers of the insurance exchanges Obamacare created.  The map released shortly after the inauguration in a push to confirm the repeal of Obamacare, showed almost all counties in the southern United States with but one insurer–as almost a third of the counties in the nation–but not the population by any means.  In the rhetoric of an earlier map that described how “large of swaths of yellow cover a number of Southern and Midwestern states, all of Alaska, and elsewhere indicating counties . . .  are projected as of now to have just one insurer selling individual plans next year,” the images of a restriction of opportunities to buy health insurance was alerted, with areas with but one insurer appropriately colored red, as if to convey danger.

The slightly different visualization from June that accompanied this projected danger suggested that some counties–colored red again–would strip residents enrolled in Obamacare from any insurer for those enrolled in Obamacare–this time in “a new map showing in full color how many counties in the United States could have zero or just one insurer selling Obamacare health plans in 2018“:


Conties Analysis ObamacareMSNBC (June 13, 2017)


The fear that such maps stoked of an imbalance that cut into the insurance options of many as far as health goes suggested a lack of care and a lack of coverage that suggested a deep disinterest of almost a third of the nation, but did so with little actual grounds.  Those sparsely populated regions loose out in the new marketplace that Obamacare seemed to threaten to impose–even if the Affordable Care Act was created to extend health insurance across the nation:


Obamacare 2016_0

McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform (August 26, 2017)


Such deep divides within the United States that cut against equal access to health insurance was of course what Obamacare was introduced to prevent, but the exchanges in the less populated states were indeed slow to attract insurers.  However, the terrifying fear of a subtraction of any guarantees of well-being and a level playing field that these projections promote–they are hardly really data visualizations, if they resemble maps–seem as good a definition and a metaphor of undemocratic policies, and a metaphor for the restricted roles people are given a crucial say in the policies and decisions that most affect their lives.  Although the sentiments for including health care as a right has become to a deep divide in the nation, the disadvantages that the initial introduction of the exchanges were cautioned to bring to peoples’ lives and policies were immediately striking.

And the recent success of mapping the actual resurgence of insurers’ involvement in many exchanges in counties nationwide reminds us of–and asks us to reconsider–the deceptive nature of their claims.  Indeed, as recently as June, 2017, media sources presented “a map” or a set of maps as evidence of the imbalances that the previous administration had failed to foresee, or willfully imposed on the nation.


1.  The negative benefits to all of health-care being a restrictive good are pretty clearly evident:  healthcare should not be seen as a commodity alone, existing on an open marketplace.  Given the clear negative pressures of lowering access to health care to society, the gleeful prediction by President Trump that Obamacare–as Trump calls the Affordable Care Act (ACA)-, as if it were just not American to promise health care to all–would be implode because of e lack of plans available on exchanges in much of the country thankfully seems untrue.  Indeed, the failure to repeal the ACA by the United States Senate–a failure that seems to have sent a shudder of initial convulsions within the Trump administration, and within Donald J. Trump’s sense of his hold on the Presidency, has led insurers to return to the many counties where they had in previous months left, provided all but one of the counties that seemed to have no clear options in the Obamacare exchanges–and that now-President Trump’s declarations of Obamacare’s demise were quite premature.  Although the graphics of health insurance providers that were available to residents in local exchanges under the Affordable Care Act seemed truly badly served in much of the nation by early 2017–when many of the counties not on the coasts or in coastal states seemed to suffer from a gap in options, as was true even shortly before the 2016 Presidential election in surprisingly effective ways.

As soon as the future markets for insurance were mapped and the maps were released, the revelation of apparent gaps and “dwindling in surname choices” and egregious absences in covering the nation’s populations seemed to show up the falsity of past promises.  The maps gained a polemic authority of their own, confirming lingering suspicions about the poor fit of “Obamacare” to the nation, and providing fodder for raising alarms about the inequitable nature of the exchanges that emerged in different states and counties.  For they seemed to reveal an apparent abandonment of the majority of the country by the coastal elites of California Massachusetts, New York, Chicago and Washington D.C.:  indeed, it triggered a sense of the abandonment of the nation by coastal elites.  The very story that was told about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats in many circles were being repeated in the Presidential campaign were used to lace increasing suspicion about the emergence of fair marketplaces in future years.



County-Level Data on Insurance Providers under ACA/AP  (October, 2016)


The deep brown nature of the map didn’t reveal the restrictive choices of insurers, but muddied the picture of the nation, as if throwing into relief a plurality of counties that existed on a higher plateaux of health care, and left behind the rest.  The visualization suggests that a sombre picture of health-care had emerged before the Senate failed to dismantle Obamacare, light tans suggesting the greatest gaps in low-lying lands of few insurance options, and markets where sufficient variability would not bring lower costs.  In those regions, the widespread “lack of choice” appeared so evident in dismaying gaps across the nation, where the departure of insurers from a market seemed that had been seen to rise in 2015 and 2016 had started to fall precipitously, raising the fears of rising premiums.  Several entire states–deep red states, as it happens, like Alabama, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wyoming–had only one participating insurer across the entire state, suggesting gaps in the health plan that claimed to be engineered to offer choice.

The mapping of these projections seemed to make manifest the deepest fears of inequality and an unloved playing field, which data visualizations like the above seemed to expose–while dying the projected nature of its claim that insurers’ “departure” had already occurred.  Yet the residents of all counties in the United States but one will be able to purchase an Obamacare plan in the coming year in actuality–the fifth year and enrollment cycle of Obamacare insurance markets, has brought successful expansion, with increasing coverage is provided by insurers across the United States may be even effect a new acceptance of health care as a right.  For despite widely stoked fears of drying out health insurance markets projected in deceptive data visualizations with such particularly alarming effects.

Just a mere two months ago, it was predicted that forty-seven counties would have absolutely no insurers by 2018, and that residents of greater than a thousand counties–and up to 1,200– would be left “bare”–hight and dry–with access to but one insurer in their exchanges.  The alleged analysis of the impending “collapse” of insurer participation nationwide showed an image of “projected insurer participation” as if they described an actuality of declining participation that had effectively fractured the nation–lending currency to pronouncements that struck fear into many voters.


County by County analysis.pngExchnage Carrier.pngCNBC, June 13, 2017


Despite the manipulative nature of these data visualizations, the recent resilience of markets after election, and specifically the failure to repeal Obamacare, has responded in ways that stand to change.


2.  But the picture was indelible when it was framed, forged in the sharp colors of data visualizations which arrived with regularity at the same time as maps of projections of the Presidential election dominated social media and the press.  They created a terrifying image of a divided nation, destroyed by the all but inevitable impending “collapse of Obamacare ‘coverage’ in 2017” as revealed in “stunning maps” released in the late summer during the Presidential election, as if they were the hidden understory of national divisions that some candidates just didn’t get.  These visualizations allegedly revealed divisions of the nation in ways that must have spooked many, weren’t being addressed by the White House or health care officials, and seemed to signal an era’s end–touting “Higher Costs and Fewer Choices for Obamacare Customers in 2017.”  The below-the-radar war of data visualization for national attention suggested nothing less than the erosion of the union that was tied to the encouragement of insurance exchanges.

Such data visualization worked their magic, triggering narratives of abandonment and appearing to reveal an isolation of several of the poorer parts of the nation that set of alarms about the increased division of a nation and an uneven playing field that the Affordable Care Act–now demonized by the name “Obamacare” to distance itself from the actual legislation–that revealed the apparent absence of competition in “stunning” ways.  For by depicting the “epic collapse” of a system that in fact seemed to be give greater stability to a projection and make it manifest as reality.  The magic of the data visualization was that they purported to reveal an actuality the Obama administration seemed to deny as if it were an actuality that denied options to many Americans.   And although the spread of the one-carrier-ounties across much of the “heartland” seemed confirmation, for many Republicans, of an abandonment of the mythic heartland of Trump voters, which pulled from Iowa to New Mexico to West Virginia for Appalachia for Trump–the complexion of where insurance is available.

The alleged objectivity of the visualization left many with breath held, as “stunning maps” released during the heat of the Presidential election in late summer prophesied an impending “collapse of Obamacare ‘coverage’ in 2017” as an all but inevitable reality.


Obamacare 2016_0McKinsey Center for U.S. Health System Reform


Data visualizations of jarring color selections suggest the discontinuity in a system of health care, using the not necessarily clear metric of the existence of a range of carriers.  The notion of the medical marketplace that such competition was supposed to create however realized clear gaps with the counties in violet, whose disarming continuities suggested pockets of the nation that were unfairly left behind, and others in pink that seemed to be similarly compromised in the notion of options or choice their inhabitants were offered.  But the alarmist cartographies were extremely effective in tellign of a story of those regions that were left out–not only Kansas, but Wyoming, West Virginia, and stretches of North Carolina, South Dakota  and Michigan. The maps spoke to many.

The deeper debate about health care as a right demand to be examined in far greater detail than the polemic nature of such visualizations allowed.  And the recent resurgence of insurers in almost all counties of the nation provides a good occasion to do so.   It’s not a secret that the difficulty of construing health-care as a democratic right has also been rejected by many,–who would  restrict liberties to participation a marketplace.  In doing so, they adopt the market as a primary metaphor if not end of civil society–and view any tampering with the health care market as undue governmental meddling.  Yet the guarantees of well-being and a level playing field seem as good a definition of what is democratic as any, as it affords a needed means to allow people to have greater say in policies and decisions that most affect their lives.  And sentiments for including health care as a right has however come to be one of the deeper divides in the nation.  And the recent success of mapping the real resurgence of insurers’ involvement in many exchanges in counties nationwide reminds us of–and asks us to reconsider–the deceptive nature of their claims about the narrative of the impending collapse of Obamacare that many data visualizations of the nation relentlessly advanced, with minimal questioning or interrogation, and the how the image of the nation they suggest may explain public understandings of health care as a democratic right.

But since the negative benefits to all of health-care being a restrictive good are pretty clearly evident, healthcare should not be seen as a commodity alone, existing on an open marketplace alone.  Given the clear negative pressures of lowering access to health care to society, the gleeful prediction by President Trump that Obamacare–as Trump calls the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as if it were just not American to promise health care to all–would be implode because of e lack of plans available on exchanges in much of the country thankfully seems untrue.  Indeed, the failure to repeal the ACA by the United States Senate–a failure that seems to have sent a shudder of poor guidance and convulsions within the Trump administration, and within Donald J. Trump’s sense of his hold on the Presidency, has led insurers to <em>return</em> to the many counties where they had in previous months left, provided all but one of the counties that seemed to have no clear options in the Obamacare exchanges have gained them.


3.  Trump’s declarations of Obamacare’s demise were indeed quite premature.  Although the graphics of health insurance providers that were available to residents in local exchanges under the Affordable Care Act seemed truly badly served in much of the nation by early 2017–when many of the counties not on the coasts or in coastal states seemed to suffer from a gap in available options, as was true even shortly before the 2016 Presidential election in surprisingly effective ways.  The sentiment of a curtailing of options–and of choice, that elusive and so malleable term–became something of a battle-cry against the ACA, which redefined how it was portrayed and cast as an imposition that failed to meet health needs, but whose premiums were substantially more.

If one might say, with poet Elizabeth Bishop, that “more delicate than the historians’ are the mapmaker’s colors,” unlike the color-choices by which cartographers define land and sea as areas viewers can inhabit and read, the stark colors of the data visualization suggest clearcut differences and decisive results–too often just to stark to be lent the credibility that they seek.  Bishop linked the art and science of the cartographer and the art of poetry, in her first published poem, written when staring at a framed map of the North Atlantic that lay under glass as she was ill.  In tracing the mapped waters, and the land that lies beneath the water in maps, shadowed in green, she admired the transformative nature of the cartographer’s art and the expressive license of defining land and sea, and the edges of sandy shelves, as allowing the cartographer to create an aesthetic object able to engage the viewer’s fantasy, through the delicacy of color choices:  the stark, flat tones of the above data visualization–whose colors are all too strict and edges overly severe–work best to create oppositions and manufacture absolutes that offer little distance on the world, or clear purchase on it.

The colors chosen by the cartographer, if at odds with the actuality of the ordering of the land, cannot compare to how the translation of the edges of insured and uninsured are erased in the clear contrasts that compress the actual contours of health care.  If Bishop contrasted the reality claims of the historian to the artifice of the map-maker, whose creations appear arbitrary, but reveal actual complexities, as allowing possibilities for the contemplation of the world.  But rather than presenting an authoritative version of the world, the human measure of a carefully made map, and the invention it offered as an angle at which to examine the world absent from many visualizations, which privilege a single actuality as sufficiently authoritative to orient viewers to the world along a single narrative–and not preserving a human scale to do so.  The deceptive nature with which data visualizations foretold collapsing insurance choices in the Affordable Care Act presented a false reality. about health insurance exchanges, in short, by creating alarming contrasts between sharp colors in maps that offered no opening for interpretation. In contrast, maps of the actual numbers of those without health insurance reveals a landscape of much more complex edges and shadows, as well as deep divides, demanding to be moused over in detail for their interactive experience, if only to come to terms with the changed life experiences of those in many states, as from 2013-16, as the constantly shrinking number of uninsured grew nation wide in ways that attest to the increasing health of the nation–if with considerable numbers of uninsured remaining in may exchanges:


shrinkin uninsured.png


percentage uninsured.png

New York Times


In contrast, the almost uninhabited landscapes bereft of insurers that data visualizations depict to suggest a narrowing marketplaces and dwindling options of Americans offers an image less about “health”–our about our health as a nation–than the problems of creating continuity among the insurance exchanges that underwrite the insurance marketplace.  The lack of perspective that they offer on the residents of each county and of our country–and the forced viewing of “health” in terms of insurance companies which participate in exchanges, suggest what more contemporary poet, Claudia Rankine, called the particularly contentious meaning of “health” today in the United States:  at a time when “Affordable Care Act” is seen as something different from “Obamacare” by most Americans, who want the affordability of health care but suspect the inequality of “Obamacare”–whose repeal Trump declared his first order of business as President.  “We heard health care and we thought public option/we thought reaching across the street across the lines,/ across the aisle was the manifestation of not a red state/ not a blue state but these united states we thought,” Rankine wrote with assurance of a new landscape of health insurance, “we could be sure of ourselves in this one way sure/of our human element our basic decency.”

But the increased decency of providing more Americans with adequate health care, “a kind of human kind of union we were ready to check-up,” as Rankine wrote, in the belief that “in this one way we were ready/to care for each other we were ready to see/our range of possibilities as a precious commodity,” was distorted in a map that focussed on the marketplaces of insurance options that Obamacare–the Affordable Care Act–sought to create.  If in this nation “despite being founded on genocide and sustained by slavery/in God’s country we thought we were ready/to see sanity inside the humanity,” the humanity of health care seems sadly obscured in the exclusive focus of data visualizations that focus on providers absent from the marketplace.


4.  It is rather terrifying that the alleged objectivity and authority of such data visualizations were arrogated to make a point that disguised their nature as projections and roles as arguments.  While doing so is tantamount to disinformation, claiming predictive value as declarative statements which has since proved to be without any merit.  For not only did they distort the question of coverage by ignoring that the areas where three or more carriers would be options were most populated–where the best job had been done informing patients of their options to enroll in policies, and also where far better medical coverage existed for Americans in previous years–but the alarms that they sounded were ungrounded, although the image of two coasts and a well-off midwest that suddenly left large parts of the nation in the lurch effectively tapped into deep suspicions and uncertainty.

Rankine persuasively hypothesized–and elsewhere actively protested–the deeply ingrained racism that motivated a nation ready to distinguish between “Obamacare” and the “Affordable Care Act”–valuing the affordability of health insurance, but suspicious of the insurance labeled by the name of Trump’s predecessor.  The motivations for suspicions about “Obamacare” as a tampering with the free market of health providers is unclear, but it undermines the interest in our understanding of the preciousness of health care as a right.  Yet the humanity of health care seems sadly forgotten by the shift from a topography of individuals insured to a topography of the marketplace.  Although Trump seemed to think he had fired Obamacare from the country by declaring it “dead,” and just destined to implode, the markets revealed themselves to have been set up with considerable resilience, despite deeply troubling glitches in its roll out; if more than eighty counties earlier risked offering no options to enrollees, insurers returned overwhelmingly, where they were able, especially when already strongly present in the marketplaces, despite the threat from President Trump to pull federal subsidies.

The presence of mapping future markets for insurance were released with claims to show of apparent gaps, “dwindling insurance choices,” and egregious absences in covering the nation’s populations.  They seemed to show up the past promises of the President to preserve choices for Americans to adopt a health plan that suit them best, and portray them as undue impositions on the marketplace.  The projections acquired a polemic authority, as if confirming lingering suspicions about the poor fit of “Obamacare” to the nation, by providing fodder for raising alarms about the inequitable nature of exchanges in different counties and even in different states.  They seemed to confirm a feared narrative of the abandonment of the much of the country:  indeed, many popular data visualizations triggered a sense of the abandonment of the nation by coastal elites in New York, California, and Washington DC, in particular in Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado, Missouri and the Deep South, as well as parts of Michigan.  They confirmed the very story told about Hillary Clinton and the Democrats repeated in the Presidential campaign as if to lace suspicion about the emergence of fair marketplaces in future years.



County-Level Data on Insurance Providers under ACA/AP  (October, 2016)

The particularly grim picture that they offered came in for little criticism or rebuttal.  But the data visualizations describe landscapes that are curiously depopulated, even as they present a sobering picture to suggest the withdrawal of insurers from medical exchanges.   The map implies an absence of interest in much of America by the very insurers who claimed to have sponsored the new marketplaces–but had only concentrated on the most profitable regions.  Its implications one of the abandonment of many of the rural areas of the country–the less densely populated–although the greatest success of such exchanges in densely populated urban areas that were liberal-leaning is no secret, they imply an absence of interest in less populated areas of the nation.  The implicit message that little attention was paid to the rural areas was underlined through the strategic colors of the data visualization, which seems to suggest a relief map of areas that would suffer higher premiums:   audiences in much of the country were convinced that they just had it worse in the projections all too often portrayed as eventualities that the nation would stand to suffer.  The tan colors that suggest diminished choices of medical insurance muddied the picture of the nation, throwing into relief a plurality of counties that existed on a higher plateaux of health care, and left behind the rest.

The visualization suggests that a sombre picture of health-care had emerged before the Senate failed to dismantle Obamacare, light tans suggesting the greatest gaps in low-lying lands of few insurance options, and markets where sufficient variability would not bring lower costs.  In those regions, the widespread “lack of choice” that appeared evident in dismaying gaps across the nation, where the departure of insurers from a market seemed that had been seen to rise in 2015 and 2016 had started to fall precipitously, raising the fears of rising premiums.  Several entire states–deep red states, as it happens, like Alabama, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Wyoming–had only one participating insurer across the entire state, suggesting gaps in the health plan that claimed to be engineered to offer choice.

Such premature projections seemed to make manifest the deepest fears of inequality and an unloved playing field, and invested themselves with an objective authority of exposing an uneven system that was indeed rigged–denying the projected nature of its claim that insurers’ “departure” had already occurred.  Yet residents of all counties in the United States but one will in fact be able to purchase an Obamacare plan in the coming year in actuality–the fifth year and enrollment cycle of Obamacare insurance markets, has brought successful expansion, with increasing coverage is provided by insurers across the United States may be even effect acceptance of health care as a right.  For despite widely stoked fears of drying out health insurance markets projected in deceptive data visualizations with such particularly alarming effects.


2.  To better grapple with the readiness of insurers to fill the health-care marketplace, the stunning maps of the presence of insurers who have made health-care policies available demands to be examined through a red state-blue state optic.  For eve if the aversion of Republican-leaning regions in the United States to providing alternatives to health care insurers creates a deep divide concentrated in much of the south, prairie, and southwest, where only 1-2 insurers exist, and despite uneven nature of conditions conducive to access to health services that guarantee well-being–and presumably happiness–the markets have grown.


HEalth Care Insureres:Red v Blue Govs.png



If the divide looks harsh anyway for many rural areas, the red/blue divides cannot reflect the actual availability of health providers to Americans.  Since the notion of the division of the distribution of insurance markets by counties seemed suspect anyway, given the sparser population of many of these states, a more accurate picture of national coverage is offered by a simple proportional warping of the odd division of the electorate by the “county”–an outdated geographical unit if there ever was one.  The mapped that warped counties by their relative populations reveals  an even sharper picture of the actually improving state of availability of insurers–the fewer residents of many of the just-one-insurer regions of the south and indeed midwest shrink, to confirm the growing success of the selection of insurance providers by the ACA, despite some obviously problematic and important to address gaps in coverage.


Warped Map on Insurers Red v Blue Goves.png


It is striking that these very gaps mirror with a terrifyingly clear correlation both dial-up speeds and broadband technology, as well as intractable bottom-line problems like gaps in the availability of health-care services in rural areas.





Rural Health Information Hub, December 2016



5.  Abandoning the red/blue divisions, which are taken by the elected governor, we see an even healthier division of the nation, at least in terms of the regions that provide their residents with something like a reasonable variety of possible health care insurers, with large areas of the most populated areas having three potential insurers, rather than insurance markets imploding at all, despite the clear gaps that it reveals in what seem more underpopulated areas–and, quite strikingly, the absence of broadband that would make it easier to enroll for insurance online.


5995cec01400001f002c3494Harold Pollack and Todd Stubble


Broadband 2014.pngNational Broadband Map, June 2014 (not updated since)


These gaps reveal a division of much of America into two regions–no doubt conducive between two expectations of health care or medical provision.  Most southern states indeed had far fewer insurers–left “bare” with but one provider, despite the low populations of such rural regions being just less conducive to insurance markets, and revealing an uneven playing field long preceding the passage of the Affordable Care Act–


SOUTHERN states health care insurers 2017-18Harold Pollack/


One Provider South Rural.pngHarold Pollack and Todd Schuble


The area is not only medically underserved, but suggests a “Southern Problem” having far less to do with Obamacare than with the disproportionate topography of medicine and indeed of those without health-care, but creating many counties including large stretches of chronic undeserved populations.


RAC 2014



Such maps and data visualizations only suggest a need to appreciate and fathom the deeply compromised liberties in areas with few health insurance providers, where insurers haven’t reached clear markets, that not only overlap with many of the more chronically uninsured areas and populations, but with areas of the a terrifying number of uninsured–folks who have decided or been forced to do without health insurance, and where going without health insurance becomes an accepted acceptable alternative, unlike in many regions of the country,





which often echoed the very regions of greatest vulnerability in the nation–counties that to be sure often reached out to Trump as a savior for their deep discontent.


Rural Assistance Center Underserved.png


RAC 2014.png



2.  The increasing variety of insurance options for much of the nation raises questions about the persistence of a deep inequality–undemocratic for many–in those pockets coinciding with denser votes for Trump, in a normalized choropleth, and more hospitable to an argument of revising current options of health care–and viewing the Affordable Care Act as an imposition of the federal government.


Trump votes normalized choropleth


There are interesting overlaps on those areas where Trump out-performed previous Republican candidates, notably in Florida’s panhandle and less densely populous counties in the deep south; southern Texas; and Appalachia.





The odd reluctance of these areas to attract anything like a range of possible insurers in lower income areas of low-density where Republicans have recently performed well.



New York Times



They reflect the difficult problem of distinct notions of liberty and rights in the country, corresponding to areas where the civilian population was long underinsured, often by upwards of 15%, and where shortages of health-providers–even if not as readily available in county-level data–are strikingly revealed in a state-by-state survey:  states like Georgia, Mississippi, Arkansas, New Mexico, Nevada and Texas remained significantly below the national average for primary care physicians in 2012, suggesting regions where there were less developed expectations for attaining health care coverage.





Increased numbers of uninsured exist in many of the same states are, to recap, unsurprisingly located in some of the same regions–which are less likely to vote for representatives who advocate the belief in health care as a right, and perhaps seeing it as able to be outweighed in importance by an argument of states’ “rights,” even if this discourse is designed to deny health insurance.




It seems a cruel irony in an era of globalization that the majority of those doctors or members of the healthcare force serving areas of the United States that were most in need, and who see some 14 millions patients every year, were from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen–citizens of countries included in Trump’s Muslim Ban.  (In other words, these immigrant doctors are filling the increasingly pronounced gap that exists among medical providers in the United States–and getting the job done.)  If medically underserved areas occur in almost every state in the country, the preponderance of medically underserved populations concentrated in less populated areas–as the southwest, southern states, and parts of the Midwest seems to have attracted foreign doctors–and had already led bills to be sponsored to allow Medicare to reimburse pharmacists directly in those communities, to acknowledge the absence of medical services needed by Medicare beneficiaries, to allow clinical pharmacists to work in medical care settings as a health provider.


Doctors from coutnries in Muslim Ban.pngSee interactive version of this map here, at the Immigrant Doctors Project


The map has some striking overlaps with those regions of rural America that are losing population, although it should be kept tin mind that the above map, which used data from Doximity to suggest the commenting zones for the number of doctors in the United States may distort by expanding the zones of providing services beyond that which physicians actually serve most actively:


map-loss.pngRural Communities Losing Populations, United States of America


The elevation of the pharmacist to a medical provider may raise ethical questions.  But the existence of hight concentrations of medical physicians from the very countries that were targeted by the so-called “Muslim Ban” that Trump championed had the effect of allowing a crucial degree of medical assistance to reach Americans–although the apparent intent of Trump’s legislation would have been to restrict their abilities to return home freely to visit their families, and compromise the proportion of doctors on call in the cities where they are most concentrated–in Toledo, Cleveland, and Dayton, Ohio as well as Detroit MI.


Medical Assistance.pngImmigrant Doctors Project


Such pronounced concentrations of physicians which were mapped online in readily seaarchable formats by the Immigrant Doctors Project provide powerful tools to view how the markets for physicians’ skills meets the needs of a marketplace, to be sure, if one recalls the huge numbers of medically underserved counties.  But this is not a marketplace that would be easily filled by our current medical system, or the health-care industries that service more rural or poorer areas.


RAC 2014.png


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Filed under Affordable Care Act, data visualization, health care, health insurance, Obamacare

Mapping Armageddon Again?

The rush to make a graphic point by mistakenly overlaying concentric circles atop a Web Mercator projection helps to render increasing fears of the range of North Korea’s powerful ballistic missiles.  As much as suggest the global import of the confrontation about North Korean missiles through their violent potential to target overseas lands, the effect is to abstract the peculiar stand-ff of a divided country that is a remnant disfigured by the Cold War as if it can be isolated from the division of the peninsula, and viewed as a focus of global attention.  But is the isolation of North Korea that they effectively underscore in such cartographically dramatic terms also not a cause for concern?  How can the intentions of the opaque government of Pyongyang even be understood save in a close focus on the local dynamics of the Korean peninsula?  If North Korea is increasingly effectively a proxy of China–cast as an enabler of the North Korean state, together with Russia–the country is shown, isolated, as if the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea, DPRK, were the last remaining  theater for conducting the cold war in a post-Cold War world.  A familiar geography of generals suddenly migrated to the media as the confrontation with North Korea was begun to be processed in maps.

The current migration of this mapping of a global vision of generals to the media presents a problem of the survival of a mental imaginary, able to compromise the pragmatics of a real problem of international relations in dangerous ways.  For by magnifying the isolation and marginality of the DPRK in relation to the globe, the maps urge us to focus on the risks that the development of intercontinental missiles pose to world peace.  To be sure, they also risk reflecting the very barbed rhetoric of triumphalism and destruction of Pyongyang–a regime that has expressed its eagerness to deliver prophesies of “a merciless sledgehammer blow to U.S. imperialists.”   The threats of Kim Jong-un are especially embodied by the creation and possession of his country, for the first time, of Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and seems to create a narrative less motivated by actual actors, but a drama of atomic, nuclear, or ICBM strikes that is driven by disembodied geopolitical exigencies in a political theater that we don’t know where it will end, but ramps up an all too familiar cartography of fear.

These maps resurrect and resonate with the invocation of previous threats of war during the Cold War–when the fear of atomic attack was widely diffused by the U.S. Government as a basis to justify an arms race.  Indeed, by rehabilitating a Cold War imaginary of impending conflict able to escalate into nuclear war, maps seem to activate a similar mental imaginary of polarity–albeit disproportionate one, between North Korea and the United States–that reflect one of the few areas in the world where that rhetoric is still alive of identifying the role of the state in promoting nuclear war–leading Kim to praise the “thermonuclear weapon with super explosive power” as made entirely “”by our own efforts and technology and designed to exceed the atomic bomb dropped at Hiroshima.  In this context,  the fear of a “global threat” can be rehabilitated as destabilizing global balances of power.

The first scenario of an attack on the United States–cast in fearful and unresolved terms–was diffused in terrifying detail shortly after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, as if in a surge of guilt, by the emigre Hungarian graphic artist Aleksander Leydenfrost, in a bifold spread that appeared in the extremely popular Life magazine, perhaps asking readers to feel a sense of guilt at the destruction caused by dropping two powerful atomic bombs in the Pacific theater of war, that illustrated a memorandum that the commander of the Air Force in the Pacific Theater, Harold “Hap” Arnold, in a “Report to the Army” he wrote in the late summer of 1945.  Arnold cautioned against the next war as an episode that would last but thirty-six hours, and for which the United States military must begin to prepare itself, if not to confront the unprecedented scale of destruction that the United States landscape–which war had of course not touched, thankfully–must now take time to prepare itself to face.  And the sustained campaign of firebombing Japanese cities after the massive destruction of the second atomic bomb, Fat Man, that was roapped on the port city of Nagasaki unleashed a level of violence that had followed the instant incineration in that city alone of 70,000 had created a landscape of destruction that Leydenfrost’s somber image led Americans to imagine as inflicted on the major cities of the United States, not by the delivery of airborne bombs but the arrival of intercontinental ballistic missiles–what we now call ICBM’s–launched without pilots, akin to German V-2 rockets, but able to reach across the Atlantic, in ways that would redefine what we know as a “theater of war” in globalized terms for the first time.  The nightmare of unmanned missiles, viewed from the empyrean heights above the Pacific, seemed to seek o terrify viewers to suggest how quickly and silently an attack could arrive.



Atom Bombs Descend on US LIFE 1945


The resurrection of what might be called a map designed by generals such as Harold “Hap” Arnold filled a new need to map the power of destruction that the atom bomb unleashed, and represented both a sort of spin as well as a notion of the stewardship of public debate.  Arnold wrote in a context where seemingly responsible “scientific men” were entrusted by the US government to explain to the public the scope of the horrific new power that the atomic bomb unleashed, and to rationalize the devastation of the total destruction of a city destroyed to devastating effects unprecedented in their violence as a decision of the nation, men like James Conant or Vannevar Bush, trusted to create consensus about the use of atomic bombs and the pragmatic basis for atomic policy in a postwar world, at the same time as the popular press quickly predicted the conduct of future wars which minimized all human agency, and perhaps responsibility, by pilotless “robot planes” able to span transoceanic distances and increase the vulnerability of all American cities and industry in the very manner of Japan from a “hail of atomic charges” in 1945.

Leydenfrost’s image, designed for a public announcement of Arnold’s letter, captured this anxiety.   It reveals, in a futuristic manner akin to H.G. Wells or recent science fiction, how close to the surface it was as an image of future destruction, able to be harnessed for clear ends as a narrative of imminent fear, even if one that lacked any clear narrative finality as a story which we could ever see as having clear winners.  The  “revolution in warfare” Conant detected after the destruction of Hiroshima and obliteration of many of the buildings of Nagasaki brought strategies of management of threats in a new global imaginary.  Conant quickly acknowledged that there was no real possibility of defense against such a “surprise attack by atomic bombs,” as he dryly put it.  Yet the government tried to reorient attention to the immediate problem of survival of the fearful eventuality of an atomic attack.  “We are living in a very different world since the explosion of the A-bomb,” Conant began, addressing the problem of what could be done in the event “much of our present civilization” was threatened with extinction.   Conant pondered with incredible detachment pondered how “much of our present civilization” was threatened after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, nd to contemplate ways to save the achievements of the United States against such imminent destruction by buried repositories of microfilm,–as if such a parallel responsibility were adequate to the development of the atom bomb.  In contrast, Arnold’s “Report to the Army” emphasized the need of responding to a remote atomic strike in ways that created an image of vulnerability to missile strikes that quickly burned into our collective unconscious.  Its inheritance might well be reexamined in the light of the fears of global threat of strike from North Korea that has emerged in the very first months of the Presidential administration of Donald J. Trump.

The power of the ICBM warheads that North Korea has developed have, rather eerily, just achieved the level of power of the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima, enabling exactly the sort of scenario Aleksander Leydenfrost, no doubt with editorial help, was able to so concretely map from a position over the Pacific, which oddly renders North America as an island-like target, as if it could echoe the many flights of United States bombers over Japan.  These unmanned rockets, shot from an unspecified country in Africa where the rocket launchers of a nemesis were placed, described the phantasm of the or mental image of the next stage in warfare, rather than an actual map.  But the concreteness of the map allowed readers to envision the proximity of a potential strike in particularly powerful ways.  And they have been triggered again in the azimuthal equidistant projections that project North Korea at their center, and map the ability of powerful missiles to strike the more populated cities of the United States.

Bull's Eye Range

1. Although graphics that render the potentiality of newly powerful missiles developed by Pyongyang  work to grab viewers’ attention, they draw attention to the danger of North Korea as if from a general’s point of view.  The rush to map the striking range of North Korean missiles, as in the header to this post, often were created by overlays so quickly to perpetuate a sense of a flat earth–particularly embarrassing in an age of web-based maps and spatial tracking.  The egregious mis-mapping of a nuclear threat occasioned a volley of objections to the distortions of maps that foreground their danger, and the innocent position of many who are endangered by their missiles, while mismapping their true range.  In order to come to terms with the global  import of Korea’s generation of ballistic missiles’ of ever greater striking range, web Mercator may irresponsibly effectively shrink the distances missiles travel, with geopolitical consequences, but the mapping of the range of missiles privileges a narrative of overweening nuclear ambitions and aggressive acts that runs the risk of magnifying the military threat posed by Pyongyang, and giving an opportunity for Kim Jong-un to magnify his own sense of grandiosity on a global stage, even in ways that seek to justify the need for a pre-emptive military strike against a North Korean threat.  The focus on the hypothetical expansion of missile range and the eagerness to trumpet the new status of North Korean military as able to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear strike–long desired by Pyongyang as a sort of metric of global respectability and renown–is a danger but one that repeated exaggerated mipmapping can only magnify.

For in suggesting the blameless nature of other nations before this threat, they direct focus on the aberrant nature of North Korea and its leaders as needing to be contained, and many indeed justify the importance of a “preventive” pre-emptive nuclear strike.  The maps open a possibility of alternative narratives, some particularly deadly and undesirable in the extreme, of an immediate launch of warheads not only at American military stationed in South Korea, Japan (especially in Okinawa) or Guam but at the United States as as never before.  Indeed, the public statements and postures that Kim Jong-un is “begging for war” seems to map the need for a nuclear confrontation, filled with the frustrated saber-rattling that while “war is never something the United States wants” the “outrageous” testing of a hydrogen bomb only tests its “limited” patience, as North Korea vows its ability to perform a “surprise launch of an ICBM in any place and region at any time,” seeking to prove that “the whole US mainland is within the firing range of DPRK missiles,” as the national news agency KCNA has affirmed.

The recent explosion of a bomb with the explosive power of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by North Korea on the eve its independence celebration provides an illustration of Kim Jong-un’s leadership, even if it is doubted that what seems a thermonuclear device would be able to be attached to a ballistic missile with any reliability.  But the expansion of maps of intercontinental range in the global press seems to magnify the threat of immanent attack or aggression from North Korea, as if in a presence to justify what would be an utterly irresponsible decision to launch a military exercise of any limited sort.  All too widely reproduced images of the growing range of North Korean missile strikes create an all too real cartography of fear that seem to escalate the danger of a threat and the need for an aggressive military response.

As the actions of Pyongyang have been repeatedly cast as a “global threat” by the Trump administration, from Steven Miller to  Rex Tillerson, provoking not so veiled threats of the need to respond with a “precision strike” missiles into nearby waters off the east coast of the peninsula or to strike at the missile test sites, maps of the n this game shifting estimates of the outermost reaches of NK missile strikes by the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea have provided something of a basis to reveal exactly what the states of that provocation would be and proof of the global threat that North Korea’s missile pose over the unsuspecting and innocent inhabitants of multiple continents.  Although the outermost reach of the radius of missile firing is openly acknowledged in the BBC graphic below to be not operational, the claims to have created an ICBM able of intercontinental strikes would place North Korean arms far closer to the United States citizens–as well as to United sates troops stationed in South Korea or Guam–in ways that have been a long aspiration of North Korean governments.




The new justifications of nuclear attack in the aftermath of the apparent explosion of a hydrogen bomb by Pyongyang–and the unrestrained bullying of the North Koreans that “they only understand one thing!”–have pushed the problem of military confrontation to the front pages, with Trump warning of the possibility of a “massive military response” and suggesting if not indeed mapping a targeted nuclear strike of North Korea’s nuclear and missiles sites, as if their destruction could occur without any harm to the world.  The threat that Kim Jong-un poses is being cast as a potentially aggressive act–needing to be met with immediate and massive force–even without mapping what his intentions or strategy–as the explosion of a fusion bomb of comparable size to that dropped on Hiroshima is increasingly mapped as a potentially aggressive strike on American cities.  The appearance of these charts in the global media no doubt give huge satisfaction to Kim Jong-un, whose dream of seeing his nation as a global power has been realized, as his country suddenly occupies the position of a major threat that the Soviet Union, no less, had occupied in the Cold War.

Indeed, as President Trump responds to questions of his military intentions with North Korea with a shrug intended to be menacing–“We’ll see!”–in a particularly troubling lack of restraint, he seems to be inviting audiences to map the danger signs emanating from North Korea, rather than to establish the security of his own political restraint, by perpetuating myths of the aggressive nature of North Korea.  As headlines such as “North Korea Raises the Stakes” have repeated since early July, if not from the first announcement of improving missile technology to complete the construction of an actual ICBM–intercontinental missile–of the sort it has long sought, as if to escape its isolated status, even as South Korea cautioned a proclivity for overstatement of achievement of re-entry technologies, the tenor of recent claims that North Korea raises the stakes may have shifted the metaphor of this test of wills from over thought moves in a game of chess to a contest of truth or dare or to a global game of Russian roulette.


2.  Although the maps raise red alarms as they show long-range missiles able to strike the United States, the rush to use a tool plagued with distortions on a global scale is bound to create distortions or suggest the persistence to flat-earth thinking, rather than warp the striking range to acknowledge the spatial distortions of the earth’s surface within theMercator projection.  But the readiness to map the ranges of newly tested missiles–and even missiles in development–suggest a rush to affirm a “direct threat to the United States”–as former CIA analyst Bruce Klingner puts it–that threaten to extend the missile range of missiles in development to beyond 13,000 km, which would place the entire United States within its striking range and endanger all who live in the expanded radius.  In facing such often unsourced if impressive figures deriving from Japanese news outlets or South Korea, the interests of the maps that derive from such figures demand critical review; ties alleged between military contractors and agencies that create such maps not only terrify, but trigger a powerful memory theater of rapid strikes of an increasingly broad array of long-range missiles, reminiscent of a cartography of fear tracking missiles’ arrival in United States territory from the  Cold War.

As North Korea continues to profess  commitment to a nuclear deterrent in the face of American bases in South Korea and Guam, charging “persistent moves to launch a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula,” and indeed the precareity of North Korea to American strikes, many visualizations of the growth based on fired missiles public South Korean statements provide a basis to foreground global tensions with an alleged objectivity that invest missiles’ striking range with an unprecedented of accuracy.  They may lack such accuracy–despite their imminent danger–but the cartography of fear that they create surely seems to escalate their threat and the rapidity of their possible arrival–even if they may well exaggerate the likelihood of their striking range, without noting how operational even the most recent Hwasong-12 medium long-range missile is.




April 26, 2017



3.  But in mapping the extent of such “striking range” to cover most–or indeed almost all–of the United States, such graphics manufacture an all too real danger by cartographic artifice alone, given the range of missile strikes a reality that they may well not be able to achieve in terms of either atmospheric re-entry or precision targeting, although this is an objection which we surely don’t want to have to test to find out.

The implied danger of provoking such a strike–or allowing such a strike not to be defended against–has in fact undoubtedly interested the Heritage Foundation, a conservative educational institution once prominent in setting the agenda for the nation in the Reagan administration, and now eager to bill itself again as an institution able to “transform America” by being at the forefront of conservative thinking, from the curtailing of “excessive” environmental regulations, to the use of tax reform to “grow” the economy, to the end of universal health insurance, to the distribution of military gear to local police.  The interest of increasing the military budget in the Trump years is promoted through the mapping of an impending and immanent nuclear threat from North Korea–


HeritageNorthKorea.pngFebruary 11 and 16, 2016; December 2, 2016


–that is abstracted from the military presence of the United States in the Korean peninsula, or indeed the political dynamics of the peninsula itself and the region, in particularly dangerous and short-sighted ways.  The notions of a nuclear terror that such images accentuate–ignoring the question of whenter such missiles are perpetuate all too familiar  narratives of the victimhood of those whose lives are endangered by the growing reach of bombs are particularly canny in their use of the objective rhetoric of cartography to make an unsubtle point, and suggest a sense of inevitability in the expanding ranges that North Korean missiles are able to target cities.  The sense of such strikes–and the narratives of inevitability and a needed response that they trigger–have a long history, even if they are meant to describe actualities.  For they have worked to help rationalize such a pre-emptive nuclear strike, as FOX experts speculated if “it may be time for a preemptive strike” if America should “risk Los Angeles,” imagining the waves of regret if a missile approaching the United States should a missile interceptors located at US bases not work in the thirty minutes before it arrives, in a landscape we have seen evoked before.

It did not, in fact, take long at all from the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki for the General leading the American Air Force to imagine the new landscape of mutually assured destruction that defined the landscape of fear of the Cold War.   Even though intercontinental ballistic missiles did not yet exist, save as imagined threats, or on the drawing board, the vision of strike from atom bombs arriving from overseas was presented an immediate fear to Americans, and enlisted as a compelling basis for justifying the expansion of the post-war military budget–and even equipping the nation with underground silos for storing and firing missiles able to respond to impending missile attacks.  Within months after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when the ICBM’s that haunt the current global landscape–Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles–did not actually exist, save as imagined threats, the powerful images of destruction in what was assured to be a coming “Thirty-Six Hour War” begun by atomic bombs descending on the United States engraved a fearsome image of the danger of the first unprovoked first strike of the atomic age.

The mapping of an atomic threat to the United States invited Americans to envision the possibility of attack.  A similar spatial imaginary seems, indeed, resurgent in the nuclear standoff with North Korea, cannot help but recall the imminent arrival of those arcs of already fired atomic warheads or bombs, which smoothly move toward American cities through the night sky to target an unsuspecting population lying in bed at night, even if the projections of missile ranges of the missiles being tested by the North Korean army and their leader, Kim Jong-un, do not arc so elegantly over a landscape.  The same landscape haunts both images.  If the escalation of tensions between North Korea–N.K.–and the U.S. is mapped to process the threat of the increasing power of rockets carrying nuclear warheads, the maps advance threats of a nuclear strike on the United States in the header to this post that mirror those designed to instill panic and escalate defenses shortly after World War II, and are an odd throwback to the Cold War imaginary.  But it seems to have reignited a Cold War imagery of threatened attacks on cities of North America, all too reminiscent of Cold War maps of missile range strikes.



While it is terrifying to not know the intentions of Pyongyang, or the ever-smiling Kim Jong-un, the image of a Cold War spatial imaginary seems to mediate Donald Trump’s geopolitics, and the increased fear that Trump may not disavow a nuclear first strike, not so long ago condemned by Republicans as revealing liberal naiveté on issues of national defense–even if agreement against first-use of nuclear arms has been broad world-wide and recently won broad endorsement as a needed means of controlling nuclear weapons.  It is important to note that the map of impending missile strikes far more conditioned the United States than the North Korean government’s response.  But the spatial imaginary of missile threats has helped enable a rhetoric of confrontation and saber-rattling that Donald Trump has enjoyed effectively conjuring the threat of an immanent nuclear conflict more than Pyongyang, although the sense that an over-sensitive North Korea was only saber rattling may have been overestimated.  The odd symbolic form used for mapping of the range of NK missiles as a target centered on Pyongyang in public media sources, however, keyed o the Nodong, Taepodong-1, Musudan, and Taepodong-2 missiles, suggests the two-fold message of such maps, even more than the maps from Graphiq, which similarly placed Alaska in rapid striking range.

Bull's Eye Range

Although these maps tend to fail to distinguish clearly between missiles that have been observed or are in development–as most of the ICBM’s capable of striking the United States were believed to be–the range of US military bases within striking distance of NK missiles are both increasingly aggressive, and seem almost desperate attempts to come to terms with the rapid growth of their rockets’ power.   Images that hypothesize the expanded ranges of rockets register the shock of North Korea’s creation of intercontinental missiles and process fears of impending missile strikes from its expanded nuclear arsenal.  Such fears were of course foregrounded in North Korean media’s showcasing of Kim Jong-un’s apparent delight in the use of maps to suggest the range of those missiles he has developed at considerable sacrifices for his country–


kim-jong-un-north-korea-missile-nuclear-icbm-planet-satelliteKim Jong-un studying the flight of the Hwasong-12, which reached an altitude of 1,312 feet Reuters/KCNA  (May 14, 2017)

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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 admission to receiving a ceremonial “bag of dirt” from Russian banker Sergey Gorkov not only played down its ceremonial status quite adroitly–“he gave me two gifts–one was a piece of art from Nvgorod, the village where my grandparents were from in Belarus, and the other was a bag of dirt from that same village”–but seemed to obscure whatever significance it might have by underscoring its incidental nature for a public audience.

Kushner’s orthodox religion is well known.  But he cloaked whatever significance his family might have assigned the dirt–and whatever Gorkov thought he was doing carrying the earth to New York City–a bit too smoothly.  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.


screen shot 2014-11-05 at 1.39.28 pm.png

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