Monthly Archives: November 2014

What We Really Want to Eat?

Shortly after New York Times produced an elegant pictorial map of Thanksgiving recipes in each state, to emphasize the varied bounties of our national cuisine, the Upshot opted to rethink how to map the meal.  Rather than concentrating on whetting taste buds, they consulted the new masters of the web to depict the current foodscape–a subject of increasing cartographical scrutiny.  By inviting Google researchers to mine data for a map of most-searched Thanksgiving recipes, to trace local variations in what sorts of foods are on folks’ minds.  As much as being the staples, or the family traditions, these Googled recipes seem the real crowd-pleasers, the seasonal favorites less indulged during the year.  The map tracks the latest permutation of a festival that probably began with native Americans’ collective dances and rituals to secure successful future harvest embraced by puritan pilgrims and later adopted as a national holiday; as much as map making constitutes a nation, world maps of searched recipes meals oddly renders a national holiday of thanks.

The word-search map of “most-looked for and most distinct types” distributes Thanksgiving foods by word searches specific to states.  As much as an actual lay of the land, the word-map provides an inside-out version of the pictorial map of favorite holiday dishes, as Googlers identified the most-searched for recipe by state in what was deemed a “democratic” counterpart of what is currently cooked for Thanksgiving tables across the fifty states and Puerto Rico.  While not constituting much of an an invasion of privacy, the results present a striking picture of the national palate.  It does suggest, in ways unlike the pictorial map of home-made regional recipes, both a tendency to uniformity and a growing distance between farm and table–if not the disappearance of farms–in what was long billed as the harvest holiday.  What, exactly, is being harvested is not that easily able to be described, although it suggests the changes wreaked by supermarket-bought foods–or just supermarket chains–in our nation’s edible geography, if not in our sense of gemütlichkeit.

The nonprofit conservation organization known as the National Wild Turkey Federation has mapped the wide ranges of wild turkeys across the nation, revealing the wide access to turkey across much of the most settled regions of the continent.

 

range_map_tnail_031314-1

 

When the New York Times mapped the “most searched for, most distinct types” of food across the country in time for Thanksgiving, it did suggest that some of the more esoteric store-bought alternative recipes that might make it to American tables varied widely in the distance of states from an actually turkey market.  The results included many local favorites, but were not that encouraging on the front of healthy winter foods, or able to offer much of a foodscape than a mapping of the foods on folks’ minds, if not those that are made in bulk, and offer a strange harvest of edibles which the families gather round dining tables to eat:

Thanksgiving Menu Map

New York Times

 

The non-geographically-specific nature of this map of the cornucopia of foodstuffs that folks seek to confect for Thanksgiving is perhaps it’s most striking quality–if not the limited number of food groups it includes.  Despite the diversity of food-names, several striking bands suggesting continuity of culinary preferences emerge in the map of most-googled items searched with thanksgiving dinners across in the country that suggest a manner of carving up what’s on offer on tables–a run of squash in the northeast; a clustering of cakes in the deep south; wild rice in the northern midwest of Wisconsin and Minnesota; a variety of candy-enhanced fruit salads that seems specific to the Northwest–and in contrast to the more southern taste for sweet baked desert or the Missouri taste for green rice casserole.  Of course, Mirliton Casserole is a nice indulgence of shrimp for the Gulf Coast and Louisiana, albeit at the tail-end of the inland shrimp harvest (although frozen does fine).

We move into shopping for sugary salads for much of the landlocked western and central plains, however:

 

Cookie SaladNew York Times

 

It’s not surprising the folks in Montana are thinking about fruit salad, but the broad popularity of “frog eye salad” in neighboring Idaho, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming suggests something other than an abundance of amphibians, but a taste for sugary fruits that seems decidedly regional in their appeal–the concoction of pineapple, eggs, coconut and mandarin oranges with marshmallows is akin to the nearby desserts of the midwestern Candyland of Cookie Salad and Snicker Salad, but represents a distinct variation on a theme, reflecting folks loading up on sucrose and glucose for the cold weather of winter.  “Dirt pudding” isn’t only the result of desperation or a shortage of cash in Ohio, but an Oreo cookie and vanilla pudding concoction often decorated with gummy worms, suggesting mental distance from actual farms.  The Northeast fad for Pumpkin Whoopie Pie is a variation on holiday-themed deserts, based on the sort of autumn foods, like persimmon, if a twist from what one might expect to be on the traditional Thanksgiving table.

 

Cnady Land

 

There is a striking American obsession with dessert has interesting inflection in its focus on cake throughout the south–4-Layer Delight in Arkansas; Key Lime Cake in Georgia; Pineapple Casserole in South Carolina; Chess Bars in Tennessee; cinnamon and vanilla Sopapilla Cheesecake in Oklahoma; Hawaiian Salad in Illinois and Persimmon Pudding, a local treat in Indiana, where it grows wild in abundance, even if it’s originally native to the southeastern states–which one might tie to the alarming recent trends the CDC has offered on obesity in the United States, but seems a cheap shot for the holidays.

 

South

 

If these are the foods that most Americans are busy preparing to put on their holiday tables, are the other recipes being handed down or bought as prepared foods?  To be sure, wild rice Brownberry Stuffing of wild rice and mushrooms has a nice Wisconsin ring, and pairs with Minnesotans interest in Wild Rice Casserole, even if it met with local skepticism.  But while folks in Portland are opting to search for vegan mushroom gravy for their tofurkeys or mashed potatoes, and in Seattle can afford the smoked Salmon dip, they are the outliers.  We might group with them residents of New Mexico looking at leftovers with “turkey enchiladas” or the Virginians who love their collard greens, but these seem last-minute searches not so central to the Thanksgiving menu.

By far the most Americans seem looking to indulge in high levels of corn syrup and calories to live it up with friends, but rather than focussing on obesity trends in America, one might focus on the proximity of the table to farm.  (Pretzel Salad isn’t exactly farm-to-table.)  To be sure, perhaps a Google Search is not much evidence for what’s consumed on the table.  Maybe googled recipes are made by those without their own family cookbooks in the kitchen, or just comparing alternate desserts for the holidays.  Perhaps, indeed, after watching Citizenfour for the Holidays, most folks realize the NSA is likely to be reading their searches, and intentionally circumscribe searches, even for what they’re ready to eat.  Or, a bit more likely, it suggests the limits of what information NSA folks can get from Google searches.  But is it possible that folks aren’t looking online for times for the basting of their turkeys, or do they just prefer to get such information from a human voice that can be questioned about specific details of culinary preparations, but trust the web for a special branch of last-minute additions to already prepared menus?

The map of Google searches, if not suggesting a reaction to Michael Pollan’s suggestion we eat more greens, may well reflect just how far away we’ve grown from farms and farmed harvests.  That isn’t much new news in itself.  In 2011, the USDA’s agricultural census (agcensus.usda.gov) offered a basis for a compelling Esri “story map” or spatial narrative of just how far food travels to tables for most Thanksgiving meals.   The nice bubble map includes the provenance of the turkeys from big agribusiness in the Midwestern states or the central eastern states, with a considerable cluster from the farms in California’s Central Valley, even those birds blessed by Bill Niman–but are very predictably focused on regions where there is already a pre-existing plenty of soybeans and corn to feed turkeys–which is why they are few and far between from Montana to Texas, or Kansas to Utah.  That turkeys seem raised overwhelmingly in very a restricted region on the map seems a casualty of American agribusiness, if raised by the millions–and served up 46 million birds to create the illusion of plenty on dining room tables–to signify holiday cheer.  (This despite their relatively wide small-size farming in much of the midwest.)

When we place a turkey on the table, lest we forget most are shipped up to half way across the United States, we might review the story map below:

 

Turkeys 2011Smithsonian/ESRI maps

 

The bulk of the population of turkeys that feed the nation seem in 2011 are agglomerated, by the tens of millions, in farms in North Carolina and Virginia, which, with those in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, West Virginia, Indiana and Arkansa, feed the nation.  The predominance of turkeys raised in North Carolina, origin of much turkey served in the south and central states, is striking; maybe Minnesota feeds the midwest.

 

Midwest and NC TurkeysSmithsonian/ESRI maps

 

Moving along the sourcing of the Thanksgiving menu, the similar concentration of the solidly southern sweet potato, the vegetable most destined beside the turkey, must be noted, before we move on to the green beans:

 

Sweet potatoes

 

(Back in 2009, the newspaper of record used the top search terms in Allrecipes.com as an index to map what folks across the country cooked by GIS, to arrive at a geographical clustering of sweet potato casserole of unsurprising similarity:  despite the more national purview of pumpkin pie.)

For the record, and to map the full Esri story, or allow that story to speak, green beans were widely cultivated in 2011, providing a taste of the local for the table as well as a visually pleasing dash of light green–save in those places where fruit salads of undefined provenance were particularly popular Google searches:

 

greeen beans

 

But the real persistence of localism in the arrivals on the table seems rooted not in the origins of the meat or the yams, but in the persistence of localism of the cultivation of cranberries–that indelibly red fruit element that complements turkey.  Fresh cranberries seem to signify something like a custodian of local culinary tradition in many of the very same regions where folks searched for the least confected foods:  dependent on environmental particularity, their survival as a crop in Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Washington and Oregon is tied to old agriculture, which may well be tied to the searching for staples as vegan stuffing, wild rice casserole, wild rice stuffing, mashed butternut squash that bode the survival of the winter vegetable.  Will this change with global warming, and the increased aridity of most of the New World fields?

 

cranberries

 

The persistent localism of farmed cranberries is a sort of index of the survival of agrarian geography–

 

Wisconsin cranberries

 

PErsistence of localism in cranberries-MA

 

–and, in one slightly optimistic if also unwarranted reading, of a persistent taste for the locally grown.

The specific conditions for the cultivation of crops of cranberry, which demand bogs and abundant wetlands, and a period of winter, leaves it both the talismanic reminder of seasonal crops with which we’re left in late November, the reminder of the agricultural calendar of the stuff on the table–together with the persimmons of southern Indiana and perhaps the collard greens of Virginia.  Furthest from the agrarian time cycle, it seems, Google searches tend to the far more readily at hand/least processed to the most confected.

Perhaps the annual transport of sweet potatoes and some 46 million turkeys every Thanksgiving entails also make one realize the illusory culinary diversity the Times mapped:  perhaps we wish that fewer folks would continue improvising desert rather than shipping trussed birds cross-country, or keep accompanying the carving of the bird that is bulked up with water, stuffing, and potatoes with a suitably over-the-top dessert.

The maps remove us from a tactile relation to the edible harvest feast we might well pause to mourn.

 

Salvatore LascariSalvatore Lascari (1884-1967), Thanksgiving, n.d. Smithsonian American Art Museum

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Filed under mapping agribusiness, mapping foods, mapping local foods, mapping meat, mapping thanksgiving, mapping turkey farms, national foodscapes

KXL?

Last year the Senate failed to pass the bill to authorize the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.  But the fight was intensely waged before a map, and it seems time to scrutinize what that map charts, and place it beside what sort of future map of an energy landscape we seek to create.  And as debate continues, and we look at maps to understand the potential transformation of the landscape the would result from the pipeline that would carry 800,000 barrels of bitumen a day across the farmlands of the central United States.  Can we map both the benefits that the Keystone XL pipeline could bring against the reality of the risks it would pose?

The debate about the pipeline was first rehearsed before a predominantly Democratic Congress, before 2014 elections led Republicans to promise to place the Keystone at the top of their Congressional agenda–in the attempt to place it on an actual map.  The first effort to pass the bill was championed by a Democratic Senator from Louisiana, who vaunted the benefits it would bring to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico, and hoped to convince the C-SPAN public to the nation as a whole.  At a time when the long-time senator felt increasingly politically isolated, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-Louisiana) staged a photo-opportunity standing before a map of the nation:  the map placed the proposed project for laying line across the US among a web of existing national pipelines, as if it would symbolize her own relation to the nation, as well as the place the pipeline within the much-vaunted promise of energy independence.  The deceptiveness of the map by which she sought to symbolize such independence had of course been crafted by pro-corporate supporters of the pipeline, and its deceptiveness–and erasure of costs–needs to be examined, lest it be lodged in one’s mind.

For longtime Sen. Ladrieu, the map displayed the Keystone pipeline as a key to restore or burnish the image of America as an energy superpower.  Yet it disguised the devastation of the extraction of oil or the fact that little of the oil transported was destined for or needed in an American market.  At the same time as oil consumption is declining nationwide and prices are rapidly declining worldwide, Landrieu used the map as something of a backdrop to sell the pipeline by placing it at the centerpiece of a compelling, if largely illusory, vision of energy independence.  But the declining significance of oil to US energy problems (or energy policy) was obscured by Landrieu’s appeal, as it will be, in the Republican priorities for the new Congress, as they make it a top energy priority and link it to the hope of “energy independence” again.  Although such approval would have little effect on changing gasoline prices, and obscure that we face an oil glut, there is almost a fetishization of the pipeline as opening hope for an expansion both of offshore drilling for gas on public lands, and an acceleration of the permitting process for exploring for natural gas that have already been granted.  Hortatory banner ads trumpet with urgency the enticing promise of “Leading America to Energy Independence”–and claim that that will all be done safely, with our best interests in mind.

 

energy indepndence?

Pipelines Work!

 

Yet although the Keystone pipeline has become something of an entrée to the expansion of a new US gas and oil boom, and is billed by TransCanada as the “safest and most advanced” pipeline in the continent, which would offer a new “essential infrastructure” to American oil producers, despite a glut of cheap oil, by presenting the $8 billion project in a rhetoric of progress in energy policy–even though the 800,000 barrels of bitumen (or diluted bitumen) that it would promises to transport each day all the way from the Alberta tar pits to the Gulf Coast refineries would be destined for export, and would mean only 35 permanent jobs.

With no clear benefit to American consumers made clear, however, the “progress” of the bill is being pinned to the notion of creating an expanded and renovated energy infrastructure, even at the cost of expanding other serious infrastructural problems in the country.  By integrating the network of existing gas and oil pipelines as a single network, the map used situated the delayed Keystone project as part of a national network of pipelines, suggesting that it would take its place within a coherent national energy policy.

 

11.19-kxl_standard_540x360Joshua Roberts/Reuters

 

Yet whether such an energy policy exists remains open to debate.

While the map provides a photo opportunity for describing a network that will return America to energy self-sufficiency–the national map becomes the framework to illustrate the collective pipelines that transport both gas and oil across the nation and from offshore wells, as if these manmade pipelines served as the arterial system that illustrated the nation’s vitality–the illusion of energy self-sufficiency masks the fact that, as the boom in Shale gas is poised to restore the nation’s status as  a major energy producer for overseas markets, industry needs to augment or retrofit the existing infrastructure and terminals to be able to export oil and gas efficiently, of which the Keystone pipeline would be the test case.  Indeed, as an infrastructure for exportation becomes an increasingly important part of the future plans of the energy industry, the map of pipelines may have become removed from the national energy market–even though TransCanada is building a separate 2,858-mile pipeline from Alberta to refineries in eastern Canada.  But the danger of a possible leak or bursting of the pipes–even if they are vaunted to be the strongest yet–could create a spill of national devastation far greater than the recent oil spill in Montana, where the bursting of a twelve-inch steel pipeline (albeit a third of the thirty-six inch pipeline used in the 875 miles to be built in ten sections on a 110-foot-wide swath of land), has recently sent oil not only into local drinking water but dispersed contaminants that flowed downstream to a confluence with the Missouri River over sixty miles away in North Dakota–creating a state of emergency declared across several counties after residents found the drinking water to smell like diesel and be oily.

The actual relation of the pipeline to national energy markets would effectively be minimal.  Even though the map foregrounded the impact of the Keystone pipeline on a national energy system, the plea for “independence” voiced by Mary Landrieu, but honed by operatives in the Republican party, would be to circumvent the current and longstanding ban on the crude oil exports from the United States,  and effectively re-write energy policy by allowing the Keystone pipeline, despite its significant costs and potential risks, to provide precedent to change that ban.  In addition, the Keystone pipeline would set precedent for effectively demoting the status of environmental concerns–and demoting the very fears of potentially  dramatically raising carbon emissions in ways that that have been the basis for EPA actions aimed at cutting carbon emissions that have been enacted by President Obama in ways that have hamstrung the same energy industries from expanding coal production in the southern states.

Yet the adverse environmental impact of extracting bitumen from the Tar Sands has already begun in ways that are also erased by the abstraction of the pipeline map that has been widely displayed as an image of Senator Landrieu instead hoped to place the proposal on President Obama’s desk was about illustrating her commitment to job creation.  She barely concealed her longstanding support from the oil industry, however, which would be the benefactor of pumping oily bitumen across the nation to be refined on the Gulf Coast, together with Canadian oil companies.  (The contested question of how much bitumen carried on the pipeline would remain in the United States is contested, and TransCanada has queried whether it makes any sense waited six years to pump crude to the United States to be refined on a 1,179 mile long pipeline:  but the discovery of shale deposits and growth of fracking in the intervening years have led to the redefinition of original plans to send the Canadian crude to American markets; the decline of the arrival of crude suppliers to the Gulf Coast have also increased the demand to pump more oil to the region.)  And after the bill failed to gain the necessary 60 votes to pass, a Lakota native American tribesman from South Dakota, the second of the six states through which the planned pipeline would snake, broke into song in the Senate chambers, as the Rosebud Sioux declared that the “fight against” the impending threat that its construction poses to the Ogallala aquifer had just begun.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 5.05.36 PMNew York Times

 

The map before which she stood appears based on maps that track the oil and gas pipelines that already carry gas and hazardous liquids through the country–a pipeline map–that tracks the range of lines across the country that currently exist, as if they were safe, although their own safety has yet to be ascertained.  The complex of some 2.5 million miles of pipelines that stretch across the country is rarely, in itself, in public view, and has been plagued by actually serious incidents from 1986 that can be tracked on the following interactive map, assembled by ProPublica, based on regulators filed reports.

 

pipeline_line_map-630x420-1ProPublica

 

While the matrix of pipelines seems to suggest a healthy, functioning system that has posed little danger to Americans, one could argue that the reverse is in fact the case: the static version of this interactive map shows the wide range of accidents from ruptures to spills that have occurred over the past twenty years, plotting “accidents” that have occurred from 1986 to the present, or been labeled “significant” by regulators:

 

Accidents Near YOu

 

The spills have been blamed on corrosion of old pipe, for the most part, and distanced from the new pipelines that would comprise the Keystone XL.  But as increasing quantities of oil are transported by train, as well as pipe it is important to consider that oil train spills have hit a record in 2014–more than any year since the federal government began recording data on spillages in 1975, loosing some 57,000 gallons of crude in some 141 “unintentional releases,” compared to just twenty-five a year on average between 1975 and 2012.  This reflects that the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration acknowledges, that “More crude is being transported across the country than in any time in our history, and we are aggressively developing new safety standards to keep communities safe.”  The picture, in short, seems that we have become committed to shipping more oil by train or pipeline–and if pipeline is not yet set, by train–and face increasing risks of oil spills in the future as a result.  (It might make sense investing some of the $8 billion designated for the Keystone XL project on increasing the safety of such transport of crude oil across the country; while the prospect of 800,000 barrels a day that would arrive from the Tar Sands would not be compensated by the loss of a mere 60,000 gallons, the danger of the release of pollutants is steep; cleanups of ruptured pipelines such as the 2010 spillage into the Kalamazoo River approach $800 million.)

Moreover, the effects of “dilbit” that would be transported from the Tar Sands on pipelines that are planned to be laid from Alberta to the Texas Gulf has only been recently studied.  Rather than weigh such issues and dangers, both Senator Landrieu and the pipeline’s supporters construct the debate about “independence”–a keyword that has been cunningly re-appropriated, and was being given new significance at this instance to inflect national debate.  In ways that have intertwined the supporters of the construction of the Pipeline’s extension into the United States with American history and national character, the use of “independence” to discuss this international project is of course almost ironic:  in the context of the multinational project, “independence” would be embedded in meeting the needs of a global market for petroleum and petroleum products, without any clear relation to the long-term reduction of the price of gasoline or cost of energy bills, and without any relation to the amounts of oil available to the national market–or the potential dangers of transporting energy across such a long stretch of underground aquifers and agricultural land.

“And when I mean energy independence,” Senator Landrieu firmly told the U.S. Senate, emphasizing a quite compelling if cunningly crafted keyword, “I mean energy independence for the North American continent,”hoping to muster the votes needed to pass Keystone XL before voters would decide her future in the Senate.  The outgoing Secretary of the Energy Committee spoke before a map which displayed in detail the 2.5 million miles of pipelines across the United States as if they incarnated an established model of practice, and, by virtue of the superimposition of the Keystone upon them, realized her promise of energy independence.  The gas and oil pipelines running across the map behind her illustrate the notion of the nation as self-sufficient she wanted to suggest:  she often gestured to it as if it made good on the questionable promise of “energy independence” for the continent.  Although President Obama’s claim that the pipeline allows “Canada to pump their oil, send it through our land, down to the Gulf, where it will be sold everywhere else” has been questioned, the oil would not simply enter the national free market.

Senator Landrieu based her elusive promise of independence in laying the planned Keystone XL pipeline to transfer crude oil 3, 400 miles from Alberta to Port Arthur.  But the diluted bitumen–“dilbit“–would not be destined for national consumption in the form of gasoline.  It would rather enrich refiners and petroleum-based industries clustered along the eighty-mile stretch of the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans–industries whose presence in that region of the sinuous waters of the Bayoux have impacted the region with grievous environmental degradation area, a previous post argued, mapping the toxic density of petroleum byproduct industries as well as refineries in land formerly lived on by share-croppers.  Landrieu dedicated her attention to pushing for support of extending a pipeline that would extract, at great cost and environmental damages, oil trapped in the tar sands of Alberta to bring it to Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast, where it could be refined for export in some part, but the only jobs it might stand to create would be at ports.

 

keystone-xl-map

 

To be sure, the issue is more complicated: there are multiple refineries that the proposed pipeline would pass, and the US has become a huge exporter of petroleum products from asphalt to jet fuel to gasoline, all of which could be increased by the consumption of more Canadian crude:  the storage tanks of crude oil reserves along the proposed pipeline in Montana, Oklahoma are all near to refineries, and many refineries in Texas are in great demand of new crude, which the pipeline would no doubt provide–by carrying it from Alberta CA across the country.

 

png;base6460b8b39ddd4b0615

 

But the plans for sending the bulk of bitumen to the Gulf Coast would allow the excess of oil products to be sent directly to the Gulf Coast:  at present, Gulf Coast refineries already export one third of the oil they refine.

In presenting the senate chambers with a map of national pipelines, Senator Landrieu pointedly minimized the potential costs of a pipeline, mapped above by dotted red lines, and the potentials of leakages into the Ogallala Aquifer that feeds the Mississippi or the Nebraska Sand Hills, the second largest in the entire world, and normalize the importation of energy into the US.  The map Landrieu propped up in the Senate chamber overlay the Keystone extension onto the nation as if it were an emblem “energy independence” in misleading ways.  For if the map’s focus suggested that the oil would be destined for a national market, it just sought to normalize the pipeline within an existing web of laid line, downplaying its length.  (This knowing use of a map reflects a political strategy first refined by Republicans seeking to stay on message and minimize the novelty of the Keystone line into current practices of energy transport across America.)  Indeed, she erased the possible risks of the transport of such dilbit, despite the existence of a range of oil spills across one of the states that the planned pipeline would be designed to cross–North Dakota–where reported environmental incidents from existing oil wells from Jan 1, 2006 to October 13, 2014 were dangerously clustered around water sources–

 

Oil spills, contained and not,in ND

of which those from oil pipelines were admittedly fewer, but by no means few:

oil pipeline spills

 

Instead of portraying potential pipeline risks, the continuous terrestrial map conveyed an apparent seamlessness with oil would be brought to the Gulf Coast–in ways that would attract more refineries and petrochemical industries to the state, as well as much-needed jobs, seemed as elusive as its promise of energy “independence.”  “What people in Louisiana want, what people in Texas want, what people in Mississippi want, what people in New Jersey want, what people in South Dakota and Illinois and Kansas and Vermont,” Landrieu argued in a quite overly broad geographic over-generalization of the states where work might be brought by the pipeline, “are good-paying jobs.”  Yet the jobs would be primarily for transient short-term works, and bringing considerable long-term costs.  While unemployment is high, the range of jobs that the XL pipeline brought with it would not change the 15.7% seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate for construction workers in the US, and would have minimal influence over folks in Vermont, New Jersey, and Mississippi, even if those Senators might be persuaded to support it.

And the question of its overall energy efficiency in this entire affair is unclear, although the degree that corporations would benefit from the transfer is–the costly overland transport of the oil would lead to an increased pollution from refining that would release 240 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere.  Lastly, the map concealed the potential future environmental damage created by leakages, especially into the Mississippi.  And aside from illustrating the costly overland transport of still more oil to the refineries in her state, the notion that the diluted bitumen would be brought across the border to benefit the country by being refined in Louisiana for export, rather than the elusive goal of energy independence, which seems a red herring in this debate.

The promise of “energy independence” seems something of a sham, unless one somehow considers the needs for petroleum products meant for export as a pillar of our petroleum needs.  However, the implication that the Keystone pipeline would primarily intersect with and augment the amount of oil, gas, or petroleum that flows through the nation–in a sort of “petrography” in which pipelines substitute for the waters that nourish the nation–is a convenient fabrication and association, not backed up by the facts.

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 5.01.57 PMNew York Times

 

Lest one ever suppose the pipeline posed a compromise to Energy Policy or practice in the United States, Landrieu used a map prized by Republicans to make an effective case for the introduction of the TransCanada pipeline into the country, an image that had been pointedly designed to help “win the messaging war, as Republican Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina boasted at a recent gathering in Myrtle Beach, by showing existing pipelines across the country–he argued it revealed the dissonance between that “what the President wants you to see” about the pipeline’s dangers stands with existing pipeline used, as “often those two things are divorced in Washington, D.C.”–as if to suggest the distortions perpetuated by government.   Larger distortions are offered in the map, which charts all energy pipelines in the U.S., entirely regardless of what sort of fuel they transport, let alone whether they carry oil or bitumen to a larger market.

 

Commodity-pipelines

 

A two-tone version of the same map of 2012 distinguished the distinct networks of gas and oil pipeline, as a national system, untangles this dense web by distinguishing the overlay between each network of lain pipe.

 

Map oil and gas copy

 

But the largest geographical distortions of such maps however is to minimize where the oil is extracted, if its greatest distortion of benefits is to align the presence of bitumen in the Tar Sands with our national interests.

The network of pipelines misleads since it fails to note the volume of gas, oil or crude to be transported.  The implied argument that it shows “pipelines all over this country that function each and every day without any environmental impact at all” is even more problematic.  While it suggests that energy transport is already so strongly embedded in the infrastructure of the nation that the addition of one more could not change much, the map omits the practices of extraction that would allow this new pipeline to flow, and the costs and dangers implied by laying the pipe to carry so much crude oil across the United States–no extant pipelines indeed carry diluted bitumen, or cross large aquifers as the Keystone XL was planned to do, even if the extent of pipeline coverage reveals coordination between Canadian and U.S. energy corporations already in existence in 2002.

By superimposing the Keystone pipeline atop a similar map of both offshore and on-land pipelines, the map normalizes the laying of pipeline by placing it within the web of existing coverage, in order to encourage its acceptance.  The map’s focus removes it from unique and specific costs–and indeed foregrounds the mass of situated pipelines as an existing network as if it would not be intrusive to existing energy policy.  The greatest magic that the national map works for viewers is to subtract the costs of extracting bitumen up in Alberta.  For as much as we’d like to regard the issue as about America, and American energy independence, it mask the interests actual the transport of oil would actually serve, and the local damages extraction inflicts.  For the pipeline, by a magic turn of hand, relocating oil in a complex overland transfer, would be, it is promised, a form of economic rejuvenation of the old ports of the Gulf, which it would expand as a center for oil exportation.  At a time when Canada’s pipelines are not even full, however, the decision to dramatically expand how much oil we pump across the country, and the diversion of diluted bitumen through the Keystone XL would primarily send new crude from the tar sands so that it could be refined in the Gulf Coast and shipped to all the world–to maximize the volumes Gulf Coast refineries already serve.

In an alternative mapping, that disposes with the iconography of pipelines altogether, the National Resources Defense Council provocatively mapped the dripping of a line of very viscous dilbit across the central United States. The map instead calls attention to the possibilities for leaks in any section of the pipeline; the leaching of dirty sands for export mapped below leaves the country in a clear visual echo of the disaster of the last Gulf Spill, when crude washed up on the Louisiana coast and so polluted its shores.

 

NRDCNRDC

 

How many potential effects on the environment in Alberta are omitted by tracing only the routes of crude oil transport?  Setting apart the dangers of potential leakages in the extended pipeline, the deep changes that this oddly construed geography of energy extraction are predicated on huge changes to the site where bitumen mining would occur, and large deposits of toxic sludge leaked daily into the Athabasca River harm not only its fish and Alberta’s boreal forest–and expose local residents to considerable carcinogenic risk that mining raises.  Indeed, even if TransCanada pursues, as is expected, a network of railways to export the oil, to take advantage of its abilities to monetize its large supplies of crude, the costs of extracting crude from the sands–as well as the environmental costs of refinement–demand to be considered in this labyrinthine debate. And this is without considering the potential future costs of the leakages on the pipeline, the danger of which has encouraged Oceti Sakowin, the Great Sioux Nation, to gather with Bold Nebraska, and 350.org to respond to what Lakota have seen as a potential “act of war” against the earth.

 

pol_canada11__01__630x420Todd Korol/Reuters

i_N.k9mXQRAMNorm Betts/Bloomberg

 

The map of the projected path of the pipeline into the United States abstracts its costs.  It masks of the curiously inefficient practices of moving extracted viscous deposits of the peanut-butter thick bitumen from Alberta to be transported south in the pipeline.  The process of extraction poses huge environmental degradation to a region located in the boreal forest; extraction releases such greenhouse gas emissions from plumes of smoke so rich in carbon that Canada was forced to withdraw front the 1997 Kyoto Accord to lower standards, finding that its emissions have risen some 17% in the twenty years since the Accord was signed, although the Canadian government has so far strongly resisted adopting a carbon tax to try to discourage the emissions advocated by ShellCanada and Exxon Mobil’s local affiliates.  (The first assessment by the Obama administration withheld opinion about whether the pipeline would worsen climate change, as well.)

But the huge amount of dilbit aimed to be transported would lead to the extraction and release of some 240 billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere that would, if it does not remain in the ground, be sufficient to raise the world’s temperature by a full degree.  The costs of such creation of carbon, which would be evident in the risings sea-level and destruction of the shores, are oddly absent from any map of the pipeline’s proposed construction.

The evidence of such emissions are apparent, in part, however, in the environmental effects of carbon emissions and sludge pit creation that have occurred already in Alberta–a place not on several pipeline maps or not visible in detail, although the effects are written on the land.  Such environmental effects are indeed often omitted and rarely represented cartographically, but have been documented in detail in the aerial photos of Canadian aerial photographer Louis Helbig, now collected in his book, Beautiful Destruction.  Some of the costs of the environmental catastrophe located in Alberta are revealed in Helbig’s gloriously terrifying aerial photos, which capture the environmental costs of the mining of bitumen and its refining to crude on the local environment, or what is left of a landscape created to produce  345,000 barrels of bitumen per day–one fifth of which would be derived by extracting bitumen from the sands in a version of strip-mining, and have already altered the landscape where oil has begun to be extracted from the Tar Sands.

Even before the oil needs to be extracted from the sand and bitumen, it has to be mined:

 

there-are-two-main-ways-to-extract-oil-from-the-oil-sands-one-way-known-as-open-pit-mining-extracts-the-bitumen-oil-which-is-closer-to-the-surface-of-the-earth-buy-removing-the-soil-above-itLouis Helbig

 

One starts, however, from the clear-cutting of the region to begin the laborious and uneconomical process of extraction, removing all trees, plants, or other vegetation from the ground where bitumen lies–all of which is generically termed by engineers the “overburden”–to start to mine the potentially desired bitumen.

 

the-earth-above-the-bitumen-known-as-overburden-must-be-completely-removed-including-all-trees-plants-or-other-natural-elements-in-order-to-access-the-oil-underneathLouis Helbig

 

this-extraction-method-is-obviously-quite-destructive-luckily-only-20-of-the-oil-in-the-area-can-be-mined-in-this-manner-still-thats-a-lot-of-landLouis Helbig

 

The bulldozing of such earthworks is only the start of a process which occurs after the bitumen is extracted–at the cost of a huge amount of water–and energy–and refined in ways that releases more byproducts of its own in the McMurray Formation, whose large “tar ponds” inflict untold damage–even before the oil enters the planned pipeline–on the surrounding environment, so that it is sacrificed for the goal of oil export.

 

tar-sands

 

Once the bitumen is “refined,” waste-products deadly to wildlife are “stored,” improbably, in outdoor ponds.

 

pools by helbigLouis Helbig

 

All of this is what Senator Mary Landrieu doesn’t want you to see, but it suggests the costs omitted from a map.  Indeed, these costs are omitted from the web of pipelines and planned expansions across the country, and the new risks raised by creating a pipeline through country where none exists for good reason.

 

keystoneXL-mapThe Progressive Influence

 

Senator Landrieu think she is doing good service to Louisiana by bringing more crude oil to be refined on its shores.  After all, the network of lines submerged off the shore has already created a coast actually crisscrossed by offshore pipelines, as permitted by the aptly named Submerged Lands Act which allows the Federal government to permit running lines on the ocean floor more than three miles offshore, creating the multiple sites of oil extraction like the Deepwater Horizon we all know so well.

 

gulfofmexicopipelines

 

Did the map simply stop serving as an effective tool to envision what energy independence would look like?  Of course, the fight against the pipeline’s construction is by no means over, and will probably be reintroduced in January, when the new Congress reconvenes, in another form.  (Henry Waxman, the lone Democrat on the House of Representative’s Energy and Commerce committee to find it “seriously flawed” will no longer hold a seat as of January, although both Ron Wyden and Barbara Boxer remain “very concerned.”)  But energy independence may look different now to many, with the arrival of new maps of the exploitation of the potential trillions of barrels of oil that are held in shale formations under many regions of the United States, and the considerable potential which many energy companies are no doubt eager to throw money at.

 

Shale Oil Deposits-1.ISSoil_110218.png.cms

 

Even so, it must be remembered that a range of pipelines that promise to deliver tar sands oil across some 10,000 miles that promises to deliver some 3.1 million barrels of crude a day to global markets have already been projected for some time, and may indeed soon arrive.

 

projected pipelines

 

 

Perhaps the most unspoken “map” that still demands a good cartographer to plot out is the amount of monies that TransCanada and other oil and gas industries have filtered to those republican politicians who represent state with the strongest presence of the energy industry, raising questions of where the best forum truly is to pronounce upon the future construction of pipelines at such incredible environmental costs.

While moneys were received in large numbers by Senators of both parties–and especially by Senator Landrieu, the average about of over $660,000 per Senator voting to approve the pipeline–who, over the course of their political careers, have collectively received over $33 million, in a sort of down-payment, with some $4.2 million going to those Democrats voting “nay.”  (Republican supporters of Keystone XL have each received some $662,000 from oil and gas interests.)

AAOG

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Filed under environmental risk, gas and oil pipelines, Keystone Pipeline, Keystone XL, mapping a national energy policy, oil pipelines, oil spills, Tar Sands

Tracing a Shadow Transit System: Subaltern Cartographies?

With Manhattan long ago out pricing many who might have lived there in the past, even as New York City’s Mass Transit Authority does good duty as a serviceable means to secure transportation across the isle, the five boroughs are simply not fully linked to the surrounding extra-urban area residents are pressed to move.  We needed Aaron Reiss to give voice to the less-mapped history of “paratransit-systems” fashioned from a web of dollar vans linking the city’s residents and constitute a central part of its perpetual mobility.  If New York City’s MTA map was a modernist icon of the city that initiated one to a labyrinthine pathways as a right of passage–the long-gone tokens are often worn as necklace, fetish, and a totem of conquering the web of transit–the map showed a preponderance of lines running north and south in Manhattan shortchanged commuters to Queens, and barely served Long Island.

The 1972 modernist remapping lent coherence to the historical layering of a system of subways, organizing its individual lines of the BMT, IRT and IND in a system of streamlined colors so its order seemed intuitively clear.  Designed by the late honorary New Yorker Massimo Vignelli, whose graphical craft would rebrand much of New York City in the early 1970s, so indelible has the iconography become that its subsequent iterations continue to respect the constellation’s symbolic form.  Reiss appropriated the same iconography and symbolic form to move beyond the service in five boroughs and suggest a system which operates where busses and subways just don’t reach, providing a guide to the routes on which large numbers of Manhattanites daily travel to destinations the city’s “public” transit system doesn’t extend or recognize.

 

Out of Manhattan

 

With the apparatus of MTA subway lines left in a ghostly grey that might indicate their supersession, Reiss provides the other map that is perhaps more present to a range of New York’s residents, collating commuter routes across low-income (and often immigrant) neighborhoods that supplement the system of subways run by private companies which offer far more than service to JFK.  Working at lower cost than the system of public transit itself, these lines/shuttles, more often known about through employees and networks rather than from printed or paper maps, to render what Reiss calls “New York’s shadow transportation system,” and which he dignifies with an iconography imitating the elegant minimalism of Vignelli’s classic map.

 

M Vignelli maps subway system_1972

 

Vignelli’s spider-like tracery of pastel lines improbably festooned a grim New York with candy-colored stripes spreads out from the dense knot of Midtown (Central Park is an improbable squat grey, alerting viewers to the map’s distortion and representational remove), a bow of ribbons from which it serves the outer boroughs.

 

Downtown

 

The real story behind the map is the extent to which this vision of the transit system no longer serves the needs of a wide range of commuters, who have attached themselves to a system of public transit hubs to more easily move among the now-geographically-disparate pockets of ethnic communities by lines of dollar-vans, minibuses or limousines, often to reach places on routes of transit the MTA doesn’t offer–from which it has even, Reiss found, withdrawn as service has contracted.  Providing culturally familiar settings of transit for work, links among ethic enclaves, beyond making trips to airports, cash-only van lines permitted by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission continue to serve the working-class underserved, offering an ethnography of immigrant populations in the five boroughs and New Jersey coast and malls in an unofficially improvised response to local needs.  If needs are met in ways that arose from informal networks of drivers and dollar vans, Reiss was, of course, not imagining providing these to their users, but rather tracing a visual ethnography of the improvised economy of urban transit, and a voyeuristic way to look at the emergent economy of dollar vans as if it were an autonomous system of transport of its own, in ways one imagines would not be so happily welcomed or accepted by the majority of its drivers paying customers.

Reiss’s map more to the point shows the degree to which the aging public transit systems of Manhattan and New York City at large has found itself outstripped by the pressing needs of a larger populace.  In ways that reveal the relocation of many immigrants to regions out of the purview or coverage of the existing public transit webs, the improvised sub-economies reflect the city’s shifting social geography, and offers, more than an actual guide to transit, something like a guide to the dispersion of formerly contiguous communities, and indeed often more recognizable (and less costly) modes of travel than the city’s underground subway lines.  With the rise of fares for the subway, and inflexible nature of much of the physical plant of subway lines to keep up with the city’s expansion to outer boroughs, the lines provide quick lines of transit able to keep up with the geographical displacement of communities, as well as more culturally familiar modes of travel.

When you read the maps themselves, think less of an interlocking system, than a mode to link the removed, reflecting the subaltern cultures of transit from Jamaica Center to Long Island and Far Rockaway,

 

Jamaica Center

 

across to work in Eastern New Jersey from the Port Authority,

 

NJ Minibuses

 

 

or among New York’s recent dispersed Chinatowns.

 

 

Linking Chinatowns in NYC

 

 

If Vignelli’s modernist map celebrated the antiquated system of transit was, in turn, widely celebrated for its untangling of the layers of public transit–adding a contemporary sheen to an outdated outfit and enlivening an apparently creaky enterprise–Reiss’s map untangles how communities have spun off the accepted grid.

His map recalls Pakistani-American artist Asma Ahmed Shikoh’s elegant 2006 appropriation of Vignelli’s subway lines to her neighborhood in Brooklyn as a cultural microcosm of the city’s expanse as a whole, converting the iconic map to an Urdu manuscript, the maps create a poetics of presence and reuse of urban space–albeit in ways that stretch beyond the circumscribed range of transit the system provided itself.

ASVanwyck-1

But if Shikoh deftly showed “Vanwyk Blvd” in a new iconography of her own community, returning the map to the tones of an illuminated manuscript to give it a scriptural status, Reiss uses Vignelli’s symbolic form to give graphic form to the process of dramatic disaggregation of the new New York City that a newly improvised system of dollar vans arose to meet.

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Filed under Asma Ahmed Shikoh, Massimo Vignelli, New York City, New York Taxi and Limousine Commission, Port Authority (NY), transit maps

Mapping the Current State of Surveillance

The ACLU has explored the expansion of crude techniques used by the FBI in mapping American Communities–in a sort of darker side of the illuminating geography of data amassed in the US Census’ American Community Survey.  Much as Senator Jon Tester not that belatedly strove to balance his desire for “law enforcement agencies to use cutting-edge tools to catch criminals and protect our borders” with the appearance that such technologies “potentially violate the Fourth Amendment and represent a significant intrusion into the lives of thousands of Americans,” the ACLU has recently mapped a growing geography of surveilling that the FBI has created in recent years that include the very surveillance devices of dirtboxes which Senator Tester, who has quite staunchly supported citizens’ civil liberties, invited Jeh Jenson of the Homeland Security office and the Attorney General to take time to explain to the country.

Senator Tester’s belief that stricter oversight is needed stems from the “extreme lengths” to which federal agencies have so assiduously cloaked such programs in secrecy, his letter of request about the widespread use of dirtboxes that act as cellphone towers to intercept phone communications by both US Marshals and the US Drug Enforcement Agency may well have stemmed in part from the geography of a widespread surveillance program that the ACLU has started to map in the state of California, but which might reveal both the dissemination of military technologies of surveilling across the nation, and the local expansion of the new level of worldwide surveilling recently focussed on and directed mostly toward areas outside the territorial boundaries of the United States.  While we are waiting for Mssrs. Jeh and Holder to respond, the arrival of the scope of the mapping of residents of California–or even those traveling in the state–might well give pause if not raise expectations for the scope of what levels of individual surveilling will be revealed.  For the map of degrees of surveillance shows something of a microcosm of the extent of the expansion of surveilling ourselves of the very sort that Senator Tester was so rightly wary that he has promised to his best to publicize should it pose so clear a violation of the US Constitution as seems the case, in an attempt to place them under the oversight of both courts and the US Congress in order to restrict their use.

The maps of surveillance that the ACLU has taken upon themselves to provide is not only “cutting-edge” in its use of tools of surveillance but suggest the degree to which law enforcement agencies actively aspire to something along the lines of precognition of which groups might be likely to commit crimes in recent years–as if in a gambit for the foreknowledge Philip K. Dick imagined pre-cogs helping police apprehend criminals before they commit crimes in Minority Report,  but based not on the psychical foresight of “pre-cogs” so much as the statistical prediction of categories of probably cause of criminality or value of surveillance that runs against many of our legal traditions.  Such snooping for intelligence gathering recalls the sort of racial profiling former which Attorney General Eric Holder (quite rightly) once lent his voice to strongly oppose, following the 2003 DoJ “Guidance on Race”–yet which he incrementally allowed from 2008 for both national security and law enforcement alike.  Holder has hesitated to restrict or unmask such activities as an abusive expansion of surveillance over Americans.  And he has allowed investigation and surveillance of “behaviors” and “lifestyle characteristics” to be directed at American Muslim communities from New England to Northern California.

These activities have actually continued to expand dramatically over the past decade–including instances of the outright abuse of community outreach programs first initiated to build trust.  In a bizarre absorption of such outreach into the apparatus of a tentacular system of state surveillance, the monster seems to have been fed by the deep fears of the insufficiency of procuring further information,  and the need to gather it at all costs.  In ways that recall the suspension of individual human rights in the use of torture to obtain state secrets–but is directed to monitoring its populations, much as the extraction and mapping of such racial and ethnic data by the FBI’s Domestic Intelligence and Operations Guide (DIOG).

Such crude tools of mapping function by a pervasive sense and logic of invasiveness.  We are mapped in ways that lack even the logic or ethics one expects from a government service, it appears, as government services aim to create a sort of all-seeing eye for mapping populations, vacuuming up information in an almost paranoid manner.  ACLU’s Chris Soghoian has recently disclosed the existence of widespread surveillance program among US Marshalls across the state of California, including a fleet of airplanes flying from five metropolitan airports dedicated to collecting cell phone data and equipped with dirtboxes to do so–since 2007,  that parallel the NSA’s programs of surveillance, now known to be concentrated on the Southwestern border of the US by the DEAImmigration and Customs Agency, Homeland Security Agency, and FBI.

The degree of widespread and almost routine adoption of public surveillance systems by the government across the United States might be best understood as a sort of surveillance of the everyday, ranging from video surveillance, false cell phone towers, or facial recognition software that offer a range of tools to map populations to a degree never known.  The new nature of law enforcement mapping may suggest something like a desperation to agglomerate information, and a deep difficulty to hold back on abilities and technologies to extract information on individual whereabouts, and indeed to track persons where they could not be often seen.  The ability to map the invisible, and to try to intercept signals that move through the air, transcends whatever notions of mapping to which we might be habituated, cultivating new abilities of collating information that seem deeply intrusive.

 

spyfiles_marqueeACLU

 

Techniques of mapping populations have grown in their intrusiveness far beyond the mapping of ethnicities, initially pioneered by men like Francis Amasa Walker, that offered a statistical visualization of the demand for more information than most maps can provide.  When Walker mapped the nation’s populations from 1873, as Secretary of the Census, he offered a way of reading national space in new ways for public ends as well, potentially, for the needs of the government.  The recent mapping of ethnicity and behavior has of course augmented in detail in order to track individuals’ spatial position over time, as well as to chart patterns of individual behavior.  The compilation of such an exhaustive map of spatial position has grown for reasons of security, but meets a increasing interest in reading maps of local populations at a level of detail and crude classification renders Walker’s tools of tabulating the composition of the population something of a precedent for enlisting new technologies of surveillance used to create the appearance of safety and quell  fears–although the forms of tracking, intelligence gathering, and remote sensing must have created a broad body of map-readers whose charge it is to interpret the massive range of data that is daily culled.

 

alker Legend

 

What has perhaps most radically changed is the studied intrusiveness with which such data is culled–and the precision of ongoing surveillance that it allows by a proxy army of drones. stingray tracking devices that mimic cell phone towers to capture identifying information, cameras of automatic license plate recognition and scanners of facial recognition systems to create a state of surveillance that we are only beginning to map.

The quantities of data that such tools amass is suggested by a survey of the layers of procuring information across the state, recently issued by the ACLU to draw attention to their amassing of data without public notice, which seems to complement the large-scale infiltration of Muslim communities.  But it goes beyond them, in suggesting a mapping project that monitors daily behaviors and to target individuals by a battery of technologies which abandon and depart from tools of rendering to collate data human minds could not visualize.  These technologies cannot but change how space is experienced–and perceived–even if we lack an image of the results that such surveilling will be able to produce, since the master-map will remain inaccessible to our eyes.

The government money that is directed to maintaining an intensive level of intrusive surveillance of the everyday across the state of California alone has been mapped by the ACLU in interactive form to allow comparisons between levels of surveillance that exist in California’s communities and fifty-eight counties.  The map was appositely issued together with both a community guide to resist intrusive surveillance technologies whose use has so dramatically expanded, oriented to different technologies currently used, and its initiation of a statewide campaign against abuses of intelligence gathering that use drones (used in three counties or cities), body cameras (used in thirty-two), tools of facial recognition (used in sixteen) or video surveillance (used in sixty-one–roughly half the number of cities and counties surveyed).

 

Video Surveillance in CA

Highcharts/US Census

 

That’s right, the cost of such surveilling of the state?  Quite a bit over $18 million.

The number of states and counties using Automatic License Plate Recognition, a particularly invasive mode of monitoring populations on the road that comes at only a slightly lower cost, is similarly quite expansive (fifty-seven), suggesting the broad range of areas that are subject to surveillance in California’s largest cities and (interestingly) Central Valley:

 

ALPRE

 

 

Grouping the technologies, Attorney General Kamala Harris, the state seems strikingly well covered for less than $50 million of your tax dollars:

 

Grouping the Technologies

 

 

While Facial Recognition techniques are concentrated in mostly in the Southlands, it augurs a particularly invasive form of individual mapping, whose apparent concentration on questions of immigration may be destined to expand with time beyond the sixteen counties and cities where it is used currently.

 

Facial Recognition

 

 

 

Face Recognition--CNN

 

Although we have focussed on the technologies purchased by local police in Ferguson MI, we have done so perhaps ignored the spending spree on body cameras by local authorities across the nation.  Uncovering the considerable expenditure of some $64 million on mapping the whereabouts of potentially suspicious individuals poses a new level of government invasiveness across the state.

The ACLU has created a specially designed checklist for local governments and authorities across the country to consider, before adopting technology that we associate with the NSA.  Such advanced technologies, enlisted as useful without clear oversight practices having evolved or being instituted, or even with public notice being given, have been seem designed to create a comprehensive map that echoes, in microcosm, the state of surveillance we’ve been learning about increasingly this year.  Stingray technologies, able to track a person’s location based on cell-phone signals, are a high-precision level of mapping, already adopted in twelve counties or municipalities including by police in Oakland CA, are increasingly widely used by police throughout the United States in fifteen states, the adoption of which can be tracked interactively, if you are planning on Thanksgiving travels and would like to know.  (And it’s not only the government that is now in the business of using cellular interception technologies for the ends surveilling, we’ve been recently reminded, lest this sort of snooping only be understood as a top-down activity, rather than a widely available software for intercepting unencrypted calls long considered private by means of a radio scanner.)

 

Stingray USe

ACLU invites members and non-members alike to send email letters, with the subject line “Don’t Map Me or My Community,” to express their desire to help restrict such intelligence-gathering and mapping tools that are regularly based on practices of ethnic or racial profiling, and set new standards for invasiveness.  NSA has long been doing this sort of tracking worldwide, but the intrusive mapping of populations across the US has come home to roost.

google_cameras_inside

Surveilling is a backformation dating from the 1960’s from “surveillance.”  Its use has, however, unsurprisingly really taken off recently , even if it has crested from about 2000, the omniscient folks at Google let us know . . . and the question that this post might pose is how much it is destined to further grow in common usage.

 

Surveilling

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Filed under ACLU, Homeland Security, mapping surveillance, Tools of Surveillance

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Tracking the After-Images of Secession across the United States (Part III)

Mapping the nation gained wide currency as a way of performing national identity with the rise of the readily printed maps.  Outfits such as the U.S. Election Map Co. that were founded in the mid to late nineteenth century to provide readers a legible record of the nation.  Scribners was fortunate to be able to invest money in their appearance and legibility continued them in works such as the maps of presidential elections in Scribner’s Statistical Atlas in spectacularly modern form– including such maps as the masterful county-by-county survey that clarified results of the highly contested presidential election of 1880, where Republicans and Democrats divided around the contested question of the continuation of Reconstruction.  These images echo the statistical maps that applied the principles Francis Amasa Walker first developed in the 1874 Statistical Atlas to visualize varied spatial distributions from population density to wealth to ethnicities for the U.S. Government–“clothing the dry bones of statistics in flesh and blood,” so that, in Gannett’s words, “their study becomes a delight rather than a task.”

 

Statistical Atlas

 

The volume dedicated to Walker showed itself particularly sensitive to the possibilities of the visual delight of arranging information for viewers in data visualizations, using graphic tools developed with the German immigrant mapmaker Edwin Hergesheimer to wax poetical about the scope of visualize geographic variations as aids by which “not only the statistician and political theorist, but the masses of the people, who make public sentiment and shape public policy, may acquire that knowledge of the country . . . which is essential to intelligent and successful government.”  These sentiments–continuing those of Walker, but announcing the new purview of the info-graphic in a culture where maps had become, in Martin Bruckner‘s words, a new form of performing the nation that built upon increased geographic literacy to narrate national identity but one that extended dramatically beyond the role printed maps played in the eighteenth century.  In the aftermath of Civil War, the body of maps that Gannett and Hewes assembled provided nothing less than a new way to embody the nation in visual form.

Good government was the final endpoint of showing the deep divide in national consensus within the popular vote in his 1883 mapping the geographic distribution as a two-color breakdown or divide, and not suggesting the conundrum that the government must faced–or a sign of the lack of legitimacy of the government, and impossibility of governing well.  In showing a historical survey of not only the “physical features of the country” but “the succession of [political] parties and the ideas for which they existed,” Walker knew that Gannett’s map suggested the different divides revealed, and his pre-Tufteian precept that “simpler methods of illustration are, as a rule, more effective” to summarize and bring together the “leading facts” was done with “care . . . taken to avoid over-elaboration,” so that “by different shades of color, the maps are made to present a bird’s eye view of the various classes of facts, as related to area or population,” including political economy, church membership, mineral deposits, and electoral returns.  The notion that the reification of electoral returns constituted a map provided a new way of envisioning the polity that Walker saw as particularly profitable for mass-readership.  We’re now often the readers of info-graphics of far greater historical poverty, far more used to parse the political electorate of the country in ways that cast the viewer as the spectator to something approaching the naturalization of insurmountable divides.

 

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

The new flatness of the divide is disquieting, if not false.  The maps in the Scribners’ innovative Statistical Atlas were the product of the adventurous tastes of newspaper and magazine editors who worked with new confidence to reach new numbers of readers, investing in graphics to appeal to a new eye and a new desire to envision the nation, in ways we have only begun to reach in the far flatter visualizations that we distribute online and even in print.  In the lavishly produced periodicals of post-Civil War America, multi-colored maps raised questions about the legibility of a unified national space.  They suggested fragility in the union from the government’s point of view.  But they challenged viewers to find how that unity might be read in a particularly engaging ways–as well as being preserved, and provide far more subtle texts–and statistical knives–than the pared-down infographics that appear so often on our handhelds and screens today.  In ways that suggest a new standard for the historical depth of the infographic, the map used statistical “facts” to embody the nation so that one can almost zoom in on its specific regions, in a manner that prefigure the apparently modern versatility the medium Google Maps, but that do so by exploiting its folio-sized dimensions as a canvas to read the nation’s populations.

In ways that graphically processed the tabulation of the popular vote that it lay at the reader’s fingertips, the map’s author, Henry Gannet, delved into the question of how clearly the divide between north and south actually mapped out onto the clear enclaves and redoubts of Republican partisanship that are located in Baton Rouge and the South Carolina coast, and much of Virginia and Texas, that challenged the dichotomic division between “northern” and “southern” states.  An antecedent to GIS, in Walker’s designs for the maps, the striking color scheme presented pockets of Democratic resistance with a clarity that made them pop out and immediately strike viewers’ eyes as a way to grasp the political topography of the country in especially modern ways, as if to map the meaning of its Republican consensus.  The map represents the heights of good design that the New York newspaper industry had pioneered after the Civil War, enriched by advertising and graphic design, even if it was designed by the statistician who helmed the United States Census in Washington.  Its pointed argument on the difficulty of taking the electoral map that resulted–shown as an inset–as a reflection of an actual divide raises questions about the current tendency to naturalize “Red” states versus “Blue” states, if it seems devised to answer questions about how the national fabric was rent by opposed divides during Reconstruction.

How the map, very much in the manner of contemporary graphics, came to synthesize political history in legible form by embodying them–Walker’s “flesh and blood”–seem premonitions of contemporary market for info-graphics.  But they were removed from the increasingly unavoidable divides that recent info-graphics suggest but seem designed to perpetuate, or the readily improvised graphics of the short-term that are consumed in made-for-television maps viewed largely in living rooms on television screens.  If the unified color blocks of much data visualization is sadly designed to discourage reading or interpretation, in ways that almost seem destined to limit our political vision for the future of the country, the opportunities that Gannett’s map allows to delve into the palimpsest of the popular vote might help to remove what seem blinders on our shared sense of the political process.  The market for the new info-graphic is quite distinct, and designed not for an Encyclopedia, but created for the short-term–and indeed valued as a short-term image of the contemporary with its own expiry date.

The needs of mapping an image national continuity were quite distinct, and might be profitably historicized in ways that would be foreign from the current market for or demand that info-graphics fill.  For the rationale for creating such a visualization of the popular vote’s distribution, if contemporary to a range of new maps for visualizing and processing the nation, gained pressing value after the Hayes-Tilden contest–as it would after the recent defining Presidential contest between Bush and Gore, or for the race between Obama and Romney–for their critical explanatory role to resolve the nation’s symbolic coherence.

The resemblance in the divide revealed in info graphics seems far deeper than political partisan allegiance, and the culture of this divide difficult to pinpoint–although the anti-Republican sentiment of the South was fierce in the election of 1880 seems a likely point to begin to map the local resistance to the continued presence of federal troops.  The divide between north and south echoes the division redrawn on Wikipedia between slave-states and free states circa 1849, and  enshrined in a latitudinal divide across the southwest of America in the so-called “Missouri Compromise”to permit slave-holding in the south and prevent its expansion to the north at the same time the country expanded–

 

959px-Missouri_Compromise_Line.svg

Wikipedia Commons

–and seems to continue, almost but only somewhat humorously, in the  confidence with which the ex-KGB operative Igor Panarin in 1998 forecast the future fragmenting of the United States circa 2010 into four Divided States, in a somewhat silly graphic that transposed the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 to the other side of the Atlantic.  Panarin’s image has gained currency as a meme of failed unwelcome futurology, describing the “Texas Republic” whose northern boundary recuperated the same latitudinal divide, and gained a new readership, ironically, among readers of the internet eager for new infographics to compress living history to paradigms, but suggest his own study of nineteenth-century history, as much as futurology:

 

P1-AO116_RUSPRO_NS_20081228191715

 

And it raises questions about how we have begun to use and disseminate maps on the internet to stand as symbolic surrogates of the political divisions about which we’ve become increasingly concerned because of the worries they create about the continued smooth institutional functioning of representational democracy, and of the images we retain of how the popular vote can continue to translate into an effective Congress, rather than one dominated by gridlock.  (The ex-KGB agent’s prediction generated considerable interest in mapping the fracturing of the Republic along analogous regional divides in our own country, as the common practice of remapping cross-pollinated with GIS software and the rise of attention-getting maps.)

 

1.  GIS offers new modes to visualize statistical distributions and modeling national divides in the electorate, often warping actual geographical divides, in ways that have encouraged the increased role of the info graphic as a speech act.  The increased authority of picturing the nation in electoral maps have spun out from the night-time coverage of elections to remain burned in many of our cortices as evidence of a divided nation. As much as these colors have come to accentuate national divides, they create a differentiated landscape that the format of mapping seems to naturalize, and become a site that occasioned repeated glossing and interpretation for the evidence of national divisions that they appear to encode.  (Indeed, the sharing of two-color projections to forecast the outcome of the 2014 elections was both a cottage industry or diversion, so widespread was interest in adapting tools of forecasting to provide “flesh and blood” for making potentially compelling political predictions by slicing up the nation in different ways.)  Often seeming to evade the sort of issues that indeed continue to divide the United States, the widespread currency of such practices often perpetuate the very notion of a chasm of colored blocks as the best visual metaphor for the nation, in ways Walker and Gannett would find a remarkably different notion of a map.

Compelling translation of the popular to the electoral votes invoke the red v. blue divide in particularly graphic terms, and filled with a growth of a number of purple states that make the oppositional divide between Republicans and Democrats much less clean than it once was. (While the Republican party had long assumed the color blue in the nineteenth century, as the party of Lincoln, and blue was used to designate regions voting Republican the newscaster Tim Russert is credited with having first used the color-coding of the electoral choropleth to describe the prominence of the electoral divide in the United States presidential election of 2000 on a single episode of the Today show on October 30, 2000–although he denies having introduced the term as an opposition, and colored maps were long used to depict voter preferences in states.)  Back in the days of the innocence of 2000, the hues took hold to parse the nation with urgency during reporting about the results of that presidential election–and entered common parlance after the conclusion of the fourth presidential election in which the victor failed to win a plurality of the popular vote.

The apparent cleavage of the nation into two regions–more populace blue states with large electoral votes, and many red states with fewer, save Texas and the contested Florida, whose electors may have been erroneously awarded to Bush–and the map of a division of the states into what seemed a red “heartland” and blue periphery expressed a somewhat paradoxical national divide that appeared two different nations–or one nation of continuous red, framed by something of more densely populated blue.

 

Bush v. Gore
The far more broader expanse of a sheet of uniform red, the color specific to the Republican party by 2000, drew a clear dichotomy drawn between Blue States versus Red States, that appeared less an emblem of sovereignty than of a deeply running national divide in a country whose political process had almost lost familiar geographical moorings: the familiar geographic map was warped by the outsized role of certain states in the electorate, and the consequent often disproportionate tussling over winning their electoral votes of “swing states.”

Unlike Henry Gannett’s statistical map, the image of a contiguous region of “Red States” in the above infographic seems to divide the union, as much as offering clues and cues to get one’s mind around a divided electorate. The below cartogram of the 2004 election warps the national territory to reflect the distribution of electoral votes in each state–and the mosaic of victory that the “red” states constituted in total electoral votes revealed several divides in the nation, or the hiving off of the northeast, west, and Great Lakes states from the majority–or, alternatively, the concentration of Democratic votes in dense pockets of urban areas–that reveals two republics, all the more evident from the continuity of the U-shaped red stretch of disquieting uniformity that emerged when the popular votes is translated to a map of electoral votes.

 

3-2004-electoralcollege-cartogram

 

4-2004-by-county

 

We have become especially accustomed to interpreting the contours of such national divides in the electorate with strategic urgency in the age of Obama, although the battle for electoral victory were more likely to be resolved in cartograms than the finely-grained county by county distributions that Gannett had devised. The appeal of cartograms lies in part in how they offered an apparent opportunity to gain clarity by the almost compulsive remapping of electoral votes to decode the alliance of victory in the 2010 election in two-color cartograms: warping the divide to suggest the dissonance of terrestrial continuity with electoral votes or money spent per voter, to suggest both an accentuation of its divides, as if to pose questions about the existence of continuity among the nation’s regions and states, and a deep divide that lay in the areas where campaigns devoted the greatest attention–and ask whether this skewing deriving from distorting electoral stakes bodes well for the democratic process.

The geographical distortions of infographics seem to clarify how electoral results run against the continuity of a terrestrial maps in similar terms. The representation of current electoral division have continued to aggravate the country’s continuity long after Obama’s two presidential elections: both electoral results have been often parsed across the country to explain the divide between red and blue states, especially in the 2012 election, as if to try to discover continuity a country that seems divided into blue states and stretches of bright red: and if, until 2000, both Time magazine and the Washington Post colored Democratic majorities in red, the opposing colors of red and blue have become an image of contested sovereignty, and of articulating regions’ political differences and divides. Rather than suggest generational continuities in political allegiance over space, the divide within the country reads more clearly in Gannett’s county-by-county census, but the proliferation of cartograms respond most effectively to the problem that “these maps lie,” morphing the fifty states into rescaled distributions.

Adam Cole doesn’t claim to argue that this reflects a bit of a crisis in democratic institutions, but one can’t but consider how the current gridlock in government may stem from its failure to adequately reflect the demographics of the country, or at least the economics of the Presidential election.  Despite increasing attention to the mobility of individuals outside “blue” states to other, formerly “red”-state regions, the divide was increasingly focussed on a diminution of red states, but a concentration of Republican majorities in the central regions of the country, lying largely below the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide–with some notable exceptions. Even if much of the country seems happily purple, the intensity of two triads of red states strikes one’s eyes immediately.

 

The United States, with state sized based on electoral votes.Adam Cole/NPR

 

(Such maps, of course, in their interest to provide info graphics that involve “purple” shadings of a mixture of blue and red may not take into account the neurological disposition of the eye to more readily read a purple state surrounded by a sea of red as red, and fail to distinguish the degrees of purple of a region as an intensity not independent from the spectrum of the colors of nearby states:  the interest in providing a more complexly qualified picture of variations in this map, introducing shades of “purple” to a map, if constructive in the abstract, according to Lawrence Weru creates misleading interpretations that rather than profit from such proportional blendings lead the purple region to appeal more blue or more red depending on the chromatic context where it appears.)

 

2.  The compelling nature of such cartograms no doubt the maps that express the views of political parties, and provide a basis for imagining the continuity in how campaigns dedicate attention to the nation. Despite their explicit warping of continuity, cartograms help get one’s mind around the nature of the apparent lack of continuity across the country, and understand the depth of electoral divides and to explain the country’s composition than the mapping of electoral votes onto spatial divisions on a map, if not to project the results in far more dynamic ways of translating the “map” to practices of political representation, as much as territorial manipulation. The cartogram seems to translate spatial divides into a system of political representation that fits imperfectly on a uniform mapped space or rendering of territorial expanse, and seems particularly compelling to analyze the way that the electoral process translates the nation’s geography into institutional terms.

The most telling translation of this political process is revealed in the warping of the nation by disproportionate expenditures per state, reflected by the distortion of electoral politics–and the nature of political divides. Parties have been compelled to devote disproportionate attention to individual states, out of sync with their electoral votes, but as a reflection of the calculus of receiving a majority in the electoral college. A compelling twist to the electoral cartograms parsed political parties’ relative expenditures in the most recent Presidential election as a distribution of funds in dollars spent per voter, grotesquely warping the scale of states in the country according to the political spending in millions of dollars–which keeps a lot of purple states, but suggests that one area of the nation has almost left the attention of either party, as if they were discounted as foregone by both parties–and received but a begrudged smidgen of millions of dollars from the GOP or Republican National Committee, so clearly were their political preferences already decided and minds just made up:

 

bbstates_custom-e0c6c871e5a185100d0be94271fba73c0a365998-s40-c85Adam Cole/NPR

 

An even more warped image of the republic is produced by warping the fifty states to reveal the disproportionate number of dollars spent per voter, in a warping which has the effect of shrinking the red states in much of the south and southwest to reveal the extent to which they are simply less the terrain in which recent elections were determined: one learns even more about the deep commitment of many of the voters in the southern states in the below graphic, reflecting the returns that each campaign had on the amount of money invested locally. The map reveals how little Romney even invested in the solid Republican voting base of the south, not seeing the need to disseminate the candidate’s message in states where he held such a clear advantage that they were conceded by the Democrats: it shows the relative inefficiency of Republican expenditures in New Hampshire, Iowa, and Nevada by an off-message candidate, and the balling amount spent on political media in each state from April 10 to October 10, in which many southern states are all but squeezed out of relevance, because their outcome remained–save North Carolina–something of a fait accompli, and absent from the volley of the barrage of ads that have only recently ended with mid-term elections of 2014:

 

 

bbvoters_custom-0abd0dc8a4efa739c61d80b961226ae07e5b04ec-s40-c85-1

Adam Cole (NPR)/Kantor media data

 

It can’t be “fair” to absent a good portion of the country below a single line of latitude form the state of national political debate that on-air advertisements have to be considered as forming part. What does this mean for our Republic raises questions: but is this a form of secession itself, coming back to haunt the map of political parties’ distributions of their own expenditures? The cartogrammic shrinkage of the southern “red” states with those west of the Mississippi scarily suggests a region of the country has all but vanished from the contested regions of the electoral map, its electoral votes all but written off as a contest, and Texas shrunk to an unsightly narrow peninsula or appendage off the territories where political parties struggle: the geographic contraction of the areas below the thirty seventh parallel, which defines the “four corners” intersection of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico effectively privilege the more urban areas over the “exurban” southern states that were so much less of a contest or struggle for political attention.

The troubling depth of the division across the United States is less a mirror of the affiliation to different political parties, however, than they reflect different images of America that often reflect urban v. exurban perspectives–as in this topographical projection of peaks of population in the lower forty eight.

 

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

 

 

Presidential elections offer a major rush of disaggregated data that one can assemble in exciting ways, the inflow of data creates a flood of information that make it difficult to select specific criteria to foreground. One might find in the above sufficient grounds to interpret the growing chasm of political divisions in the nation as between states between those with large urban centers, and “exurban” areas of less density. The tendency to group states which tended to vote or lean Democratic–as New York, California, Florida, Ohio, Colorado, Wisconsin, Minnesota–apart from more exurban or rural areas, and to map the distrust of collective government as lying within exurban areas that lie at a spatial remove from social investments that seem compelling to areas of greater disparities of wealth that define cities–and the distance at which these “red” regions feel themselves as lying from urban areas or issues seem rendered compelling against social density.

 

 

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

 

3.  However tempting it is to parse the differences among the electorate’s behavior in the Obama and Romney’s contest as a mirror of deep cultural divides that seem geographically determined, this quite unsatisfactorily poses the question of how likely they can be ever bridged. Such a reinterpretation is compelling precisely because it pays less attention to the “after-image” of secession, and reveals a new political landscape of the nation, rooted in population changes. The divides between the urbanized and unorganized, or “exurban,” also reveal deep attitudes to the nature of national space, and the role of government in space–which this post wants to suggest we examine as an underlying map of voting preferences, but that can’t be revealed by voting preferences and electoral returns.

The differences between voting preferences across the nation lie not only in terms of relative urbanization, but attitudes to the economics of moving through space difficult to quantifiably map, but all to evident on the map. For in ways that define a cultural continuity that is hardly rooted in the physical land, the map embodies a divide, similar to the Gannett map, of the role of government in one’s life, and the presence of the government in economic activities, as well as the prominence of a consensus on social welfare needs.

Parsing the election of 2012 in another way by democratic v. republican gains per county, one might note the  Democratic electoral gains are strikingly concentrated in urban areas, while Republican gains dominate the exurbs that are red–a distinction that clearly correlates to driving practices and willingness to tolerate more highly priced taxes for gas–and the Republican gains group together in clear clusters and runs, predominantly in the inland central southern states and inland northwest.  This data visualization eerily reifies the very divides that Gannett’s almost hundred-and-thirty-year-old visualization of polarized voting preferences first set forth:

 

Net_Change_MapDavid Jarman/Daily Chose

 

What can explain this shift across such a firmly defined latitudinal divide, which seems a crease across the country, as well as a refusal to hamper what is taken as the inalienable right to keep low the cost of free access to take a seat behind the wheel?

 

4. The data used to parse these moderns electoral maps are invested with significance, but may not reveal clear “after-images” of earlier landscapes precisely because the priorities of parties have so dramatically shifted, and the range of issues addressed in the political landscape have left it to be polarized in ways that have far less to do with the polarization over issues such as, say, Reconstruction of the south. Despite the greater amounts of data that presidential elections offer to parse a picture of the country, local legislative institutions provide just as significant a “map” of the traces of autonomy from national standards. The mapping of levels of gas taxes was meant to register the affront of impeding open access to the cheapest mileage. But the map of the distribution of gas taxes in the United States may say much more.

Exxon Mobil’s blogger Ken Cohen boasted that the map “explains a lot”, as a suggests clear division in local variations from the federal gas tax that exist across the country as if to show the inequalities in how local, state, and city taxes collect from forty to sixty cents per gallon–creating an inequality of cost that is itself far beyond the total federal tax imposed of 18.4 cents a gallon, creating unwarranted variations in the costs that drivers payed at the pump across the land able to be examined in greater detail at an interactive version of a map of the United States which displays the relative divisions of taxes by hovering over localities.

The differences in regions’ relative acceptance of gas taxes may indicate less the toleration of government’s invasiveness, but instead a huge shift in attitudes to space extending across exurban areas. The acceptance of a gas tax–or its ‘toleration’–reveals tendencies to reject as invasive the presence of government–and throw into almost topographical relief a considerably deep division within the local legislatures responsible to voters and local opinion. In ways that seems mirrored with surprising clarity in the below distributions of local “toleration” of taxes on gas–a sensitive barometer of regional autonomy, if one hardly comparable to the withdrawal of federal troops–the nation seems starkly divided that reveals difficulties of arriving on national consensus of its own, if on a topic of apparently less dramatic significance. If such taxes can be described as imposed by the government, the tax might be best construed not only on the toleration of taxes, but consensus if not agreement as to its collective benefits of something akin to a value-added tax. Indeed, the political divide in the country seem to have instantiated a divide along roughly the thirty-seventh parallel that reflect distinct national priorities, allowing the American Petroleum Institute to describe the disparities of the taxation on petroleum as if it described an unwarranted degree of government–state or federal–interference in the average American’s access to a full tank of gas.

A surprising divide emerged in this far more simple visualization, whose divides may parse different attitude to the economics of occupying space, based on states’ relative willingness to accept and tolerate taxes on gasoline, as much as chart the unfair nature of differences in how costs are deferred to drivers at the pump. The admittedly interested map makes its point about the uneven national “gas tax burden” along the thirty-seventh parallel, foregrounding a deep divide in refusing the role of local or regional government in daily life. Rather than reflect a distribution of draconian levels of taxation on gas, the map charts consensus to accept levels of an additional gas tax. While it does not perfectly translate into electoral preferences, it reveals a deep divide across the country that seems to fold the populace in ways perhaps not basically political,so much as in the degree to which each state’s populace would accept or suffer additional taxes as a means to meet public needs: it almost seems as if the reluctance to sanction the sort of imposition of taxes at the gas pump was seen as an analogous affront to regional honor.

 

Gas Tax

gas key

 

Thanks to the appearance of a map that first appeared on ExxonMobil’s “Perspectives” blog, we have a useful way to parse the spectrum of the country’s attitude to government–and to the involvement of government in regional differences to the economics of moving through space. For the refusal to raise taxes across the southern states-and indeed the apparent rejection of most anyone with a foot below the thirty-seventh parallel, almost carve the country into two halves, with the exception of Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and Arkansas. It is striking that a cartoon that carves the country, or lower forty-eight, into a map that approximates the polemic division of wealth in the US by which Susan Ohanian assigned that very same region the 90%.  Her map echoes the divide, her cartographic take on the lower 48 assigning the the lower 90% percent of American wage-earners the region lying below the latitudinal divide, echoing the association of the region with a far less developed social infrastructure than either the east or west coast or to the north–only somewhat subliminally and slightly nastily pointing out the shifting per capital income across the land:

WealthMap

 

The divide that perpetuates lower gas taxes–or the “tax burden” on how freely gasoline flows at the pump–maps nicely onto a region with markedly less public transportation and transit.  The very same states’ governors, from New Jersey to to Florida, made something of a pact with the Devil to tank interconnected high-speed rail corridors proposed by President Obama, who championed alternative transit routes early in his presidency in hopes to rebuild a decayed infrastructure. If creating such corridors could have both encouraged local job growth and economic stimulus–as well as setting the basis for future economic growth–the refusal of and Scott Walker, that reflect the largely “exurbanite” populations of red states in exurbs. (Low gas prices serve to compensate for poor transit systems, and work to discourage their use, reducing demand:  only one top-ten rated US transit systems lie in the states–Austin–although a ranking meeting local “transit” is unclear, given that transit needs are by definition locally specific, and difficult to quantify.)  They are now a thing of the past, and Exxon-Mobil seems to turn its sights to the gasoline taxes that might enable their construction in the rest of the country–as if the lack of attention to the public good might be the new norm we could all be so fortunate to possess.

The two-color new flatness of the info-graphic seems complicit in how we perpetuate this view.

 

5.  What appears to perform a regional consensus exists may in fact register the primacy of accessibility to highway driving, or access to ‘automotive freedom’ in a region.  For it seems that the degree to which the individual right to drive through space is accepted as inalienable, or not having any possible contradiction with the public interest, in ways that might have much to do with the tanking of public projects for planned high-speed rail in some coastal corridors, if not an animosity to the project of expanding choices in public transit Obama long ago sought to enact–but whose projected corridors in the south were resisted and never completed.

 

 

high-speed-rail

 

The absence of transit corridors has led to the growth of private taxi-like shuttles for patients in areas where ambulance carriers cover wide areas without clear transit corridors.

 

IMG_0201

 

Did the recent resistance to enacting such corridors of transit help to intensify the sort of divide we can witness in Ken Cohen’s Gas-Tax map? The 2009 Stimulus Package was intended to include a planned Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor, designed to change transit’s playing field in the South and Gulf Coast.

 

High_Speed_Rail_07-09-2009

 

Such plans were already, of course, in the works since 2002, in the Bush Administration.  But their defeat, in no small part due to the apparently lesser geographic population density, was encouraged by the perception of a national divide of transit needs.

NA_market_500_miles

 

It prevented greater integration of a North American landbridge in much of the South, to supplement the lack of a crucial lattice of corridors of highway integration.

 

Landbridge

 

6.  We can make inferences about the lack of success of such transit programs, in part thanks to the consolidation of local, state, and federal taxes on gasoline provided by the American Petroleum Institute.  If the map derives from varying forms of taxation passed on at the pump, including local costs of fuel-blending that increase the costs of refining, a national divide to throw into relief of tolerating the imposition of an additional gas tax. While the map does not track the prices in taxes paid at the pump, and the cost for gasoline reveals considerable geographic variation by market and supply, the API plotted the total “fuel-tax burden” in a national map that reveals more about a national latitudinal divide than they had intended: the clear color scheme suggests that the 37th parallel creates a cliff in ‘superadded’ gas costs–and augments the sense of this divide by placing Alaska beside Texas–some fifteen cents below the national average in the U.S.  It mirrors the regions worst served by public transit in the US, to judge by the concentration of workers who relied on public transit for their commutes circa 2008.

 

6a00d83454714d69e20133f2536560970b-800wi

 

The missing information from other maps may suggest a quite grounded rationale for the absence of accepting taxes on gasoline:  not only the reluctance to accept taxes, given the reliance on automotive travel as a primary means of transit and transport, but the absence of a network of public transit that would provide an incentive and rationale for the readiness to accept a tax on gasoline in exchange for other public benefits.

Seen another way, one can link the sense of spatial movement in the region of significantly decreased gas taxation on the rise of a single-driver culture of access to roads, rather than public transit–a trend that Streetsblog found to correlate not only to more restricted and curtailed transport choices, with little but circumstantial basis (and in a pretty cheap shot), to national obesity trends across the nation:

 

map_3

 

7.  Although the flatness of infographics oddly seems to obstruct further inquiry into the distribution it reveals, the differences in how the land is habited suggests divides that are difficult to surmount, and by no means only political in origin.  While it might be seen as leading many to move south for cheaper gas, the consequent lowering of the perceived “fuel-tax burden” to below forty cents per gallon–sometimes by as much as five cents/gallon–across state lines indicates a refusal to let the government interpose themselves between driver and pedal, or pump and tank. It suggests a shifting sense of taxation structures and investment of local priorities of dedicated tax revenue that strikingly mirrors the very regions at the presence of government in local life, but is often tarred as yet another instance of the invasive nature of government’s presence in public life.

The map echoes the more prominent manifestation of local resistance to the apparent federal invasiveness long mandated by the Department of Justice’s “oversight” of enacting changes in local electoral laws, based on historical presence of policies deemed discriminatory, first enacted in the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  Under the logic of the autonomy of “states’ rights,” such “pre clearance” was abolished, although an  alternative proposal the issue of “pre clearance” was framed as triggered by successive voting rights violations in four states–Texas; Georgia; Louisiana; and Mississippi–rather than fifteen. The VRA’s original provisions, widely deemed “for half a century the most effective protection of minority voting rights,” or fourth article, was approved as recently as 2006 by the US Congress. But widespread resistance to the federal policy grew with keen regional separatism among many of the same “southern” states, or the configuration of the South–minus Florida, North Carolina and Arkansas, with the addition of Arizona and Alaska–who pushed back against oversight of changes to voting laws as redistricting or Voter ID as undue interference as local policies–even as the ability of entrusting states to develop their own policies of redistricting has been recently open to challenge in Mississippi and, in Alabama, for the rigid use of explicitly racial quotas, echoing early charges of partisan gerrymandering in Texas–but raising questions of how much race or partisanship is at stake.

 

Areas Covered by VRA-and additionsAreas Covered by VRA-and additions

 

These coincidence between these maps isn’t entirely coincidental. Indeed, one is struck by the striking “family resemblance” to the infographics we use to represent the nation’s complex composition in a map.

 

8. How much are we overly habituated to visualize a divide that we seem to have a difficulty looking outside its two-color classification?  It bears remark that the afterimage of secession is rehearsed in quite rhetorical manners to raise the specter of national dissolution–by now imprinted on the collective consciousness–if expanded to include a few ‘swing states’ to suggest the recent expansion of the “old South.”

It’s ironic that the iconic image of secession is rehearsed in maps imagining secession from paper currency, which employ strikingly similar visualizations to forecast a coming shift in monetary policy and practice that would be brought by BitCoin. Although its eye-grabbing vision of secession is deceptive, the below “hoax”-map distributes thirty-six cities in twenty states where one can pay bills in Bitcoin as if they were poised to “dump” paper currency, or abandon the US dollar and withdraw from the closest to a common convention to which all fifty states adhere: the map of secession–perhaps based on states that have accepted applications for exchanges in the digital currency that originated on the Deep Web on the TOR browsing network and on hidden sites of illicit exchange as the Silk Road–is of course not an actual map of secession.  But it is designed to pose as a visualization of “the rebellion [in currency] that quickly spread to main street America” with antecedents in a system of currency devised by Thomas Edison, which would immediately provide financial returns as it replaced the dollar, as if it recaptured the past stability of a lost gold standard in the face of the fluctuation of value of American currency.  Lack of internal differentiation in the below of urban and non-urban areas in the below perpetuates an image of legal secession of states that are shown by big monochrome color blocks that seems to prey on viewers’ eyes by its introduction of a familiar dividing line.

The mapping of monetary secession, launched by Money Morning–Your Daily Map to Financial Freedom and diffused to alarm viewers on sites such as http://www.endofamerica.com, is not really explained carefully, and seems to lack its own legend but was intended to depict a collective rejection of paper money as if the “red states” were wise to a growing financial trend. In this barely disguised desparate push for Bitcoin digital currency–“now accepted by dentists in Finland!”–the map stokes fear in paper money, and can’t help both to echo the notion of a dismantling of the United States based on the rejection of a federal currency–echoing a language of states’ rights in its rather preposterous design of a fanciful future national fracturing as some states dispense altogether with paper money: the states divided by the tragedy of the institution of slavery now seem divided by farce. (How maps mislead: California is colored red, due to the fact that one city, Menlo Park, has moved in such a direction, not the entire state–and cities elided with states.)

 

20states-red

 

The afterimage of secession is here, rather improbably, immediately recognizable, but raises a recognizable specter in monetary terms, stoking fears of a new national disillusion that has emerged along sharp lines. One doesn’t usually imagine the digital divide to include the majority of states in the deep South–if in ways that address the viewer who is tried to be wooed to Bitcoin, rather than an offer an image of the nations health. But if the map is a bit of a hoax, the use of something like a secessionary map to depict the rejection of paper money that the U.S. Government has unwisely continued to sanction cannot be much of a coincidence. The cities that push for the ejection of paper money were not by all means concentrated in the southern states, according to the map–which stages a hoax, but one that also reveals the country as broken into two halves by the abandoning of paper money which actually maps the sites of companies that will pay salaries in non-paper Bitcoin.

The recurrence of the very same fold across the nation’s center, roughly along a latitudinal divide to scare viewers–with California added in for good measure, based on the city of Menlo Park.

 

US broken by Bitcoin

 

Although a hoax, the “map” of the impending abandonment of paper currency shows a fracturing of the nation along the lines of the adoption of Bitcoin.  If it echoes the abandonment of the gold standard as a monetary system–or the amount of silver used in dollar coins and actual currency, the map is most striking for breaking down the divisions in the  nation in a state-by-state way that has particular power as it is so often used in political visualizations of electoral returns.  What else might explain the persuasive power of this meme of national division?  The status of Oklahoma, a familiar icon of frontier freedom, shows it has  recently moved to move away from paper currency to accept, with bipartisan support, gold and silver as currency.  The rejection of a common federal paper currency seems the ultimate standard of secession, echoing the dismay at the abandonment of the gold standard or the withdrawal from a cash-based economy.

An eery footnote to this atlas of symbolizing the nation is the proximity with which the map mirrors (or maybe recycles) the Democratic vote in 1880–although it stretches some credibility to imagine the former constellation of seceding states on the cutting edge of accepting Bitcoin.  It is tempting to universalize or essential the latitudinal divide that recurs in these maps, but makes sense to cast the region’s apparent distancing from majoritarian consensus as not only something of a different economic culture, but a different culture of moving through and occupying space.  The confounding of that culture with independence within the states’ rights movement–and deep distrust of federal government–existed long before Obama’s election.

Viewed through special lenses, alert to the after-image of secession, each of the maps define variations in the continuity of a cultural divide phrased as a reaction to the absence of continuity that was registered in Gannett’s earlier 1883 info-graphic–but that now seems to be replayed both as tragedy and a farce.  The question that this set of posts pose, perhaps, is how we can create more engaging info-graphics of the nation whose visual consumption would sustain and drive further attention and exploration of local variations–or at least not reduce us to a stupor of oversimplification that is an excuse for orienting us to the oppositional tactics of political debate through the pretense of showing us the actual lay of the land.  What compelling mapping of local variations might better command attention as a record of divides worthy of our attention?

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Filed under American Petroleum Institute, data visualization, Gore v. Bush, infographics, Obama v. Romney

The New Separatism and the Gas-Tax Latitudinal Divide: Tracking the After-Images of Secession across the United States (Part II)

The fetishization of infographics in television news has spread not only to print, but to our ability to map collectives and process data across media.  The fetishization reflects the readiness to imbue infographics authority as a communicative form, perhaps depending as much on the reduction of news teams and shift to computer-assisted reporting as it does to the greater certainty of GIS.  The readiness to sell information and the premium on winning audiences–or offering viewers splendid click-bait–has led publications to cultivate the infographic in ways that reflect how data visualizations indeed seem to be supplanting the authority of maps.

The infographic and mapping of political preference and opinion has gained the status of a speech act of particular synthetic power that has paralleled the growth of political analysis, although that analysis has often assumed the level of glossing the distribution of opinions, preferences, and employment on a map–as if in a perpetual search to find some coherence, or indeed to search for the possiblity of consensus in them.  The  hegemony with which computer-assisted reporting and news graphics that sectorize space with color-coded abandon may be deeply embedded in how the medium is the message, however, as much as being a by-product of Geographic Information Systems or computer-based analysis.  For the images are, to put it simply, user-friendly, and designed for surface reading–as if they processed a complex political process through snapshots or thin condensations of the status quo.

Given the growing symbolic authority of infographics, for reasons ranging from the downsizing of newsrooms to the contraction of attention of the consumers of news to the reduction of politics to an oppositional contest, the historian Susan Schulten is right to call attention to how Henry Gannett compellingly synthesized the divided vote of the 1880 presidential election, and the clarity that his  county-by-county coloration of the United States measured the division of the country after two polarizing Presidential elections.  After the confusion of the results of the division of national consensus in 1876, when Samuel Tilden’s victory of the popular vote was overturned in Congress by a Historical Compromise, the need to resolve the distribution of votes in 1880 emphasized the legibility of how voting translated into the electoral college.  It also mapped the survival of anti-abolitionist sentiment across the Southern states, and the difficulty of ever enacting the policies that would enfranchise African-American voters in those seats or strongholds of the anti-Reconstruction Democratic party in the South.  The Garfield presidency was not able to implement the promise of Reconstruction, to be sure, but along the coasts and midwest, particularly in the north, assembled an irrefutable consensus that Henry Gannett took great pains to embody in this 1883 map, in ways that recall his tenure as Supervisor of the U.S. Census.

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

The embodiment of the United States that Gannett provided has long been with us, and has oddly continued to persist in some form–if with perhaps less clearly drawn and delimited lines, to be sure–to the continued image of a dichotomous divide within the Gas Tax Latitudinal Divide that has recently returned, ostensibly to trace the inequities of taxes that residents of different states are asked to bear–California first and foremost, but closely followed by New York, Connecticut, and Hawaii.

 

API-US-MapExxon Mobil Perspectives

 

What sort of embodiment of the nation does this map offer, if not one that is destined to evoke the unduly regressive interference of states outside of the Deep South?

In ways that measure the collective memories of secessionist sentiments, the map seems an after-image of the survival of anti-Union sentiment, or at least rejection of the program of Reconstruction that Republicans supported, and saw as the logical outcome of the Civil War.  But while quelling the actuality of Southern Secession, The dichotomous distribution of contrasting shades coloring the continent in counties shaded by two alternate primary colors both recorded the transition to a shifting society after emancipation–when privilege remained restricted to whites, effectively, and the deep difficulties overcoming of division between north and south.

Rather than show the nation divided, his map of the country celebrated the new basis of political union, even if its striking distribution of the popular vote provided an early data map of a politics of polarized public opinion eerily familiar to the  divisive politics dividing the country–echoing a map by which cotton was grown across Southern States, which undergird deeply felt economic divisions.  But the map of the country that takes its spin and meaning from the historical moment of the memory of southern secession is quite distinct from the political snapshots of the present-day, and their emphasis of the shifting physiognomy of the nation’s mosaic of political opinion.

 

Cotton bales and population increase

Gannett’s use of the format of mapping as a means to display his data attests to the level of trust accorded to the statistical map as offering a legible image of that provides something of model for our own info graphics, but also the historical importance of a time when national fracturing loomed larger in public consciousness than it ever had. Although it is less interested in the divides that separated the nation than the ability for their reconciliation by an electoral system, and less dedicated to depicting a national fracturing than a crafting of consensus, and evoking the diminished resistance to eliminating race-based distinctions, it also provides a striking map of their survival.  For in providing a statistical record of the vote, Gannett and Lewes divided the country in ways that were distinct from the recent national maps arranging of ethnic populations, slave populations, African-American presence, geological surveys, income distributions or population density, but presented a pressing portrait of the nation.  Yet rather than offer a single declaration of the current division of the country, the map seeks to sketch a changing national canvas in relation to the deepest debates which divided the nation, and to chart the emergence of a status quo in detailed fashion.

Rather than echo the sorts of political divides familiar from political infographics today, Gannett’s map inescapably referred to the specific temporality of the moment of secession and its overcoming–and the scars that the traumatic historical experience of Secession and Civil War on the nation, at the same time as their supersession.  But the complexion that the statistical map embodied bore not only traces of those scars, but of its quite recent supercession.  The statistical “facts” on which these maps were based chart an after-image of an acceptance of the place of Reconstruction in the nation’s political life, rather than seeking to naturalize the divide for readers, and it gained meaning for viewers in relation to the divide of the Civil War.  The lithograph that he prepared for the 1883 Scribners Historical Atlas returned to the recent division of the nation among a range of mapping activities that sought to embody the nation’s coherence in new ways, and takes its meaning in no small part in relation to the performance of national identity.  Readers of Gannett’s map could not avoid reading the distribution in relation to the historical event of secession and its aftermath, and the current campaign for Reconstruction across the southern states that the Republican party advocated.  The map encoded a deep dissonance between visions of the country.

 

HIS02-107.39199

1.  Printed maps constituted the nation in powerful new ways by 1860, casting it with new power in terms that stretched from coast to coast–and which they allowed to be read, by 1895 in a beauteous landscape that stretched “from sea to shining sea.”  The map individuated the somewhat troubled nature of the new nation.

Gannett’s map indicated an unmediated representation of the country’s political complexion, whose authority lay in both the image it offered of the nation and the diminution of the after-image it presented of the secession of southern states.  The coloration of the each country suggests an image that partly mirror the line of southern secession of eleven states in 1860-1, varied shades of pink, carmine and scarlet distinguishing counties where the vote tended increasingly Democratic, and sky blue, azure and deep blue those tending increasingly Republican, in ways that track the “afterimage” of secession, that almost fall along a line of latitude, where the most carmine seem clustered, below Missouri, itself distinguished by several pockets of blue, at the latitudinal parallel 36°30′ forms part of the boundary between Tennessee and Kentucky, but red also extends far northwards, covering an area whose expanse almost obscures the victory of Republican James Garfield’s decisive victory in the face of the “solid South’s attempt to overthrow the Government,” as the Bismark Tribune put in repairing the election’s results on November 5, with a victory of 213 to 147 electoral votes.  To understand the victory’s scope, however, we must look both at the great intensity of some blues, especially in Western territories, and at the distribution of the electoral vote map, inset, which neatly suggests the current containment of southern separatism.

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

Rather than show the archetype of a north-south divide, the map–unlike the inset distribution of the electoral college–reveals pockets of varied intensity, as if to question the definitiveness of a geographic break in the “solid south” to which mappers would return determine challenges to envisioning national unity, and which very recently has returned to haunt the divide of recent data visualizations of the 2014 midterms.  But rather than create a national divide, the 1880 election saw what was, for the period, a decisive result:  “the country is spared the anxiety and uncertain which would have followed an indecisive result,” reported the St. Johnsbury Caledonian in the state of Vermont, “the question of Democratic or Republican supremacy . . . settled at the polls, and the settlement will not be contested,” as it had been in 1876. “No uncertain voice had echoed in the country “from shore to shore,” as if to echo the convergence of the westward expansion of the union and the traumatic closure of the Civil War–despite the persistence of a deep divide evident in the southern states.

No Uncertain VoiceLibrary of Congress

The triumph of arriving at consensus was the central take-away from Gannett’s map, as well, rather than the persistence of political division across the land.  The balance between the survival of a clear dividing line and the arrival of consensus is however the central story that underlies the map of the 1880 Popular Vote:  for the continuance geographic break that Gannett’s pioneering statistical map revealed undeniably charted the presence of resistance to Reconstruction–and the trauma of restoration of voting rights and the attempted erasure race-distinction–in the area of seceding states, but unavoidably resonates with today’s polarized political climate for reasons not entirely clear to define, though they seem to respond to the deep level of personal animosity toward the current U.S. President, Barack Obama.  Recent infographics focus on such divisions as a “red surge” across southern states evoking data distributions that parse populations to understand their bases, the projects of the cartographical consolidation of the nation in post-Civil War years celebrated its symbolic unity and conceal the specter of fracture-lines on which current visualizations harp.

The map Gannett devised showed the containment of the memory of Southern secession in ways that affirmed the nation’s unity, and showed a historical depth that our current infographics rarely allow.

2.  The considerably impressive local detail of Gannett’s 1883 infographic–its local sensitivity–contrasts with the finality of the on-demand infographics that news outlets readily present of a divided nation.  Gannett’s map seems to register the opening of a divide between regions that cut the United States into two, in the aftermath of the Civil War and Secession, that intimates the infographics that forecast recent American midterm elections, or those repeatedly diffused in subsequent visualizations of the distribution of senate seats, described in part in my previous post, it also celebrates the nation’s continued unity in ways that would inform his career as the “father” of government map making in subsequent years: the project and dynamics of “mapping the nation” was raised in Gannett’s attempt to reconcile the after-image of the south’s secession with a definitive image the republic’s unity makes it particularly valuable to examine, recoloring the populations of individual counties previously synthesized in the 1863 Lloyd’s Map of the Southern States as the votes of citizens in the larger body of the United States abutting “Indian Territory.”

Map of the southern States 1863

 

The map of the divides the Confederate States of America within the continent imprinted a latitudinal divide in the cartographical symbolization of space as it was compiled by the US Government c. 1895, in which broad generalities barely legible spread across regions to designate open expanse (“Northwest,” “Trans-Mississippi,” “Northern”)–representationally concretized into red-line bounded states.

 

Map of America NortheastDetail of “Map of the United States of America showing the boundaries of the Union and Confederate geographical divisions and departments, Dec. 31, 1864.” (1891-1895) (Courtesy Rumsey Associates)

legend of boundaries union confederate

–though a manuscript map that figured secession, “showing territorial extent of the rebellion in different epochs during the war for its suppression” oscillated around the latitudinal divide, in ways that later maps of the popular vote would implicitly address or come to terms, even while they ostensibly map current events.

Map Showing Territories of the Rebellion

But the persistence of the latitudinal line, a state boundary that, rather than the Mason-Dixon line, seemed to define the boundary of resisting the end of the legalization of slavery, created the clearest temporal sign of trauma during the hindsight of Reconstruction, when the attempted enforcement of equality and erasure of boundaries based on the construction of race were for the first time addressed, albeit in ways not easily resolved.

Gannett defined a data-map colored to indicate different percentages of the vote by varied intensity in ways that uncover a historical depth of reluctance to support the program of Reconstruction advocated in the Republicans platform, providing a new way to dive into the local details of the entities that had been described on the surfaces of previous maps, as if to trace an after-image of the survival of the Confederate States of America.

 

Minolta DSC

 

3.  The strange conceptual space of the infographic is just beginning to be examined in ways that place its broad brush-strokes of colors in the context of a new way to imagine the nation.  In part, the consolidation of a mass of data in a graphic artifact replicates the problems of processing overwhelming amounts of data in a clearly legible form, distilling the shifting population of the nation into terms that can be comprehended at a glance that makes reduced demands on its readers.  It offers little opportunity to examine the relative “thickness” of these changes, or to try to unpack the surface all too often represented in a clear chromatic divide.

To meet the charge to process data flows by redistributing them in different visual forms, as if refracting the nation through a glass, the data visualization implies a nation that is always riven by fracture lines.  Such an image was perpetuated by focus groups, demographers, and television commentators, eager to continue discussion about the numbers pollsters parsed from exiting voters, to fill up the drama of the denouement that follows the closing of the polls, but also offer strategic insight into the activities of each campaign–and judge the campaign’s strategic effectiveness in messaging, as much as its message.  The demand of such infographics is to put viewers in charge of a broad range of data that they materialize, blending cvs files into divisions of high-contrast color, materializing by a set of keystrokes a  correlation similar to that which Gannett had earlier labored so hard to achieve in order to give the map a degree of accuracy that might best confirm the results of the 1880 presidential election.

The role infographics offer  to orient viewers to the nation’s divides was felt for the first time in the aftermath of 1880, when the collating of unity and cartographical consolidation of the mapping of nation raised questions of what divides were readily able to be surpassed.  The question of how current infographics swallow up the local in the regional–or subsume it in the administrative region in which the local is situated–provide a new way to orient one to a political expanse.  Contemporary infographics resist excavation by presenting images that allegedly record objective national divides.  But the far more complicated story about the nation early statistical presents make them particularly compelling.  The very blindness to the past in data visualization claiming to create a snapshot of a present political status quo alone make one turn to these earlier embodiments of the nation’s electorate, both to ask if they are really echoed so strikingly in our own division between “red” and “blue” states–though we now use an inverted color choice, using red to designate Republicans, and not blue as in the map in this post’s header–or what such colors now embody.  The nation is embodied in Gannett’s map for viewers to explore, as if  a palimpsest of the retention of Confederate collective memories.

Despite the insistence of newscasters to present up-to-date images of fractured political preferences, this post seeks to look under info-graphics’ surface, and unpack the image of a divided nation that infographics which the recent Senate elections perpetuate, creating a record of the short-term that ripped from historical context.  For in describing the results as condensations only of the preferences of the American people, info-graphics like those of the 2014 midterm elections offer a deeply impoverished sense of their historical background.  Using the format of the map to increase the symbolic divisions of the nation as if to naturalize the varied rifts they allegedly expose, trying to convince their viewers of their relevance–divides embodied in far more complex and nuanced ways in earlier statistical maps.

Denis Wood has suggested that the historical lifespan of the map lasts but five to six hundred years, and that the function of the map to embody the state may have already been eclipsed by our current fixation to use GIS to materialize conceptual objects we otherwise lack the terms to discuss.  Wood meant that the power of embodying the state–or the link of the map to the state–has changed in ways that have since eroded.  But the persuasive power of older maps provide to parse the country haunts data visualizations in interesting ways, as their own echoes of the unity and coherence of the nation reappear in them, even if they sere as less persuasive forms of embodiment.  The function of symbolizing the coherence of the nation informs Gannett’s mapping of the popular vote, even as it offers new forms of embodying the nation that depart, for one of the first times, from a record of its physical geography or landmarks.  While an antecedent to the bleached nature of info-graphics, where panels of colors replace a palpable nation, they tease us with the notion of embodiment, using the map to describe the fragmentation that afflicts our political system in ways that are both far less easy to read and less satisfying as texts–and frustrating as intentionally incomplete images.

Blindness toward the past that is so characteristic of most infographics spurs one to investigate the resonant divides of the earliest data maps of the breakdown of the Presidential vote of 1880–a map made at the culmination of the creation of exact statistical maps designed that created legible records designed to persuade viewers of the nation’s continued unity.  This statistical survey charted the distribution of the popular vote with exquisite care in the wake of a polarizing break in the electorate among the issue of Reconstruction in those post-Civil War years.  Gannett realized the historical import of the electoral data as a way to create something of a composite portrait of the nation–following the Francis Amasa Walker’s detailed distributions of the country’s population and racial composition–with the realization of the benefits that the vote could be graphically tabulated in ways that would break down along similar divides.  The result was not one he might have thought would both so stubbornly persist or be accepted as an unchangeable fact–and be naturalized as part of the nation–but provided an after-image of the reactions to Reconstruction across the South.

If Gannett mapped the popular vote’s distribution to suggest the diminishing of the after-image of secession in many Southern states, the notion of political polarization that has seized the media and political coverage exploit the ways that maps constitute an image of the nation’s coherence in potentially pernicious ways, by painting a politics of division, rather than consensus, that prey on the anxiety of intractable differences and evoke specters of a divided country that echo how the country was embodied in earlier maps.  But the recent decline of the power of maps in how we symbolize the nation or understand it makes info-graphics weak after-images of the divides that were, in the past, so deeply felt.

 

4.  The level of accuracy with which county-by-county data allowed Gannett to parse the polarization of voting patterns across the United States helped visualize lingering divides betwixt northern and southern states.  The divide  told a story of the weight with which the recent historical past sharply divided into two hues, opening local variations for the viewer to explore that have expanded far beyond what Gannet’s original scope may have been:   for to modern eyes, Gannett’s visualization revealed an after-image of resistance to Reconstruction across the reputedly gracious South–one which should not demonize the region, but raise questions about the persistence of economic inequalities and inequalities of citizenship and education that Reconstruction partly sought to remediate.

The effect of mapping is less of performing a history of a nation, in the manner of most printed maps of the nation that were posted in public places and classrooms of nineteenth-century America,  than of opening a breach that not only haunts the nation today, and mapping a scar which almost irrevocably threatens to disrupt the continuity of our political space.  Gannett’s maps make us ask about the ability of mapping as a way of telling a story about the persistence of memories across the land as registered in the genre of infographics, in order, a bit perversely, to interrogate the extreme superficiality of most info-graphics’ historical depth.  Mapping the popular vote in 1880 framed both the memory of the trauma not of the South’s defeat, but of resistance to Reconstruction within the Republican party’s platform–and a hope to surpass a political divide of opposition–by producing an image of national consensus to which many urbanized areas of the South contributed, rather than reflecting the continuation of Southern separatism across the land.

In ways that predate the post-Tufteian elimination of “chart-junk” and elegance of graphical economy of tools of data visualization, Gannett insisted in modern ways on the primacy of the visual as a means of displaying and grasping the deep divide across the nation that the aftermath of Southern secession had wrought, and had recently played out at the ballot box.  Unintentionally, however, the deepest aftereffects that his complexional map reveal among counties across the growing United States was to delineate a divide whose after-image continues to haunt our current political economy in ways we have not fully understood.  For Gannett’s early elegant visualization  is a telling snapshot of the lines of difference that continue to haunt the practice of representative democracy in the purportedly United States, as well as a model of facing the disparities in voting preferences that data visualizations can best hope to record.  The degree of current tacit acceptance or naturalization of this divide among the recent midterm Senate races is particularly troubling, because it suggests a tendency to allow it to persist.

Gannet took advantage of the increasingly better tabulation of the popular vote to chart its distribution with attentive care through shades of coloring provide one of the first attempts to geographically define the distribution of the vote–and measure the persistence of a deeply-runing divide.  Although less based on polls that would forecast the election or tools of current events, than a historical map of a significant election, the map raised questions about the future unity of the country for readers in pointed ways.  To be sure, Gannett’s map offered less a snapshot of an ever-receding past, of course, than a record of the steep demands to heal the divided Republic, but it is something that we can’t but regard with a twinge of recognition:   his map of the break within the 1880 popular vote traced a crisp “after-image” of the experience of the secession of Southern states from the union, providing a counterpoint to secession, whose many after-images also understandably haunts how the electorate divides today in ways difficult to fully process.

Gannett’s inset map visually translated the popular vote’s distribution to electoral votes.  The result was particularly striking, and engaged the increasing role that maps gained in the later nineteenth century as tools and symbols that embody the coherence of the nation.  It perform a story or narrative of national unity that contrasted with the division of the popular vote, and seemed to explain the representational institutions of the Presidential election.  If the symbolic disruption of  national unity was the shocker of Gannett’s map, it also traced a specter similar to that which we face in confronting and trying to mine information from info-graphics of the distribution of voting preferences across the United States in the previous weeks.  The very power of the story of national unity that maps had come to perform in public spaces threatened to unravel, dislodge, or be shaken in ways that the possibility of a post-Civil War fragmentation demanded viewers to confront–but, sadly, persist today and pose steep national challenges.

 

4_scribners-1883-electoral-vote_625

Gannett would surely have been quite surprised to know how the after-image he traced continued to haunt the electorate almost a century and a half after the fact.  But he would surely have been pleased to note that the breakdown of the vote he statistically mapped continued to offer a point of reference to understand and apprehend the legibility of the historical persistence of the split in the nation’s politics he measured.

For Gannett’s map is striking; historian Susan Schulten has perceptively realized it’s import as a precursor to our own interest in how info-graphics offer an image of national divides that might be overcome–or might haunt us.  In an age when and the dangers of the loss of the VRA have created something of a crisis in voting protections, and at a time when census blocks comprising  75% or more people of color are clustered in contiguous blocks to minimize their electoral presence and impact, the sense of a trust in an image of the nation seems especially important.  The transparency with which Gannett rendered the national divide of the 1880 election is indeed haunting, not because of the ingrained nature of political preferences or the lower geographic mobility in a region over a hundred and thirty-five years, but the problems of embodying political representation the map of the 1880 Popular Vote itself records.

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

To be sure, the divides in current maps do not clearly reflect the clear carmine pockets of red of anti-Republican opposition.  But the steep economic inequalities underly the relevance with which Gannett’s 1880 map continues to embody breakages of national unity.  A map of Gini coefficients of income distributions in the United States today reflects in the distribution of persistent income inequalities, to be sure, a divide that is reinforced by low median incomes, populations living below the poverty line and low levels of education:

gini-us-by-county

 

This 2000-2004 map dates but from a decade ago, but itself preserves another eery after-image of the divide Gannett already mapped, and which is only partly continued in a mapping of the number of “active hate groups” that the Southern Poverty Law center found in 2013 persisted below the latitudinal divide of 36°30′–despite the over one thousand active such groups found in the country.

 

Hate Map spL

HateMap2007

 

If the divide in the map between North and South suggest a political polarization we thought only existed in recent time, the rejection of most southern counties to vote Republican–and participate in the project of Reconstruction–is oddly echoed in the refusal to raise local taxes on gasoline consumption as my last post suggested.  (This contrasts to the more vague Twitter map of hatred, which suggests a more angry nation, or a divide in the open expression of race-based anger–

 

hate2

 

–but clearly reflects the actual manifestation of institutional acceptance for asocial virulence.)

A 2004 map using data from the Southern Poverty Law Center charted the density of the distribution of such groups however reveals a distinct weighting to the Deep South:

Hate Group Denisty

And in the confetti of antipathy that cluttered in specific cities, in another visualization from the Southern Poverty Group, a cluttering centers in the Deep South.

Hate Groups in Cities

The widespread confetti of hate-groups distributed in 2004 across the nation lay across the nation’s cities; but when read against regions of such groups’ specific local and regional densities, it, strikingly, clearly continues to privilege the very same trapezoidal structure lying below the latitudinal divide.

us_map

 

5.  Gannett’s 1883 map celebrated the refusal of the South to successfully secede from the Republic–and to obstruct the election of a single President–the divide it documents records the deep scar lines that existed in the country for several presidential terms after Lincoln’s death.  It testified to the deep hope in how statistical maps would provide a new image of a united nation.  More than measure or encode territory, Gannett distributed electoral data in ways that help us judge or measure our own distance and temporal remove from it, and, as it were, orient one’s sense of bearings on the divides of national unity it reflected, as well as divides in political preferences that the recent proliferation of infographics that parse “red” and “blue” states with different signifiers attached to each.  This raises questions about the continued embrace of a divide along lines of Secession as a future model of politics increasingly naturalized in our national landscape.

Contemporary national maps with which Gannett’s must be contextualized emphasize the performance of the nation’s symbolic unity unlike many earlier maps, and reveal the possibilities of printing maps for a large audience of readers and students, many of whom would read the map not only as a way to orient themselves to the nation but to naturalize the composition of the continental span of the United States’ continental expanse.

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In the wake of the 1880 election, Gannett created a conscious self-portrait of the nation for the Scribners encyclopedia of statistical maps that uncoincidentally sought to measure and explicate the possibilities of coherence that the election revealed, allowing the data to speak to readers at an unprecedented county-by-county granularity that exploited the new currency of the publicly displayed map as an image of the nation.  The Gannett map’s division of the country into counties reflects those images increasingly publicly displayed for didactic and pedagogic ends in schools, offices, train stations, and city halls replete with topographic signs and transportation routes–although it was evacuated of them, and replaced them with a tally of the vote to map  a symbolic digest of political institutions rather than a guide for spatial travel–disrupting a symbolic form of national unity that prominently featured in the typical rural schoolroom circa 1873, if one can trust the Universal Exhibition held that year in Vienna–though the display of worldliness was partly designed, no doubt, to impress continental viewers by such conspicuous placement of emblems of geographic instruction.

School-room-Vienna

 

Indeed, the shift in consuming maps after the civil war–when newspaper readers had tracked the progress of Union armies across the south, read and commemorated different battles, and received correspondences from loved ones in a landscape destroyed by war would have  rendered even the divided electoral map that Gannett drew deeply pacified, and a tacit agreement to resolve the distribution of dissent by other means.  Gannett indeed seems to have mapped such a divide between northern and southern states in its county-by-county distribution in ways that illustrate the dramatically increase in literacy in maps as accurately mediating the national vote.  While Gannett’s map showed pockets of Republican voting in the southern cities during Reconstruction in considerable detail, to be sure, but also suggested a national divide that could still be preserved, if not to create the unity of the United States preserved in national maps like that of Augustus Mitchell, showing the regions beyond the Mississippi the Union created in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Utah in an attempt to enlarge by legislative fiat the number of non-seceding states.

 

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The divide would continue to persist, of course, long after the 1880 election.  In ways viewers would readily detect, the 1883 map revealed the cultural memory of collective affront at the continued presence of federal troops to ensure the policies of Reconstruction and the , beyond a simple record of spatial relationships–an issue that had already led to the passage in 1878 of the Posse Comitatus Act, designed to prohibit armed forces from acting as a police force inside the country–but where the army’s role in enforcing civil rights clearly remained contentious.  Gannett’s map revealed an oppositional divide in the electoral distribution which seems eerily familiar to our own political division–it renders the extent of a  story of the affront perceived across the southern states far more dynamically textured than the rather generic templates of much contemporary digital map design.  in ways displaced from its original intent of describing the translation of the distribution of the vote it delineated a clear reluctance to support a Republican platform across the southern states.

 

6.  Gannett’s mapping of the reluctance to adopt the Republican platform of Reconstruction is sharply unlike the divide between gasoline taxation across of the country that was popularized on the blog disseminated by the folks at Exxon-Mobil to suggest reasons for gas’s uneven price, but that image–for all its dependence on fact–clearly depends on a familiarity with map readership of the separate polity of the south, and the unconscious image of a divided nation that defined southern secession.  For all its insistence on an uneven distribution of taxes, the uneven distribution it reveals has gained traction as an icon of tax disparity on account of these associations, no doubt, even if rather than being rooted in relation to an actual historical divide, the graphic suggests only the independence of select states–New Hampshire, Missouri, and an expanded version of the Old South–that compel us to wonder about the apparent latitudinal divide on the imposition of gas taxes as if it were something of a new Mason-Dixon line along the 37th parallel.

The divide in the popular vote’s distribution Gannett revealed in the 1880 presidential vote reflected historically specific political responses to Reconstruction.  But its divide is nonetheless interestingly echoed in a quite contemporary map as a way to document in detail the disparity in taxes on the price of gasoline.  For the Gas-Tax Divide, if generic in its features, seems inhabited by national divides of over a century ago.  If the American Petroleum Institute intended to depict local resistance to impeding access to fill one’s tank at the lowest possible cost, and document the local variations in the price of gas that were instituted by local tax policies, the latitudinal division  reflects the priorities of individual counties, far more than an artifact of the surveying of the boundary lines of States, and mapped less an image of separate sovereignty than a suspicion of curbs on unfettered consumption of gas below the 37th parallel.

 

Gas Tax

 

The light ochre monolith below the latitudinal divide?  If it echoes the distribution of the Popular Vote in Gannett’s map of the 1880 election, and falls along a clear line of latitude, the break offers an unclear a record of political affiliations.

 

7.  The “informational graphic” seems to recycle the conceit of dividing “red” states from “blue” states both in recent parsing of senatorial races and in the tabulation of Presidential races–in ways that crystallized during the aftermath of the election of 2000.  Whereas Gannet, adopting the colors of the American flag, connoted not just opposite ends of the spectrum, but the coherence of the nation, the connotation of fragmentation and opposition was invested in the bicolor map when “blue” was cast as the color of liberalism during the reporting of results of the 2000 American presidential election.   The choice of “blue” as the color-choice to designate the Democratic party was not only decided by the NBC graphics department–David Letterman famously gave broad currency to the notion of such an opposition when he tried to resolve heightened anxiety at the uncertain results of the election when he somewhat Solomonically (in hindsight, optimistically) suggested that the US Congress “make George W. Bush president of the red states and Al Gore head of the blue ones.”

The history of divides between “Red” states and “Blue” states perhaps respond to a need for meaning our chorographical collective, as much as they essentialize the attributes of any region or location as distinct.  But they tellingly employ the patriotic hues from the primary colors–red and blue–not only to visualize  either end of the spectrum, but to suggest the continued coherence of the data visualization in a map.  There is less intensity strong enough to generate such perceptual after-images in a map, or presume after-images might be expected to exist, given the shifting political landscape of polarization, which suggest something like a search for narratives of differences that is mediated through political institutions process a political space.

For Gannett, the choice of hues employed to elucidate the bitterly contested election rendered the abstraction of party affiliation at a time that the divide between platforms  around the Republican platform of retaining the federal military in the southern states during Reconstruction, creating a fierce anti-Republican divide across the South who voted strongly Democratic as a result.

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

The analogy between electoral divides across such spreads of time suggests moments of alternate embodiments of the nation–with which Gannett, as Supervisor of the U.S. Census, was no doubt particularly sensitive.

 

8.  All maps tell complex stories about continuities in a national landscape that the individual map rarely explicitly describes, but which are often suddenly apprehended with a shock of recognition as the familiarity of their distribution embody seems so eerily familiar.  Although we look at the matter of maps as temporally removed, rather than remaining rooted in an inaccessible past, the landscapes maps create can throw into relief the actual divides that they seek to describe in accessible ways.  Even as artifacts of striking authorship, maps offer templates by which to trace trajectories in space that, rather than being inherently bound to the region they describe, and might be read as revealing a collective regional cultural memory or unconscious.   Reading such maps for after-images offers points of comparison and departure to read their spatial distributions–and offer indispensable points of reference and comparison to read meaning into later maps, as well as a basis for interpreting their terrain.  The non-physical topographical markers and divides in current maps such as that of gas tax levels in the United States demand a degree of historical depth to remove them from the admittedly polemical roles that groups as the American Petroleum Institute intended.  For in registering distinct landscapes of populations, even after a century, north-south cultural divides emerge, mapped in the below distribution between “red” and “blue” counties that Gannett sketched eerily mirror our attraction to mapping red and blue states that dramatize the divide in far more muted hues.  Its statistical basis seems eerily familiar as a synthesis of a gaping divide that challenges its viewers to wonder how that divide might ever be bridged.

Gannett sought to refine existing cartographical techniques and lithographic tools of representation to define the historical distributions of local populations and ethnicities over time in the United States in elegantly artistic if didactic ways, coloring regions in ways that blend aesthetics and cartographical to frame a complex narrative that measure the intangibles of national unity from the data available on its inhabitants.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the story implicit in his mapping of the political divide that was inherited from the Civil War resonates not only with present distributions of lower taxes on petroleum in compelling ways.  It offers evidence of a continuity in problems of concluding a national consensus that continue a century later:   Gannett elegantly converted the data of the presidential election of 1880 in a particularly appealing way designed to forge unity by capturing its divides in the delicate balance of color-schemes on a map’s face, and created a striking image that seems to haunt shifting attitudes to accepting a tax on gas from which it stands at a remove of almost a century-and-a-half.

By examining disparities among political preference for parties at an unprecedented visualizations of variations across the country of considerably fine grain for the 1883 Scribners’ Encyclopedia, Gannett clearly mapped a strikingly stark political polarization in the United States which bore deep scars of civil war.  It has gained attention for its eerily familiar family resemblance of mapping the current gulf between red and blue states.  It seems to recapitualite a contested narrative it seeks to resolve as well as inventively retell.  In ways that have continued to sculpt a political landscape of the new century, and the elections of 2004 and 2008, the elegantly synthetic two-color info-graphic that Gannett devised imaged the continued divisions of the country as a form of political consensus, if of a fairly fragile sort we turn to maps to recreate across space.

In the wake of the secession of Southern states from the Union, statistical visualizations of the states served to explain the distribution of electoral votes as a decisive factor in the designs of printed maps of the country  to render the dissonance among the geographic size of regions respectively won by Republican Tilden and Democrat Hayes, Susan Schulten observed, in an omen for the nation’s centenary:  deep distrust over the continued presence of federal troops in the south to enforce Reconstruction Republicans advocated is registered in the anti-Republican vote across the south.  The division in the popular vote was troubling in 1876, because Tilden’s majority was preserved in the electoral college–in ways that led engravers as Henry Clay Donnell, Henry Kowalski, and Charles S. Israel to devise for the U.S. Election Map Co. an image that mapped the electoral college across presidential elections as states were mapped from 1789 to 1876, in parallel to Gannett’s own efforts, in a nineteenth-century version of Sparks’ minute-long video:

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The chronological sequence of maps of the voting distributions over the first twenty-three presidential elections responded to growing interest in the wake of the divisive election in which the US Congress overturned the popular vote to historicize the apportionment of electoral votes and voting results, revealing a recent statistical familiarity with tabulating results that was perhaps particularly pronounced by 1880.  Such a sequence sought to affirm the consensus arrived between different regions, in order to process the political shifts of the expanding nation in cartographical terms.

The cartographical sequence of electoral apportionment is an argument for the nature of representational democracy, and a historical reaffirmation of  the institution of the electoral college, as much as a digest of past presidential elections.  After Republicans had cast themselves as the party of saving the union in 1876, Census Superintendent Gannett devised the idea of a detailed county-by-county account of the distribution of the national popular vote of 1880 whose publication was designed to overcome a vision of division by showing the local depth of Democratic votes for the Republican candidate, Garfield, that made his victory–as narrow as that of his predecessor, Rutherford B. Hayes, which had been only resolved by the electoral college–a form of crafting consensus and affirming the electoral system as well as well as a persuasive statistical synthesis of big data, on of the first of continued efforts to pioneer statistical geography he devised to chart and affirm the nation’s continuity as much as document a national divide.

In the above expansion of the tools and techniques Gannett used in the 1883 Statistical Atlas of the United States, Donell, Kowalski, and Israel mobilized the forms of maps created a visual record of how counties leaned Democratic and Republican across the nation that its viewers could readily interpret and analyze, defining an electoral divides to describe not only spatial relationships in a fixed distribution, but embodied distinct voting preferences across counties by differently hued shades of blue and red to represent the entire electorate and election’s outcome–in something of a precedent to Sparks’ compelling animated video of the shifting political divides between the electorate which have only recently crystallized into a firm red v blue divide.

By tabulating the vote in spatial terms, Gannett achieved a  sense of continuity and regional identity that has continued significance in the after-image it creates of war.  By defining local variations as if they themselves constituted an actual terrain–employing a recognized geographic apparatus to describe the processes of representative government–he quite compellingly register deep divides that still starkly divide the nation a decade after the Civil War, even if off of the battlefield.  He would have been impressed by the continued reluctance of a similar region to refuse the imposition of local gasoline taxes, and by the continued resilience of the opposition revealed in his own earlier info-graphic to have gained such rhetorical prominence during the Obama’s two presidential campaigns.

9.  Gannett resolved an astounding geographic specificity to chart the legitimacy of Garfield’s victory after a bitterly contested election in 1876, when the electoral vote had in the end famously revised the outcome of the popular vote.  For Tilden could claim a majority of the popular vote, but the pro-business New York Governor had lost the electoral college.   That election’s results had been sent to Congress, where a 15-member Electoral Commission sought to determine the validity of the contested popular vote and its translation into electoral counts and gave the victory to Hayes in the Compromise of 1877–or Corrupt Bargain–which ended the federal involvement in local southern elections during Reconstruction by the Republican party, and, despite Tilden’s victory in the 1876 popular vote over Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, modified the Republican platform for federal supervision of the civil reforms that would be part of Reconstruction.  Despite Hayes’ previous strong support of protecting the civil rights of newly freed slaves in the south, he continued his earlier promise that the Southern states to no longer be occupied by US federal troops to enforce civil rights in his administration but rather, as Hayes put it, enjoy “the blessings of honest and capable local government,” despite the clear continuation of measures explicitly designed to obstruct universal suffrage from poll taxes to intimidation.

The presence of federal troops across the south had been rejected in the Southern vote, and as part of the compromise that guaranteed Hayes’ victory, the Republican allowed Southern autonomy, gaining the misreported electoral votes of southern states in order to capsize Tilden’s majority vote, given his broad support not only in the Northeast, midwest, and West, but the most populated regions of the south, including along the Mississippi and Carolina coast.

Election of 1876

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Tilden’s over-ready acquiescence to the electoral configuration after Hayes’ challenged the electors from South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana–in spite his having gained a plurality of the popular vote by the then-quite-considerable margin of over 300,000 votes–sadly sealed the end of his political career.  But the heavily contested nature of the election, and, no doubt, the difficulty of the narrative that it posed about the nation, also mandated the more detailed county-by-county remapping of the election of 1880–and which the modern reproduction of a county-by-county count revisits to show the limited votes for Tilden across Southern states.

1876

In the face of the building bitterness of the Southern states over the program of Reconstruction Republicans had advocated in their platform, Rutherford B. Hayes had earlier promised for the Southern states to no longer be occupied by US federal troops to enforce civil rights, but to rather, as Hayes put it himself, enjoy “the blessings of honest and capable local government,” despite the clear continuation of multiple measures that were explicitly designed to obstruct a universal franchise across the South and southern states–from poll taxes to intimidation, helped him reach significant support across South Carolina and along the Mississippi, often from newly enfranchised voters, although the majority of southerners had voted against Hayes.  The Gannett projection avoided the drawn-out sense of political stalemate that had haunted the 1876 election and its injury to a democratic process.

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The stinging victory of the Republican left considerable bitterness of dissatisfaction in the outcome for the Democratic party, however, in the face of much suppression of the vote, and deep scars across the land that the election of 1880 did not erase.  The relative independence of what often appears as a distinct enclave in the south did not only depend on the memory of the Civil War, often framed as resistance to Reconstruction.  Even as the presence of federal troops across the south had been rejected, as part of the compromise that guaranteed Hayes’ victory, in ways that the Voting Rights Act would replace by the oversight of the Dept. of Justice on changes to voting practices in order to ensure greater national uniformity of access to the ballot box.  The image of the rejection of Reconstruction, refusing the incursions of armed forces to teach a culture of equality, echoed in the reversal of returning federal troops to ensure the integration of Little Rock Central High School or Representative John Lewis’ vigorous call for martial law in Ferguson, Missouri after the tragic shooting of the 18 year old Michael Brown, and a similar need to federalize the Missouri National Guard “to fight the fires of frustration and discontent” across America–and the federalization of the national guard in Montgomery, Alabama during civil rights struggles of the early 1960s that Lewis knows so well.  (The recent expansion of a “no-fly zone” over Ferguson that was approved by the FAA to contain media coverage by creating a blanket of some thirty-seven square miles seemed to exclude police actions from public media attention, and subtract it from news coverage–a troubling violation of the First Amendment rights–was designed to subtract the police’s relation to protesters in the St. Louis suburb from national debate.

The local response to the riots in Ferguson suggest a militia-style intervention in the demonstrations that attracted uncomprehending and aghast global coverage.  Indeed, the local expenditure in the St. Louis county police to replenish their stock of needed “civil disobedience equipment”–including riot helmets and related gear, tear gas, pepper balls, plastic handcuffs and grenades–has approached $175,000 since the reaction to the riots following Michael Brown’s killing by local police, including “LiveX” brand pepper balls that boast themselves to be ten times hotter.  Amnesty International  recently noted the danger of “Equipping officers in a manner more appropriate for a battlefield may put them in the mindset that confrontation and conflict is inevitable rather than possible, escalating tensions between protesters and police.”

10.  The results of the 1876 popular vote  belied their geographic distribution in ways that are visible in the above recreation, where the majority of the land seems colored Yellow, and created new challenges for .  As a result, Gannett sought to educate viewers in the translation of the vote to electors, and no doubt to conclusively persuade of the decisiveness of the bitterly contested presidential election, by documenting the extent to which, despite the strength of anti-Republican sentiment throughout the south left, Garfield conclusively won the presidency.  Gannett’s map, while registering the suppression of African American vote in much of the south, responded to a pressing problem of the need to map the nation’s continued unity within the popular vote–as much as register its political divide around those pockets that revealed clear clusters of Republican votes in this reconstruction for schoolroom teaching about the distribution of the vote from 1932 that provided the regional breakdown within states that Gannett’s statistical mapping would allow on a county by county level.

Gannett’s visual explanation of mapped the distribution of the popular vote into electoral votes, tracing the complex distribution of pockets of counties of voting, and transferring the distribution of the popular vote to the electoral votes far more effectively than the less refined or elegant distributions that were engraved of the country to explain the outcome of the vote in 1876–when the matter had, after all, been resolved by committee–after two alternative sets of electoral returns were submitted by the southern states of Louisiana, South Carolina, and Florida, in ways that left the outcome of the election in balance–and demanding a greater proof of electoral returns in 1880–even if the cartoonist Thomas Nast had used the electoral map to predict the Republicans would carry the nation from California to Maine.

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A far more variegated map of the distribution of votes was required to tell the story of Republican victory for James Garfield that was understood across the nation as a referendum on Reconstruction–partly explaining the fear that the vote would result in a division of the country that replayed a secessionist divide of the Missouri Compromise.   The story was particularly complicated of how the Republicans continued to carry the nation, but demanded, by 1883, the results of the 1880 election to be commemorated by a far more detailed map for viewers to scrutinize.  The zones of deepest carmine red in counties in Louisiana, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, and South Carolina create a canvas of deep distrust and map something of a dissonance in the nation in reaction to policies of Reconstruction and an agitation for strongest shifts in sovereignty.  The multicolored map allowed one to read the balance of popular and electoral votes in the country, and was clearly prepared for an audience eager to visualize the continued integrity of the Republic and construe relations between popular and electoral votes, reflect on operations of political sovereignty, and, indeed, to try to visualize and fashion consensus from the contentious elections results in peaceful fashion, where dense pockets of republicanism across the south, particularly along the Mississippi and around New Orleans, as well as South Carolina, seem to testify to the presence of the votes of enfranchised former slaves.

Continuous Crimson

The electoral division turned on the issue of the continued autonomy of the South, and effectively continued the dispute of the Civil War off the battlefield:  the north-south divide migrated from the battlefields to the ballot-box.  The county-by-county mapping distributed the popular vote and beside a translation of the election to electoral votes represented something of a conclusive resolution for the bitterly contested election.   The map registered almost palpable opposition to continued presence of federal troops, reacting to the feelings of infringement on local liberty from federal military oversight of the South during Reconstruction in the election whose traces can be seen in  cultural memory when federal troops much later allowed the Little Rock Nine to attend an integrated High School in 1957, if seems to have been remembered by few when Representative John Lewis responded to the deep distrust occasioned by local police’s August 9 shooting of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown in 2014 by requesting that President Obama declare martial law in the small St. Louis, Mo. suburb of Ferguson after violence erupted in the streets:  it seemed the proper reaction given mutual miscomprehension about the still unexplained ten to eleven pistol shots–an act that only led to an almost informal late-September apology from the local police chief.

Missouri and Arkansas contained particularly deep regions of crimson as former slave-holding states, where memories are strong.  (Missouri still lies on the other side of the gasoline-tax divide, if it is geographically located above the parallel that sets off most states in the American Petroleum Institute’s map.)  Is it unfair to note that as Gannett mapped a divide that reacted to the infringement of using  federal troops to ensure civil liberties across the South, he transcribed a cultural memory that echoes even a century off, and generates its own after-images of resentment at civil liberties?  Missouri is, of course, seen as a less reliable “red” state than it was in 2000–when it went for Bush over Gore–but remains, interestingly, on one side of the Gas-Tax divide, even if it lies mostly entirely above the most prominent meridian’s divide.

11.  Gannett’s infographic parsed county-by-county voting tallies of the election, years later, to clarify the impact of Hayes’ victory; the economy of the inset map of the electoral college succinctly symbolized Garfield’s Republican victory in an icon of national unity.  The cartographical image might now raise questions for some about the distribution of electoral votes that it records, and the heavy number of electors from the southern states, but it used the map to bind the continued coherence of the states in the republic at that time, explaining how the affirmation of Colorado’s statehood effectively tilted the balance of the electoral count.  But given the prominence of the issue of autonomy of the formerly seceding states in the union, it’s striking for the density of deep crimson in multiple blotches below the thirty-seventh parallel: their intensity holds the viewer’s eye , despite the lightness of the light blue shading in northern and midwestern states.

The dividing line served as a basis to articulate deep desire for autonomy and the withdrawal of federal presence oddly continued in current politics, and reflects a line that the US government had as recently as 1875 contracted the surveyor Chandler Robbins to find as a boundary line between Arizona and New Mexico, running along the 37th parallel from the four corners monument–the very same line separated the greatest concentration of anti-republican votes, and would encourage the growth of Southern Democrats, and the latitude seems a fold along which the nation divided into two just a generation after the wake of the Civil War, but although Utah, Arizona and New Mexico did not yet have electoral votes in the Presidential elections as other states, Gannett revealed a clear divide on the latitudinal line between the rosy pink states north of Tennessee and Virginia, and the deeper red reserved for the Deep South.

37th Parllel

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The infographic effectively summarized the historical and sociological divide in deeply symbolic ways.  It affirmed a resolution before the expansion of the United States that relayed the future expansion along the lines decided by the Missouri Compromise:  unlike the simple geographic distribution of the popular vote in the election would suggest, the particularly contentious election was only resolved in a decisive manner by confirmation of statehood for Colorado its one electoral vote tipped the scales to Hayes and handing him the presidency.

The image suggests the increased expectations of cartographical literacy to read and interpret, that seems to mask over the deep divide between North and South which would repeat the division of the Civil War itself:  the reader of the map would note with surprise the considerable number of electoral votes assigned Minnesota, Kansas and Nebraska, which serve as a counterweight to the greater electoral votes of Southern states, that uniform swath of red  encompassing a considerable share of nation’s geographical territory.   Hayes’ presidency rested on midwestern states as Ohio, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas but also masked a division in the country parsed in the first data-maps and demographic infographics:  the map is also startling since it reflects political divides from recent elections:  the color-scheme almost holds, irrespective of shifts in political affiliation over one hundred and twenty-five years.  The dextrous distribution of the popular vote Gannett mapped was reprinted in Scribner’s Statistical Atlas (1883), for viewers to scrutinize local variations in the distribution of election returns at fine grain on the county level.

 

3_scribners_1883_625_0Library of Congress

 

The lithograph was designed as a cogent explanation of a national divide, something of a counterpart to the famous chloropleth lithograph of slave-holding states which Alexander Dallas Bache devised based on the 1860 Census with the recent German immigrant Edwin Hergesheimer (1835-89), or the instructional wall maps like the so-called “Washington Map” Matthew Fontaine Maury mapped from the Census–“States Marked thus * Claim to have seceded from the United States,” the legend of the latter reads, presenting itself as an explicit performance of the continued claims to national sovereignty of the United States.  On the eve of the US Civil War (1861-65), Maury, then Southern Secretary of the US Navy, mapped a Republic in ways that silenced clear fracturing, following a county-by-county cartographical practice but intentionally omitting the geographical divide that would open like a chasm in maps such as Gannett’s in later years.

All are, in a sense, evidence of a turn to the resolution of crises of national representation and the dramatically increasing “map literacy” of the late nineteenth century American reading public, or map-mindedness, that suggest the extent to which thinking with and through maps provided new forms of symbolizing and understanding national unity in readily reproducible form.

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Yet we are also, for reasons it demands to be explored, both less attracted by attention to the complicated nature of divisions, and perhaps, given the amount of data by which we are increasingly overwhelmed, more eager to resolve disparities into monochrome voting blocks.  The divides we seem to imagine always existed or only increasingly solidified emerged as something like a means to heal how the performance of the unity in the map had been torn asunder in the Civil War, but was in fact able to heal, rather than to ossify or be accepted as an inevitable and insurmountable divide that so often seems to continue to cut across the land.

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Filed under data visualization, Henry Gannett, infographic, Persistent Income Inequalities, Red States vs. Blue States, Susan Schulten