Category Archives: data visualization

Mapping Trump

As news anchors stared directly at the camera on Election Day 2016, they might gesture mutely to the apparent dominance of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, shown the blanket of bright red polygons that took the viewer’s breath away by their sheer continuity affirmed that the people had spoken definitively.  The map was a bit of a total surprise, evidence of the disproportionate appeal of Trump across most states other than the coasts.

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

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

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

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

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


Republican Blush.png


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


Trump votes normalized choropleth.png

Kenneth Field

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





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

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


clinton_v2-Artboard_6.pngTim Wallace/New York Times

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

Carto Trump.pngMichelle Ho‘s Carto Blog

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

Coutnies.png Carto

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

Stretched thing

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

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

hennig skein

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


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

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


Beta News

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


Beta News

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

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


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

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

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

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

North Am Trum Properties.png

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

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


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

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


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

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



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


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


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

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

Trump Mafia.png

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

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


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

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

58681cd31500002f00e9ddcc.jpegPaul Needham (2014)

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

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

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

populous nations.png

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

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

Trump NYC.png

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

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

Fred and Donald.png

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

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

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

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

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

Gold reflective.png

Trump Tower



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

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


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Filed under American Politics, data visualization, Donald Trump, electoral maps, real estate

We Think Our Shores Are Stable,–but Need to Know that They Are Not

All maps stake propositions:  as much as embody geographical information, they make arguments about how a landscape is inhabited.  But climate change maps that model future scenarios of warming, increasing dryness, sea-level rise, or glacial melting are propositions in a strict sense, as they construct frames of reference that orient us to, in the very ways Wittgenstein described propositions, “a world as it were put together experimentally.”  Shoreline change can be mapped in deep historical time, or over the past century, in interactive ways that reveal and allow us to zoom in on individual sites of sensitivity–





–but the processes of mapping such change cannot rely on contour lines drawn on a base map.  For to do so is to abstract a static photograph from a global process that they only compel one to try to better visualize and comprehend.  The processes of change are extremely complex patterns of causation that exceed most map-viewers competencies, despite the wide diffusion of claims and counter-claims about global warming and climate change in public discourse, which has effectively increasingly threatened to dislodge the preeminence of any position of expertise on the issue, demoting the actuality to a theory and removing many public statements on its existence from the map of coastal change, or the relation of the land to submerged territory.  We are in danger of adopting an increasingly terrestrial or land-locked relation to how climate change affects shores, because we map from the boundary of the landform, as if it were fixed rather than a frontier of interchange and exchange, both above an under ground.




Far more than other maps, maps of climate change demand unique training, skills, and education to unpack in their consequences.  And when the propositions staked in maps of climate change have increasingly come under attack for political implications, as if the scenarios of climate change are formed by a cabal of data scientists and climate scientists to advance independent agendas, or a poorly articulated and politicized climate research, it seems that the special skills used to interpret them and the training to view them have come under attack for not corresponding to the world.

Real fears of the danger of the delegitimization of science run increasingly high.  But attacking the amazingly dense arrays of data that they synthesize seems to suggest an interest in shutting down the very visualizations that allowed us to conceive and come to terms with climate change.  The open suggestion that digitized scenarios of climate maps were only designed to terrify audiences and advance interests not only undermines discussion and debate, but seems a technique to destabilize the emergence of any consensus on climate change.  Although the fears of an immediate loss of climate data may be overstated for the nation, the loss of a role in preserving a continuous record of global climate data is considerable given fears of reducing space-based remote sensing.  Such observation provide one of the only bases to map global climate data, ranging from aridity to water temperature to temperature change over time.  The hard-line stances that Trump holds about climate sciences are expressed in terms of the costs they generate–“very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit,”–but extend to denigration of climate scientists as a “glassy-eyed cult” by science advisor William Happer–who in George W Bush’s Dept. of Energy minimized the effect of man-made emissions on climate change.

Both bode poorly for the continued funding of the research agenda of NASA’s earth sciences division.  And the need to preserve a more coherent maps of man-made climate change grow, choosing the strategies to do so command increased attention.  The dangerous dismissal of climate sciences as yet another instance of “listening to the government lie to them about margarine and climate change” or prioritizing the political impact of their findings to draw attention to global warming and climate change seems to minimize the human impact on climate and recall the censorship of climate science reports from government agencies by governmental agencies and political appointees from a time when de facto gag orders dissuaded use of the term “global warming” over a period of eight years, a period of the harassment and intimidation of climate scientists. The term of “climate change” seemed agnostic of human agency–unlike Al Gore’s conviction that “global warming” was a global emergency.  As well as actively destabilizing ties between human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases with global warming, Bush asked government agencies investigate “areas of uncertainty” which his successor tried to clarify through explicit research goals.


global warming


Yet the role of maps in making a public case for climate change and its consequences seem to have made the project of climate tracking and earth observation under increased attack, as the project of mapping climate is in danger of being removed once again from scientific conclusions about global temperature rise, subsurface ocean temperature rise, or glacial melting–as the ways that climate change maps embody actual environmental risks is effectively minimized.

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Filed under Climate Change, climate modeling, data visualization, environmental monitoring, manmade climate change

Where Do I Go?

As if doing an asana into a terrain-view surface of Kathmandu, or leaning too forward into a map screen to place his head into its tiles, a sportily dressed male icon in the Antipodes Map plunges across the map to its other side.  The imagined transit through rendered topography seems noteworthy of an alienated relation to place, despite the proliferation of toponyms on the surface of a screen.  Although the site is dated, the avatar is an emblem of the reduced interactivity on offer in most web-based maps, and something like a prisoner in the platform that he was intended to promote, and the poverty of how we use coordinates as a way to organize screen-based maps that remove from cartography from an art and perhaps–more seriously–the observer from the map.  At a time when the world demands more detailed observation and scrutiny–and Donald Trump proposes not only to do less to slow climate change, but give broad profiles to climate change deniers in his incoming administration, the importance of mapping climate change seems likely to be curtailed, in ways that raise the danger of an alienation from map-based inquiry.  At at time when we need something stiff to take our mind off what’s going on, the teasing use of the map in the  Antipodes Map seems almost an emblem of uncertainty.

For the staid Google Maps platform, despite its richness in place-names, hardly suggests the landscape of where you would end up in the world.  The platform maps the location where you would suddenly re-emerge by showing its antipodal counterparts of any location on a map screen.  But the illusion of hexadecimal accuracy conceals the maps generated from a toponym could in fact be located most anywhere:  the map is impoverished of meaning.  If the icon exists in almost comic way, it suggests the seriously diminished expectations of a map and their expanded claims for trust in their certainty, the website creates non-utilitarian maps, stripped of any navigational use of actual way-finding, that make one feel the slippery epistemic consequences of one’s remove from a globe.  Indeed, it makes one wonder if the embrace of such a platform suggests an endemic alienation from the local against which we seem condemned to struggle.  The figure in the map is almost something of an emblem for the “end of the map,” and the consequences of the adoption and diffusion of platforms of impoverished interactivity. Even in an age where expanding abilities of interactivity have redefined video games, musical composition and screen use, why is the map with such lowered expectations?  There seems to be a clear sense of removing attaching narrative coherence to its form, despite its hugely rich narrative possibilities.

The algorithms underlying the Antipodes Map are simple.  They playfully promise the possibility of re-emerging on the “other side of the world” in ways that suggest the remove of the globe from our geographic unconscious.  Provided for an audience of bored armchair travelers from bored office-workers  to zoned-out insomniacs, the paired maps of antipodal locations claim to be about place, but suggest the remove of the viewer from their content.  This is partly because the rather sterile landscape is stripped of any use for navigating or sense of orientation, and its remove from the operations for travel that the map actually presents–stripped of much sense of the local or the spatial, it is as if the map were a way to play with spatial travel, so compelling that it might substitute for geographic knowledge, so removed is it from much any sense of actual presence with which a viewer can interact.  In a sort of caricature of an online map, it is a low-tech cartographic formulation of place that seems to expose the consequences of our increasing remove from a world of tangible paper maps.  Indeed, the easy generation of misleading mapping at such an extreme cognitive remove may not only perpetuate the sense of global chaos that Donald Trump purveyed with such success, but the misreading of the voting landscape that made his election so much of a surprise.  The comic image of burying one’s head in a map certainly gains added resonance after the 2016 general election for President of the United States as an allegory about the costs the alienating viewers from place whose tiles are stripped of scale and cleansed of much local detail.


Different Scales antipodes.png


Although it’s difficult to take full stock of the diminished role of the globe in daily life, the limited presence of a relation to place or spatial differences that is perpetuated in the Antipodes Map seem particularly acute for the problematic question of how we map “place” today.  In an era when we increasingly stitch together georectified satellite images of the globe, bemoaning an absence of coordinates may seem hopelessly antiquated–but the problematic meaning of “place” in a globalized economy seems mirrored in the dislocated sense of place that is present and perpetuated in many overly schematic maps–and the difficulty to mediate place, or to tell an effective narrative about place in the set of GIS tools that are available in most web-maps, whose terrain view backgrounds hint strongly at homogeneity.  The increased slipperiness of grasping place in the raster tiles of a slippy map seems to inflect the level of trust that the modeling of electoral projections sustained this past month, and a failure to register the declining numbers of voters in the map echoes the sense of banality in the maps’ properties–and their remove from telling non-generic stories about place.  The troubling absence of a road map for the future may even increasingly make us come to yearn for the tangibility and stability of the maps to which many have said farewell.


1.  It is more than somewhat ironic in an age of increasing border controls and confinement that the Google Maps engine provides an almost entirely notional relation to place in how the Antipodes Map.  For the website, which employs maps as a sort of device, takes advantage of online mapping to create an image of antipodal points of any “place,” promising to help users to “tunnel to the other side of the world”–showcasing a virtual escape from the more densely inhabited regions of the earth to that uninhabited region through to an antipodal point in the Indian Ocean, in the image of someone in a pose ever so slightly resembling downward dog, but with their head immersed in a map’s face, as if entering the sea of map data to re-emerge, mermaid like, off the coast of Australia–the very region once described as the Antipodes.

But despite the antithetical or oppositional nation of the Antipodes–or the firm belief in an artistic localism the Antipodean Manifesto advocated in 1959, proclaiming “Dada is as dead as the dodo and it is time to bury this antique hobby-horse“–place is not that clearly differentiated in a website that constructs antipodal relations generated by adding 180 to latitude and a negative sign to longitude is as almost sterile as its flat base map.  With brio, the Melbourne-basd artists who launched the Antipodean Manifesto asserted it “only natural that we should see and experience nature differently in some degree from the artists of the northern hemisphere,” against the ascendancy of American abstract expressionism, with a flourish of place-based common sense; yet the local is lost in the diversionary algorithms for imaging complementary cartographies of geographic location that are less rooted in place, than seem to aspire to transcend it.




As much as doing downward dog on the slippery surface of a slippy map, the figure in the map seems almost to bow to the authority of geolocation in the web-based map that almost says goodbye to the relation of the viewer and the map.

In an age that increasingly seems to pride itself as existing “after maps,” the website offers the metastasis of a form of mapping, fitting for an age when we are tracked in web maps,  but maps have ceased to exist as objects with their own formal properties.  It’s almost fitting how the Antipodes Map website provides viewers with an opportunity for cartographical interface maps from any place concretely render the sense of how geolocated maps exist in our heads–in fact, so immersed in maps are we that we rarely can resurface near the international dateline off the coast of New Zealand.  The cartographical fantasia that’s engineered on the old-fashioned webmaps of the website is emblematic of the loss of the globe, however–it recalls the paradoxes of imagining travel without a physical map:  we don’t travel in maps, perhaps because we are already in them.  In an age that both is inundated by maps, and lacks them, the screen cartoonishly absorbs the spectator viewing the map’s content, with a half-hearted attempt at irony at placing you next to the International Date Line in danger of being attacked by sharks.  The sense of impending danger might exist almost anywhere, given the multiple narratives that might be hung atop the awfully opaque surface of a Google Map.




Although the stitching together of images would be impossible without coordinate systems, they are sublimated in most satellite imagery and web maps, which exist with hidden coordinates, recently reborn in an age of digitized mapping forms as the UTM.  The gridded lines that once guided readership and visual attention to some degree, as well as explaining the nature of the transformation, have receded into the background as a layer beneath their surface, tacitly accepted, not part of the map’s surface and without any deictic function of indicating place–as if we don’t need them any more to read the map’s surface or place locations; the map has gained a formal coherence as a picture plane.

The absence of indication or reference points remind one of the wonderfully cloud-free satellite mosaics of Planet Labs, which balance spatial precision with the “accuracy” of the visual georectification within a coordinate system, but it has recently receded entirely, as the coordinates have vanished and disappeared as indices.  Terrestrial coordinates are the conspicuous absence we rarely take stock of in our web maps as most cartographers fit satellite maps into most any mapping matrix as a base map– stitched together as a mosaic of pixellated forms to provide a disembodied relation to a virtual landscape, whose rendering assembles a place for us in a weirdly disconcerting cartographical pastiche.


Laos Spatially accurate.png“Laos,” Planet Labs


The coherence of this map is of course predominantly pictorial, with far less premium placed on the projection.  With so many models for achieving smoothness in what now are called maps, programs for georectification take the place of base-lines, as the assembly of maps take their reference from LandSat, stitching together a mosaic that adjusts for any photographic distortions, warping each pixel to terrestrial curvature to create a coherent image seems as if it is completely removed from geographical coordinates–which are banished to tacit signs, as if relics of a past relation to a map’s face.

Because of this, the suddenly unexpected prominence that the system of coordinates gain again, as if in a return of the repressed, is so surprising in the somewhat outdated Antipodes Map.  While the website streams Google Earth locations in familiar tiled map imagery, the hidden use of a system of coordinates is its central and animating conceit.   As in the header to this post, the engine of the Antipodes Map bears out its the promise to match any location to its antipodal location,  as if suddenly pairing any screen map with its counterpart as if in a cartographically-enhanced ADD by playfully juxtaposing any place on the globe with its antipode in a semantically bizarre visualization map-engagement–




–that is an illustration, perhaps, that the map exists in your head.

But the Antipodes Map seems to render the flexibility with which map data has come to  supersede maps in somewhat accurate ways.  It’s no surprise, perhaps, that in our map-inundated era, Gary Johnson was left confounded by questions of what “Aleppo” was–a sausage?  a fashion statement?  something a President is expected to handle?–almost exasperated for lack of context to place the place-name.  Are we all in danger of finding ourselves increasingly lost in the opaque surface of maps?  We may be faced by a limited range of stories able to be attached to or hang around place, as place-names are situated abundantly in generic landscapes with few clear claims for their physical actuality, or to the stability of place.





2.  The on-line viewer of the Antipodes Map is cartographically rendered as lost in the map or as entering the surface in which he takes refuge–as if to invite the viewer to enter through its surface to arrive at a location’s terrestrial antipode.  It is an easy slight of hand but a bizarre semiotic conflation that seems to perpetuate the illusion of frictionless travel web maps allow:  the instant generation of map situating the viewer on the corresponding point on the other hemisphere echoes an image of global inter-connectedness that the constraints of a web-map don’t allow it to ever provide.  We indeed seem to fall into our screens, or into the terrain-view base maps that they generate, in the Antipodes Map website, that has revived the life of an early modern or medieval geographic concept of the weighted harmony of the place of landmasses or continents on the globe to provide a diverting disorientation to the world as viewed by Web Mercator, our current de facto default for imagining indexed tools of spatial reference on coordinates, for lack of a globe.




Despite the considerable analytic benefits of slicing up the continent and country into differently sized map tiles, the maps that cannily re-segment the country into units may have led to a lack of clarity in much of the nation for what it meant to pursue votes–no doubt complicated by the overdetermined distribution of votes, and the nature of turn-out, and the range of local policies of voting were so systematically altered over years.

To return to the Antipodes Map, the inspiration of this post, the website has the odd quality of defining place in a post-cartographical world, dispensing with the map to organize a sense of place independently from a map’s legends, words, or narratives, as if it was a readymade version of truth, to whose authority viewers enjoyed a largely passive relation, and whose immateriality contains some disorienting features of its own.


OpenStreetMap_homepage.pngOpen Street Map


3.  One cannot but worry deeply that the absence of material coherence has quite recently resurfaced in the U.S. Presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.  The apparent failure to plan a pragmatic strategy to win the electoral college for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, as we replay its narrative and promise within our heads in an attempt to grasp where we might have gone–or just went–so sadly wrong.  Despite the reassurance for which we turned repeatedly to political forecasts, the poor prognosticative value endemic to most all data projections that were produced during the final months of the campaign almost removed us more than oriented us to the political problems of the country.  Even if we almost didn’t grasp what happened, the problem of missing the people behind the numbers–or somehow seeming to describe the electorate, not wanting to look at the voters, the maps produced now seem to betray the inherent fraudulence of any such forecasting as an exact art, and the dangers of their analogies as forecasts to the weather or competitive ports– without looking at the margin of error or fate of the undecided, fetishizing figures rather than issues, led analysts to endow a misleading degree of solidity in the opinion poll maps.

Whether due to a lack of clear messaging by the candidate, or of just being outclassed by another storyline, something just seems to have been not visible or escaped detection– despite the reliance of the highly talented Clinton team electoral maps and big data.  For if data was ostensibly what Clinton’s team so relentlessly pursued, one can’t but worry that some did so, somehow, without looking that closely at the landscape and realities that lay beneath it.  Buoyed by expectations for higher voter turn-out and far greater voter interest, the attention to advertising markets on unreadable territories somehow increased.  Why, one wonders, even during its final weeks, rather paradoxically pursued advertising markets so aggressively it took its eyes off of the “electoral map” of voters, to shape its strategy out of ideal aspirations for arriving at a political consensus that seemed in reach in Ohio, North Carolina, and Florida, as well as Arizona.  What were the reasons for selecting as the major markets for television advertising states she didn’t need to win, and directing precious resources in a quest that seems now, with the benefit of retrospect, most misguided.  For in focussing on them, her campaign seemed to ignore votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and almost Pennsylvania–and the important down-ballot priorities in those states–maybe taking for granted their historical support for a Democratic candidate as able to survive without active cultivation–in ways that were almost, incredibly, oblivious to a landscape defined by increasing voting restrictions.


VRA restrictions.png

States Implementing New Voting Restrctions in the 2016 Presidential Election


One fears that by being egged on by a data-driven optimism, inspiring a last-minute appeals to the all-but-out-of reach, the disturbing allocation of resources seems a particularly dangerous error, unwisely hoping for a victory across an east coast time zone for viewing audiences on the nightly news  on election night, or enticed by the elusive promise of a broad victory, which in retrospect seems so very self-indulgent, or at least misguided by the overselling of the precision in models of voting, and ignoring just how many wait until deciding how to cast their vote, especially when 12 percent of the electorate claims being undecided, but broke late for Trump in ways that invalidate any security in polls-based prognostications as a guide on where to place your money.

For in failing to defend bread and butter of the Democratic party the Democrats may have crashed the ship of state atop the rocky symbolic politics of a general election.  During a campaign that became increasingly unhinged from policy questions, and waged by vicious but misleading ads insinuating outright criminality but fixated on soundbites–Build the Wall!; Drain the Swamp!; End NAFTA!–slogans seem designed to boost voters energy but distract attention from actual economic issues and global dangers or disequilibria.  The consequence of Democrats saturating certain markets, buoyed by what we now see as unreliable polls, has resulted in the increasing sense of uncertainty that now afflicts the world, even if they may have seemed to make so much sense as a guide to saturate selective media markets–setting apart the content of those ads and their effectiveness.  The regions where unions once defined the project of getting out the vote found that their members were just not voting Democratic after all in 2016, the ongoing decline of unions‘ strength had significantly changed the dynamics of the voting map.  (And where many were expected to vote Democratic in the past, that just wasn’t going down.)

The dissonance of such changing where money was spent seems terribly sad.  The intensity of the ad campaign might be selectively distributed to a set of states where investments were perhaps either not enough or were maybe not clearly warranted anyway, as the airwaves were apparently flooded with Democratic ads in an overly optimistic way, as a barrage on the airwaves was assumed to sway people to one side in the final weeks of the most contentious presidential contest in recent memory.  This was almost a sustained hope to pummel one side with an intent that may have escaped actual possibilities, but remained skewed to the ever-elusive targets of North Carolina and Florida in ways that are retrospectively tragic, and removed from the distribution of electoral votes–



campaing spending TV ads.pngCampaign Spending on Television Ads in General Election, Aug 9-Oct 25 (Bloomberg)



ad-map-final-week2016-presidential-cmapignaCampaign spending on television ads in 2016 Presidential Race, September2-November 7


While the content of the ads can’t be ignored in assessing the value of these markets, the way that the media markets were so clearly cut up by someone in the Clinton camp make one raise eyebrows that big buying in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia, Maine and Arizona seemed not only to abandon the vaunted fifty-state strategy, but fell short in generating enthusiasm or response.  It’s hard not to wonder, even if it many not get us anywhere, since it might help to reflect on the sorts of narratives that maps might better allow us to frame and to reflect on the advantages and consequence of doing so.  The disarming geographical clustering of media elites, the distance from their lives from the majority of Americans, and the inability to report on a broad range of social conditions create a perfect storm for failing to reflect how most of the actual voters lived, and the increased remove of most journalists from the nation, with broad suspicions of media “elites” and their pronouncements, remain a significant problem for journalists to serve a public.  But it remains fundamental that the false promise of a certainty of synthesis lies also in the data-driven delusions that allowed many to not see the potential real weaknesses Clinton might face–and not the strengths she might gain–and less on the dangers that were implicit in getting out the vote in the strange, new landscape of voting restrictions.

Could Clinton campaign’s projections have taken the eye off an electoral map, by removing a sense of niche markets from an effective overall narrative of electoral victory?   Ronald Brownstein already feared such an eventuality in the works, wondering openly if the campaign was overly attracted to assembling an apparently attractive advantageous coalition of voters, which weighted their attention to the map of apparently obtainable electoral votes that so unfortunately didn’t ever materialize.  In attempts to assemble an increasingly diverse electorate that they hoped would turn out for them, it’s hard not to ask, without recrimination, if they were driven by data and margins of possibility–or enticed by the possibility of projecting huge margins of victory across the map, in ways didn’t help the campaign to focus more intensely on the people behind it or the places where they lived, not to mention the distributions that the electoral college reflects.

The “rational over-confidence” that led them to aim for long-shot down-ballot benefits in Nevada, North Carolina, and across the South, suggests Alex Lundry of Deep Root Analytics has argued, may have led to a rather stunning neglect of core states that so surprisingly migrated in the end to the Republican column, in ways that redrew the national political map few data projections imagined and pollsters or pollsters predicted.  It may make no sense to look back in anger.  But was an absence of attention to the “heartland” in favor of devotion to urban areas in Florida, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina a consequence of undue trust in data visualizations?  Could it be that the seductive illusion of intriguing electoral scenarios was created at the cost of curiously disembodied data in a market of political prognostication–as wide trust in models and figures helped move Democrats’ eyes off the prize in the political map?   For while Trump inundated ad markets in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania with particularly nasty misleading attacks on personal character, the Florida market gained irrational magnetism as a site to stop his Train, in ways we have to resist pondering if only to keep our heads.

Bracketing the current electoral disaster, are there genealogies of trust in data, and mediating the country through an electoral map, in the dismantling of the material map?  They are tied to an acceptance of an age after the map, in which we’re guided by the promise of comprehensive coverage at one’s fingertips–and persuaded that it would be possible to put them “in play” since we seem so empowered by the data we’ve assembled in an apparently coherent map, that we ignore its other fault-lines.

The premise seems so compelling that to be worth tracing in greater detail.  Could the embrace of digits led to ignoring individual voters, as probabilities and the compelling nature of alternate scenarios and visualizations of past history dangerously took one’s eyes off how recent elections in 2012 were determined largely by the nation’s new socio-economic map?



countymappurple512.pngMark Newman/2012 election cartograms

There are optimistic signs of the possibilities and options for refiguring the huge problems in democratic representation, as by creatively using data distributions that we have to create better centered electoral districts in less interested ways–shown here in the state of Georgia–that could reduce gerrymandering by redistricting through simple GIS.


Impartial Automatic Redistricting (2010)


Indeed, many plans for redistricting can lead to a more effective model of representation to which special interests, and bureaucratic slowness, have not led us to adopt, with potentially quite undemocratic results, in large part because of the huge cost of the transformation in voting practices.  But is the cost of such a failure increasingly apparent in the ways we form and select government for all?

And anyway, is the geographic allotment in California with greater sense as such a map?



CA.pngImpartial Automatic Redistricting (2010)


The alternative possible plausible map offering voters more equitable distributions of equidistance by automatic redistricting seems, in the abstract, potentially more reasonable, and removed from the interested division of districts in the existing map.


map-1.pngImpartial Automatic Redistricting (2010)


Perhaps the difficulties of redistricting are daunting, but the tools of mapmaking indeed have made them increasingly possible, if not for the difficulty of undertaking national changes that cut so sharply against entrenched interests of existing representatives who have nurtured bonds to their constituents, and would feel challenged by the compact district of a new electoral map, even though the older map is effectively infected by existing interests to easily confirm the redrawing of district.




Or have we been overly disempowered by platforms of mapping, in ways that have allowed them to serve individual interests in overly explicit ways?  Indeed, the possibility that mapping platforms are tied to an unwarranted overconfidence in data and in the manipulation of individual votes seem to have been present in both sides of the 2016 vote, as plans for exercising rights to create a more equanimous image of voting representation remains in an earlier era–as, perhaps, the electoral college itself, may overly distort voting in ways that we are too often compliant.




If we have long been attracted and attached to the descriptive power of the map–




–is the medium not only interfering with the message, but overly disorienting?


4.  The enduring absence of a globe may be an eerily enabling underside of globalization, in which the never-ending wonders of internet are given something of an enabling basis in a range of maps that erase a contextualized view of place.  The imagined freedoms guaranteed  by uniform access to online information on the world wide web may have origins in the sense of liberation from geographical divisions of mapped territories that many maps once seemed, after all, to perpetuate so falsely as a bad ideology of the state.  One feels hard-pressed to imagine the democratization of the “flow of information” as leveling the playing field, save by its flattening of the earth.  But let’s move to a rosier age.  But the desire for the liberation of such a global vision of information might start in the “big picture” that maps provided for folks like R. Buckminster Fuller and of course Stuart Brand, who famously took the globe as an image of big issues and complexity.

For the economy of online information that derived from such initial optimism and indeed near-utopian aspirations to emerge from geographical constraints of Cold War nationalism has produced a spatial imaginary that has all but dispensed with place, by positioning it in a new matrix of geolocation.  Despite initial eagerness to envision global unity as proclaimed in the 1960s in the iconic interrogative Brand’s clever button posed in northern California on or around March 22, 1966.  For Brand hoped a more complete image the world could provoke a release from the ideology of a national map and a holistic attitude to environmental care as if by an interrogative of greater imaginative force–




–the notion of the “Whole Earth” that Brand and crew believed to be almost in reach back in 1968 has more than somewhat receded from sight.

Brand had bravely advocated expanding one’s cartographical comprehensiveness to remap connections in a new picture for his audience.  He became an evangelizist for the “Whole Earth” perspective and offered broad “access to tools,” by boosting the breadth of its contents, and cramming information into the dense layout of its pages that optimistically erased one’s sense of disconnect to actual uneven distributions of wealth and, er, tools.  But by providing inter-connections by “big picture thinking,” Brand promoted a wonderfully holistic vision in the Whole Earth Catalogue, that Bible of “Holistic Thinking” aiming to remedy an absence of attention to complex, interconnected systems of which Brand dedicated himself whole-heartedly, by the sheer force of making a more open and comprehensive map to display the whole “big picture” in its copious abundance, enticing readers to trace extensive interconnections in the world that the Catalogue revealed.


Whole Earth Tools.pngFall, 1968


Stewart Brand and company viewed cartography both as an illustration and a model for the understanding of “big systems” he sought to illuminate in the Whole Earth Catalogue, providing an image of complexity of the “whole Earth” that interacted over an extended space in ways that cartography provided a metaphor to reveal.  Viewing the “whole Earth” sought to provide ways of revealing unseen connections between places and also offered with brio a ticket to understanding whole specialized systems and bolstered the hubris of bridging a gamut of specialities.  If this made the Whole Earth Catalogue a precursor to the internet and World Wide Web in its aims to reveal the breadth of the ongoing state of play, it was also embodied in the notion of a playful game in which the earth’s fate lay in the balance–echoed in how Brand imagined players of the cooperative game Slaughter shifting sides to prevent the earth from ever being pushed “over the edge” to one side–in an undisguised metaphor for preventing real slaughter from occurring during the war.


Whole Earth March 1970.pngWhole Earth Catalogue, March 1970 (MOMA)


The notion of a game inspired by volleyball using a ball painted as a globe sought to turn players’ energies toward protecting any team from pushing the earth over the “edge”–a fear increasingly emergent in the Vietnam War, by focusing on preventing it from falling–or, in a version modeled after Tug-of-War, by shifting sides in order to prevent the ball/earth from ever crossing too far across one line, and trying to maintain its stability.

For back when Brand and his friends optimistically  enjoined NASA and the Soviet Union to ‘‘finally turn the cameras backward’’ towards the planet earth to provide a picture of the world, posing the question first on buttons he hocked at the University of California campus in Berkeley, the notion of a new mapping of a global world and its connections would open a perspective that liberated users from what seemed hackneyed nationalistic values and promising notions of interconnection to ideas and information in new graphic forms.  The idealistic promise of global coverage didn’t create such a release, even long after the button-selling of Brand was chased off of Berkeley’s campus, but Brand’s idealistic notion of the power of global coverage informed the internet’s promise to provide information everywhere, by allowing unprecedented access to maps in ways world-changing in itself.

To be sure, the liberating force of the internet lies in its ability to provide information everywhere, but it remains true that the surface of the world wide web is anything but a uniform surface or playing field.




The absence of a level field in internet use continues even after Facebook‘s efforts to saturate the planet with free wifi, already evident in those most  connected to Facebook–


connessione-facebookFacebook Connectivity Lab


The obstacles to the dream of comprehensive online exchange hasn’t happened, and may not, given the uneven nature of the global penetration rate of the internet, whose global spread is broken down nationally on a cartogram warping of space by population, and shows deep whole in much of Africa and South Asia, and a lopsided evolution of web-use, convincingly rendered by the clever cartographer Luc Guillemot–


global-penetration-of-net-2000-2012Luc Guillemot



5.  Paradoxically, if inevitably the generation of most online maps is overwhelmingly and resolutely local, in the sense that it is only accessible in quite unevenly distributed ways–it would be wonderful to see the scope of the scale at which Google Maps is accessed in different places and regions, if such data were open; as it is, we rarely see the “whole earth” as Brand imagined, so much more focussed are we on tracking national political events or elections, or mapping the settings and spaces we travel and spread of local weather variations.  We map where we are in maps of air travel on view in airplanes, Waze apps we use to view traffic flows, or the crime maps of neighborhoods and, on a broader scope, the weather maps of nations, states, or regions, which have a sense of actuality that exploit most maps’ existence on a server, always able to be reformulated to track meaning and flows for our eyes, and indeed even to put us into its content.

Encouraged by the near-ubiquity of wifi and internet services, we use smart phones as navigational tools to trace our locations on winding roads, taking our eyes off of the itinerary, almost to the degree Rube Goldberg’s cartoon of Non-Tangle Map Rollers prefigured–running the danger of taking eyes off of the road on which we are driving.


Rube Goldbert's Non-Tangle Road Map Rollers.png


There is not such a utopian sense of how information actually flows online through the ether, to be sure.   Indeed, there are still clear winners and losers for the speeds of information exchanges that the speed of internet exchanges creates–and are not evident on Brand’s “whole Earth,” which still seems to provide the mental model to which online mapping aspires–despite the actual differences in the backbone that enables such online communications and the advantages it allots residents of certain regions:  for rather than provide a unified global image of à la Brand, cartographer Luc Guillemot’s recent map of internet capacities reveals intractable inherent differences in the sizing of information highways for different regions–and give the lie to the free-floating of information along the cables and backbones on which they are transmitted among different regions, by mapping the actual quantified capacities at which they run.

00.pngLuc Guillemot


The ways that we might understand the vision motion of information better have only begun to be mapped.  But the continuous provision of infinite information faces multiple material constraints.  The enticing image of the expanse of the global net has clear weaknesses, to be sure, as does the hope of expecting universal access to online maps.

So what of the whole earth?  Where did it go?  The proposals and presuppositions of the Google Maps template and of Web Mercator are rarely interrogated, but in the name of subsuming information to utility, and actuality to web tiles, the map engine does odd things, removed from experience, as a semantic web of spatial reference–like suppose a uniformity of land and water, render and reify abstract spatial positions removed from local context, and reinstate a flat-earth perspective that would be less familiar from a globe, that provide an array of tools to conceive of place–from tracking to geolocation.


6.  The framework of spatial reference generated the Antipodes Map streaming Google Earth locations in familiar map tiles imagery.   As in the header to this post, the engine bears the promise to match a map of where you are to the earth’s other side, analogously online information-sharing promises to place any user at any site, and by using the very same engine.  As internet-based maps provide a network of ready-made mapping whose instruments are accessible to all–despite the clear constraints that undergirds the internet and renders it less of the open area for free exchange.

The Antipodes Map engine is itself an artifact of the age in which any map is readily generated and supplied, more than exists.  It is an emblem of the utopian premises of the hyper-personalization of online maps–rather than present a record of the inhabited world, the site marks place for viewers by a search engine alone–and situates place in an otherwise undifferentiated expanse:  the map revels in the status of place in the map-engine as a “quasi-object” and of the map’s user as a “quasi-subject,” to use terms Bruno Latour coined as tools to understand the networks in which each exist; for the Antipodes Map website itself serves to trace networks of calculating place on an online map engine by a coordinate network, preparing a readymade sense of local landscapes disembodied from place and with little context, and removed from current political events or human habitation.

There is no Jules Verne-like majesty of imagining the construction of an actual tunnel, as a corridor running through the earth’s core, here advertised as a project to open to visitors tired of global air travel, linking Singapore and Ecuador, that is promised to be constructed from Singapore by 2050, which might provide the very sort of transport it imagines in an imagined physical corridor–




It oddly remaps place that preclude any sense of embodied travel, in a gloriously impoverished sense that sees the map as not only the medium, but simulacrum of travel.

The frictionless sort of travel that online mapping claims to provide to its users has been interestingly incarnated in an online Antipodes Map, if the magic of generating a web-map has admittedly lost much of its early initial sheen.  The search engine light-heartedly bills itself as a virtual “tunnel to the other side of the world” that half-exploits the decreasing availability of concrete media and forms of mapping in a “globe-less” society, whose lack it seems to mourn.  Many may mourn the symbolic centrality of the globe as a talisman of interconnectedness in the age of web-based maps, but the performance of the web-map and the surrogate reality that it offers viewers in a new network of map-use is celebrated in the engine as if to overcome the lack of the materiality of the map.  The engine allows, by an easy trick, instant generation of the web map from any set of coordinates, as “our ‘man’ will dig a tunnel from selected location, right through the center of the Earth, up to the other side of the world which will be represented on Right Map.”




Although the lack of scales in the two windows of the map-generator negotiates the fact that much of the world is water, the possibility for altering scales allow considerably bizarre symbolic, and even odder as a way to lend a sense of presence to the formally abstract and generic screen map–lending a notional materiality to the web-map that almost celebrates the map as a simulacrum that’s ready to be fashioned around where you are, wherever you are, immediately.




For if the screen map declares it to be nothing so much as a “quasi-thing,” recalling a map in its pixellated forms existing only for the beholder for whom it is conveniently remade, and reassembled, that emulates the apparatus of map-viewing on a Google Maps platform.


7.  Indeed, the engine almost openly celebrates the rebirth of the new status of the map as a “quasi-thing“–which almost ceases to register spatial variations–where geodetic data exists only in a relation to the viewer or users of the platform, rather than inhere in the map, and place a “quasi-subject” that exists in a social network of map use and is provided for the user of a mapping service.   Place, in other words, emerges in the act of consulting the map and GS84 coordinates readily generates it, and place exists as a consequence of a technology of map-reading–and a network of reading place as it is generated on search engines–and as it circulates online in a network of map reading.  Although the Antipodes Map was not particularly successful as a search engine on its own, it recreates the same networks of map-reading to generate place through the immediate assembly of map tiles.  The Antipodes Map has little to do with actual Antipodes, but less dynamic GIS version that echoes the physical interactivity for reading space H.A. Rey so appealingly rendered in the illustrated children’s classic How Do You Get There?

Rey’s fold-out images offer visual surprises that dramatically addressed the problems of modern navigation of an age, as if to socialize children to problems of transportation, that responded to the increased mobility of the mid-twentieth-century, and indeed the increased possibility of a surprising degree of geographic mobility due to contingent circumstance that Rey himself experienced.  Rey’s classic book sometime seems a valiant attempt to put a good face on the history of displacement and mobility Rey himself experienced–but recalls a tyranny of the map that has become a far less sensitive visual medium in the a dangerously disembodied absence of a sense of self amidst the tiles of Terrain View.  The interactive mapping site suggests a nostalgia for the globe, by suggesting the notion of global antipodes can be easily rewritten for the screen, is subtly mirroring the imaginary of the smooth travel that the internet and many platforms of web-mapping openly promote, even as many face increasing obstacles to geographic mobility.  Any obstacles to mobility seem miraculously erased in the user-friendly promises to immerse oneself in the map and be transported to an antipodal point–albeit one that comes up quite short on any spatial experiences at all.

For if How Do You Get There? was permeated by a sense of place, and may indeed echo how  the intrepid children’s book illustrator might have mused on the varied conveyances of his narrow escape from Paris to Lisbon and through Rio de Janeiro, in Brazil, to New York City from bicycles to transatlantic ships, it offers a visual sequence of problems of transport and the most apt vehicles to move from one site to another, inventively exploiting the fold out pages in the paper product of the book to mimic movement across spatial divides across which different vehicles can transport you, retelling the radically expanded transit possibilities half way between the innovation of the ocean liner and the jet age:  the first image poses problems of transportations to which solutions immediately emerge by raising half the page, to reveal the conveyance allowing one to move across a medium–





The growth of new possibilities of transit is implicit in every page of Rey’s book, most often poignantly told from the child’s point of view, as if to offer a guide that can orient them to both the local and global, and newfound mobility in urban and global space.




In contrast, current users of “Antipodes”–a service whose plan lacks relevance to the actual Antipodes, a concept that maintained the balance and global harmony of the world’s continents, which came to refer specifically to the large southern landmasses New Zealand and Australia in much of the northern hemisphere–


207C.JPGSt. Sever (1030 AD, following Beatus Renanus)



–but rather relates antipodal points that intersect the earth’s center in a straight line, mapped on projected coordinates.

There is a sense in which the dual maps presented to viewers clearly recalls juxtaposition images in parallel slide projectors, as a sort of comparison of the formal shift in settings that the map takes the viewer or generates a place.  Rather than offer the material visual surprise of actively unfolding a paper flap, the parallel images that recall parallel projection from two projectors in the slide lectures given in darkened halls of art history lectures of a generation (or several) ago, to focus the attention of his audiences on the Formgefühl of projected images to unmask a syntax of art.  The twin map-screens of different scales in the Antipodes Map are clunky because they  echo how parallel slide projectors provided an apparatus, from magic lanterns to the slide projectors, for art historians to compare and contrast styles Robert Nelson once described as an inheritance from the Swiss art historian Heinrich Wölfflin–who employed dual projectors to give viewers the sense that they witnessed and hence best appreciated the content of images.


8.  The juxtaposition of two map screens less openly celebrate the work of art more than the speed of the instantaneous generation of images, of course.  But the Antipodes Map is similarly intent in the miracle of creating a juxtaposition of antipodal locations, as if place was merely something that arose from the comparison of locations.  The basic suasive apparatus of the website’s map engines echoed how the material apparatus of projectors that became such a staple for orienting beholders to stylistic differences, and appreciate a work of art.  They seem to celebrate the online map, despite its visual dullness of its form.

The contrast immediately generated between a provided place-name and how the engine locates its antipode by the magical apparatus of an online map engine; users are  invited to enter the sketchy simulacrum, and to identify with the icon in slacks and a white shirt who seems to reappear at a corresponding point, albeit almost always at radically different scales–that exploit the frictionless nature of the virtual map as an accurate interface.




The aesthetics of the website obscure distance, by allowing one to move by the input of any toponym to two points in the world, and find its corollary in the opposite hemisphere automatically generated.   The coordinates of longitude and latitude are suddenly, as if by a magical sort of travel, spatially re-situated by polar opposites of place represented by adventurous figurines who seem to stick their head in the ground, as in the manner of an ostrich, only for it to reappear at the corresponding antipode on the terrestrial sphere.  The website lists the range of actual antipodal cities that make one wonder what meaning lies in antipodal relations–Manila and Cuiaba (Brazil); Shanghai and Buenos Aires; Taipei and Asuncion (Paraguay); Aukland and Seville; Singapore and Quito; Suva, in Fiji, and Timbuktu; Hamilton, New Zealand and Tangiers; or Masterton (New Zealand) and Segovia–beyond suggesting the extreme over-inhabitation of much of the current ecumene.

Indeed, “tunneling through the world” will allow one to move from through an infinity of antipodes, as from Split, in Croatia, to its actual antipodal point off New Zealand by a hexadecimal coordinate system of Google Maps,–


–in ways that suggest the antipodes don’t actually “exist” as a place, but only in the relative terms that exist in a Web Mercator projection of WGS84, which in the map screen can be imagined as two points between which web-maps allow one to physically move, and coordinates that can be readily juxtaposed.

The conceit of the simulacrum of the map through which one passes, as if to another world, to its antipodal counterpart, is a cool tool to vaunt the power of the web map with apparent precision.  Tunneling through the virtual screen will surprisingly transport you from one city to another.  Iconic humanoid stick figures, our new stock figurines of surrogate explorers within the screen map, are immediately oriented to a mapped place abstracted from any vehicle of travel by the GIS mapping engine, on a website that seems glibly to treat the map itself as the medium for imagining one’s voyage to a point of parity on the globe by analogy to Google Street View, as if one might poke one’s head through the world’s surface, and treat the conveyance of the map as a way to shrink space.

While the logic of calculating terrestrial coordinates of antipodal points is ridiculously simple–by simply switching out North (N) for South (S) in each latitude; subtracting the longitude from 180° and visualizing the result in Google Maps–




–the visualization is profoundly bizarre symptom of a globe-less culture, where coordinates exist not on paper, or on a spherical surface, but rather on a screen–and may suggest something of an a nostalgia for the globe as an object of contemplation, despite the sense that it is a far less adequate substitute, whose interactive format is a bit more of a parlor game quick to become outdated in the age of online mapping.

The formal trick of the interactive Antipodes Map invites us, perhaps for want of a paper map, to dive through the surface of the map, and presents the flat surface of the screen map as if it were a surface through which one could travel through a now-absent globe, as if through a looking glass, between such antipodal points as Rome and New Zealand–


Rome to Antipodes near New Zealand.png


or Denali Park in Alaska to the even colder regions of the Southern Ocean near Antarctica’s edge–


Denali Park:Antarctic Southern Ocean.png


and imagine easy transit from Oakland CA to the Indian Ocean–




or from the West Bank and Jerusalem, as if to escape the constraints of increasingly obstructive boundary barriers, to beside the international dateline in the South Pacific–



The notion of such smooth cartographical getaways are flights of fancy, but can’t help but make one think of the actual mobility of refugees who increasingly crowd the surface of the world whose itineraries are all the more fraught.  Has it been a coincidence that as globalization is based on new modes of mapping borderless travel and data flows without frontiers, frontiers of economic differences are increasingly constraining ever-increasing numbers who are not often on our mental screens?



Perhaps the magic of shifting place in the Antipodes Map is a product of a society where our travel intensity is so susceptible to place-shifting and where upwards of 700,000 are up in the air at any moment, and over a million paying passengers flew daily in 2015, and airlines are expected to fly 3.6 billion passengers by 2016.


air_routes-1Michael Markieta (Arup)–60.000 air routes


In an era of massively accelerated geographic mobility connecting some 7,00 airports, there is something crazily believeable about the playful conceit of the Antipodes Map:   one might readily imagine one can stick one’s head into the land only to re-appear, presto changeo, on the other side, as if by sticking one’s head into the ground, one might reappear on the other side of the globe.  We are removed from the sense of a globe–despite the use of terrestrial coordinates; the website rather provides a sort of Flat Earth Project, now is cast as sort of paired Moebius strip, using the visual metaphor of entering head and hands first though the pixellated map of New York,


New York.png


–one might be conveyed by the search engine, as the map gives way, in all of its faux materiality, and we appear at the opposed set of terrestrial coordinates, off the coast of Australia, in a metaphor for the cognitive difficulties of world navigation by smart phone, using a projection that expands Antarctica to a prodigious size the it serves as the footer of the screen:


Near Australia.png


Resolutely and radically anthropocentric, if similarly antiquated–much as the conceit of compare and contrast with dual slide projectors, the variation on Google Street View places the humanoid and seemingly male figure in an abstracted landscape, in ways that incarnate an idealized interface between man and map, loosened free from any environmental context or actual spatial orientation, save longitude and latitude.




One can move in to closer scale, to be sure, and focus on a specific neighborhood or intersection of streets in a city before symbolically tunneling to the other side of the world, or reappearing on the matching coordinates in the other hemisphere:  but place is less here understood as a place of habitability, or inhabitation, so much as the coordinates mediated on a screen and as a sort of place-marker, familiar from Google Maps, with only marginal reference to its topography, and not a space for settlement or inhabitation.

The fictional cartographic conceit entertains an imagined transit of childhood–digging a hole to China?–but rather than present an actual adventure, à la Jules Verne, one celebrates the versatility of the flimsy artifice of the flattened screen, which suddenly and playfully invests itself perhaps with a health share of faux materiality, as if to announce the lack of global bearing or geographic learning that are in the end required for new tiles to assemble and reassemble themselves at convenience, to show you where you are, and no real need for a conveyance to arrive anywhere in embodied form, and to celebrate that no resistance or friction to imaginary travel exists any longer in a globalized world.

Sometimes the icons may seem odd, not to mention out-dated, as if one was doing asanas in the midst of a forest near Nepal, where all of the previously familiar constraints of travel are erased by the imagined access to space that the terrain map provides.





We can move, frictionlessly, to tunnel across the world in this cartographical fantasy from a site located beside a lake–




to an unkown site in the Indian Ocean–




or indeed from the Himalayan mountains of Tibet to off the coast of Chile–




The oddest aspect is the utter absence of a sense of conveyance, as if a celebration of the fact that what exists is not reality, but only, and absolutely, the fantasy of a flattened map.

If Ray celebrated the opening up of the landscapes of travel by different conveyances, as if to celebrate the transit across space for readers, by orienting them to challenges that almost seemed impossible–





–the notion in this search engine seems to be that there is no landscape, but that by playing with maps, in an innocent way, the contours of the globe are not only easily transformed to a hand-held pixellated screen, the new medium of the map–




–but that one almost doesn’t even need to see anything in the map as a set of spatial relationships, but can use it to lead to situate oneself immediately in the static landscape ties that the search engine generates.

How to reconcile the constraints in which so many live clustered on the side of borders that defined economical disparities, or just outside them, with the unbounded optimism of the online map that can track our position at any place in the inhabited world seems a problem of world-making, if one that mapping may not alone resolve.


Filed under data visualization, geolocation, Google Maps, interactive maps, mapping place

The New Jungle: from Calais to Beyond

It is pretty hard to imagine anything as scary as the intentional clearing of The Jungle near the French port of Calais.  The dismantling by local police of improvised structures of lean-to’s, corrugated metal, stretched plastic tarpaulins, wooden structures, and improvised settlements that had sprung up near the Port of Calais for three years had housed many families of migrants from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Syria, Somalia, and Sudan; the sprawling shanty-town being disbanded was not only symbolic of the failure to address the growing refugee crisis in Europe, but created a human map of migration of considerably compelling power as a center of residence:  stuck together by duct tape and affixed in an improvised canteen, the map was symbolic of arrival beyond borders.  In a time when “place” has lost much meaning, the map affirmed The Jungle as one.  For those who had managed to travel to Calais to seek illegal entry into Great Britain to claim asylum otherwise so elusive for these victims of political persecution and economic crisis, pressed by necessity and human rights violations to leave their countries.

They had come to seek the status of refugees on the coast of northern France.  Yet as Calais settlements have provided a target for migrant-bashing and a sort of political football for the French government and Prime Minister, as migrants waiting to travel to the United Kingdom by subverting the border controls, risking their lives by clandestine travel underneath trucks or in ferries, or any transport through the crowded Eurotunnel in whatever illegal way presented itself.   Calais’ stateless settlement is created by one nation seeking to restrict entrance of foreigners, having  pushed its borderline onto the soil of a nation that also doesn’t want to offer migrants asylum, but where they have made their temporary home, even as both states restrict their movement, as both border controls and anti-migrant fascist groups both concentrate their presence into a confined space–the “Jungle,” from the Pashtun dzhangal, on the outskirts of town, to make their homes on an overbuilt border that has been increasingly defined by a visible security apparatus, designed to prevent entrance into British territory by migrants to claim asylum.  And the clearing of the encampment by French police, who moved in to erase any traces of habitation and remove migrants from the region, seems both a misguided local attempt to resolve an international problem of housing and naturalization, whose frustration has given rise to right-wing political forces in Europe and much of the world.


4200.pngOctober, 2016


Most migrants had arrived in Calais with hopes to find their way to the United Kingdom, hoping to gain transit across the twenty miles of ocean by illegally boarded trucks, or trains.  But the recent decision to build a concrete wall along the border to prevent its crossing, and to disband and remove the camps, seems a failure to deal with a growing migrant crisis.  If the compass rose on the cardboard hand-made map pasted on one of the social centers in the settlement camps provided a point of orientation to the world where they sought to find a place for themselves, the crowded habitations of migrants from different nations on the map suggests less of a fantasy map than the immense geographical range of migrant families who had settled in tents  on a stretch of landfill beside a highway and sandy shore, mid-way between Paris and London.  The map seems also a confirmation they had arrived in a safe community beyond national borders.


tumblr_o0spbkducb1ujkrsxo1_1280CalaisEdinburgh (January 11, 2016)


The creative cartography, without borders and boundaries, and foregrounding a sinuous cartography of roads, as if a surrogate for migrants’ ongoing travels, is an imagined cartography but not at all one that is imaginary.  The hand-drawn map was affixed by duct tape in a distribution center of clothing and food in the Calais Jungle, to orient arriving migrants and their families to where they had recently arrived, and might rejoin similar linguistic groups of co-nationals, but also suggests the blurred world of migrants, who live outside of any previously recognized borders, and on a quite different map.  For while it reads at first as a fantasy map, the assemblage of global refugees gave rise not only to a common cry–“Fight the Border Everywhere!”–offered a clear sense of pride and local belonging, and a triumph over adversity that was all too real.  The map indicated sites to find hot food provided daily, water sources, health centers, and houses of worship and where migrants congregated from the Eritrea, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria or Iran.

The map drawn in marker on cardboard boxes is as improvised as the shelters of The Jungle, built of jerry-rigged tarpaulins, wooden structures, corrugated steel sheets, and bits of post-industrial detritus converted to living quarters.  But it presents a sturdy and resilient image of a world view, using recycled cartographical imagery and legends, from a compass rose to point to England and “Here be dragons” to suggest the dangers of riot police beside the motorway and tunnel to England.  The hand-drawn map has been recently interpreted as evidence of the failures of European immigration policies, depicting a “geography of imagined communities” which exposes policy shortcomings, for migrants who arrived in The Jungle, it presented a sense of place where they had arrived.  If “place” can hardly have been stable for the refugees who had taken such extensively varied itineraries to reach the coastal port town of Calais, the map confirmed their arrival at a place of common solidarity, as much as their outcast status and transient status, rather than a failure of states to process their claims to asylum.  For a group of migrants who had travelled such great lengths from so many areas, viewing the map provoked less of a  sense of dislocation than of arriving at home, if not a shared pride in local resettlement.

If  most images of The Jungle convey its improvised nature as a quite crowded sea of brightly colored tarps and corrugated metal roofs, the hand-drawn marker map shows The Jungle as a dramatically well-ordered space, concealed on a system of roads, linguistic or ethnic regions, with its own school, health center, and markets.  Located close to the Ferry Terminal and Eurotunnel.  True, The Jungle was a sort of legal limbo, whose sites of encampment near repurposed shipping containers had created a sprawling virtual microcosm of the refugee crisis.  But although it existed for years, the expansive settlements seem to have been poorly mapped.  Located just three miles from the downtown of Calais, in uncomfortable proximity to the shopping district, the presence of crowded tents in the Jungle from 2015, including toilets, electricity, and food arose as an effort to stop migration to England–but grew as its conditions attracted refugees hopeful of reaching England.  When Francois Hollande judged the settlements both “undignified” and “not acceptable“–“We cannot have such camps in France“–and promised the rapid expulsion of the settlements in September, he boasted to restore and reinstate border without any engagement of migrants’ real needs.

The Jungle is perhaps less often closely watched that poorly mapped–as it is below, by a dark superimposed grid, without a human face.  But it has been increasingly difficult to face in European politics, since it so clearly embodies the inability of Europe to deal with its refugee crisis, and the inability of finding governmental solutions to migrants’ arrival–or to accommodate the hundred migrants who recently arrived daily in the French port town, close to the border controls hoping to gain passage by ship or car.  So strong it the hope that many wish to stay nearby, refusing to abandon hopes for future transit across the twenty miles of sea to England.  A month after publicly confirming the joint French-British construction of a “Great Wall of Calais” costing $22.65 million, promised to stand at thirteen feet high of unscalable sheer concrete, the destruction of the Jungle began:  the costly project, as the dismantlement of the camps, has more to do with border politics, of course, than the plight of migrants seeking asylum–initially Iraqi Kurds, but increasing Sudanese, Eritreans, and Ethiopians and Afghanis.  Indeed, with the commitment to the new reinforced border boundary to be built in Calais, unprecedented in size, the erasure of the camps that existed of migrants were set to to be definitively cleared.




The above map, designed just before authorities proposed to clear the southern half of the camp settlements in early 2016, that they described as a “humanitarian project,” or “soft demolition,” sought to defuse the growing political debates and to restrain the already growing number of migrants who had arrived at the port town seeking passage, which they hoped to limit to 2,000–even as the numbers present were already above 5,500 according to the humanitarian organization Help Refugees–the difficulty to put faces on the many people who came to crowd the densely populated tent-camps was clear in the attempts to provide some humanitarian aid, balanced with fear of become a magnet for further refugees as the size of the Jungle settlement grew.  While French police control the region and sought to prevent migrants from reaching transit by car or ship, and cleared tents and shacks from many areas, authorities opened a shelter in the camp’s northeastern region, adding 125 repurposed metal shipping containers to offer shelter for 1,5000 migrants as temporary housing atop the port’s sandy dunes.  Many migrants rejected the sparse living conditions, but the multi-ethnic camps grew, nourishing hopes of future resettlement.  Rather mapping migrants as outsiders who had only recently crossed the borders and boundaries of Europe, many of those who had arrived in The Jungle were seeking to rejoin relatives or former migrants who were already living and established in Europe.


d8a12e2ef0502f296377426b17fb967a0911a037.pngINFOGRAPHIE. L’explosion du nombre de migrants à Calais en un graphique (2016)


Similar encampments had appeared at Calais since 2003, and had been present since the late 1990s in some form, but the Jungle dates from early Spring, 2015, when it emerged as a destination and point of departure.  But their recent ballooning provoked the forceful dismantling of the structures, as if to erase any trace beside the repurposed shipping containers brought to house migrants.  And as it grew, it became an increasing concern of French citizens near Calais, giving rise to anti-immigrant sentiments, barbed wire electrified fences along freeways and around the entrance to the Eurotunnel, and something of a national political football and deep source of embarrassment to the government, providing evidence of their inability to process immigrants arriving from Africa and the Middle East.

The increased attraction of migrants to Calais is particularly curious as it represents the arrival of the disenfranchised communities of the world at on e of the highest concentrations of international capital.  Indeed, the increasing number of migrants attracted by the highly profitable Eurotunnel, which runs the tunnel as a concession through 2086, or of 90+ years, which already turned an unimagined annual profit of  €100.  The concessioning of the tunnel has encouraged the outsourcing of monitoring of human traffic or transport across the tunnel–imagined only as a route of moving goods–to a private security firm of 300, a non-state army that is now headed by an ex-police chief and ex-army colonel, and has assiduously worked to install an array of surveillance and security technologies to prevent the smooth business of trade across the Channel, as the profitable chunnel works to reduce its €4 billion debt, even after having had a record year in 2015 in transnational trade, and is desperate to prevent the “problem” of migrants who have been based in Calais to reduce its income from freight and the Eurostar.  The range of security forces and  companies implicated in Calais border violence–supra-national entities such as Trascor; Vinci; Logistic Solutions; Jackson’s Fencing; Mondial Protection; L3; Clearview Communications for biometrics–reveal a congestion of commerce and wealth beside the world’s destitute that creates a bizarre hybrid space on the edge of the national border.





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Filed under Brexit Vote, data visualization, humanitarian maps, Jungle, refugee camps

The Arid Region of the United States and its Afterlife: Beyond the 100th Meridian

The map may not be the territory.  But it powerfully orients relation to the territory–and to the presence of water in the land, as well as the land itself.  Indeed, the mapping of how the “Arid Region” of the United States could be settled by John Wesley Powell created as the second Director of the United States Geological Survey, a post he held from 1881–1894, but which he had first expansively described in 1878.  The United States Congress followed Powell’s recommendation to consolidate the western surveys into the new U.S. Geological Survey, and he long sought to create a map capturing the fragile water ecology of the American West.  The completion of his classic report on the region first suggested a new relation to the distribution of water in the region in ways that would best serve all of its residents, and in his later map, he tried to articulate so clear a relation to the region’s future settlement.  Powell’s view on the need for systematic irrigation of the region stands in almost polemic relation to the place that the western states held in the spatial imaginary of the Homesteading Era:  indeed, his insistence that led to the charge to undertake a systematic irrigation survey of lands in the public domain of the wester United States in 1888, long a topic for which he had agitated, and his map of the region reflected a demand to integrate a topographic survey, hydrographic survey, and engineering survey of the region.  Perhaps the map offered a new sense of the territory, if “territory” includes the waterways that would be able to adequately irrigate all open lands.


Arid Region of US


For the reception of Major John Wesley Powell’s attempt to map what he called the “Arid Region of the United States” reveals both he difficulty in mapping the relation of water to the land, and the appeal that a piece of paper might gain over time.  The detailed map provided something of a ground plan and register of how the arid region might be best inhabited, and of the relation to the land and landwater of a region’s inhabitants.  And it provides an early recognition of problems of water management and distribution in the western states–captured in its naming simply as the “Arid Region” as if to set it apart from the plentiful water in other regions–that later eras began to appreciate in ways that Powell’s contemporaries were less able to see in his ambitious attempt to reorganize the management of its regions around its multiple inland watersheds that he had hoped to canalize.  For Powell’s ambitious 1890 remapping of lands west of the 100° meridian in the United States tried to encompass their unique aridity and to pose a solution for its future inhabitants with special attention to its drainage districts–as discreet riverine watersheds.


Arid Lands ReservationsArid Region of the United States (1890); detail


The best practices that motivated Powell’s map as a basis to orient the government to the land’s groundwater.  The distinctive scarcity of water in the western states became evident in a time of sustained drought, giving unexpected currency to how Powell’s map reoriented readers to the “Arid Region of the United States.”  The brightly colored map to which the explorer, geographer, and anthropologist not only dedicated an extreme amount of attention in his later life, and of which he became something of an evangelist, suggests a early recognition of the scarcity of water and its management, in an era when there is a specter of considerable anger around poor practices of water management in much of the western states, tempered by an expectation that groundwater would be available for farming and irrigation.

The rivers in the United States are quite widely distributed, leaving much of the western plateaux at a distance from riverine waterways–


Western Rivers.pngTim Sinott


–and the image of Virgin Land so deeply ingrained across that regions settlement that its unique character of low rainfall and widely dispersed water sources was erased in the spatial imaginary which replaced the detailed map Powell of the administration of groundwater in the western states that Powell had created with his surveying team as a guide to the region that he knew so well, and which he sought to communicate when he became second director of the United States Geographical Surveys (1881–1894).  The governmental office did not give him authority to organize , but to create a new map that might better organize the nation to the lesser rainwater in what was known as the Great American Desert.  For Powell attempted to re-orient homesteaders to the imperative of western migration through the map, by organizing water administration and the future prospect for canalization in order to grow prospects for the irrigation of the region and its future farmlands that have considerable ethical power to speak to us today.

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Filed under climatology, data visualization, drought, environmental stewardship, water management

The Imagined and Actual Geography of Brexit: Topologies of Social Anxiety

What sort of precedent did the Brexit vote sent for the validity of the demonization of immigration, and the growth of a firmly anti-globalist impulse?  The combination of a growing state security apparatus and economic insecurity on European boarders has created a fear of hordes and the arrival of migrants moving on foot that has created the now-dismantled migrant camp known as the “Jungle” near the port of Calais, not far from the Ferry Terminal for ships leaving for England.  This settlement became a site emblematic of the proximity of migrants to Britain in the summer of 2016, and helped to embody the fears of immigration close to the shores of England, giving a concreteness to the fears of immigration that deeply divided Britain on the need to protect its borders, and the dangers of doing so.  It was a debate about what being British meant, and where we draw our borders, which the Calais encampment, as the posters of refugees from Eastern Europe and Syria, illustrated with increased proximity.

Crossing to Calais on the Eurostar this summer, I looked out intently out of the rapidly moving train window for migrant camps who had been so central to the “Brexit” referendum by which  England recently left the European Union, that has held up to 6-8,000 refugees hoping to move to England–and some suggest the number reached as high as 10,000.  Indeed, as “Leave” seemed so successfully cast as an imperative, and “Remain” as the honest commitment to “Remain” seemed to have decidedly less media presence and staying power, the haunting residents of the camps, filled with refugees and migrants from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan, if often left out of most maps of the election, provided a compelling if faceless specter for many.





The haphazard and improvised constellation of lean-tos, make-shift huts, and tents were ordered in streets beside orderly rows of fenced-off white metal shipping containers relocated to Calais to provide temporary forms of housing after their arrival.  Although there were not any migrant camps in evidence from my position in the train, the camps were in the past few weeks increasingly in the news, as the UKIP party that predicted an England inundated by refugee influx that social services and health could not accommodate, all because of England’s membership in the European Union, on the eve of Britain’s vote on the European Union Referendum–as “Leave” parties conjured fears of what belonging in the European Union would mean for the everyday Englishman in an age of increasing global displacement of refugees and cross-border traffic of men and women seeking work, education, and safety.  When the rapid train suddenly paused for unforeseen difficulties due to people on the tracks, one couldn’t but wonder how the halt related to those risking lives to enter the tunnel running beneath the Channel, whom local police quarantined in semi-permanent “homes” of converted shipping containers.

While the Eurostar connected two railway stations, and half of London and Paris was glued to the European Cup, the “Brexit” vote revealed a hiving off of about a third of Britain similarly eager to separate itself from the European Union–as voters voted, probably unaware of the consequences, in a plebiscite that trumped parliamentary politics in anti-democratic ways.  For Brexit became a performative mapping of a severance from Europe, in ways to manufacture an imaginary boundary between England and a refugee crisis.  The precarity of living in shipping containers now seems to be about as great as that of the European Union.  What was Jungle is largely destroyed, rendered uninhabitable save for the 1,200 unaccompanied minors who reside in the complex of huts, tents, and containers, as 4,403 migrants bussed to refugee centers across the country, to seek asylum, the settlement provided an effective threat of migration and effective specter of fear in the EU Referendum.  Indeed, it helped to ensure the surprising and unexpected success of a referendum designed to keep refugees at bay and finally withdraw the country –at significant national monetary cost–from the European Union for the foreseeable future.  As multiple fires began to burn in the Jungle after workers moved in to begin dismantling the camp, while some pointed the finger to refugees seeking to dismantle and erase the structures where they lived others pointed to British anarchists, even with the clearance began, so strong was the fear of migrants that the fate of 1,000 children seeking entrance to the UK is unknown, suspended by the post-BREXIT government of Theresa May.

English voters on the Referendum were presented with almost dizzying fears of immigration and declining social services that were impossible to visualize adequately.  In an onslaught that dominated the news and challenged voters’ attention spans and moral compass, “Leave” flyers used fear to mobilize against remaining in the European Union.  In a canny onslaught and bid for attention, reminiscent of right-wing politicians, flyers of  “Leave” raised the specter of fears of immigration policies out of control  and wrested away by a European Union whose member states stood only to escalate.  The eventuality of remaining in the EU was seen as an abdication of responsibilities, and a misplaced trust in Brussels to control the entry of refugees and Eastern Europeans seeking jobs into the UK:  if migration to the UK had grown to above a quarter of a million–“the equivalent of a city the size of Newcastle“–the arrival of two million over the coming decade mandated by “free movement of people”  conjured a suitably dystopian future.  Voting to Remain in the European Union was to accept this lack of control, and the subordination of British law to an over-reaching European Court; expanding the myth of foreign oversight of Britain, Leave claimed to offer the opportunity to check the flow of migrants to restore control to British hands.  The argument of empowerment may have been deluded.  But the powerful promise to return £350 million in taxes flowing to Brussels, and the prospect of immigration growth once such “candidate countries” as Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro joined Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, to the tune of a cost of nearly £1.8 billion, provided a compelling rationale to vote “Leave” and to identify interests with the possibility of controlling the fair of the expanded borders of globalization alone, and rather than in the European Union.  As a movement of “faux populism,” carefully orchestrated to be effective at the ballot, the Brexit supporters stirred up fear into a central role in the election that attracted a growing range of supporters to the ballot.

The dizzying expansion of a region without frontiers was joined by a cry “to take back control” of England’s future.  The Referendum was presented as “our last chance to take back control,” a virtual mantra of the Leave campaign, and control “our borders” and international “influence” lest the nation be filled with immigrants against who one can draw no clear border.  With the Turkey, Serbia, and Macedonia joining the EU, ran the implicit message, Syrian refugees were bound to be waiting at the gates as well, without a compelling way to turn them back.


EU-523932.jpgDaily Express


Such a compelling framing of the debate about the nation’s compromised future in a landscape of expanding “rights” fostered fears of an end of public futures, “without handing our permanent control to people we cannot vote out”–as if the vote presented the last attempt at independence, ignoring the special relation of the UK had long insisted to the EU.  To be sure, the Leave campaign also increased regulations that the EU introduced, without suggesting other financial benefits.

The mapping of the response to the Referendum released a new plethora of maps in hopes better to explain the final vote of the plebiscite that precipitated the break from the EU.  Can these maps–and the mapping of social divides in England’s complicated tapestry of islands which integrate immigrants and regions where they still remain unknown, provide any insight in the difficulty to create consensus about the growing population flows that globalization has produced?  The question is important, because it suggests a new problem of political consensus not only in Britain and the European Union, but also in the United States.  For the unprecedented misinformed plebiscite gave voice to a deep unease with parliamentary deals that brokered the terms of England’s membership in the European Union, and with globalization, that dangerously undermined the responsibilities that the EU has gained to respond to the global threats of refugee crises–a role that has been foisted upon it by the economic promise Europe continues to offer as a zone without apparent national frontiers.  While we’ve been told by informed voices that the EU “had it coming,” whatever that means, or that the current European Union compromised British demands, or warned that the creation of social and political affinities could ever follow from enforced economic union, or give rise to public confidence, rejection by plebiscite of membership in the European Union subverted democracy, by a campaign bred from xenophobic fears and assertions the EU “has failed Britain” as a whole.

The recourse to demographic polling, hex bin maps sought to go beyond easy dichotomies, and unpack what seem deep-running fault lines within the country, and the difficulty of reconciling the nation given the increased political fault-lines attempted to process and reconcile divides in political parties that plagued the land.  But rather than suggest the complex lines of fracturing between the political mosaic of Conservatives, Liberals, Labourites, UKIP and Greens in England’s new political landscape, the Leave/Stay dichotomy revealed new divides in the body politic.




Despite the many tired dichotomies that have been extracted ad nauseam from data visualizations of the EU Referendum–from old v. young, north v. south, working class v. metropolitan elites; educated v. non-graduates; identifying as “English” v. cosmopolites–the complexion that has redefined the country reflects a growing retrograde tendency of rejecting the status quo and belief in the benefits of hiving off that was undemocratic and displayed  a perverse nostalgia of deeply conservative roots.


Queen Backs Brexit!.png


The referendum that former Prime Minister David Cameron presented as a panacea or safety valve to staunch opposition to the EU in Great Britain encouraged one of the most badly informed electorates in memory to protest the entrance of eastern Europeans into the country, and the perception of economic malaise and overburdened public services, and erase the benefit of free trade accords and that led to considerable economic growth.  The economic amnesia Brexit provoked led to a massive rejection of the national government and indeed political elites, even when undermining their economic interests, producing the increasing likelihood that many wish to leave Britain even among working class groups in England and Wales, and many voters more angry about the EU government than aware of the actual impact on trade relations to Europe or manufacturing and health standards.  Although turnout was in general quite high, with 30 million expressing their opinion at the ballot box, or some 72%, the vote was predicted to be determined by turn-out, and the distribution of votes varied.  If most in Scotland turned out, many in London and in northern Ireland voting less, and many of the regions who voted to “Leave” turned out to vote intensely–and turnout markedly lower in areas with greater numbers of younger voters–who tended to vote to Remain in reflection of their economic futures, especially in areas with greater student populations in relative to their size.  But the appeal to the nation and national independence deeply obscured the issues on the table.





What was Cameron thinking in opening up this question to a plebiscite that gave greater voice to those with stronger opinions, and indeed in opening up a question of particular complexity to a public yea or nay vote that hinged on turn-out?  Democratic “consent” to membership in the EU was long been “wafer thin” in much of Britain, and low turnout among the young gave a greater share of the vote to Brexit.  But the opportunity that the vote offered many the chance to decamp from the EU in ways few intended.  For during a refugee crisis, the cards were steeply stacked the party reduced to take “Remain” as its slogan, although the very passivity of whose construction suggested an absence of cogent arguments to respond to false promises of helping England’s shaky economy, persistent low wages, growing waiting times at National Health Service, and rising rents–all of which were represented as stretched thin by serving migrant workers and their families, and rising rents.

Partisans of “Leave” tapped such concerns so effectively that despite the value of data visualizations in anatomizing and describing the broad distribution of adherents mobilized behind a “Leave” mandate, the vote seems little understood or analyzed for its appeal as in its ramifications, and has created an ongoing puzzle about what place of England will now occupy in relation to the EU–or how the EU will look.




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June 28, 2016 · 11:26 pm

Mapping the New Authoritarianism: Trumpism, Tampons, Misogyny and the Volatile American Electorate

It seems, goes the popular wisdom, Donald Trump stunned the country by being able to make up for the lack of a party organization by followers he developed on Twitter.  But Trump was able to tilt against a candidate he was able to identify with an establishment, and an establishment that he convinced voters had not served a plurality of states, as a salesman of something different than the status quo, adopting a highly mediated populism that was rooted din claims to reorganize the state and its effectiveness.  The bizarre combination of an outsider who promised a range of constituencies that the state would be remade in their own interests–defending American sovereignty; returning jobs to depressed regions; defending anti-immigrant interests–may not be able to be aligned directly with the appeal of a fascist state, but provided a collective identity for many that gave meaning their votes, at the same time as dropping voter turnout across the midwest and new restrictive voting laws, including in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Trump gave a greater sense of urgency to the crucial number of undecided in his favor–before a broadly declining turnout nationwide, but also decreased turnout in many states where differences in the popular votes were small, as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and pronouncedly higher in the “deep south,” based on estimates of the U.S. Elections Project.


bialk-turnout-21U.S. Elections Project


The extraordinary effectiveness of Donald Trump’s affective appeal to voters in the 2016 Presidential remains particularly difficult to stomach for many, moving outside of a party or any civic institutions, but rooted in the adroitness by which he branded himself as a political alternative.  Trump’s uncensored comportment was central to the success of that campaign, many have noted, as it lent cathartic license for exposing emotions of fear, hatred, and anger rarely seen in political discourse–and seemed to run against reasoned discourse.  The performative orchestration of a wide range of emotions–tilted toward the red end of the spectrum market by fear; resentment; indignation; anger; disorientation–which drew lopsidedly from an atlas of emotions.  If the range of emotional responses were triggered in a sense by the prominence of social media, which allowed a quite careful orchestration of retweeting and public statements designed to trigger emotions to make political decisions, it was orchestrated carefully more from Reality TV than Reality,–orchestrating its audience’s attention by means of quite skillful editorial manipulations of footage, fast cuts, and clever stagecraft to create the needed coherent story from declarations, angry accusations, and assertions.  Trump’s campaign touched on issues of fear and anger, hopping between nearby sectors of the below map, but focussing attention on a fear of women and scapegoating of others to manufacture an actually illusory model of strength.

The emotional integrity was more important than the language–leading to bizarre debates as to whether his supporters took him literally, or if his references were serious in content even if the actual utterances he made were not in fact as central his appeal as the feelings of antagonism and alienation that he so successfully seemed to tap.


As a creature of the airwaves, Trump used emotions as a way to orient voters to the changing world of globalization by emotional venting that appeared to defend a past order:  despite his lack of qualifications to serve as President of the United States, the defensiveness created a source of validation for his candidacy that few expected, but are so familiar to be available to install as browser extensions via Reaction Packs.  The recognition of Trump’s display of emotions are so familiar that they convert easily to downloadable Reactions as emoji, so iconic has been Trump’s animated orchestration of anger, fear, and resentment across the body politic, in ways that remain difficult to map.


The popularity of such “rage faces” recouped the repeated registering of emotions in Trump’s campaign.  Indeed, Trump’s–or the Trump campaign’s–active retweeting of 140-character declarations defaming individuals or amping up socio-economic antagonisms prepared the way for the recognition of these emoticons which, although not released or sanctioned by Facebook, had first become recognizable in American political discourse that summer in much of the American subconscious.

The animated reactions engaged many online not politically active or voted in previous elections, redefining the political landscape outside of red versus blue states, and mirroring tools of psychometric profiling–first successfully used in political settings to mobilize support online for “Leave E.U.” in the Brexit campaign–first framed by researchers at Cambridge Analytica, developed by an psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, before changed his name to Dr. Spectre, sold to the MyPersonality tools of Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre to the shady Strategic Communications Laboratories, who in 2013 established Cambridge Analytica in the United States.  The tools had indeed boasted the ability to measure voters’ personality from their digital footprints, decrypting psychological criteria for emotional stability, extraversion, political sympathies, able to predict sexual orientation, skin-color, and political affiliations by using FB likes as an open-source psychological questionnaire based on an OCEAN scaling of personality traits that rank the positive-sounding values of Openness, Conscientiousness, Aggreeableness, and Neuroticism, all the better “to understand [their] unique personality type” in order better to define their decision-making process–each letter can be clicked to reveal a face registering individual emotions on their website, in ways that creepily echo emoticons as tools to achieve “better audience targeting” by “better audience modeling” through 5,000 data points per individual.




Through such data profiles and the pseudo-scientific claims of “audience insight” or “targeting”, Trump was helped to orchestrate emotions to construct a sense of belonging.

For despite his lack of political qualifications, if in part because of it, Trump represents the victory of the unqualified–“the people”–and an illustration that someone outside of a political system can assert their importance in government, and to discredit the political system itself.  While Trump’s campaign had not been data-heavy, the use by Democratic strategists of big data analysts from BlueLabs had perhaps encouraged the Trump campaign to turn to Cambridge Analytica, whose boasts of a huge ROI for political campaigns would be wildly boosted by the June success of “Leave” in the Brexit vote.  The orchestration of emotions most familiar from the production values of Reality TV have little precedent in politics, but was honed against those assumed to be part of a political class and designed to refute any notion of scientific expertise.

The particular targeting of emotions of dislike, fear, and resentment increased in the Trump campaign from mid-August 2016, about a month after the marquee event of the Democratic convention celebrated diversity, with the entrance of Stephen K. Bannon, serial wife-abuser of Breitbart fame, and he who invoked the “church militant” to explain the need to bind together church and state in fighting for the beliefs of the West as campaign chief of the Trump campaign, united a deep fear of refugees, terrorism, and “Radical Islam.”  The accentuation of such a call to militancy was tied to an accentuation of misogyny in the Trump campaign, as Bannon joined Trump’s new campaign manager pollster Kellyanne Conway,to play to the lowest common denominator of voters through their economic and social fears, in ways that particularly distorted the campaign that benefited Trump and tilted to the unique brand of misogyny.  In ways that shifted the logic of the campaign for U.S. President after both conventions had concluded, the expansion of Team Trump helped direct a model of behavioral sciences–already used by NATO in Eastern and Central Europe as propaganda against the dis-information released by the Russian government–as a rallying cry uniting many ranges of hatred–the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton famously and perhaps fatally invoked–within the highly charged emotional language of Trump’s campaign.

Many refused to label Trump as recognizably fascist in his political thought, despite his outright xenophobia, manipulation of fear, and cultivation of a rhetoric of crisis, refusing to recognize the roots of his strong authoritarian characteristics by a name that has long been identified with utmost evil, in an attempt to explain Trump as something else.  Most notably, historian Robert O. Paxton allowed that Trump only openly took a selective rehabilitation of the anti-modern fascist movements, whose strongly authoritarian character offered “echoes of fascism,” rehabilitating the sanctioning of social violence, suspension of rights, and dehumanization from fascist movements in his assertion of openly extra-judicial rights he asserts as a leader.  Yet in its open aggression motivated by a the violence of urgency–and in its turning in from the increasingly complex world that Obama attempted to navigate, and rejection of globalism, as in its rejection of civility and disdain for women, Trumpism closely rehabilitates fascism in its doctrine of prerogatives of the protection of the state that transcend constitutional law, or the subordination of constitutional law to Staatsrecht.  Whereas fascism arose in response to international communism, Trumpism seems an open response to globalism of the twenty-first century.

While not a direct descendent of fascism, Trump has defined himself as a man of action–together with Bannon–in his proliferation of executive orders as a form of decisions, creating the relation of individual to state in his own oratory and the security of America that he claimed to guarantee.  The championing over urgency and privileging of emotions and accusations over issues–a hallmark of fascist politics–serves to fabricate public consensus, cast in Trump’s tacitly gendered assertion “America needs a CEO,” as if to call into question the existence of a historical authority in the state. While Paxton rightly lamented increased usage of “fascist” as an accusatory epithet, able to be applied interchangeably to the intolerant authority of the Tea Party, the intolerance of the Islamic State, or Donald Trump, but failing to discriminate its actual target, Trump’s near-consent courting of the limits of Freedom Speech led him to launch attacks that test the limits of Free Speech and First Amendment, shocking many neighboring countries,– “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap”–labelling political correctness as “the big problem in this country” to which he claims his own authority will create a long-awaited corrective.

His campaign, notwithstanding serial unrepentant falsehoods, his campaign promised to rectify confusion by the ability to Make America Great Again, invoking an idealized notion of country to which he invited all to rally behind and stigmatizing the most vulnerable scapegoats–the undocumented; the refugee; the poor–as targets of collective anger, albeit without racialized theorization of a subordinate status or staking openly ethnic claims.  Trump sewed a steep set of divisions in the nation that were concentrated in non-urban areas in “swing states,” but which corresponded to the emotional aesthetics of and a deep feeling of abandonment–a deeply declining distrust of government across the nation not adequately mapped a full year before the election, far deeper among Republicans than Democrats but at  record low–but supported by a broadly declining belief in government fairness, across “red” and “blue” states.


In many ways, the vote was the victory of a performative model and the emotional satisfaction that that model of performance offered.  Trump’s victory made sense to those who bought the promise of those who believed that America Needed To Be Made Great Again–and who entertained the importance of time-travel to do so, and entertained  a delusion of going backwards in time.  For Trump appealed precisely to those areas and regions that entertained return to a past, conceived of often as a rebirth of a lost economy, peacefulness, and prosperity, but concealing an era of small government, and proposing the myth that there was indeed a chance of returning to a bygone of the imagination:  many saw a rejection of globalism and of multiculturalism or of a disturbance of a past gender politics, and they saw it as best embodied in someone himself moored in an earlier, whiter era,–and a civil society in which charges of Trump’s gender could not be made to stick.  Trump’s performative model seemingly surpassed logical contradictions  inherent in his words or person, making it all the more difficult to comprehend, even as we have repeatedly turned to maps to do so–even as we were frustrated by them:  Trump’s wealth papered over the huge contradictions of someone whose wealth was apparent, as he performed the role os a man of the people; his age was apparent, even if his improbably marriage to a younger woman could conjure an image of apparent potency; his lack of political convictions was concealed in a patriotism that few saw the need to question; his lack of political expertise affirmed the lack of relevance of expertise to getting the job done, as it only confirmed a belief in the failures failures of a political class and distrust of government already at historic lows across the country.



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Filed under 2016 Presidential election, 2016 US Presidential Election, data visualization, Donald Trump, Reality TV

Gun Ownership as a Form of Freedom?

Can we sustain an argument that the freedom to own guns truly makes us safe?  Mapping the question of ownership–and indeed even trying to visualize the terrible frequency of mass shootings in the last forty years–makes any consideration of their violent punctuation of public life question the value of construing gun ownership as a freedom.

The frequency with which mass shootings that clot a timeline of the last four decades is hard to comprehend, save for the very difficulty of how such truly terrible episodes have come punctuate our sense of time.  The diminished intervals marking time between mass shootings make the above timeline hard to process or digest–and it frustrates comprehension, but maps an apparent onslaught of apparently unpredictable succession which have so troublingly occurred with increased rapidity in the United States: each mass shooting named once seemed to violently punctuate public space, and set a thresholds for public violence, but in retrospect have almost seemed to collapse as their occurrence and repetition has come to know few bounds in public space–occurring in schools, military bases, public service buildings, or movie theaters–even as few believe that the next mass-shooting would ever occur in the area in which they live.  It suggests that the troubling succession of mass-shootings is in itself a crime of human right sand public consequence, far more than they have ever been portrayed.

The timeline is not spatial in orientation, but arranges place names in a disturbing map of America difficult to come to terms with or recognize–it cannot help but raise questions about how we reconcile increased individual access to firearms and individual rights.  It’s hard to process raises pressing questions of the ways in which our national landscape is increasingly defined by gun violence, dotted by once-memorable place-names of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Ft. Hood, Aurora, Newtown, or, more recently, San Bernardino–each of which has come to destabilize the way that previous mass-killings once loomed so large in the present, and in our thoughts about gun control.  Although it makes one want to bore more deeply into the data, it registers a national landscape marked by gun violence with new urgency.   Even as contentious debates are staked about how individual access to guns defines the nation, the simple timeline poses complicated questions about a public arena mapped that seems increasingly mapped by mass shootings.  It describes the prominence of gun violence across a national landscape–even though it only lists but thirteen places by name.  If chronologies were once used to supplement to maps in the middle ages, to sort the settlement of the inhabited world, the shrinking distances between multiple mass shootings on the over-crowded chronology indeed seem to map a growing public arena of gun use that appear increasingly difficult to physically or mentally inhabit.  Yet it is a question all too often marginalized from public debate, and allowed to continue as a truly sick status quo.


Dateline Mass Shootigns USA


Ten YearsMother Jones/Analysis by Harvard School of Public Health


The punctuation of time by mass shootings turns to a terrible continuum in recent years overpowers the viewer in ways that make that landscape difficult to process.  Rather than offer a way to mark time, the frequency of what were once treated as discreet  events is overwhelmed, as shootings in public spaces that left four dead have ceased to meaningfully mark time, and suggest a geography of shooting guns in public space.  From occurrences at clearly marked intervals, the pace of mass shootings suggest a surreal information overload in their bunched crowding that challenges legibility, and even remembrance.  For even when distributed on a map, it’s hard to find any coherence in how the clustering of such senseless premeditated tragedies have relentless occurred.  Can one even map their social impact or human cost?

Few maps can register their deep costs than the oddly disembodied timeline.  As one tries to consider shooting, the pace of shootings across the United States is cognitively difficult to process.  The timeline challenges one to comprehend both the toll of the rash of deadly assaults on public space.  There is little consensus about “mass shootings”; the timeline charts shootings in public space that left four or more dead.  But it suggests how, at a time when gun-related violence has recently declined, the recurrence of mass shootings suggests a landscape we need to collectively confront–and to map against the pernicious diffusion of beliefs that gun ownership are a form of freedom guaranteed by Second Amendment rights–although the frantic pace of mass shootings, illustrating the tortured narratives of shooters, to be sure, but also the problems of examining distinct differences between mass shootings, mass murder, and mass killings in relation to the increased access to firearms.

While some would portray the awful repetition of these tragedies as the cost of liberties, the timeline tracks the truly terrible ease of widespread recourse rapid-fire firearms.  Indeed, the horror at the occurrence of mass shootings seems due not only to their horror, but their deep confusion of a militarized and civil space.  The dramatically unique scale of gun violence in the United States has led it to be increasingly accepted as a natural fact, to be sure, as many, including City Lab, have noted, leading Zara Matheson to create a brilliant visualization comparing urban gun violence in America to that of other countries:


homicide_metro_country (2)web

Zara Matheson/City Lab/Martin Prosperity Institute


The amazing scale of gun violence itself has encouraged the expansion of open carry laws and gun rights protests in America, that have resulted in a similar deep confusion between civil and militarized space.  But nothing evidences such a profound and deeply dangerous confusion as specifically or dramatically as mass shootings.  And as the profusion of arms in public space grows at a rapid pace, doesn’t the assertion of gun ownership as a right suggest a deep and problematic confusion of civil and militarized space in the deeply disquieting and increasingly public assertion of Second Amendment rights?


gettyimages-5011345242.jpgGun Activists Marching with AR-15s at UT-Austin/Getty Images


1. It’s not possible to fully comprehend the density of shootings in public places or their especially increased frequency during the past decade–and especially difficult to process their relentlessness across the timeline, which suggests we are in danger of losing count.  They suggest a dangerous landscape of public violence that doesn’t seem likely to change.  Traumatic shootings which once seemed watersheds of public violence, once viewed in aggregation, reveal a relentlessness impossible to process save as a changed state of events.  And while the government has not tracked the rise of mass shootings, or mapped the prevalence of guns in relation to deadly shootings,  on-line aggregations of mass shootings and tallying victims confirm a change in public space–closely tied to the ongoing  advocacy of gun sales by gun manufacturers who fund the NRA:  indeed, the laissez-faire attitude to gun sales are increasingly masqueraded in the United States as a form of liberty in ways that pose an increased danger to public health–that might be more aptly likened to a contagious disease.  Mappings of the rash of mass shootings by active shooters in the past three years embody violence in ways that resemble nothing so much as disease maps.


4d3b7e10-9a94-11e5-b169-65b948f9970d_3797bfb0-99f4-11e5-86c9-23dc4b373c60_mass-shooting-incidents-heatmapdata from Shooting Tracker

But the aggregation of mass shootings in the United States seems tragically tied to the flooding of markets with firearms and guns, not only causally, but in terms of the vociferous defense of individual rights to bear and carry arms in public space–as the recent exaggerated expansion of the Second Amendment defense of individual rights–long agitated for by the NRA–suggests.



Getty Images

In ways raw data speaks more than cartographical forms can embody.  But only by parsing the rise of such mass shootings from gun homicides and firearm use can we begin to understand the deep confusion and distortion mass shootings have made between militarized and public space, and address or process them by more than shock–or start examine reasons for the considerably greater fear of terrorism, despite the 10,000-fold magnitude between the number of gun deaths and deaths from terrorist attacks, and  the wildly disproportionate fatalities from mass shootings since 9/111 than home-grown terrorism.  Treating the San Bernardino mass shootings as terrorism is only not recognizing the prevalence of mass shootings in the American landscape, and makes it increasingly important to clarify the presuppositions of mapping mass shootings.

If the extreme gun violence of mass shootings are parsed since Sandy Hook, or since 9/11, or since the threat of terrorist violence on U.S. soil, the collective growth is striking.  Gun violence is perhaps not possible to measure abstractly, let alone to aggregate.  But the crowding of individual events in a chronology is difficult to process in a timeline that rather than keeping time almost undermine its legibility as a distribution–the very frequency with which mass shootings have come to occur offers pause for reflection.  In aggregation, the timeline is hard to get one’s mind around, as if it challenges the viewer.  In ways that almost undermines its value as a timeline, the clustering of dates when mass shootings occurred suggests the difficulty to process or clearly map their frequency:   public shootings or four victims or more increased in the aftermath of the terrible shooting of kindergarten children in Newtown, PA–guns killed 90,000 since, some 555 children.  Rather than constituting watersheds of public violence or tipping points, the Newton massacre and the shootings of Columbine, Aurora, and Virginia Tech suggest way stations of increased violence in an embodiment of collective violence.

The aggregated timeline poses questions as to whether we are watching a pattern of collective behavior in schools, a geography of anger, or an epidemic of public  health, and charts a widespread and growing confusion between civilian and military arenas in an era of globalized battlefields–in which the range of “perceived enemies” has expanded off of the map.  Aggregates of shootings of four or more dead or injured by guns suggest a similar cognitive overload of data of the dead or injured that we are similarly unable to process in any meaningful way:


shooting deaths:injuries aggregates

Total Gun Deaths of Four or More, based on data of


Sized in relation to local population, a somewhat more legible distribution appears:


Mass Shootigns, Sized per 100,000.png

Washington Post


But distinguishing gang-related violence from other records on mass shootings a broad national problem of guns:


shootings gang:nont gang 2005-12


If we turn to maps to create coherence from the successive mass shootings that increasingly afflict the country, the timeline reminds us most disturbingly of the remove of such events from our own personal responsibility–their relation as traumas remains difficult to start to comprehend, let alone map meaningfully, since they seem so likely to recur and not removed in time.  The distribution of mass shootings suggest an undeniable underside, indeed, to the increased insistence on individual rights to carry guns in public space, despite the deep dangers that they continue to pose.  For the approximation of continuity in the multiplication of mass shootings approximate a sense of helplessness parallel to the terrifying 350 counted shootings of multiple victims over the past year–even if they are not all mass shootings by any definition.

The intense anger and helplessness behind shooting of multiple unknown victims suggests a striking recourse to guns, however, which currently seems bound to increase with the continued easy availability of firearms.  Despite the danger of over-aggregation in light of San Bernardino and Columbia shooting and their mourning, which has almost become its own internet meme, parallel to the sudden rise of training exercises to respond to them, suggest a dangerous desperation to comprehend the scope of gun violence in America by affirming the personal possession of guns–sessions that include the very same sinister design of a public poster devised for a wide morale-boosting campaign by Britain’s Ministry of Information, the government agency charged to design morale-boosting posters during World War II.  The emblem, adopted to suggest the difficulty sustaining attacks and civil space in mass shootings, almost mirror the confusion of civil and militarized space in such shootings.  Its inclusion recalls a tendency to discourses on mass shootings to migrate to terrains of   preparation, as much as prevention:  if the original posters were printed in 2.5 million copies, they were largely “held in reserve, intended for use only in times of crisis, or invasion”–and only later rediscovered by a Northumberland used bookstore.


Mass Shooting Trainings


No matter how much we seek to map their incidence, to create some sort of clarity in danger or fear we might better grasp, the bunching of mass shootings–killings where a single shooter open fires ammunition to leave four dead–suggests a shattering of public peace, and civil space.  While the rise of mass shootings are called a creation of the news cycle, although their incidence have overwhelmed the airwaves– And now we turn to this. Here we go. Again.”, the frequency with which incidence of public mass shootings in America have multiplied with the relentlessness of streaming banner news headlines on cable television suggests a violation of human rights. The increasing pace with which shootings of unknown victims occurred in public space seems impossible to clearly compartmentalize, or continue to report, as their frequency over the past two years enters a terrifying continuity particularly difficult to objectify since they assault humanity.  Although these shootings constitute but a small share of gun violence, the deeply troubling landscape of mass shootings troublingly parallels increasingly strident assertions defense of firearm possession as a right not able to be legally regulated.


2.  Even removed from a coherent geographical form, the sequence of isolated place-names of shooting sites  challenge one to confront the landscape of mass shootings in the United States in disquieting ways. The expansion of such shootings illuminate a shifting landscape of guns in public life–even as fewer than a twentieth of Americans regard gun control laws as a problem confronting Americans, and Congress only recently recognized “mass killings” in 2013 as demanding attention from the Attorney General.  Even in the light of rejecting restrictions on gun laws or an assault weapons ban, the late identification of such premeditated if unpredicted shootings of unknown victims reveal an increasing accumulation of fatalities, not suggested in the timeline, that .  The picture of mass shootings since 1982 indeed suggest a terrifyingly broad distribution across the United States and suggests a failure to responsibly manage firearms in public space.


since 1982

ABC News/Mother Jones

The increasing occurrence of mass shootings challenges viewers to join several apparently incidents whose totality difficult to cognitively process, moving events seared in our personal memories as if they watersheds in a quick succession whose near-continuum strains understanding as a status quo, and raises questions about how to find meaning in their rapid onslaught.




The crowding of the chronology of mass shootings links dramas that unfolded in different parts of the country in a metaphor of the difficulty to grasp the rate of mass shootings in public spaces:   dots designating individual events are difficult to process or parse. Rather than seem individual aberrations, the unpredictable arrival of such mass shootings, grouped collectively, ask us to find coherence in the repetition of mass shootings across America, and to ask why the growing frequency of such shootings is still doubted as specific to our political culture, and relentlessly called into question, rather than addressed, even as tallies of gun deaths have broadly dropped by 30 percent from the early 1990s:  the recent surge of mass shootings are not only due to increased media attention to their senseless randomness, but as a threat to human rights.

The reopening of debates about how gun control laws could stop or hinder the geography of gun deaths or scrutiny of shifting gun laws and their effectiveness suggest the lack of clear voice about guns.  The variation among regulations about carrying guns in public–and transporting firearms–are even cast by advocates of the individual rights to firearm possession as a jumble of intrusive edicts on transporting loaded guns, ammunition, and storing such weapons by local attorney generals, aircraft carriers, TSA officials, and, yes, national parks and wildlife refuges, as so many “regulatory schemes” curtailing the allegedly protected freedom to own and carry guns.


NRA gun laws?NRA-Institute for Legislative Action


Rather than consider mass shootings in terms of criminality or individual deviance, the prevalence of mass shootings across America demand to be recognized as a register of the unregulated liberties to carry guns in public space.  The timeline in the header to this post is disorienting in how it aggregates such shootings, and poses multiple much-debated questions about understanding their rapid pace over time.  Yet the picture of giving coherence to the range of mass shootings across the land is in a sense the reflection of the paranoia of gun protection.  Ordering the relative frequency of mass shootings by lone gunmen is itself a challenge to map–and get one’s mind around–because it lacks without any apparent clarity in its growing spread.  We often turn to maps to try to find some coherence, but find ourselves similarly frustrated by attempts to find coherence in the growing landscape of mass shootings and not offense.  For the pace of mass shootings, once so terrifying in their individuality, has accelerated both since Columbine and since Sandy Hook to make it difficult to not view within a broad change in the use of guns in public settings, conflating militaristic violence and public life, in ways that demand mapping if not to the increased availability of guns, to the ways mass murders might be measured.

The timeline renders it impossible to regard what were once seen as possible turning or tipping points in public violence outside of a context of their collective increase.  However much some pundits repeat the conclusions of criminologists about the constant levels of gun violence in America–distorting the distribution of their frequency by including family violence and gang-related fights that constitute a large share of firearm homicides–the increased occurrence of mass shootings on unknown victims reveal disturbing conflations of guns and public space.  Even to measure gun violence alone deeply distorts the unique problem of mass shootings, as they are premised on lumping such public shootings with a broad epidemic of gun violence, rather than confronting and visualizing the growing conviction of the legitimacy of firing firearms randomly into crowds without restraint.



James Allen Fox


Although mass shootings in public spaces are by nature unpredictable, the aggregation of mass shootings offers a way to analyze and recognize the problems of But although the violent level of gun shootings in America have grown, as violence cannot be universally quantified, mass shootings prove difficult to classify or define with uniformity.  For mass shootings reveal a unique sort of violence in public.  Even when not counting the shootings of family members–the majority of group homicides from firearms, with one in four victims being close family members and over half family members or intimate partner–the increase of public “mass” shootings aimed at unknown victims suggest a confusion of militarized and civil space–and an irresponsible intrusion of firearms into public life, all too eerily mirrored in the attempted seizure of public lands.

The increased anonymity of mass society finds an eery underside in the relentless expansion of mass shootings at unknown human targets in civic space, as if they suggest the fragility of civil society.  The numbers shot or killed by high-capacity magazines have defined and will define the country by their very frequency of mass shootings occur in the United States–however vociferously contested is the claim President Obama’s claim that “this just doesn’t happen elsewhere”, the expansion of such shootings reflects an increased absence of regulation of firearms.   While it’s not entirely true that only “high capacity magazines put the ‘mass’ in mass shootings”, given the range of gun violence, the peculiarity of gun violence in America lies in the frequency of adopting firearms to wound or murder unknown victims, and the need to better chart the level of violence on   For the anonymity of gun violence in America reflects the far greater access to guns in the country, and a broader presence of guns in public spaces of assembly.  The expansion of mass shootings illuminate the shifting landscape of gun violence–even as fewer than a twentieth of Americans regard gun control laws as a problem confronting Americans, and Congress took until 2013 to recognize the “mass killings” as demanding attention from the Attorney General, after it rejected to enact restrictions on gun laws or extend an assault weapons ban.


since columbine

Mother Jones/Analysis by Harvard School of Public Health




The recent proliferation of such mass shootings, rather than raise thresholds for processing public violence, raise questions about reasons for increased recourse to guns, as well as about the perpetrators of crimes.  For the striking relentlessness of the multiplication of premeditated crime in public space is truly difficult to comprehend as they approach a deeply disquieting continuity.   The term “mass shootings”–only slightly removed form “mass-killings” or “mass murder” that evoke wartime–have no place in liberal society as bizarre conflations of military-style violence, so disturbingly are they removed from a society of laws.  Even if exceedingly rare in comparison to gun-related deaths, mass killings by guns have however multiplied in three-fold fashion over the past three years to almost cease to be able to be seen as discrete events as they were once considered to be, as shootings in public spaces by “active shooters” have skyrocketed, as the times between their occurrence declined sharply.

The rise of such shootings has no clear precedent.  Although such killings have a clear history and precedent, at times dated as far back as 1891 or even to 1984, the term “mass shooting” first gained currency around 2012, in reaction to the expansion of public shootings, and the classification introduced by the FBI was soon adopted by CNN, who expanded the bar for fatalities in a mass shooting to four, but also excluded events where the victims were related.  Only after that did the U.S. Congress in 2013 officially qualify “mass shootings” as single incidents leaving three dead in the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act, taking responsibility to define the term as part of America–even while refusing to maintain a public registry of such shootings, or adopt this as the sole definition.  The relative frequency of their occurrence suggests a deep confusion between civilian and military space that demands to be unraveled, even if the lack of a public registry of such public shootings may soon change, as well as the introduction of greater checks on the purchase of guns.  But there is an abdication of responsibility has led to an unchecked expansion of the defense of individual rights of gun ownership–and a dislodging of attention from shootings to the danger of compromising gun rights.

The sense of virtual continuity that approaches in the above timelines are so disordered that it is tempting to find coherence for these unpredictable events in a map.  But the collective mapping of such extreme violence is truly difficult to comprehend as they approach a deeply disquieting continuity.  Individual stories of mass shootings such as the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, PA cannot help but bring tears to one’s eyes, as to President Obama’s, as they will continue to do.  But the intense the pace of shooting multiple victims–evident in the shrinking intervals between black circles that mark mass shootings–represents a terrible sort of information overload.  For it sketches a landscape of mass shootings we’ve been slow to confront, and evokes a sense of powerlessness to interrupt the staccato of their onslaught.  Although shootings has, incredibly, relentlessly accelerated since the Newtown, PA attacks, the same event provoked increased attention to mapping and quantifying  mass shootings, in an attempt to understand that increased frequency.  In spite of the absence of national databases on mass shootings, the rise of crowd-sourced or open-sourced maps since then provide a better dataset of their occurrence–forcing us to confront the increased numbers of people shot or killed by high-capacity magazines, the older demographic of their perpetrators, almost exclusively male, and the greater share children such mass shootings killed, to force us to better examine their occurrence outside the landscape of mourning which has also recurred with increased frequency.

We mine data in hopes to try to impose coherence on the terrifying frequency with which public “mass shootings” doubled after 2007, and tripled by 2011.  But such documentation fails to process the landscape of increased recourse to automatic guns.  The succession of individual mass shootings fail tell a satisfying narrative about their increasing occurrence.  For the collective aggregation of such apparently random acts of violence, the timeline of mass shootings grouped with apparent objectivity, embodies a story that lacks apparent spatial coherence.  Although we use maps to process their relation to one another, and to gain a better picture of the proliferation of public violence, the expansion of mass shootings maps a story that eerily parallels the increased availability of guns and assertion of an individual “right” to firearms irrespective of individual rights or public safety.

Similarly, the government has focussed on mass shootings though an optic of criminal investigation, rather than through their victims.  Although the government, in an abdication of public responsibility, has resisted tabulating the occurrence of such crimes, and only defined “mass killings”in 2013 as a subject worthy of investigation by the Attorney General, collective tabulation often rested in amassing local police records of ‘active shooter incidents’ as problems of law enforcement, rather than within a landscape of gun violence lasting two to five minutes.  The problems of mapping where such premeditated crimes continue to inflict violent injury or death reflects increased access to firearms, parallel to the decrease in urban gun violence.  But their senselessness remains difficult to commemorate or get one’s mind around or even to individually mourn.


920x920-2Mark Wilson/Getty Images


The spread of new venues for shooting, however, and the greater availability of guns promotes a particularly dangerous confusion between public space and shooting space, embodied perhaps in the Right to Carry movement, are troublingly apparent in the growth of gun ranges as sanctioned spaces for using deadly weapons, attracting those who want to use firearms–People come in and say, “Oh, I never knew this [sort of] place existed!”–which rent visitors firearms from a Ruger to a and provide practice venues, so popular that websites exist dedicated to where the nearest ranges are to your address.  Several perpetrators of mass shootings have not only practiced at such ranges, but they allow targets with images of Obama–as a worker at one range remembered patrons had once used targets showing President Clinton.


3.  The tabulation of such terrible incidents of gun violence where a single shooter left four or more dead from a single shooter–a standard defined in FBI data but not adopted universally–have consistently occurred with increased frequency over the past twenty-five years.  The definition introduced by the FBI and taken up by CNN may however, it is widely noted, minimize the scale of these shootings and mask the lack of clear consensus of what constitutes mass shootings–from whether the category reflects fatalities, wounded, or indeed the weapon used.   The refusal to tally mass killings, even if they comprise only 1% of all murders, is inadequate to visualize events that shouldn’t even be happening.  The gun violence enabled by high-capacity magazines that create a potential of shooting multiple victims have led to a spate of mass shootings perpetrated almost entirely (94% of suspects are male) by white men, mostly between 20 and 45 years old, have alarmingly accelerated since 2005.  The difficulty in parsing the changing landscape rests in defining “mass shooting,” quantifying gun violence by its victims, and of understanding the rapid sequence of such truly terrible premeditated crimes.

The multiplication of mass shootings have a fairly uniform spatial distribution, but a geography of anger that invites increasingly military-style assaults on public space.  For if they are not clearly tied to globalism, or economic change, the rise of mass shootings in America are all too tellingly linked to a persistent confusion of militarized actions and public space, aptly characterized by Arjun Appadurai as a geography of anger in an age of globalization.  Interrogating what invites such a confusion of public and militarized space might generate a clearer geography of mass shootings, lest they seem only random or chaotic scatterplot.


Timeline BetweenMother Jones; data analysis by Harvard School of Public Health


In part, the overcrowded timeline remains difficult to process adequately because of the very density with which marks that note individual events of gun violence overlap with one another, effacing their own legibility, and the difficulty of giving meaning to violent outbursts in a clear context.  The difficulty to discern the individuality among “mass shootings” makes it hard to process the meaning of their frequent repetition.  In part, the abdication of definitional categories by the government, and failure of Congress to define “mass shootings” until after the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut shooting opened debate about the proliferation of such violent events, suggest an abdication of responsibility–the government has not only left the media without a clear definition to track their occurrence; we have failed to control the rash of shootings in public space.  Although the Newtown shootings led to a number of attempts to aggregate mass shootings–from the Stanford Mass Shootings of America to Shooting Tracker–that placed renewed responsibility and focus on gun violence, and its victims, the absence of focussing on the specific gun violence of mass shootings and how to tabulate its violence outside of a language of criminality has provided an unclear image of its proliferation or its expanse.  President Obama, not only acting as Consoler-in-Chief, increasingly adopted the term “mass shootings” in public statements during 2015.  We cannot afford to let the disarming pattern of their recurrence remain so very difficult to wrap one’s head around.

And so we turn to maps to try to impose some purchase or coherence on the rage of gun violence, which seems to stand between individual actions and some macabre  sort of collective agency.  Only ten public shootings in the timeline are identified by place  in the timeline above.  But the landscape of shootings reveals a violent interruption of public space, difficult to explain or comprehend–both in terms of the increased frequency of mass shootings since events like the Columbine shootings, or the Newtown Shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary, just three years ago, or the subsequent multiplication of mass shootings whose frequency almost seems not to permit time for processing the memory of the dead.   Even in an age of growing global violence, because it is so hard to get one’s mind around a landscape where public mass shootings have continued to multiply across the land, and their danger goes unaddressed.  The renewed popularity of trainings to survive mass shootings continues to affirm the individual right to possessing firearms as a solution to contain violence–rather than recognize the pathology of gun violence that confuses military-style shootings and public space.

Yet the frequency of the recurrence of mass shootings is difficult to process in part because of the lack of a clear database for either the crimes and weapons with which they were perpetrated–resulting in a deeply troubling longstanding  blind spot in processing the landscape of recourse to guns.  The troubling reluctance to tally mass shootings–or to associate them with guns–has been clouded by a reluctance to identify the violence particular to gun crimes.  Yet  increased numbers of crowd-sourced or vetted counts of mass shootings illustrate a landscape of a terrifying proliferation of violence difficult to get one’s head around, in which the late 1990s constituted something like a watershed, but by the last ten years proliferated in increasingly troubling ways, in a geography of anger that a time-lapse visualization reveals, compressing monthly tallies over fifty years that increasingly stained the nation by blotches of bright red.


Tristan Bridges

This count is an underestimation that does not include mass-shootings involving family members, which amount to a quarter of the victims of mass-shootings, and the majority of such shootings are family-related.  Interrogating what invites such a confusion of public and militarized space might generate a clearer geography of mass shootings, in Appadurai’s terms, might however gain better purchase on their occurrence and indeed the fear of further mass shootings in America.

The proliferation of such premeditated public gun violence across the nation was enacted with complete lack of empathy and arrogant privilege.  Although the recurrence of mass murders in America may have created changing thresholds of public gun violence in the country, particularly since the Columbine massacre in 1999.  When the sociologist Ralph Larkin suggested the emergence of a “cultural script”–a model for shootings inspired by the violence of earlier killers–the suggestion paralleled vigorous public debates as to the ethics of continued identification of perpetrators on television news and the coverage of their manifestos.  But the ethics of tallying the geography of this spate of mass shootings and the landscape it presents is not only as important for the image of the nation that it presents, but for the difficulty of finding any coherence in episodes of public gun violence, at one time rare, but now extending from sites of public congregation from movie theaters to schools to public clinics to on-air news shows.

The problem of tallying mass shootings, after all, is a problem of confronting the extent of gun violence in the country by visualizing the ways that mass shootings, if a small percentage of gun-related deaths, compromise public safety in unacceptable ways with increasing frequency.  So much is revealed in the increased prominence of  the number of mass shootings staged in schools since Newtown alone–


Mapping mass Shootings in Schools.png

School Shootings in the United States since 2013/Every town Research


or the predominance of children among victims of mass shootings–


one in three is a child.png

Everytown Research


Mass shootings are increasingly publicly staged as a perverse taking of justice into one’s own hands, not only as increasing guns have entered circulation, but as the diffusion of firearms equipped with high-capacity magazines has changed the landscape of gun violence.  Despite a partial slowing of their occurrence after passage of the Assault Weapons Ban, in place until 2004, most public shootings occurred with legally purchased guns–80%.  If many perpetrators betrayed signs of mental health problems,this did not obstruct the legal purchase of guns with high-capacity magazines whose rapid-fire capacities that the black dots marking shrinking intervals almost emulates in its chronology of violent crime, whose staccato approached near continuity at several times ov re the past ten years.  If such violence parallels a growing global violence, the painful punctuation of time with public mass shootings, tabulated as a single gunman leaving at least four dead, suggest more than a cultural script, but a geography of extreme rage it is important to try to confront.


Timeline BetweenMother Jones; data analysis by Harvard School of Public Health


The increasingly crowded chronology reveal an increase in episodes of public gun violence with multiple victims, whose occurrences become difficult to individuate form one another their repetition is so dense.  Yet a clear consequence of such mass shootings is in the geography of fear:  on the heals of individual massshootings, surges in the sales of firearms have arose–recent sales have increased across Southern California in the aftermath of the San Bernardino shootings, in the manner that gun-dealers were quick to report increased requests for weapons after earlier mass shootings as Sandy Hook to two million guns a month.  And once more, firearm purchases have surged.


4.  If we are apt to interpret the increased spate of shootings as a sort of crowd psychology of negative role models, the tacit dialectic between massshootings and gun sales demands mapping as an intersection of a spatial imaginary rooted in the defense of rights to possess firearms and the expansion of further firearm sales–a landscape not of increased gun ownership, but of an expansion of the misunderstood “right” to bear arms.  We are more ready to accept workshops for training in behavior during mass shootings, as if to accept them as a new normal, than to enact laws designed to staunch the sales and circulation of firearms.

For the expansion of mass shootings in America has grown in the face of a lack of official government counting of their occurrence, and a blind spot and self-imposed reluctance to monitor or disturb the alleged “right” to bear arms.  Although there is unclear evidence that the ban on assault weapons limited the growth of gun violence or murders before it expired in 2004, despite reported reduction of guns in circulation at shows and gun sales, the promise and hope to reinstate the plan led to a defense of gun rights consolidated in 2008 by the Roberts court.  The Court’s somewhat surprising defense of gun possession as a personal right paved to an increase in circulation of guns in America that mushroomed first to one per citizen, and approximately 310,000,000 million firearms as of 2012–114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns–or more than the number of Americans.  At the same time, the expansion of AR-15’s in American hands beyond 3,750,000 by late 2012–with sixteen million new guns circulating in America by 2013, as detailed in the tenth (and almost self-standing) section of this post.   Industry analysts of gun and ammunition manufacturers–who donate part of their profits to the NRA, mean that the panic-buying after each mass shooting regularly accelerated and “went vertical,” driving new monies to the NRA.

The full-throated defense of gun-ownership as a right, long asserted by many pro-gun groups, was endorsed that parallel the expansion of a landscape of illegal gun shootings and the multiplication of mass-shootings over 2015–in what President Obama recognized as “a pattern . . .  of mass shooting in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”  Rather than the chronology of mass shootings only reflect an inexorable rise of anger or a disembodied landscape of emulation of bad role models, this post suggests the need to embody that landscape in the dramatically increased right to protect individual ownership of guns. that provide a background for the four-fold expansion, by one count, of mass shootings in America from 2008 to 2014:  the expansion of gun sales triggered by Obama’s 2008 election encouraged shops to restock firearms anticipating Obama’s re-election, which indeed spiked sharply after Newtown, when a surge in the circulation of firearms occurred which demands to be mapped.


Millinos of GunsEconomist


Have the costs of such a resurgence of guns in America already born costs?

The extraordinary expansion of such newly identified events as “mass shootings” suggest a failure to map a landscape of gun violence.  The increasing frequency of such murders renders it almost impossible  individuate these terrifyingly militaristic event as discrete; their aggregation overwhelms its own very symbology, as if echoing the deep difficulty to interpret their troubled narratives with any coherence.  The frequency of public mass shootings in America offers a mirror particularly difficult to confront.  We search of more coherent answers in maps–but are frustrated at the meaning of the apparent proliferation of mass shootings since Sandy Hook attacks directed public attention to attempts to contain future gun violence while respecting Second Amendment rights–


Mass Shootings Since Sandy HookMass Shooting Tracker


–and inspired the public record-keeping that had long lacked to provide a clearer image of the expanse of gun violence across the country that has led President Obama to act with a “sense of urgency” to enact gun control measures in ways consistent with Second Amendment rights–even as his opponents return to possible impeding of Second Amendment liberties as a nefarious design needing to be met by their active protection.


4.  Have we have allowed a clear popular distortion of individual rights to possess guns that obscure the multiplication of mass shootings, and landscape of gun violence, distorting the rights of gun ownership as a constitutional liberty, leading to a refusal to monitor or control access to assault rifles or handguns?  By failing to register the relation of rapid-fire guns to crimes, curtailing background checks, and invalidating any bans on the restriction or ownership of handguns, the founders’ call for a “well-regulated [state] Militia” was re-interpreted as an individual prerogative to have unrestricted access to firearms, irrespective of the growing threat to public safety.


Brady Campaing to Prevetn Gun Violence

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence


The timeline at the header to this post challenges us to map memories of individual shootings in schools, movie theaters, public buildings, or auditoriums in an abstract form–and process the reasons for their collective acceleration over time.  Each episode of violence suggests less a fixed ‘place’, of course,  than the extent to which extreme gun-violence intersects with the nation; the collective list challenges viewers to process the collective impact of a new landscape of gun violence in public space, almost 80% of which involved legally purchased guns with high-capacity magazines, and to explain the reasons for the distribution of an undeniable epidemic of public shootings in civic space.  Much as the extension of railroad lines earlier placed locations “on the map” which were earlier unknown, the occurrence of mass shootings–by no means consistently defined in the United States, and based on an old FBI classification since abandoned–puts a town at the intersection between a near-epidemic of violence and civil space.

The sites where mass shootings occurred have entered public memory, even if no clear consensus has emerged on the notion of mass shootings.  Although its value for registering gun violence in America has been questioned, the terrifying prominence of the increase in such public performances of violence has led to increased interrogations of what has allowed (or facilitated) such explosive violence that have been relentless over the last few years.  While we have watched a procession of deer-in-the-headlights photos of perpetrators or examined the eyes of Facebook portraits for clues, the aggregate acts of such violent aggression can’t be seen as an aberration.  The overlap between public instances of gun violence that left four dead is difficult to process both as a loss of individual lives, and epidemic of violence for which no clear end seems in sight:  the telling contraction between shootings in which four or more were killed have come to overlap with one another to make them illegible and impossible to process as a whole–the crowded timeline of violent outbursts overwhelms in ways difficult to process or understand, in part because it removes the increase of mass shootings from a broader context of refuting local restrictions on the possession of guns in 2008 and 2010, as the widespread reluctance to revisit the lax regulation of gun ownership encouraged a belief in the “right” to own guns.


Timeline BetweenMother Jones; data analysis by Harvard School of Public Health


Tabulated by mass shootings/month, a terrifyingly clustered repetition–if less clearly as a visual metaphor for the difficulty to grasp the frequency of public shootings’ occurrence–returns.  There has never been a break for more than three months in a public shooting that left four dead over six years–breaks that only occurred two times.  Although the shootings cluster, and little coherent pattern exists among the rampages,


Page2-calendarEverytown Research


their occurrence raises questions about the increasing intersection of gun violence and public life.  Even though “mass shootings” comprise quite a slim percentage of gun violence, to be sure–


Page2-TotalUSFirearmHomicides1Everytown Research


–the persistence of mass shootings with terrifying regularity raise inevitable questions about their future role in the country’s public space, and hint at a future of violence in places where violence previously had little place.  Is there something like a tipping point about the diffusion of mass shootings in America, or are we powerless before their spread?

Although mass media has returned to the dramatic setting of public mass shootings as tragic losses of life, we fail to process them as fragments of a national storyline, since their narrative coherence is poorly understood–what coherence can be imposed or read in their distribution remains unclear.  The unpredictable sequence of such heinous crimes staged by individual shooters have only come to be collectively defined, and given coherence by being mapped in ways other than numbers of killed.  Though the mass shooting was not included in the FBI’s Crime Records Reports, the mass shooting has come to resonate with a topography of fear in an age of the perceived rise of terror; if questions have been raised about whether mass media reporting may have increased copycat crimes, the crowded landscape of sites of public gun violence paints a frightening image of America, at the nexus of law enforcement and legal rights of gun ownership, but creates a landscape of its own.

The resonance with which each place-name appears on the crowded timeline suggests the growing difficulty to process the seventy-three of such identified events over the past thirty years, and rapidity with which have arrived in sharply decreasing intervals; as much as a landscape of increased violence across the nation, the mass shooting has become a way of marking time of increased fear–whose crowding as a collective chronology above, reprinted from Mother Jones, based on three decades of data and research from the Harvard School of Public Health on shootings in public space, suggests a random reputation of lives lost.  We turn to maps to try to process them.  But  the increased frequency of mass shootings intersects with public space in these data visualizations, made and remade in attempts to understand whatever coherence they might have or invest coherence in their occurrence fails to reveal clear meanings–even against our intensely fractured political climate.  And after each shooting since Sandy Hook, gun retailers celebrated a “real surge” in sales that was widely championed by gun manufacturers.

The distribution of mass shootings blankets America whether measured by their occurrence or the number killed by such public violence, in ways that define the country in curious ways but they hold a mirror to the country we do not like to recognize.


Stanford Mass Shooting Archive/Open Street Map/CartoDB


5.  Even the recognition of the phenomenon has been deemed too contentious to adopt, we use crowd-sourced web-based tabulations and open-source aggregations from non-profits like Shooting Tracker or Gun Violence Archive to track their occurrence and geographic distribution in the country.  Both websites have tabulated their incidence less with reference to an “active shooter” who is “actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people” in public space determined by the FBI to describe “mass murders,” as if to hesitated to link them to a weapon of choice.  The tally of mass shootings has been only recently construed less in terms of the incidence of deaths–as tabulated by news agencies as CNN or the FBI–but includes those injured, rather than only those killed.  The timeline however exclusively marks public shootings that left four or more dead, excluding the gunman.  But multiple different definitions about what constitutes a mass killing can however lead any tally to vary and arrive at radically different results; the ongoing lack of consensus in the term as an analytic tool makes it difficult to agree on how this data, and make us depend on non-profits for accurate counts beyond that of news agencies.  (Does a ‘mass shooting’ reflect the number shot in quick sequence (as it does for Shooting Tracker), four or more killed, or only multiple shootings?  Should the category exclude robberies, gang-related violence or domestic violence?)

The results can be so radically different to suggest radically different landscapes of public violence, and rely on different triangulations between perpetrator, victims, and gun, which reflect  contentious debates about relations of gun control and such shootings.  But all try to visualize the undeniably growing intersection between such apparently random outbreaks of gun violence and public space, to try to create meaning from such tragic and not-so-sporadic outbreaks of public violence.  The significant difficulty of cognitively processing the growing frequency of public mass shootings occurring at one time and site–let’s say only killings of four or more unrelated individuals at one site–so overwhelms as an information overload alone, to demand careful consideration.  In part, the events seem too traumatic, most still seared in our personal memories, to be able to be distanced with clarity.  Even when stripped of geographic location, each place-name invites us to place our personal recollections of what seemed altering shootings in a collective context that lacks clear coherence.

Although the timeline in the header is not at all an actual map, per se, each place-name triggers indelible if temporary ruptures of civil society, asking us to try to abstract them as a coherent whole; rather than seem discreet moments, they assume a collective resonance that’s terribly challenging to process–the relation between the distribution of mass shootings to our sense of the space civil society is pressing, but quite difficult to define, even as mass shootings have undeniably multiplied to 375 over the last year, including four or more killed or wounded, in a combination of imitation and increasing violence over a year which at its close was dubbed “year of the mass shootings.”  And only a small number of such events had there been concern about the mental health of their perpetrators expressed to medical practitioners, school officials, or legal authorities–and if concerns were expressed about just over one tenth of perpetrators, fewer than 1% were actually legally barred from buying guns.


Dark USA of mass shootingsKQED


The quick succession of mass shootings in the timeline of course forces us to ask their relation to one another, and expresses the cognitive challenges of getting one’s mind around them–and questions whether a map is even the best medium to track the spate of violence of mass shootings, even as it makes us turn to a map to locate them in space.  The difficulties of visualizing mass shootings lies only in part in the limits of reporting or classifying outbreaks of gun violence occurring at a single site as “mass shootings” by fatalities versus the number of wounded or shot–as if to count as an event that is newsworthy, an individual must die–but in making sense or coherence of the rash of these explosions of violent gunfire across the land.  The chronology lists mass shootings that left four dead but also evokes the very extent to which this past year’s onslaught of mass shootings in ways cognitively challenging to grasp, as their ever shrinking temporal separation approach near-continuity.  If each dot indicates a shooting without reference to space, their accumulated density maps a geography of anger.  For much as the place-names clustered with such density on the timeline, they are cumulatively  less and less easy to grasp as singular events:   mass shootings punctuated the last two decades with an intensity difficult to process such occurrences better–making one turn to a map to endow coherence to the unpredictable outbreaks of indiscriminate shootings across the country with little end in sight.

The aggregation of public gun violence suggest not only a geography of fear–and an undeniable overlooking of anger–but reveal a particularly insidious misinterpretation of gun ownership as a right in legal discourse, as much as the tally of mass shootings is filtered through debates on gun control.  The disembodied dots that dizzyingly crowd the timeline mimic the rapid-fire of bullets delivered by assault weapons’ replaceable magazines.  Despite continued unresolved debates in political discourse about how to gloss the spread of mass shootings in a country where it is so easy to procure guns, the contested interpretation of the map may betray a deep reluctance to confront their pervasive occurrence, and ask what sort of story their increased incidence, perpetrated almost entirely by young, white men–94% of suspects are male–suggests.

For the spread of mass shootings as a category eerily parallels a crisis, suggested by Dorothy Samuels, in American legal discourse as to the right of individuals to “bear arms” as a right without government oversight.  While many perpetrators, to be sure, displayed signs of significant mental health problems, the multiplication of mass shootings has been facilitated by legal sanctioning of individual  “rights” to own guns since 2008.  The defense of such “rights” not only actually encouraged the proliferation of millions of guns in the United States, but generated a political discourse, long-planned by the NRA, about gun ownership that made reinstatement of either research on gun violence or curtailing of gun sales anathema.

Even without focusing  on perpetrators and their weapons, the landscape of gun violence poses questions as to what the aggregation of “mass shootings” reveals.  For even when excluding shootings that result from domestic violence in the home–perhaps unconscionably, given that a quarter of victims of multiple murders are family members and the majority of group-killings stem from family violence– the distribution of the data is terrifying as a rewriting of the use of guns in public space.  We are used to watching zones of war in television films, video games, and movies, but such mass shootings of four or more are difficult to process because they have occurred in spaces of public life:  health centers, schools, auditoria, film theaters, medical clinics, public buildings, or even the television news–as if to openly attack sites of public assembly.


since 1982ABC News/Mother Jones


News stories about mass shootings have remained prominent since 2011, ranking in the top five stories in repeated years, lending familiarity to the term before it was defined by Congress in January, 2013 lowered the threshold for identifying “mass shootings” to three victims.  Data visualizations that “map” the accumulation and relative density of mass shootings present a landscape that we are just starting to learn to measure.  Although”mass killings” were first defined by the FBI, the adoption of “mass shootings” by news agencies as CNN or ABC left unclear consensus in how they are counted or conceived.   Indeed, while deeply disturbing, the ethics of a CartoDB heat map, which blur shootings to obscure individuality, are unclear, if terrifying; their distribution here approximates a disease map, but one particularly challenging to process–as if a miasma removed from the nation.


Carto DB Heat Map mass shootings 2015


–and aggregates data to suggest their wide distribution in populated areas, without any meaningful clarity.  The rise of such public displays of mass violence, if constituting only less than 1% of all gun violence, can’t help but suggest a deep instability within the nation–irrespective of place.   The aggregation of mass killings raises questions about attributing mass killings to a failure of mental health providers or shifting thresholds of violence of mass behavior–and, indeed, the thresholds that the country is able to process.  But the distributions with which mass shootings have occurred in America increasingly seem to define questions of the possible intersections between the site of the mass shooting and public life that are barely touching, but always in danger of overlapping.


6.  The national timeline presents an image of the nation hard to ignore, as if a creepy causal network of mass behavior.  The difficulty in mapping such violent outbreaks seems due to the reminder that they offer of how difficult mass shootings are to prevent, and how ubiquitous they have become, as revealed in this map tallying victims of mass shootings over the past year alone, but whose legibility is also obscured by the failure to count wounded and fatalities of four or more to tally the multiplication of mass-shootings over the past year of 2015–“a pattern . . .  of mass shooting in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world.”


Mass Shootings 2015PBS Newshour/Shooting Tracker


or sized by shootings with three or more fatalities–


2015, three or more



The year was so grim, and so tragic, in the series of shootings that we are still trying to get our minds around and to process, as shootings  occurred almost daily over 2015, that we may be near a tipping point in processing their immensity.

A chronologically collapsed aggregation of the wounded and dead in mass shootings that occurred since the Newtown shootings of 2012 make it impossible not to acknowledge their prevalence across America–in ways not limited to a tally of four dead, but that includes all dead or wounded:


Mass Shootings Since Sandy HookMass Shooting Tracker


The profusion of such violent events with guns contrasts to the twenty-eight states which had not seen a mass shooting incidents from 1984 to 2012–a number that in 2015 shrank to but five, making this earlier landscape look far removed from the nation’s current state:



map-mass-shootingsCitizens Crime Commission, “Mass Shooting Incidents 1984-2012”


The pronounced expansion of mass shootings across both space and time suggests a boiling over of rage across America that such aggregations only force us to start to process.  While such killing sprees were initially termed “rampages” or “mass murders”, the increased currency of the very term “mass shootings”–only slightly removed form “mass-killings” (preferred by USA TODAY, who include killings of family members) or “mass murder” (which cannot help but evoke wartime settings)–suggests a disquieting difficulty to place such conflation of military-style violence and public space in a liberal society– and the troubling sense that this is approaching a new normal.  Even though the polarized nature of political discourse about gun control make it increasingly difficult to resolve.


7.  There at first seems little coherence offered in such maps, and a powerlessness that any action might soon slow their future occurrence–the maps overwhelm one with a feeling of impotence, as if “this was a terrible tragedy but somethings these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them”.  Rather than only create an image of a blood-splattered segment of a continental mass, or a record of psychic disturbances or mass behavior, the images might suggest the spaces that have been opened for mass shootings across the United States which increasingly pose undeniable challenges to human rights.  The shootings are deeply misunderstood as individual cases of psychic disturbance, even if they demand to be understood more clearly as a crisis of public health.

Individual attachment to guns may, insidiously, enable this rash of violent subtractions of self from a social compact.  For the challenge to visualize such violent shootings in public space collectively–and the deep threat and instabilities mass shootings continue to pose–resonate not because they are a large proportion of homicides (fewer than 1%) or gun violence (fewer than 5%), but because of the deep shock they pose to civil society.  Even if the attention to the number of mass killings may distract attention from the real danger of guns, including “slightly modified combat rifles” enough to be “red herrings” in the debate on gun control.  USA Today stokes fears by reporting that mass killings in fact “happen far more often [my italics] than the government reports,” even if shootings in public spaces account for about one-sixth of mass shootings, the events are so disturbing because they blur the boundaries between military action and public space too common in today’s world.

The relation between the space of mass shootings and the inhabited world is in a sense the subject of all maps of mass shootings.  There has been a  dizzying crescendo of shooting sprees in the over the twenty years since the concerted defunding of the CDC’s study of gun violence in America in 1996, believed to “advocate or promote gun control” or defamed of doing so,  and the silencing of research on gun violence.  Since the decision to  direct the 2.6 million that the CDC  invested in studying gun violence to the less-contentious research in traumatic brain injury, the rise of open-source mapping of the mass shootings in America reveal widespread proliferation of military-style gun violence across the national landscape, as if to direct increased attention to the problems of processing a problem from which government funding disappeared.  This is a victory of crowd-sourced mapping.

The onslaught of gun rampages that cause multiple murders and injuries overwhelm, and the clustering of mass shootings in the past ten years to make it impossible to see them as only discrete events:  the virtual continuity that they assumed, as space shrunk between shootings, raises questions of the future and they can be meaningfully processed in a map.  Even as we turn to map their occurrence to find some explanation and meaning from such senseless and only apparently unrelated events.  For although unclear commonalities emerge in their place, their targets, or their scope, they suggest an increased ability to view the level and site of collective instability in the nation.  The distribution of mass shootings over time hence provides a disquieting image of increasing instability of civil society, and demand to be mapped against not only against gun ownership, but against the defense of rights to own guns.  For even although the legality of gun ownership is recognized by courts, nothing is more disturbingly removed from a society of laws than mass shootings.

The term “mass shootings” was only recognized by Congress as they qualified “public mass shootings” as leaving four dead, the FBI had recognized the rapid pace at which public mass shootings in America doubled after 2007, and tripled by 2011.  While a small proportion of gunshot deaths, or the 51,ooo incidents of gun violence over the past year, mass shootings assume particular prominence within the national consciousness from such events–if they undeniably follow the same general distribution with other geographically weighted concentrations of gun violence.


incidents-to-dateGun Violence Archive


mas shootings MSA

Stanford Mass Shootings in America (SMA), courtesy Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries, as of October, 2015


Even as gun violence has overall declined, the spread of mass shootings suggests a changing picture of America that is still being more clearly processed.  In part, this is because the term “mass shooting” has been defined by the media–both CNN and other television networks–although it was first developed by the FBI to tally criminal acts of murder.  In recent years, it has been diffused and developed via the mass media, and specifically the ever-multiplying banner headlines of cable news, whose counts are directed to define them by the number of those killed–four or more dead defines the “mass shooting.”  The attention to those dead, omitting those victims who were injured or escaped violence, both reduces their appearance on a data map, rather than, say, numbers of those killed or injured or the number of bullets that were shot, diluting the aggregations that such shootings map and making them mortality counts , rather than gaining perspective on them episodes of gun violence.  And it distorts how the geography of mass violence and that of civil society overlap.

Reference to “mass shootings” as term of news reporting by CNN (who excluded events where the victims were related to each other) quickly followed, but the time to required for the term to gain currency raises questions about the difficulty to process the new thresholds of such extremely disturbing public acts of violence–USA Today prefers to use “mass killings” instead.   As mass shootings recur with a rapidity to mimic the banner cable news headlines on CNN, where they were frequently announced, one is challenged to process their totality and staccato occurrence alike, given their actual broad geographic distribution.  Because  of the prominent suggestion of serious mental health problems of many perpetrators, we often fall back on diagnoses of individual instability to explain each tragedy that registers in the national consciousness, the huge spike in aggregate mass shootings after 2000 which jumped again from 2013 can’t be diagnosed by individual disturbances or the categories of the mental health profession–so long as gun ownership remains recognized as an individual right.  And yet the mass shooting suggests a deep assault on human rights.

A recent study of the thirty most violent mass shootings since 1945 found more than half occurred in the last decade, and their proliferation seems to have alarmingly grown in recent years  We turn to maps to struggle with the difficulty of comprehending events of terrible particularity in the aggregate.  Despite the terrifying nature of each place-name, which evokes a specific time and tragedy, as if a series of battles, aggregation offers the possibility of drilling down into their occurrence underneath the accumulation of horrific individual stories.  Yet we struggle, since even a map of mass shootings including four or more killed or wounded during the past year poses similar cognitive difficulty to process:


Mass Shootings 2015PBS Newshour/Shooting Tracker


Is this an accurate reflection of the country, and what does it tell us about its laws and legal discourse on gun ownership and possession?  Although the mass shooting is still an anomaly, it is also part of a difficult to confront part of our nation.  For the right of personal possession of guns is so difficult to remove or qualify in the United States, and so difficult to prevent rights to gun ownership to be so tragically misconstrued;  if most of the guns purchased for these public shootings were done so legally, the lawlessness of the events is not able to be correlated only with guns, even if the changing landscape of the broad availability of guns seems to have created a space where individuals are all to ready to conflate civil space with a space of violence.  Part of the difficulty to process these ‘events’ surely is that we focus attention on their perpetrators, as much as their victims, reducing the dead to a statistic, and not comprehending their violence:




The prominence of mass shootings illustrates a confusion of public spaces with military-style gun violence in disturbing ways.  For the spread of individuals who have not only subtracted themselves from civil society, but turned to gun violence as a public performance, suggests not only aberrations; the aggregation of such shootings reveals the increased prominence of military-style violence staged within public space, and forces us to view their dizzying repetition within the national landscape.  The geography of mass shootings still remain poorly understood by most:  although about a third of the victims were near their homes when the shootings occurred, fewer than a quarter of Americans believe that there is reason to fear a mass shooting in their neighborhoods, and a fewer than a twentieth see gun control laws as a problem confronting Americans.  Indeed, if Congress only recently recognized the mass shootings in 2012, as increasing numbers of lawmakers forced to confront their occurrence in their home districts, but many affirm the rights to own guns.  And in 2015, only five states were spared mass shooting sprees–“the bloody, perpetual series of mass shootings in the country this year,” as ABC News put it, no doubt reflecting mass-opinion, and the sense that this steady accumulation may have reached something of a tipping point.


8.  Even disembodied from a geographical form, the sequence of haunting place-names captures the degree to which mass shootings are cognitively difficult to process in their totality, and the complex shifting landscape of mass shootings they create.  For the spectacular violence of each event is encouraged by the deep and abiding sense that the exceptionalism of America that is increasingly rooted, for a small if vocal minority, in its ownership of guns.  The timeline forces us to confront the increased crowding of mass murders over twenty years not as aberrations, but through the inability to continue to segregate them as inexplicable tragedies apart from a larger picture of the nation.  If we turn to maps in attempts to create a more coherent image of their coherence, since the frequency of mass shootings seem without any clearly recognizable patterns in such unimaginable violent aggression against four or more, as if civil society seems no longer able to contain its members.

For the aggregation of mass shootings presents an image of the United States we have difficulty recognizing as holding a mirror to the present, when amassed in their collectivity, and to search for answers for acts that so sharply run against the very fabric of civil society.  We have repeatedly turned to terms like “disturbed“, “delusional“, “psychotic“, “sociopath“, or “undiagnosed schizophrenic” that continue to be bandied about in the wake of successive shootings–as if a diagnosis could prevent such events.   But in offering clinical explanations for the violent tendencies so dramatically exhibited by their perpetrators, rather than explain the sequence of mass shootings which dramatically grew after 2000, and after 2013 rose so dramatically that over a thousand mass shootings occurred in the two years since Sandy Hook, with little change in background checks, to demand a collective mapping that a focus on mental illness denies.   The array of weapons used in such killings raises pressing questions about their perpetrators’ access to assault rifles, but similarly fails to map reasons for this anguished performance of public violence against lives–



Washington Post


If poignant stories of the mental instability of those who committed rampages since 1984 force us to revisit possible counterfactuals, mass shootings may be less easily collectively diagnosed than mapped against legal discourse of gun ownership and freedom to own guns.  For recent and widely reposted data from Mother Jones suggests that most of the guns used in mass shootings over the past thirty years were legally purchased, raising questions about their contingency.  The rights of gun ownership on which our laws insist are embodied in conceal-and-carry permits, the rhetoric of gun ownership, and growing defense of rights to gun ownership as individual rights protected by the Bill of Rights and US Constitution–which have discouraged a public recognition and accounting of gun deaths.  Although many of mass shootings occur in places not known for violence, the continued championing of assault rifles behind the empty slogan that “the only way to stop a bad guy is a good guy with a gun” valorize the weapon in ways that exculpate public entities or gun salesmen–protected by the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act--from responsibility of mass shootings’ occurrence:  the shifting of  responsibility too easily comes to fall into the domain of mental health, without looking at the dangerous opening created by an immobile legal discourse on gun ownership and firearm use.

Can the rise of mass killings be mapped within the access to guns that current laws permit, and the rhetoric of gun ownership that they unknowingly promote?   It truly is unconscionable to see “firearms” as identical, despite the quite different uses to which they can be put?

Although the sequence of mass shootings tallied in the header to this post follows no predictable pattern (save to rapidly increase) and geographical distribution seems happenstance, the growth and unpredictable nature of mass killings demands to be mapped other than psychiatric labeling and armchair diagnosis.   For black-boxing the spread of mass killings in questions of individual mental illness neglects to map against a changing discourse on the ownership and personal possession of guns and abnegates collective responsibility for the density of the clustering of these violent episodes increasingly part of day-to-day life.


Ten YearsMother Jones/Data Analysis by Harvard School of Public Health


For “mass shootings” have so rapidly and dramatically accelerated during the past decade to overwhelm understanding.  Indeed, the turn to map their occurrence provides a basis to distance oneself from the terrible occurrence and find some purchase on what seems less a Hobbesian state of nature without government, but a conscious remove of shooters from civil society.  The rise of mass shootings in public places, although but a small fraction of all gun-killings, makes us want to map them to make sense of their inexplicable violence, to give some coherence to the sites of such deeply shocking events, as well as gain perspective on them.  For although fewer than a quarter of Americans fear that they live in a neighborhood where a mass shooting might occur, the landscape of mass shooting has become an image of America.  And if and Gun Violence Archive have crowd-sourced statistics on all gun violence since 2012, to create a picture of the country, the image of mass shootings are both more complex and difficult to assess, partly because of their removal from and far deeper shock to civil society.


Gun iolence .ComGun Violence Project


The more apt coloration of such data from KQED may better suggest the haunting by the dark spectre of mass shootings overwhelming the land:




Rather than being chaotic disruptions, the increasing chronological clustering of individual mass shootings suddenly appear as a connected group of events, whose quick succession both challenges the integrity of their remembrance, but seem cognitively challenging to grasp or gain clear bearings on.  Even as the pace of gun-violence has decreased, the prominence in national news and consciousness of the mass shootings, and the prominent display of murderous violence that parallels their prominence in the national consciousness has created a new landscape of American violence and fear.  Such apparent singularities have grown in the shadows of a country overly preoccupied with attacks of foreign terrorists or extremists, despite the greater than thousand-fold likelihood that between being killed by guns than a jihadist attack on American soil.

Is it possible we have decided not to look for the best ways to map and understand such violence as it has spread?  Or is the confusion of civic and military categories part of the difficulty of comprehending the logic or pattern of mass killings in the United States?  For the landscape of mass-shootings suggests another way of looking at America that may illuminate the gap between the rhetoric of gun ownership and civil society.  The very density with which mass shootings appear on the timeline, blending with one another, reflects the deep difficulties of processing their occurrence, but also the manner in which mass shootings have come to represent the nation to an uncomfortable degree.  Despite the  specificity and unique nature of each occurence, the public violence of mass shootings demands to be mapped in relation not only to guns, but a rejection of civil society.

In its totality, the timeline raises questions about the aggregation of such deeply terrifying tragic events and the limits of comprehension save as an irregular quickening of public violence.  While they surely offer a picture of the nation whose exceptionalism is evident in its rights to own guns and growing frequency of mass shootings–and they just don’t happened elsewhere–the script of such deeply tragic mass shootings recently has become recognizable event. The translation of the compilation of data, which first appeared at Stanford University’s Geospatial Center  as an interactive map of Mass Shootings in America, has been translated into a range of new visualizations to grasp the increased frequency of their daily occurrence, if not, rather terrifyingly, a way in itself of experiencing time.


Mass Killing PulseUSA Today/Gannett–Mass Shootings in America until Dec 24, 2015


Although such killings have a clear history and precedent, at times dated as far back as 1891 or even to 1984, the term “mass shooting” first gained currency around 2012, in reaction to the expansion of public shootings, and the classification introduced by the FBI was soon adopted by CNN, who expanded the bar for fatalities in a mass shooting to four, but also excluded events where the victims were related.  After the U.S. Congress in 2013 officially had qualified “mass shootings” as a single incident leaving three dead in the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act, as if taking responsibility to define the term as part of America–even while refusing to maintain a public registry of such shootings.  The relative frequency of their occurrence suggests a deep confusion between civilian and military space that demands to be unraveled, even if the refusal to maintain a public registry of such public shootings may soon change.

The terrible growth of such tragedies from 2008 can be aggregated in compelling ways broader time-scale for greater dramatic impact, as it was by Tristan Bridges and Tara Leigh Tober, using criteria of shooting three or more people adopt by the Stanford Geospatial adopted–




–and then comparing relations between fatalities and injuries over time:




The chronology that most painfully punctures the daily news, in a time of terrorist attacks and refugee crises, tracks an increasingly undeniable anomaly and a violence against civil order, and a willingness to separate oneself from it.  Whereas early chronologies were often closely tied to maps from the late middle ages, as ways to process information, the onslaught of the mass-shooting suggests a rapid-fire occurrence difficult to track.  Their rapid progression sadly seems to mimic banner cable news headlines, their most common medium of announcement, whose timeline of recent history hardly permits processing their memory–save fears as to where and when mass shootings might occur.


7.  Indeed the growing geography of fear–and what Appadurai characterized as a geography of anger linked to a prevailing sense of the deeply chaotic state of the present, animates such mass shootings, as much as a fear of globalization or economic change.  But they target the nation as a whole in a tragically desperate sense:  the nature of mass-shootings have indeed become an image of the defining character and deep insularity of America, as well as a registration of the anger of individuals who feel increasingly challenged, dislocated, and removed from changes that they cannot control.  Indeed, however tempting it is to see mass-shootings as a consequence of terrorism, as the tragic Paris shootings, the scripts for these events are all too similar to the confusion of civil and military spaces, rather than terrorist activities–it is remains more likely to die in a mass-shooting than terrorist attack in the United States.  For such tragic events blur public spaces of civil society and a militarized space of combat in increasingly terrifying ways; the rise of mass-shootings in public life are exclusively initiated by deeply marginalized men–94% of suspects are male–who decide to undertake a striking unprecedented degree of military-style violence.

The geography of such killings seems enabled by their subtraction from civil society. Interrogating what invites such a confusion of public and militarized space might generate a clearer geography of mass shootings, lest they seem as random or chaotic as one might seem:  if offering a map provides such order to such psychically disruptive events, they also challenge clear containment within the order of a map.  The dramatically increasing sales and supply of firearms–until recently most widely sold at Walmart and no doubt soon to be delivered to your home on Amazon drone–have generated an increased legal access to guns and heightened rhetoric to gun ownership that mirrors the culture of mass shootings.  The chronology of mass shootings resist any semblance of coherence of a map, so deeply grievous and inexplicable is the loss of life, but illustrates the terrifying frequency with which they tragically  punctuate time in ways that increasingly press against civil society.  The rather grotesque rationalization of shootings as the “cost” of the liberties we  accord gun possession dismisses their unacceptable risks as violations of human rights, independent of the considerable national cost–if only a small fraction of the total costs of gun violence–currently total over $200 billion in health costs,–more than Apple’s annual revenue.

But the spread of mass-shootings seems to stand at the intersection of the relations to guns that our legal culture has encouraged, and the cultivation of human-object relation in the murderous impact of rifles and other guns.  Although over three-quarters of the guns that were used by those who orchestrated mass-shootings since 1964 were legally purchased in stores, the geography of gun-ownership alone does not correlate to the apparently inexplicable proliferation of angry mass-shootings.  Indeed, we are frustrated however much we repeatedly return to their geographic distribution in attempts to grasp the rapidly spiraling increase in their terrifying violence and frequency, for the mass shooting is undertaken by those who separate themselves from civil society, or willingly conflate the civil space with spaces of combat.  The dramatic rise in the legal availability of firearms and the increased identification with guns gun permits have encouraged radically changed the landscape of gun violence.


Guns used in Mass KilingsGannett/USA Today


Perhaps the difficulty that the number of guns in public circulation in the United States outnumber the population are less a basis that might explain mass-shootings than the close ties that individuals have construed to their guns.  Even though they themselves constitute but a small portion of all violent crimes committed with firearms,  public mass shootings have resulted in the murder of 547 people, with 476 other persons injured, these manifestations of violence first doubled and then tripled, as if breaking what prior watersheds of the violence in public life.  For mass shootings’ recurrence is all too easily recognized when they occur, and far too often accepted as an inevitable consequence of freedom to own guns.  Although there is no clear “map-sense” in the spread of events of gun violence that have injured or killed multiple victims, and no clear pattern among these rampages,  the timeline provides us with a sense of distance on the spread of such shootings–rare in 1990, slightly slowing before 2005–by which to gauge the current spread of mass-shootings, and the steep challenge of any data visualization.  The failure of coherence in the tragically crowded chronology of mass-shootings reflects, more powerfully than any map, the difficulty given their radical remove from a society of laws of processing the chronology of shootings that have increasingly occurred across the most populated areas of the country.  These terribly violent crimes, rarely tied to self-interest or revenge, suggest a deeply distorted world-view, whose distortion of gun-use occasions needed reflection as pushing to an extreme the notion of individual liberty even if few would recognize it as such.


8.  Where such introspection will come from seems difficult to say, so problematic is it to map as a mirror of the country–and so easy is it to use a data visualization to do so.  The timeline creates something of a mirror of the country, but mapping the blurring the unprecedented intensity of mass-shootings in public spaces suggests a way to understand their spread.  While the latest of which almost always seems to constitute a new watershed in public violence, the aggregation of events simply overwhelms ordering–the totality of such troubled shootings erases any agency, and fails to establish the sorts of clarity or reveal the sort of connections that one would expect from a map.  How would a map of the spread of such mass-shootings across the United States be best rendered?

Whereas maps process a coherent relation to expanse, by ordering place for viewers that they can process, the failure of ordering the tragically crowded chronology of mass-shooting frustrates even the most detailed data visualizations, which give limited meaning to the possible motivations and circumstances for such a huge change.  The crowded timeline reflects how shootings have perversely come to punctuate public memory, but at the same time to follow on one another without space for rituals of remembrance of their individuality–or reflect on the national nightmare of the lawlessness of mass-killings as somehow being permitted under the actual rule of law.  If attempts to trace the geography of mass-shootings disorients, it reveals a new image of America.  Even if  few see risks of a mass-shooting near where they reside, that gives rise to a new geography of fears that arise from the sense that no one knows where the next mass-shooting–and there will be a next–will occur:  fears of their occurrence in nearby areas has grown, as the multiplication of mass-shootings expanded far beyond familiar urban regions to become a part of America:  the geography of the 355 mass-shootings reported over the past year–wounding 1,314 and killing 462 in one year, and occurring almost one a day–is vast, but the steady stream of such shootings have occurred most anywhere in the United States, although 5% of Americans stubbornly believe that guns make public places safer persists, and most think the chance such events occur in their own neighborhoods remote.

The landscape of victims of mass-shootings however suggests a new image of the nation.


Stanford mapStanford Mass Shootings in America (SMA), courtesy Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries (map compiled with data of October 27, 2015)


Such is the deeply disturbing disconnect between the actual geography of mass-shootings and the spatial imaginary of Americans:  even if the same proportion (35%) believe that “mass shootings are just a fact of life in America today,” far more Americans are concerned about the risk of future shootings than think that the risk is considerable where they reside–though over half expressed concerns of the such a mass-shooting near where they lived.   Yet how does the distribution actually look?  The geography of “mass shootings,” documented since Sandy Hook by the Stanford Geospatial Center, for lack of a national database, which accepts three or more injured by guns as a mass shooting, if it has grown quite considerably from late October to the late December, 2015, already suggested the difficult density of understanding patterns in how such mass-shootings had already spread across much of the country by October–and constituted what is almost a dangerous republic within a republic.


Stanford mapStanford Mass Shootings in America (SMA), courtesy Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries (map compiled with data of October 27, 2015)


The timeline used  in the header to this post serves to map this increased violence, even if the litany of place-names in the timeline is removed from the nation’s geography. What can account for this crowding of violent killings with guns?   The frequency may encourage both a reassessment of thresholds of violence–Ruby’s Massacre and the Columbine Massacre have morphed to the Aurora, Charleston, and San Bernardino Shootings–as the number of mass shootings in public space with semiautomatic rifles has grown.  As well as reflecting increased access to guns, however, it may be that the rise of shootings has reflected the reception of a particularly perverse and wrong-headed defense of rights to the access to guns as if this entitled their use as a form of public expression–if not a public statement, however pathological or hateful this form of individual expression.

The increase in the vociferous assertion that gun ownership is a right–protected within the Bill of Rights, as if it were an individual right–may have encouraged a quite idiosyncratic misconstruing of individual liberties, and at least encouraged a misguided belief that individual access to automatic weapons is protected by constitutional law as an individual “right.”  The chronology that marks the rapid acceleration of mass-shootings in public reveals the deep difficulty of cognitively processing their individual occurrence–both in the degree to which mass-shootings remain profoundly difficult to process, and even to express.  For the timeline marks a density of mass shootings’ occurrence tragically seems a national map:  although the series of evocative place-names where shootings occurred are not mapped in geographical terms, their chronological crowding mark a nation that, if increasingly difficult to come to terms with, aptly express the difficulty to accept or even address.  If the crowding of place in the above timeline expresses its a failure to lend order to their recurrence, it raises questions as to whether a geographic distribution could adequately capture their steep cost, both as a loss of human life or trauma–since 2007, the chronology of shootings is so tightly clustered to show them as a part of life in the United States.  If firearms are permitted by law, it suggests a deep misunderstanding of gun use as a form of expression.

For mass-shootings have so tragically recurred with historically unprecedented rapidity–each compelling attention but difficult to synthesize in a coherent image, echoing the singular position gun ownership continues to occupy in political discourse.  What, if anything, can be done to direct more attention to the growing fatalities from mass-shootings in an era when the demand for purchasing guns only continues to grow, with no sense of the steep risks such high sales pose for civil society?  The profound, if deeply misguided conclusion that protections of free access to guns addresses their possession and civilian use–rather than being limited to guaranteeing well-regulated local militia–has helped turn a blind eye to the 30,000 plus civil deaths that result from gun violence, including increasingly common rampages of mass-shootings.  The difficulty to address gun-safety reforms has encouraged a blossoming of gun purchases and the advocacy of the protection of gun rights by Americans, and bodes dangerously for the future, even if such killings constitute a fraction of gun deaths in the United States.  Visualizations of mass-shootings provides an interesting–if challenging-way to understand the United States, which reveal something of a hidden republic within the country–one nourished by the insistence on Second Amendment rights to own guns, and fed by a deep conviction of the inviolability of removing firearms from an individual’s possession.

If the increasingly rapid growth of gun ownership has been fed by fear, the difficulty of describing the expansion of mass-shootings on America’s sense of public space remains deeply difficult to assess with certainty.


mas shootings MSAStanford Mass Shootings in America (SMA), courtesy Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries (map compiled with data as of October 27, 2015)


Steep fear of future mass shootings provide an interestingly new picture of the country, and a new geography of fear.  The ways that this epidemic of mass-shootings might be adequately processed–through a visualization or in  geographic terms–is the subject of this post.  For the depressing density of such clustering of mass-shootings in America has grown since 2012 to a degree that has lent an unhealthy aura of familiarity to the term alone, defined by the FBI as a shootings killing or wounding four or more, but which have multiplied to refer to shootings of many more–the comprehensive tally of deaths from mass-shootings in 2015 alone devised using data from have stained North America a bright red to try to give concreteness to the all too familiar term used for shootings in crowded settings or public spaces difficult to comprehend, but necessary to grasp–the interactive visualization tallies actual numbers of killed by Google-like teardrop shaped pointers, casting appropriate shadows over the place where they occurred, as if in a partial gesture of mourning to the many killed in each, but it is impossible that the pointers and their shadows will not at times overlap:


Mass Shootings 2015.pngPBS Newshour/Shooting Tracker


While such aggregations of mass-shootings are profoundly affecting, they create little sense of new thresholds for such wanton displays of violence that the rise of mass-shootings seem to have created across America.

The shadows that mass-shootings have come to cast over the country, which seem to get longer and darker with the expansion of collective grieving and dead bodies after each tragically inexplicable event, have gone beyond raising the threshold for violence in the country, but have increasingly demanded attempts to give meaning and concretize their proliferation lest we lose a sense of who we are:  for if the map above is a mirror, of which San Bernardino was the 355th shooting this year, it demands reflection as we approach the year’s end.  The successive occurrence of such heinous and collectively inexplicable crimes–so deeply challenging in their occurrence to lead President Obama to ponder, “as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

Staring at a map, without even knowing what is being mapped in this continent whose place-names are blanketed by sites of mass-shootings’ occurrence.  Yet in the light of  shootings this month in San Bernardino, Calif., the disproportionate role of access to semi-automatic weapons in America raises questions about their place in civil society, and place in a society that values individual life.  If the tragic proliferation of mass shootings in America seems a set of disembodied toponyms that resist clear relations to spatial position, they constitute a litany in which it is hard to find coherent meaning in most data visualizations that have been devised.  For rather than map the occurrences of such shootings by population density, gun laws, race, or affluence–despite the value of such data–it seems both far more important and relevant to map the intersection of guns and political discourse.  Yet we quite regularly turn to maps to explain the epidemic, frustrated by the difficulty in adequately aggregating events so deeply  disturbing, and have difficulty to register how such shootings have come to punctuate national news with a degree of shock and incredulity that proves difficult to sustain.  Perhaps it is ethically unsound to remove from the grotesque tragedy of these newly classified events, in light of the lack of meaning that each and every event occasions.


9.  Would we do better to re-map the rise of mass shootings in relation to the relentless promotion of viewing gun ownership as a right and individual freedom protected by constitutional law, than to aggregate the prevalence of death by firearms in recent years?  Such a map offers a disquieting mirror, to be sure, but only partly captures the assertiveness that mass-shootings have recently come to occupy in public life.

The same statistics from Stanford’s Geospatial Analysis, envisioned in a bar graph of escalating injuries and fatalities by the Economist spanning a longue durée from the 1960s, force offer a deeply depressing recognition of shootings in public spaces–universities, army bases, immigration service centers, movie theaters, elementary schools–that assault civil society.


Economist envisions SGCEconomist


Although every mass-killing seems to reset thresholds for public violence, the collective image presented in the timeline first featured in Mother Jones but based on data designed to supplement the shocking absence of a national database of gun-ownership, shootings across the country raises questions stubbornly independent from their geographic distribution, but demand interrogation as part of a national political discourse we would rather not recognize.  The absence of locations in the above visualization of place-names that became widely known for suggests a rational distribution of mass-killings seems less relevant than how such killings are increasingly a part of who we are–despite attempts to link their spread to terrorists, terrorism,  or foreign wars.  Only 43 of the 641 killed in mass-shootings over the past ten years are credibly related to Islamic extremists, it seems important to overcome difficulties of mis-mapping the relations between their violence and embrace of guns in America rather than as coming from afar rather than rooted in the potential distortions of our own legal culture.

It may be time to examine the extent to which it is home-grown.  The estimates of the increased circulation of guns in the entire United States since the election of a President who made gun control a priority has been dramatic–and whose election in 20008 led gun sales to crest above 1 million per month.  Almost 16 million guns entering the US markets in 2013 alone–and the call for future gun safety regulation has led to a new surge in gun sales, in an increasingly strident (if deeply mistaken) assertion of gun ownership as if it were an individual right that was guaranteed and unqualifiedly protected by law.


gun-sales-terrorism-obama-restrictions-1449710314128-master495-v6New York Times


The gun manufacturers who share profits with the lobbying group of the NRA manipulate the value of stoking fears of gun control measures–in the guise of an attack on gun liberties–to increase their own sales.  The increase of handguns, rifles, and semi-automatic weapons that can be registered such an uptick around President Obama’s election, with fears of the eventual confiscation of weapons, may even serve to catalyze the outpouring of mass shootings since, as the full-throated defense by gun-owners associations such as the National Rifle Association that gun ownership was a legally protected and guaranteed right “to keep and bear arms,” despite the quite different sense of the personal ownership of weapons.  The imagery by which Ted Cruz championed his defense of Second Amendment rights–echoing the explicitly racist Tea Party imagery–by cruelly photoshopping President Obama, in military garb, bent on violating rights of gun possession, eliding civilian and military space and conflating voting rights with a defense of rights to possess firearms in ways designed to circulate widely as a rallying call and fundraising pitch on social media:

The terribly  offensive masquerade of the President as if he were less than the Commander in Chief, but festooned only with a button with the insignia of “change” suggest he hardly has American’s’ actual interests at stake.


Cruz's Character AssassinationTed Cruz Campaign Flyer/


Indeed, the image of Obama is tame compared to with  images of Obama that are sold as targets and used at many shooting ranges in America–sites that, like gun shows, encourage sites of like-minded individuals to use the ranges as underground sites of sociability that promote the normalization of gun-ownership and use, which have grown in number and have acquired increased prominence as sites of access to a world that normalizes gun use.  Such ranges, easy to locate in a nationwide online directory, provide access to an underworld of shooting ranges that sanctions and promotes the use of guns, as well as offer a place to practice firing at targets of your choice, including images of political figures, with faces cartoonishly photoshopped to be dehumanized targets of rage.

anger targets of photoshopped clown-faces.png


The deep confusion of civil and military space is hardly new in a nation that has been repeatedly grieving from mass shootings, but suggests a newly militarized landscape of fear that to rally support for Ted Cruz, down to the more than distasteful depiction of President Obama as endangering the Constitution, rather than a Commander in Chief–as if he were a foreign agent in fact bent on the violation of constitutional liberties.

As it stands, the sense of an information overload of public grieving outweighs any meaning able to be gleaned from any collective representation of such violent and devastating occurrences that continue to boggle the mind.  Perhaps this is partly provoked by the increasing occurrence of what is defined as “mass shooting”–defined as a shooting killing four or more–is graphically suggested in the crowded chronology of individual mass shootings, in ways that oddly supplants geographic visualization with a chronology whose density overpowers viewers:  the intolerably crowded chronology of mass-shootings in public spaces over the past ten years were once unthinkable,– as were the now-common rituals of public grieving that try to process and come to terms with the terrible tragedy of such an event, and the deep psychological impact it has on a community and society.  Even if only a quarter of Americans are concerned about a mass shooting in their neighborhood, almost all are vicarious spectators to the grieving in their aftermath.


524e807d-b969-492b-a5e9-c31f78259603Honoring Victims of Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino  Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times


5c87f211-cb61-49e7-86e9-2c7299fa549aAfter Charleston Getty Images


usa-shooting-oregonMonroe Township, NJ/Daily News


e42adc5e-3bd6-41d3-872d-04d5a26817bbAfter San Bernardino Genaro Molina/LA Times


16firstdraftnl-poll-tmagArticle(after San Bernardino)  Jim Wilson/The New York Times

California ShootingsSan Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino, CA December 3, 2015 (AP/Mark J. Terrill)


The increased frequency of mourning for mass shootings reveals a search for restoration of their occurrence, which almost incredibly becomes ever more tragic.

Despite the valorization of every details of the attacks in the collective obituaries that have painfully become ritualized aftermath of each event, in an attempt to find closure in their very disruptiveness, the tragedy defies mapping in ways that make it difficult to come to terms with its recurrence, or to consider any logical connections between the range of admittedly often psychopathic shootings of innocent victims, and obscure their relation to the increasingly wide championing of access to guns–and the eery current of adamant insistence that gun-ownership is a right, despite the violation of human rights that the availability of rapid fire firearms like the AR-15–championed among its owners as “America’s Guns” to insist on their rights of possession–stands to risk.  The difficulty of confiscating guns reveals the disconnect between their deadly power and the responsibility of ownership in the United States of America.


The epidemic remains to be effectively mapped, if it ever can.  Indeed, at three years distance from the Sandy Hook mass-shooting, which left twenty children and six educators dead with the gunman, and suggested new heights of insensitivity in murdering the unprotected and defenseless.  The landscape of mass-shootings seems hardly to have changed, save by mass-shootings becoming more unpredictable and frequent.  We regularly turn to maps to explain the epidemic of gun deaths in the nation, frustrated by the difficulty in summing up or aggregating events so deeply affecting and disturbing, and so stubbornly attached to individual particularities, that they are so particularly difficult to refer or materialize in a map–or reduce to a single cartographical form of sufficient explanatory power–so horrific is each individual event as a drama, and so stunning has their actual frequency been in recent years.  Even if such crimes constitute but a small share of overall gun violence, the public planned staging of apparently indiscriminate events is difficult to get one’s mind around.  For even three years and a thousand shootings after Sandy Hook, twenty mass shootings of 2015 occurred in the face of a continued absence of gun laws–laws that could potentially have prevented the perpetrators from ‘legally’ obtaining guns.

Such stalemate  is difficult to understand or rationalize, as is the refusal to research the origins of gun violence, or restrict firearm sales of firearms with magazines that are so readily able to be “legally” procured without any examination or scrutiny of their purchasers’ past criminal history.  Yet what, one might ask, is a “legally” procured semi-automatic rifle?  What constitutes or stands to be recognized as a legal firearm?  The multiple asterisks in the Smith & Wesson advertisement for the M&P 15 “Sport” suggest the active engagement of many of its features–a collapsible stock; thirty round magazine; suppressor compensator–with the local legal requirements so prominent in the minds of their clientage.




Beside the inexplicable spread of mass shootings in America, there’s a deep inability to articulate an adequate response to the assertion that the ownership of guns is a right–evident in the stark contrast of the deep conviction of 35% of Americans that guns make public places safer and a geography where four people or more were shot by guns–even if they were not killed–since 2012.  Despite some serious questioning by criminologists about the apparent increase in mass-killings in the United States that grew scattershot across the nation since 2010, the terms of debate indicate deeply definitional problems of even describing what mapping mass-shootings in America are–do victims have to die?  how must die for the occurrence?–and what the fairly new term means.  Such questions may indeed only reflect the great difficulties we still have in getting our minds around and coming to terms with any visualization of the actual or imagined distribution of such unpredictable and indiscriminate events, here mapped from late 2010 in an apparent lack of any clear pattern as to where or when they might occur that is consonant with the sense that there is no rhyme or reason to their occurrence, which must remain the bitter “price” for our continued constitutional liberties.


CKpv4BbWcAAUesX.png-largeMass-shootings since Sandy Hook, by Soo Oh using data from Mass Shooting Tracker, via Stanford Geospatial Center–do check out the interactive web map


Although the prominence such mass shootings occupy in national news surely amplifies the truly traumatic sense, the above timeline used in the header to this post equally suggest the deep difficulties of making sense of their spread–as do and the now common collective biographies of their victims, or harrowing news profiles of the killers who acquired the guns, which almost replace the simple coherence of a data visualization.  But does a “mass-shooting” even require fatalities to be counted?  What can explain the government’s refusal to keep a database of gun deaths, despite the increasing violation of human rights they pose?

The difficulty of achieving closure on such mass-killings challenges the cognitive abilities, much as the crowded timeline of the heading to this post.


10.  The most deeply striking characteristic of this terrifying epidemic of mass-shootings may not lie in the intensity of their occurrence, but their overwhelming occurrence within public spaces.  If mass-shootings might multiply due to imitation or emulation, as public displays of gun violence gain a clear cultural script, shifting the threshold for planning and executing unthinkable mass-murders in public space, the decision to execute the innocent in public has its own terrifying geography:  the spate of mass-killing with rifles staged in public life–in movie theaters; schools; workplaces; clinics; churches–indiscriminately claimed lives in rampages not easily explained only by psychologic disturbance or by psychopathic traits.  Such crimes are staged as if to take justice into one’s hands, in a geography without coherence in a map, reflecting a conviction of individual “rights” to “keep and bear arms” that intentionally distorts what the Bill of Rights never intended as a right of personal possession.

Is the icon of the armed Minuteman–the ever-ready marksman with cocked gun in hand, an eery underside of this proliferation in civil space?  The mistaken acceptance and promotion of such a pseudo-“right”–and its defense has dramatically grown with the belief that rights to the ownership of guns will be rolled back and individual firearms confiscated–that has quickly gained fairly terrifying increased traction in public political discourse.  Indeed, they not only occur as the per capita presence of firearms in America has mushroomed to one per citizens and approximately 310,000,000 million firearms as of 2012–114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns–or more than the number of Americans.  At the same time, the expansion of AR-15’s in American hands have crested beyond 3,750,000 by late 2012, as sales of such guns ballooned with astounding rapidity:   background checks that precede the legal possession of semiautomatics multiplied at the alarming rate of 50% in five years before Newtown.

The wildly increasing circulation of rifles and handguns in America have been paralleled in public discourse by a deeply distorted and fraught notion of the liberties of “bearing” a gun–as if this means being equipped with a semi-automatic weapon, rather than holding a musket within a state militia–or as if the reloading and cocking of muskets has some historically essential equality with the expressive abilities of the magazines of rapid-fire assault rifles.  The expansion of an eery political current that treats the rights to gun ownership as a right of political expression deeply distorts the notion of constitutional liberties and freedoms.  Does the representation of gun-ownership and -use as a right correlate to the geography of mass-shootings in America?  Surely the conviction of most Americans that guns “makes public places safer stands in contrast to the rise of mass-shootings in America.  One of the most surprising mapping of reactions to mass-killings may be not only in the expansion of a geography of fear, and the a growing demand for the purchase and owning of more firearms and guns, in reaction to perceived fears of gun control.  For on the heals of individual mass-shootings, we see surges in the sales of firearms–recent sales have especially increased in Southern California, after the San Bernardino shootings, in reaction to pronounced fears of gun control, in the same manner that gun-dealers were overwhelming by requests for weapons after previous mass-shootings–and the increased risk of gun killings in those areas where guns are more clearly concentrated.

If the presence of firearms alone in specific regions of the country constitutes a clear measure of increased risks a clear index of risk, that distribution cannot explain the rise of the mass-shooting phenomenon.  The difficulty of even defining the “mass-shooting” as an event that can be mapped–what, indeed constitutes a mass-shooting?  four fatalities by firearms?  or should three deaths suffice? or are gun-wounds sufficient to identify the danger of mass-shootings?–reveal a difficulty of processing or coming to terms with the rising risk of premeditated killing sprees in public space that seem quite distinct in pressing the limits of public violence and in the tragic consequences of such deranged actions.  The failure of the United States government to keep or retain records or data on gun deaths suggests the odd disconnect between the ability to process such events in ways that would allow a meaningful mapping of mass-shootings.

For the relations between mass-shootings and gun sales demands mapping as an intersection of a spatial imaginary that is rooted in the defense of rights to possess firearms and the proliferation of sales of firearms–and the implicit sanctioning of guns in public use that distinguishes the United States from other countries, and that has become prevalent in recent decades, suggesting a true national nightmare from which we are not likely to soon awake.


National Nightmare: Mapping Gun Homicides per 100,000 in nations


Despite frequent defenses of gun ownership repeatedly rehearsed with increasing force in political discourse, can the possession of firearms be legitimately based on claims to a preexisting right?  The frequency of mass-shootings in America cannot be reconciled with beliefs that their occurrence is to be seen only as the price of the “freedoms we enjoy,” as if these deaths were a sort of collateral for the freedoms that are naturalized within one country.  For their terrifying frequency seems almost to sanction a form of violent expression is difficult to defend by the Second Amendment or an individual liberty, and whose costs are deeper than their benefits–despite the rhetorical championing of the ownership of automatic rifles was a right protected by law, and the AR-15 or AK-47 akin to a muskets of revolutionary militias that similarly served to protect the public safety.  Does the defense of gun ownership create a space for separating oneself from civil society in increasingly violent ways, and combining the militarized behavior within a civil society from which many falsely feel themselves disenfranchised?

As the costs on our perception of public space augment, and the basic human rights of occupying public space or sanctioned clinics grow, so does the preposterously contorted argument that gun-ownership–“bearing arms”–is constitutionally protected.  Increasingly spread over radio and the internet as if gun-ownership were  naturalized to the land, using a deeply and perversely misguided notion that “bearing arms” justifies individual possession of firearms, the Constitution is explicitly misunderstood:  for what was framed by the framers as a right to militias is taken as a right to personal possession, although it sought only to pertain to “bearing” guns in the context of state militia.  But the notion of such a shadow “state”–or unseen republic–is regularly reified within the symbols of a terrifying current in political discourse, as if to imagine themselves as a group whose ownership of guns demands to be defended and whose fetishization of the AR-15 demands further examination.  So does the open and explicit elision of an iconography of military aggression with the emblems of gun ownership, which seek to advocate and advertise possession assault rifles as an unqualified individual right–as if to turn all America into a shooting range.






Is the right to load a musket in any way similar to the rounds of ammunition able to fired with rapidly form a rifle’s reloadable magazine?  Such taunting slogans and symbolic badges bizarrely conflate rights and assault weapons in ways that tie use and possessions of assault weapons to a rhetoric of vigilance–imagining the owner of an automatic rifle as finding historical precedent in the Minuteman’s musket, and imagining gun-ownership as a right to be asserted against fear of the encroachment of an overly invasive national government.

As perpetuated by underground radio stations and internet sales points, the pseudo-right to “bear arms” is taken as itself in need of protection by firearms, even in the face of our marking of time with mass-shootings at a density difficult to comprehend.  The rhetoric of continued vigilance that these items promote create an imagined geography of defending liberties that were able to be secured by guns, as if the right to possess arms was itself in need of vigilant protection and preservation–and  reflects a revolutionary underground that can be imagined as a space of concealed gun permits, based on “exercising the Second Amendment right guaranteed to them” in a true land of liberty, as evoked in the images of minute-men and the date of the Constitution or Bill of Rights that so anachronistically celebrate gun-ownership as a right.


GOA-01Gun Owners of America


Such willful acts of creative anachronism go to the heart of redefining the Constitution–the basis of the civil society and the nation–as the basis for the Republic of Gun Holders’ defense of their pseudo-rights to possess and “bear” arms in the manner historically guaranteed to state militias were sanctioned in the country’s founding document–and to imagine a nation within the nation where rights to carry and conceal firearms are guaranteed.  How “bearing” arms became anachronistically permutated to the carrying of concealed weapons is a long story of tortured logic, but it was most successful in those states that have historically rejected federal oversight.




states-with-8-percent-of-population-with-concealed-carry-permits_crime-prevention-research-centerGive Me Liberty:  Where 8% of Population Own Concealed Weapons Permits


The increased confusion of gun laws that prevent police officers from challenging individuals bearing arms to show their open-carry permits in Texas challenges such a map–and raises pressing questions on the extent to which we are tending to a society that tolerates carrying guns in public space–or diminishes police authority to supervise the presence of AR-15s in public settings in America, as such authority would diminish the rights of individual gun possession.


Bill Pugliano Gun Activitists.pngBill Pugliano/Getty Images


In this spatial imaginary, the United States is seen as the last bastion of individual liberties of owning guns, a category quite largely construed:




This imagined republic champions its vigilant defense of “bearing” firearms including “assault weapons” as a deep form of liberty, placing a deeply anachronistic construction on their belief in “bearing” arms.  Indeed, the neo-revolutionary symbology of individual resistance openly casts possession of firearms with urgency within a vocabulary and syntax akin to the defense of individual rights, suggesting the apprehension of a new state of emergency where rights are in need of defense.

The spread of paranoia of gun control is perhaps evident in the expansion of “California compliant” AR-15’s with detachable magazines.  For the expansion of an imaginary space of vigilance and readiness, though absent from most quantitative data visualizations of mass-killings, firearm assaults, or gun ownership, choreographed as if in an underground nation, replete with news outlets that purport to purvey the actual truth of increasing need for protecting individual gun-possession, given the restriction of such “rights” since the 1988 reclassification of “assault weapons” and the 1993 Assault Weapons Ban.  The symbolic potency of the assault weapon–the icon of the AR-15–within such “gun rights” discourse seems to taunt viewers with its open celebration of a refusal to respect such limits as gun control.


Come and Try.png




11.  The depressingly dense crowding of the chronology of mass-shootings, which melds into a terrifying virtual continuity from 2013, marking how the almost daily recurrence of mass-killings overwhelm time for their remembrance, return us to the problem of processing their continued occurrence over time.   As such mass-killings so tragically come in seemingly swift succession, from Ft. Hood through Newtown to Roseberg, OR, to San Bernardino, CA, linked by common use of the AR-15’s gun enthusiasts champion “America’s guns,” register not only a landscape of increased mass-shootings, but a spatial geography of the defense of gun-possession and -use.  Such claims to the rights to own guns ineluctably moves us further away from discussion of gun control, and paradoxically push public debate away from guns–leaving Republican candidates to affirm their support for gun ownership as an individual liberty.

The new geography of mass-shootings has increased our fears of the near-inevitability of their recurrence, but leave us with a deadened sense that goes beyond individual guilt or criminality–and raise questions of the costs of contorted classification gun ownership as a form of liberty.  The very unpredictability of their sequence elicited an ever-present geography of fear across the nation that is impossible to map:  we return to the stories of the individual lives that were lost, but not the semi-automatic rifles that enabled them.  Because many see restrictions on gun ownership as violating rights, we increasingly seem both defenseless against the geography of mass-killings that increasingly endanger individual safety, despite the increased sense of security gun control would create in civil society.  If the laws of the Constitution have defined the collectivity of the nation, the  vehement fixation on championing “rights to keep and bear arms” as the principle freedom of the country

The stunning sequence of mass-killings over the past three decades makes us turn to maps, in hopes to gain some purchase on what can seem unrelated events and to organize the pace of their occurrence in recent decades in a meaningful way.  The empty recitation of  place-names–Columbine; Ft. Hood; Newtown; Aurora; San Bernardino–seems to attempt to come to terms with the tortured geography of mass-shootings in the United States, intoned as if the sites of Civil War battles, followed by a shudder of recollection far more of numbness than understanding:  although each dot marks a place in time, as much as in space, whose relationships fail to add up.  The relation of this swift succession of killings to gun “rights” is not clear.  But the deep-set reluctance to tackle the issue of assault weapons whose magazines permit such rapid fire–and strength of wide resistance far beyond the 1.5 Americans who already own them to their banning–hints in terrifyingly ways at the introduction of a new landscape of mass-shootings in America.

Any regulation of “assault weapons” is counted by increasing stockpiled by gun owners within a debate about “rights”–and the constitutional protections on gun-ownership–even as mass killings pose clear threats to and violations of human rights.  The openly taunting slogan “Come and Get It,” reproduced in an array of quotidian objects to be coded identifying signs, blends the internet initials that tag the Right to Keep and Bear Arms from US Revolution with the weapons of choice of many killers today.  The array of objects code a sort of revolutionary brotherhood, collapsing and conflating understandings of the law in the black of right-wing militia–


Keychain--Come and Take It

–in a disguise that seems a rallying cry designed to mask the fears of gun confiscation through the very firearms mass-killers most widely used, placing them totemically above the date of the Constitution’s passage, beneath a cryptically coded insignia–“RKBA,” a.k.a. Right to Keep and Bear Arms.


12marquez-web02-articleLargeSan Bernardino Police Department


12.  The terrifyingly crowed chronology of recent mass-shootings is both disorienting and disarming because it affords so little clarity or meaning as a sequence save as an onslaught of taking liberty with guns pose such a clear human rights offense:  the rapid-fire pace in the graphic introducing this post suggests the near-impossibility of ordering time in such an intense onslaught of the occurrence of mass-killings, or to impose meaning on them.  Indeed, the recurrence of mass-killings is deeply troubling because it lack any easy or clear coherence, and reminds us of the far remove of firearms’ use from any sense of personal responsibility.

The frequency of mass-shootings across America appear less to punctuate time or space than they mimic the rapid-fire sequence of banner headlines of cable news which draw attention to their occurrence; the traumas remains difficult to comprehend, or map meaningfully, save as something like a nightmare from which we cannot awake. Despite the overall national preponderance of firearm fatalities resulting from hand-guns, it is striking that something of a caesura occurred in the sequence of mass-shooting during the ten-year ban on such rifles, from 1994 to 2004.  Does the tempo of mass-killings suggest a deep misunderstanding of liberty?  Whether one parses time passed since Sandy Hook, Columbine, or since 9/11, or the threat of terrorist violence on U.S. soil, the growth of gun-related violence is difficult to process save as a nightmare we are trying to awake, so deeply depressing because it’s an information overload so very challenging even to process.  And at the same time as we are confronted with an apparent rise in deaths, just as tragically, we are at odds as a nation in coming to terms with what the “National Nightmare” of gun homicides means.

The suitability of the term, forty long years after President Gerald Ford hopefully declared “our long national nightmare is over” at his inauguration–a famously wishful declaration of a desired break with the past, trying to be auspicious and omitting any mention of Watergate–the wishful declaration of a turning point, as we were recently reminded, rings hollow some forty years later before the current nightmare from which we seem unable to awake.  For as we parse the rise of gun-use and firearm homicides, a subject we almost lack the means to address, turning points or chronologies seem sadly as useless as geographies, but confirm an undeniable progress to an ever expansive escalation of gun deaths on U.S. soil, that seem to stand in some relation to the increased terrorist attacks, but whose scale unprecedentedly grew since 2010 in ways that are not entirely easy to map onto global events–even despite the claims that the objectives and ambitions of ISIS terrorist groups have increasingly begun to stretch beyond territorial borders. Despite the decrease of mass-shootings  during the ten-year ban on such rifles from 1994 to 2004, non-Islamic and Islamic extremists alike seem to have benefitted from access to guns:


Since 9:11New York Times


It is understandable that we also turn to maps in hopes to process meaning in the face of an almost unexplainable epidemic of mass-killings.  But as we do so–tracking sites of deadly assault, tracking the provenance of the weapons and guns the killers used, or crowd-sourced online compilations of the truly staggering human toll in list form, we are apt to find that the raw data often speaks far more than cartographical forms can embody:


National Nightmare: Mapping Gun Homicides per 100,000 in nations


Why does this stuff continue to happen so relentlessly ?  A global comparison of firearm homicides within developed nations may not be exact or be a map.  But it suggests a staggering need to reduce the rates of gun homicides in both public and private spaces, and the specific challenges of disentangling access to guns to the language of rights with which it has been deeply if deceptively conflated.

The bar graph positioning the United States as far off the charts raises questions not only about the access to guns in the US, but raises questions about the value of continuing to map the distribution of gun homicides in the country–although their remapping provides something of a mirror that can only compel further reflection on the apparently increasing stubborn persistence of such an outlier status that seems daily to grow.  The bar graph raises questions about the increased occurrence attacks we have seen recently of heavily armed individual attackers or groups of individuals, which create a crowded litany of place-names immediately identified with premeditated mass-killings staged in schools, churches, centers of social services, or government agencies across the nation, even as little action seems able to be taken to stop the steady expansion of this list of memorials or access to guns–and worries have turned to the provision of expanded services of social and emotional health to process the proliferation of violence, as much as to better serve potential perpetrators of homicidal rampages–without ever addressing the problems of the all too easily obtained firearms, and the perverse notion deadly gunshot provide any statement save ending someone’s life.


13.  In an age when mass-killings have almost come to occur daily, even in the face of  calls for better mental health services for all, it’s hard to know how these levels of violence can actually be processed–not only by children, teenagers, and even adults, but most of society.  The recurrence of public mass-shootings almost suggest a new normal, where the majority of the victims were completely unarmed–even if it is a normal President Obama implores we collectively refuse to accept.

Although gun attacks on  Planned Parenthood office remain relatively rare, despite the daily threats under which clinics across America live, the acknowledgment of the occurrence of firearm assault as a forms of expression strains credibility–as if the public use of guns suggests a right worthy of defense.  And the terrifying entanglement between far right-wing rhetoric and gun  use cannot be continued to be dismissed out of hand since “speech does not breed violence;” because to do so conceals a more terrifying acceptance of gun violence as if it were a form of public speech–rather than an assault on human rights–and continued imprecations, even after mass-shootings, that “Now is not the time to call for law-abiding citizens to put down their guns,” as if more guns would secure greater safety and well-being.  There is nary a mention of the dangers of gun violence in the tweets by leading Republicans, beholden to NRA ratings, to suggest any restrictions on access to guns, lest they no longer secure “A-” grades from the overly powerful and deeply protective advocacy and lobbying body–the tweets couched a language in terms of comforting those “impacted” by the shooting (not killed) and offer prayers, thoughts, and condolences, but suggest the inability of framing any other response.


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The stunning wall of evasive silence that is maddeningly maintained in these quite vacuous tweets reflects the immobility in political discourse to identify the problem as one of ready access to guns, lest they be seen as infringing on the Holly Grail of the Second Amendment, which seems for some more sacred than the United States Constitution.  The reflexive if actually inexplicable refusal to consider to fund research to be done on mass shootings, and the absence of even a budget for gun prevention in the CDC–who have nonetheless continued to tabulate gun fatalities–suggests the perils of the Manichean opposition created in political discourse between any questioning the motives for gun ownership and firearm use and the struggle to preserve gun “rights”–as if they were in fact in need of being legally protected and state-sanctioned.  Governor Chris Christie, currently seeking the White House, can only tweet about those “victimized” by shootings, rather than admit they were killed.



What are these rights to “bear arms?  The conflation of rights to possess firearms  with individual rights have been perilously distorted in public opinion, perhaps as dangerously as they have been rewritten by the courts.  For the tendency to assume such rights all too often goes unquestioned and is increasingly misunderstood.  With any analysis of gun violence presented as ac actual  attempt to infringe inalienable rights of gun possession that are posited to be enshrined in the law, there is a reluctance even to examine its origins:  the recalcitrance against even supporting studies even into risk/benefit analysis of domestic ownership of guns is taken to smack of poor governance and nefarious plots by the National Rifle Association, who discourage any research on the subject of gun use as an infringement on what seem sacrosanct rights to gun-ownership.  The fostering of deep fears of such infringement have gained legal cover, moreover, in a particularly willful misreading of the Second Amendment.  For the obstruction of legal response to the spread of gun-killings has deep roots in the perpetuation of the illusion of the legal exceptionalism of the United States.

Increasingly, a bizarre conflation of the right to possess guns and the acceptance of the firearm as a rightful means of expression seems to have crept into American political discourse in eery ways, and may underscore the clear illustration of such an outlier status, as much as any mapping of gun ownership or facilities in our country:  while Freedom of Speech is of course a right sanctioned by the framers of the nation’s Constitution, and indeed given a prominent position within the Bill of Rights.  Whether the Constitution so openly sanctions such a “right” is of course open to interpretation if not in doubt:  the conviction that it does so rests on the almost intentionally misguided perverse notion that the Second Amendment affirmed “bearing of arms” more than a “well-regulated militia” not only distorted the clear focus of the framers on the necessary possession of such a militia to “the security of a free State.”  Yet the apparent if unconscious absorption of possessing firearms into the Bill of Rights is not only an open distortion of constitutional law, but a justification of gun-owning in America, even in the face of mass-murders.  The perverse insistence on the ethics and safety of firearm possession guarantees open access to firearms in almost unfettered manner within the United States that seems to be increasingly exploited in tragic ways.

For the blatant and brazen misconstrual of the principal of individual gun-ownership as if it were a right has helped to sediment a misrepresentation of  meaning in state-protected rights, and a dangerous distortion in how rights are perceived and indeed defended that endanger human rights to safety and security–quite confoundingly, the very term that is so often cited in the defense of the “right” to bear arms.  Although dating from a very different era when militias were understood as local entities–rather than nationalized–little interpretive leeway or allowance was accorded its interpretation, so strong was the conviction that the right to arms remained a personal prerogative.  Rather, the reflexive conviction to affirm the right to possess firearms–“bear arms“–has become a disembodied imperative, removed from the discipline or order that a militia would provide, as Dorothy Samuels acutely observed, and taken as an individual prerogative never intended by the framers, and severed from the notion of anything “well-regulated” at all–even morphing into a form of protection against an untrusted state.

The slippery grounds connecting unfettered access to guns as a primordial “right” the state must be prevented from interfering or regulating has created increased contortions of logic that strain credulity in political discourse. The near-impossibility to invoke “security” as a reason for the widespread owning and general access to firearms–witness the mental gymnastics both Ben Carson and Ted Cruz have performed around the old but untired argument that greater gun-possession would increase safety against “lone wolf attackers” and better those besieged by such rogue actors, warranting gun safety education in public schools, if not gun training–may conceal a hideous deeper conflation between the Second and First Amendment in the minds of some.  The misconstrual of liberties sometimes seems to underlie the tortured discourse about the need for protection of rights to gun ownership–and perhaps an initial mental block to framing coherent arguments about access to guns in an uncontrolled market, or even dialogue about preventive measures of gun use–and derives from mistaken acceptance that gun ownership belongs in the Bill of Rights that makes it so difficult to historicize the meaning of the Second Amendment.

12.  Perhaps we don’t even gain much by mapping  the increase of gun violence that we’ve seen, which roughly corresponds, it at first seems, to population concentration.  For the terrifying transformation of the map of the country into something that might be more familiar on a firing range than infographic:


Shooting TrackerShootingTracker


Despite value and clear ethical import of counting each and every life lost and individual wounded by the surplus of guns across the country, the additive summary of individual events has limited coherence save as a tragedy.

There is indeed a clear cognitive rebuff of such a visualization of multiple wounding and killing by firearms that challenges the logic of mapping; the limited clarity or coherence can be gained by trying to locate the expansion of gun use through so much of the country on a map, save to illustrate the expansive nature of its threat to public safety:  what all too often seems at stake in the demand to have unfettered access to guns that are able to be readily loaded and not dismantled without restraint seems to rest not on legal precedent or logic but the national imaginary of the gunslinger, and indeed the place of the lone avenger, as much as the concerns for safety that the Framers somewhat cautiously voiced.  Perhaps the blood-splatter symbology used by the Gun Violence Archive, who’ve daily tracked 48,348 incidents of gun violence, and promise new and comprehensive pictures of gun-related violence, is most apt in  inviting us to comprehend the jaw-dropping totality of lost lives:


blood splatter mapGun Violence Archive


Such maps however don’t make much sense, because they offer such little access for viewers to their motives, into the circumstances where and when and among whom they occur, or purchase on the ways folks found their guns and the ease of their acquisition of firearms.  Where they long possessed, or acquired for a premeditated event?  Perhaps this doesn’t make a difference to its scope.

The difficulty and deep frustration of successfully processing any clear sense of the frequency of occurrence of gun killings across the country is intensified by the blurring of concentric circles and oblique markers of at least ten homicides color the map by a confusion of different hues of blue, crowding the national map with spate of a density we cannot even unpack, even if its bluntness raises clear questions about frequent arguments about the safety that owning guns provides.  The inability to drill down in the map allows only limited cognitive access.


Mapping the Dead


The admirably ethical project to provide an actual record of the recent devastating progress of gun-deaths across the country–as the comprehensive Gun Violence Archive project–overwhelm viewers in their deadening additive accumulation of shootings, if desensitization lies farthest from their planners’ intent.  In tracking deaths by fire-arms since the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred in Newtown, CT the non-profit created a sort of watchdog online archive in 2012 that was soon so cluttered to be taken down at the end of the following year, after clocking 12,042 without a sign of deceleration in sight.  The map still strains credibility:   limited to  the top 1,000 locations of gun-related homicides to retain legibility, it rendered opaque many of the twelve larger urban centers of gun deaths.  The mapping became a meme of sorts, however, in attempts to understand what was going on, although the map lacks much coherence. And while the darkening of most of the country reveals a spate of deaths to be standard across 46 states and Washington, D.C. it is troubling that Florida, Illinois and California compete for the most gun killings.


OSM deaths 12,042.png


14.  There are some serious problems with the above maps, however, both as a visualization whose very symbology is so overwhelmed with the current the level of violence that it conceals, as if to create increased distance between the viewer and a disturbing landscape of lethal homicides that so frustratingly seems a data overload almost impossible to process or embody in a map.

For in toting up statistics of those felled by guns as if challenge viewers to comprehend what seems to track an actual epidemic or the spread of a miasmatic force that swallows centers of habitation–although the point of the onslaught is effectively made–it is a pity we don’t map the actual demographics of those with guns, what sort of past history or licenses they have to own guns, how they acquired them, or the role of hate crimes and emotional states of the perpetrator of such acts of violence, if only to help better comprehend and represent what is actually going on.   And the recent increase of intensity in the frequency of mass-shootings, which are now so uneasily discussed to be referred to simply by the sites of their locations–


Time Between Mass Shootings


–have so crowded news headlines so that we hardly have time to mourn the victims of one event before we are presented with another set of images of bloodied shirts, vacant faces, and memorials once again.

We are all fearful and uncomfortably present at the image of lives lost and families ruined, or fatherless children, that the devastating progress of untimely if largely unintentional deaths have led us to despair:  our public imaginary is tethered to the image of a quite different sense of freedom of gun ownership as one of security that is terrifyingly difficult to dimension on a moral canvas, however, even though the sneaking suspicion that the mythology of gunslinging has helped confuse the Second Amendment with the First, as “keep and bear arms” seemed an expressive act, as much as a phrase whose actual meaning can be more properly historicized, as Justice John Paul Stevens has aptly noted, to describe taking part in the military, rather than acting as a vigilante.  Yet the possession of the gun is a particularly haunting presence that now seems to have come to define individual liberty by the fantasia regularly disseminated in film–






–where the geography of guns, marksmanship, and ammunition suggests an almost primordial relation to space, as well as to taking justice into one’s own hands in a landscape already crowded by dangerous guns.


Good v. Bad.pngMarvel Comics


The image of the slayer in video games is but an updating of this primordial image of the individual avenger who takes justice into his own hands.


Call-of-Duty-video-game-Activision-325x195Call of Duty


This imaginary landscape that includes an avenger who has separated themselves from civil society has so solidified that the terrible option of taking violence and justice–even if this also means taking death–into one’s own hands, has paralleled the proliferation of mass shootings:  if some 30,000 lives are ended due to gunshot each year in the United States of America, and we continue to refuse to curtail access to guns or short-term bans of firearms sales or even something so sensible as individual background checks.  But do we misunderstand the debate on gun ownership by removing it from the human rights affront it is?

Although it is impossible to chart motivations for gun ownership, of course, or the emotional states in which guns arrive in the hands of the perpetrators of crimes and assaults by firearms, the increased attachment of ownership to liberty in public discourse is particularly troubling.  For the defense for gun ownership and sales far less reinforces the safety of a militia, but echoes a disturbing notion of self-expression, all too eerily illustrated by Robert L. Dear Jr.’s so very, very, very misguided utterance to police of those four words in the public record, which may provide the clearest insight we will probably ever have into his actual intent, if it can ever be comprehended.

And while such mass-killings are perhaps quite different forms of assault and gun use, the access to guns and their presence in civil life is credibly tied to the defense of gun ownership as a right–although the proponents of rights to gun possession of course clearly don’t see their own stance in relation to the recent expansion of such mass-attacks they also wish to contain.   Yet the relation between gun-use is difficult to see as only arriving from outside the country, and unable to be contained by our laws.  We can see where Colorado indeed clearly lies–like Newtown–far outside the zone where the greatest number of firearms in circulation or possession lie, as is the contiguity of regions where the greatest share of the population possesses guns–or is known to possess firearms–might seem to paradoxically lie outside of those places where by far the greatest fatalities from firearms, as if this would mean that the open possession of firearms indeed could provide a reliable measure of collective security.




But a map cannot really ever explain the conflation of a gun and a tool of public expression, and only reflects the accuracy of licensing or reporting, or indeed readiness to self-report registered firearms.  The problem of access to guns undoubtedly lies partly also in those unreported firearms.


15.  The deep tragedy of the association of firearms and freedom–and this persistently seems to include, in a bizarrely never-intended way, if one impossible to banish from the collective imaginary, to a freedom of personal expression–seems to map onto an expansive notion of freedom that it was never actually meant to carry or enjoy, but which attempts to restrict or curtail gun-ownership, since constitutionally enshrined by the Roberts court, in what can only be described as “faux originalism” of Justices, as it was by Richard Posner, is far more than a judicial distortion or cynical half-truth, but feeds a slew of related half-truths that are all too tacitly consented to be disseminated in public life.   For the distortion of removing the right of individual ownership from regulation of a militia  in defense of local liberties, the question of individual ownership has both groundlessly but all that inexplicably become a Holy Grail, ready to be wildly misconstrued as a deeply uncivil sort of right among libertarians.

The divide of sites where one feels justified in owning firearms is stark.  It is somewhat surprisingly far removed from urban populations, where the densest number of gun-related homicides occur; the landscape of gun-caused deaths seems surprisingly distinct, with the exception of southern states, but such maps speak more to the openness of a culture of owning guns.  They raise questions about what leads gun ownership to be identified with something like a liberty–or what it would look like to remove guns from their current conflation of anything like a liberty.  The investment in guns in poorer states is astounding if one looks at the extremes, as do low rates of gun ownership in more populated areas.




The culture of gun violence is in many ways quiet distinct from such measures of ownership, if one maps rates of death by firearm across the lower forty-eight or fifty states, though the prevalence of gun ownership in the deep south–Missouri, Mississippi, Alabama–raises questions; the entire country seems heated up with high levels of homicides, in the parsing that Richard Florida offer almost a decade ago in an attempt to measure, grosso modo, the contribution of stricter gun control laws to death by gunfire soon before the Supreme Court issued a ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller that effectively enshrined the right to “bear arms” across the land as something that should occur without federal oversight:


Deaths by Firearm:100000The Atlantic/City Lab


Although Florida seemed only too pleased to find a correlation between lower gun violence in those states where one sees a greater presence of his fabled “creative class,” this seems almost a red herring in comparison to the presence of even a single law on the books that was related to restrictions on carrying firearms, trigger locks, or safe storage practices–Florida found some negative correlations in those states that enacted bans on assault weapons (-.45) or mandated safe storage requirements (-.48).


Just one Firearm LawThe Atlantic/City Lab


But the notion of a “Geography of Gun Deaths” can hardly be explained by looking for correlations to other statistics.  It just doesn’t make sense, in part, since the circumstances that permit these trips into firearm homicides is sanctioned by a permissiveness of the market, and the broad access to a fantasy that gun access has benefits, which is difficult to geographically locate after all, so much as it is to find across the country.   And a lining up of numbers of death just plain ignores questions of population density-as if presence of deaths per 100,000 can be uniformly colored by state, rather than reflecting the breakdown at the level of county residents, where a similar, but far more disconcerting record of the lack of clear variations that might be explained by local laws, and provides a far more accurate break-down of collective rates of gun mortality in the nation, 2004-2010, whose variations demand to be viewed as a web-map, designed by CartoDB, individuating death rate, homicide rate, and suicide rate across the lower forty-eight and drilling far more deeply into CDC’s actual data, rather than trying to impose our notions of coherence on it:

Gun Deaths:GravesMark Graves Design



The distribution of collective deaths by firearms per 100,000 in county level across six years provides a startlingly shaper different distribution:


Grave Scale

Graves' COuntryMark Graves Design

Drilling down a bit to the southern and western states, we can see some huge cultural divergences, less present by cutting across state lines, and which many urban centers seem relative outposts of tranquility, lying far below the median-level of gun deaths:


Gunshots in the Southern StatesMark Graves Design


Or the western states, where wide open regions removed from cities are unpredictably dense in deaths by firearms:


Old WestMark Graves Design


The more elegant data visualization importantly disabused viewers of a habitual focus on urban cities as sites studded with gun homicides–and calls attention to the deeper question of where folks think of themselves as being safer with guns in their possession, by highlighting the more rural areas, often of lower density population, where firearms may be more seen as forms of safety and security, and apparently are more readily used.  Rather than see urban violence in cities as the source or center of firearm fatalities, if they ever indeed were, areas as Wyoming, Idaho, parts of Nevada, non-urban Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas, and southern Utah, as much as Chicago, are centers of gun deaths, and firearm homicides in Chicago have declined.


Firearm homicide chart


What does that mean?

The category of “states,” as Florida should be the first to admit, are less meaningful guidelines to gun-deaths, or the grim landscape of fatalities, even if they provide the jurisdictional filter to try to control the availability and circulation of arms.  It may be helpful to see the extent to which overlays line up with firearm deaths less as a cause, of a marked decrease of deaths due to firearms, than a shifting cultural topography in relation to the possession of the gun:  the refusal to pass any such restrictions, one could as plausibly argue, seems most prevalent in those very regions and areas where the recourse to firearms seems accepted as if it were a right.  For even though the laws are most often designed to protect children from gunfire–rather than curtail gun use–this seems to suggest an acceptance of the need in a specific case for gun laws to preserve fundamental human rights, rather than the civil protection of public security that we increasingly seem to need.

Indeed, rather than seeking spatial coherence in a culture of firearms that seems less spatially coherent than conceptually powerful, it might make sense to abandon the use of a geographical map to seek spatial correlations in a dilemma that is more national than local or regional, even if plagued by some deep regional differences ad divides:


Gun Ownsership:Deaths


The correlation, not so surprisingly, is pretty clear.  Parsed only slightly differently than Graves, and also viewed over a ten-year period, a grim vision of the firearm deaths per 100,000 emerges, which suggests the deeper extent of a readiness for individual recourse to guns in the greater part of the nation, including  terrifying persistently increasing suicide rates by firearms that one can only attribute to increased access to guns–an increased danger if you have a gun that few gun owners confront.




Hawaii remains the clear outlier with the lowest rates of firearm injuries–suggesting that if we might look for a model of well-being, it would be furthest away from the country–though New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey appear relatively low in national context.  The large numbers of gun fatalities, which in 2007 killed over 10 per 100,000 residents, rose to 21.7 in Washington, D.C., perhaps justifying a new notion of how guns would relate to public safety after all.  Poverty levels have the clearest correlation with deadly assault with firearms.   And the majority of victims of violence were women, often in domestic rather than public settings.  But what does the geographic distribution of murders tell us, given that the density of homicides–or mass-murders–is less the point than their occurrence?


16.  The more such killings and mass-killings appear to multiply, perhaps intensified by the barrage of media images and banner headlines that consume our diminished attention and place new demands upon whatever comprehension we might be able to gain, the weaker seems the validity of letting American legal exceptionalism perpetuate the conflation of individual rights with gun ownership in our collective imaginary.  Indeed, the very claims of exceptionalism of the defense of gun ownership within a “Bill of Rights” creates a distortion of the very reasons for owning a gun, and indeed the associations that one should attach to gun-ownership–as much as safety:  gun owners remain far more likely to kill themselves intentionally, and increases the chances of gun-related accidents.

But the global graphic of homicide rates, more broadly construed world-wide, may provide something of a useful touchstone in resetting the place of America in the world.  It interestingly expands homicides to different weapon types, parsing the globe by assailants’ weapon of choice.  To be sure, the US is embarrassingly first, suggesting its greater normalization of recourse to weapons to perform aggression, and surpasses any other country in the world in assault by a sharp object (dark green) or other means (green), even though gun-related deaths in specific inflate U.S. homicide rates to so tragically numbing a state of extreme exceptionalism.


Deaths ranking globalGlobal Burden of Disease Study


Filed under data aggregation, data visualization, Gun Control, mapping gun violence, Mass Shootings, National Rifle Association, public health

Mapping Our Shrinking Shores

Coasts have provided the primary cartographical invention to understand the risks that erosion pose to property:  the coast-line is the boundary of the known land, and determines the outer bound of the real estate.  But the coastal fixation of the landlubber privileges the illusion of the fixity of the shore.  More than ever, assumptions about the fixity of shorelines must fall away.  Perhaps the most haunting take away from the Surging Seas web-based map of global shorelines forces us to take into account the inevitable mutability that must be accepted with the rising of ocean-level associated with climate change.

The web-map presents itself as a set of tools of analysis, as much as cartographical techniques, by which the rise of sea-level that has already risen globally some eight inches since 1880 stands to accelerate–emphasizing the alternate scenarios that the acceleration of sea-level rise stands to bring over the next hundred years, introducing a new concept of risk due to coastal flooding.  The availability of accurate GPS images of the elevations of homes have provided the possibility of sketching scenarios of sea-level rise to create readily zoomable maps of elevated ocean levels that confront us with at least the image of the options which we still theoretically have.  The contrasting futures created in this cartographical comparison shocks viewers with a salutary sort of operational paranoia only increased as one fiddles with a slider bar to grant greater specificity to the disastrous local consequences of rising sea-levels world-wide.


In ways quite unlike the wonderfully detailed old NOAA Topographic Surveys which map shorelines at regular transects, or T-Sheets, recording the high waterline of tides across 95,000 coastal miles and 3.4 million square miles of open sea, the coastline is less the subject of these web maps than levels of potential inundation.  In a negative-mapping of possibilities of human habitation, blue hues invade the landscape in a monitory metric emphasizing the regions at risk of being underwater in a century.  Whereas scanned T-Sheets can now be viewed by a historical time-bar slider, the fixity of space or time are less relevant to the web maps than the gradients of possible sea-level rise caused by carbon emissions might force us to confront.

Surging Seas forces us to confront the possibilities of the future underwater world.  The infiltration of a deep shade of blue commands the eye by its intensity, deeper shades signifying greater depth, in ways that eerily underscore the deep connection that all land has to the sea that we are apt to turn our backs upon in most land maps, showing the extent to which a changing world will have to familiarize itself to water-level rise in the not-distant future.  It’s almost paradoxical that the national frontiers we have inscribed on maps has until recently effectually made impossible such a global view, but the attraction of imagining the somewhat apocalyptic possibility of sea-level rise seems almost to map a forbidden future we are not usually allowed to see, and has a weirdly pleasurable (if also terrifying) aspect of viewing the extensive consequences of what might be with a stunning level of specific and zoomable local detail we would not otherwise be able to imagine, in what almost seems a fantasia of the possibilities of mapping an otherwise unforeseen loss, not to speak of the apparent lack of coherence of a post-modern world.

For the variety of potential consequences of disastrous scenarios of sea-level rise posed can be readily compared with surprisingly effective and accurate degrees of precision, in maps that illustrate the depths at which specific regions stand to be submerged underwater should sea-level rise continue or accelerate:  zooming into neighborhoods one knows, or cities with which one is familiar, the rapid alteration of two to seven feet in sea-level can be imagined–as can the fates of the some 5 million people worldwide who live less than four feet above sea-level.  For if the shores have long been among the most crowded and popular sites of human habitation–from New York to London to Hong Kong to Mumbai to Jakarta to Venice–the increasing rapidity of polar melting due to climate change stands to produce up to a seven feet rise in sea-level if current rates of carbon emissions, and a mere four degree centigrade rise in global temperature stands to put the homes of over 450 million underwater, which even the most aggressive cutting in carbon emissions might lower to only 130 million, if rates of warming are limited to but 2°C.   (If things continues as they stand, the homes of some 145 million who currently dwell on land in China alone are threatened with inundation.)

The recent review of the disastrous consequences of a rise of two degrees Centigrade on the land-sea boundary of the United States led Climate Central to plot the effects of a-level rise of at least 20 feet on the country–and foreground those regions that were most at risk.   The webmap serves as something like a window into the possible futures of climate change, whose slider allows us to create elevations in sea-level that the ongoing melting of the polar ice-cap seems poised to create.  As much as offer compare and contrast catastrophes, the immediacy of recognizing the degree to which places of particular familiarity may soon stand to lie underwater performs a neat trick: for whereas a map might be said to bring closer the regions from which one is spatially removed or stands apart, making present the far-off by allowing one to navigate its spatial disposition in systematic fashion, the opacity of those light blue layers of rising seas obscures and subtracts potentially once-familiar site of settlement, effectively removing land from one’s ken as it is subtracted from the content of the map, and charting land losses as much as allowing its observation.

The result is dependably eery.  The encroachment of the oceans consequent to rising sea-level propose a future worthy of disaster films.  But the risks can be viewed in a more measured ways in the maps of sea-level on the shores of the United States calculated and mapped by Stamen design in the Surging Seas project that allows us to imagine different scenarios of sea-level rise on actual neighborhoods–the set of interactive maps, now aptly retitled Mapping Choices, will not only cause us to rethink different scenarios of shifting shorelines by revisiting our favorite low-lying regions, or allow us to create our own videos of Google Earth Flyovers of different areas of the world.  Mapping Choices provides a way to view the risks and vulnerabilities to climate change made particularly graphic in centers of population particularly low-lying, where they testify to the clarity with which web maps can create a vision of imagined experience as we imagine the actual losses that global warming is poised to create.  And although the recent expansion of the map to a global research report, allowing us to examine possible global futures that are otherwise difficult to comprehend or process the potential risks posed by the inundation of low-lying inhabited regions for a stretch of thirty meters, the potential risk of inundation is perhaps most metaphorically powerful for that region that one best knows, where the efficacy of a simple side-by-side juxtaposition of alternate potential realities has the unexpected effect of hitting one in one’s gut:  for debates about the possibilities of climate change suddenly gain a specificity that command a level of attention one can only wonder why one never before confronted as an actual reality.

Alternate Scenarios

Maps are rarely seen as surrogates for observation, and web maps often offer something like a set of directions, or way finding tools.  But the predicted scenarios of sea-levle rise allows one to grasp the local levels of inundation with a specificity that allow risk to be seen in terms of actual buildings–block by block–and wrestle with the risks that climate change portends.  The lack of defenses of populations in many regions are definitely also at great risk, but to envision the loss of property and known space seems oddly more affecting in such an iconic map of Manhattan–and somewhat more poetic as an illustration of the fungibility of its hypertrophied real estate and property values.

Of course, the data of Climate Change allows a terrifying view of the future of four degrees centigrade warming on low-lying Boston and the shores of the Charles, as the city is reduced to a rump of an archipelago–


or the disastrous scenarios for the populations in the lower lying areas of Jakarta–


or, indeed, in Mumbai–


Viewers are encouraged to imagine the risks of the possible alternate futures of just two degrees with an immediacy that worms into one’s mind.  The possibilities that GPS offers of instantaneous calculations of shoreline position and elevations allow one to view a potential reality where one can focus on individual streets with inspirational urgency.

But such scenarios seem somehow particularly graphic illustrations of risk for those regions where there has been a huge investment of human capital, as New York City, where it might seem credible enough to be mapped that they are poised to melt not into air but vanish beneath ocean waves.  For if Marx predicted with spirited apocalypticism at the very start of the Communist Manifesto that capitalism would destroy value to money as it expanded into future markets, as market forces abstracted all things into money–and “all that is solid melts into air”–the twentieth-century expansion of possibilities of environmental and human destruction have lent unprecedented urgency.  While for Marx the metaphor of melting of inherent value was the product of the capitalist system, the capitalist system bodes a strikingly similar image of sinking into the seas.  For huge expanses of the old industrial city–the piers and the old manufacturing zones, most all of the Jersey shore and area around Newark, Long Island City and the Gowanus canal seem sink apart from the shoreline in the future New York that Surging Seas creates, in ways that seem the consequence of industrial production and carbon surging far beyond 400 parts per million (ppm), with the addition of some 2 ppm per year, in ways that make it a challenge to return to the levels deemed healthy–let alone the levels of 275 ppm which the planet long held through the mid-eighteenth century.

That drought, hurricanes, disappearance of arctic ice (up to 80% in summertime) and rising sea levels are tied to the growth of greenhouse gasses hint how global capital might be closely linked to the sinking into the seas, and suggest the surpassing of a tipping point of climate change that is the counterpart to melting into air might be viewed, in New York City’s economic geography, as if to offer a poetic reflection of the migration of capital into the financial centers of the city downtown from its piers or areas of industry–


–although half-hearted joking references to Marxist maxims (or geographers) is hardly the topic of this post, and the island of high finance that would be created in downtown Manhattan would hardly have ever been planned as an island.

Lower Manhattan Island?

What one might someday see as the lopping off of much of lower Manhattan might be far better tied to the runaway markets of a free-trade economy, rather than rational planning, and has no clear correspondence to property values.

lopped off lower Manhattan

Indeed, the mapping of the prospective loss of those residential parts of the city “where poor people dwell” (as do minorities) is undeniable, if one looks at the 2010 American Community Survey, regarding either in the city’s distribution of ethnic groups or households earning below $30,000, who remain the most vulnerable to the danger of rising ocean levels.

ACS 2005?

Income under 30,000American Community Survey (2010)/New York Times

But the disappearance of the Eastern Parkway and the Jersey shore are a blunt reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the built environment that lies close to sea-level–

Eastern Parkway and Atlantic Avenue above the seas

–and an actually not-too-apocalyptic reminder, but the mapping of consequences of man-made change that goes under the rubric of anthropocene, and is most apparent in the increasing quotient of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the warming that this may bring.  For if it has been approximated that there has already been a rise of sea-levels by some eight inches since 1880, the unprecedented acceleration of that rate, which will increase the dangers of floods from storms and place many of the some three thousand coastal towns at risk, are likely to increase as the sea level may rise from two to over seven feet during the new century.


The distribution is by no means uniform, and more industrialized countries, like the United States, are producing far more particulate matter, although they have been recently overtaken by China from 2007, and have atmospheres above 380 ppm in the Spring, making them more responsible for rendering higher temperatures–although the lower-lying lands below the equator may be most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.20.11 PM

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.21.44 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.22.35 PMVox– A visual tour of the world’s CO2 emissions

The increasing levels of particulate matter are attempted to be more locally mapped in Surging Seas.

The changes extend, in a nice dramatic detail, into the Central Park Meer rejoining the East River with the predicted inundation of much of the posh residential area of Manhattan’s East Side, all the way to Fifth Avenue.

Truncated NJ and absent upper East side

It is difficult not to compare the scenarios sketched in Surging Seas maps to some of the maps of those future islands of New York that Map Box and others allowed Sarah Levine to create maps of the heights of buildings from open data after the pioneering maps of Bill Rankin’s 2006 “Building Heights.”   When Rankin remapped Manhattan by taking building height as an indirect index of land value, he saw the island as clustered in distinct islands of elevation above 600 feet:


Radical Cartography (2006)

Levine used similar data to chart the fruits of Mammon in buildings above sixty stories.  Maps of skyscrapers beside the gloom of Surging Seas suggest those towers able to withstand the rising seas brought by global temperatures jumping by just two degrees Centigrade.  If one moves from the map of the bulk of lowest sections of lower Manhattan–

Two Inches in Lower Manhattan

with reference to Levine’s brilliantly colored carmine mapping of the highest buildings in the Big Apple, above forty-seven or fifty-nine stories, which one imagines might provide the best vantage points that rise above the rising waves, especially when located on the island’s shores.

Mapping NYC by Sarah

Sarah Levine Maps Manhattan

There’s a mashup begging to be made, in which the tallest buildings of over fifty stories at the tip of the island peak up above the cresting waves, and the rump of buildings in lower Manhattan offer contrasting vistas of the city’s contracting shores.  The buildings that create the canyons of urban life, the buildings of elevation surpassing sixty stories might suggest the true islands of Manhattan’s future, as much as the points that punctuate its skyline.

Sarah's Lower Manhattan

The realization of this possible apocalypse of property made present in these maps offer the ability to visit impending disasters that await our shorelines and coasts, and imagine the consuming of property long considered the most valuable on the shore–as rising seas threaten to render a whispy shoreline of the past, lying under some six meters of rising seas.  The prospect of this curtailing of the ecumene, if it would bring an expansion of our nation’s estuaries, presents an image of the shrinking of the shores that suggests, with the authority of a map, just how far underwater we soon stand to be.

Eastern USASurging Seas: sea level rise after 2 degrees centigrade warming

All actual maps, including Levine’s, provide authoritative reporting of accurate measures with a promise of minimal distortions.  But visualizations such Surging Seas offer frightening windows into a future not yet arrived, using spatial modeling to predict the effects of a rise in sea-level of just five feet, and the potentially disastrous scale such a limited sea-level change would bring:  the coasts are accurate, but their inundation is a conservative guess, on the lower spectrum of possibilities.  For in a country in which 2.6 million homes are less than four feet above current sea-levels, the spectral outlines of chilly blue former coastlines peak at a future world are still terrifying and seem all too possible, as much as potential cautionary tale.  The concretization of likely scenarios of climate change remind us that however much we really don’t want to get there, how potentially destructive the possibility of a several degree rise in ocean temperatures would be.

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Filed under Climate Change, coastal flooding, data visualization, Global Warming

Around the World in Submarine Internet Cable

As we attempt to navigate the ever-expanding seas of data in the information economy, we can overlook the extent to which data streams run underneath the world’s seas to create a quite concrete sense of the interlinked.  For such cables underlie the increasing notion of geographical proximity we experience daily, from the world of big finance to mundane online transactions.  The spans of privately funded fiber optic undersea cables that have been lain across oceans floors, some stretching over 28,000 kilometers, provide an image of global circumnavigation as well as offering the most massive engineering feat on earth that is hidden to human sight.  And the rapidity with which further cable is being lain to link the world’s data flows along faster and more secure lines of communication provides a telling model of interconnectedness–suggesting new senses of connectivity and warping past concepts of proximity, and unifying the differently owned cables as if a coherent and open information highway.

The antiquated format of charting used in the above map suggests the increasing interconnectivity of the Information Age, as well as it coyly reveals the ways that TeleGeography, a global telecom, has pioneered ways to channel information across seas–and done so by familiarizing viewers with a distinctly concept of space.  Rather than naturalize an image of high-speed connections, the clever choice to rehabilitate a slightly romanticized earlier mapping of oceanic expanse suggests the new space of online data.  And it takes the notion of the electronic frontier seriously, by seeking to orient viewers to the new mental space that such sunken data lines create.  If the map of the bridging of oceanic by sunken internet cables domesticizes the transcendence of distance through the increasing interconnectedness of information flows.  It also reveals the actual distances that the physical substrate of the World Wide Web inhabits in so doing, and suggests that we would do well to remember the physical substrate by which the global financial economy is interlinked.

The appealing charting of the hidden network of submarine cables designed by TeleGeography didn’t only borrow the antiquated iconography of marine charts from an Age of Discovery in order to promote the expanding spread of submarine fiber-optic cables in amusing ways.  For the image served to suggest the shifts in spatial connectedness that such increasingly rapid data flows have allowed, and to suggest a map that, in focussing on the seas–and the overlooked areas of marine space–returned to an interesting if somewhat overlooked spatial metaphor to consider and visualize the extent to which global financial networks and information systems move in particularly flexible ways across the permeable boundaries of nations, if not the degree to which national units have ceased to be the confines that matter, as cross-border flows are increasingly the primary sorts of traffic that matter to be mapped.


Phone Calls in 2012


A more familiar global remapping of phone calls,constructed on a study by students of business, Pankaj Ghemawat and Steven A. Altman, partly funded by the logistics firm DHL, an approximate quantification of globalization was made by the metrics of cross-border telephone calls in 2012 worldwide, in which the thickness corresponds to the minutes spent on the phone–and presumably the closeness of connections, if filtered through the relative costs of calls and the ability to pay them.

In a sense, the chart featured by TeleGeography openly incorporates less data, while noting the varied speeds of connections, in an image of interconnectedness, and positions itself less as a cutting edge snapshot of globalization or globalized than at the dawn of the possibilities of future interconnectedness that the laying of fiber-optic cables of greater speed can promote.  If the map of telephone calls raises questions of information flows, some 41 percent originating in what the authors identified as “advanced economies” to “emerging economies,” and only a small fraction (9%) originating in an “emerging economy,” the technology may also illustrate the precise demographic that continue to adopt telephony:  the authors observe that the dominant “calling patterns” reflect “interactions due to immigrants,” with most international calls being placed from the United States to Mexico and India, countries of first-generation immigrants–rather than reflecting actual information flows.

TeleGeography seems decidedly optimistic about the possibilities for global circumnavigation fibre-optic cables can promote.  In place of offering a map of actual flows of data, or a revealing look at where cables lie, the adoption of an aestheticized image and iconography of the nautical chart to map the ever-expanding web of cables that connect the world advances an argument about the sorts of ties cables facilitate, in order to illustrate and promote the ever-increasing multiplicity of ways information can travel across the globe without regard for the bounds of the nation-state.  Even as we bemoan NAFTA, or raise concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the networks of cables that currently span the terrestrial sphere divide into 285 separate privately owned segments show a coherent network has rapidly grown–its extent more than doubling in length over the past three years–and seems poised to only grow in coming years, to render national protectionism a thing of the past:  the map leaves viewers only to imagine its benefits.  While not seeking to quantify actual data flows, the scope of the map seems to be to naturalize the broad range of traffic lying such cables allows, if it is also jumps backwards over the many traditions of oceanogapahical mapping to show a seafloor that is not marked by drifting continental plates and scars of underwater earthquake activity–




–but a smooth surface of cables that seem to be lain without ever encountering natural obstructions or topographical variations in the ocean floor.

The submarine network now totals upwards of 550,000 miles.  Although it is never seen above ground, and lies concealed beneath the seas, it now seems to animate most international commerce.  There is a pleasant irony in adopting the decorative aspects of marine charts to map a contemporary image of global circumnavigation, since they gesture to deep shifts in the seas of information, but also evoke the marvel of rendering visible what is all but unseen.  The exact locations of such cables are not displayed, of course, but the stylized presence suggests a decidedly early modern form of boastfulness–“according to the best Authorities [and] with all the latest Discoveries to the PRESENT PERIOD,” the extent to which the infrastructure of the Information Age spans the seas.  What once was a site of marvels revealed by the officer turned conservationist Jacques Cousteau is a field for information carriers, even if monsters inhabit its depths.



The “New Map” updates the recent rapid exponential expansion of the network fiber optic cables in recent years as a sort of corporate promotion, rehabilitating the marine chart to naturalize the submarine network that now carries a large share of global financial and administrative information worldwide.  Retrospectively mapping the expansion of this exoskeleton of the anthropocene ignores the technologies on which such mapping suggest, recalling the abilities to technologically harness steam, wind, and power to recreate the romance and adventure of global circumnavigation in an updating of the 1873 romance and fast-paced adventure Jules Verne told of a race against the mechanized clock by a constellation of transit networks.


Verne en 80 Jours

For much as Verne offered a quickly paced adventure mildly disguised celebration of technological unification of the globe, the retrograde if glorious map masking as an engraved superimposing high-fibre cables on image of the ocean as understood in days gone conceals the clear corporate interests or material technology that underpin the Information Age.

The map of the oceanic unknown celebrates the laying of a material web of the world wide web as if it were another oceanographical detail, but masks the unseen nature of the cables that were lain in hidden fashion underneath the seas:  indeed, rather than the slightly earlier Verne-ian classic of 1870 with which it is often paired, the map doesn’t heaven to futuristic science, but sublimated a similar story of submarine itineraries.  Indeed, the map offers a picturesque recuperation of an aesthetics of global unity that serves to reframe the newly prominent submarine network that ships recently strung across the ocean floor.  It conceals the labor and mechanical drudgery of doing so–both the engineering or the fragility of the fibre-optic network, and the material basis of an electromagnetic carrier lurking deep under the seas.  In the Cable Map Greg Mahlknecht coded, the spans of current cables already connect hubs of communication across oceans at varied but increasing speeds,

Greg's Active

but the planned additions to the network, in part enabled by warming waters, are poised to greatly expand:

Greg's Transatlantic

Greg’s Cable Map

The work that the map modeled after an engraving of global seas does is serious, for it integrates the growing network of fiber-optic cable at the ocean’s floor into the seascape that nautical charts showed as a light blue watery expanse.  For as the price for fiber-optic cables precipitously dropped since 2000, this material infrastructure of global financial markets has not only grown, but kept up with the rapid improvement in network communication along a growing network of 250,000 km of submarine cable most folks have limited knowledge, and whose public image is in need of PR.

The addition of such fairly florid decorative detail from nautical charts to invest the routes of hidden submarine cables’ with an aesthetic that both caused it to be named one of the best maps of 2015 and exemplifies how to lie with maps.



The 2015 map, published online, but emulating the paper map, seems to conceal the extent of work that went into not only laying the cable, but ensuring that it was not disrupted, but blended seamlessly into the surrounding submarine landscape.  FLAG–the Fiberoptic Link Around the Globe–after all offered a sort of modern updating of the boast of Jules Verne’s Phineas Fogg.  For Fogg wagered £20,000 that the speed of the combination of trains and steamboats would allow him to travel around the globe so that he could return to the very same seat he occupied in the Reform Club in London in only eighty days–a boast based on his trust in the speed of modern conveyances of steam travel.  For Fogg’s image of interconnectedness was realized in the copper cables that conducted telegraphy traffic.

These telegraphy cables lain under the Atlantic by the 1880s by the Eastern Telegraph Company across the Atlantic and Pacific, which by 1901 linked England to North America, India and Malay in a network of communications that offers a vision of corporate interconnection spanning the expanse of the British Empire and providing it with an efficient communications system that was its administrative and commercial underpinning.

british-empire-cablesEastern Telegraph Company (1901), planned cables shown by dotted lines–Wikimedia

But rather than perform the feat of circumnavigation, the matrix of underwater internet cables is based on the creation of a submarine matrix to carry any message anywhere all the time–when it can be linked to an on-land cable–save, that is, in Antarctica, where the frigid waters, for now, would freeze the cable and disable it.  Fogg staked his wager after noticing a map showing the construction of British rail exchanges that allowed long-distance transit across India, believing in his ability to achieve global circumnavigation on a network of carriers, based on his trust as a passenger and subject of the British Empire–and the infrastructure the enabled news, commerce, and administrative connections to travel with velocity, leading twenty-four of the thirty ships capable of laying cable-laying to be owned by British firms by 1896.  The framed cartouche in the upper right of the 2015 Submarine Cable Map echoes the triumphalism of the “present day” in boasting of the achievements by which, since “the first intercontinental telephony submarine cable system TAT-1 connected North America to Europe in 1958 with an initial capacity of 640 Kbps, . . . . transatlantic cable capacity has compounded 38% per year to 27 Tbps in 2013,” as US-Latin American capacity has nearly quadrupled.

The map, revealing the material network to what most of us perceive as coursing through the air, less effectively places the course of cables in evidence than depicts their now naturalized course.  The seascape of the Information Age seems, indeed, to demand the naturalizing of the courses of submarine cables, shown as so many shipping lines, running across the Atlantic and to the Caribbean, around the coast of Africa, from India to Singapore and to Hong Kong and Japan, before coursing across the Pacific.  Is its quaint cartographical pastoralization of the courses of communication under the oceans, we see a reverse rendering of a materialized image of globalization, disguised by a faux nostalgia for the mapping of the as yet unknown world that will be revealed by the impending nature of an even greater increase of data flows.  Indeed, the breakneck speeds of data transport are noted prominently in some of the cartouches framed at the base of the map, which suggest the two-fold subject of the map itself:  both the routes of cables that were laid on the ocean floor, and the speed of data transport their different latency allowed.  The cartouche is a nice rendering of the corporate promise of delivering data that TeleGeography presumably makes to its customers, despite the different ownership of many of the stretches of cable that exist, and the lack of harmony, proportionality or geometric design in how the cables are in fact lain.

Latency of cables

That the network of submarine cable retains a curious focus on relays in England that is a telling relic of the nineteenth century.

The internet’s network still seems to start in England in Porthcurno, moving to Spain and through the Strait of Gibraltar, across the Mediterranean to Alexandria and then turn down the Gulf of Suez through the Red Sea, and around the Arabian Peninsula to Dubai, before moving across the Indian Ocean to Bombay and on to Malaysia and through the South China Sea to Hong Kong and up the coast of China, it creates an even more expansive set of exchanges and relays than Fogg faced.  For while Fogg was dependent on rail to traverse the United States as well as much of Europe, where he could pass through the Suez Canal to reach a steamer engine, and then cross India by train, before getting a ship at Calcutta to Hong Kong and Yokohama, the multiplicity of connections and switches that the submarine cables create disrupt any sense of linearity and carry information at unheard of speed–fiber-optic cables carry information at a velocity that satellite transmission cannot approach or rival.


Voyage of Phineas Fogg by rail, steamship, and boat–Wikimedia

The relays of paired cables now enable the instantaneous transmission of information between continents realize a nineteenth century fantasy of an interlinked world in ways that expanded beyond contemplation, the possibility of visiting the countries that FLAG traces are actually verges on impossibility–if only since the network offers multiple pathways of simultaneous transit.

The ambitions of those earlier Telegraph cables in connecting the world far transcends Fogg’s plan to create a path by which he could move between transit hubs.  His plans are dwarfed by the ambitions of modernity of the range of active and future underwater cable revealed in Greg’s Cable Map in ways that suggest the ambitions of creating an ever-more intensely interlinked world, where increasing number cables have been laid to fashion the actual physical infrastructure of the internet.

Greg's Cable Map

Greg’s Cable Map (click here for detail on each lines)

We often render the “hidden world” of privately owned transatlantic and other cables as a separate underseas world of cables lying on the seabed, able to be disrupted at its nodes, but removed from alike the shoreline and terrestrial world.

Underseas World

In strong distinction from such an image, the recuperation of something like nautical engraving by TeleGeography makes the clever point of naturalizing the greatest infrastructure of the Information Age–one that sometimes seems to have outweighed investment in the visible infrastructures of our cities and roads–within the currents of our seas, and as colored by the very hues by which the land is mapped as if to show the seamlessness of the communicative bridges that they create.

Given the extreme overload of data that these maps reveal–and the eeriness of a world created by the extent of cable laid–It’s in fact quite apt that the telecom firm TeleGeography showcased the interconnected nature of global communications this year by adopting the style of nineteenth-century cartographical tools.  It’s probably not at all a coincidence that in this age of big data, there’s a deep romance in the symbolic reclaiming of the crisply engraved lines of nineteenth-century cartography that folks like Nathan C. Yau of FlowingData pioneered in the online publication of a Statistical Atlas of the United Sates with New Data, refiguring information of the 2010 Census and 2013 American Community Survey.  Although designed in bits, the maps emulate the engraved delineations created for Francis Amasa Walker’s first Atlas:  Yau announced he had done out of some disgust that budget cuts prevented the Bureau of the Census from creating the atlas displaying its data in a Census Atlas–despite its success in accumulating so much data.

A quite clever graphic designer, Yau has posted sequences of  detailed non-dynamic maps that evoke the lithographic detail and crisp objectivity with which Walker created multiple legible embodiments as the Director of the US Census from 1870, when his interest in data processing led a set of new maps of the nation to be printed in Harpers Magazine, and the Census to grow to 22 volumes.  So well are we trained in grasping information via elegant visual forms that Yau bemoaned the absence of a similarly set of stately maps by evoking the project Walker envisioned as a form of mapping serving the public good:  and his online images embody data lying in the repository of Census data, from geological records to the distribution of human populations–and digest data to recognizable form, whose individual snapshots seem a nostalgic embodiment of data available from the American Community Survey.


FlowingData, “Map Showing the Area of Land Cover for Forests within the Territory of the Coterminous United States” (2015) from data compiled by American Community Survey (2013)


Flowing Data, “Map Showing Five Degrees of Density, the Distribution of Population” (2015) from American Community Survey (2013)

It is somewhat less expected that the format of an engraved or traditional map be showcased to reveal the system of submarine cables lying on the ocean’s floor:  few would consider the invisible network with nostalgia for the medium of the paper map.

To be sure, the very subject of internet cables are more appropriately rendered in an appropriately futuristic mode that habituates us to its ambitions by expanding the colors of a public transit map to reveal an image of an interlinked world–


The decision to “go retro” breaks conspicuously with such a choice for the futuristic design, and accommodates the multiplying extent of fiber optic cables that have been laid across the world’s waters so as to network the globe.  Only in 2014, TeleGeography issued a staggering map of the improvements in linkages of relays in submarine cable systems, suggesting the extent of the interlinked world to which we have become familiar not only thanks to Edward Snowden, but to our reliance on global data flows that increasingly enable financial markets worldwide, surpassing material constraints.

2014 TelegeographyTeleGeography (2014)

Such a map is overly schematic, indeed, since many of the cables’ paths are not openly disclosed.  From the land, we cannot see the landing sites where such fiber-optic cables go underwater, as Trevor Paglen has recently reminded us, in a series of diptychs that contrast the cables barely concealed in NOAA maps and the otherwise placid landscapes of the beaches beneath which they run; few realize the extent to which the information that travels on them is likely to be monitored as a form of mass surveillance, which we are far more likely to associate with satellites or surveillance.

But the complexity of the how information is carried along such cables is as boggling to the mind as the awesomeness of its ambitions.  Perhaps recognizing the sense of overwhelming its readers with data overloads in its maps, the 2015 map of submarine cables from Telegeography updated the format of an engraved map, and put in online in a fully zoomable form, to allow one to examine its lovingly rendered detail in a map that harkens back to charts of nautical discoveries but celebrates the rapidity of delivering information in an updated version of the corporate triumphalism of the Eastern Telegraph Company.  That map, which boasts in evocative language to be revised “according to the best Authorities with all the latest Discoveries,” foregrounds the multiple linkages of fiber optic cables that carry the vast majority of communications–of which “oversea” satellites link but a fraction–so efficiently they at first carried upwards of a thousandfold as much data compared to the older copper cables that lay below the sea recently–280 Mbps of data per pair–and moved 100 Gbps across the Atlantic by 2012–and the prediction 39 Tbsp is even feared to barely satisfy demand.  For transatlantic cable have come to carry some 95% of international voice and data traffic, and are viewed as a fundamental–if unseen–part of our global infrastructure, potentially vulnerable to disastrous interruption or disruption.

The familiarity of the “New Map of the Submarine Cables connecting the World” is not only charming; it is a somewhat subtle naturalization of the  new materiality of information flows so that they are regarded as a part of our new lived environment.  To be sure, the paths of cables are highly stylized, as if they fit within the oceans’ currents, although they sacrifice accuracy even though they suggest their private ownership and considerable density.


The open-ness of this mapping of submarine cables has been rare until recently–as recently as 2009, the location of the cable that arrives in the UK at Cornwall Beach was kept secret even on military maps, although commercial fishing trawlers and other boats are provided with access to them, somewhat paradoxically but unsurprisingly, lest they run across and damage the undersea cables that relay so many vital data flows across the globe under the seas, and whose severing could potentially come at a cost of as much as $1.5 million per hour.

America to three continents

The actual density of such cables laid at the bottom of the sea is not displayed on the above map, of course, which conceals their precise locations or the complexity of their routes, which are tantamount to secrets of state and off most maps.

interactive Map 2013-04-20_093527

The map designed by TeleGeography is indeed a romanticized vision of the pathways that information courses around the world, undersea, in an information age; the recuperation of the iconography more familiar from a printed map of the seas than the layers of a web map or data visualization naturalize the presence of such submarine cables in an odd exercise of familiarization.  We might be more suspect of the cartographical tricks of rendering, naturalizing the courses that submarine cables take when we examine the definitive maps of actual submarine cables or study the extent of such offshore cables in an interactive map and more carefully scrutinize their actual expanse.  (Such maps are not actual renderings of their situation on the seabed, if the stark layers that chart these cables are decidedly less harmoniously balanced with the light shades of the mock-engraving, Submarine Cables Connecting the World.)

Decidedly fanciful if naturalistic sea monsters could denote the limits of the known world or the boundaries of secure navigation in many early modern charts, the inclusion of this most pictorial of cartographical iconographies familiar from early engraved maps are aptly appropriated to suggest the absence or gaps in the interlinked nature of space and of what passes as our sense of continuity in 2015–as well, on a not so subliminal level, to evoke the dangers of their disruption.


So naturalized is its cartographical iconography that the map suggests the new environment of internet cables in which we live.  This naturalization might be nowhere more evident than in the exotic appearances of marine creatures included in its seas.  A longstanding historical association exists between sea monsters with the North Sea, after monsters were first rendered as crowding its overflowing oceans in glorious detail by the bishop-geographer Olaus Magnus in his 1539 map of the land and waters around Scandinavia, who seems to have borrowed from bestiaries to illustrate the dangers that sailors would face in its waters, and to delight his readers and attest to the variety of the created world.

bJames Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota

A strikingly similar sort of horned seal and spouting fish quite appropriately make an appearance in the 2015 Submarine Cable Map of  TeleGeography within the North Sea and Arctic Ocean, as if to suggest the frigid waters that restrict the services such cables deliver–the spouting animals and seal lifted from Olaus Magnus’ Marine Chart frolic just beyond the regions that are currently covered by the cables’ crowded course.

Is this a hidden representation of what actual spatial limits constrain where countries are able to lie further submarine cable?

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Filed under data visualization, globalization, information economy, oceans, World Wide Web