Category Archives: infographics

Gobble a Bit Less?

We all map our relation to the world by the tokens of food that we assemble on our dinner plates. But on the carefully prepared meal of Thanksgiving, we face the orchestration of a full harvest plate–sweet potatoes from the earth; turkeys fed over a year from grain; celeriac or Brussels sprouts for something somewhat green–seem a statement of global harmony. The meal is a sign that all is right in the old agrarian world we have long left.  The annual sacrifice of the bird perpetuates a faded agrarian geography of the nation, is also a false geography: much as the Presidential pardon of the turkey, long promoted by the Poultry and Egg National Board and the National Turkey Federation, who first gave President Truman a bird to pardon, has cast the sacrifice in pointedly national terms–mythically tied to  President Lincoln’s supposed clemency of one turkey in the Civil War era at the request of his son, Tad, in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, as if to commute the bird’s sacrifice, is often cast as an event of returning to ethics, and joining the nation. Cemented by the time an enterprising Rhode Island poultry dealer, Horace Vose, boosted his brand by sending several well-fed members of his flock to the White House occupant to promote his stock, the conceit of yearly offerings or pardons served to cement the bounty of a seasonal sacrifice of turkey to national health. It must have been especially striking that outbreak strains of Salmonella have been boldly mapped onto the nation by the Center for Disease Control, whose visualizations of the spread of fowl-borne infections seem a sad reflection on the nation.

The expansion and commodification of a brisk trade in turkey meat goes beyond the holiday season, but the data on breakout cases of food-born Salmonella infections seem to multiply in recent years as turkey consumption grows or is planned to grow each November. And the CDC issued choropleth of recent breakouts invites us to reflect on the changing state of turkey suppliers and distributors, the industrialization of food, and the fate of the bird whose conversion into a product bred for consumption may carry multiple attendant public health risks, concealed by perpetuation of a false geography of Thanksgiving as an occasion of bounty of the harvest, with its image of a season of abundant plenty. Has the continued provision of abundant turkey for Thanksgiving season created a danger of overbreeding, since the icons of the meal in post-World War I America became promoted as an occasion for rendering thanks? How, if so, can we come to reconcile the spread of Salmonella and the nostalgia for consuming a bounteous harvest at an open table duirng the Thanksgiving feast?

December, 2018 National Distribution of Salmonella infections among hospitalized individuals (Center for Disease Control)
Norman Rockwell, Thanksgiving (1919)

It is little surprise that the feast day that is so closely tied to the nation–and the alleged return to the agrarian calendar in what Philip Roth rhapsodized as that “neutral, de-religionized ground of Thanksgiving, when everybody gets to eat the same thing,” which was blanched of ethnic associations or even protestations of faith, and provided a sacrament of secularization in America for those who saw it as an event with “nobody sneaking off to eat funny stuff–no kugel, no guilt fish, no bitter herbs, just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people–one colossal turkey feeds all,” has been displaced by the increased presence in our society of the production of turkeys on industrial scale, and the attendant opportunities for microbial infection that have expanded with the parcellization of the life-cycle of turkeys in response to market demand evident in the splitting of numerous “farms” into hatcheries, growing farms, breeder farms, “growing out” farms, slaughterhouses, meat-preparation and distribution sites, which complicates any perpetuation of a national myth focussing solely on the raw and the cooked, or the wild land cultivation of the bird–with little foresight of the far-reaching consequences of the transformation of the bird into an industrially farmed product.

There is a tie between the annual sacrifice of a turkey to national citizenship and well-being, tied to the pleasure of tryptophan-induced containment that goes far beyond consumer satisfaction, but seems to get at a sense of well-being. It is as if the fruits of the harvest are shared every Thanksgiving in a recognition of thanks, easily susceptible to its own new age twist. The tainting of that colossal bird that the emergence of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella strains threaten to overturn is deeply symbolic: for the bird is a symbol of plenty, able by extension to affirm not only economic well-being but satisfaction of the nation as a whole–or afflict the nation as a whole, in a time when the spread of cases of Salmonella infection so often associated with undercooked turkey meat

The current mission of the CDC to tracked and report to the nation outbreaks of Salmonella infections has recurred each Thanksgiving in recent years. The set of infographic of reported infections of antibiotic-resistant outbreak strains of Salmonella registers a deep upsetting of the balance of the holiday season, even if its subject is really ground turkey meat. The appearance of such statistical measurements on the eve of the national feast day seem emblematic of the atrophying of our national well-being and an erosion of bounty; it bodes to mar the release tryptophan-induced soporific sensations, upset stomaches and intestinal afflictions, more than boosting serotonin by a healthy carbohydrate binge:  raising the specter of salmonella outbreaks threatens to mar preparations for the “American pastoral par excellence” by ruffling the feathers and increasing fears of most families with images of infectious outbreaks of diarrhea, stomach cramps, and poor sleep. Even if tied quite explicitly to “raw turkey products”–an increasingly popular item in animal food as well as in turkey burgers–the national scale of such infections on the eve of Thanksgiving seem to have demanded being mapped in a cartographic coloring associated with underdone turkey meat. And WaPo seized upon it, just at the start of Thanksgiving plans, to reveal a national chorography whose color ramp suggests undercooked or raw meat, warning its readers of the danger of raw turkey products at a time when the turkey has increasingly become a product–as much as a sign of the finishing of a harvest. The data vis warns us to consume only the well-cooked, although the distribution of reported cases of infection by multi-drug-resistant strains of Salmonella found in raw turkey says little, in fact, about where the consumed turkey derived from or was first shipped: the states of Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia are curiously without reported cases, although each is relatively dense with turkey producers and farms, although such turkey-farming centers as Minnesota and Texas are lit bright pink.

The increased difficulty of confining the spread of salmonella outbreaks among turkeys, and the broad scope of the network of turkey distribution every Thanksgiving casts a frightening pall on the American institution long celebrated as that “neutral, de-religionized ground of Thanksgiving, when everybody gets to eat the same thing,” as Philip Roth once rhapsodically wrote, which saw “nobody sneaking off to eat funny stuff–no kugel, no guilt fish, no bitter herbs, just one colossal turkey for two hundred and fifty million people–one colossal turkey feeds all.”  

For fears of the infection are no longer stemming from one colossal bird which we all partake, but the emergence among turkeys bred for eating with antibiotics and hormones of a fear that the consumer will be the one making the sacrifice, as specters of diarrhea, cramps, poor sleep, upset stomachs, and vomiting replace the soporific sensation tiredness from binging on tryptophans in ways akin to an accidental (or intentional) overdose of melatonin, with stuffing, sweet potatoes, and more than enough pumpkin pie on the side in a true glucose binge, which may make many feel like they were sacrificing their stomaches and selves, and forget the forty-six million turkeys sacrificed each Thanksgiving, which we still see fit to balance with the Presidential pardon “or commutation” of one turkey’s life. The turkeys, for their part, have lived packed tightly into two and a half to four square foot spaces, breathing dusty air laced with ammonia and whose oversized frames, developed for breeding for markets, beaks and toes removed from an early age, are fed antibiotics in ways that may encourage the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains, as if by a logic of breeding and producing birds for holiday tables–

We cling to the false geography of rural harmony in the assembly of imagined agrarian traditions on the Thanksgiving table seems internalized by the marketing of turkey meat by turkey distributors in the social media posts of Jennie-O distributors of turkey. Despite the falsified geography of independent turkey farmers that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue perpetuates in his visits to family farms on the eve of Thanksgiving, turkey meat has become one of the most processed meats, and the most redefined “product” of the factory farm complex, as its availability for the Thanksgiving season creates a unique schedule of slaughtering, meat-processing, and poultry-distribution has created numerous possible avenues for bacterial infection. The demand for turkeys for Thanksgiving has led to the creation of single strains of birds–a hybrid white larger and faster growing than wild turkeys–far removed from the environment of wild turkeys. In response to markets, a species bred from artificial insemination and designed for eating has emerged, whose reproduction is engineered to ensure fewer males, more productive hatching, and structured the lives of turkeys to accommodate the annual prominence of the Thanksgiving feast.

Indeed, if the expansion of factory farm meat upended any clear relation between the raising of turkey and the bucolic image of the Thanksgiving table, turkey meat has become favored “products” far from animal husbandry. From the arrival of small poults at growing farms where they grow to 24-30 pounds in weight, and are prepared to be shipped to breeder farms, to produce eggs that provide markets with turkey meat, raised separately from males less they be injured while mating, hens are artificially inseminated once a week, and all eggs are collected to be stored off-site in temperature controlled incubators with thousands of eggs, to be delivered to larger farms less than twelve hours after hatching. The truly Taylorist production schedule on which turkeys are farmed at “grow-out” sites to sizes demanded by market tastes before they are transported to processing plants,

that remind us of the degree to which the finely-tuned operations of turkey production on which the “life” of turkey stock depend. For the birds’ lives are indeed determined by their conversion to carcasses, unsurprisingly, as they lead lives increasingly dependent on a via dolorosa dependent on cutting up at processing plants and arriving as commercial products, if not at dinner tables. Is it any wonder that an alarming number of pathogens have been regularly detected in turkey meat, creating considerable alarm at the discovery of Salmonella infections in prepared turkey meat?

The preparation of the bird that predates the division between the raw and the cooked, placing the “lives” of the birds in relation to the demands for Thanksgiving. Fears of Salmonella infections suggests not only the blurring of the cooking of turkey meat, and the conversion of the raw to the cooked, but the blurring of birds bread in unhealthy conditions for conversion to cooked turkey.

The false geography of the potlatch of the Thanksgiving table has perverted poultry production in the industry of factory farming around profit-margins of poultry providers and public tastes–for specialized cuts, ground meats, whole carcasses, and birds of different weights–as what once was a celebration of harvest has come to organize a complex timetable and cycle of production of raised turkey meat, whose illusory relation to the harvest and the land is perhaps best revealed by the temperature-controlled indoor sex-segregated contexts in which turkeys are raised, and the limited options of motion that most turkeys have in the course of their lives, compared with the huge distances that their carcasses travel cross country, or the shipments from hatcheries to breeder farms to growing farms to slaughterhouses to processing plants to meat distribution plants, in ways that make us wonder what distribution the “health” function of their iPhones might show if their motion was tracked, and how greatly the distance of their travels would contrast with their actual options for mobility in growing pens.

The increased infectious outbreaks that the arrival of bacterial infections of Salmonella in ground turkey meat seem to have threatened to upset the most American of family meals, however, as the fears of contaminated turkey meat have threatened an alternate imaginary of the nation preserved by the long faded image of family units among an infinite number of holiday tables.

The Thanksgiving plate seems a vestigial reminder of the harmony of the food cycle. While it is enough of a soothing celebration of something with its own complex feng shui to be the background of Jennie-O tweets, the gemütlichkeit of Thanksgiving and myth of the dinner supports a gastronomic reminder of domestic harmony is upset by the increased numbers of infections of turkey in ways that warrant national announcements and concerns from the CDC; each plate on the table is set in perfect order, as an image of the harvest is gathered in a sort of counterpoint on one’s own meal plate. But the harmony of that microcosm was disturbed by seasonal warnings of dangers of infections that this time arrived with increased urgency during the Great Turkey Recall of 2018. Ground turkey continued to be recalled by Jennie-O to the tune of over 164,000 pounds as the salmonella outbreak continued, amidst fears of a government shutdown. And even as fears of troop withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan raise deep concerns for he nation, the infectious outbreak widened by Christmas, leading producers to assured consumers that the lots of contaminated meat were labeled P-579, to preserve the healthiness of farmed turkey as warnings about Salmonella spread over half the states in the union, and only a small portion of the Salmonella outbreak strains in the nation that had already occurred by 2017, believed to derive from contact with live poultry or uncooked poultry parts in the nation.

Outbreak strains of Salmonella, 2017/Center for Disease Control

Warnings of the safety of turkey meat are regularly issued by the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC, each Thanksgiving in recent years. The state-by-state parsing of outbreak strains to alert the public for consumption warnings, reveal the broad distribution of infected turkey meat, and their limited clustering suggest the wide range of possible vectors of contamination–

Salmonella infantis breakout, October 2018

–and if the spread of infections from turkey meat from November 2017 had been tracked across twenty-six states given the dangers of handling or consuming poultry and in the dangers of the butchery, preparation and distribution turkey-meat, as much as its preparation in kitchens across America.

The persistence of the numbers of hospitalizations and infections that were traced to turkey meat suggests less of a clear map of the spread of infected meat–if it documents the incidence of reported cases of Salmonella–than the remove of turkey from local agrarian geography. In an era when the vast majority of poultry is farmed, and the seasonal consumption of turkey meat drives turkey production in ways that put increasing pressures on the production of a large number of turkeys in a small temporal window sufficient to accommodate the arrival of some fifty million birds in time for Thanksgiving, the existing network of slaughtering, refrigeration, and shipment of turkey meat may not allow for adequate meat safety. The annual production cycle of batches of designated fresh and frozen poultry designed to arrive in time for the holiday season has created multiple stresses on turkey meat’s distribution, and indeed on the handling of turkey parts, as well as the multiple way of packaging, seasoning, and flavoring turkey meats to meet consumer demand, as Philllip Clauer has noted in his helpful description of the “modern turkey industry,” as the packaging of turkey products in ways designed to meet a large choice for consumers, both by processing turkeys for individual parts–

–and offering seasoned varieties of ground turkey, which greatly expand the number of individuals handling turkey meat, by seasoning, marinating, and flavoring what is sold as a “healthy” choice of “all-natural” lean meat for consumers.

The initial warnings of Salmonella poisoning of “all-natural” turkey meat gave alarming immediacy on the eve of Thanksgiving, when turkeys would be arriving in refrigerators nationwide, on their way to ovens, kitchen counters, sinks, and eventually reach their destination on household tables. As infections spread to thirty-five states, the constellation of states which saw over seven infections–New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Minnesota, North Carolina, Virginia, Texas and California–provided testimony to the threat of actual infection of the nation, that spread from turkey processing plants often located at a distance from factor farms where most farmed turkeys are raised in crowded conditions.

The national feedback loops let processing plants calibrate the demand for whole turkey for each Thanksgiving Day and through Christmas.   But it has raised alarms that the arrival of turkey meat is less safe than usual. Even as producers assured the public on social media that the outbreak strain was limited to ground turkey, and not whole animals–“Rest assured the recall does not include whole turkeys or products currently in stores”–as if this would inspire calm in the poultry markets, graphics of expanding numbers hospitalized across the nation has raised continued fears–only partly restrained by assurances that Jennie-O distributed with promotional coupons, and assurances about eating turkey “when properly cooked”–and that contaminated ground turkey had been labeled lot “P579” produced in Minnesota in the week October 21-2.

While such warnings narrowed the source of the contamination that had by now spread nation-wide, the extent of the national distribution of ground meats from specific sites confirmed the industrial scale of the production and distribution of turkey meat.

The CDC is right to exercise a degree of vigilance over reported cases of Salmonella infections and their strains, and WaPo was right to publicize just how many states have been struck by multiple  reported cases of contaminated bacteria-bearing turkey meat–even if the mapping of a “spread of infection” is hardly able to be deciphered even by the best epidemiologist’s sleuthing, and suggested subliminal cautions about consuming any sort of undercooked meat, one possible clear culprit.

Mapped across multiple states, and derived from antibiotic resistant strains of the foodborne virus, the product recall of ground turkey was so disturbing to receive in mid-November offered a reminder of dangerous disequilibria in our food production and distribution complex among some of the largest distributors of factory farmed turkey meat on  which the nation has come to rely for creating the appearance of culinary harmony.

Although we carefully compartmentalize away from the recipes or preparation of the annual feast, a division between the live animal and its carcass, the origins of disease are increasingly tracked with one hundred and sixty four taken sick. The possibility of a bacterial infection being “widespread in the turkey industry” created fears of a broad outbreak–reprising the terrifying antibiotic-resistant outbreak of Salmonella of 2011 in both turkey and beef, which were also focussed on Salmonella Hadar in Jenny-O turkeys–a subsidiary of Hormel–and Salmonella Heidelberg in Cargill Meats.

Indeed, the image of Thanksgiving celebrating fruits of the harvest is upended in the current  industrial scale production  of turkey in our nation:  the industry around Thanksgiving orients the hatching and raising in large indoor cages of millions of birds for November arrival in supermarkets and shops stands at such remove from the seasonal harvest and old agrarian calendar to make us realize the tensions between the current landscape of factory farms with the image of the provision of wealth focussed on the bird arriving well-cooked at one’s holiday table–as the specter of birds infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria at some or several points in the process of farming or producing birds designed for our dining room tables. If the production of turkeys in America–densely concentrated in parts of Minnesota, Iowa, Arkansas, Omaha and Texas, in more extreme geographic concentration than other varieties of poultry, when assessed by value–

Distribution of turkey farming and poultry farming across the United States of America
Comparative distribution of poultry and turkey farming by value
(2007)/https:/USDS Animal Health Demographics, 2010

–in ways that contrast sharply with the actual broad distribution of wild turkey across regions of the United States–

–or the actual broad number of local farms where poultry is raised.

The concentration of the farmed turkeys that arrive at Thanksgiving tables, and in American markets, arrive from a far more restricted area. The result of this concentration poses possibilities of introducing infections, within the distribution of turkey meat. Although the agrarian illusion of Thanksgiving as a bucolic, authentic, and rural event is removed from large cities and sites of urban pollution and grit, the clusterings of mega-farms in fact stands as something like the crooked spine of a nation.  

The striking density of such farms suggests the degree to which turkey farmers are increasingly bent by the market tyrants from Butterball, Hormel, Cargill, who determine the interface between the national demand for turkeys and the condition and welfare of their supply.  The calculus of Turkey production pivots, unsurprisingly, on Thanksgiving, where the demand for the birds seasonally peaks. Such concentration of poultry production reflects its reliance on the production of readily available grain, and especially soybeans, that constitute the bulk of turkey feed.

 With three of the folks who were taken ill with Salmonella working or tied to someone who worked in facilities that either farm or process birds for eating, or raising turkey meat–raising questions about the exposure of those who work on farms to antibiotic-resistant bacteria–or from raw turkey that was intended as pet food.  The outbreaks of bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics, from ampicillin to tetracyclines to streptomycin, may be tied to prophylactic antibiotics adopted in industrial-scale factory farms.  Despite the proposal to introduce an outright ban on using tetracycline at sub therapeutic levels, the failure to adopt such restrictions has created the situation where three quarters of all antibiotics used in the United States are used on livestock:  back in the late 1980s, the rates of administering antibiotics to humans and animals had been roughly equal.  And the introduction of a diet of antibiotics in an expansive industry of turkey production.

The mis-use of antibiotics to increase the size of raised birds–a danger to which turkeys are particularly vulnerable, as they are prized and valued for their size and the rapidity of growing birds to a large size–even if the FDA discourages using antibiotics to promote growth, the absence of any regulatory enforcement as to what amounts constitute proper prevention has opened a large loophole in American farming:  Norbest, Jennie-O, Cargill and Foster Farms prohibit using antibiotics for promoting growth, but not for disease prevention, creating a broad opening top the use of antibiotics, as Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) found in 2015, when it survived the feed additives that major United States producers of turkeys–including Cartill, Tyson, Jennie-O, and Perdue–and the beta agonist Ractopamine, which has been banned in the European Union, but remains legal in the United States. 

The production of turkeys in this agrarian-industrial complex runs like clockwork.   Fertilized turkey eggs are incubated for a month before hatching, resting to grow for three to four months in farms, and are shipped to a slaughterhouse or processing plants for predation for markets in time for Thanksgiving celebrations, as if inexorably attracted by the annual calendar of consumption generates a production schedule that is something of a dialectic, exerting undue pressures of production on factory farms to produce turkeys of increased size (who wants small birds?  few did until recently) who are best produced through extra antibiotics, in a sort of “dosing” of the sacrificial bird before its ritual sacrifice.  Rather than sacrificed for the harvest in a natural way, farms have perfected a strategy to produce sufficient birds of needed size that constitutes a production schedule mirroring the harvest, but introducing a few mechanical tweaks hinging upon transport, distribution, and demand:  of the turkeys hatched each spring, slaughtered birds are refrigerated to temperatures below 40 degrees Farenheit, but above 26 degrees, in time to arrive in something like the fresh frozen state by late October or early November for the preparation of the Thanksgiving table.

The prominence of Thanksgiving in the lives of the farmed turkeys as the  fulcrum along which raising birds turns is not oriented to the farm, or the seasons, in other words, but the elastic market that determines how fifty million birds can be supplied to those wanting to repeat the national ritual of Thanksgiving feasts.  If technology was recognized as the subject of the contemporary historical tragedy in the technicians of production, the mechanics and techniques of turkey raising may post part of the problem.  For the production schedule offers multiple opportunities for bacterial infection that must make them particularly sensitive to carrying food-borne disease.  The slaughtered fowl shipped out to retailers respond to the levels of demand marketers find, allowing them to shift some carcasses designated for lunch meats, individual breasts and legs sold in packages, or ground turkey back into the processing of whole birds, suggesting the actual fluidity between ground turkey meat and the birds arriving at Thanksgiving table.

 The extent of these fears were readily tapped by recent maps of the feared outbreaks of Salmonella infections from tainted supplies of turkey, transmitted in undercooked meats, that seems poised to threaten to frustrate the harmony of the social potlatch of harvest foods, as warnings of the danger of infectious disease have spread, with Thanksgiving only weeks away, across thirty-five states–in a reprisal of fears the previous year of the first reports of cases of a bacterial strain distinguished by its resistantancn to antibiotics.  The discovery and identification of the strain of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Reading prompted fears for a Thanksgiving outbreak of infections, which rather than mapped with the level of detail that would reflect the detection of the outbreak  in sampled raw turkey products from some twenty-two individual slaughterhouses and seven meat-processing plants, were described only in a state-by-state distribution of total reported infections rather than the actual vectors of infectious disease:   the Washington Post designed the below infographic to alert its readers to the worries of a spread of tainted turkey meat, coloring states with the greater number of reported infections as if in more underdone shades of meat, but their removal form any sense of the sits of distributors or slaughterhouses concealed rather than clarified.

Washington Post, “Salmonella contamination in turkey is widespread and unidentified as Thanksgiving approaches” November 16, 2018

The color ramp on this infographic derived from public records released by the CDC.  If its immediate message was to remind viewers of the dangers of serving underdone turkey meat,   the deep understory may have been a lack of full transparency how the government agency hid the identities of the turkey suppliers identified and suspected of slaughtering, distributing, and selling the compromised meat.  The watchdog Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has noted in the past the danger of agencies protecting the suppliers with considerable vested interests in keeping the turkey-industrial complex that carries millions of birds to American holiday tables on time for this national feast.  The fears of such a relinquishing of responsibilities of good government  is perhaps not surprising in the current pro-business atmosphere of Trump’s Washington, with Georgia chicken family magnate Sonny Perdue the nation’s thirty-first secretary of the USDA; Purdue somewhat generically retweeted the public cautionary food safety warning to handling bird carcasses,but without mention of the outbreak–inspiring the quick response that the “best” defense was in fact to “only eat veg” over the holiday feast.  

And if “talking turkey”as an expression of speaking frankly has been argued to have originated in the open spirit of the holiday–if also possible in “talking cold turkey” as a way of discussing actual facts may have arisen within the context of the holiday–less about contact with native Americans than the recreation of bonhomie and openness at the holiday table–the alternatives of pleasant conversation and frank discussion both stand at odds with the current concealment of an actually accurate map of food safety.  For the distribution of toxic turkeys and their origin in the supply chain or in factory farms seems concealed for know of left unclear in maps that register the arrival –evident in recent identification of sources of tainted meat suppliers as Tolleson, the source of many of the contaminated turkeys, to beef products sold and distributed by sources tentatively identified for the public as including Kroger, Laura’s Lean and JBS Tolleson generic.  The uncertain landscape of bacteria in fresh, processed, and frozen meat raises fears of food-born diseases as something like a self-made dirty bomb.  

From the perspective of the USDA,”food safety” is described less in terms of the conditions in which birds are raised for sale, than to the kitchen practices of preparing and cooking the bird, a  familiar ritual of cleaning and defrosting the meat, as a set of four”best practices” of delivering the safest bird to the holiday table–

–rather than addressing the questions of how such a strain was introduced, or the steps that should be taken in bagging, buying, and storing potentially infected turkey or chicken carcasses, as if to shift the onus to the consumer and the preparer of the holiday meal, rather than the question of how the breakout diseases correlated to the increasing dependence of turkey distribution on factory farms and large meat-processing plants.

Tracing down the origins of the bacterial presence of different Salmonella strains seems to have been far from the minds of the officials who issued assurances confined to food preparation, in hopes to assuage public fears, and dampen suspicions that infections were endemic to the turkey-industrial complex.  USDA Secretary Sonny Purdue–scion of a firm of Turkey suppliers–and not exactly a disinterested source, but more of a representative of the industrial farming of poultry meat that presents itself as “fit & easy’ and “fresh”–and “changing the way we treat chickens” and with a commmitment to animal care–

Perude may have been profesionally distracted on social media, to be sure, between attention to tampering down alarms of the damage caused by Hurricane Michael across the Florida panhandle and the Camp Fire and Woolsey Fire in California, which unleashed  alarms about forestry, agriculture, and water infrastructure.  But the deceptive moves to pin the epidemic of wildfires on inadequate or lacking “forest management”–rather than climate change seem to be mirrored in his direction of public attention to the cultivation of best practices of poultry preparation to the exclusion of any acknowledgement of the widespread discovery of antibiotic-resistant bacteria within the very sorts of turkey meat that his family business has long prepared.  Even if he tweeted on November 22 to followers to enjoin them to be conscious that “if you are preparing a meal, please remember we have American farmers to thank for the bounty,” erasing the industrial-scale structures of poultry farming –even as Perdue presided over the deregulation of the poultry industry, undoing powers that earlier administrations gave to small farmers who raise antibiotic-free fowl or work on contract for meat industry players–Butterball, Jennie-O, Cargill, and Farbest Foods–to bring charges against them for abusive distributive practices, introduced under the Obama administration to provide better guarantees to control meat production, in hopes to “control frivolous litigation,” that would and prevent agribusiness meat processing companies from setting terms to family farms–continuing the USDA’s existing regulations for meat packers and stockyards would only serve, poultry lobbyists argue, to “open the floodgates to frivolous and costly litigation,” but leaves distributors and agribusiness to dictate the terms of turkey sales, production, and livestock conditions.

But the alarms about the quality of the birds raised by our nation’s largest suppliers of turkeys should not be lost in the instability of the spread of fires in high-population areas and increased damages from natural disasters.  Perhaps the only acknowledgement of the fears of contaminated poultry bearing antibiotic-resistant bacteria were present in the public promise that Purdue would share oversight of culturing food livestock and poultry cell-lines with the FDA, prospectively producing a new regime of food safety for the future.  The infographic from WaPo couldn’t not respond, in the meantime, to growing suspicions that the birds that would soon lie on our tables derived from tainted meat, and that the holiday stood to increase our vulnerability across the nation to uncomfortable intestinal disquiet. However, it makes sense to ask whether the deregulation of farm conditions and livestock conditions would not act–as President Barack Obama predicted of Citizens United decision allowing the deregulation of funding of political campaigns stood to “open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections,” by removing any restrictions for livestock raising.

It remained striking that among Perdue’s extensive visits to family farms, @SecretarySonny was notably silent about the concerns for the spread of infected meat within the Turkey-industrial complex of United States farms and poultry distributors.  Perdue preferred to tweet out openly promotional images of Secretary Sonny visiting favorite small-scale suppliers of Thanksgiving birds to his followers, a farm producing but 30,000 birds a year–unlike the factory farms from which most of the fifty million birds arrive at American Thanksgiving tables–within other promotional images of the Secretary visiting family farms that seem to be carefully curated to suggest his ties to the family farm, and to a bucolic image of where our healthiest turkeys are bred–overlooking the dominance of four firms– Butterball, Jennie-O, Cargill, and Farbest Foods–in the distribution and slaughtering of turkeys, and the dominance that larger firms will continue to have over family farms, driven by the demand to produce larger birds more quickly to fill a growing market for turkey meat.

USDA @SecretarySonny’s tweet about his November 12, 2018 visit to Lee Farms in East Windsor NJ

If Perdue’s tours of family farms and promotion of American farmers on twitter suggests an agrarian paradise dedicated to prosperous family-based animal husbandry, the active social media feed provokes a picture of wholesome husbandry far from the range that occupies such a prominent place in the American imaginary that is regularly reactivated every Thanksgiving, sharply dissonant with the American farmscape, or the distribution networks that dominate how farmed turkey meat arrives at our tables, as the Secretary of Agriculture does his part in sustaining the illusion of a rich agrarian landscape blended harmoniously with a farmscape where the bounty of the land still exist in a “great outdoors” rather than in a market for processed meat–promoting the idea that Minnosota, the capital of farmed-raised turkeys, raises those turkeys outdoors, rather than in large, indoor hangars.


–or in the pre-packaged sales of farm-raised turkey meat.

Perdue Factory Farmed Turkey Parts

The current distribution of infections from antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in turkey meat run against the bucolic vision of the harvest holiday, and suggest the danger of dependence on a constellation of factory farms and large farms serving distributors of cut, ground, and whole birds.  The discovery of vectors of infectious disease haven’t been traced within the food supply cycle with any fine grace, but suggest the national level of disquietude and unease at the possibility of a breakout virus in the birds soon to arrive at our tables.  

The data viz seems designed to trigger unease at breaches between the categories of holiday tables and the factory farms that are so often sequestered in discrete categories, and indeed upset the vision of a smooth circulation of turkeys from farm to table.  By breaching the domestic and the large-scale distribution of meat in the nation, categories usually kept neatly separate, fears of communicating bacterial infections through undercooked turkey meat seemed materialized in the data visualization authoritatively provided by the CDC, whose newly tweaked palette revealed the dangers of the divide.  For despite the clustering of an immense amount of wealth in poultry products in areas where canola grains, a staple in bred turkey diets, are cheap, able to convert low-cost grains to valued poultry products–often removed from their most common sites of slaughter for the bulk of the American market.

Total American Poultry Market (2012)
($182,247,407,000; dot=$20 Million value of poultry)

The divide between the clustering of distribution centers for American poultry markets seemed removed from the ones which arrived in our refrigerators to be basted in ovens, in annual idylls of domesticity.  The creation of a USGS Breeding Bird Survey suggests the increased density of such “turkey capitals” that are in three cases named “Turkey,” as if they are the modern remnants of old factory towns, where talking turkey presumably means serious business and a way of life.

Ralph McLaughlin, “Turkey Capitals of America” (2014)

The concentration of that the wealth of poultry overlaps with the current states where bred turkeys remain concentrated in quite disproportionate ways, let alone disturbingly unclean living conditions, and where they lay in waiting en route to slaughterhouses before arriving at distribution networks, including two Wisconsin towns that announce themselves as the “turkey capital” of their state; the belt of turkey heads across the middle of the nation–or from Minnesota to Iowa to Missouri to Arkansas–

The dramatic geographical concentration of inventories of turkey farms in the United States six years ago already raised questions about the health consequences of such intense overcrowding of poultry farms–even if we don’t seem to measure the concentration of farmed turkey that have grown increasingly concentrated, placing literally millions and millions of farm-bred birds, many raised for the Thanksgiving table, in dense concentrations at factory farms with little sense of the growing worries of public health that such concentrations might cause or provoke, as the demand for the bird long limited to holiday feasting has grown as a “healthy” option and an alternative choice for fresh pet food.  

While that may not seem to have much to do with the turkeys that arrive, fully cooked, at our tables–

–in releasing an elegant infographic of the nation divided by the coloration rof shades of cooked poultry, so unlike the red-blue divides of political preferences or a  classic five-color map, the Washington Post seems to cast findings of Center for Disease Control that only added to our ongoing worries of preparing the holiday centerpiece with Thanksgiving but a week away. The meat of the holiday meal that once stood as our civic religion has become a monitory map, as it were, warning the country of the danger of holiday meats tainted by Salmonella infection, and the disruption of any sense of gemutlichkeit or worry-free feasting, reminding us of a potential epidemic across the nation that are liable to be released by roasting the turkey at a low temperature, or underdone meat.  The way that the public service announcement of the group monitoring the safe national production of poultry factory farms offers an image of a nation not on holiday, but with need for constant vigilance, using maps–the new register for expressing alerts for greater vigilance–to be directly and immediately expressed.
The new sense of suspicion that our birds derived from tainted meat pervades the image of the spread of antibiotic-resistant strains of Salmonella in poultry and ground turkey meat, and seems the latest image of disquietude and unease in America. The map may indeed make us hunger for the future promise of laboratory-bred avian meat, and a retreat from the store-bought bird for those who cannot trust its origin–even if the solution to all worries is to cook it through, the perennial problem of cooking through the bird no doubt lead the CDC to test turkey meat as a possible vector of bacterial infections each Thanksgiving in recent years.  The dramatic geographical concentration of inventories of turkey farms in the United States six years ago already raised questions about the health consequences of such intense overcrowding of poultry farms–even if we don’t seem to measure the concentration of farmed turkey that have grown increasingly concentrated, placing literally millions and millions of farm-bred birds, many raised for the Thanksgiving table, in dense concentrations at factory farms with little sense of the growing worries of public health that such concentrations might cause or provoke, as the demand for the bird long limited to holiday feasting has grown as a “healthy” option and a somewhat alternative choice for premium pet food.

 


Even with less division into discreet counties, a more current distribution of heads of turkey by state–although the “state” is far less meaningful a division–offers a sense of the huge concentration of millions of heads of turkey in specific sites, often near where abundant grain feed exists.
USDA
Despite a recent decline, turkey “production” has grown energetically in the United States, and culminate each year in a veritable potlatch that casts the stuffed bird as an icon of agricultural abundance and bounty of the harvest season.  Even though we didn’t prepare a roast bird this Thanksgiving, the mass-production of turkeys for a holiday where the bird seems the symbol of healthy levels of carbohydrate consumption seems to have rather steadily risen  in recent years–even if ponds of turkey “produced” per year need not be the best metric of turkeys–as we hover about six billion pounds of turkey designed for cooking, with over forty million birds being raised in Minnesota, over thirty million in North Carolina, and almost that many in Arkansas, as we are “producing” over two hundred and forty birds.

 

The crowding of farms in such quite select areas–so that tens of millions of birds are raised for Thanksgiving in several select states–raises questions about the health of such crowded factory farms after the multi-state spread of a drug-resistant Salmonella strain in turkey this Thanksgiving.  The announcement raised fears of upsetting the seasonal celebration of national gratitude and harmony, leading the CDC alert of a contaminated lot of ground poultry to migrate quickly into the appetite for data visualizations that increasingly have become a way to seek a rudder or gain purchase on the nation’s state of well-being, that suggests a symbolic intersection between a desire for advice on preparing roast turkey and public health alerts.
turkey_wide-8827cde4a0740ae895463ef87828183c9cfec374.jpg

And even if we forwent eating turkey this Thanksgiving for reasons of taste and expedience, as well as a smaller table, the topical findings of an antibiotic resistant Salmonella strain set off broad alarms about food preparation.

For the detection of multi-drug resistant Salmonella strains in a “multi-state outbreak” tied to raw turkey raises specters of a national infection, and raises some very current questions about the anthropology of meat.  As if Salmonella were threatening the nation by crossing the borders of our Thanksgiving tables, rather than born in the fabric of our factory, the tallying of cases of poisoning and hospitalization couldn’t help but be read as cautionary of a public health disaster, warning us to fully cook our traditional Thanksgiving meats to contain the danger of contracting diarrhea, abdominal cramps and fever, through severe and possibly fatal foodborne bacterial infections.  The map’s color ramp adopts a normal Color Brewer ramp, using it to render the range of reported cases of Salmonella infections by a shade of increased undercooking of turkey meat, in a barely subliminal message–

–designed to recall the shades of uncooked meat that offer the clearest subliminal message of the vectors of infection, all of a sudden giving it an immediate narrative of local poisoning–even if the “map” is far from geographically or epidemiologically specific in its state-by-state breakdown of the “breakout” of the disease–and seems a teaser to imagine the potential future epidemic of the consumption of a spate of undercooked holiday turkey.

We’ll be cooking far fewer than the two hundred and fifty million turkeys raised in a year.  And if free-range birds are popular, increasing numbers of turkeys are also clustered in smaller spaces and in far fewer states in overcrowded factory farms makes the infographic showing recent cases of Salmonella tied to the consumption of turkey meat disconcerting on the eve of Thanksgiving, and almost a reflection on the state of the nation’s food safety.  

The color spectrum of underdone meat triggers perennial fears haunting America’s day of thanks, alerts all viewers to the dangers of under-cooking the bird or failing to wash hands, under the surface lies the conditions in which living turkeys are kept while raised for a holiday repast, among ammonia-laced air, in crowded conditions, and with poultry litter rarely kept clean or pristine.  Even if the outbreak was in turkey products, such perennial concerns about the transmission of bacteria in the cleaning, stuffing and cooking of the holiday bird are all condensed in that infographic, and its ramp to correspond rather creepily to the guidelines for preparing turkey flesh as the vector for future outbreaks after Thanksgiving meals, even if the large bulk of reported cases seem to have derived from ground turkey meat.

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Filed under data visualization, factory farms, infographics, salmonella, thanksgiving

Mega-Regions, Super-States, Micro-States, Islands

Like a patient rising from bed to look in the mirror for superficial signs of illness  or searching for visual evidence of clouded thoughts after a hangover, we compulsively turn to data visualizations for bearings on our body politic, preoccupied by its bruised appearance and searching for visual distillations that tell the story of its apparent fracturing into red and blue.  Anyone reading this blog is compelled by the search for a rendering in iconic form of this sharp chromatic divide by which we seem beset, as if to mute its edges and suggest that a possible contexts of such stark political divides.  But how one can provide an account of the map–or map the meaning of these divides–has created a cottage industry of visualizations, images that serve both as glosses and counter-documents, against which to gainsay the meaning of the impasse of the most current electoral divide of 2016.

We seem to search for a sign of meaning in our body politic, if not  in our representational institutions, and to understand political divides less as signs that all isn’t *quite* all right, and the coherence can be found in how the democratic process balances local interest.  But most importantly, we seem to try to process deep concerns that the electoral map lied:  for if the electoral map is in some sense a powerful measure of our coherence as a community, it seems important to affirm where that coherence lies, if it does indeed still exist–and can be detected in a map.

And in the long aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, it is not surprising, somehow, that we are still eager to understand or imagine what that “new America” is or what a new map might reveal.  Uncertain in our ability to question our representational institutions, we are pressed to ask how our electoral predictions “lied,” and whether the electoral map itself “lied” by serving to magnify the political voice and agency of a demographically diminishing region.  At a distance of two and a half years from Donald Trump’s surprising election as U.S. President, we continue to seek more refined district-by-distict distributions to pore over the stark chromatic divides, reading them as tea leaves for some sign of what will happen with the 2018 midterms, or as entrails to divine what to look for in our nation’s future.  And then we try to reframe the issue, and see what we can salvage about our actual divisions.

 

 

Come to termsNew York Times/Mapbox

 

Skilled at reading maps, and at detecting their distortions, we also seek to recuperate a sense that maps do not lie.   We pore over data vis to restore a sense of unity in an era when it seems we’re saliently divided by race, class, and religion, but are compelled to locate a sense of home in those divide, and seek a sense of balance and objectivity that can distill the intense rhetoric of deep-lying divisions.  For rather than suggesting or asking how an electoral map may lie  in ways that balanced a widespread sense of shock with a skepticism that that was our map.

And the continued skepticism and uncertainty in the meaning of the divisions of the electoral map lead us to try to dissect and parse their meaning, filtering and sifting their data within other data vis to illuminate, by new granularity and spectra, a broader spread of variables, in hopes to unlock the questions and overcome the challenges that our representational system pose.  We peek deeper into its red heart, as if in hopes to find the coherence or possibility for change in its red center, as if in a form of national introspection performed on the most superficial of registers, whose “truth” cannot even be gainsaid, hoping that it lies there, perhaps in the heightened distortion of electoral votes that distilled from district maps.

 

Red Center?.pngDetail of above

 

Do electoral maps lie more than other maps?  Any is something less like a reflection of actuality, than a puzzle, in which we can uncover not only telling traces among electoral divides  But the new configuration of space that the 2016 election bode, as well as the greater sensitivity that we like to think we’ve gained at measuring spatial configurations in meaningful terms.  The attractiveness of remapping the voter distribution may be a bit of a red herring and distraction from the magnification of divides elaborated in internet chatrooms from 4chan to 8chan, as much as above ground, but the searching for new signs in the entrails of the voter maps–a post-mortem on the body politic–carries as much sense as the foreboding that the representational institutions of states, counties, and other traditional geographic units might make less sense as a basis for structuring a truly representational democracy.

Seeking to stabilize current fears of a crisis of our democracy, we keep on returning to maps, insistently and repeatedly, as if out of trust for grasping how politics is shaped by deep-seated divides by finding a new way space is configured–as if that would help us understand the appearance of our divides.  And so, in hopes to digest the dilemma of representational democracy in we look for cartographical terms, to provide it with some grounding or objectivity, that offer some sense of purchase, other than by affirming the intensity of our divisions and to see that the institutions of political representation we’ve long trusted might make sense with the migration of populations to urbanized areas or the recasting of politics discourse in dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Perhaps, convinced of our increasing savviness to read the display of information in a colored sheet, we try to grasp the distributions of data as a configuration of space by which to grasp what happened in the 2016 election,  What is shown to lie in the deep splintering–does this take many by surprise?–across a body politic and economy afflicted by a politics of intense opposition seems suddenly normalized and explained by maps that normalize our divisions, and set them before our eyes.  But we have been poring over maps of the nation for years–or at least multiple election cycles–to be able to better process the tensions between regionalism and federalism in ways we might be able to come to terms with or effectively digest as presenting–and representing–an actual record of the status quo that is not so fragile.

 

imageColin Woodward (2013)

 

The representational system is oddly sidestepped, of course, by placing the divisions of a fractured electoral map in terms that see it as a lay of the land. The questioning of the fifty-state primary system–or whether our version of representational democracy best accommodates local interests in a fifty-state system–are not seen as being able to be adjusted  to balance regional interests or economic needs better, but reflect a lay of the land.  So much is suggested in by the growth of tribal senses of belonging that provide affective ties that lack in the state or even region, and span space in ways that online groups and news sharing seem to have filled an increasingly pronounced need for meaningful political involvement, in ways television once afforded a social glue.  The deep uncertainty and sense of social dislocation that defined the 2016 Presidential Election in the United States, manifested in the mistakenly salvific power of social media memes seem to have gained as a substitute for other forms of belonging, seems to find a resolution in the power of maps.

Of course, this was the third election cycle that we were divided by maps, and electoral projections, a division that Trump–and his allies, whoever they may be–only sought to exploit and reflect, or unleash with greater intensity by playing them for whatever they were worth in broad circulation.  Maps provided a form to counter that dislocation.  The rage for maps to comprehend an icon of the spatial promise of a United States has led, empowered by GIS, to an intense search for a more meaningful system of maps than that of counties, states, or congressional districts that the economic realty of the metropolis can no longer afford.  The role of GIS here is less instrumental than a sense at grasping for straws to identify the meaningful regions on the map, puzzling the potential for future unity in a terrain whose political processes and practices map poorly onto its divisions.

We were compelled just not to make sense in a fundamental way of the coherence of the political map, if it existed,  but to process what it means for a rearrangement of political constituencies.  If any map presents a puzzle that can be read for its argument, we compulsively returned to the past-time of glossing the electoral map as a way to find resolution.  We returned to data visualizations, especially if paradoxically, as a trusted form of post-traumatic healing, and continue to look to them to try to embody and diagnose our deepest divides, if not overcome those seemingly salient divisions.  Faced by a feeling of fragmentation we turn to maps to better grasp where these divides lie and to try to bridge their fractures.  We turn to maps, to prevent a sense of loss, or prevent the foreboding of a lost unity, and deep-seated fragmentation.

Whether maps can do so much reparative work is open to question, as is the power of maps to explain the deep discomfort at our social divides.  Since they are so salient, and oppressive, the thought goes, they must be able to be mapped.  The relatively recent re-imagining of the nature by which the United States are united led, during the heat of the last election, to a proposal of ordering districts around the metropoles that were foreign to if linked with them–Seattle, San Francisco/Bay Area, and Los Angeles and San Diego were his in this cartography of mega-regions where urban corridors defined the map’s meaning, as much as the regions in which they were nestled or situated, emphasising a metro-cartography of political identity keeping with the times.

 

image.png

 

Dissatisfied with the state as a parsing or unit that was forward-looking, we accepted new geographical units as “megalopolis” to designate the sites that have superseded the city in this cosmopolite model of America, reflecting hubs where the large bulk of the GDP is located, and economic interests increasingly located, although this may neglect the extent to which GDP is linked not only to abstract able figures of income generated, but urban snarls, pollution, garbage production, and greenhouse gases and other forms of waste, using a variation on a five-color map to suggest the units of productive regional planning that might be able to better connect localities–or local needs and economic interests–with a federal government perceived as distant and removed.

 

1.  The notion of using the map to reaffirm a connectivity and continuity that seemed lacking provided a new way to ramp up our 2-D cartographical concerns less to foreground fractures than meaningful commonalities which could be acted upon as the borders between states seemed far less meaningful to suggest  economic connectedness, and indeed national borders seem less profitable fictions to provide possibilities for future economic growth–and indeed the state university structure provided a far less practical basis for public education, despite its value, as public universities seem more removed from educational opportunities or research funds, and others are somewhat vengefully recast as public employees, teaching mission be damned.

The map affords a prospect of tangibility and coherence, particularly compelling in its abandonment of the “state” or “county” as a unit of the polity, and appealing in its potential encouragement of a new sense of infrastructure–a term that provided such an appealing keyword way back in the midst of the  2016 American Presidential election–even if the New Map for America was presented for the lower forty-eight as a sort of forward-looking economic blueprint before the General Election, as if to orient us to a vision of the pastels of a future less brash than the red vs. blue electoral map, its regions far more recognizable, and decisively upbeat, from Cascade through the Great Lakes and Texas Triangle to the Southeast Manufacturing Belt.  The hope is to respond to a sense of dislocation by more meaningful economic units, and indeed an agenda to move forward advanced in Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilizationa hopeful manifesto to shift debate from territorial units and semantics to a vigorous statement of economic power.

 


New York Times/Parag Khanna

 

The shifting of attention to the divides in our electoral map to a the sorts of channels of connectedness Parag Khanna proposed were not to be–or aren’t yet, so strong was the localist and isolationist tide against them.  The cartographical intervention was a view of globalization that was sunny–and with an emphasis on affirming possibilities of connectivity, as opposed to the terrifying sense of an exposure of unraveling and intransigence that the formation of a Trump Train–rather than the sort of proposed High Speed Rail lines–were proposed to create as a new economic infrastructure for a nation that seems increasingly unsettled, and seems increasingly unsettled, and might be hoped to be healed by a remapping of its economic interconnectivity, rather than its divides–an image of interconnectivity that the election erased.

To be sure, the use of the map to affirm needed connectivity (and continuity beyond proximity) among states was long realized to lie in the potential of the map to create further connective lines of communication and economic development.  The promotion of surveying projects, from the railroad lines by Abraham Lincoln through areas of Appalachia in Kentucky and Tennessee, where the President realized the possible vitality of an economy not rooted or based on enslavement of populations provided a basis to encourage unionism.  Walt Whitman saw, in 1860, the nation as a great nation “of many nations,”  and Lincoln argued to survey the region to increase its connection, and offer a new basis to integrate the economic complexities of a union divided on an apparently intractable political debate.  The notion of mega-regions and economic corridors is not, in this sense, so new at all;  fostering economic interests has long been tied to the need to try to envision future possibilities in maps–a need that the 2016 Presidential election has undoubtedly necessitated, although the Trump administration seems dedicated to obscure that need.

 

2.  But if the model was conceived in the midst of a tense primary season that saw political splintering and a large fear of depression in a search for a politics of meaning, the fears of a distance from Washington, DC became the victors of the 2016 Presidential election, as we saw a new and apparently heightened red-blue division imposed on the nation that we have been still trying to wrestle or digest and place in political or historical context, and to parse meaning from a map that seems all too neatly clean-cut after all–unless the fracture lines were indeed that strong that the nation might once again divide, as if reporting on the electoral results were a sort of performance art.

 

Sea of Red

 

Blue America or Red America?

 

The fissures of red and blue reappeared again as what seemed a safe bet of a Clinton majority victory repeated, although newscasters and talking heads found it hard to say anything interesting about it, just three days from the 2016 Presidential election.  But the confidence of these electoral projections that seemed to give a fragile if solid coherence to a Clinton electoral victory, if one that would hardly unify the nation–

 

 

 

–but contain its increasingly evidence divides, rather abruptly ceded to a sea of red, where alternate projections failed to alter the depths of a geographic solidity of those voting for Trump, even if a majority of them seemed resigned that the election would not make a substantive difference.  As multiple electoral night watch parties disbanded with disillusionment, we were resigned to accept these divides, not knowing whether the geographical cleavages had either surfaced or crystallized in the actual electoral map, but suggested a somewhat surprising rejection of the status quo, and an eery sense of a red state continuity, as though we were divided regional blocks after all–

 


 

–and so we pored over visualizations of the nation’s new voting patterns that were increasingly and perhaps over-generously provided to stunned media viewers with a sense of collective trauma, to be processed only by reviewing endless cartographical parsings of the deep reds of the adjusted choropleth of 2016 revealed the coasts could hardly understand the intensity of the interior, seeming to reveal a convincing record of a deep-set urban-rural divide in a map of county-by-county voting trends.

The map of electoral votes was just as widely championed by Trump himself, of course, who not only seemed to have installed it in the White House, but to present his candidacy as victory over the interests that he proclaimed had “rigged” the election, as if it provided a demonstration that the process not so rigged.  (For Trump followers,  the championed results, in which the President “elect” exulted, might have in the “Fake News” of predictions of his electoral defeat, and the false predictions of their marginalization from the country.)  In an election when “rigged” seemed to have defined the 2016 Presidential election as it was used to invest emotions by different candidates, Trump had exulted in what applied equally to the economy, political process, and judicial inquiry as if applied to a “system” that he seemed to disdain, if only to recognize that the “hot term” he used became a basis to showcase his alleged outsider status.  But the electoral map provided, for all its distortion of population, an argument that the “rigged” nature of the vote and “system” was undermined by the electoral system–the same system that he may have called “rigged” at one time.  Trump’s claims for having “introduced the term”–“I’m the one that brought that word up!’–was in fact suggested to him by Roger Stone, who argued within two months after Trump descended his escalator to announce his candidacy, and recommend he base his candidacy on claims ‘the system is rigged against the citizens’ and that he is the lone candidate–did this offer any ideas to Bernie Sanders?–‘who cannot be bought.’”  Trump didn’t immediately adopt the term, but by the Spring of 2016, the term became used to insert himself into a corrupt system of which he could be the savior.

Trump ran so insistently and deftly with the idea to make it his own, treating it as a term to cathecting with his rallies.  He soon began to inveigh against the whole “rigged, disgusting, dirty [political] system” as being rigged, first the Republican primary and then the Democratic, discrediting the electoral process as a “rigged, crooked system that’s designed so the bosses can pick whoever they want” that revealed itself to be during the primaries to be “totally rigged to keep incumbents in power.”   Arguing that the word was his intellectual property, as he had used it before Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton adopted the term he claimed to merit authorship for having introduced into  the election, it cemented new constituencies in an age of increased income inequality, playing very well to an anti-establishment crowd as a new language of empowerment–so that the electoral map seemed to some a populist victory.

 

 

After insisting and bemoaning the extent to which the voting process was “rigged” during the primaries and into the general election by parties and elites, openly fostering distrust in the political process, the narrative suddenly switched when the electoral map–that map that so shocked the nation–was presented as a true victory that rather preposterously confirmed the success with which Trump had presented himself as not beholden to outside interests to a specific audience, as if it was a record of reality.  Enamored of the map of electoral votes’ distribution, Trump presented the electoral map as confirming a populist victory that occurred against all odds., at the same time as his skill at gaming a system of electoral votes.   He wanted the Washington Post to display the map on its front page, as if to announce it as a new reality, a hundred days into his administration, in a bizzarro illustration of his desires to run the press, asking reporters Aren’t you impressed by this map?¨–and regaling reporters with copies of the map as a testimony of reaching a broad audience of voters, as a source of pride and a deeply personal accomplishment of which he was the author, as well as a form of evidence he wanted the entire nation to be entranced–whose stark divisions he even had framed for the White House, as a confirmation of the extent of his appeal outside of coastal media elites.

 

imageThe Hill

 

The electoral map showed a defeat of the so-called “elites” on both coasts.  The majority of voters’ opinion mattered less than how divided we had become, over the next year and a half.  It was hardly a surprise to find these divisions, but their salience seemed a strong shift in political decorum.  As Trump’s Presidency continued, we mapped rise of hate crimes inspired by Trump, as if to conjure the sense his Presidency and rhetoric had changed the nation, and suggested a new meaning of the term “red state” based not on majority voting but confirming a sense of deep-seated anger against an “other” embraced by a good share of the nation, as if tolerance for violence not acceptable elsewhere.

 

 

 

The crisis in belonging seemed, in this red-hued preoccupation, almost about blood, and innate differences, and an anger that had been unleashed either on the campaign trail or its social media spin-offs and detritus, where suddenly the most marginal of voices, rarely recognized in print, began to circulate, and reached a large and strikingly contiguous electorate, from which “we” were actually removed.

 

image

 

 

3.  Which brings us to the deeper crisis of understanding how much of the nation seemed to rally around the idea of a need to garrison and fortify a southwestern border long left intentionally open, as if this would somehow Make American Great Again, and affirm its aging economy, persuaded they had been huckstered by international trade accords, as protection of the border gained greater reality than the civil liberties and rights of due process by which the nation was, for an actual strict constructionist, long defined.

The demand to think “beyond states”–plus ultra!–has been conceived not as a possibility of growing connectivity, but as resigning ourselves to deep divisions as if they were embedded in the territory in the revival of what were argued somewhat misleadingly to be “southern interests” or heritages, and accommodate and instantiate in a map that Colin Woodward has long argued reflects the dynamics of their original settlement–rather than economic development and local political cultures–as if to accommodate the “local cultures” of politics, such as they are, as fundamentally distinct economic patterns that transcend the division of states or economic development.

Possibilities of new sorts of economic interconnectedness be damned, Woodward would have us recognize the long shadows attitudes toward work and not toward race, education, gender, or religion cast across the political fracturing of the once United States, as if to suggest that the notion of being united was itself a bit of a big fraud, or a pretense needed to unite what were long fundamentally different regions, in a new fracturing that reflects eighteenth-century precedents as if to trace the differentiation of ethnic or racial stock in ways that he claims effectively map on our own political divides, and offer new tools to help us understand different points of view that even a Continental Congress was foolhardy to pretend they could ever adequately reconcile, so steeply do they haunt the current polity.

The oracle of Freeport, ME reminds us that “regional cultures” have existed since the era of the continent’s first colonization in ways that command attention, despite the burning issue of apparently recent hot-button concerns from terrorism or immigration, despite their salience in the political debate and their prominence in motivating sectarian hostility.  In a sense, the map may consolingly remind us that Trump has not appealed to “Make America Great Again,” but festered its deepest historical divisions and divides; its commanding division into colors of distinct hues a refutation of the idea that we are living in an era without intersectionality, where divisions deriving from historical priority trump any of the effects of economic inequalities and disparities of income.  It indeed seems to naturalize race relations that have gained ugly  prominence in recent years as being a world that must be accepted as “modeled after the slave societies of the ancient world,” where “democracy is the privilege of the few,” as if this were a tenable cultural position but demands to be appreciated as such.  Rather than describe racism, or race relations, Woodward lets us know that “black people confronted” dominant cultural norms, a formulation that strips them of much agency indeed–or denies it altogether, more accurately.

The quite flat five-color schema of 2013 was recycled in the news, perhaps, because of how it seems to erase the far more finely grained visualizations of the election that appeared in late July 2018 in the newspaper of record, five days previous, as if the precinct-by-precinct map of Ryne Rhola could be made to disappear beneath the far flatter overlays of Colin Woodward’s breakdown.

 

National Precinct Map.pngRyne Rhola/Mapbox

 

For Woodward’s map viewed the United States not as a composite of populated blue islands in a sea of chromatic shades of red that slid to scarlet expanse, but rather crisp lines whose constitution was defined in the eighteenth century, and perpetuated in the self-sorting machine that the United States has become, arguing that the affinities of each place attract their own political brand–a notion that Woodward emphasized in the new iteration of this map that adheres more closely to the national boundaries of the lower forty-eight.

 

New York Times/Colin Woodward (2018)

 

Forget any preconceived ideas of geographical mobility or migration, Woodward enjoins:  the map suggests the computational shape-sorter that the deep circuits of the United States’ history has defined.

That such divisions inform the breaking lines of the new “partisan landscape” hardly require a five-color map.  But Although meant to displace a divide between urban and rural, they may remind us that we are in fact living in an age that might be as easily cast–and we’ll return to this–as a trumping of the local, where states have faded away with the accentuation of local interests.  In ways that are filtered and refracted though the relative homogeneity of media markets and the traditions of certain areas of the nation where immigrants are indeed less openly welcomed or accepted may tend to the slogans of America First championed by Trump, and lines of gender are differently drawn.  Such regions might be less likely to be sympathetic in a deep way with a woman who reminded them, rightly or wrongly, of coastal elites, and accepting of the very caricatures of coastal elites that Trump, in a canny exercise of deflection and personal rebranding, managed to project on her–palling with Goldman Sachs; attending as Secretary of State to foreign relations and not the American worker–that the more removed regions would accept.

The divisions in the “partisan landscape” of the nation that Woodward presented are considerable and are economic–

 

Partisan landscape.pngNew York Times/Colin Woodward (2018)

 

–but curiously suggest the deep red remove of the very region of Appalachia that President Lincoln once sought to integrate better both economically and infrastructurally in the United States, but has sadly lagged further behind, and felt further removed from Washington.

And not only from Washington, DC, but from the complex of the news that is so demonized by President Trump as being an “enemy of the people” today.  For though it is never made precise who this collective is–“the people”–it is not the folks who read newspapers or watch the nightly news, but those who feel far less represented in them, and by them, and less familiar with them to less present to them–for the known density of reporters and correspondents appears an odd echo of the parsing of the lower forty-eight into “Yankeedom,” “Tidewater,” “Greater Appalachia,” “Far West.” and “Left Coast,” as not only different media markets, and different areas that are represented in the news–

 

local qotient reportersDept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Employment Statistics

 

employment correspondents 2017Dept. of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics/Occupational Employment Statistics

 

–but that feel alienated from its constitution of reality, because that stands at a remove from their lives and regions.  The existence of pronounced “news deserts” in areas as Appalachia suggest a fragmentation of our news economy that weakens local solidarity and opinion, and creates large voting blocks that are terrifyingly coincident with the paucity of local news sources, as Chisolm’s below burnt red interactive Carto data vis rather scarily reveals, as it invites and allows one to explore in even more fine-grained from over the lower forty eight.  The blanked-out regions of lightly hued regions reflect areas aggrieved areas by the absence of a diversity of local newspapers–institutions long identified with reflection on local political institutions and practices.  They are, in other words, afflicted with the absence of a plurality of avenues for the shaping of public opinion and political debate, and bound to rely one less active political debate.

 

Carto-News Deserts

 

The striking thinning out in many regions of Appalachia as well as the south of so-called “news deserts” is not a longstanding historical divide–the death of the local newspaper is

 

Appalachia News Deserts multipleAmerica’s Growing News Deserts/Columbia Journalism Review (2017)

 

–in which limited investigative reporting on local issues, discussion generated by print, and indeed informed local political decisions and checks on local power seems to create a vacuum into which rushes a new tribalism of largely symbolic issues.

 

 

The difference between these regions is not necessarily so continuous, or suggestive of nations, despite the startling continuity in “news deserts” and areas of the low level of occupational employment of journalists or correspondents that is its correlate.  Deep divides of terrifying continuity are at basis economically driven, and seem impossible to reduce only to cultural divides–or reduced to existing historical divides, so much as an erosion of local institutions designed to foster reflection on political institutions and discourse.

The increasing gaps in sites where only one newspaper–or no local news–exists will be made up for in new ways, but the growth of News Deserts from 2016 marks a change in the information economy, and a change in which the role of newspapers in constituting and encouraging the community long existed.  The rise of digital news outlets that have taken up the nourishing role traditionally and long played by journalism is promising, but the attack on the few remaining news sources that exist and on which folks rely stands as a new challenge, with the number of reporters covering local news having dropped in half since 2004, and some 1,800 newspapers–many venerable institutions in communities that helped make new communities–having folded in the same time, leaving all the tanned out regions with one newspaper, and the burnt siena dots counties with no local newspaper at all–areas reliant on other news sources and online information, according to Penelope Muse Abernathy of UNC’s Center for Innovation and Sustainability in Local Media, which points more deeply at the need for a new business model for local news, but also the increasing vulnerability of many counties–and many individuals–to the older, less educated, and poorer, farther from metropolitan areas in parts of Texas, the Dakotas, Alabama, Florida and Georgia, where our democracy may fracture.

 

Abernathy, 2018

 

The problems of an engaged citizenship through newspapers is not, of course, the only line of fracturing in the social body.

The increased divergence of the age at which women have a first child in different regions of the United States suggests a huge difference in life-perspective–or “life style”–which is clearly identified with those areas of denser presence of reporters, correspondents, and news reporting, suggesting a huge difference–and deep divergence–among the priorities, and negotiation of labor markets.  Although the different preferences for childbirth in the United States’ regions are not a big surprise for many women, the strikingly different age of women at birth maps onto the “regionalism” and regions of the United States in striking ways, unsurprising in an era when birth control and abortion are seen as the “issues” that define political divides–both around appointments to the Supreme Court and around what makes up privacy, personhood, and rights.  The pronounced oscillation around the age of a mother at her first birth is striking, not only in its divergence but the large span of the nation where birth is defined at twenty-four years of age, and what this mans for families and women’s work–and of female experience at the same time as the first female candidate became nominated by a major party–and the huge gaps this created.

 

Motehrs age at birth

 

New York Times: Birth Age Gap in the USA (2016)New York Times: Birth Age Gap in the USA (2016)

 

Does the puzzle fit together better now, looking at the relative number of reporters and correspondents employed and stationed in areas of the United States, and the remove of many regions–either apparent or real–from the media markets that exist, and the sense of alienation and remove of those areas  from actualities reported in the “news”?

Woodward’s “map”–updating or revisiting the divisions he had in fact foretold in 2013, just after President Obama’s second election as President, reprised for readers always hungry for a good data vis, that distilled confusion to stark lines of a 2-D paper map, called less “nations” (as he previously had) than “regions” which transmitted through the ages the spirits of their respective colonizers, in a complete revision of the image of the nation as a melting pot, economic integration and disparities of wealth be damned.

Rather than a melting pot having ever existed, the oracle of Freeport has it, distinctions between a Puritan legacy with assimilates others by championing a common good, the multicultural materialism of Dutch founders, the manorial society of the British gentry, quakers and pluralistic protestants of the midlands, and rigorous independence of the Scots Appalachians abut slave-holding southerners from the Barbados and Spanish-American periphery, shaping the nation’s fractured political present:  aside from some limited intersection of these realms, the melting pot not only never existed, but “deep cultural” values provided an optic that refracted every political event of the twentieth and twenty-first century, as if a deep memory of the mind that we will not escape.  The rigorous and purposive historical flatness of Woodward’s “map” seems a point of pride.

The schematic map recalls a study sheet for  high school U.S. history, claiming to reveal a landscape that lets scales fall from its viewers’ eyes.  Such radical essentialism–or deeply conservatory if not reactionary cartography–reminds us with considerable offhand pluck that we’re in fact far less mobile than we would like to think.  Rather than dig into the data in any depth, the map “shows” that we remain dominated by almost essential cultures that have been perpetuated by local institutions for all our championing of free will; we are, yes, really cultures, but cultures that no person can actually make.  Indeed, Woodward had originally cast the divides as separate “nations” that were both in evidence “today,” but revealed a deep geography of eleven nations in a 2013 map first published in the fall of 2013 as a guide to the “deep differences” into who he argued people in the nation sort themselves, as if into political preferences.  If a degree of self-determination surely remains, geography has the commanding upper hand, Woodward seeks to let us know, but his argument verges on an environmental conditioning by which the continent’s settlement runs against the idea of any  easy arrival at consensus:  indeed, “to understand violence or practically any other divisive issue, you need to understand historical settlement patterns” that defined the matrix.

 

Washington Post/Colin Woodward (2013)

 

Woodward responded to the stark fragmentation of the electoral map in 2012, to be sure, but has reprised his divisions again to explain the Trump phenomenon, and effectively raise questions about the midterm elections as if to suggest that no real deviation from a foretold story will occur.  And it is no surprise that the area of Greater Appalachia he has mapped, colored bright red in the image of 2013, which consciously riffed on the red state/blue state divide, without mentioning it.  Indeed, those “eleven nations” break into what look like voting blocks,–even if they are meant to remind readers that “lasting cultural fissures” were established by  “Euro-American cultures [that] developed in isolation from one another,” reflecting how “the American colonies were [first] settled by people from distinct regions of the British Isles” who we shouldn’t confuse.  Woodward presented his map as evidence of deep roots for the sectarianism we think of as modern, and “there has never been an America, but rather several Americas,” even if we all share one legal code.  Deadlock is natural on gun control or other issues,–but to appreciate that you “need to understand history” that political debate cannot alter.

When Woodward revived the twelve nations as divides as tools to explain a sense of regional divides to replace the truism of thinking about America in a rural/urban dichotomy, he wanted to go deeper than the big data of a district-by-district map and its information overload.  But leaving aside that his geographic divisions handily capture some of the largest cities and urban areas in the “Left Coast” and “New Netherland” region, the map seems deeply flawed in its use of voting preferences in an era when voter turnout is notoriously low–voter turn-out was not substantially lower than in other years, but hovered about 58%–and the areas where Trump surprisingly outperformed the previous Republican Presidential candidate in a majority of states–

 

image.png

 

The divisions map most precisely on regions that perceived their economic remove from the coastal elites with whom the Democrats have been wrongly identified.  Indeed, it is not surprising that the Greater Appalachia region that Woodward’s original 2013 map cast as bright red assumes a pretty monochrome hue when chopped out of the elegant Mapbox visualization, suggesting that that region played a large outsized role in the last election, or as much as Purple America, and occupies the heart of the area where Trump outperformed Romney in the 2016 election, reconfiguring the red-blue divide.  The deep crimson area, with scattered islands of blue to the east and north, where Greater Appalachia ends, suggests less a new nation than a remoteness,

 

Greater Appalachia.pngArea roughly corresponding to Greater Appalachia/Mapbox/New York Times

 

not only removed from broadband or access to health care, but relative per capita income rates in relation to the United States average, completion of high school, ethnic diversity, and women in the workforce and unemployment among young men–in short, a nation apart from the nation, less exposed to racial diversity and who the federal government had let down in its priorities.

 

Women in Worksplace, below average in tan.png

New York Times (2015), tan counties from below average; violet (above average)t

 

 

This was just the sort of area where Hillary Clinton would have the hardest time with her message, and possessed striking insularity.

 

 

Minority presence Appalachian Avg 2010U.S. Census Chartbook, 2010 (2011)

 

The trap of thinking in states may distort the above map, but the increased number of votes  seem rooted in “Yankeedom,” as well as “Greater Appalachia” and “Midlands,” than the logic of Woodard’s map would have us believe.  Of course, Woodward’s map might be more convincingly read not as a divide between rural and urban, but a heightening of the local, and a collapse of cross-regional collectives that once animated our politics and were known as parties, or groups that bargained for collective interests as unions.

For it surely takes into account the deep crisis in our democracy of a disconnect that many feel compelled to seek affective ties that are deeper than the remove they feel from Washington, and hard to find in a map.  It is saying something that even a year and a half from Trump’s inauguration as President, we continue to return, as if to find more information, to even more detailed parsings of the political map that might allow us to explore and, more importantly, come to terms with the extent of fracturing in our political landscape, where urban “voter islands” in Denver, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Washington DC, Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and New York are so strikingly pronounced–and try to understand what that heightened insularity can mean.

 

Ryne Rhola/Mapbox (2018)

 

We are asked to use the map to avoid being in a “political bubble,” and to explore the area that you “know”–no doubt where you reside, where everyone first turns in a map–as if to measure what you expected that you knew against the “extremely detailed map” of our political divisions, courtesy of Mapbox, where even the divisions in a reliably “blue state”–as where I live, California–can be parsed in greater detail, as if to gain intelligence of the political lay of the land, in time for the mid-terms, and to learn what districts you might to go to canvas or contribute to a political campaign, as possible on many partisan apps,

 

California.pngRyne Rhola/Mapbox (2018), 2016 US Presidential Election

 

The divisions in political or electoral preference seems hardly surprising, but the divides show up as stubbornly sharp in the Bay Area, whose insularity is long supposed and often championed, but where the directive to “explore” an area you “know” to see if you live in a political bubble seems all too apt.

 

Bay area

 

east bay alone with Danville

 

For the “areas you know” still seem ones that you can’t quite get your head around, too much like bubbles than regions, where fault lines of political opposition are located a bit more inland, but seem sadly inscribed on the land.

 


 

The maps remind us that, rather than live in nations, we seem to live in tribes.

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Filed under data visualization, infographics, news graphics, political geography, political preferences

The Less Visible Paths of Economic Giving

At the same time as Pope Francis elegantly entreats all to view the world less through the distortions of economic markets–and without forgetting those who are all too often overlooked–we rightly grapple with ways of imagining global inequalities, working to view the world less in terms of economic markets of commercial exchange or banking centers.  For Francis asks us to find a way to map the debt the producers of greenhouse gases owe to developing countries, lest their weight fall on poorer countries, rather than industrialized countries bearing their cost, and as well as a way of correcting the usurious rates of lending money, by guarding against those “oppressive lending systems . . . which generate further poverty.”  The United Nations served as the  setting to stage a dramatically and radically revised ” Urbi et orbi” address by the first transatlantic pontiff, and one deeply conscious of that status.  Francis enjoined us to imagine a common good–chastened by the harms of seeing social needs only in terms of economics.  The moral injunction to consider the deepening economic imbalances of national debt recalls the difficulties of picturing a more equal and more ethical distribution of space, taking stock of the globalized world outside dominant patterns of economic exchange.

If oppressive systems of lending create states mired in relatively equally distributed poverty, and others increasingly less egalitarian–as JapanSouth Africa and the United States–poorer individuals or countries all too easily fall through the cracks and off the mental map that privileges dominant economies.  Indeed, so obsessed have we become with noting, accepting, and internalizing property lines that we seem trapped into forgotting the actual distribution of inequalities in our country.  The warping of economic conditions in the United States alone–a warping toxic for local politics, and compassion–are nicely illustrated in microcosm in a glorious if grotesque GIF Max Galko offered, via Metrocosm.  In its warping of a planimetric image of national space, it seeks to track the terribly troubling distortion of civic space by wickedly substituting residential values on land to reveal hypertrophied concentrations of capital in a few regions—mapping value onto land in ways that display the drastic diminution of housing stock in far more regions of the lower forty-eight that contract out of sight.

af6689aa5

Metrocosm, based on data from US Census and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy

 

The bloated property values of urban and exurban areas are hardly signs of a healthily beating heart, but a Rabelasian image–if it weren’t also such a very accurate illustration of our current national political quagmire of using a map to create consensus when concentrations of wealth looks so different than the one which determines our representational government, and a clear social commentary and scathing socioeconomic critique.  For how can we create a clearer map of priorities, when the very levelness of a playing field is so distorted beyond recognition?  The cartographical contraction of so many areas that seem overlooked seems also a metaphor, as tNew York City, Miami, San Francisco, Seattle, Orange County and Chicago acquire hideously gargantuan proportions to seem countries of their own, as they assume their relative values of residential properties, leaving the majority of the country to disappear within the folds of their overvaluation and market-driven expansion, as if to show the difficulty with which market valuation maps onto our own space.  All this to raise questions of how a map of global economic relations might best begun to be traced, or how we might imagine the disruptive inequality on our perceptions of space–and, indeed, the inequalities that spatial orders increasingly come to reflect and perpetuate?

Does this image of a “beating” heart only map the absence of empathy in a map?

1.  For economic exchanges seem strikingly complicit in perpetuating inequalities, if only by diminishing those very inequities of economic productivity perpetuated in most maps fail to adequately attend or obscure.  One might hope, with geographer Andrew Linford, and Martin Lewis, the benefits of a map illuminating the inequities of global disparities in economic productivity–and try to use such a map to address how both regional and national disparities, often oddly dividing coastal areas from poorer interiors, might be overcome, and the ways that what pass as concerted attempts to do so often only shore them up. But such a map only confirms the sorts of distortions that most are only too aware already exist.

GDP Density

Geocurrents global  map of GDP Density (2011)

The illusion of equality is more often maintained by the belief that by mapping all aspects of the earth we are ensuring a sense of equality for all, or allowing no inequities to be hidden from view–as if the projects of world-mapping, and exposing to the public eye, is a means of responding to global needs–rather than obscuring these inequalities.

2.  Or can this even be captured in a map?  It bears noting that even if we have a totalistic map of global coverage, we tend to not come to terms with the depth of inequities and wealth, so obsessed we’ve become with what we can record as if it was a picture of the status quo.  In an age where outfits like Planet Labs or their friendly competitors at DigitalGlobe readily provide satellite-generated images that map the surface of the earth from space for their client base at an astounding resolution of two to three meters, what’s being mapped omits the truly important transactions, exchanges, money-laundering, and other financial transactions that underlie the ever more globalized economy.  Even as the platforms of Geo Big Data may appear comprehensive in detail, the undercurrents of these claims provokes questions about what they fail to communicate. Perhaps the very promise of totality for such claims of whole-Earth imagery–to be sure, at lower resolution for the state of Israel, by a ‘flock’ of “Dove” Satellites–only confirms that the real action lies elsewhere:  maybe in those shifting currents less readily subject to be seen, tracked or so readily surveyed, as much as on the edges of urban and rural life.  After all, if one accepts a uniform mathematical grid as a way of mapping, one omits any local knowledge of place, andy any notion of representation.

Satellite Dove

There must be more that resists such ready capture–from the rampant inequalities of wealth that organize our cities to the disparities of wealth around the world.  What other underground streams of electronic or financial transfers can we trace?  These streams constitute the new mare nostrum, the non-territorial terrain on which both worldly power and economic activities are waged, and run across the boundaries of either a settled or defined geopolitical space.  But the space of climate change is one that is best rendered as transcending a map of territorial bounds or geopolitical space that is rooted in the antiquated notion of “countries,” which not only seem increasingly removed from our planet’s fate–

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 8.21.05 PM

–but from it’s actual experience.

3.  The map “Money Trails” traces the actual paths of the disbursement of funds by the UN, World Bank, and 11 industrialized nations to reveal the distortion of global ties transcending geopolitical space.  So much seems revealed in the major unmapped pathways that structure our increasingly disturbingly decentered globe–which infographic artist Haisam Hussein used to map the distribution “foreign aid” in the pastel hues and curving bars reminiscent of the London Tube Map that the engineer Harry Beck so cleverly devised on the model of a simple circuit board–but which suggest a decentered lack of familiarity, and raise the stakes on processing how foreign aid is allocated, as much as to explain the circulation of funds with an air of transparency.

31_philanthropymap

Lapham’s Quarterly

Hussein’s uncanny infographic tacitly calls attention to the status of Aid as an artifact of the Western World (to which Beck so clearly belonged), even if the destinations of most of the billions tend to arrive at destinations whose open circles peripheral to or far outside the west, from Afghanistan, Myanmar, Vietnam, Brazil, Kenya or the West Bank–as well as India and Ethiopia.  Beck’s design had once simplified the confusion that Londoners faced in confronting underground routes by simplifying the Tub to a circuit’s dense pathways in ways riders quickly came to disentangle:

beckcb

What does it mean for huge sums of foreign aid to travel as they do, through such sanctioned if somehow secret hidden pathways of economic exchange?  Can one begin to disentangle their distribution by different agencies and governments, and the parallels sources of foreign aid dispatched to those needy, or to enter into a logic of their distribution?  Can one ever expect the distribution of Foreign Aid to run along such clearly defined pathways?

4.  In an age where the vast majority of financial transactions occur online and data centers channel chains of information with increasing speed, the paths of financial transactions are rarely transparently mapped.  Although we accept multiple ways of mapping and surveilling the world, but mapping the global exchange of money and financial assistance are less clearly established–if only because the mobility of money presents far less easy or a static image and is less about clear relations between place than often undisclosed channels of exchange.  If we know the GDP of different countries, national debt, global debt, or even map government debt as a percentage of GDP–we can rank countries’ relative consciousness of balance of payments, or the ability with which debt is able to be sustained, while those deepest crimson threaten to drop from view or implode:

l_2108_fd0c07716bed57e5759d1025fa89e780

Such a static distribution of debt offers a basis not to consider the distribution of productivity; it describes the ability of countries to carry debt even if carrying this load provides the basis to perpetuate their global roles.

The basis for understanding the circulation of money around the globe raise questions of the continued relevance of connectivity, distribution, and indeed the privileged point of orientation to the circulation of power.  For a map that privileges clear boundary lines of jurisdiction serves to regard each nation as an autonomous economic actor, but in an era of the paperless transaction of funds, the map that continues to privilege territoriality seems not only out of date, but increasingly irrelevant to describing the process of globalization.

One might also see the development of aid as a holding pattern or mode for tacitly creating consensus and uniting an increasingly uneven playing field of the economic state of play.  If empires were once seen as controlling the sea and mapping control of navigational spaces, the notion of the “Freedom of Seas” or Mare Liberum that Grotius proposed as the basis for mercantilism in the early seventeenth century have long ceased to be the basis or the illustration of imperial mandates:  whereas the concept of the Freedom of the Seas was in ways an extension of ancient Romans’ control over the Mediterranean, the ocean is no longer the screen to project projects of dominion than are the pathways of aid whose currents more aptly flow from centers of geopolitical power–and can only be mapped in far more fractured, and indeed postmodern, globalist terms, where economic aid is tied to the opening of markets as well as political ties–and might be far more challenging to map.  The sea is no longer the primary surface of economic exchange, and the relatively recent migration of monetary exchanges onto virtual space poses unique challenges to trace.

The less visible pathways and more visible tentacles by which foreign aid is dispensed may not only lend coherence to our national markets, despite the dramatic inequalities that continue to exist across the inhabited world–the expansion of aid may indeed make it ethically and conscionably possible to live in its huge differences of well-being and lifestyles that we wouldn’t be able to otherwise ignore.  An astounding $530 billion was informally sent, through unofficial channels, by immigrants, in 2012, according to the World Bank, in ways that might represent the economy of a sizable nation–and a huge uptick over the $132 billion sent in 2011.  The pathways of finance suggest a new model of global circulation of giving and receiving that offers something like an underlayer of the global economy.

Migrant money graphic.jpg

As of 2006, the money sent home from industrialized countries in the form of individual remittances was for the most part (outside of Africa) significantly larger than the official development assistance and foreign aid worldwide, according to the World Bank, whose donor countries commit to sustainable development or poverty reduction in ways that provide a plan for dealing with economic disparities.

remittance_world_466

But the dramatic expansion of foreign aid far more often travels along official currents, supported by a logic that demands some excavation of internationalist motivations that transcend mere economic need.

5.  While the notion of Christian charity was long linked to the local public use of personal wealth, as upper-class Roman elites gave money as they wanted to civic causes in much of Europe and North Africa, the flows of philanthropy that have been increasingly institutionalized have become ever more difficult to trace and complex to map as foreign aid has tried to reduce growing income disparities worldwide.  Giving is institutionalized by governments–and by United Nations organizations with the World Bank and their non-profit NGO allies, but mapping flows of philanthropy are far from the sorts of local giving of the past.  Increasingly mediated by non-national entities, the flow of funds in an era of global cash flows and transfers is increasingly dematerialized or immaterial, even when growing to the inconceivable amount of $160 Billion.

Perhaps rendering them concretely provokes more surprise than recognition as the courses of capital are remapped on a geographical projection.  And when Haisam Hussein chose to map trails of foreign aid against the famous transit map of a city once the financial center of world markets, as if to map the spatial contraction of the global economy to several principal routes of financial disbursement, the map suggests not only the mobility of money, but the degree to which the major economies like the United states and Japan, as well as Norway, Sweden, England, Germany, France, Australia and Canada pump money into a global system of credit that sustain global markets, helped primarily by the World Bank, and basically bankrolled by eleven nations, including Japan, Canada, the US, Britain, Sweden, Australia, Russia and South Korea–who exclude the “other area,” left grey on the map, of the People’s Republic of China.

Money Trails and UN

Lapham’s Quarterly

The money flows are modernistically represented as if to show the progressive possibilities of aid in streamlined terms, the distribution is at the same time  in no way equal and strikingly disproportionate and the larger flows of aid dissonantly disruptive of the modernistic design–the pathways of economic aid are clearly and lopsidedly dominated by the nations of the northern hemisphere.  Despite the modernism of the routes, the disproportionate paths on which aid travels disrupts the symmetry of its so sleek tube lines, as distortedly large baby blue rivers dominate the map as they flow from Japan beside yellow-gold currents from the United States, reminding one of the deeply engrained national inequalities that underpin much “giving” today–and dazzling us with an array of colors and flows that leads us almost to forget the global presence of the PRC, or the grey persistence of global poverty.

But the selective nature of support seems particularly striking–with, as of 2013, the UK tied to Pakistan, Ethiopia and Bangladesh, the US to Kenya, Gaza and the West Bank, and Afghanistan, Australia to its neighbors Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, Norway to Brazil, and France to Myanmar and Morocco.  The routes for disbursing foreign aid are hardly a process of global circulation, but provide something like a strategy for promoting the possible circulation of global funds.

31_philanthropymap

Lapham’s Quarterly

The circulation of “aid” is in part a sort of shadow-map that helps shore up and support the  US military’s presence.  The spread of what seems an extended carte blanche to settle the US military in bases abroad has grown steadily since World War II, and has currently grown to spread to over 800 foreign bases in 160 other countries and territories outside the United States–excluding Afghanistan and Iraq, sustained at a cost of over $156 Billion annually.  The current constellation of what Chalmers Johnson called “base world”–a parallel imaging of military extraterritoriality–of which the Pentagon lists not only 174 US “base sites” in Germany, 113 in Japan, and 83 in South Korea, but hundreds more in around 80 countries, including Bahrain, Bulgaria, Colombia, Kenya, and Qatar:  if those countries colored bright red are hosting actual basis, those in purple are hosting US troops, and those in dark blue are countries where the US government is currently negotiating the presence of troops, and the rare spots of a lighter shade of blue mark those with “no evident” US military presence–limited to Mongolia, Tibet, Burma, North Korea and Iran, and the northern and central Africa nations of Libya, Somalia, the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan.  (But one never knows.)

globalmilitarism58_14

While one might rightly wonder why the army, navy, and marines are based so widely over an “empire of bases,” the cost to the government is no doubt not only expressed in the cost of running the bases that are outposts of Americana where one would think oneself to be geographically removed.

A closer look at those sites of centers of active duty of US soldiers–not including the recent theaters of war of Afghanistan and Iraq–shows a diaspora of bases across the globe that the Department of Defense sustains, allowing the US to have a greater presence worldwide than any actual nation, empire, or people, in seems the underside of globalization, as well as the fantasy of a paranoid extra-national archipelago of active duty that may respond to a vision of global danger:

Active Duty Map

Is foreign economic “aid” somehow a tacitly understood bribe to continue to tolerate such an expansive military presence, or to negotiate with nations for the possibility of securing a future base, or some other sort of economic open-ness?  Is it an excuse to overcome resistance to perpetuating ongoing military presences, or a new way of strategically and cynically waging a global war of chess?

Hosting US Bases

The image of active duty soldiers settled in bases across what might be called Eurasia reveals an often unmapped constellation of sites of settlement, far different from the cities that usually appear on a political atlas or any map.

Active Duty in EurASIA

6.  The World Bank does not primarily speak, despite what its name might assure us, for the world, and may charge usurious fees, but a counter-geography suggest the limits of the pathways Hussein so cleverly mapped from a first-world perspective.

For an unspoken and often ignored “other map” of economic aid, as well as, perhaps, of the “soft money” that allows military and economic expansion, flows not from the World Bank or United States, of course, but from China–all too absent from our own eyes, much as the very same region of the world is so conspicuously absent from maps of Facebook “friending” and “likes” in ways that makes one smirk with superiority at the eerily blacked-out region of a world otherwise illuminated by “friendships” and photo exchange.  The same area not so oddly omitted from the map of global foreign aid, since it is not our aid or the sort of aid sought to be mapped, is actually of course not nearly so passive, or lacking networks of giving.  Although Facebook’s ““Friendship Map” tracks networking, as much as it registers an increasingly vibrant emotional pulse of the digital culture of linking that grips much the globe, leaves a blank space of seep blue or empty lacuna in tracing over 1.5 billion friendships–half of its users have successfully “friended” over 200 other users.  The largest hole of social network gapes over China–though one still can’t really expunge its territory from a map–although the map only reflects individual and collective investment in social media.

5236592-3x2-700x467

Global visualisation of every connection between two people on Facebook

Perhaps the map is far more distorting than admit it to be.

In the more real world of global finances, funding provides an image of governmentally that reigns in the massive economic disequilibria around the world at at time of dramatically curtailed prosperity.  China’s foreign aid reveals distinctly different paths of money to North Korea, Srl Lanka, Sub-Saharan Africa–including Ethiopia and Sierra Leone–and Ecuador; aid is proffered with quite different degrees of riskiness, in ways that suggest the large number of risky bets that China seems to be making in “foreign investment”–described here as something unlike and distinct from “aid” or charitable giving, but as something of a gambit of clearly strategic scope of investing in future markets or potential future sources of food:

China's investment and riskiness of its investing

New York Times

Yet the degree of cumulative investment deserves attention as an alternate visualization of globalization that is not scary, but nonetheless can’t help but be salutary at least in illustrating global imbalances as a counterpoint:
China's Investment, 2005-13:NYT

One can further profitably compare this to the aggregate numbers of Chinese exports and imports go, to see its economy’s global reach, and ask why the range of its “giving” or aid is ommited from the above map–in ways that suggests the degrees of strings attached to it.  The size of exports suggests a complementary set of ties to areas in Europe, the United States, Japan, and South Korea, as well as Australia and South Africa, where a smaller degree of aid arrives–no doubt with invisible strings of its own implicitly attached.

Value of Chinese Imports and Exports Worldwide 2015Value of Chinese Imports and Exports Worldwide 2015New York Times

These somewhat silent and far less evident paths of “giving” and GDP, as well as export values, seek to map a more dynamic image of the current state-of-play of globalization as a sort of state of flux, even if its economic ecosystem is all too often obscured, but also a screen for introspection of the proportions of globalization and its sins.  After all, whoever gives themselves the mantle of global authority most convincingly seems to get to draw the map. Or to decide that it might be time to reconsider the current map of giving, and foreign aid.

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Filed under Foreign Aid, globalization, infographics, mapping economic inequalities

Refugee Traffic Scars the Globe’s Surface

Almost any graphic is inadequate to represent the plight of displaced refugees.  The aggregate numbers astound: the sixty countries from which 30,000 people were forced to leave their countries each day over the previous year.  While these numbers reflect only those designated candidates for asylum and refugee status–and do not reflect the extent to which those fleeing from persecution and have expanded so dramatically–the image charts the number of asylum-seekers that grew to over 1.2 million in 2014.  Yet the quantities of those considered for refugee status can hardly be adequately processed, let alone mapped in aggregate–or the recognition of refugee status processed on Europe’s borderlands.  The map of refugee flight in red arcs across a map lacking political frontiers and boundaries seeks to foreground just how frantic the desperate search for pathways to new homes have become, and how wide-ranging these itineraries.  If they seek to provide a sort of negative to the privileged paths of an age of increased air travel and suggest the desperation of forced spatial migration, they silence the actual stories of refugees.

What sort of stories does this simplified map simply omit?  The stories of those journeys are interrupted by death, while they are far smaller, of course remain absent:  the perilous trajectories of individuals fleeing Syria, Iraq, Africa, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Pakistan however risk not only their lives, but increasingly their legal status as they undertake huge geographic migrations in search of new homes elsewhere, traveling by boat, on foot, or along paths promised by human traffickers.  The sleek image, despite its attempted accuracy, shows the intensity of itineraries as embossed on the map as if to disfigure the notion of global unity that runs against the very narrative of global unity implicit in a iconic equidistant azimuthal projection centered on the North Pole which emphasized global harmony as World War II was tried to be forgotten, which as the official flag adopted by the United Nations adopted in October, 1947 promoted an image of global unity:

 

Flag_of_the_United_Nations.svg

Harrison Polar Map/Official UN Flag

But the problem of effectively mediating the growing plight of stateless and displaced from “hot-spots” across the world poses not only a problem of the geographic imagination, but of the ethics of mapping.  For the aggregate mapping of those deserving or awarded refugee status not only presses the limits of the data visualization, bound to simplify itineraries of refugees far more fragmented and indirect than can be mapped, but that no data visualization can group the individual stories that the sheer numbers of those displaced by conflict and violence are barely possible to comprehend.  Refugee traffic suggests a level of instability difficult to condense in any map:  and is “traffic” not a fatally flawed metaphor, suggesting a possibility of monitoring or policing, bureaucratically inflected, blind to varied reasons for the rapid growth of refugees?

The hot-spots from which those crossing borders were readily recognized as refugees were increasingly focussed on wealthier countries since before World War II, but the growth in those granted humanitarian status as refugees had already been defined around clear epicenters back in 2007, when millions of the population in Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, and Iran were accorded status, after having crossed borders, as refugees, and large numbers of asylum seekers in the United States, Canada, and Europe had started to grow–the map, which seems an earlier version of the decentered azimuthal projection later chosen by the graphics editor and cartographer at the New York Times, similarly serves to suggest the global nature of a problem largely centered in the Middle East.

7_refugees_and_asylum_seekers

WRSC

The choice of trying to map the data of those declared refugee to show the arcs of their arrival from global hot spots on a decentered azimuthal terrestrial projection aptly maps the crowding of the globally displaced in 2014.  But the choice of transferring the collective itineraries to a global projection–in a sort of perverse mapping of flight paths suggests the most deeply troubling side of global inter-connectedness, and perhaps its deepest source of stress–by scarring the world’s surface in a frenetic criss-cross of arcs.   UNHCR data of the global monitoring of refugees’ origins and points of arrival in new homes served to reveal an aggregate picture of resettlement in “Global Trends in Migration of Refugees” based on the accordance of refugee status, but in doing so erases the complex negotiation of the fate of asylum seekers, as well as the painfulness of the itineraries the globally displaced increasingly suffer.  Is it ethical to hope to draw equivalences of the growing problem those claiming asylum as refugees by showing their arrival along idealized clean arcs?

Are we in danger, moreover, of representing refugees by the designation that western countries who grant them asylum accord them, for lack of complete or adequate data of the dynamics of displacement and mass-migration?

1. The graphic seems apt by rendering a scarred world.  But it also seems an all too cool comment on the violent status quo, in which the number of displaced people raising risks by falling back on a modernist aesthetic that fails to capture the violence of displacement and indeed the placelessness of the refugees:  the distinctive azimuthal projection, whose particular properties orients the world around the common locus of refugees’ eventual destinations, so as to suggest the range of their flights, rendering the range of collective arcs of geographic displacement at a uniform scale.  Although the projection, which echoes the cartographical rendering of a global space in the flag of the United Nations, illustrates the actual global consequences of the heartbreaking tragedy of over fifty million refugees and internally displaced (IDP’s) across the world, their fortunes remain impossible to map, and difficult to visualize.  Indeed, despite the difficulties of mapping those displaced, and problems of protracted displacement that have eroded societies, images often remain far more powerful than maps.

 

displaced persons

 

By mapping the aggregate destinations of the displaced by flared arcs, of uniform size, the visualization maps the eventual destinations of refugees, as determined according to the UN’s Refugee Agency, and foregrounds the question of their destination rather than the reasons for their displacement.  The costs of such an omission are considerable.  The question of how to represent displacement, and how to mediate the experience of the refugee, raises questions of how to visualize population within a map.  The record numbers of those forced to flee their homes over the past year raise questions of whether resettlement can ever be enough–and if the tragedy incurred by displacement, without a clear destination and often just beyond the borders of the country one fled, trapped in war zones, or stranded in temporary settlements, aggregate trends of displacement seem oddly removed from refugees’ experience.

For while the smooth arcs of geographic relocation data are compelling, they transform the often desperate flight of refugees by an aesthetics of minimalism that rather reduces the scope of the spatial displacement that the terrifying numbers of persecuted refugees experience, and foregrounds the sites at which the displaced arrive–perhaps to remind us of the distance of the United States’ retention of an annual ceiling of resettling 70,000 refugees–and not the unrepresentable scope of the violence of spatial dislocation and tragedy of searing social disruptions.  The deepest difficulty to represent is the precipitous slide toward poverty, hunger, and poor health care of most refugees, whose arcs of travel are both far from smooth, but so rocky and economically destabilizing that the challenges of orienting oneself to its crisis are indeed immense.  And they only begin to chart the number of internally displaced and causes and scale of displacement–and the lack of political will that protracted displacement and flight have created on the ground, in their abstraction of refugee flows.  For while the distribution of internal displacement challenges one to create a compelling graphic, the dynamics of displacement by the Norwegian Internal Displacement Monitoring Center across some sixty countries seem so difficult to embody–or process–that to demand clearer visualization to comprehend the scope of internal displacement of those who are rarely granted asylum–or are accorded the so desired status of refugees.

IDP

IDMC

In its gesturing to the equidistant azimuthal projection of the United Nations, the visualization of refugee traffic evokes the clear ideals of the UN as an institution in its refusal to privilege a specific geographical centering.

600px-Emblem_of_the_United_Nations.svg

The focus in the visualization on UNHCR data of resettlement emphasizes a narrative of resettlement, even some sixty years after UNHCR first directed global attention to the “World Refugee Year” in 1959, with hopes “to encourage additional opportunities for permanent refugee solutions through voluntary repatriation, resettlement or integration, on a purely humanitarian basis.”  For in showing clean arcs that deliver the displaced, analogously to a frenetic set of flight paths, collapsing the time of one year, the tragedy of the unsettled are oddly ignored.  For although the flared arcs on the projection effectively pose questions to the reader about the impact of refugees’ arrival in Europe and wealthier countries, it shifts the question provocatively from the human rights abuses and disasters which provoke such flight–and ignores the terrifyingly young age of so many refugees, over half of whom are less than eighteen.

In seeking to grasp the scope of statelessness and displacement, and the psychic as well as economic questions of displacement, can’t we do better?

 

2.  Representing the global crisis of the displaced is by no means simple, and data visualizations are often inadequate to represent the travails of the refugee.  But although the movement of the displaced mirrors what UNHCR determined were the destinations of the displaced in 2014, the minimalist projection of terrestrial expanse oddly and dissonantly removes them from the humanitarian crises that created their displacement:  the countries noted in the terrestrial projection recedes into the background behind bright flared arcs that trace in aggregate the migratory paths refugees actually took in ways almost abstracted from experience–and in ways that may effectively unintentionally serve to diminish their plight by expressing it in an aggregate.  While an alternating focus on Southern Sudan, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine and Burma where many have been forced to flee their homes can afflict the most clear-headed with a temporary case of Attention Deficit Disorder as they puzzle at the multiple crises that convulse refugees to flee, leaving millions of Iraqis (2+), Syrians (3.2+), and Rohyingya to remain stateless, their flight is rarely linear, and the omission of the uncertainty of any refugee’s path or flight is troubling.

If the global visualization illustrates the increased intensity of the problem of displaced refugees over the previous year, even as it tracks the scars that divide it.  By using a set of specific points to another on a globe centered on where the greatest refugee traffic occurred, the data vis represents actual distances to countries of asylum, displaying pathways of asylum refugees took on a map of accurate distances, and traffic of truly global scope.  Although the densely crowded red arcs obscure much of France, Germany, and other sites of destination for the displaced as if to exaggerate an influx of to Europe, they illustrate a growing recognition that the scale of human displacement is a global crisis–as much as a crisis of resettling refugees.

The array of intersecting red arcs in the map underscores the proximity of an inter-related world, and provocatively foregrounds the increasingly global scope of a multiplying crisis of displaced persons that have come to scar much of the world’s surface.  The problem of how to synthesize the diverse local experiences displacing increasing refugees across the globe both internally and to other countries is resolved by using UNHCR data to map the growing traffic of the displaced that the we will increasingly be challenged to come to terms. Yet what of the image of interconnectedness that they reveal?  While foregrounded in an equidistant projection that renders evident the symbolic unity of around a nexus of departure of refugees from Africa, Syria, and Ukraine who arrive in Europe, the crimson arcs literally cut across the image of coherent harmony emphasized in the azimuthal projection, by locating sites at uniform distances to emphasize its unified image of the inhabited world–the same reasons it was adopted in different form in the flag of the United Nations–which also downplays the very national differences and frontiers more often inscribed in terrestrial maps, using an equidistant azimuthal projection of the world centered on its pole to project an ideal of global harmony.

The data visualization “Global Trends of Migration” foregrounds a marred world, however.  In it, the sites of refugees’ arrival is often even rendered illegible, disorientingly, by blotches of solid red created by converging flared red arcs.  Was there a somewhat alarmist decision to flare the ends of these arcs at the sites of the “arrival” of refugees, as has been suggested elsewhere by Martin Grand Jean?  For Grand Jean observes that in doing so, the concentration of apparent endings attract greater visual attention than the sites from which persons are displaced, or the intensity of the displacement:  we hide our eyes from the atrocities, in short, and the true nature of the crisis and humanitarian disaster, perhaps in ways informed by UNHCR data on the need to better process refugee flow.   One might go farther in this critique:  for in flaring such endpoints, the image not only oddly downplays the sites of emergency from which they seek asylum, and the unmitigated tragedy of those who remain displaced, but conveys a sense that the flights are smooth.

To be sure, the very term “traffic” that recurs to describe the “Trends in Global Migration of Refugees” seems a bit of an oblique misnomer.  It almost obfuscates the experience of those who were only recently forced to flee their homes, as much as render them for the viewer.  For the elegant aggregation of such a uniquely tragic dataset may not fully come to terms with the growing global tragedy of the apparently unmitigated spread of refugees from an expanding range of sites–and the steep human rights challenges the exponential expansion of global or internal exiles creates.  Although the attempt to synthesize UNHCR data and map those flows offer one of the clearest tools by which to process, comprehend and synthesize the rapid expansion of individuals who were forcibly displaced over the past year, and come to term with that expansion.  But it hardly comes to terms with the desperation of their travails or the difficulty of their departures.  Indeed, by covering much of Europe in busy red blotches it disarmingly foregrounds and describes the arrival of refugees who have successfully left their countries–more than the mechanics of their displacement.  And there is a sense, almost paranoiac, and to be resisted, that the arrival of these streams of refugees who enter the Eurozone almost threaten to cancel its identity.

 

Cancelled Europe?

 

What is lost in the image’s busily crowded surface is perhaps made up for by the frenetic intensity it uses to ask us to confront such trajectories of tragedy and desperation.  But as an illustration, the elegance of the visualization seems to mislead viewers through its concentration on a geometry of arrival–and the smoothness with which it invests the desperation of forced departures. Despite its impressive effects, there seem multiple reservations about the possibility of creating an adequate data visualization.  In translating the tragic dataset of forced migrations as a point-to-point correspondence, its simplification approximates the wide geographic itineraries of that the globally displaced have been forced to seek–and understates the tortuously complex paths they actually followed.

Indeed, tensions are implicit in the stark modernist aesthetics of rendering the paths of refugees and the global imperative to address the pressing refugee problems that raise questions of the ethics of mapping the displaced.  The cool modernist aesthetics of “Trends in Global Migration” obscure the messiness of refugees’ own lives.  In recent years, the Refugee Highway and others have sought to address in foregrounding the global “hotspots” of mass-migration–by combining qualitative and quantitative data.  They have tried to reveal what open routes exist for those seeking asylum and capturing the resourcefulness of the refugee–noting possible destinations of asylum, and sites of resettlement, or differentiating between routes taken in fleeing by land and sea to help viewers appreciate the scope of the refugee disaster.  In the image below, Refugee Highway reveals the presence of airplanes over industrialized nations where more refugees are apt to settle or seek asylum suggests the steep symbolic liabilities of Wallace’s stark “Global Trends.”

 

refugee highway map Refugee Highway-Legend The Refugee Highway

Another alternative visualization, proposed by Grand Jean on the basis of the very same UNHCR 2014 database, places less visual emphasis on the sites of refugees’ arrival, or sites of eventual asylum, but use similar lines as the red arcs of migration, apt for suggesting bloody scars  but less illuminating of the proportions of displaced and, as Grand Jean nicely notes, not weighted in any way, so that the 6,000 Mexican refugees that arrive in Canada are illustrated in an equivalent manner to the million refugees from Syrian territory that have arrived in Lebanon.  Gran Jean has generously proposed an alternative visualization that salutary in varying the thickness of lines that denote refugees’ displacement from sites of humanitarian crisis that confronts the limits of doing justice to the representation of displacement, sacrificing the modernist aesthetics of the image to ensure its greater readability:

Refugees-world

Martin Grand Jean

The attention Grand Jean returns to the sites of displacement can be easily rendered in ways that distinguish the different regions and countries from which the 14.37 refugees UNHCR registered have sought asylum, using color to start to distinguish the sites from which refugees were displaced–and start to diminish the information overload of the data visualization of this global crisis.

actual areas

Martin Grand Jean 

 

There is value to imitating the information overload created by the expanding crisis of global refugees, but it raises questions of the ethics of mapping disasters.  Much as it is difficult to comparatively map the multiplications of centers of forcible displacement, it is difficult to even heuristically approximate the varied qualitative circumstances of the world of the refugee–as much as one would like to grasp the extent of the desperation of exile from the boundaries and neighborhoods of one’s former home.

 

2.  The elegant economy of the jaw-dropping visualization in the Times of the refugee crisis compellingly transposes the aggregation of annual refugees to illustrate its deeply global nature.  The crisis of those forcibly displaced on a symbolic level by the harmony of uniform spatial relations–in the mode of early modern cordiform maps–although, of course, those thin red lines of scarification disrupt whatever harmony exists across the globe, despite the attention that it calls to its inter-relations, in the manner of the polar azimuthal projection surrounded by two olive branches of peace that was designed as an emblem of the United Nations to suggest the proportional representation of the continents, and lack of privileging one area of the world by Donal McLaughlin, who interest in the transparency of visual communication led him to propose its design in 1946 as a seal for the UNO.

The popularity of the visualization of “Global Trends” lies in its success in cleanly sorting a significantly large dataset in a readily legible terms in ways that insist on the proximity of accumulated crises dispersed across the globe in isolation from one another–but which affect the world and demand a global response.

 

Flag_of_the_United_Nations.svg

\

One unarticulated if implicit institutional message of the equidistant polar projection in the “Global Trends” graphic is that it captures the pressure that the displaced place on the ideals expressed by the equidistant polar azimuthal projection featured on the UN flag.

Even if the very globalization of a refugee crisis makes it hard to focus on the status of those forcibly displaced or the context of collective hot-spots from which folks have fled, so clearly does it abstract individual itineraries of flight from their local contexts, the intensity of its busy red lines captures the overwhelming image of desperation, even if limited to those who have found asylum–not the refugee camps clustering on the borders of Syria, Sudan and Myanmar–it captures the intensity of forced migrations worldwide, if not the circumstances of their internal displacements or their deaths in transit and at sea.  The poor and often perilous conditions of the camps and settlements are left off of the map, as it were, as are the circumstances of ocean travel often brokered by human traffickers.

For the greatest lie and fabrication in the narrative of Global Trends of Displacement is the illusion it perpetuates that all refugees possess and have a destination–and indeed that all refugees arrive.   The extreme unmessiness of rendering the actual tragedy of refugees’ itineraries in purified form with a coolness worthy of Le Corbusier or Eero Salonen frames the crisis of refugees as if tracking airplanes’ movement or allocating resources.  To an extent, this is the result of the UNHCR dataset, which focuses on the arrival in camps or countries of asylum, rather than displacement or the camps were refugees and fleeing persons congregate along the borders of nearby countries.  But the visualization deriving from the data provides readers with a quite misleading illustration of the crisis at hand.  For in concealing local details, they obscure both the individual stories of sacrifice as well as the conditions or scarcities that has driven such a steep expansion of fleeing across what have often increasingly become quite shaky and undefined border-lines, readily renegotiated in theaters of war.

 

Sudanese refugees mappedUNHCR, Refugees from Southern Sudan by mid-December, 2013

 

Rather, the image created communicates an impression of cleanly engineered arcs of geographical mobility and direct paths to resettlement.  Unlike earlier visualizations, the elegant red arcing lines adopted in “Global Trends” present the UNHCR data as if to suggest that all refugees arrive–even though the dataset is of course only about those who do seek asylum and resettle elsewhere, and predominantly in countries far removed from their homelands.  This narrative of spatial displacement may obscure a deeper set of narratives of dislocation.

 

Global Trends in Displacement: Destinations New York Times

One sacrifices a sense of the local in the arching red lines in the gripping aggregation of global refugees over the past year in “Global Trends,” also pictured the header to this post.  The data vis indeed broached the difficulties of comprehending what has increasingly and ultimately become a global crisis at the end of an age of empire in readily comprehensible terms.  Although the paths of refugees’ flights threatens to muddy the specific travails from which folks are forced to flee in the data visualization, as well as their specific circumstances and travails, it synthesizes and processes the almost unsustainable streams of forced flights from refugee hot spots by foregrounding the actual routes of displacement–while misleadingly suggesting that all refugees found future homes.

Indeed, it maps the unmappable by mapping the pathways of those forcibly displaced:  yet of the 60 million displaced globally, the map focusses on the 14 million (almost a quarter of those displaced worldwide) who have left their countries in 2014 alone, offering what is probably an under-estimation of the encyclopedia of travails that can never, at another level, map or synthesize–as if the routes of fleeing can ever be adequately represented by being sketched on the perfectly engineered arcs akin to the smoothly engineered pathways of multiple airplane flights along which a very different demographic travels.  Refugees are of course unlikely to experience such travel, more characteristic of readers of the Times, who would surely be prone to recognize the map as a sad perversion of global flight paths, converging on Eruopean capitals, the United States, Canada, and Australia.

Global Trends in Displacement: DestinationsNew York Times

One feels only awe at the overwhelming nature this sort of dataset, itself difficult and dizzying to process because it offers little real cue for orienting oneself to the complex totality of narratives it collectively encodes.  Whether the augmentation of refugees worldwide can be seen as a quantifiable crisis–and removed from human terms and individual costs–is a question that cannot be here addressed.  But the conversion of the crisis into human flows is a compelling way to try to come to terms with how we’ve come to inhabit the world in rather chilling ways, by plotting some of the data from the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees on a global projection centered on the primary areas of regional crisis–not without posing the question of why such a global focus of the refugee crisis exists.  The nexus of the refugee “crisis” is so widely spatially distributed, indeed, to leave its “focus” dizzying as one tries to better internally process the extent of displacement worldwide:

 

detail refugees map New York Times

 

3.  The frenetic business of the long distance “traffic” pictured on the global map can also be reorganized and viewed, or disaggregated, piecemeal, luckily,  in order to make some sense of the terrifying abundance–or obesity?–of the disturbing dataset whose aggregation reveals the close relations between countries in an age of globalization, if it cannot threaten to obscure the dramatic narratives of individual experience.  The data is condensed into misleadingly orderly (if dizzyingly distracting) mesh of intersecting red lines, arcing over the earth’s surface and boundaries–as if to capture the global nature of the crisis, but which painfully erase the multiple individual narratives of struggle, internal displacement, and blossoming of the unplanned cities of refugee camps, and the different material and environmental constraints against which refugees have to contend and struggle. The comforting illusion that each refugee has a destination–or endpoint–ignore the improvised settlements now dot maps of Jordan, Turkey, Chad and South Sudan, and hold some two million souls, or the deaths of refugees in transit or at sea–runs against the demand for an adequate dynamic map of their own, as if in a sort of reverse map of sites of human habitation inscribed on maps.

Such a map would describe dislocation in greater detail than the valiant ESRI “story map” of those refugee camps administered by the UNHCR, whose slippy map invites one to inspect the numbers of displaced in different camps, but stands at a significant remove from their actual circumstances or experiences of displacement of the story it purports to tell.

efugee camps ESRI Fifty Most Populous Refugee Camps (an ESRI story-map) ArbatDarfur Refugee Camp in Chad Arbat_Transit_Camp_3-3-2014 Arbat Transfer Camp for Syrian Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan

4.  Could one rather include in such a map variables such as the length of time required for transit from each country, the amount of time required for transit, or the possibility of making such travel–all potential ways to represent the ordeal of displacement in ways that viewers might understand?  Or could one indicate the violence of the displacement in a quantitative way?

Indeed, the focus of the data vis on the routes of migration that refugees take runs against the widely accepted and reported truth that the number of internally displaced persons has expanded far beyond the growth of refugees seeking asylum in recent years–also reported by Sergio Peçanha–if the growth of IDP’s worldwide has surely increased the desperation of those refugees who leave countries of origin.

IDP's New York Times

The greatest single lie that this elegant map of refugees across the world tells in its distribution of a dataset is that all refugees have a destination to which the flee that can be mapped–a lie that the red arcs that imitate the paths of air traffic encourage.  For the paths of those fleeing are of course rarely so removed from the ground or so truly globalized in their dispersion.  In addition, there is a shift of attention from the sites where a truly unmanageable set of crises for refugees exists to the density of points of arrival in European countries as France, Germany, England, Italy, and Sweden, as well as Australia, Canada and the US–all rendered by but a single point or nexus of arrival, or destination–and often obscured by clotted red lines.  Does this detract the readers’ attention from the sites of humanitarian emergency that prompted the rush of refugees? The crowded the image evokes the image of something like a blood splatter, the result of the expansion of the intensity of combat in multiple theaters that, after all, set the mechanisms of displacement in motion, which the practice of aggregation erased.  In ways that imitate the The Refugee Project’s attempt to map arcs of resettlement of those seeking asylum since 1975 in interactive fashion within a single globe, the density of lines that converge in Europe and elsewhere suggest the deeply linked question of the global multiplication of forcibly removed refugees, and the proliferation of a forcible statelessness across so much of the modern world.

 

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 12.10.41 PMThe Refugee Project 

 

But, on the other hand, the visualization’s immediate popularity, registered by wide retweeting, responds to the cognitive difficulty–if not impossibility–of coming to terms in a clear-headed manner with the dizzying multiplication of growing numbers of refugees and internally displaced people in our increasingly destabilized world. There is considerable clarity in how the orderly arcs mirror the readily recognizable form of a map of destinations of flights, if there is something truly odd in how they represent the terrifyingly troubled transit of peoples in times of war.  Perhaps the map aptly captures in symbolic fashion the desperate flight from regions in its numbers alone, acting like a sort of blood splatter map on the world–although one where the wounds seem to lie in those countries that receive refugees, rather than the sites of the violence that provoked their transit.

For the greatest difficulty with the data visualization remains the remove of its narrative content from the subjective experiences of the refugees than the absorption of refugees in their new countries, and the apparent equivalence that it draws between both the proportion of refugees or the experiences of refugees from different countries.  Hence, the conspicuous inclusion of numbers of departed whose final destinations were a specific country and the foregrounding of the names of those countries that were most likely destinations in the developed world–the United States, Canada, France, and Sweden among them–several countries were a sharply xenophobic ultra-right has been recently recognized as on the rise. Take, for instance, the dispersion or draining of Syrian populations, which despite its orderly symmetry offers only a stripping of data to approximate the ongoing struggles on its disintegrating borders.  During the recent Civil War, some 11.6 million people, almost half of its entire population, have been displaced, half arriving in Egypt, and only a relatively fortunate few arriving in European or industrialized/westernized nations.  Representing the length of time required for resettlement would at least be a surrogate and index for the nature of the experience of refugees that would be a possibly more ethical model for mapping displacement than the dispersion of the Syrian population on simple arcs–without notation of how many displaced Syrians remain, and omit the distortion suggested below of a smoothly engineered migration from refugee camps.

 

Syrian refugee displacement New York Times

 

5.  The infographic maps but one corner of the dilemma of global refugees.  One way that the infographic must be read is in dialogue of the as-yet limited reactions of advanced economies to the growing global refugee crisis, to be sure, at a time when it may make less sense to retain the attitudes of protectionism and fears of immigration, evident in the expansion of only 70,000 refugees to the United States during Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 on the basis of “humanitarian concerns” as “in the national interest,” and the retention of limits of admissions in accordance with clear ceilings for each region.  For does such an imposition of such ceilings come to terms with the global desperation felt by the displaced?

admissions of refugees--refugee resettlement assistance FY 2015

White House

There is an obligation to come to terms with the steep fears of immigration and better help readers better wrestle with the plight of the displaced.

An untold understory of the infographic that is less evident in the image used in this post’s header is the considerable concentration of a huge proportion of refugees–some 85% by the count of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees–in one specific geographic region, and the lack of resources that are effectively able to be devoted to these refugees’ fates.  (And this may well be an underestimation of population flows among the internally displaced.)  The majority congregate in regions running from Turkey to Southeast Asia, past Ethiopia to Kenya and the Central African Republic, although one imagines that the displaced in Ukraine are just absent from the dataset, and less able to be accurately measured by the UN numbers.  The region populated by millions of displaced is circled by dotted lines below.  In each of these regions, most relatively impoverished, refugees are often exchanged among countries with limited resources to process compelling human needs–for example, Ethiopia holds  665,000 refugees from Somalia and South Sudan–where they are bound to press further upon limited existing resources and fragile economies.

85% refugees

 

What will be the result of these interconnections–and whether they won’t demand far greater global interconnectedness–is not clear.

But the ongoing expansion of refugees in areas where there is no clear governmental or administrative organization will prove especially difficult to map adequately, despite the compelling nature of the “Recent Trends” visualization, such trends are poised to expand in future years, especially from Ukraine as well as Syria and Myanmar.

Global Trends in Displacement: Destinations New York Times

It seems most likely that, at some level, the data visualization of the destinations of refugees as seeking asylum from their country of origin unconsciously records how far we have come from the optimism of picturing the possibility of global unity the United Nations auspiciously hoped to inaugurate in 1946–by the agency which compiled the UNHCR database.

600px-Emblem_of_the_United_Nations.svg

 

6.  There is a significant difficulty, of course, in mapping refugees and the increased clustering of camps that they create in so-called demilitarized border zones.  For each image condenses multiple narratives that one wishes one could tease out, but confronts an image in which one sees limited apparent possibility of resolution save further instability. South Sudan possessed some of the greatest emergency of the refugees of modern times and the twenty-first century both in the some 700,000+ asylum-seeking refugees in neighboring countries at most recent count and one and a half million plus internally displaced persons (IDP’s) within its fragile boundaries, many driven by intense food shortages as well as by an increasingly militarized and fearful situation:  almost a third of the country’s population lack food.  Emergency refugee activities have haven mapped in South Sudan from 2012.  Even as the subsequent refugee crisis generated in the Syrian Civil War has further pressed credulity, South Sudan exemplifies a refugee situation spun out of control with no clear resolution, before which one stares at the map agape,–almost conscious of the continuing inadequacy of ever resolving its narrative in the immediate future.  Back in 2012, UNHCR helpfully mapped refugee settlements (camps) and clusters of individual refugees–denoted in the second map of South Sudan below by inverted triangles; refugee settlements are shown by pink houses–spread both to camps in Ethiopia, and less organized communities on the borders of poor (and undeveloped) countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo or Central African Republic, states with their resources already spread thin.

 

images-16 Refugee Camps and Refuggees around South Sudan Aug 2012 2012 Sudan map legend

UNHCR By 2013, the number of displaced was combined with arrivals of those displaced from nearby areas and states:

 

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By 2014, about three-quarters of a million displaced persons were displaced and 4.9 million were in need of assistance as the borders continued to be particularly permeable and fear drove displaced persons out of the country:

 

179514-ECDM_20140318_SouthSudan_Refugees

 

The continued displacement of refugees has only grown considerably during 2015, with increased fighting in South Sudan and the Upper Nile states, at the same time as water and sanitation has continued to deteriorate across the region.  Spurring the possibility for increased refugees, food insecurity of food has grown–as food grows more scarce–in ways that the visualization leaves silent but might provide a telling under-map of the flow of refugees across increasingly fragile borders, in situation maps that foreground departure and the failure of containment within civil society.  Such maps obscure the systemic problems that are bound to make the tally of refugee counts only tic higher over time, perhaps, which might be revealed in deeper layers to suggest the levels of instability that afflict the region. One telling map to compare reveals the increasingly imperiled aquifers and drastically declining availability groundwater.

If we consider the drought to be located in California’s central Valley–a thin orange strip by the Pacific Ocean–the decrease in groundwater NASA satellites have mapped over the past decade quite dramatically extends across the Sudd Basin and Lower Chad Basin in Africa and the entire Nubian Aquifer System and the Congo Basin–as it groundwater shortages has drastically grown across the Arabian aquifer and Indus Basin over the same time.  Water is not the sole issue here, of course, but the unrest that scarcity provokes demands mapping, and GIS visualization, as a layer below the civil society, which in much of Africa and regions without and which never saw the need for infrastructures of water transport is no doubt particularly acute.

 

Global Water Storage 2003-13 legend UC Irvine

 

The consequences of depleted aquifers and groundwater across the Lake Chad Basin, Sudd Basin and the Nubian Aquifer System (NAS)–the greatest body of fresh water in the Nile basin,  and Congo Basin have provoked a catastrophe of global proportions, while we returned to the possibilities of the contagious spread of Ebola across the world as if it were the sole apocalypse on our mental radar for much of the past year. The rise of fatal–or near-fatal–the expansion of those attempting to flee food shortages and declining economies in Africa have appeared in or occasioned increasing news reports from the western media, as Italians have called in increasingly strident tones for all of Europe to turn its attention to focus on the flight of refugees in the Mediterranean ocean–which the Italian navy can barely respond to in adequate manner, and create a web across the Mediterranean simplified in the red routes below.  Already the most “deadly stretch of water for refugees and migrants” in 2012, the refugee crisis intensified in 2014–often encouraged by human traffickers who deceptively promise perilous passage that is often not followed through, perhaps making this current year–2015–the most deadly in recent memory for those attempting the crossing in ships as they flee humanitarian disasters in Libya in ways that have only begun to be quantified and mapped.

 

GUARDIAN MAPS MEDITERREANEAN MIGRATION ROUTESThe Guardian

 

01_Mediterranean-Sea

 

85188.adapt.676.2 National Geographic

 

The complex story of tragedy and loss that the map conceals is difficult to communicate in conventional cartographical forms, as the each circle represents the suspected or confirmed loss of human passengers.

 

mediterranean-460-1 New York Times

 

One understory to this migration, without doubt, is the huge refugee crisis across the Sub-Saharan continent, where 15 million have been displaced in the past year alone:

 

15 million displaced in sub-Saharan Africa

The “refuge flows” are oddly almost not with a human face, as if they seem a triangular exchange of goods.  As we map refugee traffic in a manner that suggests that the flows of people are removed from a dynamics of struggle on the ground, but guided by an invisible hand or able to be imagined as a coherent network of flow, as if they at times arrive and depart from the same place, we lose a sense of the human costs of the deep scars that they draw over the surface of the inhabited world.

 

Global Trends in Displacement: Destinations But these overlapping and crisscrossed waves of displacement, if terribly difficult to disentangle, are compressed into so many misleadingly orderly arcs:  their stark form and geometric curvature elided or erasef the struggle, or indeed desperation, that we know companies the experiences of all refugees, and show an image of migration that may be as good as it gets. It surely sends an alarm about the status and state of the stateless refugees forced to flee their homes that forces us to negotiate our own relation to the changed face of the world.  But its curved red lines decisively and assertively arrogate the numbers of those who have sought asylum into smoothly completed arcs in an oddly unproblematic way, given the scarcity of solutions at hand.

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Filed under data visualizations, global refugees, immigration, infographics, refugee crisis, refugees, Syrian refugees

Alternative Metrics of America’s Divided Economies #2

The ballyhooed shift of the economy from the industrial to the technological and financial sectors seems like it conceals the deep shift in the geography of the working male:  while the anthropocentric focus of the data is not meant to be gender-biased, it reveals a steady decline of the “working man”–an astounding tripling of men not working since the late 1960s.  The expansion of those not working reflects in roughly broad brushstrokes parallels a decline of the industrial workforce, but is also an interesting metric to map the transformation of the nation in ways that concepts of the Recession or failures of job-production cannot describe.  The terrain of men between twenty-five and fifty-four without work–a rough measure of adulthood and able-bodiedness, of which even setting traditional parameters, provide a contrast with the categories of a landscape of the past,  and suggests the shifting place of the working age man in American society–if not the relation between man and work, and the absence of work’s spatial distribution in the United States.

Recent visualizations of the decline of a national workforce seem more like conversation stoppers from which there is little prospect of relief or escape than invitations for thought.  While what we talk about when we view a data visualization is dictated by the parameters of the snapshot it declares, the landscape of the out of work in America is on the front burner of most data visualizers, who have been competing, in the manner of so many actuaries, to present the best picture of American decline.  Fear grips the visualization of the drying up of work, which seems extracted or deflated in ways that create a new sense of hills and valleys in the topographic maps of the country:  what were once centers of the economy are transformed in the economic landscapes of unemployment that they present, providing new contours that we are asked to assess as if it is time to assess the place where we are at through the effects that the arrival of the “Great Recession” from Sea to Shining Sea–and the centers of work that continue to exist across the Home of the Brave.

Before examining the maps of those out of work in America, the contours of such a map suggests one of the backgrounds for the reception of the internet economy and digital revolution that may reveal the special appeal of the somewhat illusory notion that the web promises the coming generation of a wave of new jobs.  While the internet has been blessed as a solace to the out of work, transformed by alchemy of the world wide web into blissed-out surfers putting their time into online betting and social networking sites, net advocates insist on potential economic benefits of the new cultural commons of “prosumers” that lies on the horizons of our backlit lives.  The foreseeing of a massive expansion of the DIY economy as part of a “Third Industrial Revolution” that is to be unleashed on the internet will not only provide a basis for reunderstanding the energy grid; for many, new sites of trading and commerce–on Etsy or other virtual marketplaces–has spontaneously generated claims for the benefits of such new platforms for marketing creativity that will work to make folks feel valued and great about both their “work” and themselves.  Yet Sue Halpern found these claims quite creepy in their unstated underside, not often mentioned by enthusiasts such as Jeremy Rifkin who prophesies a Third Industrial Revolution of clean energy and renewable resources across the globe:   for the link between the internet and a new “energy paradigm” in the new industrial revolution of an “energy internet,” may well augur a day when workers may not only be increasingly replaced by machines, as the internet decouples productivity from human work, but, more insidiously, e-commerce creates the illusion of productive engagement:  “a do-it-yourself subculture is thriving, and sharing cars, tools, houses, and other property is becoming more common, [but] it is also true that much of this activity is happening under duress as steady employment disappears.”  (While 60 million consumers interact with Etsy, Amanda Hess found that 65% of sellers made more than $100 last year.  Compared to the 5,000,000 jobs that Slate‘s Associate Editor Chris Wilson mapped as vanishing from 2008 to 2009 presented a devastating picture of job-loss, barely compensated by talk of the growth of online sellers and small-scale Amazonians.)  This new sense of “work” is not only based on the distractions of web-surfing and the rise of private activities completed during working time in offices, sometimes up to average time spent on private activities at work is between 1.5 and three hours a day., and even the conclusion that 70 percent of internet traffic to pornographic sites during what seem working hours, and the majority of online purchases (up to 60%) from a similar 9-5 timeframe.  But the illusory jobs and increased appearance of engagement that the internet nourishes seems as important to acknowledge in describing the radical redefinition of work in America.  The apparent addiction to such “involuntary slacking” seems to demand attention as an important counterpart to the shifting geography of work in the United States.

What happened in the dire picture of a loss of five million jobs that he presented of national decline that began from roughly when, in what one can’t feel is a coincidental metric, President Obama took office, and we faced our greatest threat of economic downturn in many years?

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The image of economic implosion, or decline in job growth in 2008, two years after the Recession had officially begun, offers a map of the points of local vulnerability to job losses that contrasts with the earlier maps of job growth, and seems like a job-loss virus, spreading from centers of past urban growth, in ways that augur something like a national decline:  the northeast and northern California are deep red, as is the former industrial midwest around Detroit, and the Northwest doesn’t seem to be doing better.  Texas, almost alone with Vermont, for some reason, has spots of blue.  It is not surprising that the Wired map was quickly taken up by Fox News:  the spread of scarlet sink-holes of job-depletion across the continent, radiating out into its surrounding waters, offers a vision of apocalypticism that “others” the continent from a geographic land mass.  The medium of the data visualization offers a snapshot of the status quo sending shivers down one’s spine, jointly suggesting a draining of jobs from the national economy and raising questions about its future.

The image is striking, and drowning in large circles of red, denoting job loss, with small spots of bright blue standing like beacons of hope, but a larger scale image of the shifting growth of unemployment rates over the decade from a Public Policy research team, Mathematica, using statistics from the Census and Dept. of Labor, crafts a far more finely grained picture of national losses from 2000 to 2013, less mired in a feeling of depression and more legible both it int texture and county-by-county specifics that might tell us more:

County Unemployemnt Rate

even if the snapshot map taken in a single year, as 2010, when unemployment was high, revealed a dire deal indeed:

2010 USA

The flat opacity that these data visualizations track, rather than inviting us to contemplate a graphic prospectus of the future, provide a snapshot of relative poverty before which we stand aghast.

The internet has arrived not only as the time-suck from productivity that we’ve all, unconsciously, suspected, but with the promise of a possibility for fashioning new jobs that would lift us from the Great Recession.  Despite the deepest claims that internet commerce provides the opportunity to unleash a new level of contact with consumers and wave of independent sales, it may well be, although it is quite hard to confirm, that the amount of time spent online is something somewhat correlated to the new appearance of folks who are taking steps to leave the workforce, and find solace online, removed from the workplace environments that can provide a somewhat comforting cocoon.  The hope of Jeremy Rifkin that Halpern wryly characterizes as a “vision that people will occupy themselves with more fulfilling activities like making music and self-publishing novels once they are freed from work” exposes the possibility that the internet offers an odd outlet for dropping out of the marketplace.  For while it may be but a coincidence, the shifting geography of being out-of-work, the long-term decline of the American workforce found an interesting outlet for self-promotion and self-fashioning on the internet that Jeremy Rifkin, Lawrence Lessig, and others promise.  But including this image of the economy, or even its economic potential, is almost seems inversely proportioned in its difficult to map compared to the trumpet its benefits.

For the expansion of such self-made businesses or “trade venues” on the web parallel a search to innovate by folks who have been marginalized from or forced to leave the labor force in ways that our statistics of unemployment as reported widely do not fully capture–we must begin by taking stock of the fact that a broad measure of unemployment rose .  To begin to get a handle on our national quagmire of the out work, we need to compute alternative measures of unemployment, however, noting the depressing picture including a broad measure of unemployment computed by the Labor Department to include marginally attached workers–which rose far more than official unemployment rate defined as those looking for work, as Brendan Saloner noted in 2010–even if that rate has now declined to below 6% once again, rather than not budging from 9.6% as was then the case.  The distribution of such a broad measure of underemployment (or unemployment) had striking national variabilities in 2010, focussing on metropolitan areas alone.

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Moving a bit forward in time, the New York Times and Economist noted the importance of considering regional disparities in the “Great Recession” by 2011, noting areas where unemployment crested to 20%–

Geograph of a Recession

–which boasted marked declines in unemployment across much of the country for the first time, save in those places deeply effected by the housing bubble, including California, Florida and Nevada, and those regions whose ingrown unemployment was brought by declining industry, such as Pennsylvania or Indiana:

from June '10

New York Times

The picture of relative discrepancies in the specific areas where national employment rates crested above 20% in some areas, or unemployment stubbornly refused to decrease, presents a picture can be interestingly fit into the long-term decline of the workforce in America, the journalist and historian Yoni Appelbaum has argued.  The long-term decline matches a growing share of the male population who need help or are paying taxes, Appelbaum found, which has wrought considerable social changes in our attitudes toward work and workplaces, independently from the “Great Recession.”  Indeed, the shifting geography of the out of work between the ages of 25 and 54 across the nation  provides a similar distribution of deep valleys.  The nation-wide rise in the numbers of out of work men raise interesting questions about what folks are doing with their time, and what sustains attention at a time of disengagement from the economic marketplace.  Men are not, here, taken as the metonymy for human, but describe a deep change in the status quo which may well suggest the feeling of remove from those technological sectors where the economy has grown, and goes beyond a decline in job creation in specific areas across the United States, that may reflect a geography of desperation and alienation independent from the creation of further jobs.  While the prognosis is not warranted from the map alone, the rise of such out of work men, who either elect to leave the workforce or adopt the classification as disabled, creates a distinct culture in specific cities and regions unlike one of competition for existing jobs, that may pose deep threats for the economy and indeed for public health.

While somewhat like the long-term unemployment rates in its complexure, the distinct nature of the pockets of out of work men are removed from the labor market, and present a topography of what might be called disengagement, if one would not rather use terms without moral judgement. While the two issues are closely tied, the specificity of the map of men out of work map seems striking in its greater demographic specificity.

Men Not Working Map

New York Times/Yoni Applebaum

In ways that seem paralleled by the number of women who are leaving the workforce of the same ages, and to illustrate a deep shift of the culture of work, “working, in America, is in decline,” as Appelbaum put it.  Is this major and ongoing shift in how we relate to work, deeply linked to the rise of the disaffection of many from an existing labor market sen too removed from one’s own self-valuation, or perhaps below one’s competence, the expansion of those outside the workforce, male and female–the non-employed, including disabled or with compensation, make up over an eight of the entire adult US population, include students and those retired, but only 25% are classified as unemployed.

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Almost independently from “unemployment” per se, the sector of such non-employed between ages 25 and 54 seems particularly unhealthy for the nation, and difficult to explain–as is their apparent geographic clustering.  Only just over half say that their jobs ended with the last recession of December 2007 (61%), but an eighth (13%) claim never to have had a full-time job, suggesting that they are probably on the younger end of the age spectrum.

Why not work, despite the clear adverse psychological and personal effects of such an apparent decision or perceived inability to change one’s condition?  Greater risk for substance abuse, alcoholism, depression–widely recognized as both costly and debilitating–and documented difficulties to create stable relationships.  The choice that men make not to work–or to join a workforce which is still looking to hire–indeed raises questions about families and psychological health, and about the perceived place of the individual in the social world.   But the geography of this decision or lack of apparent incentive to join the workforce that Appelbaum found particularly striking, almost approaches a collective paralysis or depression, if with distinct underlying causes, that in aggregate particularly plagues specific areas of the country–areas associated, to be sure, often with economic decline, but also which seem swamps of unsuccessful stories and narratives, and invites new narratives to be told about maps.  But the poverty of information in the data visualization, whose focus on the present status quo offers only a concentration on the short-term, seems something of an evacuation of information from the map, and demands to be supplemented by greater detail to better grasp the distribution it seeks to define.  Looking for further dimensionality of the data it presents, one is tempted to seek correlations in the flat colors of comparable datasets to find what narratives might emerge from the flat visual surfaces that are presented in the amnesiac surfaces of the data visualizations.

One might start from comparing, for example, to the short-term snapshots of depression according to a Behavioral Risk Surveillance System.  Although the broad geographic parameters of this 2010 map issued by the CDC doesn’t offer comparable fine-grained detail, and both leaves many interesting areas without data (Kentucky) and shows significantly elevated rates of depression across the Old South, it suggests contours of depression across the country, particularly dense in spots of long term out-of-workness from West Virginia–if data lacks for Kentucky–Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, and Tennessee, where it crested above 10%:

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But the map unsurprisingly more closely correlates in select regions with the recent Newsweek “Health Gap” that combines mental health and college attendance with other variables of 2014, which uses data from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute–even if that map is not really surprising, and seems to square with a remove from health care, in its clustering on the Mississippi, western Kentucky, and parts of northern Floridam with the Nevada part of the Four Corners and northern New Mexico:

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The distribution of the out-of-work male offers a fascinating new subject of mapping, since its distribution seems defined distinctly from the mapping of areas of economic growth, unemployment, or taxation, and suggests a local acceptance of the very demographic category of being out of work.

While we’re at it, of course, we might ask to parse the national distribution of unemployed men along both socioeconomic background and ethnicity, if only to see the results–but these seem to be beyond the point, which is the disquieting nature of the prominence of the category of not seeing oneself as a part of the workforce.  For if there are slightly more non-employed who are African American (14 percent versus 10 percent) or Hispanic (20 percent versus 15 percent), a majority (above 54%) have only a high school education or less, and seem as if our society has failed them–only one fifth have graduated from a 4-year college, in contrast to almost 40% percent of full-time workers, and the disconnect between work and education seems a clearer metric than all else, and their health, as self-reported, is predictably bad–suggesting the possibility of looming considerable social and personal costs, and a great crisis in public health, even if among the non-employed, some 74% affirmed that they have health insurance.  Yet it is conspicuous that one-fifth of non-employed have completed a college degree–even if, perhaps, only recently.

This relatively large number of college graduates who are not able to find work casts a ray of light at the deep depression that might result of being without work, and a paralyzing uncomprehending sense of inadequacy.

The below map offers a compelling mirror of society, and of the long-term difficulties we face.  For the distribution “men not working” is laden with both deep levels of depression, anxiety, and economic despair difficult to process fully, whose apparent uneven distribution and pockets of deep concentration that amazingly surpass 33% suggest the seriously impacted problems of how we define work and occupation today.  The concentration of select areas of dark blue seem swamps of something akin to despair–located around the “Four Corners” and border of New Mexico and Arizona; Southern Oregon; western Montana; northern California; Appalachia; and areas of the Deep South; southern Florida–that seem sights that are sinking, if not almost disappearing, as if potholes of personal futures, off the road map of the common good. These darkly colored regions, off the main highways of America, are less traveled areas, but inescapable parts of our nation’s economy.  Unlike the map of of unemployment for metropolitan areas, some of the most difficult regions of the persistence of men out of work appear at a remove from cities–although the maps use different indices. they suggest similar pictures of the difficulties in the topography of job creation.

Men Not Working Map

Percent Legend

New York Times/Yoni Appelbaum

The local dips in sectors of the nations reveal dark spots in the national economy that can only haunt us.  The metrics of not working men is striking, particularly as the dark green blotches in southern Oregon, northern New Mexico, Appalachia, or parts of Idaho convey a grim desperation of economic displacement, and almost communicate a sense of being left behind.  Is there an odd acceptance of a dark status quo in these areas, where with something like almost half of adult men not at all working leads to a labor market that can almost never be met, and a paralysis of looking for jobs, or actually imagining alternative signs of success?

The region in Northern California, for example, suggests a desperation at the lack of employment opportunities that leads a hazy air of diminished expectations to hang over the land.  The SAMSHA map of sub-state variations of substance abuse using data available online maps a picture disconcertingly parallel in several of its pockets, particularly much of northern California and the Florida Panhandle, but also the Four Corners and Colorado, and LA, although what, exactly, “abuse” is here needs to be examined defined:

NSDUH-Short-Report-113-StateSubUseDisorder-2012-fig2

We can see a raging 5.1% dependence on or abuse of alcohol in south-central Kentucky, abuse of drugs in Western Massachusetts, on the level of Washington DC, and similarly high levels by the Mexican border in Arizona.   Each of these areas is to some extent echoed in the map of the men who are out of the labor market and not working:  only North Dakota and Iowa seem to be showing low levels of abuse in the years before 2010, which can’t make one feel great about the country, even if the bright red spots in Oklahoma and Idaho come at considerable surprise.

Alcohol dependency seems to be more striking in Northern Central California, Idaho and Montana, and northern states like South Dakota and Minnesota, although Utah is very dry.

NSDUH-Short-Report-113-StateSubUseDisorder-2012-fig1

But the relation to the out-of-work seems particularly keen and in demand of excavating from the staid surface of the data visualization of local variations in the sustained spread of substance abuse.

Applbaum’s county-by-county visualization offers an inviting grounds for exploration, due perhaps to the appeal of the palate he uses to denote the out-of-work by deepening shades of green and dark blue to denote those men who are out of work, and the apparent narratives that the resulting distribution offers one to spin out of it:  the often opaque surface of such data visualizations seems sensitive to discrepancies in quality of life and the changing ways to spend time that result from such a lack of work.  For example, the rough terrain near to Mendocino, land of spectacularly stupendous ocean views, conceals a growing desperation among numbers of the of sustained employment in several inland areas in California, if not along its coast.

Men not Working Mendocino

Percent LegendNew York Times

Such troughs across the county suggest  a dramatically diminished range of expectations that poorly communicate a future life.  This might be increasingly true of urban areas, where lack of employment seems often endemic in some neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which pop out of a broader map of the city.

LAPercent LegendNew York  Times

Moving to a broader geographic area, however, the region of the Four Corners together with spots from the Central Valley seem similarly pock-marked with diminished hopes and lowered expectations of arriving at a permanent job, creating what seem swamps of underemployment in parts of the Southwest, where low numbers of working men in large stretches of the country create a striking culture of unwork:

four corners and central valleyPercent LegendNew York Times

the number of men who are not working creates pronounced disequilibria of employment across the economy, and indeed a radically diminished expectation of one’s sense of an active life, let alone retirement.

While rural Appalachia seems one thing, the pockets of men outside the workforce across South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, as well as parts of Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina, presents a dire image of a lack of available jobs that correlates interestingly with the refusal to accept National Health Care, and extend to the coast of the Florida panhandle.  Concentrated communities of men not looking for work along the shoreline of the southern states in the Carolinas raise questions of the geography of the out of work.

Appalachia?

Percent LegendNew York Times

While we are only tracking men, such potholes of local employment suggest something like low-income clusters, and support groups of the economically alienated, which have no clear or immediate resolution in sight, but seems somehow, one worries, to perpetuate its own existential condition.

The notion of being left behind by a job market, or not being able to integrate within an existing workplace, with little way out, seems to be a central issue in the landscape of heightened disparities that remains.  While it demands far further study and individual local examination, the terrain often seems interminably bleak.  There is the prospect that we are in the process of a broad redefining of work, and of the working landscape, but there are plenty other areas lying outside that changing landscape of work that seem to be left out.  Our changing landscape of employment may be left at the doorstep of a changing national character, but suggests a deep divergence across the country in seeing oneself as a head of households, and of realistic economic expectations.

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Filed under data visualizations, Great Recession, infographics, mapping men without work, mapping the "Great Recession", mapping the not working, unemployment, Unemployment in America, unwork

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

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

 

Statistical Atlas

 

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

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

 

1880 popular vote for HGLibrary of Congress

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

959px-Missouri_Compromise_Line.svg

Wikipedia Commons

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

 

P1-AO116_RUSPRO_NS_20081228191715

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

3-2004-electoralcollege-cartogram

 

4-2004-by-county

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

bbstates_custom-e0c6c871e5a185100d0be94271fba73c0a365998-s40-c85Adam Cole/NPR

 

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

 

 

bbvoters_custom-0abd0dc8a4efa739c61d80b961226ae07e5b04ec-s40-c85-1

Adam Cole (NPR)/Kantor media data

 

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

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

 

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

 

 

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

 

 

Blue v. Red Topo Raised

 

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

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

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

 

Net_Change_MapDavid Jarman/Daily Chose

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Gas Tax

gas key

 

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

WealthMap

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

high-speed-rail

 

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

 

IMG_0201

 

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

 

High_Speed_Rail_07-09-2009

 

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

NA_market_500_miles

 

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

 

Landbridge

 

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

 

6a00d83454714d69e20133f2536560970b-800wi

 

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

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

 

map_3

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

20states-red

 

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

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

 

US broken by Bitcoin

 

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

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

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

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